I went to a book reading the other night by Don Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club, a new bestseller about the period in the early 1960’s when Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, professors at Harvard, were conducting free-wheeling experiments using LSD and other psychedelic drugs. It sounds like a great book, and well worth reading.
The book discusses the broad theme of how psychedelic use ushered in the 60’s as we know them, but I want to focus on two of the personality issues that Lattin brought up last night. It turns out that one of the Harvard undergrads who tried to get involved in the experiments was Andrew Weil, who would later become Dr. Andrew Weil, bearded king of holistic medicine. Weil was rebuffed, since Leary and Alpert had promised not to use undergrads in their experiments. He did not take this rebuffery well, and used his position as a reporter for the Harvard Crimson to dig up dirt on Leary and Alpert, lying, cheating and betraying his best friend in the process. So to clarify: Dr. Andrew Weil, who has made millions on “balanced living,” got his start by sliming other people.
After being fired from Harvard, thanks to Weil’s sneaky maneuvers, Richard Alpert traveled to India, found a guru, and came back to the US as Baba Ram Dass, becoming a well-known spiritual teacher who wrote the bestseller Remember, Be Here Now. Since then, Alpert has dedicated himself to living, and helping others live, a spiritual, be in the moment kind of life. Despite that, Lattin described how when he was spending time with Alpert while working on the book, Alpert still got angry at the thought of Andrew Weil, even 40-plus years later. This is not exactly the behavior one expects of a spiritual guru.
My point is not to criticize Weil and Alpert. My point is to note that even the most centered among us is still human, and thus fallible. Actually, Weil may not be centered – he may be an ambitious, money-grubbing jerk – but that is beside the point. Whether centered or not, spiritual or not, LSD-gobbling or not, we are all human, all too human, and with our humanity comes frailty. We would do well to remember that as we observe the behavior of those around us.