Shortly before I integrated psychedelics into my spiritual healing, I started thinking about a card I received in the mail many years ago. I was thirteen and had just severed all communication with an abusive relative whose monthly outreach I could no longer stomach. He sent the card anyway, a greeting card of all things. I suppose I understand why. Cards, after all, are easy. They minimize the bad and magnify the bland intervals between abuse and Something Else. They undermine complex histories in simple language and elegant fonts. No one expects a greeting card to make them tremble.
Ten years after crushing this card in my hands, I ingested about five grams of highly potent psilocybin mushrooms. It wasn’t my first experience with psychedelics, but this dose rendered new possibilities in my long search of twin mysteries Love and Self-Acceptance. Like most people who brave psychedelics, I have been well acquainted with temporal violence. It’s written on me. My body shelves the stories I don’t want to live. Incest, Southern Baptists, divorce, a mother confined to her bed, friends blown to bits by their own aloneness. A writer’s life. A human girl’s life. Who would ask for it? In the absence of questions answers find us. There is no why. We tear in the inexplicable Because.
At twenty-three, I sat on my bed with the plastic bag containing five grams of psilocybin mushrooms. I ate the shrooms raw, the taste so dry and sickly. During the first hour of my trip, my world was infused with generous visitations. Euphoria and smooth distortions had begun to buttress my whole experience. The cracks in the walls, lit up and entwined, morphed into Mesoamerican iconography I’d studied in school. Incense smoke formed silky plumes with a bulbous center I likened to O’Keeffe flowers. My ceiling lifted and swayed like the trap door of a ship. It lifted at the corners allowing cascades of orange and blue to trickle down the walls. My perimeters, once clearly defined, stretched in vertical and horizontal directions as if the room and myself had taken a collective intake of breath.
About two hours in I found myself in an airy, colored terrain unlike anything I’d encountered on previous trips. My roommates’ voices in the living room vanished. Pinned to my bed, I’d become transfixed on an object I can only describe as a magical eraser. It wiped away the wall and all of its electric green hieroglyphs. This was the only wall separating myself and the rest of the house. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to be transported into a bold, strange realm that would completely rewire what I then knew as consciousness.
During my first experience with mushrooms, I’d taken a small but effective dose that guided me to a small husk of inner luminosity. I cannot fully describe this inner luminosity. Nothing can truly be replicated. Especially if it exists outside of language. All I know is that the husk is taut and bell shaped. It’s made of the colors of the great bells I see before I fall asleep. There are enough of these bells to fill a sanctuary and each one hangs translucent, congealed. They chime as I enter the thrust of a dream.
On previous trips, this glowing husk had given a few honest thumps. My eyes had welled in gratitude and my blood hummed. Two hours after eating five grams of shrooms, the husk broke through. It was as if the light bulb of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story had shattered inside me and light like water flooded every passageway. I couldn’t say where I was or how I’d gotten there. All I know is that I had entered a realm where I could love without the fear of never being loved in return.
In this realm I was the giver and receiver. I’d finally understood what self-love looks and feels like. I now know what it tastes like too. Turns out self-love can seep out of us which I’d discovered in my own tears, saliva, and discharge, my tongue lapping away at wounds that refused to heal. Before this trip, self-love was like the shadow of a distant ship drifting across the ocean floor. Under the influence of psilocybin it was as if I had dived head first to meet it.
This self-healing process soon ventured off into the most wondrous direction. It was the same process but focused on other people. It involved every person I ever cared for in my adult life. Friends, co-workers, roommates. Men and women I’ve chosen to love. They appeared before me one at a time. I touched their foreheads like a Bishop at the start of Lent but instead of ash, my fingers were smudged with personalized sensations that would heal the hurt beneath the skin. My taste buds left my mouth and arranged themselves all over my body like tiny suckers. With each person there was an embrace and in that deep pause, I tasted essence. Each person had a story I devoured. I tasted their pain and resolution. I told them I know. I told them I’m sorry. I seemed to have one message for them and nothing else: Remember you are love and to love you shall return.
In Philip K. Dick’s cerebral, bleakly funny novel “Valis”, a schizophrenic man named Horselover Fat undergoes rare neurotic forays bordering on spiritual enlightenment. During one of his experiences, Fat encounters a sentient and volitional void that delights in him. Dick writes, “The void had been waiting to be reunited with Horselover Fat, of all the human beings who had ever existed. Like its extension into space, the love in the void lay boundless; it and its love floated forever.”
During my trip I witnessed the otherwise invisible process of people reaching their fullest potential. I’d been erased of my bastion of solitude then grounded in the beautiful transformation of others. I saw everything. I healed them then let them go. It was one of the most visceral feelings of selflessness I’ve ever experienced, and I was completely alone. I was even shown how to incorporate what I learned into my day to day life. Mostly I was loved by whatever had broken free from this husk. I was loved by it. “It and its love floated forever.”
Art/Writing is important to me and I like to think about its many places in the world. When I think of the relationship between making art and taking psychedelics, I’m tempted to cower from the differences and similarities. Over time I’ve come to see the two as separate but related endeavors. While writing is a way to venture in the time of intense bleeding, psychedelic use, like various methods of therapy, is a tool to help rediscover what tore through the gauze.
It’s my belief that somewhere deep inside us there is a place that hovers. The place the husk is made. And inside there are scores of brilliant things untouched by culture, madness, or trauma. Perhaps it’s the True Self or the inherent bliss of Nothing. Whatever it is, I would have never found it without the assistance of psilocybin. The ego holds this place captive for a number of reasons. Even on five grams of mushrooms, I held onto it hubristically. Fortunately, nothing lasts and the death of my ego was as compassionate as its rebirth.
If our hurt creates a labyrinth within our own psyche, then the source of this hurt, the oldest wound, enters at our exit. We know how to leave but the hurt knows better how to stay, and our repeated departure from the self is an illusory, finite compromise. What we must do is exist and engage in the sadness. We must learn to chase greater storms. As Len in Robert Frost’s “A Servant to Servants” tells us, “The best way out is always through.”
Psilocybin took me through. It took me through. Oh, it took me.