personality tripsitting workshop

During my recent visit to Copenhagen I attended a tripsitting workshop as part of a psychedelic conference. I’d never been to anything like this before so I was pretty curious to see what it would be like. And no, we didn’t look after or watch people tripping their nuts off, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Here’s an overview.

tripsitting workshop copenhagen

The workshop was given in a seminar room at a building of Copenhagen’s Metropolitan University College – fittingly, a university of applied sciences. The workshop was full and there were 40 of us there, a mix of men and women from their 20s to their 60s. From appearances you’d never guess that this was a group of psychedelic enthusiasts.

I ended up sat next to the only other Brit in the room, who turned out to be Rosalind Watts – a clinical psychologist who’s part of the research team at Imperial College London and who worked on their groundbreaking psilocybin for depression study – she was also giving a presentation at the conference the next day. It’s good to know that those involved with research are topping up their knowledge and still seeking development – especially as it seems that the progress of the psychedelic movement will depend largely on the results of clinical trials in research settings.

wide tripsitting workshop

Being in an atmosphere of like-minded people was great – the room was full of people who have an understanding of the potential of psychedelics and want to learn more. As it’s still a fringe movement I don’t often get these real-life interactions where I can freely talk about this kinda stuff so having that sense of community was the perfect backdrop for the workshop.

The workshop was led by Marc Aixalà, a Spanish engineer and psychologist who works as an integrative psychotherapist. Amongst his experience with psychedelics Marc has worked as a coordinator for Kosmicare – a company that provides emergency attention to people going through difficult drug-related experiences at large festivals. Throughout the workshop Marc told us some stories from his work to illustrate points and it was pretty clear that he has considerable experience in this area. I could totally see why he was asked to lead it.

Marc Aixalà psychedelic science

Marc also presented at Psychedelic Science this year

The workshop was basically a presentation and while more interaction might’ve been good, a lot of ground was covered. To give you an idea, topics covered included: the effects of different psychedelic substances and the challenges of a sitter unique to each one; the differences between sitting roles- shaman, sitter, facilitator, guide and therapist; how to screen people for a psychedelic session and how to prepare for it; and how personality can affect reaction to the experience. And loads more, it was packed with useful information.

The small group size allowed for interaction amongst us and for Marc to stop for questions when people had them. Though there was definitely a level of professionalism from Marc and most attendees were clearly there to learn, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was room for some laughter.

personality tripsitting workshop

It was the first time Marc had given this particular workshop and he’d prepared too much material to fit in to the allotted 4 hours so we ran over by about 40 minutes. I was actually really happy about this as I was learning a lot and had nowhere else to be that afternoon.

Overall it was excellent. It surpassed any expectations I had and I found the whole thing to be very mentally stimulating. It even answered a few questions I didn’t know I had. To finish, I’d like to share a few things that came through from the workshop.

1. Healing Happens Through Intensification

crying emotion

Psychedelics can facilitate healing by intensifying the emotions around whatever difficult issue is being – consciously or subconsciously – avoided. This intensification allows difficult and repressed emotions to be fully experienced and expressed, and in doing so to reach their natural conclusion. This can be understood in the processes by which psychological healing occurs – projection, transference, abreaction, and catharsis. In the context of a therapeutic trip, this means that someone experiencing difficult emotions or sensations should be encouraged to surrender to them, rather than resisting them.

2. People Heal Themselves

Noone can have an experience for anyone else. This is true of healing or perspective shifting experiences too. Each person must go through the process ultimately on their own and reach their own understanding, acceptance and resolution of any troubling issue. As such, a sitting role will usually be passive and supportive. Marc used a nice analogy for this: if you have a cut on your arm, you don’t actively go about healing it. You clean the wound, patch it up, and then allow the healing to take place. Likewise, a sitter’s job is to set and maintain the conditions conducive to the healing process – a safe environment that allows someone to heal themself.

3. Clearly Defined Boundaries Are Helpful

restricted area rules

It is helpful to clearly define the ‘rules of the game’ ahead of a session: the level and type of interaction between the tripper and the sitter, who controls the choice and level of the music, what activities, if any, will be undertaken. Setting these boundaries in advance will encourage feelings of security and reassurance and help to create an emotionally safe space for the session.

4. The Approach Is More Important Than The Actions

A calm, centred, supportive approach is more important than what any guide or sitter can say or do. It’s not enough to remember certain actions or follow a set routine, care giving and support goes beyond this – effective sitting requires intuition, compassion and a level of self-awareness.

5. Qualities That Make A Good Sitter Aren’t Quantifiable

Trip-sitting isn’t a science – it’s a combination of an art and a science. Whilst a level of knowledge can be very helpful in some regards, the character and motivations of a sitter are more important. Marc made this point in a panel debate at the conference, explaining that he would much rather have a caring and honest carpenter looking after him than a fully-qualified psychologist who lacks these qualities.

good attributes tripsitter

This poses a predicament for the psychedelic movement. If we see these substances legalised for health care and therapy, there will be questions over who can, should, or is qualified to administer these substances and oversee sessions. Some professionals in the field have already stated their belief that psychedelics sessions should only be overseen by qualified medical professionals.

