The Wisdom of Dr. Roland Griffiths

Nov 01, 2023

Dr. Roland Griffiths was the founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research and a pioneer in studying the therapeutic potential of psilocybin. He passed away at 77 last month.

As a dedicated meditator, it was his mystical experiences in meditation which initially led him to research the nature of spiritual experiences using hallucinogens. I encountered his work through recent high-profile interviews in which he discussed his approach to the end of his life.

Last year, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, he contemplated the emotional states one might expect to experience such as depression, anxiety, fear, denial, and anger. Drawing on his insights from meditation and decades of contemplating the nature of consciousness, Griffiths concluded that the most meaningful way to confront his diagnosis was to practice gratitude for the preciousness of life.

He says, I explored the unfruitful states of mind for a few days, maybe a week after the diagnosis, and then emerged into this sense of joyful celebration. I found myself to be present, aware, astonished, and deeply grateful for the gift of existence.

Not only did he embrace this perspective, but he also shared it widely.

His message was that we can all live this way. “We all know that we’re terminal. So, I believe that in principle we shouldn’t need this Stage 4 cancer diagnosis to awaken.”

This idea is echoed in the Buddhist tradition. Maranasati, the daily practice of remembering one’s death aims at fostering clarity and the sense of urgency to make the most of our lives.

Similarly, every yoga practice affords an opportunity to renew your gratitude for the preciousness of life. By letting go preoccupations, turning inward, and attuning yourself to the immediate experience of your body, breath, and beingness itself, yoga kindles a deeper appreciation of the fleeting, mysterious, miraculous - and therefore precious - nature of life.

As your perspective shifts, you might find yourself becoming freer, less burdened by the details and dramas of daily life, and better at recognizing your blessings. You can navigate life more harmoniously and with a profound appreciation for life’s beauty and the gift of your existence.

Griffiths says:

"I want everyone to appreciate the joy and wonder of every single moment of their lives. We should be astonished that we are here when we look around at the exquisite wonder and beauty of everything. I think everyone has a sense of that already. It’s leaning into that more fully. There is a reason every day to celebrate that we’re alive, that we have another day to explore whatever this gift is of being conscious, of being aware, of being aware that we are aware. That’s the deep mystery that I keep talking about. That’s to be celebrated!”

May our practice help us to wake up in these ways.

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