I’m Timothy What’s His Name.
– “The Seven Tongues of God”
Guinea Pigs in Outer Space
In my early teens I became fascinated by musician/vocalist Syd Barrett, in and beyond Pink Floyd. His shamelessly wacky lyrics and his erratic nature impressed me, helping me to develop my lifelong iconoclasm and taste for the weird. He was both like Moby-Dick‘s Pip and a sort of secular holy fool, maybe the kind of fool who hung out with King Lear, and his social jestering exposed the absurdity of “proper” society while also signifying a “drop out” of it. Outside of music, Barrett also served as a rise-and-fall example of the consequences of hallucinogenic excess, especially when mixed with problematic mental preconditions, such as his probable schizophrenia. Barrett’s premature retirement and long pathetic reclusion felt to me like the demise of a superhero. That one profound cautionary tale was a mere drop among a massive bombardment of prejudice and fear-mongering against LSD that seemed so contrastive to ecstatic pro-LSD testimonies and celebratory psychedelic images and music. Who told the truth?
In his priceless book, Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience, Stephen Siff shows how mass media swayed public and government opinion on LSD to and fro, and I think the ramifications of that bunk are still in play today, particularly the association of LSD use and insanity. Magazines in the 1960s tended to hype up both negative and positive aspects of LSD and its users’ experiences. As with most buzz about naughty or taboo subjects, and curiosity was sparked by cautionary coverage, positive fascination sprang from purported negativity. Nonetheless, dread and panic won out politically and legally as the drug’s popularity widened. Horror stories and psychiatric condemnation primed the pump for government crackdown and prohibition. For example, the cover of The Saturday Evening Post’s August 12, 1967 issue featured this headline: “The Newly Discovered Dangers of LSD – To the Mind, To the Body, To the Unborn” (referring to the current chromosomal-damage scare). Siff writes:
The exaggeration and falsification in magazine reporting about LSD has become a textbook example of moral panic, a theory in the field of sociology that sees a role for media in whipping up irrational public concern over something that appears to threaten social order.
Someone who played a part in threatening the social order via enthusiastic acid use was Ken Kesey. Long ago I was mortified to learn that Kesey, whom I respected for both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the persona chronicled in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s chronicle of the Merry Pranksters, had been a subject in an LSD experiment under the umbrella of the CIA’s MKUltra program at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Menlo Park from 1958 to 1960. Add to that Allen Ginsberg’s participation in LSD research at Stanford University in 1959. From then on I had a sour taste in my heart, but, at the same time, I viewed the progressive transition of LSD use from the clinic to the public as a fortuitous proliferation of a fabulous arcane secret. What The Company had intended to be exploited as a mind-controlling, cynical weapon had escaped and served sublimer purposes.
Part of MKUltra involved the acid-dosing of unsuspecting people in public settings and conducting clandestine, uncontrolled observations. For instance, Operation Midnight Climax involved tricking prostitutes’ johns into tripping while engaging in wild sex as agents unethically gawked from other rooms. In 1989 Ken Kesey told NPR’s Terry Gross that the Menlo Park gig “was being done to try to make people insane – to weaken people, and to be able to put them under the control of interrogators.” But the plan apparently backfired. In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Wolfe wrote that though those experiments had been designed to lock down the psyches of the subjects, “instead the White Smocks had handed them the very key itself.” “Most visualizers are transformed by mescalin into visionaries,” wrote Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception, a phenomenon that also result from the government’s acid tests. Kesey summed up the rationale behind the eventual prohibition of LSD and other mind-expanding substances: “All these guinea pigs that we’ve sent up there into outer space, bring them back down and don’t ever let them go back in there again because we don’t like the look in their eyes.” They couldn’t stuff the genie back into the bottle, in other words, and LSD took on a life of its own. A favorite passage from The Doors of Perception applies perfectly:
But the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things.
On top of Kesey’s initial cooperation with The Man, I was bummed out to learn that an even larger icon of that decade, Timothy Leary, was an unwitting (or witting?) informant for the FBI. When the news came out a lot of true believers and close friends were mega-pissed. Thanks to LSD leaks from places like Menlo Park, a dangerous force had mutated into something benign, a la The Andromeda Strain. Or had it? Rabbit holes often go farther down than we think, so what if the socio-political tension brought on by the emergence of the Sixties counterculture had been the catalytic design all along – and folks such as Kesey, Ginsberg and Leary were essentially pawns?
