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Between Genius and Madness

Logos guides me through Ego-Death, Zen, Hell

This was only my second time tripping on shrooms. I had shrooms once before several months ago and ate about an eighth. The trip was light and somewhat visually stimulating but I wasn’t particularly impressed.

The experience that follows was brought on by ingesting just one fresh specimen of P.Cubensis, straight out of a fresh batch, drinking a beer or two, and smoking two bowls a couple of hours into the trip. I have ingested substantial doses since then but have never even approached a trip of this depth again.

It begins badly. It begins with no preparation, no foresight, and only a tentative idea of what to expect. These are our shrooms, our children, the fruits of our labor. They are the survivors of contamination, our first and (mostly) failed attempt at cultivation.  The decision to trip is sporadic and spontaneous. It doesn’t feel right, somehow; it feels like I’m about to get into more than I bargained for. I dismiss this as paranoia. We decide to start small. Shit, man, it’s just one shroom. What’s the worst that could happen? We pick out the biggest specimens and ingest one each. There are two of us tripping, and we recruit a third to monitor.

It is about 9:30pm, and this monitor (call him P) informs us that he has to leave around midnight. This seems reasonable, considering the dosage. Besides, we are not going anywhere.  We settle down in the basement of this other dude who’s tripping with me (call him L) and put on The Transporter 2.

About 20 minutes in, I am beginning to feel an effect. I experience a growing sensitivity in mood. Things seem to affect me with more personal depth. The basement is dim and chilly and this is starting to bother me. I grow increasingly restless and anxious. I feel cold and slightly feverish. My hands are wet and clammy.

I try to focus on patterns and objects in the basement to see if I get any visuals, but nothing is happening. I say to hell with it and try to focus on the movie instead. The movie seems polarized into scenes that are extremely “trippy” – the action scenes – and scenes that are extremely boring. Every time the trippy fight scenes come on, I feel a growing sense of delight and entertainment. I start grinning stupidly and want to laugh. When the action ends, I feel distressed and annoyed and want to leave the room. Eventually I get used to this state. I begin to anticipate and control my mood transitions, and I feel like I can chill there and watch the rest of the movie in peace. This state of heightened sensitivity encompasses the extent of my trip for maybe the next couple of hours. At this point, I’m not sure I get what the fuss is all about, and I begin to feel annoyed that we didn’t take a stronger dose.

L, meanwhile, is paying the price for his lack of preparation. The set grows increasingly negative as unexpected bullshit keeps raining down on our heads. First, L’s parents return from work at around 10:00. They call him from the basement and argue about something trivial for several minutes. When we resume the movie, he is visibly irate and seemingly tripping harder than me. I do not envy him.

We watch the movie for maybe another half an hour and suddenly, completely unexpectedly, people start piling into the basement. It turns out L had invited some friends over to chill and drink with and he had completely forgotten about it when we decided to try the shrooms. Neither of us particularly feels like being around a lot of people right now, but whatever.

At this point, no one except P knows that we’re shrooming. We all go upstairs and chill on the deck, drinking and talking. I have a few beers, go through maybe 6 cigarettes, and this seems to mellow me out. I lean back and zone out to the night sky, a sudden spring of inner dialogue, and the buzz of conversation around me.

Around midnight, shit goes sour. L has disappeared off the deck and gone back down to the basement without a word. Meanwhile P decides he has to leave. He borrows a bowl from one of the people hanging around on the deck (call him R) and motions for me to follow him. We walk out to the driveway and get in P’s car to smoke. P tells me that L is acting weird and having a bad trip. Meanwhile, P’s got to bounce, but he’s told R that L and I are tripping, so he’ll keep an eye on us.

Now I don’t really feel much like I’m tripping anymore, but I take a few good hits from the bowl and start to feel really weird. I look at the digital display on P’s center console and all the numbers seem to bend and melt into each other. I feel anxious and feverish again. I look at P and tell him that I think I’m starting to trip balls. P doesn’t seem to believe me. He tells me he has to go, hands me the bowl and tells me to go return it to R. P is a really bad monitor.