But if the most important qualities are unmeasurable, it would be very hard for any regulatory body to award suitable qualifications or grant licenses to administer psychedelics. In a society and culture that doesn’t like to believe in anything that it can’t touch, weigh, measure or quantify – this will be a tricky issue. This is something that should be considered moving forward.

Brain Scan Qualifications?

Final, crazy idea. Could licenses be awarded based on brain scans? There have been studies on monks using fMRI and EEG technology that show links between brain activity and these, as yet, unmeasurable qualities.

fMRI brain scan machine

A qualification could be awarded based on the level of activity in your brain’s left pre-frontal cortex compared to the right – a high level means you have a reduced propensity to negativity. Or perhaps a ‘test’ could be that you are wired up and asked to meditate on compassion. Your level of gamma waves – linked to consciousness and attention – would determine your ‘score’. I expect monks would mostly be coming out with the top qualifications, but who wouldn’t want a wise buddhist sage as their psychedelic guide? I certainly wouldn’t mind.

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If you enjoyed this you might also wanna check out:
6 Steps For Helping A Friend Through A Bad Psychedelic Trip – Zendo Project
What It Really Means To Hold Space – Uplift Connect
What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well
The Sweetness Of Holding Space For Another

psilocybin shrooms

Hey, I’m back. September has been jam-packed. What have I been doing? Well for one I spent a week in Copenhagen. Here’s what I got up to in Denmark’s capital.

copenhagen

Freetown Christiania

On my first day I visited Copenhagen’s counterculture haven: Freetown Christiania – a self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district in the borough of Christianshavn. An abandoned military base that was taken over by squatting hippies in the 70’s, around 1000 people live in the area making up a community that has its own rules and where decisions are made through meetings.

christiania

It was my second time to visit and on arriving at ‘pusher street’ I was taken back to my first visit, 5 years ago, by the pungent smell of hash that fills the air there. Yes, weed and hash are openly sold and smoked there. It reminded me of Uruguay with people freely toking in public. Pretty cool.

smoke christiania

See no evil, hear no evil…

I love the ideas and values that Christiania represents so it was great to be in that environment. I walked by the canal, got some green from a friendly seller, smoked a little too much weed and then walked around Neuhavn slightly paranoid before returning to Christiania to meet a friend for a veggie dinner. The food was great, paranoia less so. Ha. All good in the end.

neuhavn copenhagen

Neuhavn

On the Friday I attended a tripsitting workshop (yes, that’s a thing now), spent Saturday and Sunday at the Psychedelic Symposium, and on Monday I went to see Daniel Pinchbeck talk about Social Ecology at a gallery in Christiania. These were all awesome and warrant their own posts – more to come.

Kierkegaard & Existentialism

Kierkegaard

On Tuesday I visited the graveyard of Søren Kierkegaard. Born in Copenhagen, Kierkegaard was the founder of the philosophical school of existentialism and I took the opportunity to explore some of his ideas whilst there. I’m really glad I did, taking time for philosophy is always rewarding. Very briefly, here are some ideas from him I enjoyed that I thought would be fun to share.

“Truth Is Subjectivity”
Kierkegaard didn’t believe in the utmost importance of objective absolute Truth, but rather of personal truth – how one relates oneself to Truth – and what you experience subjectively: feelings and emotions. 4+4=8 may be an objective truth, but is it as important to your existence and experience of life as how you feel today? Maybe you’re nervous for a first date, or pissed because someone cut in front of you in line. These feelings are crucial to how we experience life, and are what make up our existence – they are ‘existential’. They are our lived truth.

soren Kierkegaard grave

Kierkegaard’s grave

“The Crowd Is Untruth”
At odds with the prevailing intellectual norms of his time, Kierkegaard was a loner and what we would now call a non-conformist. As a social critic he challenged many widely held beliefs of his time and told us that just because an idea is broadly accepted does not give it a sense of credibility – it actually points to the probability that it is an untruth. The individual should never defer one’s personal responsibility to the crowd – he must think for himself.

crowd untruth kierkegaard

The Individual
Naturally then, Søren emphasised the importance of the individual. He proposed that each individual—not society or religion—is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely, or “authentically”. He highlighted the importance of personal choice and commitment. Here are a couple of quotes I enjoy that this brought to mind:

“A sensitive and honest-minded man, if he’s concerned about evil and injustice in the world, will naturally begin his campaign against them by eliminating them at their nearest source: his own person. This task will take his entire life.” – Fernando Pessoa
“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self” – Aldous Huxley

Yes, I love quotes. Here’s one more from Kierkegaard himself which I think is totally relevant today:

“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.”

Yep. Think about that for a minute.

9/20: Psilocybin & Hash

My last day in Copenhagen was Wednesday 20th September, or 9/20 – Psilocybin mushroom day. Not as celebrated as 4/20 or bicycle day yet but of course, I was down.

shrooms psilocybin

I tried ‘Lemon Tek’ – mixing dried ground shrooms with fresh lemon juice and letting them soak for 30 minutes before knocking it back. Lemon Tek is supposed to intensify the trip but the shrooms I had were quite weak so I can’t really comment on that. I will say that it was a nice way to consume them though.

