There was me, that is the gardener at Hempton Manor, along with my chief employer Lord Hempton, Mr E the resident black cat, and a guest of Lord Hempton who was introduced to me as a retired professor of philosophy from Cambridge University, a suited grey-haired fellow of Indian ancestry named Janesh. We were in Hempton Manor's drawing room. To be sure, I was sat at the grand Steinway piano. I had just then discovered the piano's sustain pedal and, given the freedom granted me by Lord Hempton, was turning out what I believed to be some exquisite chord sequences (sevenths I believe) reminiscent of Harold Budd and the Cocteau Twins. At least the tones sounded divine and ambient to my ears. Professor Janesh was busy contemplating the pair of striking Aztec statues on either side of the large bay window, whilst Lord Hempton appeared to busy on his portable phone, no doubt making some antiques deal or another. As per usual, Lord Hempton was dressed in unconventional attire. He wore what appeared to be part of a black Stillsuit similar to those worn in the film Dune. As for Mr E the cat, he was sat nonchalantly on the chaise longue, an heretical pose that could not, and would not, be tolerated for long.
My musical dabblings were stopped short when the old maid Mrs Cornish brought us some freshly brewed Earl Gray tea. After the tea was poured, Lord Hempton finished his phone conversation and summoned the professor and myself over to the fireplace where the three of us sat down in comfortable Victorian chairs, the kind that make one feel sophisticated and open to stimulating conversation. Mr E, a cat always attentive - in his own way of course - to a social situation indicative of stimulating discourse, promptly left the forbidden seat he had biding his time on and made home on my lap.
There then followed a singularly profound conversation led by professor Janesh on what is perhaps the ultimate kind of entheogenic experience. It emerged that professor Janesh had recently performed an experiment upon himself that greatly interested Lord Hempton. Indeed, this was the reason for the professor's invitation to Hempton Manor. It transpired that the professor had to take early retirement from his academic tenure just because of his experimentation and his wish to get other members of his dep artment to follow suit. Professor Janesh had apparently caused quite a stir at Cambridge and this was how Lord Hempton had come to learn of him.
Anyhow, as I recall it, the conversation went as follows. I should just add here that I detail this rather controversial discussion in the name of science - or Natural Philosophy as it was once called. As the reader will sense, the subject of the discussion has important repercussions for our understanding of the very meaning of life...
"So professor," began Lord Hempton. "Kindly explain to SG here the nature of your recent experience and why you had recourse to such radical experimentation. Like me, SG is a keen practitioner of the entheogenic arts, as well, I should add, as being blessed with Green fingers. In particular, he has had much experience with psilocybin mushrooms and other of the Earth's entheogenic flora. No doubt he will be as intrigued as I by your recent pioneering research."
The old professor then shot me a glance, cleared his throat and said in a voice mildly tinged with an Indian lilt:
"Well, as I am sure you know, there are a number of psychoactive tryptamine substances, that is, substances with a characteristic molecular structure mimicking the structure of neurotransmitter substances in the human brain. Psilocybin is one such substance, as is the more well known compound LSD. By far the most important point is that such substances are profound epistemological and heuristic tools. Which is to say that, once ingested, these substances become a source of extraordinary knowledge pertaining to the meaning and potentiality of our conscious existence in the Universe."
The professor checked my response. As I was nodding heartily in agreement, he continued:
"Well, this might be obvious to both you and Lord Hempton, yet the fact remains that the scientific community is all but oblivious to the virtue of these tryptamine compounds. And this is despite the fact that there is currently a blooming interest in the study of consciousness, whether the study be philosophical, psychological, metaphysical or even religious."
"Excuse me for interrupting," said Lord Hempton at that point. "But perhaps you should explain to SG what your particular academic field was at Cambridge before you so recently retired."
"I held the Gilbert Ryle Chair in Philosophy," declared the professor. "Originally I had been very interested in the mind/body problem. Dualism and all that nonsense. Yet my last few years at Cambridge were spent in the study of neuropsychology. You see gentlemen, I became convinced that mere armchair philosophy - which I confess to having spent much of my life indulging in - was inadequate if one was really interested in the nature of human consciousness. In short, I became disillusioned with the whole philosophical approach to studying the mystery of consciousness.
