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2. “God loves a cheerful man.”

My father, Herman Wouk, at the age of 92 remains one of the smartest and sharpest people I have ever known. A deeply religious Orthodox Jew, he is also the closest person I have ever found to being a “Renaissance Man”.

I remember when I was at Columbia College in 1972 I had gotten all involved with new left politics, in particular Students for a Democratic Society or SDS. I remember going home to visit my parents and spouting off in all directions about what was wrong with the country and the capitalist system that ran it.

The next time I came to visit, my father had re read Karl Marx et al and invited me into his office to discuss it. Needless to say he had a far greater grasp of the subject than I did. I came away with two different feelings. I was amazed and complemented by the fact that he had taken the time to do this. He was in the middle of writing War and Remembrance at the time and had far more important things to concern himself with.

At the same time I was somewhat crushed and humiliated by his undeniable mastery of a subject for which I had the enthusiasm of youth and little more.

Thirty four years later, sitting out in the garden with him at his home in Palm Springs, I confided to him my fears of becoming a burden to all around me.

He acknowledged that what I was going through was extremely difficult, and that what ever I did to deal with it, it was going to be hard.

“There is one thing I have tried to remember when I’d gone through awful times. I don’t know if this will help you. There is an old Jewish saying that ‘God loves a cheerful man’.” And then he added “And so does everyone else…”

I don’t think a single phrase has ever affected me so much in my life. For the next two months I walked around with a smile on my face. I was nice and friendly to every body, including strangers, and to a man they returned those feelings and made me feel happy to be alive even with MS.

And yet… Eventually the hopelessness of my condition began to take its toll. I’ve never been one to accept defeat gracefully, and sitting around waiting under the sword of Damocles without an escape plan was something I couldn’t tolerate.

About a month ago, I visited a friend of mine, Bob. He was one of the first people we met when we moved to Santa Cruz, and is one of the larger figures in what’s left of the psychedelic community. He was friendly with all the greats of the movement from Albert Hofmann to Timothy Leary to Terence McKenna.

I explained to him how frustrated I was that there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to actually cure the MS. He looked thoughtful and then related to me stories about two people he knew who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. One had melanoma, the other had breast cancer that had metastasized to her liver. With no hope left, both had opted to journey deep into the jungles of South America to a shaman there famous for miracle cures. He told me that one of them had returned completely healthy, and the other had her liver lesion shrink significantly and was currently leading a normal life

“Why don’t I go with you down there? It might be your only shot at curing yourself. I think we could even write a good book about it…”

Bob has always believed in the great power of psychedelics to do good. He has written a number of books on the subject and was one of the first to use the term “enthiogen” to describe drugs that can give one a “religious experience”.

For a period of about five years, which ended about 10 years ago, my wife and I had explored the psychedelic experience. At the time we noticed all sorts of magical things occurring including physical evidence left behind of what we had thought was a shared hallucination. But that was a long time ago. I had long since relapsed into my former, thoroughly rationalistic self. As the period of magic faded away, I managed to come up with rational explanations for most if not all of the magic. Bob on the other hand was still a believer.

“I’m sorry Bob, I just don’t believe in miracle cures. If you don’t believe in them, they don’t happen.”

“But that’s the thing; Ayahuasca can affect your belief systems. One of the people I told you about was a college professor. About as rational a person as I know. I can put you in touch with her if you like…”

He had a point there I thought to myself remembering my magical period.

“Well, I’ve always thought that miracle cures whether brought about by the waters of Lourdes or shamanic magic are possible only because of the placebo effect. So what we’re talking about doing is using psychedelics to convince myself that I am cured… This would hopefully engage the placebo effect to really cure me. Interesting…”

“So what do you think? I was planning on going down there in another few months anyway. You should come along. You might actually cure yourself and we might actually get a good book out of it.”

I explained to Bob that the stress and strain of a trip to the jungle through the heat, bugs, and tropical diseases made it more than likely that I would suffer a relapse before I even got there. It’s a well-known fact that stress and physical exertion can bring about a relapse of MS.

“Maybe I can find a local shaman who can help. Just doing Ayahuasca won’t work, I don’t think. I will need the input of a real medicine man….”

Bob said he knew of some local shaman but that none of them could compare with the ones in the jungle. But, if I felt I couldn’t handle the trip that might be the only way.”

I decided I better do some serious research about the placebo effect. While I knew the effect was real and was a positive bother to the pharmaceutical companies when testing their drugs, I really didn’t know how powerful the effect was in practice.

April 18, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Ok, I’m really intrigued now. On to the next post.

    Comment by Feisty | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  2. Joe,

    It was an absolute pleasure to meet you on the plane the other day. Its quite amazing the people you meet and the subjects you discuss when forced to spend several hours sharing space not much bigger than a restroom stall with those whom you might never bump into in other situations.

    I must admit though I had one of the most interesting conversations in quite some time and find your thoughts and willingness to give a shit what others think to be quite refreshing. In fact I felt myself repeating to my fiance the many interesting subjects we discussed. In doing so I realized how we share so many of the same views on subjects many view as taboo to even discuss.

    If you still are, or plan on being in the PS area soon I would very much like to buy you a cup of coffee and continue our babel (pathetic attempt at a pun).

    Anyhow either way I wish you the very best and I truly hope that while we both consider ourselves “rational to the core” this state of mind will ultimately be leveled flat by the discovery that we always had in ourselves the cure and belief in the medicine is what we seek.



    Comment by Jamie | April 22, 2008 | Reply

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