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Attacked by a Nihilist
Being part of the psychedelic community for some time now, I have noticed that people hold some misled assumptions and goals when they speak about the proper way in which to use psychedelics. One of which, is the notion that consumers of psychedelics should take pains to avoid having a bad trip at all costs. This viewpoint states that one should only take psychedelics when one is in both a healthy and happy state of mind and an environment that will give rise to “good vibes”, and one should hold optimistic expectations as one enters the psychedelic state. Since a bad trip, defined as one that consists of intense feelings of fear, depression, impending doom, and/or death anxiety, is portrayed as an experience that should be avoided, it is implied that a bad psychedelic trip does not convey any sort of lasting psychological benefit to the user. Instead, the bad trip is implied to be nothing but a painful experience. However, I argue that this is not necessarily the case; in some situations, a bad trip can engender a host of psychological changes and introspective realizations that benefit the user. In some cases, I would argue that a bad trip is a necessary condition for such outcomes.
In pushing this argument, I must admit that the validity of my argument depends on the aims of the psychedelic user; for some individuals, like me, psychedelics are used only for personal development, while others rather use psychedelics strictly for recreational use. I concede that those of the latter group should adhere to the notion that a bad trip should be avoided at all costs. This is because those of the latter group experience benefits from psychedelics only while under the influence of them, and so if a trip turns out to be nothing but a recurring mind loop of fear and agony, then this is surely an experience that does not convey any sort of benefit to this sub-population. But, for those who seek to use psychedelics, at least in part, as a catalyst for personal development, then bad trips should be invited just as much as good trips. As a reader of Carl Jung, I am apt to believe that bad trips, which essentially are trips that thrust the individual into the realm of the shadow, are precisely the trips that one should attempt to experience if one seeks to development themselves. For those unaware, the shadow is an abstract concept that Jung uses to represents the part of the unconscious mind that holds all psychological entities that we deem as bad or undesired, such as taboo desires, painful past experiences, negative personal traits, and many more. Jung believed that the best way to achieve individuation (simply put, a state of psychic wholeness) is to integrate the shadow into one’s conscious life via understanding the goals and thoughts of the shadow and allowing the shadow to find it’s expression in one’s conscious life. Through this process, one can gain wisdom and knowledge of one’s own psyche, and thus such an experience should be desired by those wishing to use psychedelics for personal development.
To support this claim, I am going to report a recent mescaline trip that is the epitome of a bad trip. This was by far the worst trip I ever had. I have never experienced a more intense sensation of fear before, and this fear lasted for more than five hours. But, in support of my above thoughts, this was one of the more influential and insightful trips I have experienced.
-In my apartment, I consumed the mescaline tea (30 grams of dried san pedro) over an hour, taking pains to avoid drinking too fast in interest of avoiding nausea.
-A wave of drowsiness was the first subjective effect that ensued. Following that, apprehension. In order to deal with the apprehension I administered a technique I learned from Alan Watts; I adopted a submissive attitude towards the apprehension, in interest of allowing the apprehension to find it’s expression. As I mitigated the attribution of negative perceptions to the apprehension, the apprehension subsequently dissipated, allowing me to relax into my dreamy state of mind and think.
-I remarked on how easy the fear was disposed of, and with hubris, I questioned whether fear means anything anymore; if I can simply will my fear away, do I really experience fear? Fear is meant to be irrational and uncontrollable, you shouldn't be able to simply will it away. Fear is an archaic instinct that conveys an important adaptive function, will does not and should not have power over it. But, it seemed as though my will did have dominion over fear.
-I started to feel guilt over the seeming control I had over my fear response; I felt like an egoistic control freak. But after analyzing this negative feeling I had towards the amount of control I perceived to have over my psyche, the Nietzsche in me came out and labeled these negative feelings as an infectious product of the implicit small-people ideals I picked up from social conditioning; specifically, the ideal that suggests that those who are easy going and go with the flow are admirable, and those that neurotically attempt to control the structure of reality do so in vain, and are deplorable for attempting to do so. I concluded that this ideal is merely an ideal that the weak hold in order to boost their low self esteem and justify the little power they have over the world around them. And so, following from this realization, I dismissed the guilt I previously had, and pridefully basked in the amount of control I thought I had over my mind. Surely, exerting power over reality is the highest ideal to hold, and so I viewed the amount of control I seemingly had as something that should be celebrated.
-As the drowsiness faded away, I felt the need to go out for a walk, and so I did. At this point in the trip I was experiencing increased visual acuity, and my senses were heightened. The sound of somebody coughing meters away caused me to flinch, for it sounded as if they were coughing right behind my shoulder. I appreciate the beauty outside for the next 45 minutes until I got too cold, causing me to walk back to my apartment. Thank God I did go back to my apartment.
-As I entered the apartment, I noticed that my mind was very foggy, making it difficult to think clearly. Unbeknownst to me, the trip was just starting to peak at this moment. I thought that the peak was the apprehension I initially experienced, and that the trip was not going to get that much more intense. I was very wrong. As I was getting some snacks and setting up an area to relax in, a question started to form in my head. Given the mental fog, it was difficult to articulate that question, but nevertheless my mind fixated on this oncoming question. I reached for my pen and notebook and concentrated very hard, reaching into my mind to pull this question out. I slowly wrote the question in the notebook: What do you fear? As I finished writing this question down, I slowly turned my gaze towards the door of my apartment. As I did this, I experienced incredibly intense tracer effects, creating a sort of blurred image of my apartment. As my visual field blurred, I saw (with my mind’s eye) something akin to a portal open up, and as I gazed through it, I vicariously experienced every one of my greatest fears simultaneously, of which included going mad (or living with some sort of debilitating mental disorder), having my family disapprove of me, death of me or my loved ones, being alone, and squandering my potential to do good. I’m not sure how exactly I perceived to experience each of these experiences in a matter of seconds, but I did. After mere seconds, a sharp wave of fear shot through my body. Subjective feelings are difficult to linguistically portray, the best I can do is say that this was the worst fear I had ever experienced. My body quivered uncontrollably, and I wanted to scream. Without hesitation, I dimmed the lighting in the room and laid down, hoping that I could dispose of this fear via the method I previously used. I laid down and attempted to refrain myself from attaching negative appraisal to my fear. I yielded, and attempted to let the fear find its expression. But this did nothing. Instead, the fear only magnified, resulting in the manifestation of frightening hallucinations. As I laid on my back gazing at the ceiling, I saw dark humanoid shadows circling me in my periphery. On my ceiling, I watched as a bundle of dark matter started to form. As the bundle developed detail, it started to look like a conglomerate of black spider-like organisms. The bundle of spider-like organisms then started to slowly fall from the ceiling, landing on my chest. This was far too much for me, and so I got up and turned every damn light in my apartment on. For the next hour I would alternate between pacing in circles and crouching in a hunched position on the floor, constantly trying to escape the fearful and terrifying thoughts and feelings that clouded my mind.
-As I was experiencing terrifying and fearful thought/behavioural loops, a figure approached me in my mind’s eye. It was a dark figure that instilled great fear and insecurity in me. It started to critique me and my values, destroying everything that it touched. In hindsight, I interpret this “being” as the nihilistic side of my psyche; the nihilistic component of my shadow. This figure would sort through my thoughts, tossing aside all that he touched while simultaneously labeling the thought as worthless, meaningless, and hopelessly doomed. I watched in horror, as he tore down the foundation which I stood on. Everything that I worked for, everything I cherished, everything that I assigned value to was labeled as nothing more than dirt, and was, before my eyes, reduced to such. Eventually, he attempted to dispose of the collection of thoughts and arguments that I use to label the career I am working towards (clinical psychology) as meaningful and worthwhile. But, out of fear of watching the goal that has recently been the focus of my life deteriorate, I held on tight to this collection of thoughts and arguments, denying the satiation of the dark figure’s thirst for destruction. Nevertheless, he kept on battering me with destructive attempts, but I would not give way.
-As this internal struggle was occurring, dark shadows would rapidly move past my peripheries, causing me to flinch. It was as if predatory birds were swooping over my head, casting a shadow over my head as they passed over me.
-The irony of my original thoughts now struck me. How absurd it seemed that, just a couple of hours ago, I claimed to be above fear. How absurd were my original qualms about my inability to feel fear. But, this was truly humbling. I am not above any of my instincts. These psychological structures are the strongest force of the psyche, and I am inferior to them.
-In interest of escaping the fear and internal struggle, I took a bath. However, it did nothing. This dark figure would continue to ram my mind with suffering, stopping at nothing until he destroyed what he wished to destroy. Finally, I gave up fighting this dark figure. I let go of the arguments and thoughts that attribute meaning to my career choice, and said “Enough! Destroy what you want. Tell me what I should do with my life instead of this!” After I sad this, silence followed. I patiently waited for a response, but did not receive one. The dark figure stood there quietly, only giving me a blank stare. After a couple seconds of silence, a smile formed on my face. I started to laugh uncontrollably at the dark figure. How childish and immature this figure now seemed, destroying everything it touches for no particular reason; destroying for the sake of mere destruction. How pathetic it seemed that one would fixate on destroying for the sake of destroying, not able to even suggest any other sort of constructive purpose to one’s existence. How childish too, the dark figure seemed to me like a school yard bully, kicking over the sand castles built by others for the mere purpose of watching the sand castle crumble. What a dull existence. The insecurity in the dark figure was readily apparent now, and out of frustration, he battered my mind with more intense attacks of suffering and fear. But this did little, for now I knew that this nihilistic figure was nothing more than a mere part of my psyche that destroys for the sake of destroying. When he is in control, there is no point in struggling against the meaninglessness and hopelessness he throws at me, for these feelings are not representative of my reality. Rather, they are mere perceptions, impermanent by design. I believe that the suffering that is brought about by such nihilistic thoughts originates from the fear that there is something else that one should be doing. Since we label what we are doing as meaningless, we think that meaning ought to be found somewhere else. As a result, the individual is lead to suffering via the fear of missing out on the opportunity of experiencing meaning, the regret associated with coming to terms with the amount of time spent living the meaningless experience one is currently in, and the hopelessness that elicits doubts as to whether it is actually feasible to find meaning elsewhere. But, if one realizes (which I, at this moment, had) that these nihilistic feelings are mere perceptions, brought about by the the expropriation (of which is impermanent) of the psyche by a small inferior section of the psyche (or, for the reductionists, brought about by a certain chemical composition of the brain’s tissue), then the suffering brought about by nihilism is severed at its trunk. Nihilism is merely an impermanent mind state that shall pass with time, and which has no bearing on the actual nature of my reality. And so, I taunted the dark figure, saying “Keep on destroying, weak one. Your end is nigh, your rule is about to end.” With anger, the dark figure attempted to destroy my mind with one final blow. He jumped up to the sky, and soared upwards. I watched as he flew past the stars, and kept on flying up to the heavens. I watched as he soared in the sky, reaching the center of it all. At the center was something akin to my perception of God. He plucked this entity out of the heavens, the metaphysical entity that metaphorically is the origin and controller of all, and brought it down to me. He placed this entity in my hand, and with that the dark figure vanished from my mind. I looked at the palm of my hand, and saw a wooden statue of something akin to God. I looked up from my hand, and saw nothing. I looked around my environment, and saw nothing. The center to which I revolved around was now empty, and everything around me was filled with blackness. I stood amongst the darkness, looking over it, feeling a sort of divine solitude. In hindsight, this should have terrified me; I was in a chasm of complete blackness, in which nothing existed except the naked outline of my body. But it did not frighten me, I was not afraid of this place. Rather, I had an overwhelming feeling of power and contentment. This wooden statue in my hand, to me, represented my highest values, and it was in my hand because it was now in my control. I could alter it, I could make it into whatever I willed. I looked down on myself, a mere naked ape, alone in the darkness, but having in his control the values that guide his existence. A mere animal, who now had the opportunity to construct his highest values. I may not have control over my irrational emotions, like fear, but I do have control over the values that guide my actions. I slowly raised my hands up over my head, and basked in the feeling of control.
For the rest of the trip I just reflected as the subjective effects wore off. The trip took a LONG time to wind down. For those interested in trying mescaline, I would suggest taking it in the morning. I drank the tea at about 1 in the afternoon, and could not sleep until 4 in the morning due to the lasting stimulant effects.