I live on an island in Southeastern Alaska surrounded by natural beauty that renders the poets speechless. Growing up here I began, after high school graduation, between 1973 and 1975, experimenting with Clearlight LSD and had many (I mean many) experiences of profound beauty and wonder. I approached this phase of life thoughtfully after reading Huxley, Cohen, Blake, et al. As a young man these writers, and my LSD experiences, left indelible impressions in my mind. I have no doubt that LSD actually raised my native intelligence significantly at a critical time in life.
Over the following years, I went to university, majoring in chemistry and later electronic engineering technology. During the “cold war” I worked for 16 years, in Seattle, in electronics engineering with an emphasis on avionics and hydroacoustics (sonar) design. I also raised a wonderful family. No point in saying, I am not a “stoner.”
But over those years I have had bouts with minor depression, short periods of deep introspection and doubt, accompanied by feelings of purposelessness. I “motored-through” these periods promising myself that someday I would find an answer. I am also a committed Christian and have accepted that these episodes may be my “thorn in the flesh” so I try to learn from them.
I’ll admit that I am not wired like most folks, in fact some would say I am a bit eccentric, but that doesn’t bother me, having certain gifts often entails certain deficits. Besides, these short periods of depression are not debilitating and, in fact, are often followed by surprising bursts of energy and creativity.
During the summer of 2013, while on a mountain climb in Alaska, I had a minor epiphany. As the writer C.S. Lewis describes, “…a moment that contains all moments.” Days later, as I analyzed the experience, I became convinced that there were issues in my heart that needed resolution and clarity, I knew that these issues were connected with my Clearlight years.
Since I am a very private person, and wouldn’t think of asking for advice from someone, a pastor, counsellor (or anyone else for that matter) who had never taken LSD — certainly not anyone who had not done so in a serious manner. I decided that the only way to gain resolution was to take the “magical mystery tour” again and to go deep enough to jar my paradigm.
Well “good old Lysid” is hard to find these days, but nature has provided a noble alternative in the magic mushroom. I decided that I would try these instead of Clearlight. Perhaps this would provide the alternate view needed to understand this tension.
So, on a cold and sunny December morning in 2013, while alone in my cabin on the shore, I slowly chewed 4-plus grams of dried psilocybin mushrooms. Within 15 minutes I felt a surge of mental energy and set about cleaning up, putting things in order, and banking the fire in the wood stove. It was 19 degrees outside; if I went for a hike on the island I wanted to come home to a tidy house and a warm fire. I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for.
After 30 minutes I felt an overwhelming desire to get outside into nature. The day was young and the golden rays of the sun were slanting through the forest like a scene in a Hildebrandt painting. I stuffed a few things in my day-pack and ventured out into the woods along the shore.
My walk through the forest was astonishing. Trees and bushes were empowered with living character, demanding my attention and acknowledgement. Mosses and ground-cover, that I would normally ignore, became radiant and fractal. The voice of a raven’s winter-call became rich with meaning and echoed in my mind. I felt a distinct pull toward the earth.
After 45 minutes I removed my pack and felt compelled to sit down between the roots of a giant Sitka-spruce tree and to feel the winter sun on my face. While doing this I became aware that gravity had increased and felt that I should move slowly. Slow movements were very pleasurable; In fact, the slower I moved my body, the better it felt. The simple act of unzipping my pack to locate my iPod and to open a chocolate bar were ceremonies. I suddenly felt that every physical act in life is a gift and should be replete with significance and meaning. Nothing should be done absent-mindedly.
I slowly connected my iPod and earbuds and selected the song “Awaken” by YES. Then intense visions began. Each time I blinked my eyes there was an explosion of Mandelbrot sets and fractal patterns in colors beyond description. I listened to “Awaken” as if I had never heard music before. I could see the music!
The composition “Awaken” is a multidimensional tapestry of sound and color. Jon Anderson’s cryptic lyrics, soaring over Rick Wakeman’s mastery on the pipe organ, launched me to my feet in worship to our Creator. I had not felt this alive in a long time!
Since that day I have taken the mushroom many times. I often find myself gravitating toward small mountain streams and pools. The sounds of running water have a musical, elvish, quality. Small spaces in the woods are intriguing. These small spaces take on amphitheater dimensions and hold deep charm.
Each event has revealed fresh insights for me. The most pleasing insight has been the tangible sense that life, given to us by our Creator, is fractal, and infinitely rich in detail. The deeper we look at life, the greater the mystery. For a better understanding of this idea read Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, specifically his dissertation on the two infinities. Each moment should be lived purposefully and awake… moments that contain all moments.
Another realization, thrown into sharp relief by the psilocybin experience, was this: “Take small steps, but take steps.” This seems so obvious, but for a “Type A” personality like me, too often held inert by the prospect of imperfect results, it was liberating to understand this concept more deeply as a real-life expression of mathematical limits. It became so clear and livable! This small lesson has stayed with me and has yielded fantastic results in my professional life.
