Withered Tree lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he’s resided since the mid-1960s. During the 1960’s, he started meditation with Zen Master Suzuki Roshi, but found it too formal, so he continued on and off using Zen-style on his own for about 20 years. Later, he changed to Calm-Abiding as his meditation practice matured.
A veteran of psychedelic substances, he sold Mexican brick-marijuana and Owsley LSD during the 1960s, all while taking hundreds of hits himself. In later years, he spent time working straight gigs, raising non-neurotic kids, getting married and divorced and remarried.
His book Stoner Meditation was published in January of 2014, and is written from direct experience, as the stories he relates are all true and accurate. All profits from Stoner Meditation, after expenses, are donated to charity.
I was on an internet website and noticed that many young people were confused about how psychedelics work, and they were constantly discussing anxiety, depression, and a lack of social skills. Even advanced stoners who were achieving low-level enlightenments were having trouble getting their feet back on the ground after they finished tripping. Since I had already gone through all that stuff and came out on the other side I thought I could be of help. I understood how to discuss the most momentous experience of a tripper’s lifetime — the breakthrough with the attending ego-death. Equally important, I knew that I could bridge the gap between the jet-speed of psychedelics, and the snail-crawl of meditation, so that stoners could successfully combine the two for profound results.
One of my most important goals was to write Stoner Meditation without making it a “religious” book, because every stoner walks his and her own path. I hope I succeeded in making Stoner Meditation practical, down-to-earth, and shamanic. Psychedelics are entheogens; they allow stoners to unravel mysteries previously accessible to only a very few. We really should be grateful for access to high-quality psychedelics in the U.S., especially now that marijuana legalization is right around the corner.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Stoner Meditation?
The fact that I’m not a professional writer (or an expert in anything) challenged me. But I don’t let my limitations stop me, because I’ve never backed away from difficulty, controversy, or unjust rules and/or laws. As I said, Stoner Meditation is written from direct experience — the transcendental experiences of my own insights and realizations. Many people have misconceptions about enlightenment, thinking that once a person is enlightened they are finished, like Gautama Buddha who had the highest enlightenment — but there are many levels of enlightenment.
I looked around for a book like mine, but didn’t find anything that described the transformational events that happen to many, many stoners. Stoners who have psychedelic breakthroughs eventually have to return to ordinary life, and sometimes they don’t know exactly what happened to them, what to do about it, or how to effectively reenter ordinary reality. I wanted to demystify the psychedelic progression and not only reveal how to break through, but how to do it safely. I didn’t start out on my path to write a book; I started out taking LSD and meditating so I could get enlightened.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
For awhile I was both student and friend with the psychedelic guru Stephen Gaskin while he was in S.F. (didn’t go to “The Farm”). I smoked reefers with Timothy Leary and the reggae singer Jimmie Cliff, and a few other luminaries as they passed through my life — but I would say it’s the close friends I got stoned with that have given me the greatest insights. I’ve read scores of books on meditation, Buddhism, psychology, as well as studied eastern and western philosophies (I was a philosophy major in college — but dropped out). During a Dalai Lama teaching of “The Heart Sutra,” I had a visionary, mystical, radical awakening — have you read it? It’s pretty heavy.
I would say the driving force for Stoner Meditation was Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching that blew my mind when I was 17. His mysterious guidance stayed with me throughout my life. His legend says he was reputed to write it at the request of the border guard before he rode off into the sunset at the age of 80. Now that I’m 68 I felt I should do the same, and my homage to him is my collaboration with Lao Two.
What was your best drug experience? How about your worst?
Of course, everyone’s best trip should be the first time they take a psychedelic. I was lucky to arrive in Berkeley before LSD was illegal, so my first LSD trip was pharmaceutical Sandoz in a number 1 gelatin capsule. I ended up inadvertently taking two hits the first time, and it was awesome, astounding, transcendental, body-sexy, and life changing. I don’t regret any of the trips I’ve taken on psychedelics, even the “bad” trips — but I especially love magic mushrooms.
Actually, the third time I smoked marijuana, I became telepathic with my girlfriend as we walked down a street in Miami Beach.
My worst drug experiences were cocaine, methadrine, and getting dosed with heroin several times by a “friend.” There are several stories in Stoner Meditation that chronicle a few of my trips.
You recently traveled to Peru. What was the most memorable part of that trip?
