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In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

Above: Ram Dass, late 60s, from “Birth of a Psychedelic Culture”

Forever Remembering Ram Dass

Psychedelic pioneer, countercultural icon, spiritual teacher, and Synergetic Press author Ram Dass passed away last month. He peacefully departed from his body on 22 December 2019, at the ripe age of 88 surrounded by friends and loved ones at his home in Maui. 

Without a doubt, Ram Dass was one of the most symbolically representative figures of the countercultural consciousness revolution that took place in the 1960s and 70s. From formidable Harvard professor, LSD researcher, and right-hand man to Timothy Leary, he helped to initiate the psychedelic era to later becoming the spiritual teacher known world over as Ram Dass. 

Born Richard Alpert in April 1931, he graduated from Tufts University in Boston, earning a doctorate in psychology at Stanford, and becoming a high-flying professor of psychology at Harvard University. In the early 1960s, Alpert worked together with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner at Harvard University, emerging as a figurehead in the countercultural scene. 

Higher Consciousness at Harvard

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary & Ralph Metzner

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzner

It was under Timothy Leary’s influence that Richard Alpert came to have his first psychedelic experience. Leary had experienced psilocybin mushrooms in Mexico, holding that the experience revealed more about human psychology than he’d spent his career learning. Alpert found himself intrigued by Leary’s description of the mushroom, and soon enough an experiment had been arranged. Alpert describes his first experience with psychedelics as extremely powerful, bringing about an ego-death, dissolving the image of himself that he’d spent his career working towards. Reflecting on his dissolving identity, he said:

“‘Well, I guess I don’t really need that anymore’ and I sat back and relaxed. And the minute I said, ‘I don’t need that anymore,’ the figure changed and it was somebody else. I sat forward and there I was again, except now I was the young cosmopolite. My ‘cosmopoliteness’ was sitting over there; alright, well I guess I can do without that. Sat back. And in a sequence, all of my social roles went by— ‘loverness,’ ‘wise man,’ ‘kind person—all of my roles. With each one, I said: ‘Okay, well too bad about that one, there it goes.’”

In 1960, Timothy Leary ordered psilocybin from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, with the aim of investigating how different manners of administration could generate different experiences. Richard Alpert, alongside Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner (who passed away last year), collaborated with figures like Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg in order to carry out research into human consciousness, which later became known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. 

Soon the Harvard professors began to include LSD in their experiments. Although psilocybin and LSD were both legal at the time, their research was considered to be highly controversial and its legitimacy was questioned by the faculty at Harvard, leading to Alpert and Leary being jointly dismissed in 1963. 

Learn more about LSD, it’s history, and how it was first synthesized.

Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

Unperturbed, the unorthodox Harvard trio relocated to an estate in Millbrook, New York, offered to them by heirs of the Mellon fortune, in order to continue their research. Alpert and Leary went from being academic to legendary counterculture icons, forever changing a generation of Americans with their explorations into the usness. 

An illuminating conversation between Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner is presented in our publication, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, Harvard, Millbrook, and the Sixties, in which they shine light on these radical experiments, and provide an understanding of the history of the sixties.

CLICK HERE to read Ram Dass’s and Ralph Metzner’s reflections in this last chapter of their memoir on a decade of experimentation with psychedelics and pioneering the science of consciousness research with their colleague Timothy Leary.

The Trap of Getting High 

Psychedelics were undoubtedly the catalysts that led Richard Alpert to India, seeking a more permanent form of enlightenment. The awakenings induced by psychedelic substances never lasted for long, and Alpert longed for a way to maintain and integrate expanded states of consciousness. Disillusioned with the experiments at Millbrook, Alpert traveled to India in 1967 in search of a more enduring experience of enlightenment. In India, he became the devoted disciple of the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, tenderly known as Maharajji. It was Maharajji who renamed Alpert as ‘Ram Dass’, meaning “Servant of God”.

During his time in India, Ram Dass gave his guru a hefty dose of LSD, curious to see how Maharajji would react. However, it had no impact, and the holy man was unaffected by the drug, telling Ram Dass that one could take a drug and “stay in the room with Christ for only a few hours instead of living with the Lord.” It was this notion that led Ram Dass to make his life about spiritual practice, his relationship with psychedelics taking a backseat. 

