The Only Thing Missing Was Sufis
by Michael Rossman
I went down to a Conference on Consciousness put on by a student group in Philadelphia. It seemed like an early warning of the 1970s carnival. There were gurus to the right of us and gurus to the left; the discourse was very lofty. The disciples of the fourteen-year-old gum handed me leaflets announcing his arrival in town; the disciples of the 140-year-old guru invited me uptown to his parlor. Above us were the people who want to plant a permanent colony on the moon, believing that from this act fulfilling Man's Destiny in the Universe will cascade both the new technology to solve our problems of starvation and city, and the social and psychological unity necessary to overcome our divisions and put the technology to work.
For background, we had an illustrious panel of former associates of Tim Leary, including Humphry Osmond, who coined the word "psychedelic," and Ralph Metzner, the New Maps of Consciousness man, who gave us a workshop in fire/light yoga at five bucks a head. Even the ghost of Richard Alpert, busy being reborn as Ram Dass, sat with them as they talked about charismatic leadership, where it gets and what it costs, and what the market for it looks like now. We heard also from Saul Alinsky, an excellent hypnotist, my feminist friend from Boston, and so on. All we were missing were the Sufis. And just as well: not because of them, but because of the aura that surrounds them. The Sufis are the cocaine of the consciousness movement for 1972. I don't know what they'll do for your nose, but people wear the badge of association with them as they display coke spoons, with the same snobbish enthusiasm, innocent and corrupt, and it puts me off.
No wonder my head was spinning as I rode home on the plane, reading John Lilly's Center of the Cyclone, just after my uptown visit to the 140-year-old guru. He didn't look 140, but then he might not if he were, right? The room grew crowded with disciples radiant in his presence; he waxed eloquent on Hindu metaphysics and the morality of higher consciousness. I dropped my guard and asked him what to do about the strange fire burning in my fingers, asked him where it might lead me. He pounced on me for pedagogic example like a terrier grabs a rat, cackling as he admonished me that it was all monkey play, veils of Maya, ha ha.
Well, I've known that line since I read the Bhagavad-Gita at sixteen, and known its truth since my early acid trips. But I know what else the Gita says, about how you work it out here in the flesh of these lives. Afterward the guru told my friend about me: "Too much ganja [marijuana]." I imagine he can read my aura. I can't remember whether it was four cigarettes or five I saw him smoke, sitting there in an easy lotus, cocky as any macho teacher in a classroom. My buddy says he doesn't eat, but he sure has a taste for Life Savers -- did in a whole roll between cackles.
Drugs, drugs, it is all about drugs. They were our first mass consciousness trip and that patterning persists. Ira Einhorn, who convened this conference, talks about heroin, the key drug of the early 1970s: "For people assailed by stress in body and mind, it reduces wild discord into a simple pattern, organizing all the acts and consciousness and stress of life around relating to the drug." But we are all besieged by incoherence now, our culture is tearing apart with glacial slowness, and everyone in it feels the chaos as new orders struggle to emerge within an old order dying. In everyone now there is a hunger for the simple solution, the one Way that organizes everything else around itself, makes sense out of the chaos -- not by embracing it all in some new higher synthesis, but by choosing only a certain part of it to deal with.
And so we see the Jesus communes, the Lyman family, the Gaskin tribe; gurus appearing everywhere, like magnets picking up loose filings; missionary bands advancing yoga, encounter groups, alpha training, bioenergetics and Rolfing, Krishna chanting, transcendental meditation, new hybrid syntheses emerging daily. The garden is rich in this strange season after a decade of war, and many of its fruits are interesting and valuable, if you're looking for raw material to build on for growth and learning. But so far, people seem mostly to be consuming it somewhat like smack, to cut down all the complexity to safe and narrow limits.
Forecast for the next five years: Consciousness will be the country's quickest-flourishing growth industry. A kaleidoscope of mutant flowers will appear on every block. Too many people will take to the easy lotus, giving up the task of integrating what we have begun.