My Psychedelic Story Part 1

Soon after returning home from Latin America in 2017, My Mum decided to leave my Dad after many years of difficulties in their marriage. It was a very difficult time for us all, for both of them, for my older brother, and for me.

I managed to take it reasonably well, understanding the reasons why after seeing it not really working for many years. I wanted them to stay together but didn’t want to continue seeing the pain that they were both in in the relationship. It broke my heart but felt like it was the only real way forward. In the end, I just wanted both of,i them to be happy.

I tried my best to conduct myself as a good son, to do the best that I could, supporting them both through the process, having long talks with both of them, hearing both of them, and not taking either side.

It was during this period of separation, whilst we were still living in the same house, that I went again up to Sheffield for a private solo psychedelic session.

I was in an emotionally rocky patch with everything going on, and even cried on the train ride from my home town up to Sheffield. I stayed in a friends house whilst he was away for the weekend. One of those friends who I’d had my very first experiences with.

I conducted this session in the most considered and ceremonial way of all the trips I had yet. I had done the photo trip in the weeks before, and had a selection of them with me. On the day, I tidied the space thoroughly before, burnt sage, opened with a prayer in a simple dropping ceremony, then I took around 2 and a half tabs of 1p-LSD.

I used headphones and an eye mask for the first time, following the standard protocol used in the research and by the practitioners in the books I’d read by James Fadiman and Leo Zeff.

The come up was pretty bumpy and early on I used nitrous oxide to ground myself and drop in to experience. However, I continued to I encounter hurdles of anxiety and doubt as my sense of self continued to shift and dissolve. I just kept reassuring myself ‘I am OK, I have taken LSD, this is part of the experience, relax yourself’. I continued to follow my meditation training, relaxing myself by returning to my breath, breathing deep, and relaxing all the muscles in my body. 

In the first chapter I flew through music, and even before hearing them, saw notes and sounds as objects formed in colourful patterns, flying through wide open space, and crashing in to an invisible wall and exploding as those sounds actually reached my ears and I heard them. I felt my perception open wide beyond me and I lay marvelled at a sense of liberation and wonder. My first album of Brazilian psychedelic rock ended and I put on some Brian Eno.

At some point I’m not really sure what or how it happened, but I left.

I dissolved in to the energy of the universe. I became one with the all encompassing stream of energy that makes up all spirit, matter and life. But at the same time there was some how some witness experiencing it. It’s strange in that I only came to understand it in this way after I came out of it and some how back in my body later on. Whilst in it, it just was, but I wasn’t there.

In that experience, there were visions of what felt like a past life, and alternate realities, or sub realities to the one in which we inhabit.

There were cryptic messages, somehow transmitted to me, that my mother and father will come together again, though it may be after these current incarnations.

Somehow in some way, they will find their way back to each other and it will be the most beautiful reunion. They will both see and understand it all, and that their separation in this way was just a part of a larger story. 

As parents, they have more than done their part. They have done so much for me. I will forever be thankful for them, all the love and support that they have shown me and the most incredible parents that they have been. They will, and we as a family, will find our love for each other again. Their break, as everything, is temporary. Everything will come together again.

Somewhere in this universal experience, I saw my life within the great story of life and of humanity. Somehow, my whole life, not just up to that point, but of my years to come, had already happened. I understood that my life is just an expression of the universe. Just like how a single one of my smiles is an expression of me, John Andrew, at one moment in my life, I understood how my entire life as John Andrew is a singular expression of the universe, at one extended moment. Again, I didn’t see it and understand it in that moment, it somehow happened after, coming to me in bits and pieces during the hours, days and weeks after the experience as I reflected and processed.

Half returned to my body but still very much in the experience. I flooded with tears. I sobbed and weeped like a baby. I don’t believe I have cried so hard since I was an actual baby, so full and unashamed as it was. Full throttle, deep and reverberating, out and out bawling. It was right, to let it out, and I felt all the pain of my parents relationship flowing out as memories of situations from our home came back to me. 

After my weeping descended, on a toilet break, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror, my eyes still wet with tears. I saw myself as a young boy of around 8 or 9. I saw this poor young boy standing before me and felt a compassion and lovingkindness towards him. And then a thought came to my mind…. ‘so this is what our society deems to be a criminal’. Here was this boy, trying to help myself, doing no harm to anyone else… and this is a criminal activity. It felt so wrong.

