March 4, 2013
Now Playing: Terence McKenna "Tryptamine Consciousness" (1982)
A dozen years after his untimely death, our perception of Terence McKenna is still up in the air, still very much in a formative stage. Very little has changed in the way Terence is revered (frequently) and criticized (rarely). His person and work are treated as though he was still alive, an impression no doubt strengthened by how hundreds of his hypnotic lectures are broadcast around the globe 24 hours every day. In addition, no new figure-head has emerged within the field to extend, update or replace St Terence's gospel. For reasons like these, the psychedelic underground has clung to the McKenna that he himself designed and presented, with very little in terms of clarification or questioning.
When Terence's brother Dennis in 2011 announced via Kickstarter that he was embarking on a book project that would tell the "actual" story of his life with Terence, including unknown details about the La Chorrera experiment, the excitement was obvious. Many people including myself contributed to the funding of Dennis' writing project, which reached fruition via the book Brotherhood Of The Screaming Abyss published in late 2012--amusingly, very close in time to Terence's famously prophesized 'end of history'.
Prior to this, updates leaked out from the ongoing project, most notably via an Esalen Institute event that was also podcast at the Psychedelic Salon in July 2012. The fallout from the sharing of this book excerpt and the related conclusions drawn by presenter Bruce Damer were more dramatic than those involved may have expected. Many psychedelicists popped up to comment on the information revealed, some notably hurt or even incredulous. While this response may not have been the main reason, the most crucial paragraph was ultimately removed from Dennis McKenna's finished book. In other words, this information can only be gathered from the Esalen event and the subsequent debate. Even this podcast was temporarily removed from the internet, but it is now available again, presumably without any editing of 'sensitive' passages.
So what, precisely, caused this brouhaha? Here is what Dennis McKenna wrote and later removed from his book manuscript:
"Terence's pivotal existential crisis came abruptly. Sometime in '88 or '89. Everything that happened after that event was fallout. I don't know exactly when it happened and I don't know exactly what happened. I am piecing it together from what Kat has told me and she has volunteered few details and I am reluctant to probe. It happened when they were living for a time on the Big Island and it was a mushroom trip they shared that was absolutely terrifying for Terence. It was terrifying because, for some reason, the mushroom turned on him. The gentle, wise, humorous mushroom spirit that he had come to know and trust as an ally and teacher ripped back the facade to reveal an abyss of utter existential despair. Terence kept saying, so Kat told me, that it was, "a lack of all meaning, a lack of all meaning." And this induced panic in Terence and probably, I speculate, a feeling that he was going mad. He couldn't deal with it. Kat's efforts to reassure him were fruitless. After that experience, he never again took mushrooms and he took other psychedelics such as DMT and Ayahuasca only on rare occasions and with great reluctance."
Those well familiar with Terence McKenna's career will appreciate the loaded nature of this revelation. In case one fully does not realize the implications of it, Esalen speaker Bruce Damer goes to some length to high-light how Terence's terrifying shroom trip affects the impression of his last decade. What has upset and troubled many Terence fans is the realization that while the man travelled around the world advocating the use of 'heroic dose' psilocybin trips for crowds of thousands, he himself had been scared so badly by a mushroom trip that he gave up shrooms altogether. And this double book-keeping went on for 10 years. Privately Terence would question the value of his teachings and his role, but in public there is no notable shift whatsoever in his message before the terrifying trip in the late '80s, and after it. A person with a critical mindset could draw strongly negative conclusions from this, and even through the most benign lense, it is a troubling revelation.
But there is another aspect to this recent information that I personally find more troubling than the masquerade that has caused Terence fans to feel confused or betrayed. From a few additional comments made at the Esalen gathering, it appears that the theme of Terence's dramatic bad trip dealt with his emotional involvement with other people, a private conundrum which brother Dennis in his book traces back to an event involving their father in Terence's childhood. While charming and extrovert in his role as a bardic performer, Terence apparently strove to avoid any deeper private relationships, and the mushroom 'spirit' (or his own subconscious) presumably took him to task for this unfulfilled aspect of his life. This would be a fairly typical admonition towards self-improvement to receive under psychedelics, and any experienced psychedelicist--and this would certainly include Mr McKenna--knows that there's nothing to do but roll with the punches when you're getting roughed up for your shortcomings as a human being. Yet it seems that Terence could not accept or handle this one, and instead he did the classic beginners mistake of rejecting the warning message. Rejection, denial or other defensive responses will unfailingly trigger the negative spiral of a bad trip, at the end of which one may find an existential abyss like the one described above.
