Marijuana, Surfing, and The Purity of the Moment
Imagine yourself in the early nineteen sixties visiting Hawaii for the first time. Walking over the beach you meet a funky guy who shows you an oddly shaped wooden board and tells you to go out and ride the waves. You have heard stories about that thing called “surfing” before and you think this might actually be fun! Five minutes later, a 9 foot high wave throws you on the shore. You try again, but after you have been thrown back on the beach for the third time you look at your skin rashes and begin to wonder what this is all about.
Would you blame the board now? Obviously, the board was not the problem. You have tried out a wonderful tool that can get you a life changing experience of fun – but you need to work on some practical skills first: how to paddle out in the waves, how to get up on a board, how to find your balance and keep it on a wave. Also, you need to acquire a lot of knowledge: which waves are the best to ride on, what kind of board should I use for which waves, which beaches can be dangerous. Importantly, also, you will have to learn to judge your own skills: am I good enough to ride this kind of board in this weather? Am I really ready yet to ride this tube wave?
Surfboards are like tools in general: they have a potential, but to use this potential, we need to learn how to use it and we need some knowledge what to do best with them. Obviously, tools do have not only a potential for use, but also for abuse: I can use a hammer to built a house, but I can also abuse it and hit it over your head. I can use a car to get an emergency patient to the hospital and save his life, but I can also abuse it for carelessly speeding on the highway and causing a fatal accident.
So, tools need skill and knowledge and skill and can be used and abused. That may sound pretty trivial, but we often tend to forget this when it comes to discussions about marijuana and other psychoactive substances.
Marijuana, like any other psychoactive substance, should be seen as a tool. Certainly, like for all tools, there is an abuse potential. People abuse marijuana when they e.g. get constantly stoned to flee a reality they can not handle for some reason. But certainly there is also a potential for positive use. This point, as obvious as it may seem, has been by and large ignored by marijuana prohibitionists, who have persistently focused on aspects of risks and abuse. The second aspect of seeing marijuana as a tool is ignored even by many marijuana users in current debates about its mind enhancements, like the enhancement of creativity: if we see marijuana as a tool, it also becomes obvious that we can use its full potential only if we acquire certain skills and knowledge. A skilled marijuana user knows how much of a dose he needs to ride a comfortable high – just like a surfer knows which kind of waves he can handle. He will also choose his strain and dose carefully and adjust it to his experience of riding a high and to his immediate environment, just like a skilled surfer will choose the right kind of board matching his own skills and the conditions out there in the waves.
If a novice surfer goes out on a Hawaiian beach to ride high waves with a pro board and gets in trouble, he will probably get in panic – but we wouldn’t judge, therefore, that panic is a typical effect of surfing, would we? When a marijuana users gets in panic during a high, it usually happens because he lacks the skill and the knowledge how and under what conditions to ride a marijuana high. It happens to many people, but that doesn’t mean that marijuana normally causes panic. It just means that novice users with poor judgement should have more respect, more knowledge and better skills before they go out there ‘riding a high’. There is of course a big difference in our society today as it concerns using a surfboard and using marijuana. The globally influential disinformation campaign concerning marijuana started by drug czar Harry Anslinger in the nineteen thirties invented horror stories about marijuana and its risks which are still influential. If we would convince every novice surfer that they are for sure going to be attacked by sharks, and that most of them will break their necks or drown in the waves, how many of them would become back paranoid even on a bright sunny and peaceful day out in moderate waves? And how many more would become paranoid going out there in the waves if surfing was strictly prohibited and punished with jail sentences?
The famous American poet and writer Allen Ginsberg once wrote:
… most of the horrific affects and disorders described as characteristic of marijuana “intoxication” by the US Federal Treasury Department’s Bureau of Narcotics are, quite the reverse, precisely traceable back to the effects on consciousness not of the narcotic but of the law and the threatening activities of the US Bureau of Narcotics itself. (…) I myself experience this form of paranoia when I smoke marijuana, and for that reason smoke it in America more rarely than I did in countries where it is legal.
(The Great Marijuana Hoax. First Manifesto to End the Bringdown” 1966)
It is becoming more and more clear now even to skeptics that marijuana has an incredible medical potential and can be used for many medical conditions. But when it comes to the much sought-after inspirational uses of marijuana, it is even more important that we free ourselves of governmental lies and deceptions and rather carefully listen to respectful, skilled and knowledgeable users of marijuana. They have described how a marijuana high brought them a whole array of astonishing mind enhancements, ranging from the intensification of sensory experience to a better concentration on the “here-and-now”, and to the enhancement of episodic memory, imagination, pattern recognition, introspection, creativity, empathic understanding, as well as to an enhanced ability to produce remarkable insights.
Beth Amberg, a contributor to Lester Grinspoon’s magnificent website collection marijuana-uses.com, is one of those many who reported how marijuana helps her to better remember past events:
“Perceptions are heightened tonight, my mind unencumbered and slippery. I’m still so close to the wonder and sensations of the past. My thoughts are swimmy-silvery fountains of assorted memories, the novelty-generator of marijuana turning its freshness backwards into history. My past selves have awoken: their experiences aren’t distant; they happen again as I read and remember. The shimmering glaze on memory has opened up and let me back in for the night.”
(Beth Amberg, Memories of the Moment, in: marijuana-uses.com)
“I can remember on one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidity of racism in terms of Gaussian distribution curves. (…) One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide rage of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. I can’t go into the details of those essays, but from all external signs, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.”
(Carl Sagan, “Mr. X”, in: Marijuana Reconsidered, Harvard University Press 1971.)
These are only a two quotes from hundreds of detailed reports about marijuana enhancements which we have from skilled and experienced users. Whatever reason one may have for using marijuana, if you decide to do so, I would recommend you go and learn from them. Whatever reasons you may have to go and ride ocean waves on a surfboard, if you decide to go out there, wouldn’t you want to learn from a master?
Whether you are riding ‘high’ waves of your own mind or ocean waves on a surfboard, only skill and knowledge will get you to a point where you will ‘step into liquid’ and understand what legendary surfer Bill Hamilton meant when he said: “Surfing equates to living in the very moment of ‘now’. When you ride a wave you leave behind all things important and unimportant, the purity of the moment is upon you.”