Why should this be illegal?

I was extremely fortunate in that I had a friend who had a house that I had access to. But that was extremely lucky. What if he hadn’t gone away for the weekend? And what about all the people who don’t have access to a private space?

I received tremendously from this experience but it was a massive logistical struggle to set up. Before even beginning to think about the space, it was very difficult to procure that LSD in the first place. It was only because of my prior experiences, combined with reading reports from the studies and research, that I knew there was something really there with psychedelics, something really worth discovering. If I didn’t have such a firm conviction, I would have given up long before.

I considered how many people could benefit from this type of experience but are prohibited from doing . It upset me. The criminalisation of LSD and other psychedelics made no sense. It felt deeply unjust. 

That feeling stayed with me. I felt indignant about drug policy and with a new clarity I saw how insane current drug laws are. In a burst of passion I wrote a draft on my journey home, trying to find the angle from every side, scribbling in notebooks on bus and train rides back. 

Back at home, I had gained a deeper understanding and insight in to my parents separation. I could place no blame on either side. I thought of their upbringings, raised in different continents, from different cultures and backgrounds. It was just unfortunate that didn’t work out in the way we had all hoped. Any lingering feelings I had of frustration and resent towards my parents dissolved. I understood them as my way of trying to deal with the difficult feelings that came from losing my family and home as I knew it.

I came to a deeper compassion for both of my parents. Neither of them wanted this and they both suffered as a result of it too. No one was to blame, it was just how it went. Whatever happened, I know I had super parents, and I understand how incredibly fortunate I was to have grown up in such a loving and caring household, that always wanted me to succeed, that always supported me, that has always been there for me.

Mum and Dad, I love you both so much and will be forever grateful. I hope that I can only show the world the love you have shown to me. If I can bring an ounce of that to others, I know the world will be a better place. Your love has given me deep strength and inner resources to go on in my life. You have taught me to always try my best, to try to do the right thing, and at the bottom of it all, with heart.

This experience gave me a deep reverence for the high dose ceremonial psychedelic experience. For the depths of healing and understanding, for the incredible mystery of existence, for the mystical dimensions of the universe, of the divine, the sacred, and the absolute mystery of it all.

It made me aware of how incredibly sensitive and vulnerable we are in these spaces and states, and that is something I carry with me every time I sit down next to someone for a session.

It also led me to believe that nearly all problems stem from misunderstanding. When it comes to understanding each other, communication is key and I have come to value communication as a key life skill.

Back to the weeks and months following the trip…
Reflecting on that experience, I thought: how many people could benefit from this experience?

It became my mission to make this experience more accessible. 

I understood that this is the field I want to work in and dedicate my life to.

I wanted to go all in on the movement and help in any way that I could, but I didn’t have a clear direction.

I started where I was. I wanted to work on social stigma, seeing cultural perception as a means of shaping advocacy and civil rights movements, and broadening the field of people who might be interested; so I continued on with the blog, citing research more, using logos and science, the language and religion of our world today.

I also wanted to work on being able to offer safe and conducive places for people to have them. The drug laws might take decades to change. That wasn’t good enough. But where to begin?

I needed more experience, more knowledge, and I needed to really engage with the global psychedelic community.

Accordingly, I took the next steps…

https://mapsofthemind.com/2020/07/30/my-psychedelic-story-pt-3/

universe cosmos colours beautiful

Psychedelics and meditation have both had a strong influence on my life and are somehow inextricably intertwined. I first got interested in meditation in the aftermath of primary experiences with LSD, and now meditation, in some way or another, informs every psychedelic session I take.

There is dispute in the Buddhist community about the value of psychedelics ‘on the path’ and if you’re interested in the intersection of Buddhism and psychedelics, I highly recommend the book Zig Zag Zen. There are plenty of other articles on this topic, but today I’m just gonna share a bit of my story and how these two things have weaved their way into my life.

Discovering LSD

lsd acid tabs psychedelic

I first tried LSD as a curious guy keen for new experiences. As someone who enjoyed being creative, I was especially interested in new ways of thinking. I also wanted to have fun. I had little idea what I was in for when I put that little piece of paper in my mouth, but looking back, I now see those first experiences as pivotal in my life. Though they’ve affected me in many ways, one that stands out is how they lead me to meditation. At the time I had never tried meditating, nor had any real idea what it was, but if I had never tried LSD, I honestly doubt I’d have started meditating.