Whatever the actual situation, Leary wrote in Design for Dying (which is perhaps my favorite book of his) that “in the beginning was the drug,” and author Jennifer Ulrich covers the beginning and the drug in her new book, The Timothy Leary Project: Inside the Great Counterculture Experiment, which belongs in the library of any buff or scholar of the self-named “performing philosopher” and/or the so-called Swinging Sixties.
“Junking Mental Furniture”
Yes, the popular telling of the psychedelic-boom story starts with “Once upon a Tim,” but the turbulently countercultural 1960s actually began in a government laboratory in the wee 1940s, on Bicycle Day, when scientist Albert Hofmann enjoyed a deliberate acid trip while cycling home, only three days after having discovered the wild effects of LSD by accident in his laboratory. Scientific and private recreational use of the drug spread steadily from then on, so that even the famous likes of Cary Grant and Henry and Clare Luce indulged in and swam against the disfavor’s flow. In fact, the anomalous LSD advocacy by the Luces was so remarkable, Abbie Hoffman said that “Henry Luce did more to popularize acid than Timothy Leary.” Stephen Siff got to the heart of how a former psychologist and professor became known worldwide as “Mr. LSD”:
Beyond the marvelous characteristics attributed to psychedelic experience, more than anything else it was probably the name ‘Timothy Leary’ that became many Americans’ first association with the drug. His stature as a foremost expert on LSD was sustained by media interest in his remarkable studies…While critical of Leary’s behavior, journalists often allowed him to define the meaning and significance of the drug itself. The media fascination with Leary – and Leary’s courting of the media – made a celebrity of the former professor.
However, Timothy does deserve much credit for applying unique style, eclectic intellectualism, a roguish sense of eroticism and a hope for cosmic therapy to the LSD situation. In other words, he had the knack for effective packaging and branding, so to speak, as well as a hopeful message, and he garnered much useful notoriety and fame – and got laid a lot – on the side.
Timothy Leary’s name first came to me in “The Seeker” by The Who and The Moody Blues’ “Legend of a Mind.” Additional blips of hearsay about his pro-drug sermonizing helped put together a somewhat nebulous composite-figure: a quasi-messianic philosopher/acid head leading around hippie lambs and pissing off law-and-order lions. Later, after learning more about the man and his legacy – and realizing that he was still alive at the time, I did the math about his age back in the legendary 1960s, which gave me the sour image of an “old” guy cleverly insinuating himself into youth culture, sort of like Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson character in Dazed and Confused (1993) or (inexplicably overrated) Bernie Sanders.
As the years passed I developed mixed feelings about Leary. On one hand he reminded me of a benign cult leader, but on the other hand I tried to take his anti-guru/anti-establishment sentiments to heart and believed that he would be mortified to be thought of as some kind of master or healer or prophet. “By the way, never believe a word I say,” he warned in Design for Dying. “I don’t believe in belief.” Then again, isn’t that the very persona he’d designed to woo people?
Of course, everyone had opinions on and assessments of Timothy Leary. Art Linkletter, traumatized by his troubled daughter Diane’s suicide, which he blamed on LSD, had a vendetta against Leary and referred to him as “that poisonous, evil man” who peddled “evil substances.” As is well known, none other than Richard Nixon called Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” Journalist Jane Kramer called him “nice, very charming,” “bossy but kind” and “a master hustler” who “had the gift of sending his persona into a room ahead of him, and then stepping into the attention it provoked.” In The Harvard Psychedelic Club Don Lattin writes that “many felt that Tim had gone overboard and bringing on the heat. Some felt Leary’s main motivation was his own fame and fortune.” And Jack Leary, his biological son, claimed that he “lies at will when he thinks it will benefit him.” Even colleague and pen pal Aldous Huxley wrote in a letter: “I am very fond of Tim – but why, oh why, does he have to be such an ass?”
I’ve tended to think of Leary as sort of jerky and pompous like Steve Jobs, both genuine and pretentious – and romantically faithless – like Oscar Wilde, and puckishly irreverent and intellectually subversive like, say, his buddy Alan Watts. Sure, he could be self-serving, irritating, irritable and disaster-courting, but as his good friend R.U. Sirius wrote in an addendum in Design for Dying, “Tim made damn sure that you had to accept him flawed, or not at all.” Right on. If there’s an absolute law, it’s that we’re all flawed. I do find it interesting that author/journalist Charles W. Slack, who, believing that he’d escaped the 1960s’ destructiveness and what he saw as Leary’s anti-mind attitude, wrote the controversially critical (if not bitter) Timothy Leary, the Madness of the Sixties and Me, seems mostly absent from books about Leary, including Ulrich’s (unless my recollection is lacking). Perhaps Slack has been passively or unknowingly blackballed from Leary lore?
