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Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

“So You’re Going to Take LSD”: A Beginner’s Guide From 1967

The stern advice includes "do not go to a beach," "bring a clock" and "do not tell others you can read their minds."

4 Substance

“So you’re going to take LSD.” Thus begins a how-to manual by Lisa Bieberman, who was then a 25-year-old Harvard graduate and former assistant to Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) and Timothy Leary (aka Nixon’s “Most Dangerous Man in America”) in their famed LSD experiments. Published in 1967, the year before the hallucinogen was criminalized, the pamphlet was recently unearthed by Psychedelic Frontier, a blog for the “consciousness expansion” community.

Bieberman seems to have been an ardent but surprisingly down-to-earth acid adherent, and earnest about her task. This guide for beginners is mainly addressed to practical matters to promote the best possible “LSD session.” She is eager to correct disinformation (LSD does not make you think you can fly) and to dispel romantic illusions (LSD does not make you smarter, more creative or a better person). And because she believes that LSD’s benefits are almost entirely emotional or spiritual in nature—and that therefore you and your companions should stay in one room, sit still and say nothing—her advice leans heavily on what NOT to do. Some highlights:

LSD is not for having fun. “A psychedelic session is very hard work. You may have to do an overhaul of your whole philosophy of life, including areas that you haven’t examined for years, if ever…By the time the session is through you will be very tired.”

The best place to have a session, she says, is in a familiar room with total privacy, no telephones or visitors, and easy access to a bathroom.

Do not go to “a beach, a field or woods, unless, again, you are very experienced. There is too much opportunity for disorientation, fear occasioned by meeting strangers, physical discomfort and [getting lost].”
“Do not go anywhere.”
Do not have a mirror: “On LSD you probably look awful to yourself in the mirror, probably because your pupils are dilated, and you see all your pores. You don’t really look that bad.”
But do have a clock. “People having their first session are especially susceptible to the belief that they will not come down. Probably this is because they have not learned to take into account their altered sense of time. This is why a clock is a useful thing to have in the room.”

She offers common-sense etiquette for dealing with your companions, such as:

Do not stare at others “just because their face is changing into a multitude of different forms. They don’t know why you’re staring.”
Do not tell others you can read their minds. “The feeling that you know just what is going on in somebody else’s mind, or that they are thinking the same thing you are thinking, often occurs in sessions. Sometimes you’re right and sometimes not…But verbal exchanges under LSD consist of about one-tenth words and nine-tenths innuendo. The result ranges from hilarious confusion to paranoid suspiciousness and annoyance.”

She warns that sessions often devolve into “evasive games” and other manipulative or distracting interactions among participants “in an attempt to avoid the discomfort of being exposed to themselves during a session.” These games include:

Get Me Out of This! “[If you are having a freak-out], do not holler ‘Get me out of this!’ You’ll upset all your companions, and have them solicitously buzzing around you…This can end in screaming scenes and frantic calling of doctors.”
Baby: “Some people in sessions go about digging their fingers into things, crushing things, and dropping them any old where. They throw soapsuds or Kleenex around the floor. Now, ordinary objects can be very fascinating when you’re high, holding some of the newness and wonder that they must hold for a small child. But do be gentle.”
Let’s Have an Orgy: “Some people faced with the strange and disquieting initial effects of LSD, respond by flinging themselves into a frantic pursuit of sensual pleasure…and try to draw their companions into the game. But loud music, food, sex games, jumping around, can do little to comfort the person whose real problem is that he wants to drown out his thoughts.”

Not long after she published her manual, Bieberman grew disillusioned with the exploding counter-culture and what she viewed as the marketing of the psychedelic experience as “gaudy illegible posters, loud parties, anything paisley, crowdy, noisy discotheques, trinket shops and the slum districts that patronize them.” She blamed “the hippies, with the help of Leary & Co.”

But Bieberman was not a one-book wonder. In the late ’90s she published Farmington! Farmington!, 480 pages about what she believed was a personal communication she received from God announcing “Farmington is the New Jerusalem!” Heaven on Earth was scheduled to arrive on June 6, 2006, with Farmington, in rural Maine, the chosen venue.

As we know, the date passed uneventfully, and Bieberman said that her own “human error” was to blame. The revelation stands. She currently lives in Farmington and publishes a newsletter called “The Occasional Pussycat,” about local happenings, which remain fairly prosaic, at least so far.