I’ve been to Peru twice, and Ecuador once. I’ve done the usual tourist stops, visited Cusco, the Amazon, and Machu Picchu. On my first visit, I hiked the Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca with my older son. My recent trip was mostly focused on attending an ayahuasca ceremony where I was supposed to drink ayahuasca five times over eight days. However my body couldn’t seem to tolerate the physical side effects from the drug because of my age, so I only did it two times. I would say that ayahuasca is the most memorable psychedelic I’ve ever taken, and for me was quite unlike LSD, magic mushrooms, or peyote because of the strength and relentless continuity of the hallucinations. Having the Shaman chanting in the background was also very reassuring – I don’t think I would want to take it without a trusted Shaman. At one point I clearly saw a stunningly beautiful woman dressed in black, wearing intricate silver jewelry with flashing crystals. She came out of a wrought-iron door and stood on a balcony. I was standing in the crowd below, and she looked me right in the eye and pointed her finger and then clearly spoke directly to me. I’ve never experienced a “vision” like that before…
To me, the cool thing about South America (I might be projecting here) is that they accept magic as a real possibility, and during each of my trips to South America I always seem to experience magical events. We are planning on a trip to Bolivia in 2015.
Socially and politically, do you feel as though the United States is on the right track?
The United States today is dominated by greed, and the ruthless power that comes from corporate money. What’s worse though is the myth publicized by the rich, that their insane salaries and bonuses are justified… However, the problems on Earth are not only caused by the United States — the entire planet is still in a Dark Age, ruled by the war machine.
As a stoner, I understand that we humans on Earth are infinitesimally small and our actions are extremely limited on the cosmic scale. We’re all stuck here on this rotting planet, choked by pollution, watching species after species become extinct. It doesn’t have to be this way — Earth could easily be a paradise, instead of the mess we have now. Over the course of my life I’ve watched corporations crush idealism and resist change, so until we change the mental dynamic we will continue in this Dark Age. I hope marijuana (and Stoner Meditation) will help change the global mentality towards peace, love, and creativity.
John Lennon’s song “Imagine” pretty well sums up my feelings. I agree that the current form of politics is inevitably on the way out, and will be replaced by a global organization where nationalism has disappeared. We will either evolve as a species, or perish. I sometimes think that a requirement for public office in the U.S. should require a history of psychedelic use, but that’s just me…
If you could only eat one type of cheese for the rest of your life, which variety would you choose?
Stilton blue cheese, definitely. But I’ll need some crackers, celery, and pears too.
What are you working on now?
As I said, I’m not a writer, I’m on the shamanic path. I wrote Stoner Meditation because I thought it would be helpful, and don’t see any need to write a book, just to write another book, although lots of people have asked me to write my autobiography. Every time I sit down to start an autobiography it feels like such an incredible ego-trip that I just laugh, then get up and do something else. Also, there’s the issue of not remembering several years of my life where I blasted out everything I was, and emerged a new person… as the saying goes; “if you can remember the ‘60’s, you weren’t there.”
Here’s my plans for this year though: In July I plan to go to Leh, India to attend the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra Initiation — which should be pretty cool considering there will be around two hundred thousand people attending. I just bought an ultralite tent, and replaced my old sleeping bag, so I’ll be heading up to the California Sierra’s this spring to do some snow camping. Then possibly I’ll head down to Central America and sit on a beach alone for awhile. After that I’ll be joining my wife for a trip to Japan, then Koh Mak and Chiang Mai, Thailand, which will finish off 2014 nicely.
In looking back on your life, what do you regret? What would you do differently if you had the chance?
I don’t have many regrets, and I’ve tried to live on the edge as much as possible. I guess I’m the type of person that needs risk in my life to feel fulfilled. I try not to let obstacles stop me, but keep trying new experiences as they are offered. Last month, a friend gave me some magic mushrooms which I took, so I’m not done tripping yet. Of course I regret the narcs busting me many years ago, and that wasn’t fun, but it’s part of the path that we all walk together as stoners, and getting busted is unavoidable for many dealers.
I’m not sure what I could have done differently, because I’m glad I became a hippie and dropped out of the materialistic mainstream culture. After all, I can’t regret my past because it’s gone. All I’ve got is this current breath — my next breath isn’t guaranteed. But, it’s a beautiful day.
Is there anything that you hoped to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
Well, I’m 68 years old – almost 69, and I look back on an extremely interesting but sometimes rocky life. I’ve had my ups and downs, so in looking back it’s been a hell of a ride – but I feel I’ve lived fully.
I know we in the west we never discuss this, but the truth is I want to accomplish a conscious, aware death. I spent many years trying to figure out what death is, and I think I finally understand it, and I’m ready to face the “big sleep” courageously. A quote from Stoner Meditation:
“When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” -Chief Aupumut, Mohican Indian
From books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Tibetan Phowa, and personal insights I’ve come up with this: we have an after-death world, which is quite unlike this living world. Of course, we don’t bring our body, but we retain a kind of awareness (cosmic consciousness?). The key to traveling in the after-death world is to be fearless, aware, and accepting to the powerful forces there, without clinging to our living world – not much different from taking a psychedelic. Those who are afraid and confused find nightmares, but those who are aware find love. I really didn’t think of dying as an “accomplishment” until your question…
I’ll finish with this from Stoner Mediation: Lao Two says: “Death is the supreme instructor, but don’t be confused; the true teaching is living life fully.”