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Get curious about psychedelics. Responsibly.

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CJAD interview on psychedelic research

An AskMen article I wrote on psychedelics caught the interest of Montreal’s CJAD radio station (hooray!), so on March 18 they brought me on The Exchange to talk about psychedelic research, some of their medical applications, and the role these substances might come to play in our society in coming years. Enjoy!

Psychedelics for treating premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and other sexual disorders

In recent years, researchers have begun to report once more on the many medical uses of psychedelics. Far from being new discoveries, many of these findings are replicating much of what was already becoming known about these substances in the first wave of psychedelic research that spanned the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Treating post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and end-of-life anxiety in terminal patients are amazing and much-needed applications, and they’re also the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible.

For one extremely interesting example, here’s a quote from a passage of Stanislav Grof’s “LSD Psychotherapy” where he describes the various applications of psychedelic therapy:

Sexual experiences and behavior can be deeply influenced by the LSD process. The intensity, depth and completeness of the sexual orgasm and the ease with which it occurs seems to be closely related to the process of letting go of psychological defenses. Many problems in this area can be traced back to unconscious confusion between the pattern of genital orgasm and that of the total physical release that characterizes the orgasm of birth. As LSD subjects learn to let go in the death-rebirth process, their orgasmic ability increases considerably; this improvement of sexual experiences can be observed in both males and females. In those individuals who did not have any major psychopathological symptoms prior to the LSD session, the same effect can usually be observed after one or several high-dose psychedelic experiences. Sexual neuroses, such as frigidity, vaginal spasms (vaginism), genital pain during intercourse, impotence and premature ejaculation frequently respond well to LSD psychotherapy; however, effective treatment of these disorders usually requires serial administration of the drug and experiential confrontation of the roots of these disorders on the perinatal level.

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“sex” by loop_oh on Flickr

 

Richard Tarnas on the need to embrace the feminine

From Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind:

Many generalizations could be made about the history of the Western mind, but today perhaps the most immediately obvious is that it has been from start to finish an overwhelmingly masculine phenomenon: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Copernicus, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud. . . . The Western intellectual tradition has been produced and canonized almost entirely by men, and informed mainly by male perspectives. This masculine dominance in Western intellectual history has certainly not occurred because women are any less intelligent than men. But can it be attributed solely to social restriction? I think not. I believe something more profound is going on here: something archetypal. The masculinity of the Western mind has been pervasive and fundamental, in both men and women, affecting every aspect of Western thought, determining its most basic conception of the human being and the human role in the world. All the major languages within which the Western tradition has developed, from Greek and Latin on, have tended to personify the human species with words that are masculine in gender: anthropos, homo, l’homme, el hombre, l’uomo, chelovek, der Mensch, man. As the historical narrative in this book has faithfully reflected, it has always been “man” this and “man” that — “the ascent of man,” “the dignity of man,” “man’s relation to God,” “man’s place in the cosmos,” “man’s struggle with nature,” “the great achievement of modern man,” and so forth. The “man” of the Western tradition has been a questing masculine hero, a Promethean biological and metaphysical rebel who has constantly sought freedom and progress for himself, and who has thus constantly striven to differentiate himself from and control the matrix out of which he emerged. This masculine predisposition in the evolution of the Western mind, though largely unconscious, has been not only characteristic of that evolution, but essential to it.

For the evolution of the Western mind has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self by separating it from the primordial unity with nature. The fundamental religious, scientific, and philosophical perspectives of Western culture have all been affected by this decisive masculinity — beginning four millennia ago with the great patriarchal nomadic conquests in Greece and the Levant over the ancient matrifocal cultures, and visible in the West’s patriarchal religion from Judaism, its rationalist philosophy from Greece, its objectivist science from modern Europe. All these have served the cause of evolving the autonomous human will and intellect: the transcendent self, the independent individual ego, the self-determining human being in its uniqueness, separateness, and freedom. But to do this, the masculine mind has repressed the feminine. Whether one sees this in the ancient Greek subjugation of the pre-Hellenic matrifocal mythologies, in the Judaeo-Christian denial of the Great Mother Goddess, or in the Enlightenment’s exalting of the coolly self-aware rational ego radically separate from a disenchanted external nature, the evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine — on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature: a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of the all-pervading, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body, nature, woman — of all that which the masculine has projectively identified as “other.”