We Wouldn’t Be Here Now without Ram Dass

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Ram Dass’s ‘Be Here Now’

Ram Dass was a major harbinger of the New Age movement, and after returning to America, long-haired and bearded, Ram Dass devoted himself to the path of selfless service, making Maharajji’s teachings his work, eventually becoming considered a guru himself.

“A guru only exists to serve his devotees, that’s the only reason for his existence. And seeing him in the physical form is only another part of the dance and another part of the illusion.”

Upon returning from India in 1971, Ram Dass distilled his spiritually enlightening experiences, publishing his seminal book Be Here Now in which he imparts the teachings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji. Be Here Now was perhaps Ram Dass’s most influential work, and it continues to be exceptionally resonant for generations of spiritual seekers, having sold over two million copies since it was first published. In a sense, the book made novel Eastern spiritual and philosophical ideas palatable to the Western mind, propelling the New Age discourse on mindful awareness, positivity, and higher consciousness. 

No Stranger to Death

An experienced psychonaut, Ram Dass knew the terrain of ego-death intimately, having co-authored The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner to guide people through experiences of ego-death encountered in the psychedelic experience. 

Beyond this, in 1997, Ram Dass suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side, unable to find the words which before had flowed so fluidly. Going from being fully independent to being dependent on others, and having to learn how to speak again, he described the stroke as “ego-shattering”. Emphasizing the importance of “being here now”, Ram Dass viewed death as a reminder to live more fully, encouraging us to be in the moment and remember that our souls transcend space, time and the transient existence of the physical body. 

In the past, he had spoken of his acceptance of death. Last year, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine he was asked how he’d come to this acceptance. In response, he shared: 

“When I arrived at my soul. Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.”

A Word from Michael Gosney, Synergetic Press, Associate Publisher

“It was an honor to have known all three of the main characters in the Harvard Psychedelic Club. The first was Timothy Leary, who I befriended in the early 90s during his final Chaos and Cyberculture phase when he appeared at several of our Digital Be-In events in San Francisco, and we held parties at his house in Bel Air during the Digital Hollywood conferences. I met Ram Dass at Tim’s 75th birthday where he made a theatric entrance with a gigantic bouquet of roses, symbolizing his love for Tim and the end of their estrangement at the time.

Ralph Metzner and I met in the late 90s with his participation in the Digital Be-In, and in 2003 I organized the after-party in San Francisco for his groundbreaking conference on Ayahuasca. The following year Ram Dass finally made our spirited cyberculture event when we held a Ram Dass discussion circle moderated by Wavy Gravy at Digital Be-In 13 (May 29, 2004, Memorial Day with themed “The Transparent Network”).

I have long been fascinated by the respective roles these three iconic figures played on the world stage. Timothy took the celebrity visionary path and continued to hack mainstream culture in various ways. Ralph never stopped working as a serious consciousness researcher and became the guide of guides, leading the neo-shamanic movement and helping to set in motion today’s psychedelic research renaissance. Richard Alpert in becoming Baba Ram Dass took the path of spirit, and starting with his classic transmission Be Here Now, translated age-old principles for a new generation of seekers looking for deeper insights into life than the prevailing materialist paradigm offered. His many books, seminars, and organizations (such as Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation) were all products of his commitment to compassion. Before his passing, he initiated the Be Here Now Network an ongoing resource from his core circle of teachers.

Although I never had the opportunity to know Ram Dass as I did the other two, events and people seemed to keep us connected, including friends who managed his tours before the stroke constrained his travel, friends who made the beautiful documentary Dying to Know, and my work over the years with Synergetic Press, which in effect began with a launch party for Birth of a Psychedelic Culture edited by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner at the legendary Anon Salon venue in San Francisco.

The last time I saw Ram Dass was in 2016 when he wheeled up to the table at the wedding of mutual friends in Maui. Although his energy was limited that day, he took the time to come and join in the celebration and bless the event. All in attendance felt that signature loving vibration.

