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Can We Please Stop Thinking of Psychedelics as Retro?

You think it’s about the sixties? Get with the times, man.

Damon Orion

Let’s try a little experiment:  Post a psychedelic image on social media—not a Grateful Dead poster from 1966 or some vintage blotter acid art, mind you, but the work of a contemporary visionary artist like Android Jones or Luke Brown. Unless everyone in your social network is a cutting-edge psychonaut, I can practically guarantee that the word “groovy” will appear somewhere in the comments you get. 

This has happened to me more than once, and every time, it makes me cringe like I’m hearing Bob Dylan sing Cardi B’s “WAP.” It makes me gag like I’ve just downed a steaming mug of Listerine cider in one gulp. It makes me claw my face like I’m trying to sculpt it into a Japanese kabuki mask.

Why am I so worked up about a goofy, harmless piece of outdated slang? Well, when someone invokes the dreaded “G” word to describe something trippy, it becomes painfully clear that the commentator has relegated the entire psychedelic mindset to the nostalgia bin where go-go boots and paisley shirts are housed. 

Mass media perpetuates this viewpoint: News segments about the psychedelic renaissance almost invariably start with footage of Vietnam War-era flower children giving real-time trip reports through the art of interpretive dance. This promotes the narrative that the use of entheogens began and ended in the Summer of Love, and anyone taking consciousness-expanding medicines in the present day is doing some kind of SCA-style Sixties reenactment. 

So, let’s silence the sitars and snuff that myth right here: The use of psychedelics goes back thousands of years before the advent of Day-Glo paint. It continued under the radar after these substances were banned in the ’70s, and with the current proliferation of above-ground psychedelic research, it’s clear that entheogens are going to play a major role in our future. 

Moving Forward

Now, I’m not shitting on the Woodstock generation here. There’s absolutely no question that the Sixties were a pivotal time in the evolution of human consciousness, nor that the chemically switched-on folks from that era made precious contributions to culture and to society. 

That said, there’s a surplus of entheogenic advocates and psychedelically inspired artists right here in the present day. To name but a few: authors Michael Pollan and Graham Hancock, podcasters Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan, comedians Duncan Trussell and Shane Mauss, visual artists Amanda Sage and Jake Kobrin, MAPS founder Rick Doblin, businessman/2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang and entrepreneur Aubrey Marcus. 

And let’s not even get started on all the psychedelically fueled musicians and bands of recent times, or we’ll be here all day. Here’s a small smattering: East Forest, Lil Yachty, Tame Impala, Chance the Rapper, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Kid Cudi and Run the Jewels.

More significantly, the potential that psychedelics hold is much larger and more important than any single period in history. To trivialize these sacraments as interactive museum exhibits, as souvenirs from a bygone age, is to dismiss the entire field of expanded consciousness and with it the hope that we can build a civilization that genuinely prioritizes human wellbeing, that we can use our collective genius to end the nightmare of environmental and social collapse, that we can take a stand against the corporate terrorists who are murdering our sunsets … you know—kitschy, “groovy” stuff like that. (And if you don’t see the connection between those things and the use of psychedelics … well, maybe try upping the dose.)

This world might be in critical condition, but it’s not over yet. There may still be time for humankind to wake the fuck up and clean up its collective act. As sacred technologies with the capacity to point humans back to their inborn reverence for nature, entheogens can play an essential part in this. Let’s not belittle these precious medicines as curios from the lava lamp era. Let’s recognize them as holy beacons of sanity and wisdom in a world that has lost its way. 

In the words of the late Terence McKenna: “I am into psychedelics not because I think it's a sure thing, but because I think it is the only game in town. In other words, it's the only thing I've ever seen change an individual on a time scale similar to the time scale that we have if we're going to make a difference. I've seen over and over again—I'm sure many of you have—people go into a psychedelic [trip as] jerks and come out halfway decent human beings eight hours later. If we had 500 years to steer global society into safe harbor, it might be possible to do that [without psychedelics], but we don't.” 

May the Source Be with You

Given their capacity for individual and collective transformation and healing, these compounds may indeed help determine whether humanity has a long-term future. On top of that, a strong enough entheogenic dose can induce a temporary dissolution of the ego, making way for the ecstatic remembrance that we’re all part of a single consciousness. You call that a blast from the past? No. It’s a blast from that which encompasses and transcends all past, present and future. 

Paul Dobson, cohost of The Nonduality Podcast, has described his life-changing reunion with Source this way: “In that state, it seemed very clear that there’s no such thing as time. The thing that powers this life—life itself—is neverending. It can’t be [finite]. It’s outside of time and space … At the core of everything, we can’t help but be this blissful, pure-love-overflowing being that has just for a little while decided to dream up this life in a world.”

This is the Infinite Eternal; the bodacious All that underlies and permeates what we experience as linear time. It’s the wellspring of all perceived historical periods, all life, all that’s retro and all that lies ahead, all that’s “groovy” and all that isn’t. It existed before concepts like “ancient,” “modern” and “futuristic” came into being, and it’s right here in this precious, timeless moment. Are you? 

Damon Orion is a writer, musician, artist, and teacher based in Santa Cruz, CA. He has written for Revolver, Guitar World, Spirituality & Health, Classic Rock, High Times and other publications. Read more of his work at damonorion.com

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