"It soon became apparent to me that scientific study, in particular, scientific study of the neuronal events in the brain during conscious experience, would yield the most salient data with which to understand the human mind. I concluded that in order to fully comprehend the nature of human consciousness, then scientific facts about the actual brain itself would likely surpass the mere philosophical doodling I had until then been practising.
"Thus, I spent some three years learning all I could in the field of neuropsychology. I determined to learn all I could about the underlying structure of the brain; the neuronal hardware of the brain if you like. Yet I confess that even this approach became unsatisfactory. For although one can correlate specific systems of neuronal firing with specific experiences, this approach still stops short of understanding what consciousness actually is in its raw dynamics, its felt nature it were.
"Well, my next breakthrough was to realise that consciousness, or at least human consciousness, must be a fundamental and irreducible aspect of the Universe. It is the very ground of our being. All our art, our science, our philosophy, our metaphysics, our logic, all our models of reality and so on, all this is mediated through consciousness. Consciousness is the fabric of our being, the sine qua non of existence, the essence of reality as we know it. Consciousness is thus a fundamental part of the reality process, just as fundamental in fact as gravity and nuclear forces. More fundamental even...."
"Yes!" enthused Lord Hempton almost leaping out of his chair. "I too reached this conclusion some years ago. And, to give the scientists their due, I believe a scientist named David Chandler argued just such a point not so long ago in the pages of Scientific American..."
"Indeed he did," nodded the professor. "So then, knowing that the old approaches to the study of consciousness were bounded and leading nowhere, it occurred to me that, given that we are somehow blessed with consciousness, then perhaps consciousness could be 'increased' as it were and that in such a 'higher' state one might learn more both about the potential of consciousness as well as its dynamics and its formation.
"It was after this realisation that I chanced across Aldous Huxley's The Doors Of Perception. I admit to having originally read this in the late 50's during my post-graduate days. Yet at that time I had thought it all intoxicated sophistry. And of a dangerous kind too. Like many other academics, I was fearful of mind-altering substances. It was far easier to talk and waffle on about the nature of consciousness than it was to dramatically alter it 'from the inside' as it were.
"However, on re-reading Huxley's seminal book, it dawned on me that psychedelic substances were a sort of key, that, in fact, they could do two important things at once. Firstly, I realised that by altering consciousness through chemical means, one would be in a position to look at how consciousness changed in the presence of various chemicals. This would shed light on the chemical and physical substrate underlying the mind, obviously an important issue to anyone interested in the nature of consciousness. And secondly, it seemed that it was possible that these substances could literally increase consciousness..."
"Indeed," affirmed Lord Hempton. "If one considers that the word 'consciousness' means 'knowing together', then an increased level of consciousness implies 'knowing more together'. If attainable, such a higher or more real state of consciousness must, by definition, be desirable."
"Exactly," answered the professor. "Thus it was that I determined to experiment with various psychedelic or entheogenic substances. I set myself to this task in the name of science and in the name of human endeavour."
The professor paused then to take a sip of tea. By this point I was entranced, especially since the professor's beliefs and insights matched my own. Even Mr E seemed alert to what was being said, for he was purring beneath my hand, his jade eyes wide open with attention.
"Well," continued the professor. "I first read up upon the modern literature in this rare field of inquiry. I avidly read the works of Terence McKenna, Alexander Schulgin, Jonathan Ott and Harvard entheobotanist Richard Evans Schultes. All American you know. Alas, there was no-one with these interests to be found here in the British Isles, so controversial is this field of consciousness exploration deemed to be - and regardless of the great knowledge to be learned from direct experimentation.
"Anyhow, from what I could gather, there was one particular tryptamine substance that held the most promise in terms of new knowledge and insight. I refer here to the substance dimethyltryptamine, or DMT as it is more readily known. As I was well into my 60's at this point in my research and did not feel up to too much experimentation, I felt I should only need to perform a single experiment to verify whether or not this avenue of inquiry was really worth pursuing. And so it was that I performed a singular experiment upon myself with DMT. This was about 6 months ago now."