Thank you, dear brother, for all you contributed to our shared journey through these remarkable times. Onward into the subtle realms…”

 

Summer of Love Sale: LSD & 1960s Counterculture

Summer of Love Sale: LSD & 1960s Counterculture

Albert HofmannSummer Love Sale and The 50th Anniversary of Woodstock

This year commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the legendary music festival Woodstock. Woodstock began in 1969, taking place in Bethel, New York. It was one of the world’s most iconic music festivals with an enormous attendance of over 400,00 people, bringing people together in times of great social turmoil. Formally known as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” it served as a testimony of music’s power to unite people, giving hope of a better future. 

In order to celebrate Woodstock and the revolutionary culture surrounding it, we are offering a ‘Summer Love Sale’ on Mystic Chemist which tells the story of the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann and his discovery of LSD. The role of LSD and other mind-manifesting substances should not be overlooked in the 1960s countercultural revolution. 

Get Mystic Chemist half price with the coupon code: summerlove

San Francisco’s Human Be-In: The Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

Poster advertising the ‘Human Be-In’ designed by Stanley Mouse, and Michael Bowen using the photograph of artist Casey Sonnabend (via Wikicommons).

Woodstock alongside the revolutionary youth culture that it celebrated emanated from the rapid movement that developed in 1967, leading up to ‘the Summer of Love.’ 

San Francisco’s legendary Human Be-In took place in Golden Gate Park, January 1967, serving as a prelude to the Summer of Love. An estimated 20,000 people attended what was planned to be a small “gathering of the tribes” in order to protest the new California law banning the use of the psychoactive drug LSD. 

The Be-In represented the birth of ‘hippie’ culture with a generation of young adults finding themselves disillusioned by authority figures due to the Vietnam war, the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the continued struggle for civil rights. The gathering cemented the foundational ideas of 1960s counterculture including: radical liberalism, the rejection of materialism, socio-political decentralization, communal living, and the idea that we could evolve consciousness by using psychoactive substances such as LSD.

The Be-In was attended by counterculture figureheads such as the beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg who unconsciously embodied the generational shift between the beatnik bohemians and the hippie generation. Timothy Leary (see below), famed LSD guru and ex-Harvard psychologist stood up amongst the crowds and encouraged young Americans to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

 

The Summer of Love

As it turned out, the youth heeded Leary’s enticing call and by the summer of 1967 as many as 100,000 people had made their way down to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, inspired by the possibility of creating a new way of life. 

Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, San Francisco and the Bay Area had attracted individuals searching for alternative lifestyles. Beatnik figures such as Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs lived in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. Their works helped to germinate the hippie movement, expressing contempt to 1950s America, rejecting materialism and encouraging spiritual, sexual and cognitive exploration. Thus, Haight-Ashbury which was already the home of several alternative communities became the epicenter for hippie culture.

The Be-In was an underground experiment which unwittingly inspired a spontaneous uprising of radical youth culture, the likes of which had never been seen before. Haight-Ashbury was no longer a quiet down-town neighborhood, its culture became infectious and mushroomed into the mainstream – The Summer of Love had begun. 

The Discovery of LSD 

Albert Hofmann first synthesized Lsysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) in 1938 whilst working for Sandoz laboratories researching compounds that would act as respiratory and circulatory stimulants. The psychoactive properties of LSD were not discovered until April 1943 when Hofmann decided to intentionally ingest the substance in a self-experiment to ascertain its effects. Read more about Hofmann, and the world’s first LSD trip.

LSD presented itself as a significant discovery in the fields of psychiatry and psychology as it was believed to have possible clinical applications. Initially it was thought of as a ‘psychotomimetic’ and believed to be capable of producing a model for psychosis. It was also researched for its potential to treat addiction and conversely encourage creative thinking. Reflecting upon the importance of LSD, Hofmann stated that:

“I knew immediately that this drug would have importance for psychiatry but, at that time, I would never have believed that this substance could be used in the drug scene, just for pleasure. For me, it was a deep and mystical experience and not just an everyday pleasurable one. I never had the idea that it could be used as a pleasure drug.”

Timothy Leary and the Rise of LSD 

Hofmann could never have anticipated how LSD was to escape the bounds of the laboratory, making its way into mainstream culture. For this reason he refered to LSD as his “problem child.”

LSD was largely popularised by the ex-Harvard psychologist, Timothy Leary who believed it to be an important tool in the exploration of consciousness, and a shortcut to spiritual enlightenment.

