Learning & Unlearning
In graduate school, I bought a Triumph motorcycle and a small Harley. I loved to roar up the hills in California at 95 miles an hour, the wind rushing in my ears.
I’ve always had this penchant for risk-taking. There is a part of me that is impulsive, leaping into the moment without regard for consequences.
This adventurer side—the curiosity, the impulsivity, the optimism—has defined my life. In many ways, this drive has also put me in the position of trailblazer for a changing American culture. That is where I found myself in the 1960s, when I was Richard Alpert, a professor of psychology at Harvard. There, I met Timothy Leary, in whose company I first tried psychedelic drugs. These substances, which were not illegal at the time, promised such a transformative view of reality that we felt as if we’d stumbled on a key to enlightenment. There was more to existence, I realized, than my professorial self. Behind it all was a deeper consciousness.
For a materialist like me, this was a cataclysmic shift. Wanting to understand the potential of psychedelics—especially their creative and therapeutic power—Tim and I famously designed experiments to explore human consciousness. We didn’t exactly know how to go about doing this. It was like jumping from a plane without knowing if you have a parachute. We were using these chemicals to open doors to other dimensions, with no idea how to navigate them, using ourselves as the subjects of the experiment. News headlines at the time were about the space race, and the first astronauts circling the globe. We thought of ourselves as intranauts, going into the unmapped worlds of inner space. —from Being Ram Dass