Sartre’s Nothingness, Psychedelics, and Happiness
Being and Nothingness
A mushroom trip is quite an experience. You really recognize the truth about the brain in the middle of it: the brain is a collection of processing nodes that contribute to and even fight for the spotlight that is conscious awareness. And you don’t control it. The things that float into your mind are quite out of your control, and you see the automaticity of it. The things that enter your consciousness surprises you. Not to mention they are getting clinical attention now.
Taking psilocybin takes you from constantly being distracted by daily life to fully aware of the situation you have landed in. The spotlight of consciousness is moved to include yourself in most scenarios.
To paraphrase Sartre: At bottom it is a nothingness you become aware of, consciousness is just its contents, which happens to be the world. You are the tool through which you experience the world, and this tool’s nature is such that it is constantly discovering the things it is not. You move closer to these realizations with psychedelics.
Sartre also discussed how being required no work, or justification. It just is, and that is all the justification it ever had, which is none.
Daily conscious experience can feel like a re-run of some old sitcom, and no one is watching it, not even you. Your life is playing out before you and you feel disconnected from it. A psychedelic trip changes that.
How many times a month are you honestly happy? Once? Maybe not at all? Not just content, but happy? You probably remember being happy as a child, those fond memories distant but vivid at the same time. A positive trip brings that intensity of experience back into the mix. There becomes no daylight between the word happiness and your experience in the moment.
That none of this is a lasting effect is important, because you wouldn’t want it to anyway. But the fleeting nature of these experiences puts the fleetingness of everything into perspective. Everything will cease at one point, and these positive experiences are not the end goal, but noticing that every experience is fleeting IS the goal of these trips. Every moment you use is one that won’t come back. This sense of “nowness” needs to be worked for in every day life, but it is stripped bare for you to see during psychedelic experiences.
The Long Trip
My friend, while on his hands and knees searching for this jam in his fridge, could not find it to finish making our sandwiches. He looked at the counter and saw the jar of jam, and an incredulous look surfaced on his face at the fact that I didn’t know it was there, and yet was looking right at it. “It never mattered where the jam was! It was here all along!” We both took this illusive jam to be a metaphor for life’s happiness simultaneously. This sent us both into a fit of laughter I don’t think will ever be matched as long as I live. That something so profane could inherit such an ecstatic meaning spontaneously is a realization that meaning can be tuned up or down given a certain vantage.
That you can have a religious experience with another man over trying to find a jar of jam might sound silly, but has any of this been any more than a play of color, light, and meaning? This is not to say that everything is relative, but that we can turn the knob of experience, meaning, and perception is important for our wellbeing. We really just have to realize that all of the tools to happiness are within us, and that externals have nothing to do with it. Psychedelics can help this realization immensely.
People fight everyday for a sense of satisfaction and sense of belonging that they never achieve. That is because it is an internal realization that has little to do with externals. Psychedelics can manipulate the world in a way that gives you a sense of meaning and belonging that the highly-successful people fighting for it can not seem to find. That’s because it never depended on anything at all except that you needed to notice it. And you never had to fight for it, you simply had to take a deep breath and realize it.
The British philosopher Alan Watts in his lectures talked about how Yogis realized they could not get certain people to achieve a state of desirelessness (a state of nothingness) because the students thought it was something that had to be worked for. So, he would exhaust their students with rigorous meditations in pursuit of Nirvana until they became frustrated and finally realized it never took any work at all.
They’re called “trips” but that is misleading. We’re not traveling to mount doom, we are simply reflecting on our condition. Realizing that the only thing that matters is to be here, and that you are justified in being right here, right now, is a sudden and intense thing. It is not an arduous, or hard thing to do — well, only if you think it must be a hard thing to do. In meditation the thing keeping you from this realization is in fact you TRYING to achieve the sense of now. But, it is with the lightest of touch that you find it.
Finding a sense of meaning in the world of color and light is something that is only hard if you want it to be, the jam was there all along. Because after all, you didn’t ask to be here, you never had a start screen from which to choose to exist.
Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere. The only thing left for you to do is to have a good laugh, and enjoy the ride, because as Sartre says, being is absurd.