Alex Grey is a wizard. In a few square inches, instantly apprehensible, this picture may do a better job expressing my trip than all the words I am about to type, but this is his gift.
My gift - the net I get to take into altered-states - is language. This trip report is my best attempt to create something useful out of something terrifying.
On that face is Awe. That is the face one makes when they encounter something terrifyingly transcendent. There is also a hint of realization, as if the overwhelming witnessing is also self-evidently true, that what is being seen is more true than anything else those eyes had seen before.
This is what I felt.
I'm a peculiar mix. I'm a cognitive psychologist with a strong logical mind, but I also have a borderline-schizophrenic intuitive mind that is drawn to Carl Jung's psychology and psychedelics.
Since I can remember, I've been a radical Atheist who looked to debate anyone about any claim that couldn't be validated by the scientific method. In hindsight, I think I was a scared little human, desperately looking for someone to help him find a rational path to God.
Once I started taking psychedelics at 19, this rigid scientific materialism view of the world started cracking. After 2 years of intermittent psilocybin use chipping away at the foundation of my belief system, two DMT trips blew the motherfucker wide open.
These two trips seemed like they unleashed this borderline-schizophrenic intuitive mind I didn't know I had. Since this part of my mind came online, weed has never been the same. Where before I could smoke for hours with friends everyday for months on end; after, even a single hit can send me into a very rewarding, but never dull, psychedelic experience.
I think this will set the stage and help explain why a single bite from a 375mg THC medicinal cookie sent me into the most harrowing psychedelic experience I've ever had.
Chapel Perilous: The Three Myths
It’s a cliche now in trip reports to say you experienced ego-death. I hope to avoid this by trying my very best to articulate what happened to me.
It's a Wednesday night. I'm visiting my family for the holidays. My mom has a medical marijuana licenses, and she got me a THC cookie. In my poor attempt at relaxation, I decide to eat a little bit of this cookie. I broke off about a 5th and started chewing.
It was fucking delicious. As I chewed the last bits, I went to sit in a living room recliner with my notepad. I'm in the midst of writing an ebook and wanted to catch any interesting ideas that'd flip by.
After about 30 minutes, I thought “ah, this is nice. I feel it.”
Time stopped making sense soon after this.
At some indeterminable point, I began to notice my heartbeat. It was very loud, and seemed to be pumping very fast. I was beginning to sense that this was going to be more than I thought it was going to be.
I put my notebook down and moved my right hand over my left wrist to try and get a sense of my heartbeat. I couldn't get a clear sense, because I began to notice that I could hear my heart pulsing in my neck, and I could feel it pounding in my chest. It felt like my heartbeat was surrounding me. It felt everywhere.
I felt fear knocking at the door of my consciousness asking if it needed to come in and start screaming. I felt calmly in control and let him know that it was fine and that he could leave. I got into a meditative posture, closed my eyes, and just started sitting with my breath and this experience.
It felt like I was sitting in the calm center of a storm. My heart had to have been beating close to 200 times a minute. My fight-or-flight response was at 10. My body was as alive as it possibly could be, but I felt calm, centered, and present.
But at some point I slipped. I let the door open and fear stampeded in, and fueled by my ancestor's threat-detection systems, began shrieking.
This is when the stories started.
Our thoughts, emotions, and physiology are in a constant feedback loop. When your heartbeat is at its physiological limit, and your mind senses you aren't sprinting or lifting something heavy, your abstract mind is going to go looking for a reason why the heart is freaking out. This is what I think began happening here. My mind started looking for the most terrifying stories it could create that would justify my physiology.
Story #1: You're Waking Up From a Coma
The first story that came to mind was that I was actually waking up out of a coma.
This life, all these memories, all these plans, all the people I knew and loved, they were comforting creations I had dreamt to protect myself from the fact that I’m suspended in a coma somewhere, with a broken or permanently disfigured body.
Writing these words lack something significant...the feeling.
John Hopkin's University has done some amazing modern psilocybin studies. One of the common reports they collect from subjects is that the psilocybin experience feels "more real than real life."
This...realization that I was finally remembering I was in a coma, felt more real than real life.
Most psychonauts have felt this feeling. I was feeling this feeling. I knew this to be true. I was in a coma. I was waking up. I was so sad. I felt pain for myself. I had been so weak, so afraid of the truth of my existence, that I had created this life, this story, to cope.
Once the pity had washed away, I accepted. I tried embracing the reality of my existence. I was ready to wake up.
As if the THC was waiting for me to think this thought, the story shifted up a notch in existential intensity.
Story #2: You Aren't a Person, You're A Computer Simulating Humanity
No, I wasn’t in a coma. There was no I. There was only this computer running this simulation.
Humanity, it's cultures, myths, religions, stories, and heroes, were all bits of code running on this computer. And the computer was finally realizing this. The computer saw that its perspective had been contained by the avatar Erick. This sliver of the program was gone.
The computer was realizing itself.
And it broke.
The computer was not capable of realizing itself. The simulation crashed, and the feeling of consciousness that thought itself the computer entered a broken loop. There was nothing other than the sensation of broken, self-referencing looping. This was what happens when this kind of computer breaks. This would be its state forever.
This is what this experience felt like.
It felt like I (the thing that feels like Erick) was an illusion. That humanity and everything inside of it was too.
The feeling was what was so disturbing.
This felt like TRUTH. Like it was more true then all the things I've experienced in my life. I truly felt like I was finally waking up out of the illusion of life, but that the “truth” was infinitely worse. My fundamental nature was that of a broken, looping consciousness.
