As some of you avid Erowidites may know, I was arrested in Southern England in February 2004 for being “concerned in the manufacture of controlled drugs”. Truly, I was so concerned. But, as has been revealed from time to time, one cannot be made guilty by statute for acts that are intrinsically innocent.
Believing I had principle and human rights on my side, I espoused my motivations to the court through a prism of Cognitive Liberty, the right to think for myself and by extension, and of necessity, to help others catalyze their psychedelic or entheogenic adventures in which they, too, thought for themselves.
Handcuffed with Cognitive Liberty Shirt behind Lewes Crown Court
After about a week of explaining all manner of reasons why I thought that what I did was a noble pursuit of self-evident higher truths, in which no blood or treasure was spilt, I know not why the Judge didn’t just say to me, “You’re right, you are free to go.” Alas, he did not.
You see, ever the optimist, I thought His Honor Judge Anthony Niblett of Lewes Crown Court was on the side of the evolutionaries, on my side. After all, he was presiding over the court at the cradle of American Independence, for Thomas Paine, the (r)evolutionary linguistic samurai, found his political voice there in the republican stronghold of Lewes, the spiritual home of Guy Fawkes Night, and, in its own peculiarly British way, all things Freedom.
Whilst I felt inspired and motivated for action, His Honor apparently didn’t want to slaughter any sacred cows; and, thus, a jury trial ensued in which I was now forbidden by him to raise such “superfluous” cognitions in front of the Jury. Supposedly, the Jury were not to know about my human rights based defense.
Being a mindfully metaprogramming memeticist, however, I managed to squeeze the concept of free thought into nearly every conversation, even if only tangentially, whether as I cross-examined the forensic chemist or the lowly clerk, “Mr. A”, a man afraid to use his real name for fear of harassment by violent animal rights “extremists”. Sigma-Aldrich, the chemical company, had sent him to tell the Jury that I did indeed order those chemicals in my name and with my credit card.
In the opening round of questioning, I persuaded the forensic chemist to talk of how, via Chinese neurotransmitters, the chemistry of the opium wars turned to silver and gold, affording the English Crown the money to build the Court in which I stood accused of what could be perceived of as a thought crime. Similarly, I asked “Mr A” something like “when I ordered those chemicals from you, did you have any notion that I was going to make forbidden thought catalysts with them?”.
Lewes Crown Court – View from the Dock
Many times the Judge would remind me I was not supposed to be mentioning such matters and I’d look to the Jury and ask “Why, your honor, do you wish to forbid the Jury the knowledge that I believe my right to freedom of thought is being violated by this prosecution?” or something to that effect. Thus it was, after several reminders, he dismissed the Jury from the Court and chastised me for my forbidden verbiage. Like a spoiled brat he demanded “the law is for me, not the Jury: they are the triers of fact”.
As my father had sent me Spooner’s Trial by Jury, I knew this petulance flowed from a radical change to common law, where previously the Jury tried the facts and the law from which justice was allegedly determined. So I quipped: “as long as they still get to try facts, wasn’t the violation of my rights, my liberties, a fact for them to determine?” Alas, according to Parliament, as Anthony reminded me, the determination of “the fact” of whether one’s human rights were being violated was for the Judges alone. And around we’d go again.
By running my own defense, after the prosecution put their best case forward, the law afforded me the opportunity to speak my mind to the Court and by extension to all who were present in the audience, including local media. Thus, I presented my opening defense statement to the Jury, a few of whom I had thought were on my side by now.
In telling my story to the Jury, I expounded on my motives, on how my personality was crafted by my entheogenic experiences and all the extraordinary reasons I believed that the molecules I produced were essential to the future of humankind and thus ultimately to our survival on this “bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free…dizzy with possibilities”. I summed up this process by duly informing the Jury what the Court would not: they could return a “perverse verdict” as a jury can acquit a defendant for any reason, particularly if they think the law unjust. Surely, they thought the law unjust by now!
Her Majesty’s Pleasure Statement
Alas, they did not; or, if they did, they didn’t say so. And so a sentencing hearing ensued in which I was awarded a 20 year term of imprisonment the same week a terrorist was sentenced to 17 years for making ricin as a chemical weapon with “intent to kill”. Was making psychedelic drugs actually worse than making chemical weapons? I think not.
