A Tale of Addiction, Recovery, and Psychedelics
John Buchanan, author of Processing Reality, shares the pivotal moments that shaped his life and changed his way of thinking.
Dear friends and neighbors,
The story of John Buchanan's success in overcoming drug addiction raises important questions about the potential role of psychedelic medicines in treating addiction. While much research has been conducted on traditional methods of treating addiction, such as therapy and medication, the use of psychedelic medicines is a relatively new area of study- one that comes with risks. Nonetheless, the potential of this emerging field of research is exciting, and holds promise for the future of addiction treatment.
For John, these substances had a profound impact on his brain, allowing him to gain new perspectives and break free from patterns of negative thinking and behavior.
You can listen to the audio here, or subscribe to read the transcript below.
NOTE: I am currently embarking on a new series featuring healing stories from those who have benefitted from psychedelics at the end of life, or in the face of a terminal diagnosis. I hope to interview those with direct personal experience, as well as relatives, friends, and clinicians with stories to share. Please email my producer if you would like to be interviewed on my program, and featured in a future book on this topic.
Wishing you Golden Light,
Dr. Richard Louis Miller
This podcast will always remain available at no cost. However, I’d like to offer my most loyal listeners additional options for enjoying my interviews – both as videos and transcripts.
Psychedelic Wisdom by Dr. Richard L. Miller
Psychedelic Medicine by Dr. Richard L. Miller
Parapsychology, Philosophy, & Spirituality by David Griffin
Processing Reality: Finding Meaning in Death, Psychedelics, and Sobriety by John Buchanan
*Lightly edited for clarity and length
We're living in a troubled world right now
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: John, we're living in a troubled world right now, and there's some fear going around. For a long time, it seemed like the threat of nuclear war wasn't imminent. Now, it seems that threat is real again because Putin is making these veiled threats, if not direct ones. We don't know what's going on with China either. How is this affecting you and the people you talk to?
John Buchanan (00:03:48): Well, I grew up in the first nuclear threat age. I was born in 1953, so I was there during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. So I think I'm somewhat inured to that kind of situation. I remember Joseph Campbell's comments about how we say today we're facing dangers like never before in history, he said, but 3000 years ago, there'd be a little village and on the horizon they'd see a dust storm – and was it just a dust storm or was it perhaps a raiding party coming to wipe out the entire village. So I think there's always been a sense of potential existential threat. So I just try to do what I can. I do think though that the fear in the country that seems continually exacerbated by the news and the internet is a big problem for us dealing with these situations in as reasonable a manner as we can.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:05:04): Yes, thank you for your input. I know this is slightly off-topic from our discussion, but you're a highly educated and thoughtful person, so I wanted your opinion. I also have another question I've been pondering.
It seems there are two opposing forces in the world colliding:
Social Darwinists who believe in "might makes right" and support dictatorships and strongman rule. They control or represent a large part of the world and want to dominate it.
Humanists who believe we are all equal. They follow the Stoic philosophers' view that we are equal on this planet and in the universe. They believe, as I do, that there is enough food, shelter, education, and healthcare for everyone if we leave no one behind.
These two forces conflict in this country and worldwide. Does this make sense? What do you think?
John Buchanan (00:07:01): Yes, I think for a long time there have been a small group of people who want most of the world's resources for themselves, versus most of humanity who simply want a decent life for their family and community. Today, this distinction has become even more pronounced and dramatic.
I fear the United States also wants a one world economy where it is primarily in control, and China and Russia would like that position too, if possible. There seems to be a misunderstanding of what a global community means. It is not simply an economic system dominated by corporations who freely go wherever they want. It should be a global sharing of resources, knowledge, and care, as you said.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: You spend a significant amount of time thinking deeply about many topics. What major issues have been on your mind recently, including what you've been writing about?
John Buchanan: You mean besides the topics I write about?
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: No, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on the significant issues you've been pondering, including what you write about.
John Buchanan (00:08:53): What I've been reading about most in recent years is really trying to understand the nature of the climate crisis, along with other crises interacting with it like resource depletion and overpopulation. Where are all of these crises leading us, and what possible solutions exist in the short and long term?