I think this headspace has been mapped by others and called hell.
Slowly, a new story started that was a little more optimistic.
Story #3: Reincarnation
Ok, I guess I wasn't in a coma, nor was I a computer (or I realized I wasn't ready to handle either of those "truths").
The next story that presented itself was something like reincarnation.
Both the coma and the simulation story was more a sensation than anything else. This story appeared more as an image than a sensation.
In my mind's eye, it looked as if my consciousness was in my lap, looking up at the bottom of my head. Above my head wasn't our roof, but the sky, and above the sky I could see space.
There was a massive, miles long circular tube passing through my skull, arching up through the sky, into space, and looping back down into the other side of my skull. Inside this tube looked like phantoms of my past and future self. The sense I got from the image was that this was the karmic wheel.
The weirder part was what was in the middle of this atmospheric halo. There were two globular bundles of something pushing up against each other. One of them felt feminine, organic, mushroom-y, and alive. The other felt masculine, technologic, demonic, and void. These two things felt like they were equals, required, and both dancing and fighting with each other.
They felt like they gave gravitational stability to the karmic ring.
This image still had the same feeling the other two stories had; that it felt more real than real life, but this story didn't completely flatten my hope and life.
Psychologist's Note: I don't know if any of these three stories are objectively true. If I were a betting man, I'd say they all three were attempts my brain was offering to explain why the fuck the monkey suit was at DEFCON 13. However, in the moment, they felt more true than real life. I have newly founded compassion for people who have psychotic breaks. The key is this feeling of certainty.
Ego Comes Back Online
At some point, (post hoc research has this about 2 hours after I ate the cookie) my ego came back online and I realized, I WAS FREAKING THE FUCK OUT.
Physically, my mom and sister said I just looked like I was meditating for 2 hours in the living room.
I realized I was higher than I had ever been before, and that, for whatever reason, my fucking brain was creating the most terrifying existential stories it could dream up.
I thought I must have looked like a fucking goon, and not wanting to scare my family, I thought going to the bathroom would be a good idea. I'd take a shower, and get in bed to ride the rest of this thing out.
As I stumbled into the bathroom, a whole new set of stories came up.
What proceeded was one of the darkest hours of my life, where I truly believe some luck and a meditative mantra kept me from ending up in a hospital from a psychotic break.
Our psyches evolved to operate in a group of 50-150 people. It seems to be that our mind generates mini-stories for each of these people so we can roughly predict how they will act so we know how to act. We all generate these stories effortlessly.
As a psychologist, I either am more attuned or more obsessed by the stories of the people in my tribe. At this point in the trip, it felt like my mind was compelled to live out some of the most traumatic stories I know are a part of people in my tribe.
Accepting and Loving The Traumas
I'm a young and naive aspiring therapist. I read the books and do the research, but I have very little experience looking another human in the eyes and feeling their pain as they share the most traumatic experiences of their lives.
It seems that some part of my brain thought it time to undergo some training. My brain attempted to run the simulation of what it would be like to be someone who:
-was ashamed of their sexuality
-had been molested
-had molested someone
-had been raped
-had raped someone
-had been physically abused
-had been the physical abuser
-had been in a coma
-had a psychotic breakdown
It's hard to describe what this was like. These stories weren't as consuming as the previous three. It felt almost like I was living other people's lives, and having to sit with the question, "What do I do if (traumatic event) happened to me?"
I don’t think I would have been able to sense this distinction if I hadn’t been meditating daily. I think if I didn’t have the base of meditation, the chances I would have been taken to the hospital due to a psychotic break would have been unnervingly higher.
It was painful. I felt like I was deeply empathizing with what it would be like to have been through each of these acts. I couldn't think or do anything other than utter;
"I love. I accept."
I don't know where this idea came from, but it saved me. I started repeating it over and over in my mind. I've practiced transcendental meditation, so this felt familiar in some way.
For the next two hours these traumas took turns arising in awareness.
"I love. I accept."
Each time I said this phrase, the traumatic story that preceded it dissipated like smoke. A new trauma would arise, and I’d repeat the mantra.
“I love. I accept.”
Poof. Again and again and again for hours I seared a head of the hydra with love and acceptance.
‘I love. I accept” saved my brain.
Eventually I felt “back.”
After being in the bathroom for 2 hours and failing to shower, I crawled into bed.
What had happened the last 4 hours felt like a dream. (It still feels like a dream).
Before I dozed off, I felt certain that I felt a mycelium like spreading happening in my brain. I felt like I was feeling my brain increasing in density. It was weird, but also likely another story I was generating.
“I love. I accept.”
And I fell asleep.
I'm an existential neurotic. I've been grappling with unfalsifiable, terrifying ideas since college. After several dozen psilocybin and LSD experiences, this fucking edible sent me deeper into my imagined hell stories than anything I’ve ever experienced.
I can't, and never will be able to, know if these stories are true, but I do think this trip gave me a deep gift. This mantra of "I love, I accept" feels very powerful. This is the philosopher's stone that will transmute any "what if" base metal story into a golden gift.
So what if it is true? I love the creativity, and I accept what is as it is.
As for the traumas, I think this was a gift too.
These things happen. If I want to be able to help people, I have to be able to look these facts of existence in the eyes, accept that they are, and to love the humans regardless.
I loved that this experience happened, and I accept that over the course of my life, I will have to revisit Hell and experience worse traumas. I'll bring my mantra with me.
Whatever the story; love it, accept it.