The most valuable insight revealed to me is that I needed to connect with my fellow man on a deeper level. This too may seem obvious to most people, but it has never been easy for me. The mushroom blasted my ego, removed all pretense and facade, and let me experience, in a very troubling way, my fear-driven guardedness in personal relationships, and my lack of empathy. I could not escape! I had to face it. This is one of those hard lessons that would be called a “bad trip” on LSD, but the mushroom is gentler. This lesson is still a work in progress.
During recent magic mushroom trips I have seen people’s faces in my mind — casual acquaintances that I may have passed in the local grocery store or seen only days prior. I reflect on them in a new way and find that I want to affirm them because we are all connected. We all need affirmation, even people that seem to have-it-all-together need affirmation, and I learned that affirming others, even strangers, if done in an appropriate way, is healing.
Well, back to my first experience: It was an unforgettable day. I found myself exploring small ravines and clear frozen pools. I had been granted a child’s sense of wonder. My vision was sharpened so that I could see things in fine detail at long distances.
There were cycles of physical ecstasy and emotional withdrawal during the trip, and just when I felt that the experience should be over, I would be pulled to the earth again, fascinated by small things. It just kept giving. By dusk I had returned to 80 percent normal and even felt that I could hold a rational conversation with common platitudes. I walked home to my cabin on the shore trying to collect the experience.
I don’t smoke cannabis, but I opened a Stone IPA beer and sat outside looking at the snow-capped Wrangell Mountains and 9000 foot Devil’s Thumb, watching the tide come in, lapping around boulders on the beach. I felt at peace and have wanted this resolution for so long.
For days after this first experience (at least two weeks) I felt an unusual openness and vulnerability to others and a quiescence in my being that was long overdue. This feeling was so good and I have wanted it for so long. Now the challenge was to integrate these lessons into everyday life.
As I write this it is December 2014. I had several opportunities to repeat these experiences. Each time I have been in no hurry. One of the remarkable things about LSD and psilocybin is that they are not addictive or habit forming. But, if you have had a good trip you may find that you want to replicate it. Don’t do this expecting the same experiences. You may be disappointed. You can return to the same setting, but always try to find new surprises.
More importantly, mushrooms are not “party drugs” and they shouldn’t be used to get loud, belligerent, and careless. You might get away with that a few times, but then you will be tested. This is where lightweights bale out. These are powerful entheogens and will test the very girders of your mind, but they are also gifts to those who learn to use them wisely. It is important to be patient and to wait for the best time and place.
I have learned that the best time to experience the mushroom magic is when you feel strong and when you can be out in nature surrounded by life. Sunshine and clear days are best for me. Also, if you have a close friend who is intelligent, a good friend who knows the alternate view, and truly values these experiences, you are lucky. I am not so fortunate.
It is also best when you have achieved a goal in life or reached a benchmark (even a small one) that makes you truly happy about your achievement. To me this is very important. I set so many goals for myself and may feel depressed if I don’t reach them. But if I break those goals down into smaller tasks that are within practical reach, and visualize each task as part of the larger goal, I then have reason to celebrate. Even if I have to push the larger goal further into the future it is gratifying to reach these smaller benchmarks. “Take small steps… but take steps.”
Depression? I don’t think that psilocybin is a cure for clinical depression, but in my case (minor depression) I know that it was beneficial. It has shaken my paradigm and reawakened a deeper awareness of the sublime and mystical nature of life. I no longer live life as a “Cartesian” nor as a Darwinian.
Also, psilocybin has — without a doubt — raised my sensitivity toward others. I can’t explain this, but I feel more responsible for others. I have also come to believe that my words carry a “charge” — that I need to be careful with words. These are new dimensions of personal character that I have long sought as a Christian.
Finally, I want to leave the reader with this thought: I believe that these powerful “indole entheogens” can be used for good or ill. The magic mushroom holds great potential when viewed as a gift from our Creator and when used carefully and respectfully as a tool to gain new insight.
The established culture tells us that we are only permitted alcohol and tobacco. But as the brilliant social philosopher, Terrance McKenna, once remarked, “They would outlaw sex if they could.” So, I have had to question my cultural programming and to adjust my worldview with respect to my individual journey.
I believe that real Christianity views God’s creation as generous, having far more freedom and liberty than most people understand. It is only certain authorized, hierarchical, proxies within our culture that want to control and retard this freedom.
Even Solomon experimented with the alternate view. He “tested his mind” with wine (and who knows what else), but beneath his exploration was a solid understanding that, “The fear of God (awesome respect and reverence of God our Creator) is the beginning of wisdom.”
Seek God with all your heart. If you believe this, and if you approach the mushroom experience with the innocence of a child, I believe it will show you many things that can change your life for the better.
I, for one, am so grateful.