But this separation necessarily calls forth a longing for a reunion with that which has been lost — especially after the masculine heroic quest has been pressed to its utmost one-sided extreme in the consciousness of the late modern mind, which in its absolute isolation has appropriated to itself all conscious intelligence in the universe (man alone is a conscious intelligent being, the cosmos is blind and mechanistic, God is dead). Then man faces the existential crisis of being a solitary and mortal conscious ego thrown into an ultimately meaningless and unknowable universe. And he faces the psychological and biological crisis of living in a world that has come to be shaped in such a way that it precisely matches his world view — i.e., in a man-made environment that is increasingly mechanistic, atomized, soulless, and self-destructive. The crisis of modern man is an essentially masculine crisis, and I believe that its resolution is already now occurring in the tremendous emergence of the feminine in our culture: visible not only in the rise of feminism, the growing empowerment of women, and the widespread opening up to feminine values by both men and women, and not only in the rapid burgeoning of women’s scholarship and gender-sensitive perspectives in virtually every intellectual discipline, but also in the increasing sense of unity with the planet and all forms of nature on it, in the increasing awareness of the ecological and the growing reaction against political and corporate policies supporting the domination and exploitation of the environment, in the growing embrace of the human community, in the accelerating collapse of long-standing political and ideological barriers separating the world’s peoples, in the deepening recognition of the value and necessity of partnership, pluralism, and the interplay of many perspectives. It is visible also in the widespread urge to reconnect with the body, the emotions, the unconscious, the imagination and intuition, in the new concern with the mystery of childbirth and the dignity of the maternal, in the growing recognition of an immanent intelligence in nature, in the broad popularity of the Gaia hypothesis. It can be seen in the increasing appreciation of indigenous and archaic cultural perspectives such as the Native American, African, and ancient European, in the new awareness of feminine perspectives of the divine, in the archaeological recovery of the Goddess tradition and the contemporary reemergence of Goddess spirituality, in the rise of Sophianic Judaeo-Christian theology and the papal declaration of the Assumptio Mariae, in the widely noted spontaneous upsurge of feminine archetypal phenomena in individual dreams and psychotherapy. And it is evident as well in the great wave of interest in the mythological perspective, in esoteric disciplines, in Eastern mysticism, in shamanism, in archetypal and transpersonal psychology, in hermeneutics and other non-objectivist epistemologies, in scientific theories of the holonomic universe, morphogenetic fields, dissipative structures, chaos theory, systems theory, the ecology of mind, the participatory universe — the list could go on and on. As Jung prophesied, an epochal shift is taking place in the contemporary psyche, a reconciliation between the two great polarities, a union of opposites: a hieros gamos (sacred marriage) between the long-dominant but now alienated masculine and the long-suppressed but now ascending feminine.

And this dramatic development is not just a compensation, not just a return of the repressed, as I believe this has all along been the underlying goal of Western intellectual and spiritual evolution. For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its own being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life, and thus to recover its connection with the whole: to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing its own ground and matrix freely and consciously. The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmos in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself freely and consciously in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation.

But to achieve this reintegration of the repressed feminine, the masculine must undergo a sacrifice, an ego death. The Western mind must be willing to open itself to a reality the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself and about the world. This is where the real act of heroism is going to be. A threshold must now be crossed, a threshold demanding a courageous act of faith, of imagination, of trust in a larger and more complex reality; a threshold, moreover, demanding an act of unflinching self-discernment. And this is the great challenge of our time, the evolutionary imperative for the masculine to see through and overcome its hubris and one-sidedness, to own its unconscious shadow, to choose to enter into a fundamentally new relationship of mutuality with the feminine in all its forms. The feminine then becomes not that which must be controlled, denied, and exploited, but rather fully acknowledged, respected, and responded to for itself. It is recognized: not the objectified “other,” but rather source, goal, and immanent presence.

