As I sat on the futon and cushions, with a small glass dish in my left hand containing four grams of dried psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, easily four times any amount I’d ever consumed in my younger and more adventurous years, soft, meditative music played, and Sarah, my shamanic guide — found via confidential inquiries of a friend of a friend of a friend — sat with me, her presence a soothing, peaceful, trust-engendering light.
I was a little nervous at the sheer number of stems and caps in my hands and the knowledge that the effects of the mushrooms would last approximately five hours.
Beside me, per Sarah’s suggestion, was a kind of shrine of my life: photos of me, my wife, our son, and some friends, some books that have meant a lot to me, the Grateful Dead Anthology songbook, and even my guitar, though I could no longer play it, because it both represented me and reminded me of something precious that ALS had stolen from me.
At Sarah’s side, some tools of her trade: an indigenous hand drum and shaker; a very large feather from some bird or another, its quill wrapped in neatly handstitched leather; candles and incense; a pile of books, from the look of them a mix of poetry and spiritual writings of one kind or another; and finally, an iPad, which she used to change the music selections from time to time.
Up against the wall behind her, curiously, was propped some kind of framed artwork, but with the back facing out, revealing only the brown paper backing and the wire used to hang it, and regardless of how curious I was, I didn’t ask about it.
Instead, I sat with that bowl of mushrooms in my hand, and upon Sarah’s instructions I recited quiet words of gratitude to the forest spirits, our relatives, thanking them for the gift of their medicine, and proceeded to eat, slowly chewing the earth-flavored fungi, while Sarah ate a much smaller portion, just one stem and one cap. We sat mostly in silence at first, small talk the very farthest thing from my mind. I felt a solemnity on the surface, and just underneath that was nervousness, as I anticipated the first signs of the medicine taking effect.
Before I even finished the four grams, I felt the first flush of psychedelia, a huge wave of sensation, yet I continued to eat, determined to keep my commitment to the journey, propelled by a deep desire to find the peace and strength to fight the ALS with everything I could muster, so that I could, as Thoreau suggested, suck out all the marrow of life for as long as possible, ideally long enough to be around if and when a cure was finally discovered.
With the final bites, I felt the first hints of fear, and though I didn’t realize it in the moment, I was about to engage in the first battle of the day, with…