Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mystics Under the Microscope

Until 2006, John Hayes, a psychologist and self-described Zen-Catholic, had never taken a hallucinogenic drug. In the 1960s, Hayes was a Franciscan friar watching with curiosity while the counter-culture used psychedelics with impunity. Through his own meditation and religious practice, Hayes believes he has had sensations that he would label mystical. But these mystical states—which he described to me as “moments of unitive experience” —were significant enough that when he heard about a surprising research project at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine he was more than intrigued. Doctors at JHU were investigating the effects of psilocybin—the active ingredient in the more common variety of hallucinogenic mushroom—and looking for volunteers.

After some considerable thought, he signed up. For three sessions Hayes is certain he received a placebo. Then, in the fourth session, something happened that had never happened before in all his years of prayer and meditation.

“It was like ‘All right, what’s the big deal?’ Then ba-boom!” he says. “There was a sense of moving in some sort of astral space with stars whizzing by me. It was like getting the big picture.” -Read More-

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