As much as Leary may be endlessly fascinating, I always find myself being more attracted to and interested in the Watson to his Holmes: friend/confidant/partner Richard Alpert (later renamed Ram Dass by the Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba). Subtler, kinder, apparently more eclectic and resilient, he has far surpassed his earlier version as Leary enabler and forged a strong, diverse, reputable legacy of his own – and he’s still alive and kicking (okay, not kicking at all) at the time of this writing. Regardless, this review is about a new book on Timothy Leary, so I’ll have to save Ram Dass for something else down the road.
Buttressed significantly by Alpert/Dass or not, Leary deserves much respect as a historical figure, a thinker and, yes, a performer. “He embodied the optimistic American archetype of pushing boundaries in consciousness expansion and personal freedom…,” writes Jennifer Ulrich. “He represented a change that many in society feared.” This notion of his scaring puritans and politicians alike was reiterated again and again by Leary himself throughout his long career. For instance, on his L.S.D. spoken-word album he said: “I’ve gotten myself in trouble. I’m in trouble because I know too much…I had the veil of illusion pulled back…I opened the Pandora Box of multiple reality.” And in “Ecstasy Attacked – Ecstasy Defended” he noted “that something which is ‘good for you’ can also be pleasant is perhaps the most powerful pill of all for a puritan culture to swallow.”
With his debut psilocybin high in Mexico in 1960 Leary walked into and back out of that Door in the Wall Huxley spoke of, and, as Leary put it, he “had started the slow process of throwing things out of my mind, junking mental furniture that had been clogging up my brain.” From then on the visualizer would be a visionary. Ulrich puts it better in this passage:
There was a sense that these drugs allowed people to become a truer version of themselves, freed from the falsity or game-playing that society thrust upon them…Instruction in self-awareness of the individual’s own game-playing in order to achieve a ‘no games’ setting, and eventually, ‘real’ behavior change, was theorized and practiced by Leary and his cohorts for years to come.
Later in life Ram Dass observed that Timothy had “the ability to see outside of systems,” which was borne out in what Leary wrote and how he conducted his life, at least mostly. His often hardcore iconoclasm is evident in this key passage from Start Your Own Religion (1967): “Dismiss the Judaic-Christian-Marxist-puritan-literary-existentialist suggestion that the drop-out is escape and that the conformist cop-out is reality. Dropping out is the hardest yoga of all.” Even the world’s languages are inadequate in this view. In an interview Leary claimed that the LSD user learns “not the language of English or French or Latin, chemical languages of cell and nervous system, sense organ, which are millions of years old,” something that seems to echo The Doors of Perception: “Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born…” Just as extreme pain and sexual ecstasy defy linguistic expression, so does psychedelic experience. Try preventing another person from falling asleep while you recount a surrealistic dream you had, and you’ll get a taste of the gap between the trip and its telling. Or consider the latter-day work of John Coltrane, post-Quartet, how his sax’s increasingly abstract and discordant noises seem to be desperate grasps for The Note, the Sacred Frequency, OM’s true sound. It can’t be done.
By the time he graduated to LSD experimentation, Leary’s quest quickly became nothing less than, as Raja Anthony Brooke worded it, “transformation of human society” and providing man with “a new image of himself.” With a noteworthy and full career in psychology and teaching under his belt, Leary was able to keep the honey and spit out the bees of his vast knowledge and innovate from there. Three years before his epiphanic mushroom trip, he had published Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality: A Functional Theory and Methodology for Personality Evaluation, which introduced the “Leary Circle” graph and a Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). According to Leary, he intended the book to encourage “moving away from the psychiatric habit of blaming parents and society,” “acceptance of personal autonomy and responsibility for one’s behavior,” as well as leveling of the authority of therapist and patient. The Leary Circle is circular due to its non-hierarchical nature. This new psychological approach was compelling enough to be used by multiple professionals, long after his LSD-soaked fame/infamy.
