Jay Michaelson wrote an interesting article relating the practice of meditation and the use of entheogens. See the story published on Evolver here.
Here are some highlights:
It’s a not-so-dirty little secret that most of today’s leading meditation teachers were interested in drugs. By “drugs,” of course, I don’t mean alcohol or Oxycontin, but rather that subset of chemicals which our society has deemed unfit for human consumption, including cannabis, psilocybin, MDMA, and others.
Meditation is about the same process of ‘intensifying’ daily experience, not by pursuing ever-more visceral thrills, but by quieting the mind enough to — in the words of Warren Zevon — “appreciate every sandwich.” (Zevon coined that phrase when David Letterman asked him what effect his diagnosis of terminal illness had on his day-to-day life.)
Apart from all the deeper benefits of meditation, the sheer volume of joy is astonishing. In my experience, it beats any other high.
Both [meditation and enthogens] lead to states of consciousness that are different from the ordinary.
Altered mindstates are an essential condition of living a full life. Of course, one can do without them, just as one can do without art, dance, sex, and other Divine gifts. But I think it’s a shame to do so. I think something is missing, something impoverished, when they are lacking.
Many entheogen users and nearly all meditators want to make a further claim: that these particular altered mindstates lead to truth. This isn’t just about getting high and having fun, they say; this is about knowing deeply the truth of your own experience. When it comes to claims of “truth,” things do get tricky, because there is some information that entheogens reveal which meditation rarely reveals, and some information which meditation reveals that drugs and chemicals don’t.
While ayahuasca journeys yield a wealth of information about other realms and one’s own heart, they tend not to offer the level of analytical distinction that accompanies meditative insight.
Plant medicines are good for some kinds of knowledge, and meditation for others.
There’s often a lot of heat (and only some light) on these points, with some people insisting this kind of knowledge is good but inferior, and others countering that, no, that kind of knowledge is the preliminary one and this is ultimate, and so on. This is particularly the case because we all carry baggage related to spiritual practice.
I’ve found that the two paths enrich each other.
When I was more involved with them [entheogenic “drugs], I found that the ability to stabilize, to tease apart the strands of a mind-made story, and to be a little dubious of what seems to be true to the mind, all served me very well in my own shamanic work. And I have found that the intensity of entheogenic work has been able to push my cognitive reset button when more gradual practices such as mindfulness have been ineffective, or too difficult.
I’m not entirely pluralistic, though. In my humble opinion, a meditation practice is a necessary prerequisite for any work in shamanic realms, with energy, or with the supernatural in any form. I think having out-of-body experiences with possibly-alien intelligences without having a meditation practice is like flying an airplane without basic aviation training or navigational instruments.
I think the mind-sharpening practices of meditation provide balance and focus in any entheogenic or other-worldly work. At the very least, it’s the warm-up exercise.
One path shows you other realms, the other teaches you how to navigate them – and this one as well.
Nothing, of course, is “it”; just the slipperiness with which one navigates the its and yous of life in this realm, hopefully making things a little happier for the rest of us along the way.