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Rather than do a best psychedelic books list, I thought it would be fun to explore my psychedelic story through books that I’ve read over the last 10 years.

When I was thinking about writing this piece, I thought: ‘is it strange to only count books since I started taking psychedelics? Shouldn’t I include important books from before I started my psychedelic journey?’. I thought about what books I would include from before and I remembered that there weren’t really many.

Though I’d read a few, I actually only really started to get into books after my first psychedelic experiences. The curiosity they fed me gave me an insatiable hunger for learning and knowledge, as well as the patience to read slower, more challenging books and those above my level. My renewed sense of childlike curiosity also made reading more inherently rewarding, worthwhile simply as a means of exploration even if there would be no take away lesson or practical benefit.

Now the idea of living without books seems like a deprived existence. Suffice to say reading remains one of my favourite and most rewarding hobbies.

For this piece I will just run through in a roughly chronological order books that I remember reading and that somehow seem significant or influential as part of my journey over the last decade. It won’t be thorough or complete, but will surely give you an idea of my course.

The form of this piece is going to be loose as I think this will just be a fun way to chart my journey via literature and continue to embrace using this month of blogging to cultivate the experimenter’s mindset. I’ll adjust text size to show significance and add comments by some of the books that I feel have been especially important.

Important Books In My Story

The Doors of Perception – Aldous Huxley

I read this in the aftermath of my first experiences and I fell for Huxley’s literal, almost scientific way of describing, while also diving into cultural commentary and philosophical and spiritual ideas. I even remember at one point standing up and punching the air whilst reading this. Huxley has since become my most read author. His mind and words just get me in some special way. I find the way he explores ideas both through novels and essays to be incredibly stimulating and energising.

The Psychedelic Experience – Tim Leary, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner

On The Road – Jack Kerouac

As cliché as it is this beat classic was a big fuel for me in my wild travel and wanderlust ways. It was a perfect companion on my first budget travel trip around Europe, and it also planted a seed of desire for me to visit Mexico; a journey I made around seven years later and ended up staying in the country for five months. My time in Mexico remains one of my all time favourite chapters and cherished memories.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Woolfe

A rollicking great story following Kesey and those crazy band of merry pranksters. Woolfe plays with form in a psychedelic style which fits perfectly.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest – Ken Kesey

May be my favorite novel that I’ve ever read. Rightly a classic, just brilliant.

The Path of Tibetan Buddhism – The Dalai Lama

 

Introduction to Zen Buddhism – D.T Suzuki

How to Meditate

The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tze

Wisdom packed, almost mystical, fundamental Taoist text. I’ve read a few different translations and this is a book I expect I’ll be continuing to revisit for the rest of my life.

Be Here Now – Ram Dass

An incredible story and many great tools for aspiring spiritual practitioners. This book began my yoga practice, I used the core asanas it provided, and was very useful with the step-by-step instructions to both these and pranayama breathing exercises.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
1984 – George Orwell
Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Island – Aldous Huxley

This remains one of my favorite pieces of literature that I’ve ever read. The island of Pala that Huxley describes is in many ways the beautiful world our hearts know is possible. Incredible vision from Huxley of a spiritually and scientifically informed society where psychedelics integrated and used in a coming of age ritual.

Peace Is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh

I bought this book in Bangkok train station on my way heading south to find a peaceful beach where I could unpack after my 14 month stint in China. I lived in a hut by the beach for a couple weeks, reading in hammocks, relaxing, and practicing meditation ahead of my first silent retreat which was coming up a few weeks later.

Reading this book really helped evolve my meditation practice from a mostly seated stillness practice into a daily life mindfulness practice. Though a simple and very readable format and style, it has depth and gave me ideas for many ways to return to a mindful state throughout the day.

Savor – Thich Nhat Hanh
Shamanic Trance and Modern Kabbalah – Jonathan Garb
The Perennial Philosophy – Aldous Huxley
Against Nature – Joris-Karl Huysmans

The Book – Alan Watts
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
The Way of Zen – Alan Watts

War God – Graham Hancock

An incredible semi-historical flight of fancy from one of my favourite authors in the psychedelic space. An absolute page turner, couldn’t put this one down and had me staying up late reading and waking up for work tired.

Vagabonding – Rolf Potts

True travel classic. Certainly one of the most influential books on my path and somehow practical in a philosophical way. Potts saved money for his travels whilst working as an English teacher in the South Korean coastal city of Busan. I read this book whilst saving money for travel whilst working a an English teacher in Busan. That was not planned, but surely another reason why it resonated so strongly with me. Potts was also an inspiration for me as an aspiring adventure and travel blogger.