A lot of it seems like we'll have to muddle through, but we must adapt by taking action—as much deliberate action as possible on things that will genuinely help, not just things that seem good or things we hope might help.
Five pivotal events that shaped John’s thinking
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:09:45): In your book Processing Reality, you discuss times in your life when you muddled through. But then you had, if not sudden realizations, at least some startling events that turned things around and showed you a way out of your struggles or perhaps a way forward. Tell us about your personal journey in that regard, John.
John Buchanan (00:10:24): As you may recall, I mentioned five pivotal life events in my book that shaped my thinking. The first was my father's sudden death when I was 11, which really threw me, of course, and left me adrift. Then junior high began, which is always tough. I did my best to get along, but surely had a lot of unexpressed grief and anxiety.
When I was 14 or 15, at a wedding, I tried some champagne on someone's suggestion and found enormous relief there. I also discovered that I was somebody who likes a lot of that relief. So I drank until I got sick.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: The relief from the severity of the pain from losing your dad?
John Buchanan: Not consciously. I knew I was anxious, uncomfortable, and nervous most of the time. But that only became clear once those feelings were suddenly removed and I could enjoy myself and talk with people. I think most people with issues like mine discover the same thing with alcohol. Suddenly it’s okay again.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:12:01): Yes, suddenly okay again. As I recall, your father passed away two days after celebrating something together.
John Buchanan (00:12:11): Well, I had been taking riding lessons and went to my first horse show. About a week before that, my dad had gone up to the Mayo Clinic because he wasn't feeling well. They hadn't found anything in Madison, so he went to Mayo to figure out what might be wrong. When I came back from the show, he was in our local hospital. They diagnosed him with lung cancer and gave him six months, but they were wrong. I saw him on Monday, and he passed away on Wednesday.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: As I recall, you brought your dad the purple ribbon you had won at this event. You came in eighth place and were very happy to share it with him.
John Buchanan: One thing I had hoped for from my psychedelic journeys or psychotherapy was to remember that last visit with him more clearly. Despite my rigorous attempts to unlock those memories, they remain vague. I wish I had a crystal-clear recollection of that moment.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: Yes, a few years later you were introduced to champagne at a wedding. Then, from there, you started drinking more and more, as you tell us. How did psychedelics come into the picture?
John Buchanan: Well, once I discovered that alcohol changed my experience, whenever I had the chance, I would keep drinking. Living here in Wisconsin, that's not uncommon. At one point, I think Wisconsin consumed 80% of the world's brandy—we like to drink. So I wasn't alone, but even for Wisconsin, my drinking was not normal. By my senior year of high school, I was finally able to find some marijuana, which I thought was exciting, and a few other pills. But the real change came after traveling abroad for a few months after graduating high school.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:14:21): That was the trip you referenced with your sister?
John Buchanan (00:14:23): Yeah, I drank a lot while in Spain and was reprimanded by locals. If you're being scolded for drinking in Spain, you have a problem.
So during our travels in Muslim countries, I stopped drinking. But in Afghanistan, there were other opportunities. I smoked and ate a lot of hashish and tried cocaine and thought these things were pretty marvelous. I think there's something about the quality that from a young age, I loved fantasy, hypnosis, magic, and science fiction. Taking these substances seemed to open up a world connected to all those interests.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:15:14): So as you become more and more involved in this story with various mind-altering substances, you encounter more and more personal difficulties as a result?
John Buchanan (00:15:33): Well, I think my senior year we had a foreign exchange student who looked older than he was, so he was able to buy us hard liquor at the liquor store.
I think if he'd arrived a year earlier, I would've been in serious trouble in high school. But I made it through. I wasn't experiencing many physical issues yet, but I was drinking and doing things that could've led to major problems. Luckily, I avoided severe consequences, unlike many others who face them quickly. There were a few more years where I got by with that behavior.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:16:21): Okay. Now take us back to the five events that you referenced.
John’s first psychedelic experience
John Buchanan (00:16:26): Well, The third one was trying psychedelics. I was hesitant to try psychedelics back in Afghanistan. I dismissed that they would be anything special. News reports about LSD and people jumping out of windows frightened me. However, things change. A friend offered me LSD, and I tried it. It was the most amazing experience of my life up to that point. It embodied the mystery, magic, and new discoveries I described. It was all that and more.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:17:12): And how old were you when you had this first psychedelic experience?