This is the great challenge, yet I believe it is one the Western mind has been slowly preparing itself to meet for its entire existence. I believe that the West’s restless inner development and incessantly innovative masculine order of reality has been gradually leading, in an immensely long dialectical movement, toward a reconciliation with the lost feminine unity, toward a profound and many-leveled marriage of the masculine and feminine, a triumphant and healing reunion. And I consider that much of the conflict and confusion of our own era reflects the fact that this evolutionary drama may now be reaching its climactic stages. For our time is struggling to bring forth something fundamentally new in human history: We seem to be witnessing, suffering, the birth labor of a new reality, a new form of human existence, a “child” that would be the fruit of this great archetypal marriage, and that would bear within itself all its antecedents in a new form. I therefore would affirm those indispensable ideals expressed by the supporters of feminist, ecological, archaic, and other countercultural and multicultural perspectives. But I would also wish to affirm those who have valued and sustained the central Western tradition, for I believe that this tradition — the entire trajectory from the Greek epic poets and Hebrew prophets on, the long intellectual and spiritual struggle from Socrates and Plato and Paul and Augustine to Galileo and Descartes and Kant and Freud — that this stupendous Western project should be seen as a necessary and noble part of a great dialectic, and not simply rejected as an imperialist-chauvinist plot. Not only has this tradition achieved that fundamental differentiation and autonomy of the human which alone could allow the possibility of such a larger synthesis, it has also painstakingly prepared the way for its own self-transcendence. Moreover, this tradition possesses resources, left behind and cut off by its own Promethean advance, that we have scarcely begun to integrate — and that, paradoxically, only the opening to the feminine will enable us to integrate. Each perspective, masculine and feminine, is here both affirmed and transcended, recognized as part of a larger whole; for each polarity requires the other for its fulfillment. And their synthesis leads to something beyond itself: It brings an unexpected opening to a large reality that cannot be grasped before it arrives, because this new reality is itself a creative act.

But why has the pervasive masculinity of the Western intellectual and spiritual tradition suddenly become so apparent to us today, while it remained so invisible to almost every previous generation? I believe this is occurring only now because, as Hegel suggested, a civilization cannot become conscious of itself, cannot recognize its own significance, until it is so mature that it is approaching its own death.

Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome — and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine.

Schizophrenia is a mirror

From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madness on the mirror-like qualities of schizophrenia:

The extraordinary thing about schizophrenia is that it is a condition of the subliminal psyche making itself manifest in the clear light of day. Like the depths of the psyche it is so alien and unknown to us that it appears to be just exactly whatever we make of it. Schizophrenia acts as a kind of mirror held up before us, reflecting what we project upon it. In this way it becomes also a sort of eerie touchstone for psychiatrists by virtue of which they discover and establish their view of human nature and of the deviances from its norms. On the other hand, the schizophrenic person is in an equally extraordinary state. He so loses his identity that he becomes highly suggestible and identifies with any powerful impact from inside or outside. So, when society says to him, “You’re too different, a menace, sick, and we’ll have to lock you up,” he feels correspondingly crazy and reprehensible, dangerous and unmanageable. Hence, he reflects like a mirror what is expected of him. We have only to convey to a patient the tacit message, “You’re so sick you need my help to make you sane,” to convince him that he is beyond the pale and isolated. The more sane-making we become in our good will, the more crazy-making we find ourselves; we entangle ourselves in our own preconceptions, and the patient becomes hopelessly ensnared along with us.

In our cultural transition toward tolerance for the nonrational and natural, might it not make all the difference to forego our presuppositions about normality and cure? If the psyche were allowed to be what it is and to act as it is inclined, to further its own ends, how much of what now leads to psychosis would resolve itself before coming to that unhappy pass? Might we come to view even “psychosis” as something awaiting a person on the forward path rather than on the regressive road away from the challenge of life?

