Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect: Can Raving Save the Planet?
The principal force behind the rave scene was the discovery of the properties of MMDA, 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine. First brought to recent attention by Alexander Shulgin after he synthesized it in 1965 and made it available to several therapists, it was rapidly recognized to have very special qualities. For example, after giving some to Jacob, the principle character in the book The Secret Chief (Stolaroff , 1997), Shulgin was "phoned a few days later to hear that (Jacob) had abandoned his plans for a quiet retirement. . . over the following decade . . . he traveled across the country introducing MDMA to other therapists and taught them how to use it in their therapy. . . the information and techniques he had introduced spread widely and, in time, internationally (Saunders, 1997, p. 8)."
Other examples: Jacob comments on the nature of the MDMA experience: "Beautiful trip. Just full of beauty and love and good feeling and acceptance of your self and realization of your own perfection in such a way that you say, 'I don't think I ever want to put myself down or find myself wrong, because I'm not wrong. I'm being guided all of the time.' (Stolaroff, 1997, p. 89)" The psychiatrist Philip Wolfson stated "MDMA is penicillin for the soul, and you don't give up penicillin once you've seen what it can do (Wolfson, 1986)." Based on their study (George Greer and Requa Tolbert, 1986), Dr. Greer concluded that employing MDMA could greatly shorten treatment.
While it was still legal in the United States, MDMA, known as Ecstasy, was discovered by young people and the popularity spread throughout America and into Europe. MDMA became most popular as a dance drug, and the gatherings than ensued became known as Raves. Such all night dance parties now occur every weekend throughout the world, and can involve groups as large as 10,000 or more people taking MDMA at the same time.
Ask 10,000 ravers what a rave is and you might get 10,000 different answers, but the common underlying theme is the following: DJ's spinning some type of electronic music through a powerful sound system, friendly people, and a place to safely lose yourself in dance. There are many different types of raves, varying in music style and size, ranging from dozens of people to thousands, but one of the most important distinctions is the intent of the organizers. There are commercial events where the intent of the promoters is to make money and there are parties and gatherings that are not for profit, though donations are collected to help cover the cost of setting up the event.
While the purpose of the gathering may be initially pure recreationally, it has been recognized by many more familiar with the potential of employing MDMA that a great many benefits may be realized with proper education. Consequently there are now growing numbers of those taking on the role of education, and teaching ravers how to get the most out of their experience. This approach is beginning to disseminate, so there are now more and more gatherings where participants can not only enjoy their time together, but can learn things of great significance to their personal development. The balance of this paper will focus primarily on gatherings encouraging maximum benefits, a dynamic which is rapidly spreading despite or perhaps inspired by the illegality of MDMA and distortions and misrepresentations of the press.
Non-commercial events, sometimes referred to as "parties" or "gatherings," are organized by groups of friends. They put time and energy into having a great party for themselves and for their guests. These parties and gatherings also vary in music style, location, and size but they differ from commercial events in that participants are invited directly by the organizers or indirectly invited by the participants. This helps create a feeling of safety and connection that greatly enhances the success of the event. Successful events tend to repeat themselves as often as once a month and relationships among the participants evolve. This can have a dramatic effect on the quality of the events as people get to know each other, become closer and feel safer. Although MDMA's powerful properties of communication are always evident, it is at these events that MDMA can most easily play a vital role doing what it does best; enabling, facilitating, and teaching people how to heal themselves.
The role of MDMA in raves has been very important. MDMA is a powerful tool that opens communication channels with one's self, or communication with others. It is true that MDMA can be found at most raves and that many, if not most, ravers take or have taken it at some point or another, but MDMA is not the only reason that people go to raves.
Raves were designed to stimulate every aspect of your being that is enhanced by MDMA. Loud electronic music takes control of your body and you can dance ecstatically for hours. Light shows, be they electric or from the stars and moon dazzle the mind and help induce visions and other visual delights. Fresh fruit and flavorful candies overwhelm the taste buds with waves of pleasure. Today’s gatherings focus primarily on community and while many participants enjoy the recreational pleasures of MDMA in a rave setting, a large number of people are drawn to the truly open and honest interactions that spontaneously occur with other people.
As a recreational drug, MDMA is often used by ravers. Heightened sensations, the primal urge to dance, and feelings of love and empathy for the world we live in contribute to peaceful gatherings with diverse groups of people of various ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles. Issues of race, religion, politics and sexuality melt away as friends and strangers participate in group hugs and intimate conversation circles; they are nonexistent on the dance floor.