3g and a hash joint sent me into a spacious, thoughtful, and analytical headspace as I lay in bed listening to ragas by Ravi Shankar. My stream of thoughts was moving quickly and I used the time to think some things through that have been on my mind recently – related to my personal life and my life’s direction – with a nice level of insight and novelty. I didn’t plan on this type of session going into the trip but it naturally went there so I went with it. This main part of the trip was very mentally stimulating and felt productive, though there has since been a level of amnesia that I suspect came from the hash.

hash

Tasty chunk of hash

There were too, of course, ventures into some broader themes. ‘One must be capable of standing alone’ is a note I have scrawled in my pad from the session – Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the individual and how it relates to independence clearly came through. I love when an idea really hits home like this, it’s so satisfying.

As the thought-spurring effects of the hash faded off, I tuned in more to the music. Some of Ravi’s sitar lines just seemed to embody the essence of ‘play’. I could almost see the music as a child dancing. Very fun.

Three takeaways from the trip:

  1. When taken with a low dose, hash is good fuel for a thinking, analytical trip. Probably good for a problem solving session or making a plan of action.
  2. Noise cancelling headphones are the shit.
  3. Ravi Shankar’s The Spirit Of India is awesome.

shankar spirit india

Celebrating Mushroom Day – A 9:20 Event

After coming down I had a cup of tea with a couple of friends and we cycled to a massive old shipyard-warehouse for an event celebrating International Mushroom day. Outside of the city to the East, we pulled up to the container leaking flashing lights and pumping music. Upon entering I was greeted by a friendly Norwegian guy who straight up told me he had some mushrooms I could eat for free. Ha. I told him thanks and that maybe I’d find him later.

The warehouse was a huge indoor skatepark that had been separated into different areas. In the main area was a DJ and dancefloor, psychedelic visuals projected onto a wall, and an organic smoothie and tea bar. The event was alcohol-free and I guess this might have played a part in the nicely balanced ratio of guys and girls. The atmosphere was chilled and friendly though I can’t say much for the Danish climate at that time of night – a little too chilled.

psilocybin shrooms

The event was in celebration of these treasures

There was a foam pool (the kind that skaters can practice tricks into) that people were swinging from a rope into, another area showing documentaries on psychedelics with mattresses for people to lie down on, and an outside area with a fire for people to sit around and chat whilst passing doobs. Having not yet truly partaken in mushroom day, my friends got into the spirit of the event and we ended up staying for a while and settling by the fire before finally heading home in the early hours. Overall it was a fun event and I hope to go to more like it in the future.

The cycle home was littered with stops to ‘appreciate the beauty’ and by the time we’d arrived home and said our goodbyes I had just enough time to pack my bag and have a coffee before heading to the airport for my morning flight home.

What a week. Copenhagen, thank you!

changa art lily peyote desert

This was originally written for The Mainland Trading Post.

With the sun overhead Pedro exhales a lungful of smoke, passes the pipe on, and goes back to checking the group’s food supplies in his bag. “I’m so high” Molly says amused as she gazes around at the empty village street we’re sat on the side of. I take the pipe on its way through, the sweet taste of Mexican ganja fills my lungs and I get excited about our imminent adventure; we’re heading into the desert in search of peyote – the small, spineless mescaline containing cactus that grows in this part of Mexico.

peyote hikuri heads cactus

There’s six of us in total, I met the others the day before, and they are exactly the sort you might expect to be making this journey; Pollo and Lalo, a pair of Mexican gypsy punks – complete with mandala face tattoos, mohawks and bongo; Molly and Lily, two young blonde English girls who’ve been hitchhiking around North America for the last 18 months, and whose main interests include astrology and beat literature; and Pedro, a long-haired pothead from Mexico City, half-hippy-half-city boy, and our crew’s desert guide.

We’ve actually already eaten some peyote for breakfast that morning – I’d acquired six heads from a Jewish priest in town the day before (another story) – and we now finish off the last of the disgustingly bitter green flesh. We haven’t eaten a whole lot, but already I begin to feel a giddy and energetic wakefulness as we set off.

We walk past the last small houses and out the edge of town, following a dust track that leads us out into the desert, literally walking out of civilization and straight into nature.

The panorama is undeniable; the landscape is flat for what must be hundreds of miles ahead of us before our view is eventually cut off by mountains that are probably months away on foot. The earth is pale and dry but there is life in small single shrubs that are scattered around everywhere. We see hanging clouds showering an area way off to our right, and looking back I see the huge shadows and outlines of another set of clouds hanging over the mountains we left behind this morning. It’s hard to fathom what the distances might be, but the vast wilderness has a calming effect. It’s peaceful in a humbling way.

The area of desert close to town has practically no peyote – already ravaged dry from decades of visits by seekers and peyoteros – so Pedro is leading us to what he calls the ‘hikuri zone’, an area he knows of that’s deep into the desert and rich with the cactus.

desert peyote cactus

Desert Hysteria

Stepping through a gap between shrubs Pedro turns to us; “Remember that we are in nature, so just watch where you step” he says, apparently referring to snakes. The area we’re headed to is a good few hours away so Pedro sets a steady pace and the group splits by native language; Pedro leading the way with the punks up ahead whilst I fall behind with the girls.

My 5 liter water bottle swings by my side and sweat trickles down my brow. The further we go into the desert, the more different I feel; disentangled from the world and society’s trappings, somehow elevated from it, and still giddy. The girls are getting silly and Lily is giggling at the fact that “everything looks so green on peyote”.

