Part I of an interview for WATKINS MAGAZINE #64 January 2021
by Alexander de Cadenet
AdeC: You have spoken of taking LSD as having ‘contact with the divine’. Could you both describe what ‘contact with the divine’ or your experience of ‘God consciousness’ actually feels like in the moment? Alex: God consciousness during a psychedelic journey is like a big homecoming. The Ultimate Source of Being and reality makes love to you through the spectacle of the Visionary imagination. Your mind and the Universal mind become congruent and you might witness beautiful angelic or elf like “beings” who communicate elaborate scripts and symbol displays, unfolding mandalas referencing forms from every known and unknown past and future culture, somehow we see glowing landscapes with alien architectures. The boundaries between oneself and all others seem to dissolve and our identity expands until we feel a planetary body and interconnectedness with all beings, even a galactic and cosmic body. The suffering and joy of all creatures seems to course through one’s own being, back to the level of genetic perception of our DNA gift from all our relations way back to the first life on earth and in the cosmos. Finally one realizes there are no boundaries, forms or obstructions between you and the timeless awareness that brought the universe into being. It can feel like an internal fountain of orgasmic pleasure without moving the physical body. Consciousness, as a vehicle propelled by the sacrament, arrives in heaven and recognizes they are part of a net of beings all sharing the light of infinite love.
The psychedelic experience can also feel like hell. You may see ugly shadows within your unconscious that need to be faced. In the funhouse mirror of our troubling revelations, we learn karmic lessons, accelerating psycho-dynamic healing. Leafing through our Book of Trips, I found this entry, “Now I remember why I do this; a return to spiritual home base, a clearing out of psychic cobwebs, an immersion in kaleidoscopic beauty at the core of one’s soul.” There are so many ways to contact the divine because God is always present, but I needed the medicine to wake me up. Allyson: After evolving with psychedelics for three years, I was a twenty-year-old, agnostic, Jewish art student when I read Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now. In order to “see the white light” myself, as Ram Dass had, I felt encouraged to take an LSD journey in a style I had never tried - lying silently in a darkened room with some spiritual music. Equally discernible with eyes closed or open, a secret language floated through the air and washed over all surfaces. Secret writing was God’s way of expressing through symbols, the ineffable presence that, once seen, cannot be unseen or unknown. More real than the bedrock everyday reality was a visible force that permeated and wafted through the air in patterns of chaos and order. My eyes opened to realizing the presence of GOD, a word humans created to describe this ubiquitous, omniscient force. Secret Writing floated through the air across my wide peripheral awareness, was my visual takeaway from a glimpse of the infinite. The Almighty had no face, no gender, and this very much resonated with my own thinking. If God is One, it cannot be a man. Man has opposition: Woman. That would be a duality not a Oneness. The voice of God expressed to me through symbols the unpronounceable, unifying, evolutionary force of the universe.
Since the late sixties, LSD has been unstoppable in changing increasing minds and lives for the better. Science is backing up what most every psychonaut already knows. That LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca and other sacraments, have the potential to relieve psychic issues and have brought benefit to millions of well people in our lifetimes alone. Researchers are finding evidence that real sacraments may only have endured a forbidden period since the early Christian era. While choosing to take a psychoactive substance is indeed a serious responsibility, with a prepared mindset, in a comfortable setting, holding positive intentions, with altruistic guides along, casualties are quite rare. Legality will make it safe.
Jewel Net of Indra, by Allyson Grey, 1988.
View inside Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (C.O.S.M.)
AdeC: Do you have thoughts on how legalization of LSD may evolve the consciousness of society at large?
Alex: The desacralizing values of our petrochemical culture, founded on capitalist principles of exploitation of people and the environment, have brought the life web of the world to its knees. This has to end in order to manage the climate crisis. A psychedelic revolution will forward that transformation. Hopefully, beyond the healing of millions of traumatized souls, it will fuel the invention of new eco-technologies that accelerate decarbonization, even as we plant more trees and mindfully regenerate the soil. Experiencing our own divinity through a psychedelic mystical experience, we are open to the sacredness of all others and the importance of saving the life web. The values of truth, beauty and goodness may become meaningful goals for a just culture and planetary civilization aiming to preserve the earth for future generations of inner and outer space explorers.