Nonetheless, in the eyes of those who held me captive, what I thought was now irrelevant, I was serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. So, I did; and, to the best of my ability: in addition to disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed, I read and studied a lot. And, in one of those books, I came across a line by Carl Jung that said, “we stand in need of a reorientation, a metanoia”. And we do, particularly in relation to this drugged planet.
Conveniently, I just happened to have a new hardbound notebook and a Sharpie marker pen I’d pilfered from the prison education department; so, I wrote:
“METANOIA – diet for a Drugged Planet – A Novel Synthesis”
Alas, no novel has yet been synthesized and thus I thought I’d whip out this cherished koan as the name of my column. Let me break it down:
Original Metanoia Notebook
My prison notebook has many threads, barely developed. Thus, I’d like to employ this column, this forum, to clothe the most salient. Today, I want to meander a bit, see where my mind flows, and begin to weave a few threads: “what is freedom like”, as so many have asked me since release from prison (apparently they have forgotten!); and, the multifaceted concept, borrowed from a beat poem written by that magical being Sinbad Vine: “[Our] Relentless Substance Race”. For over time and with this column I seek to show that we are both in a substance race and are a substance race. And thus, by way of commencement, I segue with a Sinbad snippet:
“… So dependent I can hear it
Calling me day and night
Don’t put up a fight
My chakras trip
A certain kind of hunger
Is always there to linger …”
Weaving this thought as I do, Neil Young’s Thrasher rings true in my heartmind for I have lost several friends to drug overdose since my incarceration:
“I searched out my companions
Who were lost in crystal canyons
When the aimless blade of science
Slashed the pearly gates.”
Each of these lost loved ones, in pursuit of those “pearly gates”, not only found them, but ran their substance race straight into the ground. One way or another, they stormed heaven; or at least they’re being recycled slowly back into the stardust from whence they came.
Like Jung, Young nailed it: the aimless blade of science has brought us many purified, crystalized molecules: something not available extracellularly for but one-hundred-thousandth of one percent of our phylogenetic existence, or less. Thus, beyond killing other animals with said molecules, preparations, or concoctions to establish the LD50, the median lethal dose, we have scant detail on just how powerful these molecules may be in humans. And, thus, many just wing it. I know I have.
Erowid Know Flyer (2000)
Maybe my dead friends were winging it as their “talons gripped and their chakras tripped”. Maybe it was intentional overdose. But these potent substances my friends did consume. Each of them, being well schooled in drugs, did not heed the caveats: know your body, know your mind, know your substance, know your dose, know your source. And thus they flunked the hedonism test as defined by my exquisite wife Charlotte: “hedonists, by definition, love life and want to continue living it”. Maybe my dead friends didn’t really want to, or were reckless as to their possible mortality, and so they pushed the envelope a little too hard and mailed their asses to the undertaker. Was it “a certain kind of hunger, always there to linger” that sent them postal? Do they now know what freedom “is”?
Legal scholars speak of “freedom from” and “freedom to”: negative freedom and positive freedom respectively. Negative freedom is freedom from external interference preventing me from doing what I want, when I want to do it. Positive freedom is the freedom to control and direct my own life. Positive freedom allows me to consciously make my own choices, create my own purpose, and shape my own personality; I act instead of being acted upon.
And so it is with respect to so-called “controlled” drugs: I am not free to do things with certain molecules because I am not free from government regulations as to which molecules I may do things with. I may still do these things but not lawfully; if I do these things I may be subject to executive enforcement of the legislature’s laws.
But here’s a twist: I am free to take any molecule I want, providing I can find it and get it into my body, but I am not free from the molecule’s effects until my body manages to process, assimilate or eliminate all the active molecules and any molecular or enzymatic cascade catalyzed by its interactions with my biochemistry. That’s just the way it works and that’s only if my body manages it. So, please, I beg of thee, be mindful. Or you too may “find the cost of freedom buried in the ground”.
Typical British Prison Cell
Not being mindful enough, I found the cost of freedom in a six walled room, a box of concrete not unlike a tomb except for the door and window that might occasionally open with a live body in it: or so I hoped. Arrested as a training target for the drug warriors’ heavy artillery and locked in an itty bitty living space, I experienced phenomenal cosmic power(lessness). I had free thoughts, they had my body. I had no choice, though I pounded hard, at times physically and mentally, I had to wait for the door to open.