How Psychedelic Experience Lead Me To Meditation

On the tail end of my first LSD trips, I didn’t have any ‘comedown’. The post-trip chapter I experienced would more accurately be described as a serene, contemplative afterglow. After the ecstasy and madness of the peak, I descended to a more peaceful state which was in its own way, my favourite part of the whole experience. Though at the time I didn’t have any clear idea of what ‘meditation’ meant, I described the afterglow state to friends as meditative; my mind was sharp and clear and I was deeply reflective. I also noticed that my breathing naturally became long and slow. This tuning into the flow of my breath was a naturally induced meditation session.

When my friends and I didn’t naively first time candy flip on a Sunday and have to go to work the next day without getting a wink of sleep (see: my first time on acid – I started a new job that Monday – another story, another time), an ideal recovery day would be spent chilling with my fellow travellers. We’d order pizza, smoke joints and get comfortable on the sofas for a run of movies. After a long session, we were always physically exhausted, yet my mind was always energised. With this mental energy I’d wander philosophically through themes and ideas that came up in the films, conversation, music or anything else. As we watched movies I’d interpret them in all kinds of novel ways, see metaphors the writers and directors had put in, and understand concepts that I hadn’t considered before. I’d make notes in my journal about interesting ideas that came to mind and, of course, just generally enjoy hanging out. Relaxed but attentive, naturally contemplative, it was a taster for meditation.

lsd acid psychedelic trippy meaning

In the wake of these experiences, my mind was clearer. I had a greater awareness and detachment of my thoughts. I felt wiser. I was looking at things from a greater perspective more often and more naturally, like that mental trick you do when something bad happens and you ask yourself “how much will this matter in 5, 10 or 20 years?”, or you zoom out on google maps to try and coerce the overview effect. I was thinking more creatively and seeing metaphors in almost everything, and my behaviour became less guided by fear and petty concerns. The effect was sudden and obvious, and lasted some months before beginning to fade and older mental habits and ways of being began to return.

I missed my newly found but now fading clarity and wisdom, but I’d experienced another way of being that I wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Following a wikipedia trail, I was lead from psychedelic drugs to non-ordinary forms of consciousness to meditation; a method of changing awareness, without substances. Though my access to psychedelic substances was gone, my newly whetted appetite for discovery remained, and I moved to Asia with a job teaching English.

London England Shanghai Pudong

From the UK to China

In my new home city of Shanghai, I started going to classes on meditation and reading books on the topic. Reading books about Buddhism felt like I was reading books about psychedelic experience, and in retrospect, they were some kind of integration texts. I began a daily meditation practice, and soon after went on my first silent retreat in 2012.

temple stay meditation korea

Temple stay in Korea

In the 6 years that have passed since, meditation practice has become a key foundation in my life. I’ve been back on other retreats and temple stays, was part of a Zen sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh in Spain, and last year started a weekly meditation group in Berlin. Meditation is what a friend of mine would call a fundamental – others include exercise, diet, community and creative projects – and mindfulness is a skill I find applicable in so many situations of life. 

Like many others, my practice started with psychedelics. And while my first psychedelic journeys lead me to meditation, meditation has boomeranged back around and played its role in my psychedelic sessions. Today I’ll share one example.

How Meditation Helped On A Deep Journey

On a grey Saturday a couple years ago, alone in a friend’s house whilst he was away for the weekend, I took 250 micrograms of LSD. In the months before, I’d been reading various psychedelic-therapeutic protocols and had prepared accordingly for the session. I managed the anxiety of a turbulent come up by relaxing myself many times as I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and directing my attention to my breathing. Around an hour in, as the lysergic waves really began to come on strong, I was lying down, looking up at the ceiling.

In one moment, a monster appeared above me. It was hovering over me, looking down at me from the ceiling. I was looking directly at its face, and it was looking right back at me, right into my eyes.

monster beast

I was instinctively gripped by fear. My shoulders and rest of my body tightened up instantly as I stared in shock. The beast was of course not physically there, it was a manifestation of my fears, a representation of what scares me and had been avoided.

I held the monster’s gaze, took a deep breath in, and with a long exhale, relaxed my body, letting tension go. As I did this, the monster dissolved into harmless patterns right before my eyes. The visual information was in fact the same – the rich ceiling patterns that made up the monsters face were still there – but they no longer appeared scary or even as a being to me. What changed wasn’t the sensory information I was receiving, it was my perception of it. What made up the ‘monster’ was still there, I just saw it differently. I had a new perspective.

