9 Aha! Moments that blow Oprah off the Screen
1967: Dr. Richard Alpert
No, not the guy on the TV show, Lost. The real-life Dr. Richard Alpert (to the right of Timothy Leary in the photo) was a psychology prof who earned his Phd at Stanford, and became a counter-culture legend in 1963 when Harvard dismissed he and faculty colleague Leary for experimenting on campus with psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. (At one point, Alpert took five people and locked themselves in a building for three weeks, ingesting 400 micrograms of LSD every four hours.) Next, Alpert and Leary presided over a turn-on, tune-in salon frequented by rock stars and counter-culture luminaries like Ken Kesey at a New York country mansion they pretentiously named the Millbrook Institute.
But a disillusioned Alpert dropped out, and went temple-hopping in India. He had a life-changing experience when he met a celebrated Indian holy man. Alpert returned to America as Baba Ram Dass and wrote Be Here Now, a founding document of the New Age movement.
IN HIS OWN WORDS, Alpert's Aha! Moment:
I still stayed as Mr Psychedelic Junior in relation to Tim, and publicly my gig was turning on rich people, and dealing, and giving lectures on the psychedelic experience. By 1966, I looked around and saw that everybody who was using psychedelics really wasn’t going anywhere. I was around the best of them, but even if they had the Eastern models, they couldn’t wear them - the suit didn’t fit. I realized that we just didn’t know enough. We had the maps but we couldn’t read them.
Then I went to India in the hope that I could meet somebody there who could read the maps. I met Neem Karoli Baba and he gave me the name Ram Dass, and that put it in a bigger context than the drugs. The experience wasn’t any greater than the drug experience, but the social context of it was entirely changed. Neem Karoli took acid and said that it was known about for thousands of years in the Kulu Valley but that nobody knew how to use them any more. I said, “should I take it again?” He said, “it will allow you to come in and have the Darshan of Christ. You can only stay two hours. It would be better to become Christ than visit it, but your medicine won’t do that.”
I thought that was pretty insightful. LSD showed you an analog of the thing itself but something in the way we were using it couldn’t bring us to the thing itself.
You may have expected that enlightenment would come Zap! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first “Aha” experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds.
NEXT: Helen Schucman, 1965