At last it did. Here and now, I am alive. I survived these trials by ordeal. And, so, with pleasure, I whisper a secret: “Freedom is a mental attitude, a habit that can be cultivated”. I experienced this before prison, I experienced it more fully while I was in there, and I experience it most fully now. Dennett appears right on this: for me, freedom evolves. Today, my attitude of freedom stands in relation to an awareness that my very thoughts might be determined; although, not by divine appointment or any other such nonsense.
Once we were the plaything of the Gods, then, with an enlightened faith, the “aimless blades of science slashed the pearly gates”. Through our trust in the scientific process and, in particular, the law of causality as currently understood, we lost our free will to a biological and cultural determinism.
We’ve had before, at differing moments of our existence, a perceived untrammeled freedom; but, no longer. And though I still cling to a belief that I may have a pinch of free will to act in accord with my motives, unhindered by external dominations like my prison sentence, I recognize that I am still constrained by the laws of physics. This belief in any residual free will buckles in an uncertainty over how much my motives are determined by the interactions of my genetic and sociocultural conversations in the evolutionary environments in which I have found myself. Crucially, I believe a lack of mindfulness about these genetic, social and cultural conversations, or even the mere possibility of them, is responsible for many common forms of mental slavery.
And whilst one may experience an attitude of mental freedom, this reflects not one iota the challenges people face, nor the sacrifices we each make, in our relentless substance race. Remember, after the ecstasy, the laundry. So it is for me: my laundry is a bit unusual; for the gulag archipelago ripped me out of my timeline, out of my movie, and scattered my possession to the four winds, basically leaving me adrift in an ocean of possibilities. Who do I want to be now? Where do I want to locate myself in the maelstrom of ‘legitimate’ economic activity? Where do I want to locate myself at all? Where is my nexus?
Has anybody seen this bus?
Psychologically, my grandmother Alice’s farm in northern Idaho had been the hub of my existence: I may wander far but I consistently returned. When I set off for the Nepal Entheobotany Conference in 2001, I left the double-decker school bus I had lived in for the last seven years up there by the barn expecting it would be reasonably safe. Upon my arrest, the DEA told my Gran that if the bus was not removed they would seize the farm, for it had been the site of some chemical manipulations of the pharmacological tofu: 2C-D, and other ineffables; further, it held the Tweetio files mentioned in PIHKAL, aka the 2,5-di-EtO files. For the farm, the bus and the files would have to go.
My father, Barefoot Windwalker, aka Barefoot Bob of barefootsworld.net, had been based at the farm for about a decade, taking care of his mother, building his website and coordinating his adventures; but, as the familial school bus massacre went down, with complete dispersal of my belongings, he wasn’t there to rescue any of my shit, had he chosen to and had I requested.
Barefoot Windwalker smokes his peace pipe on the bus
You see, my father was sailing over the North Atlantic to visit me in prison; for with the “proceeds of crime” and as token of my love, gratitude and appreciation for his contributions to my genetic and cognitive endowment, I bought him a 35 foot trimaran sailboat hull and provided the money for him to kit it out with his hi-tech folding mast system and all the essential gear. He named it the “Atha Windwalker” and set sail.
Atha is the Sanskrit word for “Now” and the first word of Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. Aware of the Sanskrit word for it and the brilliance of the word’s construction, I created Atha Research Foundation as the umbrella company for the “custom organic synthesis and phytochemical discovery” operation that bought the boat; and “Windwalker” was my dad’s Native American nom de plume: now, walking on the wind he certainly is.
The Atha Windwalker
I didn’t know it then but that prison visit summer of 2005 would be the last time I saw my father alive. He died January 2009 (in hospice care accompanied by morphine on demand after nearly 35 years sober in Alcoholics Anonymous) whilst I was in Her Majesty’s Prison. This, for me, is the key sacrifice in my relentless substance race. And although it hurt deeply, and sometimes still does, there was also a sense of psychological liberation. I am the ascendent, the responsibility passed to me to make of his gifts what I will. I’m still making. But a year or so prior to my father’s death, his mother Alice was interred at a care home. She was suffering from dementia and was no longer able to care for herself or be cared for with our family resources on the farm.
I didn’t know it then, but January 2004, when I flew to England, would also be the last time I’d see my grandmother Alice alive. After working my ass off to make certain I was going to get deported prior to her 100th birthday, June 1st 2013, she died a few months shy. Still, with gratitude, I was home May 29th in time for the memorial services and requisite pilgrimage to the old family homestead in the backwoods of Montana.