The 4-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss

 

The Sunhitcher – Tomi Astikainen

The Book of Tea – Kakuzō Okakura

 

Thousand Cranes – Yasunari Kawabata
The Old Capital – Yasunari Kawabata
Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata

The Joyous Cosmology – Alan Watts

The Teachings of Don Juan – Carlos Castaneda

After having been out in the Mexican desert picking peyote and smoking DMT with a band of travellers, I picked up this book upon heading back to the city of San Luis Potosi, where I was based. Reading Castaneda I became so inspired and re-invigorated with that adventurelust I once again packed up and headed back out to the desert town for what turned out to be another incredible chapter which began with bailing a friend out of a local prison for possession, had consecutive days of peyote sessions in the desert, a Mexican country village fair, and lead to me being invited to The Dance Of The Sun – a native American shamanic ritual that includes fasting and blood sacrifices.

The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday

Can’t recommend this book highly enough. Ryan holiday has become one of my favourite authors.

Waking Up – Sam Harris
The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide – James Fadiman

The Secret Chief Revealed – Myron Stolaroff

Western psychedelic therapy has been huge in informing my approach and I still use methods from this book both as a practitioner and as a guide.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – Chögyam Trungpa

The Book Of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa

The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday

The War Of Art – Steven Pressfield

This book has been absolutely hugely influential and inspiring for me. Recommended to anyone looking for inspiration for creative endeavour they’d like to embark upon.
Getting Higher – Julian Vayne

Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

Atomic Habits – James Clear

I followed blogger and habits expert Clear for a few years before he released this book, being so interested in the subject of habit formation. Atomic Habits is the ultimate compilation of his works and I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone interested in habit change.

Zig Zag Zen – Alan Badiner

Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn

I read this book over the time I was doing mindfulness coach certification and found it to contains so much in so little. Each chapter is 1 to 2 pages, so it’s one of those books where you can read a page a day and slowly digest all the wisdom and depth that is packed in.

Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins

Psychedelic Psychotherapy – R. Coleman

Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss – Dennis McKenna

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport

This is a book for our times. It has changed my digital life (mainly, getting me off whatsapp and telegram) and continues to inform it. I love the way Newport thinks I found it especially satisfying that the practical system he proposes in this book is almost structurally identical to a practical system I have devised for psychedelic integration. Great minds!

The Pocket I Ching – Richard Wilhelm
Ego Is The Enemy – Ryan Holiday

Currently reading:
Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse

That bring us up to date!

I’m not sure how interesting this post may have been to read but it was really fun to write! Reflecting on how much these books have contributed to my life has me really excited to read a bunch more. If you enjoy reading, try exploring your story through books, its a fun activity 🙂

I think I’d like to return to this post sometime to add photos but for now, I’m off to finish Steppenwolf.

Tschüs!

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 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 of Leamington 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 Robertson, at one moment in my life, I understood how my entire life as John Robertson 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 wept 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…

My psychedelic history started for real in late 2011. It was an experience with LSD, MDMA, marijuana and nitrous oxide (AKA laughing gas) all together in one session that ended up lasting around 24 hours.

At the time I was a regular weed smoker and had tried salvia once in a crazy student drug experience story, and MDMA one or two times at festivals. Other than that the only other psychoactive substances I’d tried were alcohol, coffee, and M-cat (a popular student drug around 2009).

Back to late 2011. I’d graduated with a degree in broadcasting the year before and was lacking any real direction in life. After entering and leaving the media industry – quick disillusionment – I was back at home and living with my parents, unemployed. I was disillusioned with the global political system and didn’t feel any real desire or inspiration to participate in what I saw as a game controlled by elites. I enjoyed spending time staying home, listening to music, half heartedly looking for jobs, and smoking weed whilst walking the dog.

Around that time some school friends of mine tried some magic mushrooms and had a good experience and invited me to try them with them. I was eager, and headed up to Sheffield to join them a few weeks later. It was a fun recreational experience and afterwards they came across someone who had LSD. I’d wanted to try acid for a while, having appreciated how weed was able to change my perception and creative ideas, and vaguely aware of LSD’s influence on many great musicians including one of my all time favourites, The Beatles. My friends were never so keen on trying LSD, but after a couple of positive experiences with mushrooms, they were in.

We set a date for a few weekends away.

In the run up, I’d read online that taking MDMA before can be a good way to enter in to an LSD trip, as it gets you in a good mood and that is a good place to enter the trip from.

I can agree, though the come up was absolutely mega and intense. Admittedly, we did help those matters by continuing to smoke weed and knock back nitrous oxide.

What happened over that 24 hour period was surreal. The world of perception totally changed. I became in tune to the mysteries of existence, awareness, perception, how fluid reality is. I had never experienced anything like it before. Listening to music with my eyes closed, I surfed epic chunky guitar riffs through space like an exhilarated cosmonaut. At some point between nitrous oxide hits, I came to a deep realisation; that all existence is a huge game.

I let out huge bellows of laughter that reverberated deep throughout me.

The understanding that it is all a game took all the pressure of life off. It is all a show! We are all characters of a play. It is a game. So… I should play!

The perspective that stayed with me made me embrace the idea that I should explore and experience more. On some level my fears were eroded and I began to dream about what I wanted to really do with the life, the incredible chance at a life I have been given.

