Dear Dr. Grinspoon by Richard Pisano

The following letter was written to Lester Grinspoon by Richard Pisano…

Dear Dr. Grinspoon,

It has been said of Rousseau that he was an “interesting madman.” Whether he acquired the cachet by dint of hard work or divine favor is a question I leave for scholars. Yet–I believe that the history of ideas is nothing more, and nothing less, than the history of interesting madmen.

“God is dead,” said Nieztsche: and fear froze the hearts of men, for they could no longer find any meaning in life. Like thunder–the silence of a godless universe drove them mad. The wind of nihilism swept away their minds, for they had nothing to hold onto.

Who can read the Gospels and say why a man called Jesus was killed, or how a religion arose from a murder? Who can say how a man can die–and be reborn a god? Yet who can deny the power–of ideas?

What is psychology?

Jung concluded psychology was “little more than a chaos of arbitrary opinions.” At best, it was “the testimony of a few individuals here and there regarding what they have found within themselves.” Candidly, he admitted: “We are still far from having anything like a thorough knowledge of the human psyche, that most challenging field of scientific enquiry.”

Jung was troubled, however, by the fact that modern psychologies were “psychologies without the psyche.” Webster’s dictionary defines “psyche” as: the soul or spirit. Yet the concept of the psyche as “the soul or spirit” was absent from the modern, scientific vocabulary. What was necessary, Jung believed–was to restore the concept of the psyche as “the soul or spirit” to psychology.

Jung arrived at this belief when he discovered that many of the people he treated were “suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives.” This he considered the “general neurosis of our time.” Jung believed this neurosis had its roots in modern man’s loss of faith in traditional religion and the consequential loss of belief in the reality of God and the soul. This loss, Jung believed, had caused “an almost fatal shock” to modern man. Thus, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, he wrote: “We moderns are faced with the necessity of rediscovering the life of the spirit; we must experience it anew for ourselves.” The question now for Jung was: What is a spiritual experience? and How do we have them?

Jung found it amusing that modem psychologies were premised on the belief that consciousness was an “epiphenomenon of chemical processes in the brain,” a sort of “secretion of the glands.” For Jung, the notion that consciousness was a product of matter was no less fantastic than the notion that consciousness could create matter. Thus in Psychology and Religion, he wrote: “We thus come to those ultimate questions: Where does consciousness come from? What is the psyche? At this point all science ends.”

The question has become for post-modern man: Is a universe without God really more believable than a universe with God? That consciousness–because it cannot be weighed or measured– could be anterior to matter is almost too much for the scientist of today to conceive. The notion of the soul has become unthinkable. To speak of it is to render oneself risible. Yet I believe Jung was right: It is time to restore the soul to psychology. It is necessary now to make a quantum leap in understanding–to recover a lost gnosis.

What then is a “spiritual experience?”

In Psychology and Religion, Jung characterized the spiritual experience as an encounter with what Rudolf Otto termed the numinous, that is, “a dynamic agency or effect not caused by an arbitrary act of will.” Or as Jung puts it more succinctly: “It seizes and controls the human subject, who is always rather its victim than its creator. The numinous–whatever its cause may be–is an experience of the subject independent of his will.

I will not enlarge upon Jung’s definition, except to say I believe that one of the attributes of the spiritual experience is its sense of high strangeness, and this quality is what stamps it as extraordinary. In Varieties of Religious Experience, William James compiled a comprehensive catalogue of a variety of such experiences. He was also intrigued by his own experiences of the numinous occasioned by his experiments with nitrous oxide.

The notion that drugs can produce “spiritual experiences” is apt to raise eyebrows in some quarters, but I would like to expand upon the notion by sharing with you the impact cannabis has had on my spiritual life.

I preface what is to follow in these pages with these remarks as a sort of prolegomenon because I wish to share with you something that to Western science will seem too fantastic to believe–for it has been shrouded in mystery for thousands of years. That this experience was drug-induced–and entirely subjective–does not preclude its reality. What I want to speak of is–kundalini.

What is kundalini?