As P drives away and I walk back towards the deck, the feeling of anxiety begins to rise rapidly. I think about drinking a beer and grab one but can’t seem to figure out how to open it. I start panicking and feeling like I’m losing my mind. I walk over to R and hand him his bowl and tell him I’m going downstairs. R starts arguing with me and telling me that L is down there having a bad trip and I shouldn’t be disturbing him, which doesn’t really make any sense to me.

Meanwhile my anxious feeling is starting to crescendo into a full blown panic attack, and I am dying to just get the hell out of there and go back downstairs. R tells me since I’m going down there, I should make sure L isn’t dying or choking on his own vomit or something. L’s only had one shroom, so I have no idea what the fuck he is talking about. All I know is I’m getting more and more freaked out. Finally, I just say the hell with it and rush down to the basement.

Coming down into the basement creates a massive and instantaneous mood shift. The dim illumination and chilly temperature that bothered me earlier is now an absolutely euphoric change from the humid weather and frantic conversation upstairs. My panic subsides, though I am still fully aware that smoking that bowl with P has really sent me over the edge.

L is lying down on the couch. He hears me coming downstairs, looks up and says, “oh it’s you” with palpable relief in his voice. He sounds like he’s going through some kind of mindfuck and I’m beginning to realize, for the first time, that this mindfuck is now upon me. We exchange a few sentences but it quickly becomes obvious that neither of us is functional for conversation.

I stumble to an adjacent guest room and shut the door. I have heard of people having really terrible trips, and I have a distinct paranoia that I’m about to have one just like that. For a good 10 minutes I can’t bring myself to turn out the lights. Instead, I whip out my cell phone and start playing around with the menu. It’s making no sense to me and I have no idea what I’m doing. The colors, letters, and numbers on the digital display are morphing into some kind of fluid multicolored background. Looking at my phone and thinking about what I’m looking at makes me feel like I’m about to sail over the edge of my own mind.

Slowly but surely I begin to develop a profound sense of derealization. As moments crawl past with infinitesimal slowness, the feeling of time’s passing fades away. I stare at the walls, the ceiling, the bed that I’m sitting on and suddenly everything feels fake, one-dimensional. An aura of artificiality pervades every object that I turn my focus on. It feels as though all the world is about to unravel around me as a figment of my imagination.

It takes an enormous amount of willpower to stand up from the bed and wander aimlessly to the light switch, feeling my feet sink into the floor with every step. Finally, I shut off the light and collapse into the darkness.

Almost immediately, my consciousness is flooded with a panorama of bizarre objects. There are spinning, luminescent trails phasing in and out of focus. I notice that by directing my attention to them I can manipulate them into more complex and interesting forms, but with this realization comes the dim awareness that to concentrate on them and to play their game is to part with the last vestiges of reality still busying my mind. I try, in vain, not to lose myself in this playground that my imagination has opened for me. But the struggle is uncomfortable and the images are inviting. Eventually I say fuck it and let go.

The descent begins. There is a pulling from underneath, or a sinking into quicksand. But it is the mind that is sinking, not the body. My consciousness seems to fold into itself, as it glides down gently and gradually into a bottomless abyss, while all semblance of reality slowly but surely disconnects from my attention. This descent is not like the descent into sleep, or into unconsciousness. On the contrary, my awareness is sharp, my attention is roused and demands new focus. Thoughts begin to race through my mind, but they no longer seem jumbled and incoherent, as they did in the earlier stages of the trip. They ring with clarity. There is an exhilarating sensation of acceleration, as though my cognition and imagination have suddenly been overclocked.

I find memories, situations past, present, and future, surfacing and presenting themselves to the mind for analysis. It comes with incomprehensible ease. I turn my focus from one problem to the next, and they seem to dissolve in a flash. Answers are immediate and intuitive, and they are accompanied by that sort of deductive certainty that one feels after solving a mathematical problem. I imagine the people in my life, my family, the people upstairs, the dude tripping in the next room. Their personalities become transparent to me – I feel as though I can read their minds.

This scares me. Somehow I feel as though I’m cheating, accessing knowledge that I shouldn’t, too soon and too easily. I decide to turn the focus of this mounting cognizance inward, to see what it can tell me about myself. And here things get weirder.