The crucial point of this scenario isn't that Terence had a bad trip, but that he couldn't handle the criticism that Innerspace levelled at him. Such a reaction is not something you would expect to find in a person with 25+ years of heavy psychedelic trips behind him. The psychodynamic cleansing of inner wardrobes and private skeletons is something you tend to deal with at the beginning of the psychedelic career, not towards the end. The question being raised, and this is what troubles me, is whether Terence McKenna had gone through all his psychedelic adventures without ever actually facing an inner confrontation of personality, defenses and hang-ups that is crucial to further spiritual growth on the path of the trip. Is it even possible to chew down 5 grams of dried Cubensis for two decades and never having to pass the rough crash course in self-improvement referred to as 'Gnothi Seauton [Know Thyself] 101' in the Psychedelia book?
Terence McKenna repeatedly rejected LSD due to what he called its 'abrasively psychoanalytic' nature. I never quite understood what he meant, but the new information from brother Dennis & co suggests that what Terence referred to was not some intrinsic flaw in LSD, but rather that the acid kept bringing him to doors that he was not interested in opening. To whatever degree these things can be generalized, it seems that LSD per se offers a structured progression in which the psycho-dynamic baggage must be dealt with in order to reach further heights, or else it will be a meaningless experience of funny colors, emotional stalemate, or even a bad trip. The beloved Psilocybin and DMT however, while they insist on self-improvement just as strongly, will still offer plenty for the mind to work with, even if the door to Gnothi Seauton 101 remains closed. The Mushroom Voice ('the Logos') and the various entities will still be there and happy to impart wisdom and dialogue which has no bearing on the inner emotional imbalances of the tripper: even without cleansing there will be a show. And Terence, the self-confessed 'vision freak', was all about the impersonal presentations in Innerspace, from the sight of gigantic spaceships to conversations with little elfs about the future of language.
Is it possible that someone, a person of a brilliant mind, could spend 25 years in the farther reaches of Innerspace and never once face the forceful demands on inner cleansing and self-improvement? If this was the case with Terence McKenna, and it does seem to match the new insights that have emerged, then a plate loaded with food for thought has just been served. Not just concerning the man himself and the nature of his personality, but also about the long-term relationship between psychedelicists and Innerspace, the supposed aquisition of wisdom from these experiences, and the possible need for a more directed or explicit model for beginning acidheads. It is vital to go through Gnothi Seauton 101, the earlier the better, and the longer you try to evade it, the harsher it will ultimately become. As Terence McKenna seems to have learned the hard way.
Posted by Patrick at Lysergia
at 17:13 CET
Updated: March 4, 2013 21:21 CET
View Latest Entries
March 9, 2013 - 09:35 CET
I actually sort of understand, i think, a little bit where he was coming from. I've done some pretty stupid things in my life, and several of them involved ingesting an ungodly quantity of intensely psychoactive and psychedelic chemicals or plants all at once. This has resulted, occasionally, in some of the worst trips I've ever heard of from anyone, and I frequently compare notes, as I long to find someone else who understands precisely the situation i have happen to me from time to time...... We are talking, BTW, some really, seriously intense bad trips. I've become convinced that there are some people who have simply blown too deep a tunnel open via a specific synapses path in their brain, that basically has the potential to turn any intense trip, no matter how experienced the user, into a nightmare of the worst kind of deja vu. I first discovered I wasn't invincible when I ingested $500 worth of peyote from Amsterdam, which I think was either 23 buttons, or 17 buttons each...(Me and a friend who managed to smuggle the buttons back in potpourri bags.) We waited 2 to 2.5 hours from them to kick in, and thought that, despite knowing we're supposed to wait, that maybe they were bad or defective buttons, since he'd bought them commercially, and who knows how they acquired them.... So, since we'd been on a real mission that night and were disappointed, having prematurely decided that the peyote was junk, we ate 12 grams of mushrooms each. Good mushrooms.
