Don Lattin's book, "The Harvard Psychedelic Club," a retrospective published in January 2010, describes the ties between Timothy Leary ("The Trickster"), Richard Alpert ("The Seeker"), Andrew Weil ("The Healer") and Huston Smith ("The Teacher"). It describes how this foursome, through their psychedelic use and spiritual and research-academic professional activities, were influential in fomenting the psychedelic revolution of the sixties and thereby affected the lives of millions for the better, and for some, the worse, and American society at-large.
The book reveals interesting historical facts, for example, when Weil was a freshman at Harvard he played a central role in affecting Leary's and Alpert's firing from the Harvard faculty. It seems eventually Leary forgave him but Alpert was less forgiving. Or, that it was Aldous Huxley who introduced Smith to Leary and his research in the early sixties on psilocybin. Smith had told Huxley he wanted to not just write about the mystical life but wanted to have a mystical life (experience).
I was attracted to this book, I believe, because in a sense, I share, as do many others, in these Harvard relationships to this day. This is especially true with respect to Alpert (Ram Dass), Weil and Smith. I lived through the sixties and so its history and what has followed, in terms of social and spiritual evolution, is also my history even though the events described in the book occurred over 40 years ago. The ties endure. Let me explain.
As I was moving out of the sixties, forty years ago, and began to explore meditation and "the psychology of man's possible evolution" under the counsel of an enlightened psychiatrist (Harvard Medical School trained as it turns out), I was both informed and inspired by Ram Dass's book "Be Here Now," written at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico, where, my current spiritual teacher, Fr. Thomas Keating, held the first 10-day centering prayer intensive retreat 25 years ago. The was retreat was instrumental in beginning the Contemplative Outreach spiritual network wherein I volunteer today. Ram Dass says he moved to Hawaii two years ago to die but continues to live and in fact, he's on Twitter and I follow him there.
In a related manner, Andrew Weil's book "The Natural Mind" in the 1970s asserted there exist an intrinsic human need to alter consciousness and this need could be met with drug or non-drug methods. This thesis was central then in my interests in altered states of consciousness and transpersonal psychology. Now, I'm reading Weil's book on healthy aging (I turn 60 this month) and read his health education material via various media outlets.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, in the mid-1970s I heard Huston Smith deliver the keynote address of the Annual Association of Humanistic Psychology conference in New Orleans, "The Way Things Are." It/he captured, eloquently, artistically and with the intellectual rigor of the scholar, the integrity of the spiritual quest and evolution and the nobility of the human spirit, all of which Smith himself seemed to embody and convey, even in a large hotel conference setting of thousands. It's rather remarkable I recall the title of his talk to this day and even quote from the talk on ocassion. I heard Smith again, he is now in his 90s, speak at a psychosynthesis conference a couple of years ago, and while the years had diminished the body, the same humor, intellect and spirit I admired as a twenty-something in New Orleans was clearly in evidence and obviously appreciated by the attendees.
There is a web of ties it seems, visible and invisible, that bind us and transmits good life - the life that is.