All at once I realize that I’ve abstracted myself from the present experience, and suddenly I am observing myself tripping, observing myself observing myself and drawing inferences about myself and my personality. There is a dizzying mental vertigo, an abrupt brain zap and a wave of euphoria washes over my body. There are two parallel streams of consciousness running here, in the nervous system of this human animal, having experiences that are at once incommensurable and synchronized. Then there are three. Then there are more. The illusion of a central, unified Self is washed away.

Still, I continue to think, I continue to feel. But the referent of “I” here is no longer a metaphysically discrete subject, but simply the narrative voice of the story that the brain tells itself about itself. My consciousness continues to fragment and splinter, and realizations of momentous gravity wash over me in waves, each accompanied by that distinct sense of algorithmic validity. There is the sensation of holding my own ego as a puzzle box in my hands, and working it rapidly, and as if possessed by some superhuman intellect, into a desired configuration.

Eventually the fragments of consciousness begin to reintegrate into a coherent whole again, and as the visual carnival fades away, a scene presents itself to the mind’s eye.

I am gliding across the motionless surface of an endless black ocean. The water is clean but all I see beneath is pitch black. I am apprehensive of the void below; something horrible seems to lurk there and I am not ready for it. I turn my attention upward and see a glimmering night sky. As I rest my focus on the faint luminescence above, it seems to resolve itself into a shifting fractal pattern of incomprehensible complexity. There is another zap, and another wave of euphoria. I drift, surrounded by layers of breathing, oscillating dynamic structure. It floods my senses in a wave of synesthetic ecstasy. I see it and I hear it; it sings to me and occupies my entire visual field with its noise. I start laughing out loud. I think I repeat “this is so fucking cool” several times.

I feel omniscient. I feel like I might be a god. Visions of great scientists and eccentric geniuses race through my mind. I feel as though I am in on a great secret with them, and they are now my company.

Simultaneously comes a feeling of being watched. I am something’s focus. Its attention has turned to me. I feel it called across an unfathomable distance, and in an instant it is there with me. The Voice (I imagine it to be McKenna’s Logos) has no visual representation in this mindspace; I simply feel its presence. I am aware of a question, or a dare, that seems to originate somewhere beyond myself. It is asking, something with the form of “now that you are here, what will you do? What will you do with this knowledge?” It is daring me to be, to change, to wake up tomorrow and live a new life.

Immediately the answer comes to me. I feel a maddening curiosity, a hunger, a desire to live every experience, to learn every fact, and to better myself as much as possible in the process. I project this hunger as my answer. This answer seems right somehow; it comes with that feeling of certainty. And the Voice seems pleased, maybe surprised. Perhaps the answer is selfish, and I do not feel any particular altruism at the moment, but it seems as though it is the answer it wanted to hear.

The Voice seems to communicate through a kind of “event language”. If it wants me to feel something, to be in a certain cognitive state, it puts me in that state and I am in it. It projects its thoughts into my own mind. But it is not authoritative. If am meant to learn something, or to figure something out, it guides my attention and constructs my environment, then waits for me to draw the appropriate inferences. This method of communication does not flow both ways. I do not feel any access to the thing’s mind; rather it seems to be intruding into mine. It is firmly in control of the encounter.

Of course, the obvious question occurs to me. I have never been any sort of spiritual person and I have never taken religion (particularly Western monotheism) very seriously. But obviously at some point in the developing exchange I ask the Voice if it is God. I am immediately struck with a feeling of profound irony. The Voice seems to laugh mirthlessly, perhaps to scold me. It does not answer my question one way or another.

Still I persist in asking the wrong things. I hypothesize that there are many others like it, or perhaps not like it. But certainly throughout the experience there is an overwhelming impression that there are things out there much smarter than people, and that here I am faced with one of them. It dismisses the question, as though to say “that does not matter. I am here now and I have your attention.” This line of inquiry is irrelevant.

I feel now as though the exchange is not going terribly well. I am no longer being shown any fundamental truths about the nature of the universe. The Voice seems content to merely to display itself and its method of communication. There is a vague apprehension that the Voice is mocking me, that it is fucking with my mind for its own amusement. It seems benevolent, and even though it is clearly the voice of a massive superintelligence that has my sanity in its grasp, I feel no fear. Still, its motives are inscrutable.

