Marijuana and Spirituality by Kevin Nelson
Kevin Nelson is 32 years old and works in the fields of Earth Education, wilderness leadership, environmentally responsible homebuilding, and ecological textiles. He lives in Washington state where he divides his free time between playing music and freelance writing. Using the herb as a catalyst for spiritual reflection, he remembers that at a moments notice, yet so frequently forgotten, we may be conscious of the “glorious beauty of the world.”
Describing why I smoke marijuana presents an interesting challenge, like trying to articulate the content of a slippery dream in the morning light. There is an ineffable quality to this noble plant that has captivated my mind throughout life as it has captivated hundreds of millions of minds for the past 12,000 years of human history. It reminds me of a line by Robin Williamson – “Whatever you think, it’s more than that.” Nevertheless, I’m game for an attempt at describing why this plant has proven to be so personally beneficial.
Like most powerful experiences available to human beings, how we define our relationship to the experience is key to what we will get out of it. I had the great fortune of not trying cannabis for the first time until I was 18-years-old. My psyche had the opportunity to develop mostly unencumbered by chemical influences. My only experience with altered states prior to this time was with alcohol intoxication – a kind of numb, excitable giddiness that teenagers seem to find so appealing. Alcohol made me act less inhibited, somewhat reckless and, in retrospect, generally foolish. The high school I attended was influenced heavily by a focus on sports and fashion. In my final year there I began taking an interest in a group of friends with intellectual, questioning minds, with more fascinating and artistic interests than keg parties and pep rallies. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that many in this group smoked marijuana, albeit with a low-key discretion due to the generally negative attitudes about marijuana prevalent at the school.
This was my first curiosity – why would extraordinarily intelligent and creative people smoke cannabis when we were taught in health class that it was so dangerous, deleterious, and immoral? I couldn’t resist knowing the answer. Just before graduation I tried marijuana for the first time, cooked into brownies – I ate four.
In retrospect I consumed a quantity of marijuana that potentiated its mild psychedelic qualities. What I discovered was astonishing. All the colors and sounds of that warm May day seemed more saturated. The present moment took on an extra dimension as my mind cascaded with thoughts that poured out in phrases and filled every moment with humor and insight. What was happening? I was basking in some kind of previously unknown but instantly likable euphoric glow, and I felt as though I was getting acquainted with myself and maybe my very existence for the first time. Or was it the second time? Had I ever considered my ‘existence’ before? It was hilarious and profound, exotic yet familiar, with a paradoxical but somehow obviously logical quality to it. The most shocking conclusion I drew from the experience was that despite general societal disapproval (and its harsh illegality)…I really liked it.
Being the disciplined, overly deliberate person that I am, I didn’t try it again for another 4 months. I needed to consider what I’d learned from the first time. But upon trying it again, and enjoying it again, I found myself completing the transition from hanging out with an athletic drinking crowd to a more intellectual smoking crowd.
My circle of friends enjoyed marijuana as a creativity enhancer. We would get together and smoke, and go for hikes, as well as draw, paint, play music (I learned how to play a musical instrument during this time), discover philosophy, or just collapse in fits of hysterical laughter. It felt like an incredibly safe, fertile, adventurous, expansive time. It was as though I’d hit a switch that made life seem more tangible, real, precious. My association with marijuana was solidified then as being a catalyst for aesthetic and spiritual reflection. For example, though I’d always been fascinated by the night sky, looking at the stars while high filled me with a kind of awe I’d never experienced before – the wonder of a human being facing the present, eternal, dynamic cosmos. I wasn’t seeing anything that wasn’t there before, or seen before. On the contrary, it was this feeling of connection to the race of humanity that preceded me, looking up at the stars with similar awe, that brought such an indescribable warmth to this reverie. I was seeing and feeling reality through a greater bandwidth. Marijuana didn’t filter the world; it unfiltered the world.
Artistic pursuits went from being perceived as an entertaining adjunct to culture, to being indivisible from the definition of culture. Suddenly art and music represented humanity’s highest aspirations and deepest traumas. Everything became more profound, and everything became lighter at the same time.
I believed that if more people smoked marijuana and drank less alcohol (or no alcohol), the world would experience a kind of renaissance of peaceful artistic and philosophical pursuits.