Allyson: If LSD is legalized for prescription and treatment by doctors or licensed practitioners, there may be legal centers where the experience can be managed for safety. If LSD remains illegal to the public for anything other than over-the-counter access to adults only, there will continue to be a black market. An outstanding majority of people benefit from this experience. Mentally and physically well-people are eager for evolutionary betterment. AdeC: How can an experience of art offer access to ‘the divine’? Could you select an example of one of your artworks that you feel particularly succeeds in offering viewers access to ‘the divine’? Alex: For decades, many have reported experiencing the dimensions portrayed in my paintings during a psychedelic journey of their own. One of my Sacred Mirror paintings, Universal Mind Lattice, was based on simultaneous visions Allyson and I shared on LSD on June 3, 1976. In our visionary imaginations we became a toroidal ball of light linked with infinite other similar light beings. We were each cells in the boundless spirit body of God. The Sacred Mirror series was designed as a tool for connecting people with that experience of Divinity. What would we see in a Sacred Mirror? The sacred part of ourselves. I believe that is what we look for in every work of art - the reflection of the soul which is a universal condition shared by the collective of humanity. The Sacred Mirrors take the viewer from the physical anatomical systems of the body, move through racial and gender identities, and on to subtle energetic templates, and divine archetypes that return a person to their sacred center. Allyson: It is said that, while leading a group meditation one day, Buddha lifted up a lotus and one of his disciples became instantly enlightened. All objects can be a source of “liberation through seeing.” It is the viewer’s responsibility to vanquish all obstacles to their already perfected self in order to experience that “liberation through seeing.” Great works of art have the potential to “enlighten” the receptive. The memorable labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral is an interactive “enlightenment” device when walked spiritually with intention, holding a lit candle, walking in silence. Within my own work, Jewel Net of Indra portrays the vast vista of interconnected fountains and drains, blowing and sucking energy in an infinite grid in which all beings and things are a node and an integral part. Order and Jewel Net of Indra, arguably my most reproduced works, are inspired by the visions I shared on an LSD journey with Alex on June 3rd, 1976.
Love is a Cosmic Force, by Alex Grey, 2009
AdeC: You have spoken of ‘being the light’. What does this mean to you both? Alex: After experiencing the Universal Mind Lattice, a portrayal of transcendental light became the subject of our art. To enter boundless light is a premier revelation of spirit and a classic recurring motif of the visionary mystical experience. When we say, “become the light,” we mean shifting our identity away from the fear-driven ego protecting our physical body, and instead try identifying with our unlimited God Consciousness, the only source and supply of love and creativity. It is possible to see luminous auric emanations through clairvoyant perception of the subtle energy fields that surround the body and remain mostly beyond our perception.
Allyson: The light is the energy of life. A fine white line surrounds every cell of the grid of spectral light in Jewel Net of Indra. When we “be the light” we radiate positive energy. We are “lit up.” We “lighten up.” We are enlightened. Darkness is vanquished by light.
AdeC: Can you describe the benefits (and challenges) of sharing a studio with each other for 45 years, since your earliest days together in Boston? Alex: The benefits are incalculable, really. To have my best friend nearby and willing to consult on any problem is the best possible condition I can imagine for the development of loving creations. The challenges are part of the benefit because any abrasive or reactiveness on my part to my partner is a result of something unexamined and unfaced in myself. I’m in this for a lifetime of transformation. Allyson: There is nowhere I’d rather be, most of the time. There is no one who knows and understands my work as well as my favorite critic, my best friend and confidant, my favorite artist, my partner in business and pleasure. Not everyone craves togetherness like we do. Maybe we enjoy togetherness as a result of us both having an older same-sex sibling close to our age that didn’t seem to like us much in our early childhood.