According to the teachings of Yoga, there exists a latent spiritual force in the body said to reside at the base of the spine coiled like a serpent three and a half times. The goal of Yoga is to awaken this sleeping serpent and make it rise up the spine to a center in the head. When awakened, it is said to produce genius, psychic powers, spiritual enlightenment , and even Cosmic consciousness. This dormant energy has been known to yogis in India for some five thousand years.

Knowledge of kundalini remained virtually outside the purview of Western science until Gopi Krishna, an ordinary Indian householder, published the story of his own kundalini awakening in his autobiography, Kundalini, the Evolutionary Energy in Man. Despite this book and several others written by Gopi Krishna on the subject of yoga and kundalini, the phenomenon has received little attention from Western scientists. I believe this is a great mistake. To ameliorate this ignorance, therefore, I would like to share with you my own experience of the spontaneous awakening of kundalini.

At the age of twenty-six, I took up yoga. I did not take it up for a spiritual practice because, at the time, I was unaware that it was a spiritual practice. I took it up because I had a kink in my back. I saw yoga as simply a system of stretching exercises that might help me get rid of it. It worked, and I was freed of the kink–but I found the exercises gave me such a feeling of well-being and relaxation that I continued doing them for their own sake.

At this time, after practicing yoga for about six months, I happened upon some excellent cannabis. It was my habit then to smoke a little cannabis and then to write poetry. The effect of cannabis was not to produce revelry in me but a reverie in which the doors of the imagination were opened and inspiration flowed freely.

One day, as I sat to write poetry after smoking this excellent cannabis, my attention was forcibly drawn to an exquisite sensation at the base of my spine. As my attention fixed upon it, it grew stronger yet, and my mind was drawn to it–irresistibly–like iron to a magnet. So intensely pleasurable did the sensation become that, involuntarily, it brought my sex organ to a powerful erection. The sensation grew yet more blissful to the point that I felt I would faint or proceed to have a spontaneous ejaculation. Just when I thought I had reached the point of imminent ejaculation, however, I felt as if a thin thread snapped at the base of my spine from where the sensation originated. Instead of having what I felt would be an inevitable orgasm–suddenly, with the snapping of the “thread” an energy erupted from the base of my spine and began racing around inside my body seemingly on some path already known to it.

Its immediate effect was to paralyze me. Unable to move, or even speak, I watched now in amazement as a luminous ball of light moved rapidly within me racing like a serpent from organ to organ. Adding to my amazement and consternation was the realization that my breathing had stopped, and I seemed to be in a state of suspended animation. All the while there was no diminution of the bliss I experienced, for instead of being localized at the base of my spine, it now suffused my whole body. While held captive now to the energy in a catatonic state from which my will was powerless to release me, I could now see extending out from my head several feet a halo of light similar to the aureoles shown in paintings of saints and religious figures. I say I saw it, but not with my physical eyes, for I could not move my head. I saw it with a faculty that was beyond my ordinary senses, and made self-evident by the luminous energy now circulating within me.

How long I was in this state I do not know. Perhaps it was a minute or two, perhaps longer, for I was too engrossed in the experience to take note. Simultaneous with the foregoing events, I had a vision. From whence it came I do not know, but I now saw as with a third eye a figure before me whom I knew without knowing was the Ancient of Days. As real to my inner eye as the furniture in my room, I now beheld the figure of a long-haired bearded old man dressed much like a biblical patriarch from whom great power seemed to emanate. The figure appeared to be moving excitedly as if doing some kind of ecstatic dance while simultaneously communicating to me in a kind of hand-language. What was communicated to me in this fashion I cannot say.

The vision then vanished from my inner eye, and I felt a diminution of the luminous energy within me as it once again descended to its place of origin. Slowly, I began to recover the use of my limbs which had become cold and stiff. I was utterly exhausted and too weak to stand. I felt as if all my strength had been sucked out of me by some scorching heat. I crawled on my hands and knees to the bathroom and pulled myself up to the sink to cool myself with water. I succeeded then to reach my bed upon which I lay like a dead man wondering how I would ever be able to go to work that night. I considered the possibility that I might have damaged myself in some unknown way. I was completely ignorant of kundalini.