With Pedro’s warning in mind we begin discussing about what to do if we encounter a snake and the girls agree that Lily will pretend to be a snake so that Molly can demonstrate to us the appropriate response. Lily crouches and makes a hissing winding path towards Molly, who standing her ground just looks at Lily and says, totally deadpan, “fuck off”. Somehow the scene is absolutely hilarious and I slam the water bottle to the ground as I double over cracking up; I’ve hit a hysterical level somewhere between the peyote, the heat and the pipe.

Something’s Out There

After a short but welcome water break a couple hours in – in which it’s clear that everyone is a bit spaced out and weary from walking in the heat – Pedro leads us on. The town is now a distant memory and the silence and isolation of the desert amplified. Molly and I fall to the back of the group and she asks me if I believe in aliens – the area is a hot spot for appearances and other strange occurrences. I think for a moment – I don’t really know my own answer – and she warns me “Be careful what you say… because they are listening to you” Her response makes me uneasy and I tell her “I don’t really know”. “Ooh, he’s on the fence, get him!” she says as though she is actually speaking to the aliens herself, and the possibility that they are out there and will now be on their way to visit me out in the desert tonight suddenly seems very real. Something about the boundless open landscape makes palpable the feeling that anything – including an encounter – is possible, because it shows me how unfathomably massive the world really is; that exist huge swathes of the earth’s surface that I’ve never seen and never will, whole fields of experience that are so far removed from my own and will forever elude me. It all reminds me of how little I really, truly know. Awe and mystery of the unknown are in fact the reason I’m there trampling through the desert – what drives that innate and irrepressible urge to discover, explore, and experience – and Molly’s hint at a potential encounter leaves me unnerved in a weirdly thrilling way.

Little Green Jewels

Spotting a pair of yuca trees which mark our turn, Pedro leads us on a new course and we’re told to keep our eyes peeled as we enter peyote territory. One of the girls spots one, poking its small head above the earth with its leathery green skin. I can tell Pedro wants to pull it out to start building our stash, but being our first find its not to be picked – its our guide – and he observes the ritual of making an offering to maintain some authenticity as our Mexican desert guide. Bending down he sprinkles a few lentils by the plant and we split off as the search begins.

Lalo pumps his bongo as he goes and his beat provides the soundtrack for what is like a bizarre psychedelic easter egg hunt. I wander gazing around the desert floor. I walk past Pollo sitting on the ground in front of a find, ‘gracias pachamama’ he says, offering thanks to the spirit of the earth, kissing his hand and placing it on the earth, kissing it again and placing it on his forehead. Lalo’s beat suddenly stops and he lets off a squeal of excitement; he’s found his first one too.

peyote desert

I spot one, and bending down I’m taken back by its appearance. The skin glows, its shade of green shifts; its somehow radiating life. The soft small head seems unnatural here amongst the dry earth, something about it is alien and mysterious. It has a rare beauty, so I leave this one be. I stand back up and walking away see another, then another. They all seem incredibly precious, like elegant jewels hidden scattered around the desert, and gazing at their beauty I don’t really want to take them out from the earth. It seems wrong, as though its killing something special and sacred and pure. I walk over to some of the others and before I’ve said anything Molly gushes the exact same sentiment “but they’re so beauuutiful”. “Yes, but remember, they are here to help us” Pedro insists, probably annoyed that we’re wasting time when we should be picking for the evening ahead. He does however, have a point, and I didn’t walk for hours through the desert just to admire their appearance, so I start collecting heads.

Night Falls

With about 20 heads collected between us, we meet by a tree to set up the tents. We get a fire going just as the sun’s setting and sit round. Snacking on more heads as the surrounding desert fades into darkness, we hear coyotes howling off in the distance. The altered space peyote has taken me to is different to what I expected; it has left me feeling wired but somehow zoned out. Despite eating more, my trip plateaus and I lie restless yet exhausted. The view overhead is pristine, and looking up at millions of stars, I reflect on what has been a long, hot, bizarre day.

When I’d first read about peyote about 7 years before, it seemed almost mythological; an exotic psychoactive plant that grows in the North American desert, consumed by natives and indigenous peoples over thousands of years for ceremonial and spiritual purposes. To my younger self it was a fairy tale, something of another world, some exciting legend that you come across in obscure books and cult films. It sparked my imagination and curiosity of the world, gave me a hunger for experience – but I never seriously considered it would be part of a journey that I’d actually undertake. To be lying there, many years later, under the stars out in the desert, is something surreal and life affirming. Even without an alien encounter, the desert trip has shown me something; anything is possible.

But the night isn’t quite over, there’s one more surprise.

One Last Journey

Pedro pulls out the pipe and loads it up again. “You should know, there is changa in there” he says with a mischievous smirk on his face. Changa is a smoking blend that contains DMT – “the spirit molecule” – possibly the most powerful psychedelic known to man. In other words, a complete mind-blower.