At this point, the professor noted that I was frowning. He asked me what was disturbing me.
"With all respect professor," I said. "In this country and in the USA, pure DMT is an illegal compound - and this is despite the fact that it occurs in naturally in the human brain as well as in a great variety of plant genera. To attempt an experiment with DMT therefore puts one at some risk. Why did you not seek out a supply of psilocybin mushrooms instead? They are legal to possess and consume in the their natural state and can be located throughout the wild places of England. In the glorious Lake District for instance, these mushrooms of Great Nature are so abundant in the valleys and mountains during the Autumn months that one feels sure that Wordsworth himself had recourse to...."
I stopped then for Lord Hempton was waving my remarks aside.
"Please SG," intoned Lord Hempton. "Let the professor explain the reasons for his choice of research material. This is neither the time nor the place to hear your passionate eulogies to the English psilocybin mushroom..."
"Very well then," I said, feeling momentarily ruffled. "So professor, please explain then why you chose to experiment with DMT."
"As I said," replied the professor. "I am old. I calculated that a single experiment should suffice to determine whether these substances are genuinely useful for studying consciousness. And since DMT, according to the literature, seemed to represent the most powerful entheogen on Earth, I determined to try it. But, I should stress, I set myself the task of securing a DMT sample in some kind of organic and wholly natural form. I should also point out that the short duration of DMT's peak effect when smoked, no more than 5 minutes according to the literature, also appealed to me since I was not taken by the idea of being intoxicated for many hours which is the case with psilocybin. It was also clear to me that DMT was in no way a simple recreational entheogen. It was not something to just toy with like alcohol or cannabis. It was patently serious stuff only meant for those hardy in mind and prepared for the unknown..."
"And how may I ask did you procure such an unusual plant substance?" I asked.
"An American associate whose field was ethnobotany," explained the professor. "He was able to obtain for me a sample of DMT in the form of a small amount of seeds of Anadenanthera peregrina, a mimosa-like tree native to various parts of South America and still used there by aboriginal shamans."
"And I presume you smoked these Anadenanthera seeds?" I said, wondering if the professor was one of the one third of the adult populous who smoked. Unless one was well-versed in the art of smoking, it would prove considerably difficult to smoke DMT-containing plant material. And since I had read that DMT was inactive if ingested, then smoking it remained the most readily viable option short of snuffing. And professor Janesh did not strike me as one who would verily snuff a plant preparation.
"Indeed I did smoke the seeds," answered the professor. "Which reminds me, do you mind if I light up my pipe?"
Since this appeared to be a good opportunity for a break in the conversation, Lord Hempton agreed to the professor's request. I took the opportunity to light up a Marlboro which both Mr E and Lord Hempton seemed none too happy about. It is indeed strange how cats can frown. Anyway, after a short break, the professor explained in great detail the nature of the altered state of consciousness engendered by Anadenanthera.
"According to the information on DMT use outlined in Jonathan Ott's learned tome Pharmacotheon," said the professor blowing out neat rings of smoke, "I first purchased a small pipe, one commonly used for the smoking of hashish. I took this diminutive pipe to my bedroom where I knew I could relax and thence prepared myself the experiment.
"To the small bowl of the pipe, I added a pinch of parsley with which to smoke the Anadenanthera seeds. I then put a flame directly to the bowl of the pipe such that the contents were burned. I next took two lungfuls of the harsh smoke, holding in each for as long as I was able. What followed was simply the most extraordinary experience of my entire life..."
At this point, both Lord Hempton and I shifted uneasily in our seats. We were both keen to hear a personal description on what experience befell someone as learned as the professor whilst under the effects of Anadenanthera. Lord Hempton and I had had many discussions of DMT, especially regarding its presence and function within the normal human brain. We had concluded that perhaps endogenous DMT played a role in dreaming. At any rate, for anyone interested in the entheogenic experience, DMT represented the ultimate transformative tool, a kind of Everest of psychedelics. Mr E was similarly wise to anticipation and dug his nails into my thigh.