Timothy Leary

Leary, like most of the avatars of the early psychedelic movement, saw the value of psychedelics as deconditioning and deprogramming agents. Psychedelics allow users to “unhook the ambitions and symbolic drives and the mental connections which keep you addicted and tied to the immediate tribal game.” They break the trance of consensus culture. ─Daniel Pinchbeck, Breaking Open the Head

Leary was fired his position as an instructor on the Psychology Faculty at Harvard due to the controversy surrounding his research. No longer a lecturer, he began a campaign advocating the use of psychoactive drugs for personal development, often inviting friends and the occasional graduate student to participate in psychedelic sessions with him and his colleague Richard Alpert (Ram Dass).

Later, President Nixon deemed him as “the most dangerous man in America.” Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ demonized psychoactive substances, ruling out their possible medical value and making them illegal, causing research into LSD to come to a grinding halt.

To learn more about LSD, its history, and pivotal role in creating the 1960s counterculture, check out Mystic Chemist which we are offering  half-price!


Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSDMystic Chemist

By Dieter Hagenbach & Lucius Werthmüller

Mystic Chemist is the authoritative biography on arguably the most famous chemist of the 20th century. Authors Hagenbach and Werthmüller, close friends of Hofmann, take us on a journey through the 20th century from his mystical childhood experiences with nature; to his chemistry studies with Nobel Prize winner Paul Karrer in Zurich through his discoveries of both LSD and psilocybin at Sandoz; to his adventurous expeditions and his many years of retirement devoted to philosophy of nature and a rich social life. The authors also reveal a thorough and eventful history of the impact that LSD had on culture and the ensuing struggles between its advocates and opponents, many of which persist today.

Get Mystic Chemist paperback for only $20 with the coupon code: summerlove

Buy Mystic Chemist Here

 
Featured artwork from Brian Blommerth’s Bicycle Day 
Ecology of Consciousness with Dr. Ralph Metzner

Ecology of Consciousness with Dr. Ralph Metzner

Recently, Synergetic Press publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder, went to visit well-known counter-culture figure and pioneer in the field of consciousness studies, Dr. Ralph Metzner in Sonoma. There she found him continuing his prolific writing and received a copy of his latest book we would like to share with you here. 

Ecology of Consciousness: The Alchemy of Personal, Collective, and Planetary Transformation (Reveal Press | New Harbinger)

Dr. Metzner’s new book The Ecology of Consciousness presents a cartography of the mystified landscape of consciousness resulting from his lifetime of research into Eastern philosophy, mysticism, and shamanism. The book aims to approach questions surrounding consciousness that have danced before us throughout the centuries, by providing a comprehensive overview informed by a wide range of perspectives and traditions.

Spanning from ancient philosophies to New Age spirituality, the topic of consciousness has been the subject of much contemplation and debate, with The Ecology of Consciousness approaching the subject through the lens of psychospiritual and consciousness studies. The book’s purpose is to give you a more fully fledged understanding of consciousness, providing practical tools through which you can approach your spirituality, teaching age-old shamanic and alchemical traditions and how to connect them with the healing practices of today.

The Ecology of Consciousness

Praise for Ecology of Consciousness

John Allen reading The Ecology of Consciousness

“A truly marvelous, scientific transmission of the exploration of consciousness and objective alchemy (the chemistry of transformations of human understanding). This brilliant book should go on the most treasured shelf of one’s library. Ralph’s synergy of experience and experiments of transformation of understanding is unique, comprehensive, and precisely expressed.” — John Allen, Pioneer in Biosphere Science

“Not since Virgil showed Dante around Hell and Purgatory have we had as gifted a guide as Ralph Metzner help us comprehend and appreciate the major realms of consciousness. His blend of erudition, wisdom, common sense, and personal experience makes each approach he describes (from Alchemy to Buddhism, Agni Yoga through psychedelics, and more) inviting, understandable, and enlightening. In addition, the practices he presents to open these many gates make this not only an illuminating book, but give each of us a way to investigate, experience, and ultimately decide for ourselves our own best path or paths. The book fulfills Metzner’s intention, ‘to awaken spiritual intelligence and bring about a deeper connection with our essential nature.’” — James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide

Other books of interest by Ralph Metzner

Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, the Harvard Experiments, Millbrook and the Sixties, Ralph Metzner, Ram Dass and Gary Bravo

ram dass psychedelic cultureIt can be thought that no understanding of the history of the sixties could ever be complete without a grasp of the paradigm-shifting work of Leary, Alpert, and Metzner, the cultural resistance to their experiments, and the way in which psychoactive drug use became a part of contemporary society.