At this point the Voice disconnects. I do not feel the distance that I did upon its arrival, but I no longer feel its presence. The shimmering fractal pattern is again lost somewhere above me in the night sky, and I am back at the surface of the ocean. I begin to sink into the alarming blackness beneath.

There is a mounting panic as I feel something nasty tugging at the periphery of my consciousness. Hideous and terrifying images begin to seep into my mind. I feel a second and distinct presence, and instantly I am aware that it poses a physical threat. Suddenly I am again aware of the physical sensation of my body and it feels extremely uncomfortable. My blood pressure and body temperature begin to rise. I break into a sweat. My breathing becomes erratic. Meanwhile my mind conjures surrealistic images of hell that seem to remind me of something I once saw in an art history class. I remember horror movies that scared me as a kid, nightmares that I had years ago, and all kinds of twisted, horrible shit. I begin to understand what a bad trip is, and I realize that I’m having the mother of them.

Perhaps more unnervingly than any of that, I begin to lose control of my cognition. My thoughts seem to be racing in a loop. Random words, phrases, and fragments of half-conceived thoughts get stuck in my neurocognitive machinery and run circles around themselves.

As I try frantically to break out of the loop, calm down and stabilize my body, the thought occurs to me that this is how people with catatonic schizophrenia must feel. Somehow this thought acts as a key, or catalyst. I launch into another fugue of parallel consciousness, and suddenly I am watching myself, completely detached from the chaos that was flooding my mind just moments ago. I feel a strange and unexpected sensation that occurs alongside the terror and confusion. I feel profound boredom.

I realize that something is fucking with me on a completely primal and emotional level. My intellect is not engaged in the least, and yet the shrooms have kicked it into overdrive and it is starving for information. It is bored with this primitive cacophony of horrors. The thing, the presence beneath the surface suddenly seems terribly dumb. I mock its stupidity, I pin clown hats and drop anvils from the sky on the nameless monsters summoned by my imagination. The thing releases its clutches and retreats, and I burst out laughing.

Immediately I am aware that the Voice from before is laughing with me. It is laughing with approval and it is saying “good job, that’s how you do it. Look how stupid it is!” I wonder if it is testing me, but do not pose this as a question. It seems somehow inappropriate, and anyway the Thing that was trying to pollute my mind seemed like an altogether distinct entity.

I emerge from the ocean with the clear knowledge that I can go back down there and explore its depths and its depravity at no personal peril. Finally, I feel like I am ready to ask the Voice the question that it wants to hear. I ask the Voice if it is mine.

The feeling of forming this thought is successful, somehow, but it lacks the sense of deductive certainty that accompanied some of my prior conclusions. The Voice receives the question encouragingly but gives no clear answer. I am left with the feeling that I am not wrong, and yet I have less than a fraction of the puzzle. For the first and last time in this experience, a visual representation of my interlocutor appears to me. It is, without a doubt, an image of myself. And yet the expression on its face is decidedly not one that I have ever worn. It bears an animalistic, lupine, predatory aspect. Its eyes sparkle with a diabolical intellect far beyond any I could ever claim to posses. The figure is intimidating, maybe even frightful, but not malevolent.

I become aware at once that I am being shown some metaphor of monumental significance. I realize immediately that to grasp its significance is to be enlightened. But I can’t. I am hurled against the wall of my own limitation and the answer eludes me. The Voice scoffs and mocks my pretensions. It tells me that I am not ready. The image dissolves and the presence vanishes.

I am alone again in the room, and I can feel myself starting to come down. The last thing that I remember is a mental toy, a weird and impossibly complex machine bouncing and oscillating in front of me, reminiscent in some way of the fractal structure I saw when I was peaking. The geometry of this thing is completely out of wack and it seems totally out of this world, and yet I am able to manipulate it and its bizarre assortment of parts by focusing my attention. I cannot figure out what the machine does, or even if it does anything, but I play around with it until my mind slowly returns to its normal velocity. The impossible machine fades out of my consciousness and I realize that I’m back.

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