There were a few other moments leading up to this confrontation where I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and I consciously relaxed my body. I see these as like smaller hurdles that once passed, allowed me to get to the point of this confrontation. The dissolution was like a jumping off point, and after this I dropped deep into ineffable experience.

universe cosmos colours beautiful

The journey was deep and had many chapters: there were visions of a past life, alternate realities, and repressed emotions burst up and were released though uncontrollable bouts of sobbing. In the most profound chapter, it was a transpersonal experience; ‘I’ disappeared, along with time, and experience just happened.

I’ll share this story in more detail another time but for now I think its enough to say it was a significant experience that shifted something deep inside of me. The next day I felt lighter and clearer. I had more understanding and compassion. And my meditation practice was revived with a spark. I hadn’t been this affected since those very first journeys – the ones that spurred me on to meditation. I didn’t become a holy and all-understanding being overnight, but I inched in that direction. 

Reflecting on the session afterwards, I saw how techniques that I’d learnt in meditation helped me to relax, to let my guard down and open to the experience with lessened resistance. And this is why I recommend meditation to anyone considering a first psychedelic experience. Including you.

Thanks for reading.

white light christopher burns

This is a guest post from my friend Patrick Dengler about his recent experience smoking 5-MeO-DMT (also known as bufo, toad, or 5). Thanks to Patrick for sharing his experience here. Find him on twitter: @patti3001 

September 13th, 2018

Four days ago I had my second journey with Bufo Alvarius / 5-MeO-DMT. Like the first time, it was incredibly profound and there are no words to adequately describe what I experienced. But, I’ll try anyway..

bufo alvarius 5 meo dmt toad five

Preparation

This happened on a weekend retreat with a group of around 20 others. As part of the retreat, there were many activities that were supposed to prepare us for the experience. There were yoga classes, energy work, a Kambo treatment and excellent vegan food. All of this contributed to me being in an incredibly relaxed state when it was my turn for taking five. In particular, the Kambo experience seemed to have an incredibly grounding effect on me. I probably was more relaxed than when I smoked weed for the first time. This is undeniably the best possible scenario to be in when doing the strongest psychedelic substance on earth.

map europe continent retreat

The retreat took place in mainland Europe

So, on Sunday afternoon I met with the practitioner and an assistant in a nice spot outside the house. After a short round of breathing exercises, I inhaled the vapor of the toad secretion and even before completely finishing the pipe the medicine started to kick in strongly.

The Experience

My perception and sense of self began to dissolve. It seemed that I merged with my surroundings until there was nothing left of “me”. There was no fighting or struggling with what was happening. I remember on my first encounter with this medicine, at this point an incredible amount energy surged through my body and briefly I got somewhat panicky. This time it was more gentle – more like a soft melting together of everything that I thought of as me and the world, inside and outside, self and other (I initially had my eyes open). The last memory I have of that stage is that everything was shining with an ever increasing white light until I was completely gone.

white light christopher burns

I don’t really have tangible memories of that stage, but what was very clear was that it was an experience of utter peace. Maybe it could be described as a state of pure consciousness without contents. The words “emptiness” and “void” come to mind, but the fact that I remember the feeling of peace suggests that some part of me-ness was still there. I can’t really say much more about this part. I think it maybe lasted for about 10 minutes, during which I was calmly laying on my back (reconstructed from the observations of others).

My True Nature

This is where it gets really interesting. At this point some form of identity and mind came back online, and at the same time a huge download of information hit me, maybe not huge but more like all encompassing. It felt like direct access to ultimate truth. This lead to the recognition, or rather, the remembering, of my true nature. What I thought I kinda understood after sitting meditation retreats and reading books about non duality was experienced directly now: I am not my body or my mind or some fragment of reality, I am the totality of it all. It’s all me. There exists nothing else beside me: pure Being, the Self, Brahman, God. If you haven’t experienced this, it sounds silly. If you have, it changes everything. For a brief moment I was struggling to accept this (“Wow, there is only God, that means it’s me, but … wow, does that mean, uh.. whoa!”), but eventually I did and it was like something snapped.

