Jews, Drugs, and the Muck of Daily Life

medium_5100760100You are probably as mired in the muck of daily life as I am. I can hardly remember the last time I caught an inkling of magic or mystery. Having kids, a job, a dog to walk, all makes transcendence a bit of a reach. There is just something tugging at my sleeve at every turn. But it’s that very cacophony that makes the need for transcendence so pressing. And as we approach the High Holidays, this quandary has shifted to the front of my mind. This is supposedly a time of reflection, a reset button for the year. I generally take a pretty utilitarian view of religion. So, finding links between the body, the spirit and the psychotherapeutic appeals to me. Spiritual practice and religious connection can be a healing salve in a fragmented world, and fractured personal experience of said world. But how does one bridge the gap between the mundane and the sacred, between the body and mind? And since I’m so very busy and important, do I get to take a shortcut? I find myself tempted, in my haste towards bliss, to reach outside of myself for help from “my friends.” All of which has got me wondering about Jews and drugs, and the magical mystery tour that Judaic practice can be. 

On the one hand, Judaism is largely non-ascetic. One of the more charming qualities of this religion is its perpetual celebration of the here and now, how Jews embrace the material world in all of its flavorful glory. Kashhrut is not about denial, it’s an awareness raising mechanism. And alcohol is written into the liturgy. What’s a Passover Seder or a Purim spiel without the steady flow of wine? There is a religiously sanctioned time to come unhinged, disconnect, and lose yourself in a lushly indulgent moment. So can we take this from disconnection and argue that substances can be used to re-connect? Instead of escapism, maybe they can motivate a grounding or rooting action, underscoring the re-absorbing effects of the holiday season. In this sense, the corporeal sphere of the body becomes (as Tantrikas believe) a field of discovery, a way of experiencing the world and G-d, merging with the organic whole. I guess, ultimately, I’m after a somatic experience of religion, something I don’t usually associate with Judaism.

Can I take this as license to use psychoactive substances? I’m not talking cocaine or heroin here. But I would love an excuse to eat a fistful of mushrooms and go floating through the park. It would seem that so do a lot of other Jews