In other words, typical idealistic tendencies that the media and politicians love to hate about the 1960s. The only difference was that this was the 1980s. My friends and I used to laugh about the self-righteous Baby Boomers who smoked marijuana like peaceful spirits in the Sixties, probably enjoying similar revelations, then grew up to become the most vicious drug warriors of all time, destroying the lives of millions of people the world over. I guess one thing that’s changed is that no one laughs about that anymore. Well, that’s the past, what about the present? How would I describe my current relationship to cannabis? After all, following the Boomers’ example, shouldn’t I confess my past use, profess an infinite contempt for the plant, and beg forgiveness? In a word, no.
These days, when I smoke a small amount of marijuana, my body feels both relaxed and enlivened, active and content. My mind and my body feel quenched inside a visionary moment with a warm glow of serenity. It feels like a kind of cerebral sexuality, like a sixth or seventh sense, suddenly come animate. I feel like a spiritual animal.
I often feel like exercising – hiking or biking – while high, and when I do I can feel my blood pumping, my lungs expanding, my muscles contracting and releasing. I feel the current state of my body’s functioning and I am inspired to improve that state.
When I smoke and go for a long bike ride I often think in musical thoughts. I’ll hear a dynamic, building rhythmic complexity as I’m climbing a hill, and an exultant vocal crescendo as I speed down the other side. It’s as though the plant is narrating the experience of the moment. Hypnotic themes match the changing scenery and sometimes reprise when the course reaches full circle. The challenge and discipline, of course, is then to try to translate that ephemeral inspiration into a fully realized musical form. When playing guitar and writing music, marijuana reveals itself to be what I consider a ‘creational’ drug. A sudden sense of newness and musical unpredictability foster what I call ‘the illusion of randomness’ necessary to facilitate creativity. Chords and song structures beg to stretch out and reflect the dynamic quality of the world. On many occasions I’ve been able to apply sections of what I’ve ‘heard’ in these exercise sessions and build songs around them.
Listening to music while high can be an extremely pleasurable experience. Music simply sounds more profound in altered states in a way that is difficult to convey to people skeptical of transcendental experiences. A musical piece may sound both deconstructed into its primary instrumental components, yet synergized in a way that expresses its deepest meanings and flow. Lyrics may suddenly be revealed as inane and trite, or deeply expressive and pregnant with meaning.
Drug warriors revile the sense of time alteration brought on by cannabis and distort this characteristic in an attempt to frighten people. But upon smoking slightly larger amounts of the plant, this experience of time expansion feels wholly human.
Time slows down. First minutes, then seconds begin to expand, taking on a depth beyond common comprehension. Focusing on the subtle character of these moments as they unfold, the slippery origins of thoughts may reveal themselves within the dynamic flow of a continuous present. My mind shifts from micro-analyzing to macro-analyzing the wide range of emotions, feelings, considerations, and free imaginings.
These observations are available for our examination in every waking moment of every day, but we take them for granted like the air we breathe, like the glorious beauty of the world, like the fact that we’re on a planet spinning through an infinite universe. It’s unnoticed.
I realize that a lot of people smoke and do not hear music this way, nor are they inspired to exercise, philosophize, or aggrandize the world. This brings me to an important point. The quality of an individual’s cannabis experience is dictated strongly, perhaps wholly, by one’s surroundings, companions, and personal intentions – it is essential to be completely honest about your reasons for using this plant. And if you are going to smoke with others, it is important that you feel safe in the environment, and comfortable being yourself in their presence.
Secondary characteristics that certainly help the cause are having the highest-quality organically-grown cannabis flowers available and smoking through a water pipe which cools the smoke, filters extraneous particulate matter, and concentrates the experience. Potent marijuana allows you to smoke far less to achieve the desired effects – less smoke = less wear and tear on the body. Water-cooled pipes, as well, are easier on the lungs and better for the mind. Appropriate technology.
Ultimately, though, the key with marijuana, and with sexuality for that matter, is to approach the experience with mindfulness and an open heart. Our society both sells and denies sexuality at the same time because we are attracted to and repelled by that which cannot be controlled. Similarly, we glorify the great works of art and music inspired by marijuana and other psychedelics (ex. Beatles, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Willie Nelson, ad infinitum…) while casting aspersions on the catalyst that helped inspire that art into existence. Opening the social dialogue regarding sacred plants could expand a much-needed sense of empathy among the human community. Marijuana prohibition has been one of the greatest frauds of the 20th Century. Let us hope that the new century ahead will see an end to this sad chapter in history. Because, for an adult, using marijuana with mindfulness seems to me as much a natural part of the human experience as thinking, feeling, breathing, music, sexuality, laughter, or other forms of prayer.