Haroon Moghul’s essay “The Wrong Imam” [December 2017] is a fearless description of a spiritual experience. It’s remarkable that he recognized such a profound moment of grace and was able to convey the passion of it. Thank you for publishing this piece.
Reading Mark Leviton’s interview with William Richards about the transformative potential of psychedelic drugs [“From Here to Eternity,” November 2017] gave me a better understanding of something that happened to me when I received a dire health diagnosis. During that difficult time in my life, when I was facing my mortality, I had what might be described as an encounter with a divine presence: inexplicably, all of my fears completely vanished. Years later I am still moved to tears by the memory. It changed my life. I appreciate how Richards showed that a single experience of altered consciousness can lead directly to a greater sense of compassion for others.
The formula for spiritual enlightenment that William Richards proposes is firmly in the American tradition of the quick fix: pop a pill.
In nearly all the mystical traditions, enlightenment is the result of renouncement, study, and contemplation — a life of devotion. Mystical experiences may be achieved by taking psychedelic drugs, but where is one supposed to gain the insight to contextualize those experiences so that their lessons might be shared with others?
To be “flooded with love, beauty, and peace beyond anything that I had ever known,” as Richards claims to have been, must have been a wonderful experience. But taking LSD for such an experience seems to me more like watching a movie than living the story.
Mark Leviton’s interview with William Richards was irresponsible and harmful. It makes perfect sense that an American wrote this. We approach life with a fast-food mentality, and our economy runs on the idea that all you need to be happy is a bigger TV, a better car, or the newest iPhone. Richards is a salesman for the consumerist solution to our deepest inner dilemma.
The true road to spiritual awakening is a marathon: a long, often grueling journey. I’m not surprised there are those who would like to sell us a shortcut.
William Richards responds:
Profound transcendental experiences, whether facilitated by meditation, psychedelic substances, or other means, may herald the awakening or nurturing of one’s spiritual development. For many, on the other hand, life’s meaning tends to be discovered by applying insights to the challenges of everyday living. I invite interested readers to learn more about the results of recent research with psychedelics at csp.org, heffter.org, and usonainstitute.org, and in my book, Sacred Knowledge.
Damien Echols’s quote about prisons doing everything in their power to sever ties between inmates and the outside world [Sunbeams, October 2017] really hit home. After nearly a decade of being an inmate with the Michigan Department of Corrections, I am still amazed at how the prison system does this: taking phone privileges away for years at a time, or moving us to prisons far from our families, who then can’t afford to visit.
When I told the prison administrators my father was sick and dying, they did not want to hear my “sob story.” He passed away last year. I had not seen him since December 2011. I could not afford the two grand to pay armed guards to escort me to his funeral.
I first discovered The Sun at a public library in Bloomington, Indiana, while I was in high school. My subscription fell by the wayside in college, but when I went to visit a distant aunt in France, we bonded over our mutual love of the magazine. I spent hours reading her issues and discussing them with her.
I have since returned to Bloomington and renewed my subscription. As a grad student I have many reading materials competing for my attention, but I do my best to keep up. I read your September 2017 issue — with Goran Jovic’s powerful cover photo of a Maasai boy — while waiting for my car to be fixed. Your tribute to Brian Doyle [“The Salt Seas of the Heart”] had tears running down my cheeks in the waiting room. His writing had such beauty and courage.
I lead a numbingly fast-paced life. Though I strive to bring more attention to what I’m doing, I still find myself eating breakfast while driving to work (and thinking about my schedule), scrolling through Facebook during bathroom breaks, and hurrying from one appointment to the next.
I often approach my reading the same way: skimming the headlines. The Sun, however, slows me down. I savor every word. I don’t multitask when I read it. The writing, photos, and layout — and the lack of distracting advertisements — encourage stillness, attentiveness, and respect. Thank you for being different.
When my husband and I split up in 2001, all he took were his clothes, his bikes, and my subscription to The Sun. We have since straightened this out: we each have our own subscription.
I am delighted to hear that the magazine’s entire history is now available to read online. I no longer have to sort through my archive of hundreds of back issues to find an article I read years ago.
I appreciate that The Sun offers a space for people to describe their sorrows, hopes, and experiences. But after seven years of subscribing, I’m worried the magazine is narrowing its viewpoints, marking its boundaries, and placing itself behind barricades.
A lot of this, it seems, has to do with Donald Trump and the energies he’s tapped into. I didn’t vote for Trump, but I’m a native of East Tennessee, and I love my home state more than anywhere else. Many people from here voted for him. I don’t always understand my neighbors’ choices, though I strive to. I thought The Sun would be a place where that type of deeper understanding could be reached. It would be a tragedy if this magazine became just a more literary version of The Nation or The New Republic, with partisan labels clearly displayed so that only the “right” people read it.
I’m not saying you can appeal to everybody. It’s doubtful that readers from the alt-Right, for example, will flock to you. But after thirty-one years in a deeply conservative corner of the country, I’ve hardly met anyone like that. Instead I’ve met confused, complex people with stories to tell. Sun readers would benefit from hearing those stories. I challenge you to open your heart to all of America, even those whose viewpoints may be radically different from yours.
I first picked up your magazine in a coffee shop on a January morning in 2015. The issue was several months old, with wrinkled pages as evidence of many readers before me. The contents fostered my passion for writing.
The Sun combines the gritty details often left out of other magazines with relatable stories and humor. It inspires me, makes me laugh, and most important challenges me to think. That’s a good skill for a teenager to have.
When I saw a stack of Sun magazines for sale on Craigslist, I e-mailed the seller only to learn the issues were already gone: donated to a library downtown. I headed there post-haste and found them free for the taking. In an act devoid of charity, I scooped them into my arms, leaving not one for anyone else. There were eighty-four copies.
It wasn’t until I got home that I smelled the cigarette-smoke residue, which made my nose and throat burn. I shoved the magazines in a plastic bag and asked my son to carry them to my garage.
Disappointed, I considered keeping them under clear plastic and reaching in with gloved hands to turn the pages, like the parent of a premature baby in intensive care. Then, while I was in the bathtub, it hit me: Why couldn’t I simply wash the issues?
And that’s what I do. I put each magazine in the sink with a little shampoo, saturate the pages, and fold it up in a towel. In the summer I dry them on my deck. In autumn and winter I put them on my heating vent or in front of the fire. In a pinch I’ll use the hair dryer. Sometimes I read them while they’re still damp; the words are just as powerful.
In our January 2018 “One Nation, Indivisible” section, we neglected to include the photographer’s name, Anna Blackshaw, alongside her photo of Tom Hayden. The Sun regrets the error.