The role that MDMA has within the rave community is more than just recreational. MDMA is a tool that teaches people how to connect at levels that transcend those typically found at bars or social gatherings. Ravers deeply feel and truly believe that they are part of a special "community" that extends throughout the world. MDMA has been and is instrumental in establishing the foundation of this community based on free movement and dancing, and the precepts of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect (PLUR). PLUR can be learned and eventually applied to every day life. The rave community is not actually a community. It is a supplement to the established community. Ravers gather on weekends at raves and parties and gatherings of all sizes, to spend quality time together. The sense of community comes from a sense of hyperconnectivity and an underlying philosophy directed by PLUR and re-enforced by the lessons learned from MDMA use. Ravers quickly learn that the world would be a better place if more people practiced peace, love, unity and respect. It is not unusual to overhear first time MDMA users saying:
"I wish I could give this to my parents."
"I wish I could give this to the police."
"I wish I could give this to the politicians who run this country--to the politicians who run the world."
"I wish everyone in the world could have this experience, the world would be a better place." These feeling tend to become stronger with time as MDMA users long to share their permanently enhanced perspectives of the human condition with friends, loved ones and society in general.
The rave community is more than just a group of people that use MDMA and dance to electronic music. It has become a group mind phenomenon, which is both tribal and modern. This is having a growing impact on society as ravers impose their need to live in a world of peace, love, unity and respect on a society that focuses on individual gain. Ravers’ sense of community extends into the everyday workings of the societies we live in. Ravers offer each other jobs, live together and rent large homes that become community centers and art centers. They start their own record labels, theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, dance troupes, and fashion lines. These endeavors are supported financially, as well as emotionally by the hundreds of members of the tribe. When a member of the community suffers a mishap, the tribe will very quickly respond with fundraiser dance events that can raise thousands of dollars in one evening. This sense of family is very powerful and therapeutic and it is an extension of the healing power of raves and MDMA. Ravers are learning to use the healing powers of MDMA to conduct successful therapy sessions for community members who have suffered traumas such as rape, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and depression. For members of the community it is a haven from the dog-eat-dog world that we live in. How many people can say that they live in a community where there are up to several hundred people that would openly provide them with a meal, a place to stay, a warm hug and a smile, without a moments notice, in exchange for a hug?
The rave community is growing and spreading its philosophy into mainstream society. MDMA lowers peoples need for defenses. It lowers peoples need for fear, anger, hatred, resentment, and greed. Since most ravers have at some point in their lives taken MDMA at least a couple times a year and up to 1 to 4 times a month, they learn the skills to incorporate PLUR into everyday life. The sense of community also comes from the fact that many ravers have learned that this state of mind is not limited to raves and parties. Walking down a city street, it is as easy to recognize a raver from the clothes he or she might be wearing as it is from the way they will respond to a smile from a stranger or their elevated level of friendliness. A global aspect of the rave community is that ravers understand these basic rules for parties and community throughout the world. There is an "underground global network," such that you can walk into a room of ravers at a party or after-hours club anywhere on the planet and be openly accepted and even hugged by strangers, especially if you are recognized as a raver.
According to the media, the typical raver is a teenager drug abuser. While this may be partially true, it very narrowly defines a diverse group of people ranging from teenagers, with and without drug abuse problems, to adults and professionals in their 20's, 30's, 40's and older; who may or may not have drug abuse problems. There are doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, writers, therapists, artists, computer programmers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and even members of the armed forces who are ravers; soon there will be politicians.
What is it about raves and MDMA that makes them so attractive to certain people? MDMA is not physiologically addictive and if taken too many times consecutively it stops being pleasurable, yet ravers go back sometimes every weekend for years at a time. The MDMA rave experience allows people with all sorts of issues, problems and even traumas, the space to start dealing with their baggage in a way that can ultimately lead to healing. At a rave you can express yourself in any way that you need to without fear of being ridiculed or made to feel self-conscious; raves are about acceptance and compassion. Ravers express themselves emotionally and psychologically through ecstatic dance and by sitting and talking to friends and strangers. At outdoor gatherings people will often find a secluded place to sit alone and meditate, address inner fears or just enjoy the beauty of their surroundings. This feeling of safety and acceptance can attract people with problems, fears, and insecurities. It is obviously a haven for teenagers. This is not to say that all ravers (or drug users) are people with deeply rooted psychological scars. But there is a high percentage of ravers that have something from their past or present lives that needs to be dealt with. MDMA is not a way to escape; it is a tool that can be used to safely delve into and try to work things out and raves create the set and setting for healing to take place. The community is an extension of this healing space and a place to put lessons learned into action. This is not something that is immediately known or understood by all ravers but the nature of MDMA can make it evident to a reflective person in a relatively short period of time.
