We spoke with the editor of How Psychedelics Can Help Save the World to explore his thoughts on just that.
Stephen Gray is a teacher and writer on spiritual subjects and sacramental medicines. He has worked extensively with Tibetan Buddhism, the Native American Church, and with entheogenic medicines.
He is also a conference and workshop organizer, leader, and speaker. The editor of Cannabis and Spirituality, he lives in Vancouver.
His latest compilation, How Psychedelics Can Help Save the World, a collection of essays from over 25 contributors on how psychedelic medicines can help shift humanity for the better, is featured in the November/December 2022 issue of Spirituality & Health.
S&H: Can psychedelics play a role in mainstream politics? Can you envision a political party, for instance, being formed around the concept of spiritual healing?
Gray: As an old trope goes, politicians look to see which way the parade is going and then run to get at the front to make people think they're leading the way. Progressive ideas aside, politicians at the highest levels are inevitably conservative. They're afraid to lose votes with controversial positions.
The movement toward proper legal and societal recognition of psychedelics is coming from other directions: thought leaders, Indigenous communities around the world, practitioners, activists, social media memes, and entrepreneurs.
I believe that's how psychedelics could play a role in mainstream politics—by eventually convincing governments that it is safe, wise, and hopefully politically advantageous to pass laws legalizing the use of psychedelics.
I can't see a major party forming around the concept of spiritual healing. That's too much of a narrow-focused niche issue. Maybe in 50 to 100 years when the majority of the species understands that our true and real selves are buried under layers of limitation.
There are many different perspectives in this book. Are there any universal themes that you’ve noted and found interesting?
Yes. The universal theme is implied in the title of the book. The words "can help" in that title are key. The overarching mission driving the book's contents is that the current trajectory of human affairs in the material world is unsustainable and, in fact, has reached a nexus point where either a better vision of who we are takes precedence, or we will soon run ourselves into the ground.
So, the universal theme is that humanity needs a serious wake-up call right now and that, when understood and used skillfully in the right hands, psychedelics have the potential to potentiate and precipitate the necessary healing and awakening.
Similarly, did any implicit disagreements between authors stand out for you?
I don't see any disagreement. I outlined that overarching mission to each of the contributors when I asked them to contribute. All of them are thoughtful, mature, and clear that radical changes of inner and outer understanding are urgently needed.
What gives you hope amidst an increasingly dire ecological emergency?
That question points directly at the central concern of the book. The first sentence of the first chapter by Christopher Bache reads, "I AM NOT WRITING THIS ESSAY for you but for your children and your children’s children for uncounted years." (Uppercase letters are Bache’s.)
While the book is clearly intended for the benefit of readers, its mission is to contribute to this re-envisioning for the generations to come. Several of the contributors, Chris Bache and Duane Elgin, for example, address our future possibilities in detail. But it's difficult to give an adequate short answer to what gives me hope since there are numerous intertwined factors at play.
Neither I nor others like Chris and Duane foresee an easy transition. The forces we have unleashed on the planet, perhaps exacerbated by natural climatic cycles beyond our control, have crossed a tipping point. The climate alone is almost certain to cause major disruptions to business as usual.
Multiple Indigenous prophecies from around the world, as well the insights and visions of mystics, intuitives, and psychedelic explorers, all point toward massive upheaval.
What gives me and many others hope is this: Many of these same sources have been expecting this. The absolutely essential aspect of these visions is that this is not a death process—it's a death and rebirth journey.
As Buddhist teachings so skillfully point out, almost all of us are living under the dark cloud of an illusion; that is, that we are separate from all that is. This illusion has allowed the great majority of humanity to grievously misunderstand our interdependent, interwoven connection to all of existence. And that has been the source of immense suffering.
We are currently in the birth canal. Like a human birth, it's a traumatic and bloody process. But for the birth of an awakened humanity to manifest, the old way of seeing ourselves and our relation to the world and cosmos has to fall away to make space for the new vision of a healed and awakened humanity.
How do you envision the world if everything goes “right?” What would an ideal world look like to you?
As I've implied in the previous answer, the ideal world is one in which the great majority, if not all of us, know who we are. When enough of us have awakened to our true unconditioned nature, the energy and wisdom of that will spread around the world.
Chris Bache uses the term "the birth of the future human." The awakened person is by definition aligned with the naturally-existing flow of energy and intelligence. Our true nature is to be in a state of joy, love, and inner peace.
When that happens, we will look after ourselves, each other, and everything on this planet properly. It may sound impossibly idealistic, but it is our ultimate destiny—the realization of the gift of life. And again, visionaries like Chris Bache are receiving information suggesting it will happen, though, as I said, not without great difficulty in the shorter term.
Are there potential downsides to a problem-solving approach based around psychedelics?
I suppose it depends on how you define problem-solving. If you're thinking of the predominance of a therapeutic/medical model, I would say that approach has limitations. There are concerns in the field that as legalization develops, too much control will rest in the hands of government, medical, and corporate authorities and interests.
Or perhaps one could define "problem" differently. The universal problem for humanity is the spiritual disconnection whereby we only see ourselves as these separate entities. That, of course, is a problem individually and collectively. Because of their ability to show us truths about ourselves and the nature of existence altogether, psychedelics in that way have great problem-solving potential.
What role can Buddhism play in the climate struggle?
I don't want to set myself as some great authority on this question. But here's my best shot in this context. As I've alluded [to] at several points, the core problem is that almost all of us have been living under the illusion of the separate ego. Though many people around the world have come to this realization, Buddhist teachings have been particularly clear and articulate in analyzing the problem and the solution.
For example, the Four Noble Truths said to have come from the Buddha sum that up succinctly; i.e., suffering is pervasive. Its primary source is ego attachment. It is possible to be free from suffering. And there is a path to liberation from suffering. (Note that the path is universal and not the preserve of any religion.)
The reason for leading with the above comments is that the wise understand that our own healing is only the beginning of the path. To put it perhaps over-simplistically, as we gradually awaken to our true nature, we are increasingly moved by the awakening heart to participate and contribute.
In this way, too, psychedelics have great potential. As we loosen the bounds of the separate self and increasingly feel our connection to the world, we come more and more to care for everything. We see the incredible beauty and intelligence in life, as well as the fragility of the ecosphere. If the healing and awakening are real, we become moved by compassion to do what we can in the "climate struggle" and all other aspects of ultimately unnecessary suffering.
One of the contributors to the book, Tyson Yunkaporta, wrote that we are a custodial species. It is our responsibility to put things right for the generations to come.
Read our review of How Psychedelics Can Help Save the World here.