What happens next seems to happen very quickly; the pipe makes its way round the circle; Pedro, Pollo – who offers thanks to pachamama again- Lalo, Lily… everyone taking a deep hit from the pipe and passing it on, closing their eyes and sitting silently, off in whatever universe they’ve gone to. Before I know it the pipe is passed and in my hand. Really I’m nowhere like as mentally prepared as I’d like to be – five minutes before I wasn’t even considering that I’d be smoking changa – but at the same time there’s no way I’m going to pass up on this. Holding the pipe in front of me I pause to take a deep breath. I see Molly – who’s opted out of the multi-verse roulette due to a traumatic changa experience days prior – crouched behind Pollo, peering at me over his shoulder, and I can see the fear in her eyes at what I’m about to do. I light the end and the mix glows orange as I pull. It tastes horrible as I feel the smoke make its way down my throat and into my lungs where I hold it in.

I exhale, and my vision begins to morph, the small stones in the circle around the fire become warped, growing to the size of boulders and shrinking back again, my vision zooms in strange ways as I’m being pulled in. I look around and see the others around the fire. They all have their eyes closed. Of course, that’s what I need to do. I close my eyes and enter a spectrum of flowing colours. Luminous oranges and pinks meld into bizzare multi-layered forms as they fly through me, or I’m flying through them – I have no idea. The colours I see are from outside the spectrum of usually visible light, they are dazzling and the forms they carry approach from in front and pass through my eyes, flowing through and out the back of my head. I anchor to my breath for a reference point, some ground amidst the chaos, and I’m able to sit back passive to the kaleidoscopic whirlwind. The flight is intense, but as quick as it came on, the experience fades away. The brilliant colours gradually fade and I’m left in darkness, with a weird empty feeling – like something inside me has been wiped clean.

Last to smoke, I’m last to come round, and as I reopen my eyes everyone is just sitting quietly round the fire in their own space – apart from Pedro who has already got up and has his hand on Lily’s shoulder in what looks like an inappropriate attempt to forge a bond.

‘Man, that changa is something else’ I say finally, looking over at him. He rips into laughter. He’s laughing at the truth of what I say, the ridiculousness and outrageousness of it all.  Sometimes things are just so inconceivable or so weird that you can’t help but laugh. And this was one of those times.

changa art peyote desert

Sketch by ‘Lily’ (Lucy Porter) depicting the changa trip round the fire.

lsd acid tabs psychedelic

If you’ve visited this site before then you’re probably aware that I’m an advocate of psychedelic drugs. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m chuffed that micro-dosing is fast growing in popularity and entering mainstream culture. Well, yes and no.

lsd acid tabs psychedelic

On one hand, I’m happy to see the discussion on psychedelics opened up, seen beyond the narrow and often typical stereotype of ‘tripping balls man!’, and as a tool for creativity and self-improvement. I also of course support the use of micro-dosing as a medicine, to treat ADHD and depression, in the meantime weaning people off highly addictive drugs like adderall and ritalin, which have many other non-desirable side effects. It goes without saying that these medicinal uses are an important reason we need to see laws on these drugs revised.

But to me that’s just the beginning of the potential of psychedelics. It’s the tip of the iceberg, the micro-dose by its very nature will never provide the full psychedelic experience.

“Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”
– Terence Mckenna

“If [my daughter] does not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in her adult life, I will worry that she may have missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.”
– Sam Harris

Terence Mckenna and Sam Harris weren’t talking about the sub perceptual experiences of micro-dosing, they were talking about full blown trips. The idea of someone taking psychedelics frequently but never having this experience is where my disappointment in the current trend lies. It seems that LSD and psilocybin – incredibly potent substances capable of life-changing experiences – are now being used as a means of increasing efficiency and productivity, whilst their other, more dynamic, truly revolutionary and potentially world-changing uses are being overlooked. It’s a symptom of our productivity-obsessed age, the same thing has happened with meditation. I can’t help but feel a little disappointment to see such powerful tools being integrated into a progress obsessed culture with the ends of working more and producing more – merely feeding the broken machine that is civilization.

“Even meditation practice has been warped and bastardized by the modern mentality as a tool for efficiency.”
– Charlie Ambler
from 
‘Don’t Worry About Progress’ (a short and excellent post, well worth a read)

The trend of microdosing for productivity just seems to highlight our inadequacy and unwillingness as a species of looking at the bigger picture and addressing the big problems that need to be solved to create a better world. In psychedelics, we have tools that can make one see the bigger picture and realize our collective humanity – capable of spurring one into a passion for changing the world in a positive way. And now they’re gaining popularity as a means to merely enhance existing desires – work more, produce more. In other words, to make us go even faster along the path we’re already going down, rather than to look at where we’re actually going and consider changing direction.

A telltale sign to me is the part that Silicon Valley has played in popularizing microdosing. The valley is a symbol of our technological age, synonymous with success – but its giants – Google, Facebook, Apple – aren’t exactly focusing their efforts on eliminating world hunger (entirely possible with today’s available resources and technology), stopping the spread of malaria, researching alternatives to fossil fuels or alternative economic systems, or any other truly noble causes. In fact, they’re hardly ethical, Apple have had their hands dirtied with modern day slavery in China, and Google, despite being a multi-billion dollar company, have been dodging literally millions in tax, whilst the rest of us have been paying off the bill from 2008 financial crash (the bankers responsible still haven’t been held to account), with increased taxes and cuts to public services – including benefits to the disabled and public health services. These are the titans of today, paragons of success, and now LSD and psilocybin are to their aid. Great, I’m sure we’ll get the next version of facebook and the new model of the iPhone even quicker now. Just what humanity truly needed. Meanwhile, thousands go on without access to clean water and we continue to use an inherently flawed global economic system that exacerbates wealth inequality. So much for a better world.