Shifting cultural perceptions of the nonrational

From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madness on shifting cultural perceptions of the nonrational:

It is fortunate [..] that there were no psychiatrists around who might have locked up Paul or Brother Klaus, Joan of Arc or George Fox for their auditory and visual hallucinations. Is our problem, perhaps, to be found more in our conception of what is normal than in what is called sick?

We are living in an age of transition, still under the spell of an era of reason and positivism, but entering a new one of tolerance for the nonrational. Our psychiatry still belongs to the era we are leaving. Then, men looked on mind as consisting of the rational functioning of consciousness, assuming a right way and a wrong way to think and feel. A mental “normal” was assumed by a general consensus and would be demonstrated statistically, such that all so favored could be properly alike, adapted and adjusted one to another. In contrast to such norms were the unusual and nonrational ways, which then were called “disorders.” There could be no room for the Pauls, Foxes, and Blakes in this world of norms; imagine anyone talking with his visions! Things must be called by their proper designations: Trances were hysterical, visions and voices were visual and auditory hallucinations — and nothing more. All that departed from the normal was by definition symptomatic of the abnormal, the pathological.

In a new age that has a degree of tolerance and understanding for the nonrational, how far can we go with it? Have we room in our new world for divine possession, like the Balinese ecstatic dancer or the whirling dervish? If we are not going to expect that all should be alike and are to agree instead that the psyche has its own strange ways of accomplishing its ends, then perhaps what were called symptoms and syndromes may call for a different interpretation and evaluation.

Symptoms are judged by the fact of departure from the norms. If we look upon these same phenomena as expressions of inner experience, as valid psychic process and content, then a thorough reassessment of them is called for.

We might compare this problem with experience in the arts. If we were so governed by a rationalistic age that we expected painting to depict the objective world realistically, then the photographic would be “normal” and the Chagalls and Blakes “abnormal.” Or in literature, if it were expected that “normal” meant clear descriptive and narrative prose, then Goethe’s Faust, Part 2, would be considered crazy. So with psychic life. If health means stark reality-orientation and adjustment, then the adolescent storms have no place; they are sickness, not creative turmoils. If the psyche is expected to grow smoothly in its developmental stages, in gradually ascending steps, like the grades in schooling, there is no place for turbulence. But if we grant recognition to the empirical facts — that the psyche grows instead by cataclysmic upheavals — we must change our model. It is an organism that grows more like the deciduous tree than the evergreen; periods of leafing and flowering alternate with periods of recession and resorption. The psyche grows by renewals — death and new life, revolutions and overthrows of what has been, and the burgeoning of new forms dislodging the old ones.

Cultural renewal and the death of the mystical vision

From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madness on cultural renewal and how institutionalizing the mystical vision slowly kills it:

“What begins as the drive to make communicable the good news that the mystic vision is there and can be reached, becomes in time a need to gather a following. There is a contagious quality along with the communicability; souls are touched with fire, and a blaze of enthusiasm spreads rapidly, with a tremendous uprush of energy. Paul’s church spreads rapidly over the Mediterranean world, Hung’s columns march toward the Manchu capital to overthrow the dynasty, or in contrast, George Fox’s followers take their stand in numbers against the Wars of the Commonwealth; and in the train of experiences of the great mystics in the late medieval church, droves of men and women take vows in innumerable monasteries founded by those dynamic souls.

With a following comes also the requirement for structuring and codifying, or institutionalized form and doctrine, and on the heels of that, the distinguishing of true and false following in the form of orthodoxy and heresy. Finally the generally agreed conventions congeal, and we have the authoritarian “establishment” as the final plight.

Such is the evolution of the vision over the years, from an original, raw, affective, and fluid experience into a cold and static institution frozen in formalities. In time, too many questions which arise find no answers.