Along with being informative and engrossing, The Timothy Leary Project also is a splendid source of important illustrations and photographs, and I was especially interested in and appreciative of the images dealing with Leary’s somewhat complex psychological strategies. For instance, here are some dichotomous categories featured on his wheel-form Multi-Level Personality Pattern: Competitive-Exploitative, Managerial-Autocratic, Responsible-Overgenerous, Cooperative-Overconventional, Docile-Dependent, Modest-Self-Effacing, Skeptical-Distrustful, Blunt-Aggressive. (Which ones are you?)
Increasingly dismissive of conventional psychological practices, Leary brought LSD research and experimentation to Harvard. Needless to say, this was bound to be doomed. (Can anything not be bound to be doomed?) Leary, pre-Dass Richard Alpert and psychologist Ralph Metzner ended up putting together 1964’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which provided classification of consciousness states and behavioral games. The book met the approval of the great Alan Watts, who liked that it addressed what “ordinary psychiatry ignores, despite the fact that understanding all levels of consciousness should be its main business.” Despite Leary’s idealistic appeal to Harvard’s Social Relations Department Head that the LSD studies were meant to “broaden and deepen human experience,” the Harvard brass clamped down and questioned the research. Thanks to the FDA, a physician’s authorization became required for drug administration, and the researchers’ freedom went steadily downhill from there. “…I must repeat my request that the name and facilities of the Center not be used for matters connected with the psilocybin activities,” Brendan Maher, the Harvard Center for Research in Personality Chairman, wrote to Leary.
The Timothy Leary Project doesn’t get very far into it, but it’s significant that famous alternative-medicine doctor Andrew Weil deserves the biggest “boo” for being enough of a slimy square to get Alpert fired from Harvard and Leary’s drug project shut down in 1963. In fact, Weil initiated the investigation into their activities as a journalist for the Harvard Crimson.
The lemonade made of the lemons was The Castalia Foundation, a loosey-goosey society Leary and Alpert formed at Millbrook, New York, on the estate of Mellon heirs Peggy and Billy Hitchcock. Castalia featured communal living, experimental sessions, fee-for-access visits and mind-expanding workshops. The book shows Castalia’s daily schedule, which includes some particularly amusing highlights: “Meditation of I Ching in Hermitage,” “work in fields,” “seminar in ecstatics and psychedelics” and “siesta.” My favorite thing on a Castalia poster: “Recommended Dress: Informal. Women bring slacks.” By 1966 Castalia was replaced by the League for Spiritual Discovery, whose acronym was LSD (duh!), “a quasi-religious organization” designed “to legitimize the use of LSD and bypass legal prohibitions on psychoactive substances,” as Ulrich puts it. The League’s Mission Statement explained that a mandala had been chosen as the League’s seal because of its symbolization of how “the interweaving of the infinite universe of male with the infinite universe of female forms the flower of life – centered by the eye of God.”
“The Internal Flow of Archetypal Forms”
I think The Timothy Leary Project’s most enjoyable offering is its inclusion of selections from Trip Reports and written correspondence between Leary and other icons of the psychedelic heyday. Done journal-style, the Trip Reports were testimonial attempts to capture the key details and personal (or personless?) feelings of each voluntary tripper. For example, here’s something Ralph Metzner wrote in Trip Report #17: “The stated purpose of the session was total loss of self…” And Timothy Leary wrote in a Trip Report that became known as “Remembrances” that he’d tapped into “the internal flow of archetypal forms.” This realization of bigness, of a vast interconnectivity beyond the self, was a common theme among the reports, as well as among many folks who’d been tripping since the 1950s. A line from one of Jack Kerouac’s reports is indicative of the futility of binding so many intense and sublime impressions in nutshells: “My report is endless, exactly.” “Something beautiful happens & I want more of it,” reported poet Peter Orlovsky, boyfriend of Allen Ginsberg, perhaps most profoundly.
Now there’s a name that’s rightfully forever associated with Timothy Leary. Ginsberg is part of the main cast of the whole story, and Ulrich mixed a lot of him into the book, thankfully. I’ve always had a respect/roll eyes relationship with ole Ginsy. He could be infuriatingly sophomoric and coarse, but he also sparked with brilliance and often offered worthy insight now and then. In his case, as I do with a lot of other big names, I dig the essential artist more than the art. In a 1961 Trip Report he wrote that psilocybin “seems to make philosophy make sense” and that “it will help Mankind grow.” In other reports, as well as in letters, he had weird bouts of illiteracy: “visualization of a sort of octipus of darkeness [sic] breaking through out of the primal world.” And he’s true to his habitual slippage into Beavis-and-Butthead mode in another report: “…and wrote down on a piece of paper ‘I am a horse’s ass.’ Suddenly felt this was absolutely right, one of the keys to my existence…” (My, my.)