As if by some divinely planned synchronicity, close upon the heels of my experience I discovered Gopi Krishna’s book,

Kundalini, the Evolutionary Energy in Man. There to my astonishment I read an exact account of the very experience that had just befallen me. I now realized that I had unwittingly prepared myself by practicing yoga for the awakening of kundalini. Somehow the cannabis I had smoked had served as a catalyst for the experience. Only much later did I learn that yogis traditionally smoked cannabis as an aid to meditation and the practice of their asanas. I was relieved now to be able to put my experience into a new context.

I have shared my experience of the awakening of kundalini with you in the hope that it will add something to a field of knowledge in which there is still little known.

I do not wish to suggest from the foregoing that the smoking of cannabis will induce by itself a kundalini experience in anyone that smokes it–only that, in my case, it did. Nevertheless, we may ask: Why have yogis in India used it for thousands of years as an adjunct to their science–if it did not play some role? Moreover, it should be self-evident from the yogis’ spiritual use of cannabis that it is not a drug that promotes violence since it would be antithetical to the goal of yoga, which cannot be attained except through discipline and self-control. It is a great tragedy that the hubris of Western science does not allow it to appreciate the wisdom of other and older cultures.

In light of the role cannabis played in my experience, I consider it my great benefactor. It saddens me greatly that so benign a plant as cannabis, provided by the Creator for the benefit of man, has been so badly maligned in this age of the kali yuga blinded by ignorance, and that our society at its uppermost level still has not had the maturity to recognize its beneficence.

I wish to emphasize that enlightenment is not something that can be attained through an intellectual exercise. One cannot “think” one’s way to enlightenment, neither can it be gained by a fiat of will. I wish to stress that enlightenment is a physiological process in the very same sense that having an orgasm or having a baby is–and that it consists in being literally illuminated from within by a vital luminous energy.

Although the entheogens discovered in the course of the “psychoactive revolution” have gained us access to the realm of Jung’s “collective unconscious,” my experience of the awakening of kundalini has revealed to me that Nature herself has provided a hidden gateway to it within the body itself.

This, I believe, is a profound discovery that holds great promise if we are to answer what Jung called “the problem of the psyche.” I believe the discovery of kundalini may reasonably lead us to discover the origin of the belief in the soul and our notion of God–or, at the very least, show us that the parameters of human consciousness are far wider than we could ever have imagined. We may also find that there is a real role for certain drugs in the spiritual quest that can facilitate access to the terra incognita of the “collective unconscious.” That this juxtaposition of drugs and spirituality may appear incompatible in the minds of some at this time, I consider but an arbitrary opinion. My opinion is that human beings have an innate drive to expand their consciousness and will do so by whatever means they can. For what is evolution–if not the evolution of consciousness? In fact, I believe the goal of evolution is to eventually bring all mankind to a state of god-consciousness.

I do not mean to suggest in anything I have related that I imagine myself to be an enlightened person. In the field of psychology, I am only another worker in the vine-yard. My awakening was only a transitory initiation, not full-fledged like Gopi Krishna’s. I teach no doctrine or dogma. I present only the facts as I experienced them, and from these a theory can be made. From my perspective, however, the very fact that kundalini exists fairly shouts out that man is not an accidental creation of blind evolution, but a product of intelligent design.

In Man and his Symbols, Jung wrote: “It is a common illusion to believe that what we know today is all we ever can know. Nothing is more vulnerable than scientific theory, which is an ephemeral attempt to explain facts and not an everlasting truth in itself.”

I believe we are on the threshold of what Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm-shift. Just how the soul interfaces with the body awaits further research, but I believe with research in this direction the psychology of the future will rest upon the foundation of kundalini, and it will bring an end to what Jung called “the confusion of concepts.”


Richard Pisano

2 Responses to “Dear Dr. Grinspoon by Richard Pisano”

  1. Steve Haag says:

    Wow, Richard. Thank you for that. You pulled so much together, so clearly. Wow.

  2. Hey, is this the RFichard {isano who taught at SUNY, PLattburgh in the early 70’s??? Teh moved to the Bostopn area? If so, love to get in touch again after many years.

Leave a Reply