In 1971, while admittedly under the influence of a drug I’ve never tried again, I had an important realization about why one should always do his/her utmost to maintain his/her integrity.
Terri, my second wife, and I got a tab of acid for a wedding gift, and we dropped it on a wonderful little beach near where Route 1 leaves the ocean after its delightful run up the Northern California coast. The beach was small and you had to climb down to it, but once there, you were sheltered from the passing eyes of potentially hostile humans by the the cliffs that stood only about 30 yards from the water’s edge.
We were cautious, as neither of us had tried acid before, and took three partial doses, building to a high we felt comfortable with. Then we sat, almost immobile, for the next ten or eleven hours and watched the tide come in and retreat again. We both had severe sunburn when it was over, but it was one of the best days of our lives. We saw no other person the whole time. Neither of us suffered the stronger hallucinations that acid is famous for. But it was nothing like anything I’ve ever done, before or since.
Acid is an intellectual drug and I understand completely why so many people became such devotees, but I’ll offer some cautions later. First let me tell the story.
The beach was made of coarse gravel, comfortable enough to walk barefoot on, but definitely not sand. The day was clear and warm, with a gentle Pacific surf. We had many perceptions on that trip familiar to all acid heads: as the sand pulsed rhythmically in and out, we could literally see the Earth breathe; colors were outrageously intense; and money was clearly only paper, hardly worth fighting over. But the insight that most stuck with me was about the sand pebbles
When the sun began to set, the light reflected spectacularly off the water. I seemed to have a strange crossover from my visual field to my aural perceptions: I could hear the sparkle. As each wave retreated to the ocean the intense glittering from the sun’s reflection was a roar. The pebbles were large enough that a receding wave left an elaborate pattern formed as the small stones settled. Each pebble sent out a distinct wake forming a V that immediately intersected the V from another pebble nearby, the intersection being marked by a little bump.
Every wake reflected its stone’s shape: Big rocks left larger ripples; small but jagged pebbles left small, often undulating wakes. The V’s of the first set of pebbles continued outward, intersecting more V’s from pebbles further down the beach or offset to one side or the other. Each confluence formed a standing peak of a wavelet, moving steadily down the beach, all the way to the turbulent edge of the next, incoming wave: the whole thing glimmering in a cacophony of sound in the setting sun’s rays.
As each wave came in it picked up the little stones and redistributed them, creating a new pattern that marked how that wave receded to the sea. I began to notice how the recession of every wave affected the succeeding surge. Where the flow from the backwash of the water was strongest, the next wave would be hindered in its advance, and the redistribution of the pebbles would be affected by that. So, too, would a light backflow from the first wave lead to a stronger advance from the incoming wave, determining the next pattern by how the pebbles settled that time.
Of course, the patterns of the V’s were the backbone of the flow of the first wave’s retreat, so that’s what was causing these effects.
The spectacle of the reflections was infinitely complicated. Clearly, if one were to pull a pebble out, you’d never know it was gone. You wouldn’t miss it at all. Yet, if a pebble were pulled out, because of how its V spread out and interacted with its neighbors, the pattern would obviously be entirely different everywhere below the missing pebble. At one and the same time, a single pebble was both insignificant and crucial to the overall dynamic.
Furthermore, because the pattern would be different for the lack of a pebble, so to, would the flow back to the sea differ, resulting in an alternate thrust of the next wave. Thence comes a different redistribution of the pebbles and a totally altered reality for the wave after that. And so on and so on ad infinitum. Eventually, the very decay of the cliff behind me would be totally different for the lack of a single pebble. The cliff would buckle and fall in a different spot. All from lack of a single, small stone.
And, yet, there is no way to remark it, for you couldn’t even see the difference in the first place.
So, too, it is with our own lives. On the one hand, like pebbles, each and every one of us is totally insignificant. Our influence on the vast pattern of reality is, in the long run, undetectable. But, on the other hand, how the the cliff eventually crumbles depends very much on the shape and size of the wake we create, for it intersects with all the other wakes to form the overall reality.
Creating a wake is impossible to avoid, as it’s the water that washes over us that does that. And we have no discernible impact on how the other pebbles contribute their input. All we can possibly do is attempt to control our own wakes.
Our only means of doing that is by making sure our shape is as true as we can make it, and to magnify our wake’s size, if possible. We have to resist the erosional force of each wave, for wearing us down is what life does, but being worn down is not what we are about. We have to try to hold our shape despite life’s continuous assaults. There are many opportunities to affect the pattern, though, for the pounding is incessant. So, by holding our shape, we maximize our impact on the world.
So that’s what I try to do.
The major difficulty, of course, is being sure the shape you so desperately try to hold onto is, indeed, your own shape, and not something formed outside yourself. That’s a harder question, and one apparently beyond the scope of that particular trip, since I got no insight there.
Now, the precautionary bit. I said that I’ve never done acid again, and that’s the truth. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to. If the circumstances are ever just right, I might yet do it again. I might even get an insight into that bigger question, although I’d be surprised if I were to have much control over where the experience went.
But I have to tell you, acid is the strongest drug I’ve ever tried. When Terri and I dropped it, we were in the ideal place at the ideal time. It was our honeymoon and we were in a benevolent natural space without interaction with potentially negative events or people. The dose was gentle, yet effective. The acid was pure. It was all perfect.
But I would never try acid if I wasn’t sure circumstances would be safe. How so many of my peers did acid so often is beyond me. Acid changes reality. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” but acid taught me what that means. When you perceive things differently, they are.
The hallucinations that acid induces aren’t adequately described by that word. As normal people use it, “an hallucination” sounds like something different from what is real. But, for the person having it, there is no difference. Overdosing on acid is a formula for going crazy.
I don’t recommend casually playing with it. It will take a tremendous exercise of will to recover if you find yourself in a bad trip. And bad trips can come about by circumstances outside your own control, even if you respect the drug itself.
So. be very, very careful.