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People follow many different paths in their quest for self-insight and life. Dr. Roland Griffiths (1946-2023), late director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, studied how psychedelic substances might help in this search, especially among those suffering from mental health issues like depression or anxiety.


When diagnosed with terminal cancer, Griffiths added a psychedelic to his longtime meditation practice in his own personal search. In an New York Times Magazine interview conducted just a few months before his death, Griffiths talked about the psychedelic LSD session he underwent to gain perspective about his illness.


During this internalize Q&A session, one of the answers he received was: “There’s meaning and purpose to this [cancer] that goes beyond your understanding. . . .“ Because he had no expectation of figuring anything out, this answer gave him some comfort and insight into the illness.


He felt that Vipassana meditation – a “mindfulness meditation” in which practitioners observe thought and emotions without judgment – also helped him deal with his diagnosis. “[Vipassana’s focus] is on the nature of mind, of consciousness, and one comes to see that thoughts, emotions, are transient. They’re appearances of mind that you needn’t identify with.”


From a Zen perspective, all things are transient, not just emotions and thoughts. This includes the person asking and answering questions, all of which originated in his mind. So, the follow-up Zen questions might be: Who is/was asking? Who is/was answering?


In the magazine interview, Griffiths talked about finding reason every day to celebrate being alive and having “another day to explore whatever this gift is of being conscious, of being aware, of being aware that we are aware.”


We can understand that awareness in a different, deeper way: In this current lifetime as human beings, we have the ability to question, to learn. This is a gift and a responsibility. With no guarantee that we will ever have this gift again, we must make the most of being human in this go-round. Now is the time to ask, to learn, to live moment to moment, thought by thought. In this way, we realize Reality – no psychedelics required.



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