The Hardison Homestead, Flume Gulch, MT
And here is where this thread returns to freedom and nexus: I just spent the last few months dealing with the final settlement of her assets. What I inherit can’t make up for the lack of an axis mundi: we had to sell the farm. In sum, whilst in prison for thought crimes, I lost my father, my grandmother, the farm, my 1969 International Harvester school bus, and my 1965 4WD Scout; all my possessions. I lost 99% of the evidence of my previous existence. These are the sacrifices of my relentless substance race, of twenty years in pursuit of molecular enlightenment; but, sentimentality has taken a different turn. I can no longer look to the past as my father wrote in “Windwalker Listens”:
“You must find a new focus, a new vision, for this is the day of life for all, a new beginning, a new paradigm, that none has seen before. It has its own problems and its own solutions.”
So, memetically I am in good stead. The memes that flood my mind primarily habituate to upward thoughts. Praise Infinite for my Life: though it may be meaningless, it sure charms my mind.
As does “my Otter”, aka Charlotter Love, my wife, assigned by the English Wife Rehabilitation Program, so she says. We married in prison (I wrote her seeking help with my legal questions): we’d never even so much as walked free together prior to getting on the airplane that ferried this “foreign criminal” to the United States.
We had much to learn about each other; she had much to see and experience about my country. Further, I now had the responsibility of finding a location and a legitimate livelihood for our sustainable development. Where would we find our nexus? To answer this question and more I did the one thing I knew to do: I hit the road, no simple highway.
We hit the ground road-tripping around the eleven, continental, Western States, spiraling our way back into the mountains. I showed her the best of the West, for Jim had said it. All the while I was watching her, seeing what people and places lit her up. As we traveled we experienced connection with the few remaining members of the Hardison clan, the few friends that remain from my early beginnings, and with a few of the serving Entheogenea.
Charlotte and I during our first Summer of Love!
Connectivity fuels me and yet at the same time I want to be around fewer people.Thus, most of our journey this summer of love was spent in the wilderness, in the wide open spaces of the Mountain and Pacific West. We climbed peaks, crossed a wide raging river belly button deep on the edge of the Wilderness of No Return, soaked in hot springs, swam in oceans, and made love under a pink volcano as the full moon rose and Venus set. In short, I experienced the thrill and joy of being alive, physically free and in love.
Last fall as I was zipping past the cultural center of the universe, Victor, Idaho, I stopped into the local temporary autonomous/responsibility zone seeking a place to live. With gratuitous grace, I was provided with a small team of experts working on new and improved ways of being nice to me and a beautiful cabin to rent.
I now find myself out here on the North American Serenghetti of the former Idaho Territories, near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I have open space and fresh air galore. There’s bison, elk and moose, fox, coyote and wolves, eagles, beavers, and otters besides. Sprinkle in a few thousand antelope, dozens of hawks, osprey and eagles, and you begin to get the idea.
An Icicled Freeblood
In November, I bought a season pass to Grand Targhee Ski Resort and snowboarded incessantly until the snow stopped flying. The physical challenge of riding the mountain gives me the freedom not to think, quite possibly the best meditation I know of. In those moments, my veins course with molecular brilliance, all I can do is trust my human to deliver me safely to the bottom of the mountain and to the people I love.
This March, I paused in the middle of frozen Jackson Lake, several miles from shore. I was making my way back alone as a porter to Teton Gravity Research‘s Mt Moran Camp on the Skillet glacier tongue. I skinned there on a Jones split snowboard. There were 15 people waiting for promised supplies at camp. It was a pleasure to deliver them; for, on the way there, it was the most distance I had had from other human beings and evidence of their civilization in over a decade. I could look in any direction, even up. I could see no other people. I was alone and all one! The feeling was ineffable.
Snowy Isolated Freedom in Mt Moran’s shadow
That night, watching the sunset from the glacier tongue, I pondered what a fellow acid chemist said about Leonard Pickard, caught three times making LSD and now serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole, as if one wasn’t enough: “He didn’t get the message”. I am free and intend to stay that way. I cannot return to clandestine chemistry and keep my liberty. And thus, I am faced with what can, at times, appear daunting to me: the re-creation of myself. As the artist formerly known as Aardvark said to me recently: “Maybe you got too much freedom now!”