"I remember what transpired with vivid clarity," continued the professor. "I lay on my bed and watched my hand as I placed the pipe down. The effects of the Anadenanthera seeds overcame my being like an explosive impact. The suddenness of onset was astonishing. One moment I was in a normal state of consciousness, the next, it was as if my entire psyche imploded.
"I felt as if I were departing this world, as if I were being whisked away somewhere on a rollercoaster. As I placed the pipe down, it seemed as if I were suddenly awakening from a very lengthy dream into a more real reality. In particular, it felt like the pipe and the plant preparation were but a symbol, a symbolic ritual which signified my desire to wake up to reality proper. I cannot emphasise enough this overwhelming realisation; that in truth I had employed a sort of symbolic dream ritual which allowed me to 'come to' as it were, to leave one plane of existence and to rise up to another more real plane.
"Naturally I became rather terrified. In the few short seconds in which this dimensional shift occurred I thought that perhaps I had done some irreparable damage, that I would never return to this normal plane of existence we share now. Time slowed down and then seemed to stop entirely. I glimpsed eternity. My entire life, all that I was, seemed to shrink or implode to single point which was then ferried at lightspeed directly to another dimension. The sensation of leaving normal reality, the normally experienced dimensions of space and time, was disturbingly acute. On occasion I have watched the televisual series Star Trek. Perhaps you gentlemen know of it yes? Well, it felt as if I were being 'beamed up' as it were. I was still aware of the room around me, yet I was not really located there. Rather it was the case that I felt distant from my body, almost as if I had died and left my body. I would surmise that I was having what is known as an out-of-the-body experience or even a near-death experience.
"And yet despite my fear at this almighty inner transmigration, a number of profound realisations regarding the nature of the cosmic process I was undergoing shot through my mind. At first it felt as if my consciousness had left my body and was diffusing outwards into my immediate environment. I was conscious of my breath, yet rather than the normal feeling in which one feels oneself to be one's body breathing in, my being became my breath and all that the air was connected to. In other words, I had the radical sensation of merging with a vast environment. My being was no longer situated in my organism but was dissolving into....well, into what felt like the entire biosphere.
"And then gentlemen, it was if I left even this domain, for I next had the acute realisation that the normal biospheric world was a 4-dimensional object that one could actually leave or move out of. It seemed that this realm of being we term the normal world was a kind of interconnected evolving surface or object which had an 'outside' to it. Perhaps this explains why I had the awesome sensation of leaving the normal realm of existence which we live in...
"Anyhow, two things became firmly etched upon my memory from this initial experience. Firstly, that the biosphere is indeed one holistic system, like an evolving fractal surface in which all things, all information, is tied together in fluidic continuity . I felt this very strongly. And secondly, that this vast living transmutating surface has an outside to it, the outside being another dimension of existence entirely. And I would here presume such other dimensions to be akin to onion-like layers stacked upon the normal dimensions of perceived reality. I would liken these other dimensions to those spoken of in eastern religious literature, as in Hinduism and Buddhism for example."
"You have reminded me of something McKenna has said," remarked Lord Hempton then. "McKenna said that he once proffered some DMT to a Tibetan Lama of high spiritual standing. Afterwards, the Tibetan said that DMT took one to the 'lesser lights', as far as one could travel in this life..."
"That sounds about right," nodded the professor. "It would appear then that the 4-dimensional space-time continuum is not all that there is. Rather it appears that there are other dimensions somehow co-existent with the ones we commonly perceive. And that it is to these or this other dimension that one's being is transported to under the effects of Anadenanthera. It undoubtedly sounds fantastic, yet these were the compelling realisations that were communicated to me during those first incredible seconds under Anadenanthera's spell.
