Heightened Sensing & Drugs

In the 1960's, I was comically unaware of the drug scene, which was happening all around me. I was like the clueless guy in certain comedy movies, that finds himself at at Italian restaurant surrounded by muscular guys in dark suits who speak to each other with exaggerated politeness. He thinks that they must work out a lot, thus the big shoulders, and that they are big on self-improvement, thus the impeccable suits in the middle of the day.

I lived in Newport Beach, a few miles up the coast from Laguna Beach, where Timothy Leary was based. If I had any money or time, I am sure I would have been as stoned as everyone else. But I did not have money or time – during high school and college, I was working fifteen or twenty hours a week. In high school, that meant pumping gas or mowing the greens at the local golf course. The university was great because I could work in the labs, and got a job at the physiology lab that was doing research on dreams, hypnosis, and meditation. I was also obsessed with trying to get straight A's, so that I could get the hell out of there. If you have ever worked and gone to school, you know what I mean – every day is long and intense and any mistake, like missing a couple of hours of sleep – is absolute torture. A party? Are you kidding?

And of course I had to surf – I knew all the secret spots from Malibu to San Clemente, and being in the ocean was my religion. In 1966, wetsuits were not what they are today – a supple second-skin that keeps you warm. Surfing meant going voluntarily into cold water, so cold that after a few minutes you couldn't feel your feet. We shivered constantly and pushed the edges of hypothermia every day, and didn't care. The cold always hurt, and it was really hard to get people to go surfing with me. So I almost always went surfing alone, at dawn, in one of my secret, uncrowded spots. So I never heard the buzz, what was happening. And I never had any interest in what other people were doing or thinking. Who had the time?

Before 1968, I only heard the word, marijuana, once that I recall - some of the kids were talking about it in 1966 or so, and I had absolutely no interest. I hated smoking, hated the smell of cigarettes and cigars, and whatever they were smoking, sounded stupid to me.

When I started meditating in 1968, time slowed down and opened up. All of a sudden, I had time to sit around on campus and just BE. I found that I could get all my homework done, work, take classes, surf, and still have time to loaf. It was probably just twenty minutes of leisure, here and there, every other day, but to me it felt like a LOT of time, and meditation taught me to open up and SEE.

And as I started to listen to the people around me on campus, much of what they were interested in and talking about was – DRUGS. Meaning, acid, speed and grass. I was incredulous: THAT is what you think the secret of life is? You people who have free time and plenty of money and can afford to eat in the cafeteria, and can afford to live on campus, and don't have to worry about where you will get the money to pay your tuition – you are thinking about DRUGS. You have to be putting me on.

For me, it was a herculean effort each month to come up with the money for rent, books, tuition, my car payment and food. I never ate in restaurants, and only once every few weeks would I afford to eat a little something at the Student Cafeteria. I would bring my food in a paper bag from home. I felt like a slave, or a lower-class person, and envied the people who had so much money from home that they could stay in the expensive student dorms, eat all they wanted, buy whatever books they wanted, go to concerts, take vacations, throw money around. Before actually listening to my classmates, I was sure that they knew things I did not, and that they were onto all the cool things in life, and that I was just a sort of dorky outsider, condemned to work and study all the time.

If a sexy surfer chick who looked healthy had offered me a joint, I would have dived right in. But meditation had an odd effect on me, or side-effect. All my senses were heightened as a result of meditating: colors and visual textures were very intense, the world looked like technicolor; my hearing became acute and I could hear layers of meaning underneath what people were saying on the surface; my skin became very electric and like radar, sensing the presence of other people standing behind me, or to the sides, and I could feel what felt like
their emotions, even from twenty or thirty feet away; and there was a very subtle sense of smell and taste, as if I could smell people's energies and intentions.

An interesting side-effect of this heightened sensing resulting from meditation was that I became able to see, hear and feel subtle energies. The people I was seeing did not look good as a result of the drugs they were taking. They looked wasted. I did not care that they used spiritual language, revelatory language, to talk about drugs. They didn't look illuminated to me, but rather, endarkened.

I think we all have energy perception, but usually there is so much noise and static inside our heads and nerves that we miss the quiet signals. Dogs and cats certainly seem to be alert to these signals, so it is not necessarily a spiritual quality – or maybe dogs and cats are really spiritual.

With me, energy perception is usually a combination of senses, all activated simultaneously. The energies flowing through and around a person can be heard, seen, felt, smelt and tasted. When I look at someone or think of them, I tend to experience the person as existing within a field of relatedness to life. Each person is like a band with an accompanying lightshow. There are so many things to notice – the moving colored lights, the motions of the band as they play, the sound coming off each instrument, the overall combination of sounds, the lyrics, the total feeling of the music, the moment-by-moment touch of each note.

People seem to shape space by the way they are living – the sum total of the way they handle all their momentum, drives, desires. What they do with a breath.

Paying attention to subtle sensory impressions was mostly pleasurable, as when I would see a friend approaching me from a hundred feet away and I would know their mood at a glance. If they were at all in a good mood, I would be bathed in delight.

But if they were stoned, my senses would hurt, and this was NOT a subtle, faint sensation. It was overwhelming. Often I was not paying attention as someone walked up. I remember often, sitting at a table talking to one or two people and a friend would come and say hello. I would look at them and almost instantly get a headache in my forehead. And I learned to read, by the texture of the pain, what kind of drug my friend was on, and when they had taken it.

This was 1968 and I was at the University of California! Many of my friends were taking drugs. I would watch them walk toward me, and over time it developed that I could tell from a hundred feet what drugs they were on – marijuana, hash, LSD, speed, mushrooms; whether it was just coming on, peaking, crashing, or hung over; and also sometimes, the quality of the drug. (The Drugs section got to be long - 2600 words - so I put it in its own section,
Drugs). I did not have any willpower, or "won't power." The people I met just did not look like they were having as good a time as I do when I go surfing. They looked fucked up.

Joe Cocker at Woodstock – "Let's Go Get Stoned"