Do you believe that it is possible to compress 20 years of therapy into 6 hours?
If you've read my recent post on the primacy I place on skepticism over faith, you would know that I would certainly not give credence to such a fanciful statement.
What if several dozen studies by reputable institutions like John’s Hopkins, N.Y.U. and Harvard, as well as persuasive arguments and first-hand accounts from prominent neuroscientists and respected journalists showed that a psychedelic drug can be of significant value for people struggling with depression, end-of-life anxiety, and addictions like alcohol or tobacco use disorder?  Would you be willing to take a closer look?
And if you personally do not suffer from any form of neuroses or mental disorder and I told you that when healthy people ingest this substance, they often describe the ensuing experience as among the “most meaningful of their lives”.  Would you consider taking it yourself?
This promising wonder drug is called Psilocybin. If this word doesn’t sound or look familiar, maybe magic mushrooms do? It is a naturally occurring psychedelic, found in more than 200 mushroom species that when ingested produce visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception and a distorted sense of time. The result of these mind altering experiences show significant promise to precipitate meaningful changes in the lives of sentient beings.
Ten years ago I would never give daylight to the quixotic claims proffered by any substance that I need to ingest. These substances were all implicated in mental disorders, substance abuse disorder and suicides, were they not?
But over this past decade I have extricated myself from faith-based thinking that builds a Trumpian wall around the narratives in your mind that define your identity and your way of thinking about the world. Anything outside of these narratives is rejected outright and any evidence to validate the value of alternative arguments are considered mere tools of deception.
Today I withhold faith until persuasive evidence or persuasive arguments present itself. I believe this is a more humble stance to take as you are always open to expanding your perspective, however precious your beliefs may be.
This way of thinking will most likely lead you to a point where you recognize that your mind is the theater of your experience as a sentient being. Light, sound, and various sensations enter the theater of your mind and your interpretation of the stimuli determines your quality of life. If you follow this rabbit hole deep enough, it will inevitably lead you to a point, where you will ask, but what if I could change the theater of my experience? What if I could change the contents of conscious to improve my quality of life? We do this when we travel, when we watch a movie, when we spend time with friends or when we go on a retreat. When our challenges become more acute, we seek out a therapist, visit a minister or spiritual teacher, but with all these methods, nothing is guaranteed to happen. Change may take years or decades to take effect.
But what if you were offered a short-cut? The experience is not guaranteed to be positive, but an altered state of consciousness is guaranteed. And its effect is guaranteed for weeks and with a healthy daily practice, may be maintained for years.
Neuroscientist Sam Harris, who is known for his evidence sanity, recently said, and not without warning,
"I have two daughters... if they don't try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in their adult lives, I will wonder whether they had missed one of the most important rights of passage a human being can experience."
Statements like these, the proliferation of scientific research, the fact that there is no evidence that the substance is neurotoxic, nor that repeated use can lead to addiction, necessitated that I humble myself, change my point of view, and take the next step to better understand the nature of consciousness.
And so, one month ago, an opportunity presented itself, and I knew the time was right.
In a controlled and “guided” environment where a group of experienced volunteers watched over us, I ingested 5 dried grams of magic mushrooms.
Within 10 minutes my mind was flooded with a torrent of colorful, geometric shapes, more elaborate and resplendent than anything I have ever seen before. Time dissolved and I could no longer comprehend the passage of time, except when the choice of background music represented songs with beginnings and endings.
As I came out of the period of hallucination, I felt as if I stepped into the belly of the universe. Physical boundaries dissolved and my sense of touch, sound and vision seemed to blend into one another. The waves of music melded with the heaviness of sleep in my head. I could observe the sensations in my body as it fell asleep. At first I did not understand these sensations, but with time I was able to make associations between the heat you experience at the location where the flow of blood is blocked, like an arm that “fell asleep” or when you sat for too long on your bum in a particular way.
Though I remained conscious throughout the journey, my sense of self was quieted. It was a more objective awareness. I was not aware of a subject at the center, experiencing reality, but merely an awareness of actions and thought processes.
All my senses were amplified a dozen times. At midnight the Watchers prepared a soup in the kitchen. At that time I sat two rooms away from the kitchen, but it felt as if I had my nose inside the simmering pot on the stove. Outside, the crackling of the fire struck like gunshots and I thought, what would it be like to experience a fire with this heightened perception? I attempted to get up and found that I can still walk. I became aware of how my mind processed the decision to raise my body, to lift my leg and place my foot on the ground in front of me. My visual field was analogous to that of a 3-dimensional movie. I stepped outside and noticed two figures sitting by the fire. The one was the host. I heard her whisper my name, some 20 meters away from me, but it was as audible as normal talk.
I sat down next to the fire and gazed into the creation of the universe. Sound was so acute, whenever I had to tear off a piece of toilet paper to wipe my nose, I would take the utmost care to find the perforation in the paper to carefully and quietly tear it one-cell-at-a-time.
The most meaningful part of the experience, was an awareness of a profound sense of empathy that suffused my being and colored every engagement with those around me. Whenever a ‘Watcher’ asked me a question, I observed how my mind presented me with a cascade of possible answers. When I finally managed to verbalize a response I would carefully weigh every syllable to ensure it is offered with the utmost respect for this fellow sentient being.
Equal to this sincere sense of empathy, was my ability to experience the present moment completely naked, unencumbered by regrets of the past and concerns about the future. This perspective was further amplified by the distortion of time in which one is able to “comprehend” the sweep of time…. and the 13.7 billion years that the universe took to create this present moment. From this point of view, all triviality dissolves. As I sat by the fire with my organic 3D glasses, tears of wonder lined my cheeks and nasal mucus of a profound sense of love for my family and friends dangled below my nose, but I sat motionless and undeterred, being completely enamored by the beauty of the shadow of my fingers cast by the fire on the back of the sheet of toilet paper that I was about to tear off.
There is so much more that I wish to share, but the ineffability of the experience makes it extremely hard to do the experience justice with words. I do believe that I am lucky that my first experience was profoundly positive. Not everyone is equally lucky. But for now, I can honestly say that it was indeed among the most meaningful experiences I have ever had and most definitely the most meaningful in recent memory.
I wish to extend my gratitude to my two dear friends who helped to make this experience possible, and I would like to pay it forward by sharing my experience and insights into consciousness to help assuage those who feel drawn to the experience, but are fearful of what they may encounter in the dark recesses of their mind.
In the weeks to come I wish to address these fears, or possible concerns about safety or toxicity and then, more importantly, present you with a framing heuristic that is grounded in reality that I believe can be of practical value to you, not only during your psilocybin journey, but also in every day life as you are confronted with the contents of consciousness — that is to say, confronted with reality and how “you” respond to it.