Ever since I was in high school and learned of psychedelics – Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead, etc. — I was attracted to the idea of experimenting with altered and hopefully transcendent states of consciousness. That I was born into a religion, as practiced in the community I grew up in, devoid of mysticism, that I was born too late to be a hippie, and that I perhaps overly romanticized the Age of Aquarius and Woodstock Nation, does not, I feel, detract in any way from the fact that the intersection of music and psychedelia went very deep for me, and in lieu of any religious belief, this was my initial pathway to spirituality, i.e. love is all you need, amen!
Yet, while I dabbled over the years — at concerts, out in the woods, at home with close friends — despite those recreational adventures, when four grams of psilocybin mushrooms kicked in that morning with Sarah, the first thing revealed to me was the extent to which my ego was wrapped up in those stereotypical notions of psychedelic experience. To my great initial disappointment, I was not going to be one of those people who writhed in pure joy at the Acid Tests, I wouldn’t simply sit like Buddha in full lotus position under the bodhi, I wouldn’t swim around in swirls of color and light and fractals.
It’s often reported that psychedelics can enable ego death and a blissful union with the non-dual nature of reality. It’s certainly something I aspired to, something I intuitively felt was true and attainable, but this powerful forest medicine knew exactly what I needed to do, it knew that there were more serious, urgent matters to attend to, I had set the intention to face the fear of dying. This was not the time for some kind of hedonistic hippie daydream.
The fear came in waves. Each wave lasted, well, they seemed to last an eternity, but in fact I have no idea what their duration was, for I never once looked at a clock the entire day.
Despite the fact that I will keep various and deeply important details of the experience with me forever, an equal measure of detail, if not more, consists of a generalized sense that I was in some other dimension, as if a story about me was playing itself out…
He wanders aimlessly
Through a foggy, non-descript dimension
No observable boundaries
Occasionally things appear that he recognizes
Features of a specific setting that he enters
Or objects out of any kind of context.
He was under some kind of spell
Not exactly comatose, for that sounds peaceful
Rather, something of considerable intensity
Shivering, sweating profusely, weeping
A flow of tears
From an incessant drip
To gushing leak.
Eyes closed or open
Face buried in his hands or a cushion
In child’s pose or curled up in the fetal position…
The fear was always right there, inside me, and I felt powerless against it. I could not simply ask, beg, or demand that it leave, or I could try, as I did numerous times, mumbling, ‘Please stop. Please go away. I don’t want to be scared anymore!’, but it never happened upon my command.
Looking back, it was somewhat prescient that I had set the intention to face the fear of my all-too-near future, as opposed to running and hiding from it, because, as it happened, there really was nowhere to hide. Nor was there a fight to be had against this thing that I was calling fear.
What I would figure out later is that facing fear meant opening up and being totally vulnerable.