Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out (or sometimes, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.)

This mantra of Timothy Leary’s was splashed across the psychedelic sixties.  It was taken up as an anti-establishment slogan, suggesting that one drop out of the establishment, go back to nature, live the outlaw life, and so on.

Recovering the finer nuances of Timothy Leary’s many pronouncements about psychedelics can be a challenge.  For my own part, I look back on him with a certain fondness in the way one might recall your mad scientist uncle.  He was certainly a force in the drive to “go deeper” with psychedelics — both intellectually and materially as part of the early large-scale distribution of LSD.

Leary was a psychologist who developed innovative, for their time, personality models before his introduction to psychedelics.  His psychedelic experience brought him to see American society’s behaviors, values, and consciousness, emerging from the Eisenhower fifties, as one riddled with games, acted out by empty personas.  Any identity with a label — businessman, doctor, housewife, seductress — was seen by him as a game to be “dropped out” of.

The so-called “ego dissolution” experience of LSD was the turn-on, and along with Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzer, they took a cue from Aldous Huxley and re-cast the Tibetan Book of the Dead (or Bardo Thodol) as a psychedelic guide. (The Psychedelic Experience.)  A quick gloss of the Book of the Dead might describe it as a guide – to be read to the deceased – through the bardo (afterlife) existence – with the aim first of “closing the door of the womb,” avoiding thereby a return to earthly incarnation. Failing that, encouraging a return to human existence with a more transcendentally aware “new” incarnation.

The mapping of this to the psychedelic experience, which can have a transcendental peak followed by a return (and, hopefully, reintegration) has a certain logic.

Taking this story into the realm of an image of the cycle of birth and death that one finds in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, I attempt the following refinement.

My observation is that psychedelics provoke a loosening of what Steiner would call the etheric body, similar to what he describes as occurring at death, when the connection between the “body of formative forces” or etheric body (or, in another context, time-body) becomes final, and the etheric dissolves into the universal etheric, and the physical body, no longer held together by the etheric, dissolves into earthly substances, while the soul migrates on through the spiritual world to its eventual next life.

This loosening of the etheric and corresponding enhancement of consciousness brings before the soul — perhaps experienced imaginatively in various ways — the overshadowing of the life-tableau, the vision of the life existing “all at once,” or, as the saying goes, “one’s life passes before one’s eyes” during a near-death shock.

In Steiner’s teaching, this life-tableau occupies the consciousness of the dead for the first few days after death before fading away.  However, this same tableau is also experienced before incarnation, as a weaving together by the universal beings and forces (including those of the incarnating individual) to form the ideal pattern of the coming life.  The after-death image is the same form and pattern, only colored or decorated with the actual lived experiences that were foreshadowed in the ideal form.

What does this all suggest relative to Leary’s thesis?  Psychedelics, in favorable circumstances, can provide a glimpse of, or contact with,  the more ideal form of one’s life in eternity — it is this which gives ultimate meaning to one’s life, the cosmically-sounded word that called one into earth life.

The accidents of life, some favorable, some traumatic and unfavorable, arise when this ideal form of the self’s incarnation meets the inevitably limited and conditioned circumstances of the incarnation form — the physical body — the soul comes to inhabit.  And although these circumstances unfold with the pattern of possibility originally announced by the etheric form, the accidents of life may burden the incarnated soul with unhealthy, negative, karmically unfavorable circumstances within which to act out the cosmic script of one’s life.

From the viewpoint of the now that is in eternity, all things are possible from moment to moment, and there exists a choice in precisely how to act out the script of life.  Reconnection with the meaning that lies behind the accidents of existence, in the expanded soul-space that psychedelics can catalyze, can allow the individual to accept and contextualize the unfolding steps of the biographical past and re-imagine them in a new light, reinterpreting the etheric life-pattern in a new musical key.