John Buchanan (00:17:17): I was probably around 19 years old, though I should correct that – The summer before I went abroad, someone had offered me some mescaline, which I tried. It was a lot more enjoyable. It was not as intense of an experience. I was just appreciating eating, music, and everything else more through my senses.
But, you may remember, that at the end of the morning when I was driving back from downtown, I had the feeling that I didn't know how to move my hands while driving. So that could have been dangerous.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:17:58): John, when I read that, you were driving in that state and you had people in the car. I have to say my stomach tightened up a little bit, even though I was reading a book and I know you came out okay. I don't know how to even describe the experience driving a car at some speed under the influence of a psychedelic.
John Buchanan (00:18:25): When I started college, we took some LSD and went to see Fantasia, which was playing locally in Sarasota.
And I think there were about three or four other people in my car. We got in, and someone asked, "Who can drive now? Who isn't high?”
I said, "Look, if you want to ride with me, that's fine. Otherwise, I'm leaving.”
So I was driving back while tripping.
If one isn't peaking or in a really strong state, then it's possible, although not advisable, I would say.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:19:04): That's well put.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: You were at New College, where Rick Doblin went, and also had quite some experiences there.
John Buchanan (00:19:12): Yeah, he started around the same time I did, so I knew him a bit. I went to a party at his house once, in the place he designed and built himself. He's quite remarkable. He built a handball court at New College too. Honestly, I'm in awe of all he's achieved at MAPS.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:19:35): Yes, we all are. Well, please continue with your story then, John.
John Buchanan (00:19:44): As you may recall, I had another experience later that spring when taking LSD. Suddenly, I had a vision that LSD opened an experiential space, revealing psychological, philosophical, and religious insights through direct experience. But I didn't really understand what that meant. So I thought I should study psychology, philosophy, religion, and history to figure out how these substances work, whether what they reveal is real, and the implications for understanding reality. When I went to college, I began studying these areas, trying to determine the meaning of that vision and a broader worldview.
But I had one pivotal experience that fall when I took some LSD a friend had brought down. It was very powerful. At one point, I was in my room and this girl I was dating sat me down, put on side two of Abbey Road, put her hand on my chest, and I really took off. Things opened up visually and emotionally. It was intense, peaking with a feeling of moving toward a brilliant light that seemed a supreme conscious being. I couldn't figure out exactly what it was until I got there, but I couldn't fully connect. I felt depressed for days, like I'd failed to fully unite with it and understand.
Careening out of control
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:22:00): So this was your fourth pivotal experience?
John Buchanan Yes, at this point the consequences of my actions began catching up to me. I was dropping out of college every other semester. I'd pull myself together and complete a semester, but then I didn't think I could continue. I was even arrested for public drunkenness and stealing a can of corn from a convenience store - stupid things. But I kept going in and out of college, exploring interesting ideas, though none fully satisfied me.
I moved to Green Bay, where my drinking likely got to be the worst. The drug use went down. I think when the brain gets that worn out chemically, it's harder for interesting experiences to arise from using these substances.
Eventually things deteriorated severely. I started going in and out. I saw a doctor, thinking maybe I had issues with low blood sugar or something. He ended up saying I needed help. So I went in and out of a local hospital a few times, trying to do something. Finally I ended up at a real treatment center, first in Iowa, then they moved me to Hazelden. That was really the start of my sobriety, although I had another long relapse for a couple years before ending up at the Betty Ford Center and really beginning long-term sobriety, now in its fourth decade.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:23:56): I spent a significant portion of my lengthy career in chemical dependence.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: In the 1980s I started the country’s first holistic chemical dependence program called Cokenders for people with alcohol and drug addiction. We offered yoga (but called it “stretching”), meditation (“mind clearing”), exercise, and nutrition education (“fuel ingestion”). We also provided individual and group therapy.
Your story has personal significance for me. The treatment centers you went to, like Hazleton and Betty Ford, are well-known but also have very low success rates. Professionally, I’ve had issues with Hazleton and Betty Ford. Many of their patients have positive experiences during treatment but relapse soon after leaving.
