Commusings: Love Is a Superpower by Jake LaubJun 23, 2023
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Dear Commune Community,
Alan Watts often quipped, “The opposite of remember is not forget. It’s dis-membered. We’re all chopped up.”
And, in remembering ourselves, we reconstitute our broken lives. We become whole again. We “pull ourselves back together.”
Many religious texts refer to our connection with the divine as a “remembrance of God.” What are we remembering exactly? What is the feeling that we are longing for?
When we are in the womb, it is said that we have “ocean mind.” We feel inseparable from all of life in the same way that a wave briefly crests and is then subsumed back into the greater ocean depths.
Mystical experiences point to a transformation in consciousness from the feeling of being a separate self to a sensation of inter-being, the feeling of being inextricably woven into a mutually interdependent web of life. They serve as a re-membering.
We seek out these peak experiences in the hopes that they will punctuate our quotidian lives such that we might feel less alienated from the world around us. Compassion (the identification of someone else’s suffering as your own) and empathetic joy (the feeling of joy simply for someone else’s joy) are symptoms of a more interconnected life.
It’s virtually impossible to write about mysticism because the entirety of it is non-representational. It transcends symbols and words. On a good day, the best poets give us a glimpse, but, bless them, they are trying to solve an insoluble problem: the task of putting words to feelings.
My dearest partner, Jake, cracks the window for us beautifully in today’s essay. He helps us re-member.
In love, include me,
P.S. My long-suffering muse-wife, Schuyler, and I will be leading two upcoming retreats at Commune Topanga on August 4-6 and October 6-8. Come move, learn, nourish, sauna, cold-plunge, hike and commune with us.
• • •
Love Is a Superpower by Jake Laub
This essay incorporates information and excerpts from Dr. Dave Rabin’s course, Rewire Your Brain
In rock climbing there is a moment about 15 feet off the ground when you realize, “holy crap,” I’m in this until the conclusion, whatever that may be — triumphant ascent or precipitous descent.
It sneaks up on you, because until that moment you are chatting casually, tying knots, warming up your fingers… Then you’re making the starting moves, intently focused on the rock six inches away. You look up at the first bolt, down at your rope, and suddenly, unexpectedly, the ground has fallen irreversibly away.
My first psychedelic experience was like that.
All day neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dr. Dave Rabin was recording a Commune course on how to rewire your brain, followed by a workshop and ketamine experience for a few guests. As the workshop progressed, I puttered around in producer mode, fiddling with cameras, coordinating with the director Megan, and only half listening as Dr. Dave moved from his lecture on the mechanisms of psychedelics to the nuts and bolts of ingesting ketamine.
I was simply filling out a questionnaire and signing my name.
Simply swishing the medicine in my mouth.
Simply sitting there listening to music.
And then… one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.
• • •
The physiological roots of meaning are fascinating.
We have a variety of pathways to receive information from our bodies – sight, sound, smell, etc. – which move from electrical impulses in the eyes, ears, and nose to the somatic sensory cortex. This is a part of the brain that recognizes the physical nature of an experience, but that’s just the first step.
The brain pairs every experience with an emotional aspect, whether we're aware of it or not. Some sensory inputs – such as the smell of your favorite home-cooked dish – are felt as emotions even before we fully identify the source. Other sensory experiences are simply neutral, but, regardless, the brain is constantly mixing sensory recognition with emotional valence to create meaning.
The serotonin system in the brain appears to be closely tied to meaning-making. This receptor system was discovered, in part, alongside the discovery of LSD by Albert Hoffman in the 1940s because LSD was one of the first molecules found to bind directly to the serotonin receptor. From there the scientific community developed many of the drugs we currently use to treat mental illnesses, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft and Prozac.
If you want a more detailed explanation of how SSRIs impact these receptors, I recommend exploring Dr. Rabin’s course, Rewire Your Brain. For this essay, though, what’s relevant is that psychedelic medicines work by activating these receptors.
In particular, psilocybin and LSD influence the 5HT2A receptor so it locks onto serotonin more tightly. This creates a phenomenon called burst activation, which seems to increase meaning-making. Ketamine works more weakly on 5HT2A and instead affects other receptors, but the gist is that by ingesting one of these compounds we are priming ourselves to have a meaningful experience.
In other words, it’s not just the contents of a psychedelic experience that make it powerful; it’s how meaningful it feels when you see and hear it.
This is why “set and setting” are so important. You have to point the meaningful experience in the right direction.
It also could explain why I find descriptions of other people’s psychedelic experiences rather boring to read. Separated from the meaning-making effects of the chemical, the sensations are just sensations, visions are just images, and the compelling voices are just words. But when you are in the moment, the visions feel revelatory and the words have weight.
