My friends and I took a lot of drugs in the 70s, but there was another guy who hung around with us sometimes who took much more than any of us. Whereas we were in a cycle of drug highs and lows, he wanted to be high all the time. He was passionate about hallucinogens, mainly LSD, but he used speed a lot as well. Over time his behaviour started to become weird, even by our standards.
One afternoon as we were sitting around smoking hash in someone’s house, he jumped up, ran to the open window and started talking to someone outside. When asked whom he was talking to, he said it was a delegation from space. A space ship, which was invisible to most people but him, had landed in the garden and he had been informed that he and my friend Stefan had been chosen to go on a mission. We would have forgotten all about it but for weeks afterwards he was giving Stefan instructions from the space delegation. Stefan didn’t want to hear about it and the rest of us thought that the guy was going mad. We had no idea what to do about it though. Then one day he disappeared.
We found out later that instead of being picked up by the aliens, as he had hoped, he had been placed in psychiatric care by his parents. I saw him once after he was released and was shocked by how different he seemed. Physically his skin was puffy and pale and he was overweight, but worse, it seemed as if his spirit had died. He was heavily medicated with prescription drugs, but he didn’t look healed – he looked defeated. He didn’t hang around with us after that but spent his days in the pub drinking with the down-and-out alcoholics. He had been a passionate explorer of the cosmos, a true ‘psychonaut’, but now he wanted a much more limited world.
Back in those days, I only knew of a couple of cases where people got lost on drugs, and we didn’t have a term for their condition, but now, as a therapist, I am constantly seeing people of all ages who have been diagnosed with ‘drug-induced psychosis’. The symptoms of this include hearing voices, not feeling like you are in the real world, being terrified of losing your mind, displaying erratic, incoherent or aggressive behaviours, or being caught in the feeling that everything is speeding up. Some of these clients had voluntarily sought advice from psychiatrists; others had had what Western medicine describes as manic episodes and had been admitted into psychiatric care, usually by police or concerned parents or partners. Most had been administered prescription drugs including anti-psychotics and anti-depressants to control their symptoms, which were considered mental disorders.
However, in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), these kinds of symptoms can arise from what is called an ‘excess’ condition in the part of the body (including liver, stomach and spleen) which is responsible for digesting ‘life and matters’. If these organs are damaged or depleted, due to drugs, poor diet or other factors, it can lead to chi stagnation and physical discomfort. In TCM, if the chi is unable to move down to the intestines, it may either stay in the middle, causing physical discomfort, or, if the heart is vulnerable, will rise with heat and go to the heart. Because the heart controls the mind, mental symptoms will occur. (Hammer L. Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies NY: Station Hill Press, 1990. p377.) The person experiences a separation between body and mind. The mind operates in a reality that doesn’t match that of the body. The mind is like powerful software and the body is the ‘hardware’ necessary to interact with the physical world and manifest the ideas and visions of the mind. Once there is a separation the person is unable to manifest reality as in accord with their mind, and this is where the problem begins. I had a case recently of ‘speed induced psychosis’, in which the patient had frequent uncontrollable outbursts of anger, aggression and violence. This had landed her in jail overnight a few times and she would wake up the next morning in a cell with no idea why she was there. She couldn’t understand what was happening. From a therapeutic perspective though, what she perceived in her mind was not matching the accepted common view of reality. Accordingly she couldn’t interact effectively with people as they had no idea what she was talking about or seeing. It was as if she were on a different frequency. We all know how frustrating it is when someone just doesn’t understand something we are doing or saying, but in her case it was everyone around her who couldn’t understood her. This made her feel confused, off-centred, threatened and very unsettled. Unification of body and mind is the prerequisite for physical life, and her violence and anger were attempts to bring people and situations in line with what her mind perceived as being correct. She was a naturally fast-thinking, creative person, which is why she was attracted to speed, but she was accelerating her mental processes to the point where eventually she couldn’t actualise what her mind could perceive. Her own mental picture of reality was clear and logical to her, but physical reality was dramatically different. She believed the latter to be wrong. This led to frustration and anger. The psychiatric drugs she had been given took away her intent, the accelerated ideas and fast thinking, but she didn’t like being on the medication as it ‘numbed’ her. It made her feel dull and heavy.
My approach is to target the physical rather than mental aspect. I don’t focus on bringing the mind down but bringing the body up to meet the mind. It is about strengthening the body. Absolutely every patient I have treated for varying symptoms of ‘psychosis’, whether it was connected with drugs or not, lacked the physical grounding, rhythm and routine to be able to benefit from their mind. In Chinese Medicine the mind is considered incomprehensibly fast, but the body sluggish and slow. In the mind we can go ‘right out there’. This is because the mind is easy and effortless to operate (we can all have brilliant ideas and grand visions in an instant), but it’s the ability to return and, in the case of drug experiences, to integrate what is perceived during times of heightened awareness, which determines the outcome. In TCM unification of body and mind is essential for health, strength and happiness. Chinese martial arts are based on making the body follow the mind, which accounts for the enormous speed developed by martial artists. In fact some martial artists are so quick they have to slow down film to be able to see all the moves they make.
In our spiritual form we don’t know the limitations of body, time or matter. However being incarnated into physical form involves being exposed to constant limitation. Drugs are hugely attractive because they bring the body in line with the fast thinking mind and thus provide a glimpse of our spiritual heritage. Particularly drugs like speed, cocaine or the intense forms of ice and crack, which allow you to think as fast and freely as you want and let you go right out there. They short-cut years of disciplined practice to allow the user to go into the invisible realities of the subconscious and super-conscious mind and the invisible or astral worlds. If the user is unable to process this though, afterwards they report symptoms such as things moving very fast, seeing shadowy beings, hearing voices, or the inability to sleep for days. In Western medicine this is psychosis. Yogis, tai-chi masters and chi-gung masters also go ‘right out there’ all the time. However, these people are highly trained and can instantly return. At all times they interact with the commonly perceived ‘present reality’. Thus they aren’t ‘psychotic’, but live in bliss.
I always compare the skill of ‘going out the there’ to music, in particular to intelligent and highly creative forms such as free-style jazz. In order to have an effective session, the participating musicians need to stay connected to the commonly perceived present reality which, in music, is referred to as the root note or root key. Highly skilled musicians can go out very far and produce the most ecstatic solos, but it is always harmonious as they never lose connection with the root. Without their training they couldn’t have done this though, as it is the endless practice of scales and progression which gave them an understanding of the root note (grounding and rhythm) and thus the laws of creating musical ecstasy. As repetition is the mother of all skills, you could say that the key to safely going out there is the ongoing repetition of some very basic physical laws. This allows the unification of body, mind and spirit and sets the ground for physical, emotional and spiritual health.
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