Sober Reflections on Getting High.

Via Jay Winston
on Oct 2, 2010
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I inhaled frequently. That was the point.
Barack Obama

My earliest introduction to the whole Eastern philosophy thing came from friends who were into attaining higher consciousness by other means…as, truth be told, was I…

Generally speaking, the emphasis tended to be on escaping from a world we never made…which, I’ve since learned, is the opposite of what yoga and meditation are supposed to be about…though some, clearly, disagree about that.

Some turn to Jesus, some turn to heroin…
Joni Mitchell

Of course, even if escape might, ultimately, be impossible, it still seems a lot easier to try, sometimes, than to simply be here. And that’s where drugs and religion tend to meet…with one, of course, far more destructive than the other…though I won’t say which one I think that is….

In Euripides Bacchae, Pentheus, king of Thebes, decides the people of his city need to be more rational and sober…no more honoring Dionysus with drunkenness and revelry. To make a long story short, Pentheus’ head ends up on a stick carried by his mother as she leads a group of revelers marching into Thebes.

Wasn’t lookin’ too good but I was feelin’ real well…
Keith Richards

In all seriousness, and fully aware of just how politically incorrect and irresponsible it is to say so, I think getting turned on to marijuana as a teenager probably saved my life…since getting high was at least one thing other than masturbation that gave me hope that happiness might still be possible when life seemed like a bottomless shit-hole of alienation and misery.

But that was a long time ago.

The last couple times I smoked pot, it kind of reminded me of how yoga makes me feel, but with a kind of mental fuzziness rather than clarity, and a nasty feeling in my throat and sinuses.

All in all, I think I’ll stick to yoga.

*adapted from a very different version at Yoga for Cynics


About Jay Winston

Jay S. Winston, founder and proprietor of Yoga for Cynics (, has a PhD in English, making him the kind of doctor who, in case of life-threatening emergency, can explain Faulkner while you die, is currently (semi-)(un-)employed as a freelance writer and editor, teaches creative writing to homeless men, tutors recovering addicts in reading, was recently certified as a Kripalu yoga teacher, gets around mostly by bicycle, is trying to find an agent for his novel, resides in the bucolic Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, State of Mildly Inebriated Samadhi, U.S.A. and, like most people who bike and practice yoga, used to live in Boulder.


15 Responses to “Sober Reflections on Getting High.”

  1. Great blog, Jay.

    You're probably aware that many ancient Yoga texts mention the illusive "soma", which historians believe might have been an hallucinogen, perhaps a mushroom or an herb. Georg Feurstein relates that soma was an integral part of the most ancient Vedic rituals in The Yoga Tradition.

    Even the austere, disciplined Yoga Sutra states matter-of-factly, after detailed instructions on progressive meditation leading to realization, that "these attainments may also arise through the use of herbs." (This is going to be the first item in a blog I'm going to write someday called "The Surprising Lines in the Yoga Sutra No One Ever Tells You About.")

    That doesn't mean we should endorse drugs as meditation today. We can forgive the Yoga sages for not knowing that some drugs achieve their results by destroying brain cells and truly damaging a person's ability to perceive reality. But they did put the experiences in exactly the same category as the high one gets from meditation.

    And of course we have no way of knowing, I don't think, what the soma plant was exactly, and whether it was benign or harmful to the brain.

    A more relevant and provocative question for today is, does highly advanced meditation achieve its results in the same way? Is meditation to extent of a drug-like stupor dangerous in the same way drugs themselves are? There are certainly off-the-chart practitioners in India who might make you think so.

    Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in his sixties influenced Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali openly and unashamedly compares the experience of samahdi with the experience of LSD (as does, of course, Ram Dass in Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita.) Then Saraswati writes, but you should stick to meditation, because it's probably safer, and it's better not to take shortcuts anyway.

    There's a guy at University of Wisconsin who has been studying the brains of monks in advanced stages of meditation. He probably knows the answer to this question already.

    I hope some more knowledgeable readers will step in to help us out here.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. harry the don says:

    that's right, bob, in fact did you know that taking a single trip of lsd destroys the same number of braincells as drinking a whole bottle of whiskey?

  3. Blake says:

    Drugs offer a key-hole, not a door.

  4. jcrows says:

    Samaya is the commitment one makes to one's awareness. Is there such a thing as the spirit molecule?!/The.Spirit.Molecule?re

  5. harry the don says:

    is there balls

  6. jcrows says:

    The Use of Entheogens in the Vajrayana Tradition: a brief summary of preliminary findings together with a partial bibliography.

  7. The article wasn't "researched." It's based on personal experience with both pot and yoga.
    And apparently, to you, my personal experience is "nonsense." Thank you for sharing.

  8. dharma_singh says:

    I believe smoking ganja is comparable to yoga to a certain degree. There are a lot of sadhus who are considered to be yogis that smoke ganja all day. It's done with devotion to Shiva so it's a bit more of a Bhakti path than a Hatha practice, but there is some overlap. Some scholars say ganja is the Soma of the Vedas, as Bob mentioned earlier, ingested to bring about enlightenment. Hatha yoga uses your body (the greek word for body is soma) to produce the same effect. So there are some parallels to ganja and yoga.

  9. victoriainspace says:

    i love this, i'm glad you shared it. i'd like to know more about marijuana in spirituality.

  10. Thanks for this very interesting additional information, dharma_dingh.

    I have to say that, for me personally, Yoga completely loses all its appeal when associated with any sort of mind-altering substance at all. Not saying everyone has to be that way, of course, just relating my personal point of view for my world today., regardless of historical practice or current sadhu highs.

    I'm still trying to figure out how to write a review of Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita. It's a brilliant, luminous Bhagavad Gita commentary, but I can't get my arms around Ram Dass' glorification of drugs and his scarily irrational guru worship. I need to think about it some more, probably just write it like I see it, I guess.

    Bob Weisenberg

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