"Perhaps one could even employ the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin to explain this phenomenon. Teilhard talked of the biosphere and the noosphere, the latter being a realm of being evolved from, yet distinct, from the biosphere. The noosphere was the sphere or realm of consciousness, made up of the collective human mind. If we do use the idea of a noosphere, then it becomes a realm or layer 'above' the biosphere, a finer layer of information if you like. So perhaps the dimension I am talking of is a sphere of being extending beyond even the noosphere.... But I digress. Back to the experience...
"I soon closed my eyes. I immediately beheld some sort of contorting visionary landscape. I was also acutely aware of a presence, or what McKenna refers to as the Other. I was veritably at the foot of this Other, like an underwater micro- organism approaching a gargantuan and divinely sentient whale. Since I was still confused at this point, it was a relief to hear - and I say 'hear' rather loosely since it was a direct communication rather that an audible voice - ... I was relieved to hear a voice informing me not to be afraid. In no uncertain terms, I was told to have no fear. This message was repeated to me about 8 times until I did gradually loosen away the fear that had been accompanying me in this other dimension. Certainly, these communications of reassurance from the Other were in no way products of my own psyche. I was far too disorientated to think about much at the time, so astonished was I with what was happening to me. There was absolutely another presence there with me, as if I were caught up in its being. And I must reiterate that all this happened in seconds. One moment the pipe, the next I was slap bang in the transcendental presence of the Other.
"You might wonder what I saw in this visionary dimension to which I had been so hastily taken. I confess that words are useless here. As McKenna has so rightly pointed it out, such an experience is indeed akin to an intellectual blackhole. Yet I would say that I saw fantastic scenes, many of which I have now unfortunately forgotten. But I saw some kind of spinning silver object both alive and intentful as well as amazing fire-orange forms, undulating and unfolding about me. And although I saw no 'self-transforming machine elves' as McKenna calls them, I was confronted or presented with two humanoid forms. These forms gave the impression of having been One originally. A One or unity, which then split itself into male and female in order that the One know itself. The male and female forms were embracing and kissing in a quite sensual manner, yet I could divine that they were, in truth, One.
"After a the visionary period was abating, I opened my eyes. My room materialised before me as I felt the entheogenic effects subside. I must say gentlemen, that as I felt myself returning to the normal space-time continuum, I was very much relieved! I remember gasping with relief. Well, it was a cross between a gasp and and a joyous exclamation. I was in a state of extreme exhuberation for I could not really believe all that had happened to me. For I looked at the clock and saw that no more than 4 or 5 minutes had elapsed since I had drawn in the Anadenanthera vapours. Five minutes! Can you believe that gentlemen? That in a mere 300 seconds my soul, my essence, all that was me, had left this world and travelled to a transcendental dimension? Naturally I was astonished, and for perhaps ten minutes or so I was fairly ecstatic with glee, like a small child in fact. I felt that nothing could frighten me anymore. And I also felt that death, or what we normally conceive of as death, was an absurdity, a crass illusion that was very far from the truth.
"Perhaps 15 minutes after the journey, I was completely back in the normal world. And I should add that there appeared to be no physiological side-effects whatsoever. No headache, no lethargy, and no disorientation. Only a lingering sense that something utterly extraordinary and important had happened to me. And that gentlemen, is it..."
Both Lord Hempton and I were silent from a few seconds. Then I advanced a question.
"What would you say professor," I asked, "to the charge that what you experienced was no more than a psychotic episode without any objective import or value at all?"
"Were I a younger man," retorted the professor, "Then I should be offended and would ask you to step outside...."
The professor broke into a grin and then continued:
"Seriously though, I have to say that the experience was as real as real gets. It was not as if I became unconscious or that I fell into delirium or stupor. Nothing can be further from the truth. I felt as if I were waking up into a world far more real and far more compelling in nature than the everyday world. Furthermore, the presence of the Other was highly tangible. It was there before me and all around me, like some kind of vast intelligence both alien yet at the same time closely aligned to humanity. One cannot make such things up. I cannot stress enough the sheer realness of what transpired. As I said at the outset, it is consciousness which marks us out as human. And clearly consciousness is mutable. I demonstrably proved to myself that the reality we experience - the world of Nature - be far more rich in character than we suppose."