My snobbishness aside, I must say that I wanted more and more of Ginsberg’s letters. (An idea for your next book, Jennifer Ulrich!) Sure, there’s well-known stuff, such as his admission that a huge chunk of Howl was written under the influence of peyote, but the really cool material is the casual dropping of names that are now legendary – and were legendary even back then. For instance, in July of 1962 he wrote to Leary: “Has Huxley sounded down his Vedanta friends, and what do they say? I mean his Indian Swami friends?” (Leary’s celebrity associations via Ginsberg included the likes of LeRoi Jones, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Franz Kline, Robert Lowell, Willem de Kooning and William S. Burroughs.) The best excerpted Ginsberg letter features the following passage, which made me laugh out loud for its relatable hypochondria/neurosis:
Calcutta very muggy & not conducive to energy, and I been down with bronchitis…& slight kidney stone attack & sudden allergy to Penicillin & intermittent dysentery & now worms. I’m cured of all of them but it bogged me down.
Also featured are letters between Leary and Laura Huxley, wife of the inimitable Aldous. And, of course, letters to and from Aldous himself, whose spiels are always a treat. In one letter he described tantra as “the ultimate yoga – being aware, conscious even of the unconscious – on every level from the physiological to the spiritual.” (Leary borrowed the yoga notion in reference to his “drop out” concept later on.) Forever changed and hipper to existence since his first mescalin trip, Huxley went to his grave touting “the sacramentalizing of common life,” something he believed psychoactive drugs facilitated.
Another cool tidbit is Huxley’s green-LSD warning to Leary. This subpar type contained only 60 percent LSD and 40 percent…whatever. Huxley condemned “the green stuff” and admonished Leary: “for god’s sake don’t use it,” because “it would be far better to suspend operations than to run the risk of doing sessions harm by using doctored material obtained from a dubious source.” I can’t help but think of the oft-joked about warning against eating “the brown acid” at Woodstock four years later, delivered by either Ed “Chip Monck” Baresford, Hugh “Wavy Gravy” Romney, “Muskrat” (what the hell was his real name?) or John Morris: “[T]he brown acid that is circulating around us isn’t too good. It is suggested that you stay away from that.”
The Learian proselytizing shined considerably when Leary, Alpert and Metzner commenced a pro-LSD lecture tour and arranged an LSD Conference at the University of California, San Francisco. Leary also released his goofy L.S.D. album, which was heralded by an amusing ad shown in The Timothy Leary Project: “Does LSD in sugar cubes ruin the taste of coffee????” – with four question marks for urgent inquisitiveness!!!! (The question is followed by “Know the Truth” and “Hear the Facts.”) Then in 1967 the popular Human Be-In (pun effing intended) was held at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, a gig featuring the celebrity likes of Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dick Gregory, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. All of this supported his vision for a benignly revolutionary rebirth of humanity.
Leary also maintained enthusiasm for marijuana during his “woke” life, and his insistence that “the use of marijuana is much less harmful than that of alcohol or nicotine” is still a familiar stance to this day among those who oppose the archaic diehard illegality of cannabis in most American states. (I’ve lost all patience with Reefer Madness mopes and marms who give even medical marijuana a hard time.) In 1965 Leary was arrested for possessing a laughably small amount of weed, and he was arrested again for the same thing three years later. Governmental pressure against the popular, influential figure ramped up, of course. The Javert to Leary’s Jean Valjean was country prosecutor G. Gordon Liddy, who launched raids on the Millbrook commune in 1966, pressing charges against Leary and his colleagues for their drug activity. (Unlike the Native American Church, Leary-inspired psychedelic churches never were granted drug-use exemptions.)
As if living out thriller fiction, shortly after he was imprisoned in California in 1970 Leary’s wife Rosemary and the notorious Weathermen helped him escape, and he took refuge with the Black Panthers in Algeria, where he eventually received asylum. For a spell he touted the Panthers’ and the Weathermen’s ridiculous militancy, before migrating to Switzerland and somehow tumbling over to effing Afghanistan. A few years later he returned to the States and was put in Folsom Prison until his pardon and parole in 1976.