Embodiment of this understanding: This moment was an experience of endless joy, absolute satisfaction and pure perfection. It was like I was in a big arena and there was cheering from all directions. Later I was told that I repeatedly shouted “Yes! YES! YES! YEEEES…”. It felt like the most complex math equation in existence was finally solved and the result was the simplest thing one could imagine: 1. Everything made sense now. It felt like my heart exploded into a feeling of almost unbearable love (for myself) and joy (of being). It was very clear that this is IT. This is what it’s all about. This is the highest truth. There were no doubts about this. It was self evident, as obvious as the fact that it hurts when you pinch your arm. It’s so simple. Just accept yourself as what you truly are, and you become one with it. That’s all that’s needed, saying YES to life, to God, to yourself. I was sure that this state was permanent, and that I would never come back into dualistic reality again. I was home now, and I had no plans to leave.

clouds trippy

At some point I regained the feeling of my body. I heard birds chirping and felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. I opened my eyes and saw the sky and the people guiding me through the experience. This didn’t feel like coming back from a trip into reality but more like the exact opposite: I was entering this virtual reality again, the reality I’ve chosen to be part of. My ego instantly started to do its thing: Thoughts like “Wow, I must have been going through something very special here!”, “I hope I didn’t do anything embarrassing!”, “I should do something now, shouldn’t I?”. The joy I’d felt was still with me though. The simplicity and perfection of it was still tangibly close. I felt I could leave this dream world anytime I wished. But at the same time I noticed feelings of lack, struggle, doubts and desires coming back. Right! The suffering! I totally forgot about that.

Reentry Of Ego

Over the next few minutes I watched my ego reassemble part by part. This happened so quickly and spontaneously that it was a little shocking to witness. It felt almost mechanical. Like a software that is being reinstalled on an operating system. Within 15 minutes or so “I” felt almost completely “normal” again and was on my way to get lunch in the kitchen. Only later did I find some time for myself to contemplate the experience.

tree sun

A few days later what has happened is still very much with me. The most important insight for me right now is what I felt during this enlightening phase: that pure perfection, infinite love and joy is already our true nature. It’s right here, right now, only veiled by illusion.

For some reason this moment just before I was ready to accept this and say YES to it comes back again and again. Every night since it happened I wake up (usually around 3 in the morning) and it seems I’m in this position again where I can freely choose to identify with my true being. Sometimes I’m in there for a few (timeless) seconds, most of the time though I feel a strong fear and resistance and chicken out. But in any case I’m filled with a deep feeling of contentment afterwards because I remember what I experienced and know that in the end there is nothing to worry about.

I can’t put into words the gratitude I feel for having experienced this.

psychedelic art visionary dmt

Art by Krystleyez

“I searched for God and found only myself.
I searched for myself and found only God.”
– Rumi

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

At the end of last year I went to Jamaica to work at a psychedelic specialists psilocybin mushroom retreat. In case you’re wondering if you read that right, I’ll repeat. Psychedelic specialists. Magic mushroom retreat. In Jamaica. Yes, I know. My life sucks.

jamaica myco meditations treasure beach

Put on by Myco Meditations, the 10-day retreat was on the south coast of the island and had plenty going on outside of the 4 psilocybin sessions – there were group activities like art integration and guided meditations, presentations on psilocybin and session prep, and optional day trips to local areas. Comedian Shane Mauss did some of his ‘A Good Trip’ standup on psychedelics and a talk on DMT, and psilocybin researcher Katherine Maclean gave talks and acted as a facilitator for the sessions. Frankly speaking it was as awesome as it sounds and definitely a highlight of a what was personally an unpredictable roller coaster of a year.

myco meditations jamaica psilocybin retreat

shane mauss poi lights trippy psychedelic

How Did I End Up There?

A question I asked myself a few times. The short answer: by following my passions. The longer version is that I came across Myco Meditations online some time last year and after a brief email exchange with founder Eric Osborne we set up a skype call. Over the next couple of months we continued to connect and the next thing I know I’m booking a flight to Jamaica to film at the event.

eric myco meditations mycomeditations jamaica shrooms

Eric – a man who is happy whenever around mushrooms

Filming & Integration

I was there primarily to film some videos for the MycoMeds website and youtube and the filming interestingly merged into psychedelic integration, an emerging field I’m becoming increasingly interested in and one I think will develop rapidly in the coming years.