Is There Hope?

Of course. My hope is that microdosing ends up being a ‘gateway drug’, leading those initially drawn to psychedelics for productivity to full doses and powerful spiritual experiences. I romantically imagine a work and productivity obsessed nut sitting down to his desk for another day of efficient work, only to discover that the full dose of LSD was on the corner of the tab that he’s taken, taking him on an existential journey to the depths of his soul where he questions all he knows. The next day, he insists to his fellow workaholic microdosers ‘You gotta take a full hit! I’ve been awakened, we need to help our fellow man!’.

How beautiful and fittingly ironic it would be if a global revolution sneaks in through a productivity trojan horse. Here’s to hoping.

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What’s your view on the current microdosing trend? Is any introduction of psychedelics into society a win? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

trees woods pisac

sacred valley pisac peru

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the panorama of a bend in the Peruvian sacred valley of the Incas is majestic under the days early rays. From the patch of grass outside our mountainside room I can see Pisac off in the distance down below: a Peruvian village an hour or so from Cusco and situated on the Willkanuta river, now something of a draw for spiritual seekers due to the local plant medicine scene. The thick bitty lime green liquid I’m choking down for breakfast is bitter as hell, but then I’m not drinking it for the taste. The mixture has two ingredients; water, and powdered San Pedro – a hallucinogenic cactus native to the Andes and the chemical key to my adventure today.

I force down the mix in the company of two friends; Chris, an old school buddy with me for the Peru leg of my American tour, and our host, Vik, a Danish friend who I’d met in Buenos Aires a couple months earlier who’d introduced himself by telling me he was in the continent to drink ayahuasca- we subsequently hit it off and became good friends, exploring the cultured capital together amidst discussions of all things psychedelic.

My mix contains 33g of the mescaline containing cactus, one full dose, and I’ll take that again in an hour or so once I reach the eucalyptus trees down below. Vik seems to obtain a perverse pleasure from watching me struggle to get it down – he’s had his share in the weeks prior and despite being a fan of the cactus’ psychoactive effects and therapeutic qualities, knew just how bitter and stomach wrenching it was. So much is his aversion to the taste he’s actually trying to figure out a different way of ingesting the substance for future journeys.

san pedro wachuma cactus powder

Three bagged doses

My venture today is a solo one, so after finally getting the mix down as fast as my gag reflex will allow- a good 15 minutes of interspersed gulps- I say adios to the boys, heading down the rugged mountainside on a jagged path to the base of the valley, across a small road, away from town and into nature, through a field towards the river and the woods of eucalyptus trees.

pisac

As I make my way upstream I pass an old gringo with a white whispy beard in full Bolivian patterned wear. He merely looks grumpy in response to my cheery greeting and it throws me off, his bad vibes make me feel a little uneasy. I second guess my decision and consider that its maybe not the perfect situation and surrounding for me to be undertaking this journey, but then I also think that if you’re continually waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do something, it may never come. Sometimes you just have to take the chance and go for it. Today will be a good judge. Anyway, I’ve already choked down a full dose, so its a bit late for second guesses now.

Settling In

After a few minutes of walking through the woods I veer off the path and settle down in what seems to be a good spot; a flat area just set back from where the river is noisily crashing over rocks in a mini-waterfall. I set down my stuff, unroll my sleeping mat, and pull out another 33g bagged dose of the powdered cactus, mixing it in a bottle of water and chugging it down.

Within ten minutes the nausea starts setting in. I’m prepared for this and pull out the joint I’ve pre-rolled that morning. It works a treat and the nausea disappears as I slip into a more dazed feeling. I lie on my mat and begin writing in my pad which eases my nerves and soon I feel pretty good – I’m in the Sacred Valley! Feeling settled by writing, I set a timer for a 5 minute meditation, and lie back, closing my eyes.

Visual Distortions

The meditation relaxes me further and I roll on to my front, gazing up at the mountain across the river. The rocky surface is luminescent orange under the sun’s unchecked rays and as I’m gazing up the whole thing gently shimmers. It’s as if the image of the mountain is being projected onto a huge sheet and something has just shaken the top, making the the whole thing and all of its details ripple. ‘It’s starting’ I excitedly think to myself as I lie back to enjoy the view.

About an hour and a half after the joint, the nausea creeps back. I can’t believe I don’t have another J ready to go- by now I really should know to have a handful pre-rolled and ready for my convenience- but due to slack preparation I’ve failed to show up with any more so, mustering focus and steady hands, I craft another. It works wonders and the nausea disappears again, this time for the remainder of the trip, giving me the all clear to strap myself in for what’s to come.

The Spirit Arrives

Lying on my back, gazing up at the trees and sky, I slip into a more contemplative state and start questioning why I am actually there, drinking ground up hallucinogenic cactus on my own in the woods of a third world country… what am I searching for?! Thoughts begin to build steam and I feel like a receiver rather than originator of thoughts that appear in my mind.