For example, Betty Ford patients often start drinking again on their flight home. Betty Ford, historically, did not provide continuing care after the initial residential stay. Very few people are “cured” in a 20-day program; ongoing support for months or years is usually needed. There’s a lot of work to do.
When I read that you relapsed after leaving Hazleton, I wondered if they had set up any continuing care for you. Or did you receive ongoing support each week after you left?
John Buchanan (00:27:24): Well, they actually sent me to a halfway house, where I stayed for several weeks before leaving against their recommendation. I was sober for about 16 months. I attended 12-step programs and meetings. It wasn't until I stopped doing that, that I relapsed. So I think you may be being too hard on Hazelden and Betty Ford. When I was at Betty Ford, a woman came in and wanted to talk with me. She asked how I was doing and how I felt about my appearance. I thought she was concerned that I had low self-esteem or a bad body image. So I told her I was fine. Finally, she said she was worried because I only weighed about 120 pounds.
And they thought I may have been anorexic. I said no, I'd be happy to gain weight. It's just that I was living in such a bad way that I lost all this weight. So my main treatment goal was to gain weight. There was a nutritionist. They were trying to do what they could with only two years of operation. They hadn't built their gym or workout area yet, But I think they were aiming for a broader program, though maybe not as broad as you were trying to incorporate with mind, body, spirit.
They also sent many people to halfway houses or six-month programs, especially younger people they didn't think had support at home to maintain sobriety. And they always stressed the need for ongoing AA attendance or participation.
And there are people who do that get on a plane and have their first drink, but they probably should have listened to advice about getting a sponsor and going to a meeting.
I also did a year of weekly aftercare. Actually, what I did was six weeks of inpatient treatment. Then I did six weeks of outpatient treatment, followed by a year of weekly aftercare. I lived in that area for a couple years afterward and developed a whole community of people who'd been through the center and were involved in recovery.
At first, I rented a condo with a friend who was in treatment. Unfortunately, I came home one day and found him freebasing drugs. So I ended up getting my own place. That's when I started going to Claremont and studying with the Whitehead Indians there.
Working with Whitehead’s process philosophy
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:30:39): That's the next part of your journey, isn't it? When you left Betty Ford and started working with what you call the Whitehead Indians over there?
John Buchanan (00:30:48): Yes, the process philosophy people at the Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Graduate University were some of the top experts in process philosophy and theology centered around Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy of organism. Before coming to the Betty Ford Center, my advisor at Emory had recommended I do a directed study on Whitehead with a professor there who was an expert in that area and retiring at the end of the year.
So I did a directed study on Alfred North Whitehead and other process philosophy thinkers like Charles Hartshorne, John Cobb and David Griffin. I found Whitehead's metaphysics and cosmology were able to give a worldview that I thought could account for psychedelic experiences better than anything I'd encountered. It also integrated them into a scientific worldview as well as one that you can live everyday life with.
In other words, as I think Whitehead says, a metaphysics needs to be able to account for all experience - awake experience, sleep experience, drunk experience, sober experience, scientific experience, religious experience.
If it doesn't do that, it's inadequate.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:32:29): So I know this is a challenging question, but I'm compelled to ask it. Could you give us a short introduction to philosophy and, related to that, a short introduction to what you refer to as Whitehead's process philosophy? I know this is a tough question.
John Buchanan (00:32:58): Normally I refer people to other books, good introductions.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:33:02): I know, this is your moment—the whole world's listening. Now's your chance to shine.
John Buchanan (00:33:09): Well thank you for the opportunity. The process approach probably has its roots or goes back furthest to Heraclitus, who said, "You never step into the same river twice."
The rejoinder is, "Your foot is never the same twice that you put into that river."
This idea is also found in Buddhism or Daoism, where the process of things and experiencing their flow is more primary than the notion of objects. The Western view, since Descartes, has traditionally seen human experiences as existing within a world of objects, whereas a process perspective sees experience as an ongoing flow based on relationships and feelings. This flow connects our feelings and relationships in an interconnected way.