Alex and I shared our first studio in Boston from 1975-1984. For those nine years, we went off daily to separate jobs and came home to paint and work on performances every night and weekend. Because of work travel through the years, we experienced a decade of months spent apart. Being apart seems more challenging but it is a challenge also to get along and be the best person you want to be in the enduring presence of another. It’s also a recipe for self-realization.
AdeC: Could you share some of your thoughts on Stanislav Grof’s Birth Perinatal Matrix as it applies to the current times we are living in with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ global movement? What role might art have in this ‘birthing’? Alex: A new world of clarity amidst the chaos is being born. We are finally facing the terrifying history and truth of racism in America. The recognition on a global scale of the glaring injustices suffered by black and poverty-stricken communities invites a moral rebirth in communities of privilege, and a re-alignment with values of equality, justice, compassion and reparations. Worldwide social upheaval and mass gatherings following months of profound isolation because of the Pandemic, reminded me of going through the dangerous passage of birth necessary to move into a more conscious and conscience-driven society.
Dr. Stanislav Grof is a psychiatrist who studied the importance of psychedelic visionary journeys and sat with thousands of patients. His many years of accumulated data have led to the formulation of some wonderful theories of how the transformative process works inside of us. Grof points to the archetypal phases of birth and their relationship to our emotional states as we go through a psychedelic journey. The first phase of the Birth Perinatal Matrix (BPM 1) is the Happy Womb, a safe snuggly feeling. (BPM 2) The second phase is when the walls seem to be closing in on us, the feeling of entrapment, no exit, despair crushing us emotionally. (BPM 3) The third phase is the stage of dynamic change and violent passage through the birth canal. The mass actions in the streets, forcing transformation, are this cry for rebirth. The wall-like resistance to facing our National injustices cannot stand once exposed, the inertia must be corrected in America, a new way of knowing and being must be adopted, the force of right compels us toward forming a compassionate state that benefits everyone. These are the forces pushing on us as we are thrust through a portal into (BPM 4) a new world of life.
Since art is a product of the soul, the parental energies of a new world will be reflected in art. Creative expression is fueling the change that protests around the world are bringing. A successful protest is a supreme work of art, a work of social sculpture, creative expression with the intention to transform society.
Universal Mind Lattice, by Alex Grey, 1981
AdeC: Where do you feel we most need to ‘engage the inertia’ of pushing culture or society’s evolution towards equality? Alex: The inertia needs to be engaged in the minds and hearts of everyone, from world leaders to racists and science deniers everywhere. The change begins with an ongoing and rigorous self-analysis exposing how we unconsciously accept and adopt habits of racism and gender bias and forget about the cost of our actions. Self-destructive systems of thinking have hypnotized many of us into imagining that we are all equally free and the life web can survive the Anthropocene assault. I keep thinking that we are in the Titanic headed for the iceberg and instead of correcting our direction we are watching fistfights on the deck of the ship. Justice and equality will be meaningless on an uninhabitable planet. We need to take a longer view and collectively align with achievable goals of energy independence and switch technologies no matter the cost.
MEET THE ARTISTS
The mystic paintings of ALEX GREY articulate realms of psychedelic visionary consciousness, revealing interwoven energies of body and soul, love and spirit; illuminating the anatomical core of each being. Alex’s visual meditations on the nature of life and consciousness, the subject of his art, have reached millions through his five books (including three monographs), the exhibition and extensive reproduction of his artwork, speaking appearances including a popular TED talk, stage sets for major rock bands, video animation, and Grammy award winning album art.
ALLYSON GREY is a painter, social sculptor, and Alex’s partner in creativity and life since meeting in art school in 1975. Chaos, Order and Secret Writing comprise the essentialized world view portrayed in Allyson’s paintings. Chaos represents the material world, Order, the interconnected realm of energy and light, and Secret Writing articulates the mystic realm of creative expression. MFA, Tufts University. Allyson has long been an art educator, event organizer and a muse to artists worldwide.
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