The contemplation leads to thoughts of my life, I see it as if it were complete in that moment with nothing more to add. Thoughts of death come to me, about dying there that day, that very spot in the valley where I lie. The morbid thoughts become dark and intensify and I feel increasingly fearful. I sense this episode as a kind of game of thoughts; I perceive it as a playful action from somewhere outside me – as if some demonic spirit is messing with me and sending me these thoughts to spook me. I consider that perhaps this is what others have called the spirit of Wachuma and in that very moment I see it in the top reaches of the tree growing up beside me, in the faintest but seemingly deliberate movements of the uppermost leaves and branches. They twinkle lightly, playfully, as they’re tickled delicately by the breeze. My sense of gravity has flipped and its as if I’m staring down rather than up, the trees and plants around me hanging by their roots, the top branches reaching as if out and down to a sky below. Loosened and open, I’m struck by the beauty of what I see before me, my attention drawn to the top of the tree which has its roots closest to me.

trees woods pisac

Ineffable Beauty

The scene is rich in texture and colour, layer upon layer of detail is revealed in the magnificent tree and its surroundings. I observe in awe as the tree bobs and weaves with the breeze, gently making circles in my view. I become aware of the most utterly minuscule movements – of every pore of every leaf of every branch – of an intense and unspeakable subtlety.

Utterly majestic.

The movements of the tree are the epitome of effortless grace, the embodiment of the Taoist principle of wu-wei – what we admire in world class performers, whether musicians, sportsmen, or dancers; in the zone with zero contrivance, totally tuned in, in the moment. Overcome by awesome beauty, euphoria sweeps over me.

A simple reflection comes to me; nature is incredible. When you simply watch it as it is, not just seeing, but actually watching – just pure simple nature is magic.

The scene subtly begins to transform, the details merging and forming intricate patterns within a vast multitude of colours above. I lie spellbound, I can hardly believe that I’m looking at a tree. Inside the patterns are small shifting movements that appear like alien insects crawling around a fluorescent ants nest. The subtle shifts in the scene are flowing and smooth, but – also like an ants nest – mechanical in some way. The colourful movements are slow and continuous. The whole thing appears otherworldly. The range of what I’ve seen within the tree is so ridiculous that I genuinely begin to wonder if its going to show me my life.

Writing Resistance

I’m compelled to roll over and write some notes in an attempt to document and bring some of this magic back with me. This proves to be fairly challenging as the act of holding the pen steady requires a serious effort of concentration and composure but, though a little tricky, I’m able to hold the experience at arm’s length sufficiently to get some words down. It’s like when trying to stay awake despite being so tired that you could fall asleep in a second- you can resist, but only for so long before the inevitable pulls you under – the inevitable here as altered and surreal as the land of dreams. I feel the action of mental resistance mirrored within my body, a tense tightness throughout, as if every cell is waiting and willing me to release myself back into the experience – the cactus gently tugging at me, pulling me back in. With some notes scribbled, I drop the pen with relief and roll back over onto my back.

Surrendering myself to the experience, my consciousness continues to shift and I fall deeper into an increasingly immersive trip, continually spellbound, rolling through ever novel experience and widened perception.

From time to time I’m struck by the incredulity of what I’m experiencing and decide I must make more notes – it seems crucial that I document such an experience. Each time I do this the physical feeling of my body synchronises with my mental action; resistance – heavy and burdensome, or surrender – light and relaxed. Each time I roll over and pick up the pen, I feel like that same heaviness pulling me back, as if telling me that I’m not allowed to leave mescaline land for too long.

Time increasingly dilates and experience is fairly intense throughout, even when I ‘pull myself out’ to make notes. Anticipating how much deeper I’m going to be pulled under, I wonder whether that double dose was a good idea – I might be in for more than I bargained for! I take it in good spirits and smile to myself, relishing the adventure that I’ve undertaken. I know the best thing to do is to relax, and again I consciously surrender, once more losing myself in the utter beauty of the trees and the clouds and the sky. I’m falling, falling, just floating in endless beauty.

Dropping Physical Worries

A high pitched whistling sound pulls me out of my beatific awe, it’s some cheery trekker in the vicinity making a tune with their lips. It triggers a touch of paranoia and some niggling worries resurface. Who is it? What if they come over and start speaking to me? What will they think of me here sprawled on my back? I catch myself worrying, made aware of it by the accompanying physical discomfort. This constant mirroring of the physical and mental is making a point – the two are inextricably intertwined. Science has proven this, but now I’m not reading about some research study, I’m comprehending the truth through direct experience and see that expressions like ‘just drop it’ and ‘mental baggage’ aren’t simply metaphorical. Resistance, clinging, craving, worrying – all can be understood as physical sickness too.

I realise there is no use in me carrying the worry about the stranger and compose myself to willingly drop it. But even with the knowledge that it doesn’t serve me, I feel a reluctance to let go – a strange resistance to let go of resistance – now aware of the usually subconscious urge to cling to what I know, feeling it as physical weight. If I can just stop worrying I can be totally light, but I hesitate. It’s like so many things in life – like ending an amicable but ultimately unsuitable relationship, or jumping into water on a hot day – the transition is what unnerves us even when we know the change needs to be made.