"I concur," said Lord Hempton. "Inner space is just as unexplored as is outer space. And, if the professor here is correct, then there are realms of being beyond this level of existence which might well offer us the key to understanding the meaning of our conscious life on this planet. What say you SG?"
"Well," I replied, "I have had similar experiences under the effects of psilocybin, experiences in which the Other is felt, the Other being a vast source of intent somehow connected with our species. One finds oneself undergoing a visionary trance in which information of the most profound and sacred kind is communicated, like a divinely scripted movie. The professor's experience sounds very familiar, although DMT obviously acts much more rapidly than psilocybin. And I find the idea of a realm of being extending beyond the noosphere very compelling. Perhaps there is some truth in this. What is clear - as you both pointed out - is that the normally perceived world is not all that there is. There is some great Mystery inside of us and around us, immense yet invisible to the 'baseline' eye of the mind..."
"Of course there is a great Mystery," said the professor authoritatively. "Many people still intuit this. Yet traditional science seems, in the main, to be in the business of reducing this Mystery, as if consciousness were nothing but this and that, as if the evolution of the mammalian brain were nothing to note, as if everything under the sun were essentially meaningless and without purpose.
"If I have learned anything from my experience, it is this. I propose gentlemen that the human soul is real, that we are all on a transformative journey whether we acknowledge this or not. And that through the alchemical effect of rare entheogenic plant substances, we can contact the Other, that numinous agency which can inform us what it is that we must do. And further, that the Other be bound up with Nature itself, that all of Nature is in the business of unfolding its purpose. A Gaian Mind then, a transcendental intelligence distributed in all things and composing all of Nature. Which means that consciousness must indeed have a function within the scheme of evolution, a function connected with the soul, a function relating to waking up to Nature's real and ultimate agenda..." "Which is?" asked Lord Hempton tentatively. "If we accept for the duration that human consciousness has a unique function within Nature," said the professor, "and if we likewise accept that Nature has a supreme purpose and that the 3 and a half billion year-old negentropic wave sweeping the planet is leading to some final state, then an Omega Point of transcendence must surely..." At that very moment a piercing tone disrupted the dialogue. Lord Hempton's portable phone had come to life. Cursing, Lord Hempton fished out the phone from his Stillsuit and asked, in an irritated voice, who it was. There followed some barely audible words over the receiver, to which Lord Hempton looked up in a bemused way at the professor. "It would appear to be for you," said Lord Hempton as he handed the phone over to the professor. "Someone claiming to be from the GIA. ...". Lord Hempton was frowning though from the grunt issued by the professor, he obviously knew who the GIA were. Professor Janesh took the phone, excused himself and then stood up and sauntered over to the corner of the drawing room where he proceeded to mutter into the phone. "Damnable time to be interrupted," remarked Lord Hempton drumming his hands restlessly on his thigh. "Who in Goddess's name are the GIA anyway? Heaven forbid that they are an off-shoot of the CIA..." I shrugged. Mr E suddenly leapt off my lap and wandered away. I was about to make some comment to Lord Hempton about the sensitivity of cats when the professor returned to us. He handed back the phone and then apologised for the interruption. He then explained that he had urgent business to attend to, that he had to meet with "an agent of the GIA" as he termed it. When we pressed him as to who the GIA were, the professor informed us that he would tell us more about them on his next visit. Apparently, they were an organisation that Lord Hempton and I would certainly be interested in, but that was all that the professor was prepared to reveal. With that, the professor asked Lord Hempton for a cab to be called so that he could be taken back to the local rail station. In the interim we spoke no more about entheogens and Nature, but talked only of food and the English weather.
Eventually the professor bade us both farewell and promised to came and visit again in the near future when we would be able to resume our unusual conversation. When this next meeting comes to pass, I will, of course, endeavour to keep a record of the proceedings. For myself, I look forward to professor Janesh's return. For I have a feeling that he has much more of import to reveal to Lord Hempton and I. We shall see.
Report by S.G.Powell