This tale begins with a bagel at the center of the universe.
Six weeks before drinking Ayahuasca in Costa Rica for my 12th, 13th, and 14th time, I saw Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Crossing the pavement parking puddle to our car, I turned to my partner and said:
“That is the best representation I’ve ever seen of the fundamental struggle of existence: Nihilism or Hope.”
(This is really how I talk to her. I love you Caitlyn.)
We sat in the car for thirty minutes talking about the movie. Marveling at the incomprehensibility of the multiple universe theory in physics, the mythopoetic genius that choosing novelty – doing things you’d never normally do – as the key to accessing new timelines, the gorgeous cinematography, and the psychological poignancy of what Existential Philosopher Camus called ‘the ultimate question of philosophy.’
When looking out at what he called the absurd universe…the ultimate question of philosophy
is - should I kill myself?
Does one, when looking out at the incomprehensible Everything Everywhere, choose suicide or Life? Nihilism or Hope? To tell stories that eat souls or to join in the cosmic giggle?
This ‘trip report’ is the story of the part of me that tried to leave the game of life, his exile, his return, and his reunion…at least, this is the through-thread for this story. Like all good stories, there will be many beautiful loose ends.
Before I share my ayahuasca stories, I’d like to share the origin story
of the part of me that tried to kill me.
Childhood: My God Wound
When I was seven a pastor described Heaven.
He told me that there is a place called heaven, and that when I die, I will be with everyone I have ever loved (which for a seven year old was my mom, dad, brother, sister, and a girl named Rose I held hands with in kindergarten), that we will all be happy, and that we will get to be there forever.
I don’t remember the man’s name or what he looked like, but I do remember his tone. He believed he was giving me good news.
That night, as I was falling asleep, my mind recalled what he said.
I saw myself living a day where my family was all together and happy. It was a nice day. And then we lived it again. And again. And again.
Like watching a river of dominoes falling without end into the horizon, my brain began trying to process ‘forever.’
Zen Koans are a type of psychotechnology meant to temporarily paralyze the conscious mind. Forever is a kind of Koan, but instead of the koan being about the sound one hand clapping makes, the content of this koan was my fate.
And at seven, I felt my identity break.
Have you seen the death throes of a mammal dying; The way their limbs appear to almost glitch? My psyche felt like that.
At seven, I didn’t have a name for dread or panic, yet dread I felt.
Whenever I really drop into this memory, I cry.
I see a seven year old boy laying in a bed, believing that a God had created him and placed him inside a situation where the best possible outcome was having to stay in the game forever. I didn’t have the language for it then, but there was a sense of divine betrayal; that I was compelled without consent to live forever.
When I was seven I had much fewer words than I type here. There was the attempt to understand eternity, an unnameable ache in my gut, terrified tears, and then I began praying.
I prayed with all the magick my little heart knew how to summon to ask the God that terrified me, the God that had compelled me to eternal life against my will – I asked it to remove the idea of eternity from my mind and to please allow me to fall asleep.
This happened again the next night, and the following night. I don’t know for how many nights it continued, but eventually, after connective nights of dread, crying, then praying, my prayer was answered and eternity receded into the depths of my psyche.
For those who know, it receded into my shadow.
Grade School: Fenrir
Shortly after, my first and only childhood ‘imaginary friend’ began appearing in my imagination. I didn’t speak
to it, and it didn’t speak to me, but it would run along the side of any car I’d be in, and would sit in the snow at the edge of my yard as I fell to sleep.
He felt like a protector.
It was a blue-white wolf, fur the color of ice, and I called him Fenrir (I had read the Nordic myth of Fenrir by
this time and Fenrir, son of Loki and devourer of Odin at Ragnarok, was my favorite).
I’d need 20 years to realize Fenrir was an archetypal representation of my intellect and a guardian keeping the little boy away from the room in his psyche where eternity pulsed.
My guard grew as I grew.
I was a self-proclaimed atheist by 13. I think George Carlin was the first person to introduce me to Atheism. I started collecting the critiques, dismissive jokes, and ‘gotcha’ questions all good card-carrying atheists are required to memorize to protect themselves from genuinely thinking about the mysteries they are dismissing.
In hindsight, it is embarrassingly apparent; why did the boy who didn’t believe in god talk about god everyday? Why did he argue with teachers in 10th grade, bring the daughter of a pastor to tears in 11th grade, get invited
to a party so he could debate the most outspoken Christian in class in 12th grade? Why did he choose a private Southern Baptist University as his college? Why did he spend more hours watching Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris debate the religious than he did dating women or playing sports?
