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5126#5126 - Beginner's Mind, Sy Safransky On God, LSD, And The Magazine He Founded

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  • Gloria Lee
    Dec 30, 2013
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      #5126 - Monday, December 30, 2013 - Editor: Gloria Lee
      Nonduality Highlights • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NDhighlights/
      Please visit the blog:
      The end of the year is often a time to pause and
      reflect on the past year, to remember those we lost,
      perhaps to marvel that we are still here. When my Sun
      Magazine came, it was a look back at their beginning
      and a reflection on their 40th Anniversary. Wow, now
      there's a milestone I won't be around for if The
      Nonduality Highlights lasts that long. But we are close
      to 20 years of knowing some friends from the early
      days. Considering the vagaries of the internet where
      people and trends come and go like comets, there's a
      core of stability formed by about 25 people who were
      there in the first e-groups and still maintain a
      presence in these pages. So many discussions, so many
      teachers, so many experiences, but in the end it's
      these relationships that are our foundation, our family
      of origin. So I was reading the reflections of this Sun
      Magazine editor, which he titled "Beginner's Mind"
      and find that their origins were quite spiritual for
      lack of a better word, and I was struck by his
      forthright, open way of describing their history.
      Ram Dass was one of his first teachers. He even came
      to Chapel Hill to give talks that were fundraisers for
      The Sun. Twice.

      Beginner's Mind
      Sy Safransky On God, LSD, And The Magazine He Founded
      by Gillian Kendall
      Kendall: When asked how The Sun began, you usually
      talk about your experiences as a New York City
      journalist. But more recently, at a Sun writing retreat,
      you talked about an lsd trip that changed your way of
      Safransky: I said that I never would have started The
      Sun were it not for lsd. I don’t usually talk about that,
      because I think some readers might be dismayed to
      hear it. But I also believe it’s important to honor our
      teachers, regardless of the form they take, and for me
      lsd was an extraordinary teacher. It was a key to a
      door I didn’t even know existed — and once I opened
      that door, in my midtwenties, I was irrevocably
      changed. I’ve often referred to being The Sun’s editor
      and publisher as “my spiritual path disguised as a desk
      job.” But the very notion of being on a “spiritual path”
      was foreign to me before I did lsd. As Ram Dass,
      another of my teachers, said, “I didn’t have one whiff
      of God until I took psychedelics.”
      I’d been raised Jewish but wasn’t observant. I prided
      myself on being a hardheaded realist who scoffed at
      religion and didn’t do drugs. But in 1969, when I was
      traveling in Europe, I met a German hippie who handed
      me some lsd. He promised that it would “make
      everything beautiful.” I carried it around for months,
      unsure whether to try it or throw it away.
      When I finally took it, what happened was beyond
      “beautiful.” The boundaries between myself and the
      world began to dissolve. And I realized, not just in my
      head but in every cell of my body, that the plants and
      the trees and the clouds and the birds weren’t
      separate from me or from each other. Somehow we
      were connected. And instead of being frightened by
      this, I felt a great sense of relief, as if I’d finally
      stumbled upon a truth that had eluded me all my life. I
      knew I was on lsd, but I also knew I was seeing
      something clearly for the first time.
      I also remember sitting with my eyes closed,
      transfixed by an endless stream of vivid and intricate
      images. I intuitively understood these complex symbols
      as if they were some kind of code — about myself,
      about my past, about the nature of reality. Then, after
      what seemed like hours, I opened my eyes, glanced at
      my watch, and stared in disbelief: only five minutes
      had gone by. I took off the watch that afternoon and
      left it off. It wasn’t until I started The Sun several
      years later that I put it back on. I had deadlines to
      meet, after all.
      But what I remember most about that day was that my
      heart opened in a way it never had before. I felt a
      powerful and all-encompassing love, not for anyone or
      anything in particular but for all of creation. And the
      next time I did lsd, a few months later, I felt that
      unconditional love again. I felt it every time I did lsd.
      I also saw more clearly that behind our seemingly
      separate bodies and personalities we share one
      consciousness. And, over time, I realized that if I was
      willing to leave a little more of “Sy” at the door, if you
      will, I’d experience myself as part of something far
      more interesting: everything that wasn’t me. Then, on
      one trip, I no longer had a choice about how much of
      “Sy” to leave behind. I was “gone, gone beyond, gone
      beyond beyond,” as the Buddhists say. And when I
      finally came back from that place where “I” no longer
      seemed to exist, when I was back in my body and back
      in my more-or-less-rightful mind, the love coursing
      through me was exponentially more powerful and more
      expansive than ever before. And I knew with absolute
      certainty that all I wanted to do from then on was to
      serve others. And I knew, too, that the best way to do
      this was never to announce it; that if you wear your
      spiritual heart on your sleeve, even though it might
      come from good intentions, it will inevitably create a
      sense of separation between yourself and another
      Kendall: Why have you been hesitant to discuss this?