The fundamentally problematic and counterproductive Controlled Substances Act passed in 1970, in spite of and, as Jennifer Ulrich observes, largely because of Leary’s loud and flashy (flashbacky?) advocacy:
Ironically, Leary contributed to the very thing he had fought against – the criminalization of LSD…His court case created an opportunity for stricter legislation. His zeal towards “turning on” people to the joy of ecstatic experiences became the downfall of the movement.
In the 1980s Leary embraced Libertarianism, riffed off of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” with “Just Say Know.” And, having been a Philip K. Dick fan, he was impressed deeply by William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which contributed to his prescient interest in and endorsement of computerized, cyberpunk culture. He even designed rudimentary (by today’s standards) interactive psychology-themed video games, such as Mind Mirror and Head Coach – as well as one called Neuromancer: Mind Movie (never completed). He had always preached the importance of humanity’s cellular and atomic connection to the universe, but as scientific knowledge evolved he gushed about the centrality and wisdom of the genetic code, which he called “a three-billion-year-old time capsule of consciousness.” To Leary death is when “consciousness just goes home to the genetic code where it belongs.” However, he imagined technological sophistication taking humanity beyond its body-/biology-locked natures and the literal liberation of the mind from the mortal coil. As he aged his acronymic focus shifted from LSD to DNA and URL. In 1993 he established leary.com with the intention of creating an online repository of his observations and writings. Then in 1994 his Chaos & Cyberculture came out, in which he perceived a connection between psychedelics and computer pioneers: “It was no accident that many of the early designers and marketers of these electronic appliances…tended to be intelligent adepts in the use of psychedelic drugs…” In his final few years his interest delved into stuff such as cryonics, brain preservation, nanotechnology and digital brain transference.
Coincidentally Leary, Ginsberg and Orlovsky died of cancers. (One could wonder if something from their habitual drug use was a factor.) Rather than lament mortality and follow the society-prescribed pre-death schedule, Leary chose to choose how to approach his “de-animation.” In Design for Dying he wrote: “Personally, I’ve been looking forward to dying all my life. Dying is the most fascinating experience in life.” Needless to say, drugs were a part of his positive last act. In the preface for The Timothy Leary Project archivist Michael Horowitz notes that “on the cusp of his death, Leary was still suggesting ways to make people feel better by getting high from a plant,” but in The Harvard Psychedelic Club Don Lattin writes that “in the end, it’s not about the drugs” but rather about accumulating worthy life memories and edifying personal interactions.
Jennifer Ulrich’s book helped to renew my appreciation for and inspired my reevaluation of Timothy Leary, despite some fundamental reservations I’ll always have, and for that I’m most thankful. Leary’s quest seemed sincere. Understanding himself to be a mystery, he extended his role as questing detective to none other than existence itself. “To understand the mysteries, always look for what is veiled,” Alan Watts wrote in Beyond Theology. Likewise, Ken Kesey said that “[E]verybody has their own way of trying to see past the veil.” When considering Leary’s cumulative discoveries, I think of a passage from Lance Horner’s and Kyle Onstott’s The Black Sun (1966), in which the protagonist, Armes, hears the sound of ominous but hypnotic communicative drumbeats of plotting slaves: “In it, Armes found an answer to many questions and yet discovered the answer to none.”
Like many of his friends and associates, Timothy tended to downplay and even deny the primacy of the self, which always runs the risk of real or figurative obliteration. I’m always amused at how much such self-denying folks spiel about escaping or finding themselves (implying existing selves), and how intensely selfy they are during their unique lives. As much as Leary seemed to espouse divorce from the self/ego, he certainly wittingly or unwittingly endorsed assertion and enrichment of the self/ego, emphasizing that all he was responsible for was his own while encouraging others to cultivate their own respective gardens. In “Negative Capability: Kerouac’s Buddhist Ethic” Allen Ginsberg wrote that “there is no permanent self-hood, no permanent me me me me me…There is no reference point at all.” But I think that self-doubters either ignore or overlook the selves that are right under their noses, and, besides establishing acute reference points and trying their damnedest to account for and fill humanity’s common spiritual void (a task impossible for unaided humanity to achieve), they tend to build, fortify and flex their real, quantifiable selves nonetheless. Some folks, such as poor Syd Barrett, go too far and obliterate the very selves they tried to decipher or discover. “We open a door,” wrote Beat poet Philomene Long. “There is no road. We take it.”