Psychedelics in a World at War
I still believe in both immediate action and long-term transformation.
This week’s piece is eventually going to be about psychedelics and politics, but it’ll take a minute to get there.
I’ll start here: As the name of this newsletter implies, I’m not a big fan of dichotomies, binaries, and either/or decisions. Some of this is ideological (binaries tend to flatten reality, create hierarchies, and build unnecessary boundaries) but a lot of it is just temperamental. I’m an Enneagram Type 7 — the enthusiast. I want to have every possible experience, even the difficult ones. I’m, in Buddhist psychology, a “greed type” — I want it all.
As a result, I’m not great at choices. This is true on a small scale (ask my husband about how I get dressed or order dinner) and on a large scale. I work as a journalist/pundit and a rabbi/meditation teacher — stressing people out in one job, relaxing them in another. I’m in love with the spiritual/mystical and the material/sensual (that tension is one of the core themes of my new collection of stories, coming out next week). I’ve been the gay rabbi, the Jewish Buddhist, the novelist lawyer, the Burner professor. It’s just how I am.
Politically — or perhaps, more broadly, when it comes to the survival of life on earth — I see the absolute necessity of both radical, fundamental change and incremental, pragmatic progress. And by “appreciate,” I mean I vacillate between them, like the moment in The Beatles “Revolution” when John Lennon says to the radical left, “but when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out… in.” He couldn’t quite decide, and neither can I.
On the one hand, it’s clear that our worst problems — like the rise of authoritarianism, the climate crisis, economic and social inequality, polarization and rage, war, multiple mental health crises — are deeply rooted both in fundamental socioeconomic structures and in psychological, even spiritual, features of the human mind and heart. There are deep causes of our societal woes, and it seems fruitless to run around putting out fires without addressing the reasons they get started in the first place.
On the other hand, in the meantime, voting really matters, the two major parties are not in any way the same, and we need to work within the system as well as beyond it.
This particular Both/And has shaped much of my life’s work. Meditation, spirituality, Jewish and Buddhist work, artistic production, psychedelics — these are, as I see them, connected to the deep work of human growth. But my activist work, which these days takes the form of political journalism, legal writing, LGBTQ activism, and mainstream speaking and teaching — these are me trying to help put out fires. I do not advise this bifurcation as a career path; it’s not good for branding. But I get itchy when I’m only doing incremental work or only doing deep work. I thrive on both, and lately have tried more to integrate them, in this newsletter but also in my teaching, CNN work, and written work.
It's in this context that, in the last two years, I’ve begun doing more work in the
emerging exploding field of psychedelics. Like a lot of folks, psychedelics have played a significant role in my life, in the healing of some of my own ‘stuff,’ and in the development of my spiritual path, but owing to legal bans and social stigmas, I’ve mostly kept quiet about it – closeted it, even, for fear of losing credibility.