3 hours later, I literally thought I was in charge of bringing the world to an end, and that I HAD to get arrested to prove my worthiness and committment to the process. I attempted to shave my eyebrows and all body hair off, and was struggling to get out of the house naked while 4 people held me back. I eventually blacked out, thank god, and I awoke about 6 hours after eating the mushrooms from my blackout, to find I'd been hogtied up with duct tape, and was naked in the middle of my friend's living room floor, lying in a spot soaked with my own piss, where apparently I'd expelled the urine as part of a purification ritual that needed to be completed as well, all the while completely scaring my wife and friends, and totally delusional in a way where I felt like my ego had died, and a new totally psychotic one had temporarily moved in. I looked around, coherent for the first time in hours, with my wife sobbing quietly next to me, and 3 other people sitting on top of me, still not trusting that I would not attempt and nearly succeed to drag every last person out of the house and into the final moments of the universe as we know it, with me. They breathed a sigh of relief when I, legitimately having no memory of the previous several hours at the time, asked what the hell hapened. Over the next two months, scary flashing recollections and moments of clarity lit up on my head like a photograph. Eventually more and more..... I hadn't been totally psycho the whole time! I now remembered minutes, or probably really more like split seconds of time from the duration of my fugue state which were like terrifying little glimpses into the mind of a madman. When I was completely schiziform, I'd have a second of total lucidity---and I remember the horror at the realization that I wasn't even able to grasp that sanity for long enough to co climb up onto it, and before I could even form a complete sentence, I'dterrifyingly know my sanity was being replaced by this OTHER lunatic mind and I'd helplessly be forced to watch myself act in a way that terrified the love of my life andmy closest friends.....
I won't go into them here, but I have had a few highly delusional psychotic breaks since then, and while there are moments from each which are all very, very similar, and are the tie-in I'm talking about with regard to creating an unavoidable loop that brings me to the same place, time and time again. This all, despite being certain Ive worked through the issue that I suspect caused the first time to happen.... (I suspect, with the nature of being raised on a religion as I was, that there are often unresolved vestiges of the religion, that I knew in a very fundamentalist form thanks to my narrow minded parents.....but have rejected out of handsince LSD saved me from being a loony conservative bible thumper at age 16...).
Its impossible to describe exactly what the feeling and the deja vu nightmare aspect of each super intense bad trip has shared in common with the others, because its, entirely, a very vivid and real couple moments of pure hallucination, where I believe Im lost inside my own head, and surrounded suddenly by family and police who don't realize what I do about psychedelics being good for the human race, and I'm trying to rematerialize a stable enough version of myself to have a conversation that won't get me thrown in prison (I spent a year in prison for selling acid when I was 18 to 19, and so I've worked very hard to never go back.... And suddenly my parents reveal to me, that even though they got to their situation a different route then me, every human being has to have this exact moment I am having, and there is this feeling of tim-synesthesia that occurs that makes THIS EXACT MOMENT the same exact moment as I've already been through over the times past, and the times future where this hallucination sequence engulfs me. The emotion and the terror and the desperation to get out of this and back to a position where I am able to have a bit more say in the thoughts and visions that run through my head is palpable. Its often this point IN my experiences where I've started behaving bizzare and irrationally. Calling my parents and scaring them with a rambling deluded voicemail, or kicked all my friends out of the house, usually tripping themselves, so I can be alone, or as I mentioned, shaving my hair off and mistakenly thinking i'm the end of the world messiah-like catalyst figure, or one time diving out and tumbling head over heels naked onto my front lawn in the middle of winter, before becoming aware enough what the fuck this must look like and getting back in the house....
.I am now over twice the age I was when LSD first made me a much better person, and expanded the scope of my world view too allow for everyone and everything.....I still take psychedelics to this day. But I won't take mushrooms, as I perceive those trips to be sort of not-for-me, and full of an almost darkly comic sinister moo. I'd much prefer LSD or just about anything now a days. And to this day, I must watch my intake, and never go to heavily with anything, for fear that I end up back in that singularly existent delusion, that exists across nights in my past and nights yet to come....
And yet, the final point to be made is that I am also a huge and active proponent working to raise awareneness and public acceptance of the benefits of psychedelics, because I DO know, first and foremost, who I'd be were it NOT for them. And thats proof enough that they can make the planet a better place. So in many aspects, I don't let my personal struggles interfere with sharing the underlying message: That while it IS possible to have a terrifying experience, even THOSE usually end up being pure gold, for introspection and personal issues repair, and that we shouldn't fear something so clearly good....The government wants to stop us all from ever trying them, and that alone is proof enough of the risk/reward ratio being tipped towards reward... But this does not make me a hypocrite, nor do I do any double book keeping. I keep chipping away at whatever this issue I keep revisiting is, and hoping to resolve it someday. And in the mean time, I mostly keep that story to myself, because sharing it with people I'm already trying to paddle upstream against Government Propaganda Creek, why cloud newcomers vision by playing devils advocate agaianst yourself by telling personal anecdotes that would seem to misrepresent things, when really, they do not: I believe wholeheartedly in the good propagated though, and the consciousness healing power within psychedelics. All my own personal baggage does not change that belief and knowledge for me.
