“It takes dynamite to get me off, too much of everything is just enough” sang John Perry Barlow a long time ago.
And in his rock n roll way, he was outlining the philosophy of the Left Hand Path. Too much of everything, is just enough.
In spiritual and alchemical circles, there’s always been two roads you can go down, but in the long run, they both end up at the same place. (And if yours is seeming a little dull or confining, there’s still time to change the road you’re on ;)
The Right Hand path was the orthodox (literally, “straight thinking”) road––filled with Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots. It was often the default set of instructions for exoteric, or mainstream religions. Because it enforced black and white, rigid morals––Go Here/DON'T Go There, it was well-suited to lowest-common-denominator mass movements.
Many personal growth programs today that are overtly prescriptive and confident in their recipes or success formulas, are in that Right Hand vein. Simple to the point of being simplistic. They pair especially well with Purists who prides themselves on their hard work and no cutting corners mindset, as well as Conformists, who always defer to mainstream consensus and the advice of authorities.
But out past where the sidewalk ends, was another community, the “sinister ones”, or Left handers…this was typically the domain of true adepts, but also had more than its fair share of state-chasing Hedonists.
These Left Handers embraced the heterodox (“many truths”) and esoteric. Because their pursuits were considered dangerous, irresponsible, or outright immoral to the Right Hand gatekeepers, they had to keep their practices under wraps. (These often included all the fun stuff––sex, drugs, rocknroll, breathwork, incantations, and other much freakier and deekier shit).
Their general premise was that everything is workable. Rather than Good vs. Bad, they embraced it all as grist for the mill of transformation.
But here’s the catch: the Left Hand path was acknowledged as the fastest path to enlightenment, with the lowest success rate. If you could hang onto the rocket, you’d get to heaven in a jiffy, but most who tried just flamed out or put it in the ditch.
Right Hand Path = Tried and True. Left Hand Path = Fast and Furious
This is more relevant than ever because we are seeing a revolution in Left Hand Psycho-technology these days. After Michael Pollan and Tim Ferriss and a grand normalization of all things ecstatic folks are thinking “hey, I’ve been a bit of a starchy Purist or a predictable Conformist, and I’d like to expand my experiences to include a little more of the fun stuff.”
Go to a tantra workshop, or decide to open your relationship. Try psychedelic therapy, or perhaps experiment with cannabis now that it’s legal most everywhere. You might dive into sound baths, or intensive meditations or brain stimulation––seeking whatever floats your boat the highest.
You’ve made the move from Thou Shalt/Thou Shalt Not, to It’s All Good, and for a while, it really feels really good. But then, as Hedonists often do, you overheat. You might get swept up in chasing states, you might neglect key relationships, commitments, or aspects of a balanced life. You might find yourself teetering on the brink of distraction, infidelities or addictions.
So your inner Jiminy Cricket guilt trips you, and you decide “enough is enough, I must go Cold Turkey to reassert moral control of my monkey-mind self!”
And in that simple move, you’re no longer walking the Left Hand path at all.
Think about it: The core premise of Left Handed Tantra is everything is workable. Including facing your demons and darkness, your distractions and addictions. And the moment you get freaked out exploring the ecstatic, and conclude “this is too much, too far, too good, too bad, to keep doing…” you’ve once again cleaved the world in two, back into Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not.
You’re just playing the same old Right Hand game, with some sexier pieces on the chess board.
And that’s the worst of all places to be––the Uncanny valley between the Tried and True Right Hand and the Fast and the Furious Left Hand. It’s precisely where folks get run over. You’ve stopped trusting yourself to be able to handle everything that comes up. You’ve reverted back to some old school guilt, self-denial and judgment because you no longer trust your own steer.
But there is a middle way, that allows us to harness the best of Left and Right––and it’s the liberating structure of Hedonic Calendaring. The reason this works is because you get to dodge the Thou Shalt/Shalt Not trap with a much simpler, less judgy More Often/Less Often investigation.
And that Less Often, can also 100% include “Never!” I, for instance, never have and never will try cocaine. Have a family history of heart murmurs and best as I could tell, the Columbian Marching Powder never held any profound secrets of the universe worth risking it for. So for me, that’s in the least often ever bucket. Never!
But other things, ranging from ultramarathons to vipassana retreats, to jungle ayahuasca initiations to frisky threesomes? That’s all gonna depend on your life, your relationships, your tolerance for risks, your thirst for novelty and your ability to stick your landings.
And the only way to learn that for certain, is to conduct the experiment. Build your hedonic calendar––plan your year. Commit to foundational healthy practices on the daily, only let yourself indulge in temptation periodically. Blow out the pipes occasionally.
More, or less often.
Then, we free ourselves from puritanical moralizing, while knowing better than just flying blind into the sun. That’s liberating structure in action.
We can bring an experimental, experiential approach to the unique process of our own transformation.
So hopefully that helps frame up dynamics that many folks are wrestling with these days––as people are exploring the ecstatic, but often getting unstuck in the hedonistic. If you’re drawn to the Left Hand Path, of embracing a wider spectrum of sensation and experiences, it’s critical not to second guess yourself halfway across the chasm.
By replacing binary morality with flexible scheduling, we preserve more of our attention for building strong foundations and turning up the heat on our own growth. Then we can honor and integrate that which we do find above the clouds, by bringing it back to our life on the ground.