There are many ravers who do not have major issues or problems. For them the rave can act as a vessel of growth, enlightenment and spiritual awakening. Experiences of pure love, beauty and connection with the entire planet and every living thing are very common. The sheer joy of dancing, being, sharing, empathizing, and loving life is the only truly addicting aspects of the rave experience. The synergy of dozens, even hundreds of people in this state is an indescribably beautiful life changing experience.
Over the years, many ravers have become aware of the powerful healing powers of MDMA and other Entheogens. By trial and error, they have been actively striving to create a space for members of the rave community to have the most fulfilling experiences. These experiences are not necessarily drug induced. There are many ravers who do not take drugs of any type. There are many more ravers that will stop taking drugs at raves. Proud of being able to enjoy themselves and dance as hard as anyone else, they are strong role models and examples of the inner strength and energy that raves can cultivate. This is most evident in the desert rave community of Southern California. For over seven years, a group of ravers have been gathering out in the Mojave Desert to dance, play, and just be under the full moon, the new moon and any other opportunity that calls for a celebration. These gatherings, some of which can draw thousands of people by word of mouth alone, have become world renowned for the quality of the events and the special atmosphere that is created by the various groups of friends that put them together. There are desert gatherings almost every weekend in Southern California. The result is that today, this self proclaimed "tribe" of desert ravers has succeeded in creating a powerful healing space. At these gatherings, participants have a variety of experiences, but it is becoming more common to hear people discussing life changing experiences, such as insights into necessary self-improvements, spiritual and religious awakenings and revelations, death/rebirth experiences, and ultimately, psychological breakthroughs. Some of these breakthroughs involve the discovery, the reliving and the release of childhood traumas like rape, sexual abuse, physical trauma or other repressed memories. The dance floor has become an informal therapy couch and the patients are also the healers and unwitting therapists. As these people learn that they can heal themselves and grow through MDMA, some talk about it and spread this idea.
A logical inference would be that some of these people could benefit from professional help. But, when asked if they would go to a therapist, most answer:
"I could never afford it."
"I would never go to a therapist who hasn't taken psychedelics, he/she would never understand me."
"I'd rather work it out on the dance floor or with my friends."
Some will even say, "I've been to a therapist. They put me on Prozac/Zoloft/Paxil, but Ecstasy a few times a month is much better."
The negative aspects of these informal and often times unexpected "therapy sessions" are obvious. There is no follow through and little knowledgeable support and a few people end up confused, scared and incapable of dealing with some of the things they may discover about themselves. More experienced ravers are often burdened with the responsibility of taking care of and dealing with inexperienced people as they discover sometimes unpleasant aspects of their past and present lives. The real problem is the general propaganda and misinformation about drugs and their effects, and the lack of easily accessible and accurate information that should be available to the general public. It is important to note that these types of experiences are rare and that most people have positive, though sometimes difficult, experiences at all types of raves, gatherings and parties. As their personal need for these therapy sessions declines, a large number of more experienced ravers oftentimes greatly reduce and sometimes eliminate their use of Entheogens.
In the United States, and in California in particular, the impact of raves on the established community is difficult to assess. The War on Drugs and The Media have done their job to vilify raves in general. When it comes down to direct interactions between ravers and the authorities the results are interesting. When a fire marshal decides to shut down an indoor rave because of a fire code violation (too many people for a given location) or the police receive a noise complaint, ravers will always cooperate and leave quietly. There is never any type of violence or even anger directed towards the authorities as they shut down the event. The exception is a massive 1997 New Years Party in Los Angeles where a group outside the event refused to leave after the party had been shut down and the police fired rubber bullets into the crowd. Some ravers will thank the police or fire marshal for doing their jobs and others will even apologize for having caused an inconvenience. Most ravers believe that the police are in dire need of warm hugs and some good MDMA. This attitude, at first, baffles the police but it seems that they are beginning to learn that these are truly peaceful gatherings where harm could be most minimized by allowing people to sober up before driving home. Another fact is that the police will hardly ever bother ravers as they exit a "busted" party even though some of them are obviously on MDMA. Another observation is that there is extremely little, if any drug related violence among MDMA suppliers or dealers.
