this is my first post to the SDMB. I hope you find it of interest. A deeply personal experience and view, for whatever it’s worth. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.
I was once in Peru and took Ayahuasca (allegedly the most powerful natural psychotropic, quite stronger than peyote, or so they say) with a shaman. Before the ritual the shaman went on about time being an illusion and all things being one, among many other things. He was pretty well read by the way, hardly an ignorant witchman. Despite having read about these ideas before, I was sceptical and unable to grasp their meaning. After all, they totally defy our experience of things, don’t they?
After initial bouts of nausea and sheer terror I went through a bunch of amazing experiences, the essence of which was the realization that time and space were an illusion, a trick of the senses if you will. I can’t even begin to explain the time angle, but the idea about space being absurd came from a profound realization that all is one. I felt myself as a drop in the ocean of matter, as much a part of a rock or the whole planet as of the universe. Reality was an illusion, my physical body was an armour that prevented me from realizing this. I eventually drifted towards a whiteness that embraced me and accepted me as a part of existence. I fell into the most heart warming sensation I’ve ever experienced before or after: the knowledge and acceptance of simply existing, of being. The non necessity of being anything other than what I was. I revelled in this sensation for hours, and eventually drifted slowly and pleasantly back into consciousness. I was blown away for months afterwards. When I returned back to my usual life, felt like my feet didn’t even touch the ground when I walked. I achieved a sense of inner well being that lasted for a long time, although eventually harsh reality leeched back into my mind. Here’s what I can make of the experience, as of today:
I believe I experienced what is known as “contemplative ecstasy”, or a totally mystical experience. I thought I was in the presence of god (whatever that means). I’m really an agnostic, and I know that my experience can be used by both sides:
a) I achieved consciousness of a superior nature. I transcended.
b) My mind made it all up because I was under the effect of a very powerful drug. It’s all a load of bs.
I can’t say which is right, but in a way it kind of felt like the idea about the split orange, or Carl Sagan’s claim that “we are star stuff looking at star stuff”.
But obviously reality is not as we experience it. For example, I retained a heightened sense of color and texture for a few hours after the “trance”. This is very common with psychotropics: you can see shades of colors that aren’t there when you’re “sober”. Obvously our senses have to offer us an impression of things that is balanced between “accurate” and “useful”. I can’t survive in the normal world if I’m blown away by all the shades of color and tiny little green patches that make a tree. It’s a tree. It’s there. That’s all I need to know. I can climb it to avoid a predator, I can avoid bumping into it, and I’m not distracted by it or reduced to a state of contemplative idiocy by it’s unfathomable complexity.
Aldous Huxley said as much in The Gates of Perception, when he describes how he couldn’t help staring for hours at a wrinkle in his trousers. The mind has to filter away tons of useless information and keep track of the important stuff, especially the stuff that helps me survive.
Incidentally, Huxley also said that eastern cultures are perceived by westerners as very passive because of the stress they put on meditation, or something similar to that. The outside world doesn’t seem to matter much when you’re in contemplative state, and that’s not always the best thing for you on this plane of existence.
So I have a definite claim against duality, because obviously we experience only a very filtered part of the world. But that’s as far as I’ll take it. It doesn’t have to mean anything. Or maybe it does. I’m certainly not the one to know.
I can’t say it was of much “practical” use. I’ve never been happy with how the world works, and my view stands reinforced because wordly things seem empty when seen under this new light. It’s kind of a bleak view sometimes, but I’m really happy I got the chance to see the other side. And as I said before, having to survive in the urban jungle keeps any funny ideas in check most of the time.