Psychedelic pioneer, consciousness researcher Ralph Metzner dies in Sonoma
For a while there, back in the day, he was at the center of the cyclone. The Sixties were just beginning when three professors published a book that set the tone if not the tempo for a revolution in consciousness, and perhaps society itself.
It was called “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.” Its authors were Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, colleagues at Harvard University who were researching LSD, psilocybin and other chemicals and their potential for therapeutic use. Leary took his enthusiasm for LSD to extremes few could follow, was sentenced to and escaped from federal prison; he died in 1996. Alpert changed his name to Baba Ram Dass, wrote the best-seller “Be Here Now” and, dropping the Baba, is still alive at 87.
Ralph Metzner died at his home in Sonoma, in bed with his wife, early in the morning of March 14, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was 82.
Unlike his co-authors, Metzner kept a relatively low profile throughout his life, focusing on a more practical approach to consciousness expansion, keeping busy in private practice as a psychotherapist, teaching at the California Institute of Integral Studies, traveling and writing.
“He loved to write, that was his favorite thing,” said Cathy Coleman, his wife of 33 years and mother of their daughter Sophia and step-son Elias. “When he got everything else situated – the bills paid, the books balanced, the repairs made – he would spend several hours writing into the evening.”
The range of his interests was lengthy, and broad. Psychedelics was an early one, though he moved into many others over the years: actualism, meditation, the goddess culture, ecology, even astrology. In fact Coleman and Metzner met at the California Institute of Integral studies, where among the seven classes she took from him, one was about astrology – a tradition she continues to practice professionally today.
When they became a couple they lived in Fairfax until 1990, when a confluence of coincidence brought them to Sonoma in August of that year. “We landed in a magical place with great neighbors,” she said. “And magic has been with us throughout our 29 years in Sonoma.”
Stephen and Brigitta Benko were among those neighbors, European immigrants like he was; and Jay and Becky Jasperse, whose children were the same age as their daughter Sophia. Another was educational administrator Adam Stein, who only gradually learned of what he called Metzner’s “powerful history.”
“He made me think of how I view the world and how I interact with others, and to appreciate what good fortune I have in this life,” said Stein.
Coleman told the Index-Tribune, “He was an unknown secret in Sonoma, though he didn’t intend for that to be so.”
She recounted that he quietly went about his work while walking dogs on the bike path in Sonoma, shopping at Sonoma Market, going to the Tuesday farmers market and having picnics, and going to movies at the Sebastiani Theatre.
“I didn’t get to spend as much time with him as I liked to,” said Roger Rhoten of the Sebastiani. He loved to come to the theater, he loved magic and good films with substance. He was always on the edge of mind exploration – I had some good philosophical talks with him.”