Review: Manifesting Minds by Rick Doblin and Brad Burge (Eds.)

Psychedelic Press UK reviews Manifesting Minds, the MAPS Bulletin anthology that features over thirty contributions from experts about the role of psychedelics in science, medicine, culture, and spirituality. The article highlights the history and purpose of the MAPS Bulletin, shares excerpts from various portions of the book, and explains why psychedelic research is important for the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Originally published in 2014 ‘Manifesting Minds: A Review of Psychedelics in Science, Medicine, Sex, and Spirituality’ is an anthology of articles that have appeared in the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Bulletin. It is edited by the MAPS founder Rick Doblin and Brad Burge, and includes over thirty contributors.

MAPS was founded in 1986 as a “non-profit research and educational organization with a mission to develop medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful use of psychedelics” (Doblin 2014, ix). To begin with the MAPS Bulletin was a way of keeping people informed as to the latest research, but in 2000 MAPS started coming out with special themed editions, such as ‘Creativity 2000’ published in Autumn 2000. It is from this series of special editions that articles have been chosen for the present anthology.

The anthology is divided into the following sections: Arts and Creativity, Coming of Age, Science and Medicine, Therapy, Sexuality, Spirituality, Ecology, and Technology. Even from a cursory look at the contents list, it is plain to see the importance of the word multidisciplinary. The question of psychedelics has been asserted in numerously diverse ways, and has come to associated with a whole complex of issues, not least because of one of its wide-ranging definitions is as a ‘teacher’.

For instance, in the essay Another Green World: Psychedelics and Ecology, Daniel Pinchbeck opens by stating: “In the same way we garden plants, teacher plants like ayahuasca seem to garden us when we ingest them” (Doblin 2014, 231). There is, in Pinchbeck’s sense, a conversation going on, and each element brings something different to the table—for each multidisciplinary approach, there is a new discourse to be broached. While for certain experiences this might manifest on an ecological level, in others the lesson is universal, and this is the spiritually therapeutic goal of psychedelics according to various methods.

“To become one with this Self,” writes Myron Stolaroff in Learning How to Learn, “one must become free of all attachments, conceptualizations, judgments, investments, reifications, and unconscious barriers, until the mind can be perfectly still without distractions” (Doblin 2014, 213). When psychedelics are employed as part of such practices they are placed within a sacred realm, yet their lessons are still supposedly there to help one personally grow within a context both sacred and profane, that of everyday life. The teachings, and the therapy, are ground on which to navigate the experience of psychedelics. However, while shamanic contexts have long existed, the Western development through psychiatry has been hampered:

“The Drug War has created such a repressive political atmosphere that proper training has been eliminated. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this repression is the loss of lineage: There is no way for mature psychedelic therapists to legally train new therapists in the ego-surrendering processes. A generation of experienced therapists is about to be lost” (Doblin 2014, 147) – Taken from Lessons from Psychedelic Therapy by Richard Yensen

Restarting such research is the top of the MAPS agenda. Creative and artistic people have also long been associated with the use of psychedelics, both recreationally, professionally and even within psychiatric research contexts (such as Dr. Oscar Janiger’s study on LSD and the creative process.) A short, reproduced interview with the writer Aldous Huxley entitled Huxley on Drugs and Creativity describes the LSD effect on artists nicely: “the poet would certainly get an extraordinary view of life which he wouldn’t have had in any other way” (Doblin 2014, 20). Perspective is shifted, in this understanding, revealing further aesthetic dimensions to explore through a variety of disciplines—another lesson.

Reintegrating psychedelics into mainstream science is the initial problem faced by anyone interested in researching and raising awareness of these substances in the Western world. However, while this research, in the past, has pointed toward their instrumental use in the wider social, the second problem is how are they safely and responsibly reintegrated (or, arguably, integrated) into society? The section entitled Coming of Age has the largest number of essays included and, perhaps, this is because it presents the greater challenge for the greater proportion of the population. Ram Dass writes:

“While I would never encourage anyone to use psychedelic substances, especially in our current political climate, the fact of the matter is that a certain percentage of our young people (and of our older people, too) are going to experiment. And I would like to see that experiment unfold for them in the most positive sort of way, under conditions that minimize the risk of a bad trip and that maximize the spiritual potential of the experience” (Doblin 2014, 38)

Other chapters in this section – such as Mother and Child Bond with 2C-B Experience by Anonymous and Psychedelic Family Values by R. Stuart – begin to look at psychedelic initiation on a number of social levels. Rites of passage for the young in society, into their family, and the social cohesion that these units can have propagated by psychedelic use—something many people, even those unaware of psychedelic potential, argue Western society has had slowly eroded. And, furthermore, as Stanley Krippner and David Luke note, this cohesion can manifest through a connectedness with other species. The integrative lesson unfolds externally.

In conclusion, Manifesting Minds is a wide-ranging anthology that will appeal through specialization to individual researchers from specific fields, but that, taken as a whole, invest psychedelics with a global, maybe even universal, fabric for cohesive social growth. This stretches from the healing of the individual mind, the recognition of our place in family and society, through to ecological motivation and universal, spiritual context. As a reader, you can follow this journey through the anthology, and it provides you with a distinct direction in the cultural movement of psychedelic use generally.