I'd like to think Terence had the same approach.
March 11, 2013 - 19:59 MEST
Thanks for sharing some of your psychedelic adventures, sounds like you've been through a lot, even by psychonaut standards. I think pretty much all psychedelic veterans have a bad trip or two in their past, the kind that knocks the wind out of you like a surprise punch in the solar plexus. Navigating through that and then try to piece oneself together again is as learning as the best trip, if you ask me... but you still want to avoid it if you can.
I've never been one of those uncritical devotees of Terence (for one thing, I don't believe in neither Timewave Zero nor the Stoned Ape theory), but I certainly like him as a thinker and orator. The news shared by Dennis isn't that dramatic to me, but I can see why some people feel badly hurt by it -- some to the extent that they even accuse Dennis of being jealous or whatever. If you had Terence as a personal guru, this revelation of his secret bad trip must come as a serious blow.
My take is a little different--as I write above, I find it just as troubling that he still had places where the mushroom could confront and reveal him as a "phony" or "poorly developed". After 25 years of tripping you should be fairly clean inside, unless you've been playing games all along. So that bothered me a bit, and makes me wonder exactly what all his trips were like--did he navigate past all the personal issues to only seek out the fun stuff? If so, how did he manage that under 5 grams dried Cubensis?
There are people out there with specific personality defects that will use psychedelic drugs as a way to show that they're "OK" and "strong". They achieve this by taking large doses and then actively steering the trip away from any kind of personal confrontation. By my experience, if the drug has your number, there is no getting away, but looking at others (and maybe Terence) it seems that even with high doses, you can sail past all the submerged rocks and sea monsters, if you're will (or defense system) is strong and well-organized enough. This seems to me a terrible waste of psychedelics, and I've always urged people not to try and control the experience, but remain open and float downstream. Ancient advise, but it holds true. What's the use of taking 300 mikes of acid if you're going to spend the trip avoiding all the important personal stuff the acid wants to show you? I've never understood this.
Anyway, with reference to St Terence -- the problem I see is that there is such a gap between what he advocated, like heroic doses of 5 grams alone in darkness, and the obviously terrible trip he had. He pushed for very high doses and high-risk trip behavior, while never revealing that he had had a bad trip. If he had been more cautious and thoughtful, and urged people to take it slow and steady, and also testified about his own bad trip (which Tim Leary did), there wouldn't have been such an abyss between the hardcore message and the troubled reality. He should have restated his position after that bad trip and developed a more sensible advocacy. Individuals receive instruction on serious, life-altering experiences, which can be both good... and sometimes bad. The message must be intelligent, sincere and defendable.
March 16, 2013 - 23:49 MEST
Dennis removed the podcast because I, and maybe some others, reaffirmed the fact that TMK did not stop taking shrooms in 1988 because I was with T. in Africa in '96 where he 'broke the rules'.
I have written this on various forums, but the Internet, well, you know, it's self replicating and becomes somewhat independent of fact. I think that Bruce's rumination after diving into the mind of Mckenna is sheer projection and in fact I can't go along with any of that after having had a very easy relaxed trip with T. who showed no 'fear'...not that I expected him to..
I've completed an autobiographical account of my doing with both Terence and Dennis, who wrote the intro for 'Journey to Everywhere'. Why not read it and save yourself some debate?
Producer/Director: Cognition Factor - (2009)
The Terence Mckenna OmniBus 2012
March 19, 2013 - 02:11 MEST
Thanks for the feedback. I felt I had done a sufficient amount of fact-checking on this issue before posting my thoughts, but of course there is always another layer of information, particularly in psychedelic circles. I'm not sure why Dennis would have to remove the paragraph in its entirety because Terence later took shrooms; it would have been enough to remove the claim that he never did mushrooms again. The story of the bad trip is -- I presume -- still valid, and of great interest to Terence's many admirers.
I'll see if I need to rewrite something in my earlier post, but most of it was just general reflections.