I sat down and did interviews with those on the retreat, asking them about their experience of it – the group dynamic, the facilitators, Jamaica – and more specifically their experiences during the psilocybin sessions. Doing these interviews was rewarding in itself and as people opened up I was reminded how important and powerful this work is. It really got me, and during one interview as someone talked to me about family troubles and how they’d come up in one of his high dose sessions, I was struck deeply with compassion. People were gaining new perspectives and the ability to see things in a more positive light. Good to know the mushies were working their magic.

jamaica beach landscape

The interviews gave me ideas for a type of video integration – where people can speak about their experiences and have the videos to help reconnect them to their experience and their new perspective, and continue to work with the insights they’ve gained. If you have any further ideas on how this might be developed, contact me.

Sitting

As well as filming I was also a sitter/facilitator for half of the sessions. Being entrusted in this role to be there for people during their psychedelic experiences is an absolute honour and privilege. Truly humbling. There is a lot to get into here and too much for this post so I’ll just say that sitting really is a skill and something which I learn more about with each experience – this was no different and I learned things which will inform my approach next time. Until then, my basic advice as a sitter to a tripper would be: if you encounter difficult emotions, relax, go towards and into them, and explore them with curiosity.

Let your guard down and walk naked into the fire.
(Metaphorically speaking. Please don’t actually walk into a fire.)

The Importance Of Vulnerability

The retreat made me realise that this willingness to vulnerability isn’t just important in the psychedelic experience – it’s important as a part of life. The group on this retreat bonded as the week progressed and conversations became deeper as we started opening up to each other more and more. I was reminded, yet again, that we’re all human and all have our troubles and struggles in life. Something that’s surprisingly easy to forget.

This is something that should be acknowledged because ignoring problems is never a good long term game plan. Whilst I don’t think it’s healthy to focus too heavily on problems – of course we should take time to count our blessings and enjoy life as it is – I do believe that the areas of our life we struggle with should be looked at honestly and strategically. If problems are left without inspection they may grow into a beast that is hard to even look at, let alone begin to decide how to take down. Naturally, looking at our problems isn’t comfortable, sharing them with others less so, and that’s exactly why it takes courage to be vulnerable. It seems natural to think of vulnerability as a weakness but the truth is the opposite. The ability to be vulnerable is a strength.

deep conversation mycomeditations jamaica

Having a group setting where you can sincerely share your problems is powerful. Talking about your problems or fears can give you the chance to say out loud things that have never been truly acknowledged. This can lead to a new understanding of your own feelings and opinions on things. Having someone patiently and sympathetically listen to you reinforces that its OK and normal to have problems and that we don’t need to hide from them. Once they are acknowledged then we can start to formulate a plan to tackle them. By talking with others we can receive support and advice on how to do this. If it is something out of our control, we can begin to learn acceptance.

The other side – hearing other people’s problems – is also helpful. We usually get so caught up in our own worlds that it’s easy to forget that everyone else is fighting their own battles too. But when someone is sat in front of you telling you they struggle with a difficult relationship, social anxiety, depression, direction in life, or whatever it is – you can’t ignore it. It shatters the facade of the world that deceives us through advertising – that everyone is supposed to be happy all the time – and hearing it directly from someone else gives you a very real reminder that you’re certainly not alone in your struggles. This can be empowering; a shared burden feels lighter and you can share with each other things that have helped you.

The Necessity Of Retreats

Most people don’t really take the time to properly reassess their position and direction. Too busy distracted. Or trying to earn or spend more money. Because apparently that’ll make us happy. But we know that really this isn’t true and instead of chasing the next hit of fleeting pleasure we should just stop for a second (or a week, or a month). We should take the time to see where we are and where we’re going, otherwise we’ll unwittingly end up somewhere we never wanted to be – ‘somewhere’ being the type of person we are and the life we’re living.

reflection retreat jamaica

Retreats by their nature offer us that opportunity to stop, reflect, have those important conversations, and realign ourselves. They give us the distance from our normal lives that is needed to get some perspective, and after we can go back into the world with our priorities in order. Combine this with psychedelics and a deeper mental reset and you have a powerful combo. But even without psychedelics I think that making time for this type of self-assessment is important. This is my way of saying; take time for yourself where you can really look at your life without distractions. Find your own retreat or ‘workation’, however it might take shape, where the work isn’t job-related but is work on yourself. Then take an actual break after, because if you’ve been working hard, you’ll need it!