This, interestingly, describes quantum theory's view of events. Basically, events are fleeting moments that incorporate the influence of the past into a new occurrence, which then becomes part of the onward flow of electromagnetic events that inform the next ones. This basic concept of interconnected events flowing directly together, rather than objects connecting by chance like billiard balls, creates a very different view of the universe. One that is organic rather than mechanical, which is a huge shift.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:35:08): It strongly connects with Seneca and other Stoic philosophers who essentially said very similar things: that material possessions really don't matter and that what really counts is the present moment and what's going on inside us and between us and other people.
John Buchanan (00:35:29): John Cobb, in his book Beyond Dialogue, engages in dialogue with Buddhist and process philosophy perspectives. The Buddhists say that there are these independent moments of now which are all that exist.
He says, "Well, that's true, but those nows are constituted out of past nows. When I'm having it now, I'm also having memories of the past and I'm also thinking about the future at times. Living in the now also means drawing on past experiences and directing oneself toward future possibilities.”
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:36:31): I relate personally and philosophically to how all of my life experiences affect my present. Right now, my entire life revolves around John Buchanan and me. Yes, I do not have any life apart from my life with John Buchanan. And I believe John Buchanan does not have any life apart from living with Richard Miller at this point. I understand that everything John Buchanan and Richard Miller bring to this moment connects to the past and has been influenced by the past. However, I do not resonate with how that relates to the future because the only way I can know the future while I'm here in the present with John Buchanan is if I leave John and go off in my head. Then, I'm not completely in the moment anymore. I'm sort of in the moment, but I'm sort of not in the moment because I am fantasizing or ruminating about the future. What are your thoughts on that?
John Buchanan (00:37:56): Well, that would still affect the present, but that's not quite what I mean by thinking about future possibilities. What I mean is that as I speak, I also hope and aim for the ideas I present to benefit others and spark their interest. So part of how I speak now has a purpose and goal directed towards the future. For process philosophy, the future refers to events that have not yet happened. The past consists of actualized events. The present unfolds now. I understand exactly what you mean though because one of the first times I took psychedelics, one of the beautiful things was suddenly feeling fully present. It was like, wow, I'm really here. Then I could connect with people, and this whole world was really me somehow. It was such a different way of being.
(00:39:23): I think it has helped me be that way more without psychedelics and be more fully present in my life.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:39:33): Are you implying that the way you're talking to me now, because it has the intent of people hearing it in the future, is different from the way you'd be speaking with me if we were sitting and having coffee and nobody else would ever hear it again?
John Buchanan (00:39:58): A little bit. Although if it was just you and me, I'd be aiming more towards what I know about you and your background personally. Whereas now I'm thinking a little bit more broadly. I'm not really even consciously doing this, but I think at some level I'm aiming to be more broadly understood.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:40:19): And yet you believe that within that aim, you're still able to be fully present.
John Buchanan (00:40:36): It's not something I'm thinking about in that way. This is more of a metaphysical analysis. I'm not consciously aware of the past and the world flowing into me. Except under some psychedelic states or meditative states, one can become aware of things much more vividly.
Sandford GR discusses that in non ordinary states of consciousness, one can relive past experiences rather than just remembering them. As Whitehead proposed, the past is still directly accessible to experience; feelings and events are not just stored in the brain, to be activated by neurons simulating what happened. One can reconnect with the past directly, not just recall it.
Alternative modes of consciousness
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:41:30): One point you made in your book, Processing Reality, is that while you've benefited greatly from psychedelic substances, you believe there are ways to achieve an equivalent state of consciousness without ingesting those particular substances. I'd like to hear more about your thinking on this topic.
John Buchanan (00:42:02): Well, as you may remember, I participated in a three-year training group with Stan and Christina Grof on Holotropic Breathwork. For me, the experiences with holotropic breathwork were not as intense as some psychedelic trips I've had. However, they were still powerful and profound. For some people, the breathwork journeys were even more powerful than their psychedelic experiences.
There was a man I'd met who had gone to Esalen and done Holotropic Breathwork with Stan years ago. He said he'd had the most powerful experience of his life. He said he was walking around Esalen and some people approached him, knelt down before him, and seemed in awe of the energy he was radiating.
There are other methods, of course, like meditation or sensory deprivation tanks as John Lilly did. There are many ways to achieve altered states of consciousness. For example, my ex-wife could enter an ecstatic state more powerful than most of my psychedelic experiences just by lying down in yoga's corpse position after a class.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: Well, ex-wives are another story. I had an ex-wife who lived mostly in her own world and had nothing to do with psychedelics.