The book Birth of a Psychedelic Culture, constitutes a five-part conversational memoir between Dr. Ralph Metzner and Ram Dass, covering the five year period of 1960-65. It sets out to illuminate their Harvard experiments as well as the cultural context from which they emerged, featuring never seen before photographs and personal experiences of authors Ralph Metzner and Ram Dass, who vividly recall descriptions of particular “trips” as well as conversations with luminaries such as Aldous Huxley, Charles Mingus, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and others that appeared on the scene.

Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

About the Author

Ralph Metzner, Ph.D. is a recognized pioneer in psychological, philosophical and cross-cultural studies of consciousness and its transformations. He is a psychotherapist and professor emeritus at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. A recognized pioneer in studies of consciousness and its transformations, he collaborated with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) in the study of psychedelic drugs at Harvard University in the 1960s and coauthored The Psychedelic Experience. Metzner has authored, coauthored, and edited several books, including The Unfolding Self, The Well of Remembrance, Green Psychology, Maps of Consciousness, The Roots of War and Domination, Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca, Allies for Awakening, and Birth of a Psychedelic Culture, among others.

John Perry Barlow R.I.P. (1947-2018)

John Perry Barlow R.I.P. (1947-2018)

City Lights book launch of Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations About Leary, the Harvard Experiments, Millbrook and the Sixties,  in 2009.  John Perry Barlow (seated left), Ralph Metzner, Peggy Hitchcock and Gary Bravo. Click on the photos below for some memories from that rare gathering in San Francisco’s iconic bookstore. Photo of JPBarlow at top by Joi Ito.

John Perry Barlow, Wyoming rancher, poet, philosopher and pioneer for Freedom of the Internet, passed away this month. His wit, wisdom and vision for a beautiful and just world for all people remains with us in his extensive archives of writings and speeches hosted at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization he co-founded and served on the Board until his death.

I had the distinct pleasure to know John Perry and experience his amazing energy and love of life. He had a way of telling a story like few people, with piercing perception and poetry. When last I saw him, we talked about how good it is to be sitting on the porch telling stories with family and friends, the best kind of communication there is.

He shares some tales from his adventures in the sixties in his introduction to Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner’s book, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture:

I sped around with a longing for the Spirit that seemed inaccessible until sometime in 1964 when I read about the “Good Friday experiment” in which, on Good Friday of 1962, Walter Pahnke, Tim Leary and the two battle-scarred saints of the Unnamable whose reminiscences you’re about to read, had given psilocybin to some divinity students in Boston University’s Marsh chapel and – mirabile dictu! – they fucking saw God or something like It. And all because somebody gave them a pill.

Like most people raised by hick kids in the mountains, I was a mystic without ever having heard the word. If I could have a direct experience of The Thing Itself, without all that regulatory obligation wrapped around it, I would become whole again. After that, I read everything I could find about mystico-mimetic chemicals: Gordon Wasson’s 1957 article for Life magazine about magic mushrooms, Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Bill Burroughs’s Yage Letters, etc. I wanted a piece of that communion wafer and so did a lot of other kids raised around the dreary wasteland of American piety.         (Click Here to Read John Perry’s Full Introduction)

John was a master communicator and we all benefit from the clarity of vision and direct action he and his colleagues at EFF have taken since the early 90s to insure basic freedoms for information and the internet remain. Thank you, EFF!  Here is a link to John Perry Barlow’s Archive and more information on EFF.

You were truly a natural born mystic, John.