Final Trip, 7.5g

Back to Jamaica, I figure I’ll finish where we did – the fourth and final trip. After facilitating for the second and third, I took part in this session as a tripper. The first three were in the evening but the final trip was to start in the afternoon so that there could be an outside and daylight option for those that wanted it. As well as the outdoor which would be a more sociable setting, there was an indoor option for those who wanted to do more internal personal work. I went for the indoor.

There was around 7 of us in the room, most people with doses of at least 5g, some going up to 9. We all lay down on and mats and music was played through a speaker. I can’t really comment on the music as I opted for headphones and put on a playlist by Mendel Kaelen – a psychedelic neuroscientist whose job it is to select music for people on psilocybin. I figured it should be fairly appropriate.

psilocybin capsules magic shrooms

I was allowed to choose my own dose and went for 7.5 grams. I know that might sound like a lot but I have a really high tolerance to psilocybin and I’d guess that 7.5g for me is probably what 3g would be for the average person. After knocking back the capsules I went for the classic therapeutic procedure –  sleep mask and headphones – and tried to relax myself as much as possible.

About 2 hours in the vivid sight of a family member on their deathbed came to me. I could see them so clearly that I could see the lines on their face. I felt sadness and fear at their imminent passing and started to cry. I tried to cry quietly to not disturb the others in the room, but at the same time to let it go. As I cried, I felt a hand softly rubbing me on my back. It was one of the facilitators, their touch told me “It’s ok for you to feel that sadness, it’s OK for you to cry. You are OK here”. After probably 10, 15 (?) minutes the sadness and accompanying tears eased up. I dried my eyes, blew my nose, and lay waiting to see if there was more to come. After a short time I could feel there was no more – the chapter had ended and the sadness had passed. And I kinda needed a pee.

I got up and went to the bathroom. I still had the Kaelen playlist playing in my ears but the purging was done and I was in a different space – I had a real urge to listen to some dirty riffs and big ass pumping rock tunes. Time to go off playlist. I grabbed a lighter from the kitchen and then went out on to the back balcony where I remembered there was a half a joint that had been hanging out there for a couple of days. I didn’t realise it before but I knew it now: that joint was waiting for me. I pulled up a seat to get a view of the lush green landscape and interrupted a soft and soothing tune for some Japandroids – crunching garage punk rock with anthemic choruses. Cranking the volume as the intro began, I lit up that joint.

smoke

Ah man. Glorious. The sweet ganja washed over me with a warm fuzz that somehow fused with the gnarled distortion on the guitars, and in a crazy life-affirming haze of noise, I felt fucking great. I heard the detail of the tone on those guitars like I haven’t heard in a long time and I closed my eyes tight, feverishly bumping my head to a beat that was pumping me up with a fresh lust for life, simultaneously satisfying and whetting my appetite for adventure and exploration. Wild, ecstatic, euphoric. It was reminiscent of my first ever trips and again reminded me that all life is an adventure, the message echoed by the chorus flying through my headphones…

“It ain’t shit, it’s just kicks… And like the world I’m going on and on and on.”

Now I know that might sound like some cheap adolescent wisdom but it’s a message that is much needed when life starts to seem heavy and a little too serious – ultimately life is nothing, it’s just kicks… pressure’s off, don’t sweat it too much, go explore and have fun.

Message received, I jammed out to another stone-cold rocker on the balcony as the rest of the group did a final meditation inside. The closing of the meditation signalled the end of the formal session, and we headed for the beach to meet up with the outdoor group.

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

jamaica mycomeditations sea landscape shrooms

We arrived at the beach to find the others already there, some in the sea, some exploring the nearby terrain. I found a spot to lie on the sand and got comfortable. “Inspiration and beauty for the next half hour!” Eric said announcing the immediate schedule. As I looked out to the colours starting to appear over the horizon, I had to agree. I lay there smiling to myself until Kristjan, an Estonian retreater with a brilliant accent that I’d come to love over the course of the retreat, appeared from behind a mound of sand. He wandered over with a characteristic smile and typically perfectly rolled joint in hand. Holding it up, he asked “Wanna try some of this sweet hash?”

As advertised, it was sweet. As was pretty much everything else about that evening on the beach. I caught up with the others about their journeys as we bobbed on the waves, and shared joints over conversations about dreams and the world. After the sun had set we made it back inland for dinner where Shane let our table in on some more of his crazy brilliant ideas. Engaging and heartfelt conversation over dinner with good people, before stepping out to gaze up at the full moon. What else can I say? It was the perfect end to the retreat.

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!