These are the circumstances in which the collective psyche becomes restless. The culture is ready for renewal and reinvigoration through fresh original experiences once more. Souls sensitive to the pressures and movements of the collective psyche feel these impulses toward renewal, and make the mystical journey, often in consequence transforming the religious authority or cultural canon.”

The brain as a transceiver of consciousness

From Stan & Christina Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork:

Very few people, including most scientists, realize that we have absolutely no proof that consciousness is actually produced in the brain and by the brain. There is no doubt that there exists vast clinical and experimental evidence showing significant interconnections and correlations between the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the brain, on the one hand, and states of consciousness, on the other. However, it represents a major logical jump to infer from the available data that these correlations represent a proof that the brain is actually the source of consciousness. Such a deduction would be tantamount to the conclusion that the TV program is generated in the TV set, because there is a close correlation between functioning or malfunctioning of its components and the quality of the sound and picture. It should be obvious from this example that the close connection between cerebral activity and consciousness does not exclude the possibility that the brain mediates consciousness, but does not actually generate it. The research of holotropic states has amassed ample evidence for this alternative.

Excellent magic mushroom trip report from author of “Acid Test”

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Tom Shroder recently took psilocybin mushrooms for the first time in 35 years and wrote an excellent trip report on his experience. He’s the author of Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal (book review), and a speaker at the Horizons conference in New York in October 2014; he also recently wrote a great long-form article on psychedelic science and history.

Here’s a quote from the write-up of his first ‘shroom trip in 35 years:

“I can’t think of any other way to put this but to say the sky opened, and grace poured down all around me. Light itself had transformed into a palpable substance, spilling down as if from a fountain. But it was more than light. It was blessings of every kind, goodness incarnate, flowing inexhaustible and immutable from above. I didn’t say to myself, “What is this?” I didn’t guess. I knew, I saw, I was in the presence of God. This wasn’t a God with whom I could have a conversation, at least not two-way. I think I said, or shouted, “Ok, I am DEFINITELY not an atheist,” but God was mute, or rather, I understood, or perceived, that the only response God would ever make was the boundless bounty of beauty cascading over me.”

Read the full trip report here!

(Header credit: shazbot on Flickr)

Drug Policy Alliance’s Ethan Nadelmann kicks ass in his TED talk on the failed drug war

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Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann recently gave an excellent TED talk on the failed war on drugs. In it, he rightly describes the near-global adaptation of the US’s drug policy model as the international projection of a domestic psychosis about drug use, and urges for sensible drug policy and for the treatment of drug abuse as a medical issue, not a criminal one — changes that couldn’t come soon enough.

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Psychosis as a healing process

From John Weir Perry’s The Far Side of Madnessin which he discusses how psychosis is a healing process set in place to reconstitute a fragmented self-image:

Taking into account various observations on schizophrenia, I have been inclined to think of the “psychopathology” differently from the usual textbook psychiatric formulation. It is justifiable to regard the term “sickness” as pertaining not to the acute turmoil but to the prepsychotic personality, standing as it does in need of profound reorganization. In this case, the renewal process occurring in the acute psychotic episode may be considered nature’s way of setting things right. Even though this compensatory process may become a massive turmoil, the turbulence is a step on the way toward the living of a more fulfilled emotional life.

He goes on to discuss the cause of the psychotic turmoil and how it is often resolved:

A severe injury to the self-image was apparently at the heart of the genesis of the prepsychotic personality in the cases that I have studied. Things went wrong during the phase in which the archetypal bond with the mother would ordinarily be bringing into play the attentive, tender, caring, and even worshipful emotions of the mother toward her child — this being the child’s fundamental need during this phase. Typically, the mothers of these individuals seemed to have failed to render such love. Such a mother tends to have the feeling, in regard to this particular offspring at least, that she is dealing with a child that she cannot wholeheartedly love with full acceptance. There may be a projection of an image upon the child of unattractiveness or strangeness or perhaps of the black sheep; then the child grows to sense an ill-defined negative judgment of some sort, and his image of himself depicting this emotion will reflect the mother’s emotion. If she sees in him a black sheep, then his image of himself will be the black sheep. Very often this image will turn out to have its origin in the mother’s complexes derived from her own unfavorable parent-sibling relationships. The image representing the mother’s experience of the child becomes all-important to his psychic welfare, establishing for him either the emotional conditions of health and warmth of feeling, or those of distortion and painfulness.

