“Hi! My name is Mu and I'm an alcoholic.” If, like me, you're in 12-step recovery from a substance problem, you're familiar with those magic words. I first said them at an A.A. meeting over 35 years ago, and in all that time, I haven't touched a drop of alcohol! I even wrote a well-known book, The Zen Of Recovery, about my experiences sobering up and getting healthy.
Now here's a second revised introduction : “Hi! My name is Mu and I'm a stoner.” This new public admission is every bit as hard for me as was the first, admitting my alcoholism. You see, for all these thirty-five years of abstinence from alcohol and being a recovery author and workshop leader, I have also enjoyed the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of cannabis.
I've had to keep it quiet and hide the person I really am because of a prevailing disapproval in the recovery community of anything except complete abstinence from all mind-altering substances, regardless of their effects, negative or positive. It was dishonest of me and it was cowardly. But it's time now for me and many other people in recovery to come out of the weed closet and claim our self-determined right to our own definitions of wellness. No, I am no longer drunk. And yes, I am usually high, even now as I write this. Especially now…let me explain.
It's important to point out that being stoned is in no way comparable to being drunk. This much should be obvious to the most hard-core 12-step person by now. Hell, I couldn't even have found my computer when I drank, much less use it to write this post. But somehow, I'm able to do it stoned. While many in the 12-step programs will argue that I am deluded, I have to insist that my long-time personal experience says otherwise.
Disclaimers: On Cannabis Addiction and Alcohol Use
I just want to address a couple of peripheral issues, add some disclaimers and generally clear the air before we move on to the gist of my stance in the next few posts.
First: I don't deny that some people find themselves psychologically dependent on cannabis. Addicted, they often claim. A couple of very dear friends who I helped enter recovery felt they had to also quit cannabis. I never for a moment doubted their claims. After all, the motto of A.A. emblazoned on our anniversary medallions says unequivocally “To thine own self be true.”
That is the only guideline we need to follow about our recovery, and particularly in regard to the well-intentioned advice of others. I apply this motto not only to my own continued use of cannabis, but also to the right of others to not indulge: to thine own self be true!
We become healthier and who we really are only by a fearless self-examination and deep acceptance of our true selves. What works for other people has nothing to do with what works for us. Only we ourselves can be reliable judges of our behavior, needs and desires.
So...if you feel you're addicted to cannabis, then by all means don't use it. I applaud your decision and support your self-diagnosis fully. Groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Marijuana Anonymous are great resources for your recovery. And by the way, you probably shouldn't be looking at this website (unless you heard about this article) in the same way that I shouldn't really go into a bar.
Second: In no way, shape or form, am I attacking the use and enjoyment of alcohol. Those who know me, also know that I'm no “born-again” lecturing one-and-all on their particular shortcomings and “sins.” My recovery is mine alone and does not depend upon the approval or denial of others. I always keep alcohol in my home (along with cannabis and tea) to offer my guests who partake. Never have I felt tempted by its presence and not once have I even thought about it. No judgment.
If you feel you can use alcohol as an enhancer and enjoy its effects, more power to you! I remember how much I enjoyed it myself before it became a problem for me. If you can mix cannabis and alcohol and not harm yourself or others in the process, then party on! You'll get no disapproval from Padre Mu.
The partnering of cannabis and spirituality is by no means a recent idea. Most of the groundwork was explored and articulated early on by people who became icons for the '60s generation, and their wisdom is more popular than ever now thanks to the Internet. Here are a few resources that are worth your time looking into if you want to pursue this interest. All the works discussed are in print and usually in new editions, as well as being available online.
Dr. Timothy Leary's famous book of the '60s, The Psychedelic Experience, was based on the ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead is basically a book of instructions to be read to the deceased in order to guide them through the bardos, or after-life stages leading to re-birth.
Leary's book was similar, except that it was a book of instructions for tripping and being high. Interestingly, the lyrics of the Beatles' song “Tomorrow Never Knows” were taken directly from Dr. Leary’s book: “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream: it is not dying.”
The idea is posited that the effects of being high are sometimes eerily similar to a dying process: old ideas about self and the world are swept away and new concepts are born. For many, it could be scary and threatening. The words of the Book of the Dead, and many other sacred books from the Eastern world, provide reliable and reassuring guides to this personal process of substance enhanced spiritual re-birth.
The Psychedelic Experience was co-written by Richard Alpert, Leary's research partner in psychedelics. The experiences of altered states of consciousness completely changed Alpert and he sought to create a guide to his new world in Hinduism. Known now for generations as Ram Dass, he is a universally respected spiritual teacher and healer, drawing on all world traditions, and teaching a new way of perception and being. His first book, Be Here Now, chronicles his life journey and provides good advice for spiritual people that enjoy cannabis and other mind-altering substances.
Leary, himself, founded a group called The League for Spiritual Discovery (LSD), acknowledging the obvious links between getting high and getting right with the Universe.
By now, most people have heard of Alan Watts, the Zen teacher of San Francisco's spiritual and psychedelic scene. With his hypnotic British accent, he reached millions with his weekly radio broadcasts and numerous public appearances and recordings. His online presence years after his death is an enduring phenomenon that reaches around the globe and across generations.
Watts was very frank about his own use of cannabis and psychedelics and didn't shrink from seeing them as one. His book, The Joyous Cosmology, is a poetic and philosophical exploration of the spiritual effects of being high and confirms the experiences of many of its readers.
There are scores of other spiritual teachers and teachings that grew out of a generation's experience with getting high, as well as more recent ones. Got any favorites? Let me know!
Before wrapping up this “book report” section, I'll mention another more recent book (2002) that makes the connection explicit: Zig Zag Zen. Edited by famed psychedelic/spiritual artist Alex Grey, the book covers a lot of ground and is well-worth your time and thought. A well-informed cannabis user is a happy and healthy cannabis user! Know your history! Know yourself!
My exposure to cannabis and the experience of being high when a teenager led me directly to an interest in Zen meditation and other Asian traditions. So, yeah, O.K., I guess that proves that ‘pot’ is a gateway drug...it led me right into the arms of the universe! I shudder to think of what my life might have been like without walking this gentler path of grass and spirit.
Eventually, I entered a Zen monastery and became ordained as a formal Zen teacher (where I received my Buddhist name “Mu”, meaning emptiness). I went on to publish books on Zen and counter-cultural consciousness and to teach hundreds of workshops across the country. You might say I became a meditation missionary whose roots were in getting high. I’m preaching now!
How high can we get if being high means being in tune with a higher reality? What does being truly awake feel like? What will we be satisfied with? How can we use our insights to heal and change this suffering world? These are the questions cannabis made me ask then, and I'm still asking them today, all these years later. I think you ask them as well.
The spiritual path of cannabis doesn’t have any dogma, any authorized teachings and rules like other “religions”. How could it? Cannabis teaches me that to exist in this very moment is the holiest thing of all and that all around me is beauty yet unperceived. It relaxes the stranglehold that the past and the future hold on our present. All it asks of me is to just chill out, look around and consider other possibilities.
To hold lightly and let go easily.
To treasure relationships over things.
To see the world not as an object to be used, but as a subject to be enjoyed.
To judge ourselves and others less harshly.
To enjoy the sensations of our bodies, realizing that flesh and spirit are the same thing.
And ultimately, to realize that we and the world are the same.
When I wake up,
so does everything in creation.
When I light up,
so does the world.