Outdoor events can establish even better relationships with the local police, forest rangers and BLM rangers. Certain groups like MoonTribe, Integral Gathering and Blue Sky have established a reputation for extreme ecological friendliness (they will leave a party site cleaner than it was before they arrived). Tree planting parties and campground cleanups are often arranged with rangers in exchange for a safe and beautiful spot to dance. These events focus on the alternative dance community and drug use is not encouraged. Recently, ravers have started to publicly voice their views. Groups like Right To Dance stage peaceful, drug free protest dances at Federal Buildings and City Parks in California. Los Angeles has a Mayoral Candidate who is a raver and at the Shadow Convention for the 2000 Democratic National Convention, ravers peacefully danced (Rave the Vote) for the duration of the DNC at the "4 Days of Unity" event without any incident or police involvement, as protesters clashed with police nearby. Southern California has at least 50,000 ravers and the numbers are growing. These ravers are trying to improve the quality of their lives and of the people around them. A coalition called Gathering Of The Tribes had their first annual convention in Los Angeles this year, with the intent of educating rave organizers across the nation of the do's and don't of safe and responsible community-based raving. DanceSafe, a nationwide organization, has been working with rave organizers and the police to educate the public about safe drug use. They set up MDMA testing booths at parties to help ravers determine if the MDMA they are going to take is safe. Dance Safe will test a sample for purity by taking a miniscule amount. If it's pure you can take the sample without fear of being hassled by the police. These tests are free. Most MDMA users believe that benefits of more people trying MDMA far outweigh the possible risks associated with its use.
From a healthy lifestyle point of view, ravers are learning to respect their bodies. The benefits of good dietary habits and exercise are evident but seem to contradict any type of drug use. Ravers, like most people, are not self-destructive and are very interested in minimizing harm. They like to be informed of the effects of the things they put in their bodies and are into taking vitamins and nutritional supplements that can help reduce the already low physiological side effects of most Entheogens. The possible neurotoxicity of MDMA is not dismissed lightly. The existence of neuroprotective substances like Prozac and other SSRI's is well known, though not everyone has access to these prescription drugs. The discovery that the amino acid Tryptophan and the immediate precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP (5 hydroxy-tryptophan), also have neuroprotective properties has greatly impacted the rave scene. 5-HTP can be purchased at any drug store and is used by thousands of MDMA user in Southern California. The benefits of taking 5-HTP after taking MDMA are so apparent that many people will not take MDMA unless they can follow it with 5-HTP. The use of 5-HTP eliminates the "Serotonin Syndrome" and every other "hangover" symptom after MDMA use. 5-HTP restores serotonin levels in the brain so well that many MDMA users report enjoying lower doses of MDMA in conjunction with an initial dose of 5-HTP.
The rave scene is slowly growing, evolving and turning into a movement of health conscious, environmental, politically aware young adults and professionals with a heightened sensibility to the need for a compassionate society and a spiritually awakened way of life. The sense of being part of a novel, cutting edge model for society that has the potential to change the world by generating a global sense of family, tribe and community is inescapable for most ravers. It is ironic that much of the establishment that vilifies rave culture is composed of adults who grew up and experienced a similar philosophical movement in the late 1960's and early 70's. Many of the older participants in today's raves draw parallels between both the atmosphere and the goals of the "hippie" movement of this time, with the only salient difference today being the lack of a unifying political agenda. Many of the parents may recall the "peace and love" agenda and could relate to the PLUR values expressed by their children if they could transcend the different music and the differing drugs that are employed today. The superficial differences have been emphasized to isolate and force the rave culture underground, yet the underlying philosophical goals, in their striking similarity, only serve to reinforce a fundamental human need for love, empathy, tolerance and peace.
Greer, George and Tolbert, Requa. 1986. Subjective reports of the effects of MDMA in a clinical setting. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs Vol.18/4.
Saunders, Nicholas. 1997. Ecstasy Reconsidered. London: Nicholas Saunders.
Stolaroff, Myron. 1997. The Secret Chief: Conversations with a Pioneer of the Underground Psychedelic Therapy Movement. Charlotte, N.C. Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Wolfson, Philip. 1986. Meetings at the edge with Adam: a man for all seasons? Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Vol. 18, April.
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