LSD and the Mind of the Universe by Christopher M Bache
LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven (2019) by Christopher M Bache is an exploration of the author’s 73 LSD experiences undertaken between 1979 and 1999. Bache is currently professor emeritus in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Youngstown State University, a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and on the adjunct faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is also on the advisory board of the Grof Foundation, and has written several other books, including Dark Night, Early Dawn (2000) and The Living Classroom (2008).
Bache first become interested in LSD when he read Realms of the Human Unconscious (1975) by the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof in 1978. A widely revered LSD researcher who also developed Holotropic Breathwork, Grof’s work has been foundational for transpersonal psychology and the psychedelic movement. This introduction via Grof was hugely influential on Bache, and this is reflected in his methodology. Using his psychologist wife as a sitter, he developed ‘a protocol that combines protected, interior focus, and deeply evocative music [that] drives the psychedelic state far beyond what one is likely to experience if one takes LSD in a recreational setting’ (Bache 2019: 9). He does, however, move the method on.
Two principle LSD therapies were developed in the mid-twentieth century: the psychedelic and psycholytic. The former focused around one large dose experience, while the latter was a series of smaller dose sessions used alongside psychotherapy. Bache developed his own methodology, which he refers to as ‘psychedelic exploration’, and it consists of an extended series of high dose (500-600mcg) experiences. LSD and the Mind of the Universe’s structure reflects this. His 73 sessions are divided into twelve largely chronological sections, from ‘The Path of Temporary Immersion’ through to ‘Final Vision’ and ‘Coming off the Mountain’. Taken together, the experiences chart an extraordinary exploratory arc, which shifts between the personal, the global and the cosmological.
Turning to theory, Bache’s experiences similarly reinforce elements of Grof’s work while developing others, and this negotiation can be traced through the book’s arc. The first chapter, for example, covers his opening 10 sessions and they ‘closely mirrored’ the perinatal levels of consciousness (i.e. those associated with the birthing process) that were described by Grof. Bache’s visions, however, while initially rooted in the personal sphere, increasingly extend beyond, establishing a more extensive territory. Just as Aldous Huxley spoke of the far west of the Jungian archetype in The Doors of Perception (1956), so in places Bache notes that, ‘Here the individual dissolves into pre-existing fields of collective consciousness’ (Bache 2019: 137). TO an extent, psychological territories thus determine certain visionary qualities and their exploration.
Bache, however, frequently and decisively moves beyond the schema of Grof and Jung. He describes visionary circumstances in terms more wedded to fundamental social, ontological and cosmological questions. This is undoubtedly where the delights of this text lie, and where Bache is able to bring to bear a life steeped in both the academic and practical exploration of religion and spirituality. For example he writes,
Though these experiences were extraordinary in their own right, the most poignant part of today’s session was not the dimensions of the universe I was witnessing but what my seeing them meant to the Creative Consciousness I was with. It seemed so pleased to have someone to show Its work to (Bache 2019: 115)
His LSD experiences are described through a fascinating infusion of psychological sciences, particularly the transpersonal, and an underlying perennial philosophy that seeks to place his LSD visions in light of universal and cosmological questions. Therefore, while the reader might broadly be aware of this LSD experience narrative in regard to personal therapeutics, it is in its role as philosophical enquiry that is of novel value, particularly in relation to two of his major concerns: reincarnation and environmentalism.
What grounds the visionary aspects associated with the self and those of the universe in the text is the ontological process of his experiences, which is geared around his previous work on reincarnation. This allows Bache to discuss and shift between personal, global and universal observations without being restricted to personal anecdotes. He notes, ‘Reincarnation gives individual consciousness an open-ended amount of time in which to learn from its mistakes and develop its innate capacities’ (Bache 2019: 91). This firmly places questions of the self within a universal paradigm. To do this, a similar process is utilized through extrapolating Grof’s perinatal observations by applying them to reincarnation as a temporally stretched process—a ‘purification’ that has universal implications for the Creative Consciousness, not simply the egoic self.
This process is driven by development of a ‘Diamond Soul’. The Diamond, in its aspects of soul, energy, consciousness and luminosity, is the ontological device through which realization occurs over many lives. It is both an awakening and remembering. Crucially, this also allows for a perspective on the middle worlds of the global and social. As Bache states, ‘Integration is not just a psychological process; it is also a social process’ (Bache 2019: 306). Thus quite personal LSD experiences underpin much larger processes:
The core vision of our future that has emerged in my sessions is that humanity is coming in a time of Great Awakening, a profound shift in the fundamental condition of the human psyche. But for there to be a Great Awakening, there must first take place a Great Death (Bache 2019: 209)
Understandably, one key lesson that his LSD experiences drive home is the awakening of an environmental consciousness. This is of course widely understood to currently be at a crucial moment. It has been one of the key cultural-historical forces that has emerged since the shift to social liberalization over the latter half of the twentieth century in the Western world, and Bache neatly encapsulates this in his work.
In many respects LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven asks more questions than it answers, but this is perhaps a most apt reflection of LSD’s value. As the question of its personal, therapeutic value is increasingly settled, Bache’s ability to explore the visionary territory in light of social and environmental processes opens up a new vista of questions about where LSD lies in a hopeful global awakening. And as he makes plain, struggling to become one planet is the struggle to become one Soul.