Telling myself to let go, it’s like I’m hanging on to the edge of a cliff, bracing myself to drop into the unknown. I forcefully peel my own fingers off the ridge, finally dropping myself off to fall…

Lightness… I’m falling, falling, falling, and then… still falling. There is no bottom – no crush, no death, no oblivion – the experience is just continuous falling, ever unfolding experience without grasping. I sense a wonderful liberation. I’ve dropped myself off only to find that I’m still there. That weight, those worries and stress – I carry it all in an unconscious effort to retain my sense of self, out of fear of losing myself – but it’s not who I am, and when it’s all dropped, the awareness continues, without the physical weight. Perpetual, changing, naked existence.

What I’ve released was a part of the sense of a separate self – ego, role, identity – all a great trick. Both science and Buddhism are right – it’s no more than illusion and hallucination. I am the universe. ‘I’ is consciousness. I think how strange a physical sense of self is, how bizarre bodies are! I feel as if I’m undergoing purification, floating weightless with all excess parts stripped away.

Humbling

Feelings of humility arrive to fill the void I’ve opened up, and I lie awed and humbled to my very core. I see myself from above, my body lying there on the ground, and then I float up and away from myself, up over the valley. As I go up into the clouds I lose sight of myself beneath the trees. My vision of myself shrinks, I see myself and place as the trees and river. It’s a visual representation to what I’m feeling – my ego and self-importance shrinking away as I see the bigger picture and my place in the universe. I understand that the significance of my existence is nothing, and with that I experience a deep and unstirring peace.

Waves Of Gratitude

The calm humility morphs, and I feel sweeping waves of energy flowing and crashing through me, rinsing my insides with an essence of gratitude. I see detailed kaleidoscopic close-eyed visuals, but they are only a symptom and sideshow of the experience; the significance is in the the sense of total and utter gratitude, in the deep and resonant waves reverberating throughout my being. The waves are blissful and euphoric, the antithesis to every feeling of heaviness or worry. I am truly, profoundly, and utterly grateful.

There’s nothing in particular that I feel grateful for; I don’t think about family, friends, my health or anything else. It’s a bizarre sense of gratitude, gratitude with no object, just for it’s own sake. I am not a receiver of it; simply, I am gratitude.

Be grateful. This is the teaching of today, learnt from experience, direct from the source. I’m again reminded why psychedelic experiences are so esoteric, words could never explain this.

I lie, bathing in feelings of gratitude, euphoria and bliss, coated and entirely submerged in them, soaking them in.

Return To Reality

Some time later, my alarm rings. Its signifying that I should be making my return trip out of the woods. I’ve set the alarm for roughly an hour before sunset to give myself a decent amount of time to make it back in daylight and avoid a tricky and likely very confusing walk back through the woods in darkness. The problem is that I’m still exceptionally high and hardly feel in my body. Of course euphoria and beauty wouldn’t typically be considered a problem, but I’m conscious of the real world responsibility to look after myself and get back to town, and this is hardly the ideal frame of mind to be organising my stuff and figuring out the route. I know I’m inappropriately high to be making the journey, but compose myself; one step at a time, I tell myself. Easily, gently, one step at a time.

Rising to my feet, I stagger around as I gather my things, pack my bag, and roll up my sleeping mat. Everything stuffed inside and ready, the zip decides to break in that moment. Perfect. I laugh to myself at the timing of this. I sling it round to my front and hold it closed with my hand, looking up to assess my surroundings and figure my way back out of the woods. As I look around, every direction looks exactly the same, of course it does – it’s the woods. My flights through consciousness have done nothing for my sense of direction, I don’t recognise anything and a few steps in any direction makes me worry I’m going the wrong way and I’ll only have to backtrack later, losing what are now precious minutes of daylight.

I remember something Vik said to me on the mountainside that morning: ‘Stay by the river’. Now I know exactly why. Following the sound of running water, I find my way back to the mini-water fall and regain my sense of direction. I can’t walk alongside the river as there is no path and the terrain is clustered rocks and trees, so I head away, but with an idea of the direction I should be going and aim to stay as close as I can whilst still heading downstream.

Nothing looks familiar, of course, even though I must’ve come this way in the morning. ‘Trust your gut’ – a nice expression but right now my gut doesn’t trust anything. In every direction, it tells me ‘this doesn’t seem familiar, it can’t be the right way’. I stick to logic, a trusty friend that’s gotten me out of a few tight spots in altered states, and cling to the knowledge of where I’ve just seen the river, and steadily push on on the basis of that. I come upon some houses, half expecting some local to come out yelling something to the tune of ‘get out of my garden’ in Quechua, and walk quickly on, heading back towards where I calculate the river should be.

Sure enough, I see running water and recognize where I am from my walk in the morning – I’m less than five minutes from the road. I have just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief before I hear a faint call just about audible over the gushing water. I turn around and recognize Vik and his friend Kelsey a way back up the path. It’s a welcome and charming surprise, and they head over, having been meditating in the woods. ‘I am really high’ I confess, and they take me under their wing and back into town where we spend the remainder of the evening. Though lingering effects from the cactus are with me late into the evening – experiencing Pisac lit by night as a world of wonder – the real trip and adventure ended as I left the woods, and no more stark revelations or powerful sensations will come. At least until the next time.