      Safransky: I’ve been hesitant because there’s a lot of
      misinformation about lsd in this culture.
      Unfortunately, many people have a tendency to lump
      all illegal drugs together, making no distinction
      between addictive substances like heroin or cocaine or
      methamphetamines, for example, and hallucinogens like
      lsd. In any event, for me lsd wasn’t a recreational
      drug. Usually I was alone when I did it, and I
      approached it as a kind of religious sacrament. I do
      feel obliged to mention that not every trip was a
      positive experience. I found my way into some hell
      realms, too, that I’d never want to revisit. And, though
      I think lsd’s dangers have been exaggerated, I don’t
      advocate anyone taking it. I’m also not suggesting that
      tripping is a prerequisite for getting a taste
      of a transcendent reality. There are other, probably
      better, ways to get there. But before I did lsd, I
      didn’t even know there was a there to get to. So I’m
      grateful for that glimpse.
      Having said all that, it’s possible that I’m totally
      wrong about this, and that lsd really screwed me up.
      Maybe it turned a serious and levelheaded young
      journalist into a muddle-headed fool willing to take
      wild risks, like starting a magazine with no idea what
      the hell he was doing.
      Kendall: When did you stop taking lsd, and why?
      Safransky: I haven’t done lsd in many years. I don’t
      miss it. Neither do I regret having done it. Eventually
      I realized that lsd was like a helicopter that dropped
      you at the top of a mountain, so you could take in the
      view without having made the climb. But the helicopter
      was on a tight schedule; it picked you up twelve hours
      later to bring you back down. If I wanted to keep
      experiencing that connection to everything and
      everyone, I could either do lsd all the time, which
      didn’t seem like an ideal strategy, or devote myself to
      some kind of spiritual practice — in other words,
      climb the mountain one step at a time. So I started
      meditating. I took up yoga. I began reading books with
      hard-to-pronounce names like the Tao Te Ching and the
      Then something else happened that had a lot to do with
      how the magazine would evolve. In the summer of 1972
      my son, Joshua, was born prematurely and lived only
      three days.
      It was the most painful, disorienting loss of my life.
      For a long time afterward I saw no reason to get out
      of bed, or talk to anyone, or do anything. I was as
      incapable of comforting my grieving wife as I was of
      finding any comfort in those holy books on the shelf.
      It was the first test of my nascent spirituality — and
      anything I’d learned while tripping, anything I’d
      underlined in my anthologies of Eastern wisdom, made
      about as much sense to me as a loose shutter banging in
      the wind.
      A few months after Joshua died, my wife, Judy, and I
      split up, the intentional community we’d moved to
      North Carolina to join fell apart, and my father was
      diagnosed with terminal cancer. By the time I put out
      the first issue of The Sun in January 1974, my zeal
      for mysticism and altered states of consciousness had
      been tempered by the realization that meditating in
      the morning and yakking about God late into the night
      provided no immunity from life’s bruising surprises.
      But I must say that grieving these losses did deepen
      my compassion for others. I think that a
      tried-and-true way to become more compassionate is
      to suffer plenty yourself. It may leave you embittered
      and cynical for a while, but, ideally, it will open your
      heart, and once your heart is open, it’s easier to
      empathize with someone else’s brokenness.
      I decided early on that The Sun would never ignore
      how unbelievably challenging life can be. Each time I
      slipped up in those first few years by publishing
      pie-in-the-sky theology and loose talk about
      enlightenment, I increased my efforts to make The Sun
      more down-to-earth and less self-consciously spiritual.
      Besides, I’ve never wanted The Sun to be easy to
      pigeonhole. When people first pick it up, I want them
      to be unsure what it is. I don’t want them to be able to
      slap a label on it, especially the label “spiritual.”
      Labels are ok on spice jars, but not on The Sun.
      Kendall: Even after having read it for twenty years,
      some of us don’t know what The Sun is.
      Safransky: That’s ok. We don’t know what anything is,
      really. Everything is mysterious, so why not a magazine
      that honors the mystery?
      interview continues: