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Fundamental Truths

This excursion was a bit less coherent than the previous one, at least on paper.



This excursion was a bit less coherent than the previous one, at least on paper. I am not, therefore, providing the text of what I wrote under the influence. Though it is based on those notes, this text was composed a couple of weeks after the experience.

SET: Supplicative. I feel I needed this kind of communion in preparation for the upcoming visit with my family. I am encouraged by my previous experience, but wanted to clarify certain issues.

SETTING: Saturday afternoon in my apartment.

DOSAGE: About 4 grams dried psilocybin mushrooms, a few hits of cannabis, orange juice.

The effects begin 25 minutes after ingesting the sacrament. I am seated, breathing regularly, listening. As usual, it starts subtly. I have clear thoughts, ideas which strike me as somehow 'successful', but this is not by itself ususual. It can happen whenever one is quiet, focused, attentive to one's inner dialogue. The first real sign that the journey has begun is the familiar sense of descending. It is like a mist is falling within my head, muting and distorting the distant input of the senses, yet amplifying the much closer stimulation rising from within the body. It is at this stage that one realizes what one has gotten into -- and that there is no turning back. This is a moment of pregnant potential, filled with hope, curiosity, and trepidation. And then gradually, wetly, the carnival heaves into view...

THE VISION

One of the virtues of the psilocybin experience which others have reported is its strong visionary quality. Strangely, this has not been the case with me; but then, my experience is somewhat limited. The few visual images I have had were indeed very distinct and unusual, though fleeting and solitary.

Only one clear visual impression remains from this journey. It resembles a harp, as Picasso might have painted it. It surely could not exist in this universe. Its body is dark, and it seems to stand on a beach on some alien world, against a pink and yellow sky. Instead of strings, the curved, vaguely triangular shape of the 'harp' is repeated within itself, creating a kind of fractal lattice which recedes into the outer corner. There is no movement, just this mute and inexplicable still life floating up from the depths of my unconscious.

This was the sole clear visual I can recall. However, the whole mushroom experience always has an element of being "shown" things -- but this showing is not a visual presentation of images so much as a visceral apprehension of fundamental truths. It is showing in the sense of "understanding", as opposed to seeing in the usual sense. I seems to be confronted with the essence of a particular metaphor or archetype. All that follows is "seen" in this way.

THE ABYSS

It is like a guided tour at the brink of the Abyss. The mushroom leads you to the cliff, and points, and commands you to look. To be sure, there is a guard-rail, and a concession stand, and the guide cracks jokes somewhat lamely. It can be banal, even silly, and the brochure guarantees that there is no danger of falling off the edge. But when you look into that darkness, see the stirring of great forms within it, hear the pounding and buzzing which echoes in its depths, you remember why you have come. You stand there, gazing over the edge of Life, gazing into that night, and something rises up before you. It breaks across the flimsy railing, and touches you right where you are Human. You see all life pouring past you over that trembling, aching lip, pouring back into the Mystery, receding into Truth, never slowing, constantly renewed. And you understand that someday you will stand at this precipice again. On that day, the concession stand will have been boarded up, the railing will be rusted to the ground, and the brochures will have long ago blown away. Then the only guide will be a familiar, quiet voice which beckons to you gently from the depths of the Mystery.

By far, mortality is the overwhelming theme of the mushroom trance. All else is commentary, metaphor, detail. Issues of life and death arise like idols before me, demanding sacrifice. It is a kind of reckoning. My mind is led directly to the instant of life's fleeting, without the crutches of distraction and numbness to which it is accustomed. There I am confronted with the things that make one take life very seriously, issues of conscience, sacrifice, and responsibility. I behold with a shudder that I am living on borrowed time, and that the things I love most in life are all busied in their own passing. We are living on borrowed time. This is a source of acute urgency. Time is a call to responsibility: to live, to love, lest it all end in tragedy.

The mushroom catalyzes the ability to look at life -- at my life. The ground of human experience is that it is filtered through the perspective of the individual Self. Though we change greatly throughout our days, there is a continuity in relation to which we apprehend all change. Even this continuity, this "I", is transitory. But as long as we live, this subjectivity is all we know and have, even as we strive to transcend it through art and action and love. When we forget this, when we forget that this life is uniquely our own, we lose sight of its value, we ignore its impermanence, and we become complacent, biding time until the reaper calls.

But understand also that we do not exist in isolation from the universe. That is an illusion, a trick of our sophisticated mind. Our life, our perspective, is unique. It is the mechanism of creativity. But we are all one substance, changeable. I look in the mirror and see the universe presenting itself in a particular way, as with all the things I see around me. Where is the distinction between my body and the world? Truly, the only distinction is in language. It seems to me that differences in shape and color and chemistry are superfluous creations of the linguistic mind. We are animate bits of a great cohesive Whole, rising and falling like waves. The Buddha has said this all already, only better.

It is daring me to BE. The mushroom is not impressed with idle speculation: it is truly the voice of conscience. It is my own inner voice, so rarely acknowledged, challenging me to go beyond myself. I hear it almost taunting me, laughing at my pretensions, waiting to see if I have the courage to act, waiting to see what I will Do. I sense the expectation of the world, waiting for me to make sense of it -- but not waiting for long! There will come a reckoning, even within my own heart. When that time comes, will I be ready? And if it were to come today?

I sense the potency behind everything: some call it God. Others call it Death, drawing us in. Newtonian causality insists that we are driven forward through time by the energy of the past. But are we not also drawn to our destiny, more or less willingly, by some strange attraction? The part of us that is Human yearns for something beyond itself: our life is a sense of longing -- stormy seas, the pangs of guilt... We have been drawn forward out of animal nature towards something bright and irresistible, a glittering bauble which we follow like children through veils of increasing complexity. Along the way we suffer terribly, but we fear most of all losing sight of that light and being lost forever in darkness. We call it Hope.

Change is in our nature. We are at our most Human when we transform ourselves in the act of creation. So we must make our peace, somehow, with the inevitability of change. There is much talk of the need for unity, of the appreciation of the species, and of the planet, as a whole. Yet we watch in horror as global culture is reduced to the lowest common denominator: an infantile and chilling homogeneity which colonizes and kills the very diversity which typifies our species. Is this the unity we seek, a static monad, devoid of drama, emptied of color and hope? This is not the way of the universe. We are not here to simply merge indistinguishably into one another and vanish. To truly live we must introduce harmony into the world, to add our voice, just so, to the song of the universe unfolding. This is the creative act, and it is the jewel in the crown of Humanity. In creation we can introduce harmony where there was none before. It is the path to salvation.

Time is flying: I hear the wailing of the grave, "Make a difference!"

THANKSGIVING

The voice within me says clearly, "Be thankful," and surely I am. The only other option, when confronted with one's own mortality, is panic and fear, and the choice is mine. Better a fleeting opportunity to live than none at all, I say! I am thankful for the blessings of family and friends, for the love that is shown me, and which is accepted from me in return. I am thankful for the godlike abundance that keeps me nourished, for the pleasures of new and diverse foods, and for hot water when I turn on the faucet. I stand in awe before the sacrifices of my ancestors, whose struggles and sufferings were unimaginable, that I might enjoy these things. I give thanks for all that there is, vanishing like a mystery.

I contemplate the importance of friendship. How magnificent are the achievements that are made possible by a friendly bond, how sweet are the joys! But also how poignant is the tragedy of being in the world without friends. I count my blessings, and vow to be more open to offers of comradeship.

Perhaps because it is the Thanksgiving season, this sense of gratitude is what has stuck with me, beyond all else. Continual thanksgiving is the antidote for fear of death -- which is really the fear of impermanence. They are two sides of the same coin. I want the knowledge of how lucky I really am to stay with me, lest my heart grow callous and I am shut off. So I give thanks for all that there is, vanishing like a mystery.

SINGING STORIES IN THE VOID

Stories of light and dark, of history, and of Love... We are nothing but stories in the void. Life is a narrative creation. Its body is made of language and memory; experience is its food. It is not forms which last, not deeds themselves, but the enduring drama of a particular life or event, as dramatized for others. The mark of a great life is that it is a story worth telling. The value of a deed is in what it provides for the memory of others. There is no scale to which this does not apply. Famous or obscure, we are ultimately responsible for determining how we will be remembered, if at all.

But where to find those stories? The mushroom tells me, "You will find words in the living of your life." The source of language, the source of its power, is in the immediacy of felt experience. We are some sort of alchemical filter by which the elixir of language is distilled from all the 'blooming, buzzing confusion.' I can see myself flying now past row upon row of ordered neatness called language. Ordered, yes, but how elusive it is! Do not presume to know it, though you dwell in it daily! It appears sometimes as a substance, sometimes as a creature, eating, growing, killing, remembering, dying. It is neither friend nor foe, but wild like the beasts of the desert. Then again, it is the storehouse of culture, intimately bound up with the enigma of history. Language -- storytelling -- is the externalization of internal dramas, and as such, it is one portal by which novelty enters the world.

The Jew is associated with forbidden knowledge. This realization struck me as strange. I wonder, what is its truth? I see in my heritage the roots of my love of language and books, of my desire to understand things. But I don't think in terms of 'forbidden knowledge.' Is this an explanation of the historical treatment of the Jews? Certainly in Medieval Europe they were associated with the Devil, and certainly there are economic and cultural explanations, but might these things have masked a deeper, more subtle cause? Could the almost mystical reverence for language shown by the 'People of the Book', in the midst of the illiterate Dark Ages, have stirred an unconscious fear? Mastery of language is a kind of magic, and here were the Jews with row upon row of strange markings, borne aloft in an ark at the very heart of their sanctuary. Yes, the signs of Black Magic must have been all too clear! And at the center of it all, the mystery of language... It bears researching.

THE MYSTERY: I HOPE IT HELPS.

I approached this journey hoping to clarify where I must go with my life. At first it seemed my question had been ignored. After all, the mushroom shows you what you truly need to know, not necessarily what you want. But at the end it seemed that I had received ample clues to guide me. First came the sense of urgency at the passing of time, then the role of gratitude in overcoming fear. Then I was focused on the mystery of language. The importance of language as both a tool for thought, and as a bridge between subjectivities, stands out clearly. I have always thrilled at the challenge of trying to put thoughts into language, and doing it well. There is that moment of searching, and then the mysterious satisfaction when the words come, condensing from some inscrutable source. There is the greater satisfaction of having those words acknowledged, knowing that they have inspired or provoked. It is in the skillful telling of stories that we are remembered, and I want to be remembered as Good.

The mushroom has shown me what I must do -- though it remains up to me to find the way. As it fades back into the glow of mundane reality it speaks clearly, one last time: "Be a teacher. Be a storyteller. Or be gone!"

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