R.I.P. John Perry Barlow (1947-2018)

Deborah Parrish Snyder, Publisher, Synergetic Press

From the Archives: Millbrook Wedding

From the Archives: Millbrook Wedding

[su_vimeo url=”https://vimeo.com/79221269″]

Timothy Leary was getting married to a model named Nena Von Schlebrugge up in Millbrook, New York at the Hitchcock house, where Leary had been carrying on his hallucinogenic revelries for the past year or so after leaving Harvard. It was rumored that this was going to be the wedding of the season, the wedding of Mr. And Mrs. Swing as Cab Calloway put it… There were Hitchcocks and friends and relations of Hitchcocks, the Baron and his court, a score of models, and Charles Mingus playing a lonely piano. Even Susan Leary fresh out of jail.  It was indeed an amazing wedding, and for all I know, an amazing marriage, although someone later told me it was over before I’d even finished editing the film.  – D. A. Pennebaker

LSD has a funny way way of creating significance whether we like it or not. A leaf, a lover, or even a stray thought meandering throughout our inner life might well up to become the all and everything, a consuming fire of meaning and revelatory insight. For those of us born on this side of the psychedelic revolution, that startling shock and wonder experienced by our elders when they abruptly smacked their head on Albert Hofmann’s alchemical anvil can hardly be imagined.

We’ve grown up with electronic technologies that store, augment and transmit information at the speed of light (formerly the business of angels), often questioning ecological relationships and organic values, fully aware that we are deeply embedded within complex systems. Video games extend our consciousness into realms that distill animistic concepts; gnomes, fairies, or ogres emerge as a necessary language for operating in these liminal spaces. We can go to Fantasycon or Burning Man and hyperlink our favorite metaphors or experiment with other modes of being. – I have a friend with a 7 month-old baby girl who’s been to three psychedelic music festivals- or 8 if you count the ones she attended in the womb!

But take a minute to step back into the brittle atmosphere of the post-war generation… imagine growing up with an allegiance to stale cultural forms that are all but broken, overstating their presence like the sun before it disappears into the horizon: the Catholic Church before modern psychology, meditation, and yoga; patriotism before Vietnam, music before the Beatles. Imagine that many of the cultural norms you now take for granted are but a potent thought seed pushing outwards and threatening to burst forth like Athena from the head of Zeus in ancient Greek mythology.

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Now imagine that you are a successful Irish professor at the oldest and most prestigious university in America and that your earnest, but controversial work with substances like psilocybin and LSD has gotten yourself, your collaborator and your graduate student in a heap of trouble. This was the scene when Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were fired from Harvard and took up residence in a cozy mansion at Millbrook in upstate New York- the scene of the Birth of a Psychedelic Culture.

While Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters pioneered and propagated a less clinical, and less intentional adventure quest of communion and psychonautic exploration, Leary, Alpert and Ralph Metzner (a Harvard graduate student at the time and so not technically fireable) contemplated the bardo of eastern philosophies and experimented with set and setting to inaugurate a new era.

Bold and courageous pioneers live the benefit of meaningful events and encounters at every turn. Their firsts are the firsts and their faults become the faults of archetypal patterns that will play out many times along the road ahead by many seekers karmically drawn to resonate and develop emerging forms. So when Dr. Timothy Leary writes, in the fall of 1964, to his friend and colleague Ralph Metzner, who was inspired by Herman Hesse’s writing to travel throughout India, we can only take him at his word:

NEW YORK… Cooper Union… all 1300 seats filled and 300 standing… crowds so receptive it was like whispering things in your lover’s ear… Richard was a smash at U of Minnesota and faculty cocktail party was held etc. The political educational battle over psychedelics has been won and from now it’s just a matter of time… Nena and I have been together almost every minute for the last three weeks and she is an unending series of beauty and wise lessons. We moved directly into the bowling alley which is now the most relaxed, warm, glowing room in the world. We are visiting the Episcopalian minister in town to arrange the most romantic, mythic wedding in history … very soon.

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Nena von Schlebrugge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peggy Hitchcock, the jet-set young lady who hooked up the rebel psychologists with that mysterious Millbrook mansion, describes the bride to be:

Nena was a very young, very beautiful, very successful fashion model. Today we would call her a super model. She was born in Sweden in 1941 and had lived in China with her family as a refugee during World War II, before returning to Europe. Her father, who was a German baron, was much older than her mother had died when she was a child. When I first knew her, she was in her early twenties and had been the sole support for her mother, the baroness, and her younger brother, since she was fifteen. I don’t believe she had much of a happy childhood. I remember feeling protective towards her. As I remember, she and Tim first connected at my brother Billy’s birthday party on her first visit to Millbrook.