In fact, even for the one who has gone through the experience it can be difficult to remember this weight of meaning.
As Sam Harris writes in his essay, Drugs and the Meaning of Life, “It is simply impossible to communicate the profundity (or seeming profundity) of psychedelic states to those who have never experienced them. Indeed, it is even difficult to remind oneself of the power of these states once they have passed.”
The temptation then is to simply stay high. This is what Ram Dass aimed for with the “Bowling Alley Project” in which he and five other men and women rented a house and took a large dose of LSD (400 micrograms) every four hours for two weeks straight. As he writes in Being Ram Dass:
I came up with an idea: what would happen if we stayed high for an extended time? … I wanted to see whether, if we took LSD continuously over a given period, we could come as a group to a lasting unity and harmony. … As it turned out, I had a very optimistic view.
For fundamental physiological and philosophical reasons, just staying high is not a winning strategy. Instead, a friend and seasoned psychonaut put it to me this way after my trip:
“Psychedelics are like an express elevator up the spiritual mountain. You have an opportunity to get out at the top, look around, say ‘WOW! What a view from up here!’ and then the elevator takes you back down the mountain. From there you have to walk up.”
Or to use another analogy:
Psychedelics help calibrate the magnetic field of your spiritual compass. Afterward you have a stronger sense of which way is “north” — or maybe even a realization that there is a northward destination at all.
I have heard Sam Harris make this point about why a psychedelic experience can spark a more dedicated and fruitful meditation practice. If you have never meditated before, how do you know what feeling you are aspiring toward? Instead, sitting still just feels boring and uncomfortable. Psychedelics can show you what is possible.
As much as this essay is an attempt to convey the psychedelic experience, it is also my attempt to remind myself of the experience, and thus remember what is possible. I know I will fall short in the former, but for lack of a psychoactive compound to give you, here is what I wrote in my journal last December, plus a short coda:
First I was in a warm tent. Outside I knew it was bitterly cold and windy with a great snowy mountain looming over, but inside I was warm and content. Mostly this tent was in the mountains, but at times it was the duvet cover I would crawl inside of and use as a tent as a child. I could hear movements and whispers of people but had no urge to go and interpret anything outside the warm tent.
Slowly the tent became a womb, and now I was maximally warm, calm, and content. Like letting all the air out of your lungs and resting on the bottom of a warm pool without the need to breathe again. I knew without doubt this was the baseline of love felt by an unborn child.
I experienced myself as my daughter falling asleep in my arms in the rocking chair and how in that moment she is remembering this state from which she recently came.
I felt the power of someone who is able to give this level of warmth and attention, most readily to a child with a recent memory of the true-love state, but also how easy it would be to offer this feeling to others.
Then the musician leading the sound experience shook a rattle and a paraphrasing of Khalil Gibran’s poem, On Love, passed through my mind:
"May you be threshed until naked, sifted to be free of your husks, ground and kneaded until pliant, and assigned to the sacred fire. All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart."
At this point I lost all sense of self. The best I can describe it is that I was a “love placenta” — an organ bound into a vast organic system through which flowed warmth and calm and love. I felt “love blood” pulsing between me and all the other beings in the room.
This continued for a timeless time until I began to sense people talking and moving. I regressed into the warmth of the snow-covered tent, and then slowly the tent began to fade.
But as it did, the voice of Ram Dass whispered to me over and over:
“You now have a superpower.
Love is a superpower.
Love is your superpower.
Love is a superpower.”
And then I was so nauseous I had to be walked home like a wounded soldier. But in this discomfort I also gained a new understanding of what my wife went through during the first trimester of pregnancy. An empathy cherry on top of a spiritual revelation.
• • •
It’s amazing how quickly you can have a profound experience of true love and then do something loveless.
Within 24 hours I vividly remember saying something boneheadely impatient and sharp, and thinking, “Wait, how is this possible?”
And yet, both the elevator and compass analogies hold true.
When I take a moment to set an intention before meditation or yoga, I feel the gravity of love tugging on me, and I dedicate my practice in that direction.
And occasionally on the inhale before I let frustration spill from my mouth, I hear Ram Dass whispering, “Love is your superpower.”
And I take one more step, a little higher up the mountain.
Jake is a Commune Co-Founder, writer, photographer, dancer, chicken wrangler, and amateur fermenter. He is also helping form a new Agrivillage combining cohousing and regenerative agriculture an hour north of Seattle. At the moment you can find him, Julia, and their daughter tucked away in a yurt at Commune Topanga.
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