John Buchanan: For better or worse,
Dr. Richard Louis Miller: Yeah, let's not go down that rabbit hole.
We know historically that people have been working at changing their consciousness from the beginning of time without substances and now we're learning from that same beginning of time. They were also using substances, right, the Greeks and the Romans and going back that they were doing both. And personally, you don't have to answer this question by the way, you're welcome to say I decline to answer, but are you personally continuing your experimentation with psychedelics?
John Buchanan (00:44:32): I have not. I'd say every year I think about it. Would that be helpful for me? Would that be an interesting thing to do? And I still think about it. I've finished my book now I have a little more leeway of a little more freedom from what I want to be doing but I have not mostly because, well, one thing is in the past, whenever I started taking one substance, it eventually led to me abusing other substances. Some people that might not be a problem for, but my history dictates that that's what happened to me. Although I do think psychedelics are different and that might not be the case, maybe I could, but there's also a big concern for me that it might disrupt my sense of community in the 12 step meetings and program. And that's very important to me. And I would hate to put that at risk.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:45:43): In 1985, I attended a special seminar at Esalen where I first met Rick Doblin. I was invited because I was running the Cokenders alcohol and drug treatment program at the time. The group asked me about the appropriateness of psychedelics for people dealing with substance use disorders. My answer then is similar to your position now. I said psychedelics would benefit many, but an unknown percentage would use the as the road back into their addiction. We'd put those at risk without knowing who they are or how many there are. So, it wouldn't be a responsible treatment.
(00:46:52): Now, I sometimes speak to people I treated 35 years ago who stayed sober. I ask them about microdosing psilocybin. Like you, most agree the risk outweighs the benefits because when they open that door, past troubles come flooding in – all kinds of unwanted guests come into play.
John Buchanan (00:47:37): And I've got a great life. So I hate to put that at risk.
Microdosing concerns me because you'd be taking it regularly, which is the problem in the first place.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:47:55): Exactly.
So sometimes after social events—parties, gatherings, lectures—we leave and think, "I wish I'd said that!" Pause. Take a moment to think about what you want to add.
While you’re thinking I’ll urge listeners to check out our site, MindBodyHealthPolitics.org. We archive all our shows—lots of great info. Listen anytime on your phone or computer.
Email us at info@MindBodyHealthPolitics.org with questions or comments. I'll write back.
Back to John Buchanan.
The use of psychedelics with terminal patients
John Buchanan (00:50:06): When you asked me to be on the program and mention the use of psychedelics with terminal patients, I looked back at some of Stan Grof’s research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. A couple of things stood out for me.
We mentioned the powerful and transformative experience of therapists working with terminal patients using psychedelics. He also talks about how important it can be for the families of terminal patients to have the opportunity to be with the patient before and after they have had the psychedelic experience because it can open up communication so much.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:51:08): The particular emphasis on including the family.
John Buchanan (00:51:13): Well, just how beneficial it can be for the patient and their family. Yes.
It can help so much with dealing with loss. There are a lot of things left unsaid. Neither the patient nor the family wants to talk about the patient dying because it might be upsetting, and many opportunities can be lost for closure. I didn't get to properly say goodbye to my father, which I think could be very helpful for people.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:51:50): That's a very astute point, John. Thank you. I will tuck that away and ensure I bring it into play both in my own professional work and in my interviews.
Development of the ideas of heaven and hell
John Buchanan (00:52:04): I was also thinking about when you mentioned heaven and hell in your conversation with Anthony Bossis and how the church uses that as a manipulation tactic. I wondered if the church's ideas of heaven and hell were inspired more by people's experiences in non-ordinary states, as Grof observed in his work and as described in Buddhist teachings, versus being created more as a theoretical tool for manipulation.
What I found fascinating upon reading David Griffin's work was learning that mechanistic materialism did not always dominate Western science and culture.
When René Descartes proposed his dualistic philosophy in the 17th century, other prominent scientists and philosophers of the time - for example, Isaac Newton - had an animistic view of nature as organic and alive, with action at a distance. However, the Church threw its weight behind Descartes because his views did not allow for parapsychological powers or animism, which could be used to dismiss Jesus's miracles as evidence for his divinity. Originally, I was unaware that alternatives to this view were proposed alongside Descartes's philosophy.