leary&alpert pre-wedding title00_170957854

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nene had arrived at Millbrook with Van Wolff, as Dr. Ralph Metzner explains:

Van Wolff was a kind of PR-agent-impresario, whose New York apartment was a hub for the glamor set from fashion, photography, film, and the arts. It seemed to be always buzzing with vibrations of seduction, intrigue and gossip. Nena’s picture was on all the New York City buses advertising Winston cigarettes at that time. Tim called her, “A thoughtful and romantic woman, an icon of beauty, surrounded by, instructed by, manipulated by the technicians and producers of the fashion industry.” When they took their first LSD session together, he wrote: “… Nanette allowed her jet-set facade to fall away, just so much childhood scar tissue. From within, emerged an archetypal nobility, the radiant essence of a Valkyrie… I fell under her spell.” (Flashbacks, pp 203-204). She moved into the Big House with Tim and set up a routine of being there and working in New York a few days a week. His relationship with Peggy Hitchcock had for some before evolved into more of a friendship – which continued long afterward. In one of those strange synchronicities, Nena had a close friend, Katy, also a model, who she brought up to Millbrook. She had auburn hair and green eyes, she was gorgeous. I fell under her spell.

leary&alpert pre-wedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As far as the wedding itself, Darlene De Sedle, who was brought up to Millbrook to  make the wedding veil for Nene, explains:

When we arrived at Millbrook, we went to the tennis house where the brides and bridesmaids were getting dressed. The bridesmaids in their spring gowns were scattered here and there around the room like flowers, light blue, yellow, pale pink. I found a comfortable place to sit, shook out the pink and white tulle, and began to sew… (Nena) was glowing blonde and gorgeous, and beautiful light was pouring into the room through the leaded windows. Monty (the hair dresser) handed me a glass of punch spiked with LSD and told me to drink it. It was my first time.

Mingus

And what would a mythic wedding be without the Jazz great Charles Mingus? Fellow psilocybin researcher Rolf Von Eckartsberg describes the potent figure who plays his bass with the force of nature itself :

Mingus is very wise, down to earth and basic, grounded, and we had a most meaningful encounter with him and his art, his bass, his “woman,” whom he asks questions in the solitude and darkness of his attic, to whom he plays and is played and answered. What a sonorous strength it is that emanates from his bow and his strings that set up a column of vibration, rising like a twirling storm, transporting and elevating everything in its path. It penetrates right through the bones and opens the wide luminous landscapes of the internal, this fantastic otherworld of playful color and geometry, radiant energy and ecstatic resonance. Isn’t there some primordial power which sits with love and plays with bow and strings at the flow of life?

And also from Von Eckartsberg, a general depiction of the scene as psychedelic as the substance that Harvard rejected:

The whole house has become a beckoning, enveloping, nurturing tropical ocean of forms, colors and sounds, as millions of fractured, incongruous elements are transformed into beautiful flowers and ornaments of a gigantic organism, radiating joy and peace.

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But as my generation has learned more readily, the metaphysical laws of the ecstatic experience mandate that we endure the downs as well as the ups, and that separation can often follow the realization of the oneness of being. The excitable Leary would have a dynamic career. He would find himself in and out of prison and experiencing life as a cultural icon whose perception would go from hero to scapegoat. Of course, his love-life would be no exception. On p. 223 of “Flashbacks,” Leary describes the end of their “Himalayan Honeymoon:”

So we’re moving on. We had connected as fairy-tale lovers in the enchanted woods of Millbrook, had lived out a season of courtly romance. She had taught me tender lessons of girl-love and female splendor. We had time-traveled through a few mythic incarnations, played out magical dramas in panoramic realms. Now we would have to rise to that most complex human art, gentle separation.

In 1967, Nena went on to marry the Indo-Tibetan Bhuddist scholar and ex-monk, Robert Thurman, with whom she gave birth to the popular actress Uma Thurman.

With the exception of the opening quote from a letter by D.A. Pennebaker, all of the quotes for this piece can be found in “Birth of A Psychedelic Culture,” a book that, like this article, comprises a mosaic of interviews, letters, artifacts and images, depict through concrete anecdotes, the vibrant and mythic scenes of that mysterious episode in psychedelic history.

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