Growing up with maps in our home and hearing my Dad’s stories, I had always wanted to travel. I got a temp job as a teacher and began saving. Travel took over my life and in autumn of 2012, I set off with a friend on a 1 month inter-rail tour of Europe, which lead to me shortly thereafter moving to China. Asia had been a place I’d long wanted to explore, drawn back to my roots and to the side of my family that I have been so disconnected from.

By China, my fascination with psychedelics had evolved into a deep interest in consciousness and mystical experiences. The trail lead me to meditation and there I found joined classes and began practicing everyday.

Towards the end of my year in China, a friend of mine and I made a visit to Huang Shan, the epic mountains that were the inspiration for the floating mountains in Avatar. On one early morning, we dropped some aMT, an obscure tryptamine, before heading out to see the sunrise.

I still count this as one of the most incredible experiences I’ve been witness to. Seeing that gas ball appear over the horizon, we both instantly understood millennia of sun worship. I felt a deep connection to my ancient ancestors and all those religions who worshipped the Sun.

After leaving China, I attended my first vipassana retreat, 10 days of silent meditation. At the time I was pretty serious about spiritual practice and was actually aiming for a full spiritual enlightenment in this lifetime. That does seem quite funny to say now, but its true. Suffice to say that I was with a strong determination and practiced very diligently. I feel that by being so driven I and my practice have derived some benefit in the long term. However, with such a strong work ethic, the retreat was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life. Afterwards I concluded that the monks life, which I had seriously considered (becoming ordained and all), was not for me. The retreat made me appreciate the pleasures and treasures of samsaric existence, of being in the world and engaging with it. I have since come somewhere in the middle. I maintain a spiritual practice but I am also man of the world and enjoy interacting with reality in this way.

In 2014, I moved to Spain, joining a weekly sitting in the tradition of zen and Thich Nhat Han and joining my first regular yoga class. At the end of my time there I attended my first psychedelic retreat in Andalucia. This was my first encounter of any shaman, facilitator or any kind of guide in the psychedelic world. As a group of around 10, we had 2 salvia ceremonies, 2 ayahuasca ceremonies and one san pedro. After one of those ayahuasca ceremonies, deep into the night and after everyone had gone to bed, feeling disappointed that nothing had happened, with my guard finally down, I broke down, floods of tears falling down, weeping for hours. I felt the pure suffering of humanity. How hard it is, what struggle a human existence entails.

During and upon leaving the retreat I had questions about our shaman and the way the whole thing was held. This later became the topic of my talk at the Beyond Psychedelics conference a couple years ago.

Soon after, in the summer of 2014 I moved to Korea. I had the whole year drug free and figuring the break from weed would be good, doubled down on my meditation practice, keeping it consistent, reading more books, attending a temple stay and a local mindfulness meetup. I saved diligently as I was planning to take time off work and explore options outside of English teaching. I began my first version of this blog, called Mindmaker, feeling that I had some things to share and wanting to start some kind of side project related to my interests.

I had adventures in Japan, Taiwan and Egypt, and after another vipassana retreat to touch base, I began planning my epic psychedelic adventure…

February 2016, I arrived in Brazil on a one way ticket. Lured to Latin America by their native psychedelics and plant medicines, I ended up staying there over 13 months and travelling to 12 countries.

As I moved through South America, I did 3 ayahuasca ceremonies over a week in the Bolivian amazon, high dose San Pedro alone in the Peruvian Andes. In Mexico I sought out peyote in the Mexican deserts of San Luis Potosi, before leaving, reading Carlos Castaneda, and then deciding I needed to go back, heading back out there for more desert peyote sessions.

I made my way onwards to the state of Oaxaca, famous for the Western discovery of magic mushrooms by Gordon Wasson. Whilst there, a post on my blog went semi-viral through reddit and it encouraged me to keep creating and writing about my travels and experiences. I upgraded the site and got the name Maps of the Mind (thanks Joe!). I continued on and made my way to the mountainous region of Oaxaca where mushrooms were around, first visiting from my beach location home and tripping with a friend for her first time, and then packing up and heading with my belongings to spend more time there.

I was there over new years, taking mushrooms alone in the wilderness of nature on consecutive days. Working with the mushrooms as I entered 2017, I set my intentions for the year ahead.

My time up in those mountains is still one of my most treasured memories to date. The atmosphere of the place, the people passing through, the views and sunsets. It was a magical time.

I finished off my travels, continuing to practice writing, learn photography and Spanish, and finally returned to the UK in the spring.

What is funny is that, after all my travels, experiences, and ceremonies in Latin America, I finally got the experience I was really looking for upon returning home. Back in an old red brick house in the North of England on a grey day. A solo experience in a self made ceremony, put together by drawing upon work from the pioneers of Western psychedelic therapy of the 50s and 60s.

This experience was where my appreciation of the deep mystical and healing potential of psychedelics began. It is where my journey in the psychedelic world went a whole nother level deeper. It is what lead to me really engaging with and being involved with the psychedelic movement and worldwide community. This experience started a whole new chapter…