(00:54:08): Their idea was that if the mind and body are not separate, like in dualism, then the soul probably won't exist after death. In that case, the threats of heaven and hell won't exist either.
Ironically, the church itself promoted the idea that the soul and body are separate. This belief ultimately led to a materialist view that undermined the church's authority and relevance. There's great irony in how that unfolded historically.
Ego Death VS. Dying
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:54:47): Dr. Tom Roberts pointed out yesterday that we often confuse the psychedelic experience of ego death with actual death. Since those of us who have experienced ego death also know what it feels like to remain alive afterwards, we assume we understand what death itself will feel like. However, as Dr. Roberts noted, the psychedelic experience of ego death is not the same as literal death. Just because ego death felt like dying but we remained aware, that does not prove we will continue to exist in some form after physical death. I thought this was an insightful point. We tend to conflate the psychedelic experience with what will happen when we die, but they are not the same.
John Buchanan (00:56:00): I mean, I think that's true that we don't know. Just because we survived ego death doesn't mean we know that we'll survive physical death. But on the other hand, it does give us intuition that the mechanistic, materialistic idea that we have to die because our brain produces consciousness might not be the truth.
There could be another possibility, as David Griffin's book Parapsychology, Philosophy and Spirituality explores.
I highly recommend this book because it provides a wonderful introduction to Whitehead's philosophy and thought on the mind-body problem. More specifically, Griffin examines whether surviving death but lacking the ability to communicate with others or take action might feel rather pointless. he examines telepathy and psychokinesis, as well as out-of-body experiences, to see if there's good evidence that these things exist.
He analyzes evidence for psychic experiences like mediumship, out-of-body experiences, apparitions, reincarnation, and one other phenomenon. He concludes that evidence for reincarnation is especially compelling, though the "super-psi hypothesis" complicates this—the idea that one could psychically access any information from the past. In that case, how would we distinguish someone claiming memories of past lives?
(00:57:59): I may have been reincarnated from memories of another life. Griffin does an incredible job parsing out evidence that supports one perspective over another. He concludes that four of the five phenomena he examines present strong evidence for out-of-body experiences or paranormal abilities. Together, they provide even stronger evidence. He also mentioned something fascinating: perhaps when we die, if we've had enough, that's the end. But others may want to continue reincarnating or join in union with God. I had never thought of that.
“We have many choices in life and perhaps in death too.”
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (00:58:57): I really like that perspective. For most of my life, John, I believed death was like falling asleep without dreaming, and that was it. Then I had a psychedelic experience where I saw my spirit, if you will, leave my body and go out into space, joining what I saw as a pink Mobius strip of souls. I saw my own spirit join this strip floating through the universe. At times, I saw droplets come out of this Mobius strip towards Earth, and I sensed these droplets were life forces coming back to Earth for procreation.
It was a beautiful experience. I've had many wonderful experiences with psychedelics, which have benefited me greatly. At 84, I continue to experiment with them and continue to learn, which pleases me immensely.
Because of that experience, I no longer believe death is like falling asleep without dreaming. It opened me to the possibility that there is something more, which I now believe. Some of us may choose to experience that "something more," and some may not. I like having options and choices.
Thank you, John Buchanan, for completing your assignment. You conveyed what you'd been thinking but hadn't said, and I appreciate that.
John Buchanan (01:01:27): Well, thank you. It's been delightful. And again, it's been a pleasure getting to know you.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (01:01:32): Well, thank you very much. We can continue indeed. For the rest of our lives here on this earth. And if we choose maybe in the hereafter,
John Buchanan (01:01:36) I hope so, and I look forward to that.
Dr. Richard Louis Miller (01:01:46): Okay, dear listeners. Thank you for joining us today to discuss John Buchanan's recent book Processing Reality, available online. I look forward to speaking with you again. Please remember that I'd love to hear from you - let's start a conversation. Until next time, this is Dr. Richard Miller. Remember, good health is worth fighting for - it's essential to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
A Tale of Addiction, Recovery, and Psychedelics