From observing the behavior of the archetypal affect-images in schizophrenic episodes, the impression has grown on me that the syndrome revolves around the problem of self-image. In it, there is a pathological division between its two forms, the personal and the archetypal ones; that is, the personal self-image in the usual sense of the way the person views and evaluates himself, and the archetypal image that compensates it in depth. In the prepsychotic development, the personality has grown into an identity that does not properly belong to him. For he has grown up with a feeling of unlovedness and consequent outsideness, and the self-image is that of being faulty, undesirable, unworthy, and unpromising. These are derived from the mother’s projection, and are taken over by the ego as its personal self-image. Close behind these feelings are the fantasy ones — from the compensating archetypal affect-image — of being superlative, more than human, a genius, or a person of momentous importance to the world. Thus, when the personal self-image is severely debased — as it usually is in the prepsychotic make-up — the archetypal self-image is in the same measure exalted.

The discrepancy between the two self-images in their counterpoise sets up an unstable psychic situation full of a sense of unreality and of anxiety, which is prone at any time to precipitate one into the archetypal renewal process. It seems that when the psyche cannot progress further into its next steps of experience so encumbered by this very negative self-image — especially at times of the great crises of ebullient falling in love or of hurtful fulling into rejection — a change is initiated. The psychic energy, the libido, is attracted to the archetypal level of the psyche, where a process of very high energy-charge starts moving, reorganizing the central archetype and hence reconstituting the self-image. It appears that this recession of the libido leaves the higher levels of the psyche stripped of their usual energy-charge, and hence in a state of disorganization. Both the ego-consciousness and the complexes are left in a state of fragmentation.

As I see it, the principal change that takes place in the reconstitution of the self-image is not merely that self-esteem is restored, but much more, that the capacity to love and be loved is generated. The plight of the schizoid personality is that love has been disappointed. The mother-child bond as the first basic experience of secure love should have been the model for all later experiences of closeness; the mother should have become the first representative of the “Eros” principle, that of relating and loving and allowing intimacy. But what took its place instead was control and suppression. Thus, not only did the child learn for self-protection to withdraw feeling, but even more, he came to deal with people according to the Power principle, instead of the more natural Eros one to which it stands as an opposite. Power wants status and control, while Eros seeks relatedness and closeness. The prepsychotic make-up, with its assumption of unlovability, then suffers a difficult combination of feelings of crushing insignificance and of superlative prestige-hunger. In other words, the initial tendency of the archetypal self-image is to prompt the ego to seek out a balm for unacceptability in the form of some absolute mastery. The psychotic process habitually puts this power-oriented form of the self through a transformation that awakens the potentials for relationship and gives them their rightful place in the structure of the personality and in the style of life.

Then Perry gives an example to illustrate this progression:

One example comes to mind that was so classic in its outlines as to be almost schematic. It is that of a young man in therapy with one of the residents whom I was supervising. I can therefore say with some assurance that I did not influence the content or the direction of flow of the imagery. For the first weeks of his episode he believed himself to be specially elected by the “Space Wizards,” superintelligent and superpowerful beings who ruled the galaxy, to be Chief Space Wizard on earth. (This is twentieth-century language for the title King of the Universe.) In the course of the following weeks, however, his interest shifted remarkably away from such superlative imagery and he became engrossed instead in the fantasy of immersing himself in life on a farm with his wife, raising children and vegetables and livestock. The atmosphere of these preoccupations, starting with the crisp, cold, electric excitement of cosmic power from the sky, turned now to the opposite extreme, the warm quiet comfort of loving family bonds and of nursing the life of animals and plants living on the soil of the earth.

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