The following is excerpted from Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story, available on Amazon. 

 

We returned to the circle where the others were taking the acid Dennis had fetched. Everyone shifted on their cushions and talked sporadically, reticence increasing as the acid came on.

As so often happened when I took LSD, I was split between a need to concentrate and a struggle with the exhausting tension of over-concentration. Sometimes, I would fall into a trance of total ease and absorption that allowed me to see the beauty and perfection of the world around me—a realm of pure and perfect appearance—and I would feel fluid, aimless, and congruent with everything. At other times, there would be no beauty to behold, only a cinerama screen flooded with murky memories from my childhood: Nanny forcing me to sleep with a crucifix under my pillow for sins she said I could not know I had committed; my mother wielding her black leather belt studded with rubies and emeralds, laying stroke after pitiless stroke across my legs—visions I couldn’t stop so long as I could not break the concentration. Usually, I could only surrender and spin away into a limbo of aching loneliness, mute, my throat gripped by a hot vise of shame, then curl into the fetal position for hours on end.

How to concentrate and relax at the same time? This was my question. I kept stealing glances at Timothy, expecting him to take over, to guide me and tell me what it was all about. He was the High Priest of LSD, and there was so much I needed to know about how to navigate the inner dimensions that LSD exposed. But he simply sat and stared into the fire as we were all climbing into the LSD stratosphere with no definite sense of where we were going.

Detecting a hitch in the action, I took the lead and began reeling off autobiographical stories to maintain some controls as the acid peaked. I talked about my first trip to America in the middle of the Vietnam moratorium and everyone was spellbound, Timothy dazzled. When I paused to catch my breath, he encouraged me to continue. I shifted to a vivid account of some of Mummy’s bad habits, then to the escape plan I had in mind for Timothy, at which point everyone got involved but especially Dennis.

We tripped until the fire died out and we were left in darkness, each one setting his or her own bearings for the downside of the trip. From another room I heard the Eagles singing, I’m looking for a lover who won’t blow my cover and that’s a hard thing to find . . . Bodies were sprawled here and there on mattresses. Someone had lit a couple of large candles and set them on the mantle. The faces reflecting candlelight looked as soft as masks of wet clay. 

Next to me was Tommy, his arm around my shoulders, gazing into the middle distance with peace and resignation in his eyes and on his face. I wanted to say something to him, but we were both too stoned to talk. We nestled down together under a red blanket.

Across the room, Timothy was still sitting in front of the fire, his knees drawn up under his chin, his eyes slowly scanning the room. When our eyes met, I had the sensation of leaving my body and drifting toward him. Without moving, he too drifted out and met me halfway. We connected in midair like birds, my body flooded with intense sexual longing and— something else, something I couldn’t name but knew without question, the way a child knows with unfathomable certainty not yet accessible to words. I knew he would have the words for it, and he would tell them to me soon. Disembodied and dancing, we swirled together in the middle of the room, murmuring to each other in a secret language all our own.

joannabook