A few years ago, retired professor of religious studies Chris Bache wrote a book called LSD and the Mind of the Universe. His book is the story of 73 high-dose LSD experiences he had over a period of 20 years, from 1979 to 1999, and how they changed his understanding of the very nature of reality. Bache believes psychedelics represent a “true revolution in Western thought,” and his life has been lived around that premise. But after his long psychedelic journey, Chris ends up in a really interesting place. He wonders, “Can you have too much transcendence?”
As a note to the reader, while I don’t usually like to attach warnings to my interviews about psychedelics, in this case, I will: Don’t do what Chris did. It’s too extreme.
Where were you in your life when you first started these high-dose psychedelic sessions?
I was a brand-new faculty member in the department of philosophy and religious studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio. I had just finished my graduate work at Brown University in philosophy of religion, and I was looking for where to go next. When I found the work of Stan Grof—a psychiatrist known for his research into non-ordinary states of consciousness—I thought, “that’s my life’s work.” I started experimenting with LSD when I was 30 years old and finished when I was 50, and then I spent the next 20 years digesting those experiences. I’m 74 now.
So these were high-dose experiences. We should give some sense of how high a dose.
I was taking 500 to 600 micrograms of LSD, which is right at the body’s maximum. You can take more, but you don’t get higher. I really implore people not to do what I did. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t do it that way. It causes a lot of wear and tear on the system, to go in and out of such extreme levels of consciousness, to so violently tear apart the structure of your mind.
It was a philosopher’s dream come true.
This is a much higher dose than what we would consider a high dose in psychedelic therapy, right, say for treating depression?
How long did these sessions tend to last?
All day. I’d usually start about eight o’clock in the morning, and I would be finished around six o’clock.
The way you write about this is that over these years, your psychedelic journey changed. It went through different phases.
Yes, in one phase, I started experiencing terrible, terrible legions of suffering, pain, violence. Every session, it got deeper and deeper. Sometimes, it became so intense and so extreme, I literally passed out from the extreme suffering. In the beginning, it was like I was experiencing something going on around me, but then, slowly, it began to get into my edges, and then eventually there was no me left separate from it. I became this terrible, terrible suffering.
On the positive side, when I would submit to this process, after several hours of suffering, I would go into an ecstatic portion of the trip. For the first year, this meant I experienced my entire life beginning to end, done. Of course, if you do that, you have some insights into what your life is about. After a year of this, I took a six-year hiatus. When I returned, while the ocean of suffering continued, when I would be spun into ecstasy, I was taken into this deep experience of cosmology. I was taken back to the beginning of creation. I experienced what creation feels like from a spiritual perspective. I was given a series of teachings, was taken into oneness. It was a philosopher’s dream come true.
Do you think you were tapping into some kind of larger consciousness?
I always experienced myself in dialogue with, or engaging, a massive intelligence that was clearly responsible for organizing the sessions, which I wouldn’t always understand while I was having it. But over a period of months and years, I could see there was a clear plan in this process. This intelligence never took a definitive form. It never took a deity form or a spirit guide form, and the deeper I went into the universe, the quality of this intelligence changed, and what I came to understand was that consciousness is an infinite ocean of potential.
Don’t do what Chris did.
Why did you stop after your 73 high-dose sessions of LSD, after 20 years?
I stopped for two reasons. One was pain. I was running so much energy in the sessions that I wasn’t calming down the way I used to. Eventually, the level of energy I experienced during these trips got to be more than I was able to dissipate afterwards with spiritual practice. The sessions were so intense that I was always uncomfortable in my body, and I knew it was time to let my system calm down.
The second reason was sadness. It was the sadness of coming out of deep immersion into the crystalline body of the divine. Once you dissolve into light, once you can know the joy, and the freedom, and the ecstasy of being light, when you come back out of that, there’s a sadness there. After going in and out of those experiences multiple times, it got just so hard to come back into time and space.
The way you write about this is you realized in the end you had too much transcendence.
Yeah, it led me to ask the question, “Is it possible to have too much God?” You know, that’s like an oxymoron. It is never possible to have too much God, but it is possible, I think, to have too much transcendence. It’s a delicate balancing act. I had so much transcendence that I lost my rooting on the earth, and I needed to stop entering non-ordinary states. I had to sit still on my cushion, in my life, and let those memories and the energies that I accessed, in those hours, soak into my physical being.
I can imagine you must have felt, when you were coming back from these extraordinary experiences, that ordinary, waking life was kind of pale, by comparison.
It does pale in comparison. It took me years to live with an awareness that everything, every being, every plant, is actually a manifestation of the divine, of this unified energy. Yeah, that’s worth working for.
Do you miss it? Do you miss those encounters with the divine, if that’s what they were?
In some ways, yes. In some ways, no, because I know it’s waiting for me as soon as I die. What reduces the longing, what truly gives me joy, is being able to talk about it and share it, because I’m wired as a teacher. The more I’m able to share these things, the more comfortable I am within my own being.
Excerpted from Luminous, a series from To the Best of Our Knowledge, hosted by executive producer Steve Paulson. Luminous, explores the philosophical and cultural implications of psychedelics through conversations with scientists, healers, and religious scholars. You can learn more about the series and find where you can listen at ttbook.org/luminous.
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