The Sky Filled With Teeth, and I Laughed
When experiencing the divine turned sour, my best comfort was absurdity
In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt draws a bright line between awe at nature, psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, and man’s experience (whether religious or secular) of the divine.
Something about the vastness and beauty of nature makes the self feel small and insignificant, and anything that shrinks the self creates an opportunity for spiritual experience.
Drugs that create an altered mental state have an obvious usefulness in marking off sacred experiences…. But there is something special about the phenethylamines — the drug class that includes LSD and psilocybin. Drugs in this class… are unmatched in their ability to induce massive alterations of perception and emotion that sometimes feel, even to secular users, like contact with divinity, and that cause people to feel afterwards that they’ve been transformed.
If my first (and so far only) experience with psilocybin mushrooms was an encounter with the divine, I found I didn’t like it much.
I was at an entrepreneurship and leadership retreat at the planned town of Arcosanti in the Sonoran desert. I was lying on a bedroll looking at the stars, waiting for the mushrooms to kick in. This wasn’t precisely an official part of the retreat, but considering that the three other men with me were also attendees, it wasn’t precisely not part of the retreat either.
I’ve always found the star-filled night sky to be a crucial access point to something, if not necessarily divine, at least transcendent. Haidt quotes Darwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, but the quote that always comes to my mind is from Tolkien.
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
When I was young I thought of the stars as God’s creation, but the experience of gazing up at them never got less…