science of us

What If We All Took Psychedelics and Meditated?

I’m game Photo: Oscar Gutierrez/Getty Images

Maybe Dr. Bronner has been right all along.

Over on Vox, writer Sean Illing explores recent research that suggests believing in universal oneness — understanding that we are all connected — can foster empathy and alleviate what he calls “our biggest moral failure.” Namely, our tendency to sort ourselves into echo chambers and think of outsiders as less than human.

He calls this “political tribalism,” but I think what he’s getting at reaches farther than that, or at least deserves a more elegant term. To better access this sense of oneness, Illing proposes meditating and using psychedelics, citing his own experience of trying ayahuasca (“It exploded my emotional barriers and, for a moment at least, connected me to something much bigger than myself”) as well as Michael Pollan and his recent book on psychedelics and Robert Wright and his recent book on meditation (which I read too and found unexpectedly funny, for what it’s worth).

“Does that mean everyone should shoehorn LSD into their morning cereal?” Illing asks. Probably not, and anyway, “in the long run, meditation is a safer and more sustainable path to self-transcendence.”

In the study Illing refers to, “The psychological implications of believing that everything is one,” published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, the researchers asked participants: “To what extent have you thought about the idea that everything is one (before now)?” Participants were then asked to rate how easy it was to believe a series of statements about oneness, such as “Beyond surface appearances, everything is fundamentally one.” (Amusingly, “Participants were compensated $1.50 in Amazon credit.”) The researchers conclude that participants who believed in oneness also valued “benevolence and universalism” more than participants who didn’t.

In the study’s introduction, however, the authors get at what seems to be a crucial point in this exploration:

…[H]olding the belief that everything is one is distinct from directly experiencing a sense of oneness, and people may firmly believe that everything is one at a cognitive level without having had a unitive, mystical experience.

But I guess this is where meditation and psychedelics come into play.

I recently subscribed to the Buddhist magazine Tricycle, which sends daily emails featuring inspirational quotes. I’ve liked all of them, pretty much, but one from earlier this week gave me a sort of loose feeling that I enjoyed, and now seems as good a moment as any to share it:

When we are not attached to who we think we are, life can move through us, playing us like an instrument. Understanding how everything is in continual transformation, we release our futile attempts to control circumstances. When we live in this easy connection with life, we live in joy.

It’s funny to think about connection and oneness while also spending so much time alone, on the computer. But if you’re on the internet, are you alone? Does the internet also count as life moving through us, playing us like an instrument? I would say … yes. Maybe.

What If We All Took Psychedelics and Meditated?