By Donna Quesada

Getting High

A student asked me about my opinion of inebriants.I’m sorry? I couldn’t hear him well.
Like marijuana, he said, softly.
Oh. I support legalization, I said, matter-of-factly.
No, I mean for spiritual transformation, he said.Ohh.

He described the blissful feelings and the state of communion he had recently experienced while high on marijuana. He said he had felt a sense of oneness, a loss of self and a heightened sense of awareness, while inebriated.

He is a good student, and I appreciated the trust he had in me. I took my time in responding.

It can give the illusion of a mystical experience, I said. But it’s just that; an illusion. And it comes at a high cost, I continued. Because he is an exceptionally intelligent and curious student, I went forth. Part of the illusion is created through temporary suspension of the left-brain dominance we’ve all been nurtured on – that part of us that is driven by critical reasoning, problem solving and formulas, and by an inexplicable need to prove stuff. So, for a moment, with that overbearing part of us at ease, you feel less like competing, and instead, more in touch with others. You feel more receptive, and more in tune with your feelings and instincts. You feel less driven by that need to figure it out and be right. You’re even fine with the unexplainable. It feels blissful.

But a genuine spiritual state is found in presence. It’s not found in some magical place. And the irony is that when you’re high, you cannot sustain your attention long enough to be present. You cannot be mindful when you’re high. Heck, you can’t even sit up straight when you’re high. Thus, the ironic conclusion is that you end up preventing the very spiritual state you’re chasing. Spiritual practice is defeated by getting high.

True spiritual practice is practice at being here. So, inebriated, you rob yourself of the opportunity to develop the kind of discipline that you not only can turn to at any time, but that nurtures within you the ability to maintain this state of mind. You rob yourself of the profound sense of peacefulness and composure that comes from sustained presence. Inebriated, rather than develop a sincere acceptance of what is, you merely feed the desire to run and hide from life. It is a high cost indeed.

By turning to inebriants, you also nurture a dependency. You become addicted to what seemed at first, like a magical feeling. Because the feeling was temporary, you have to continue using, in order to find it again. They call it “chasing the dragon” in the context of harder drugs, but even with the less-scary stuff, you find yourself ensnared in the same trap because you will have deprived yourself of the ability to find contentment through your own efforts. You’ll be looking for it on the outside, just like so many others who rummage forever in the garbage bins of the world’s many cheap thrills, and only develop addictions along the way – they gamble, they drink, they overeat, they have affairs, and they watch porn and none of it takes them anywhere worthwhile, except to the shrink.

Balancing the brain is a good thing. Dislodging ourselves from the tyranny of the left-brain is a much-needed thing in this society. But how beautiful it would be to nurture that inner harmony through your own true discipline! That’s a real high! That’s what meditation does: it fixes the brain. Like other forms of yoga and moving forms of meditation, as found in the martial arts, it brings about the harmony that comes from opening up into the softer world of the right-brain, from opening the heart center and releasing that deeply ingrained habit of proving, accumulating and competing, at any cost. But all practical function is thwarted when you’re high. Thus mastering these forms of moving meditation would be difficult, at best.

I then reminded my attentive student of the film we saw in class on the life of the yogis in India. Do you remember when they talked about the “fake yogis?” He remembered right away. They were the ones who smoked hashish.

(Editor’s Note: Originally published on Donna’s blog DQ’s Windmill.)

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