It was in college where Fenrir transformed into the part that almost killed me.
College: Dr. Manhattan
A few things happened in my first year of college that led to Fenrir turning into something that almost killed me.
The first was that my basketball dreams had died. I was unofficially being scouted by North Western University as a Sophomore. Basketball was my future. It had seen me through my parent’s divorce, my mother being sent to war, my grandfather dying of cancer, and being a boy in a world without god. Then I tore my rotator cuff my junior year of highschool. Got surgery my senior year, which led to me getting addicted to opiates. I gained 30 pounds, and didn’t have the self-awareness to realize I was in the midst of a depression
The start of my freshmen year was the full realization of the end of this dream.
The second is I started playing with my consciousness. I had begun to smoke cannabis and found it rapturous. For the first time in my life I was beginning to see myself outside of myself.
The third is I began to read formal philosophy. I particularly resonated with Neizche and Wittenstein. I spent hours a night saturating my synapses with dopamine sitting in awe at what these men had perceived and articulated.
This next event is the most significant. I had my first transcendent experience. By the end of my first year of college I had failed out of every class I took. My GPA was 0.7. I had slowly faded from trying. I was giving up. And one evening early into the summer I smoked cannabis and watched a stand-up special by someone I had never heard of; Joe Rogan.
It’s beautiful in hindsight how some many seemingly random events can come together years later to reveal a work of art. It is also hilarious that my spiritual awakening came from a joke by a standup comedian.
“What do you do when the electricity goes out? You do what I do. You sit in the dark for a couple of moments, and if the lights don’t come on soon you think ‘these fucking idiots.’ But what if the lights didn’t come back on? What if all the people who actually knew how these things worked died? Me and everyone in this room would be fucked.”
The joke’s punchline ate me. Sitting on an ugly couch in a dorm room with stains on the carpet, lit by dim yellow Walmart bulbs, listening to a comedian on Netflix, I proceeded to have an experience I had no context for.
I suddenly felt as if I was in the presence of something. I felt the kind of self-awareness we feel when we are being looked at by someone we know can really see us. I felt simultaneously self-consciousness and rapturous. Awe-full.
Something that didn’t feel like me told me without language that I was throwing my life away. Like the ghost of Christmas past, something demanded I connect to the immensity of what it would mean for my life if I continued down the path of dropping out of college. This something felt as if it was creating visions of a future I did not want to be true, but would be true if I continued how I was living.
My block was Fenrir. He was the worst combination of skilled and afraid. I thought I was smart because I could run verbal circles around most of my teachers and all of my peers (at least my ego painted the world as such to me). But once I encountered the rigor of study required to keep up in college, I just gave up. I stopped going.
In hindsight, this night was my first visceral encounter with my Daimon, and it was showing me the life I was earning with my arrogance. I realized as a gnosis that I didn’t actually know anything useful, that I was arrogant and lazy, and that my arrogance and laziness depended on cultural systems I didn’t understand and couldn’t see.
I radically changed my life after that experience.
A few days after, I shaved my head and drove 34 hours to Washington State to train and study that summer at my mom’s house. I began devouring books again (I had read a lot as a kid and once puberty’s hormones found my bloodstream, books were replaced by basketball and girls). I began working out, eating healthy and meditating. I discovered podcasts (this was 2010). On my drive back to Texas to start the new school year, I listened to 34 hours of Joe Rogan and Duncan Trussel. I pulled into my Texas driveway baptized into a new reality tunnel.
My sophomore year of college was the year I began to experiment with psychedelics. By the end of that school year I had done at least 20 intentional psychedelic experiments. I had also begun writing a blog. I continued eating healthy, working out, reading, and studying formal philosophy.
The combination of how incredible my body and mind felt led to the birth of a new part. I met the part of me that wanted to be called Dr. Manhattan.
Dr. Manhattan is a character from Alan Moore’s The Watchmen.
To me, he represented pure blistering rationality.
I had begun to write formal philosophy. Inspired by Wittenstein, and with the help of having read nearly 100 books covering the history of philosophy, logic, rhetoric, logical fallacies, and cognitive biases, I believed I was writing the next Tractatus Logicus (and let there be no confusion…I was not. I didn’t know it then, but I was beginning the slow march towards a psychotic break).
The benefits of this obsession was that I was physically the healthiest I’d ever been, I was a straight A student, and I felt incredible.
The cons of this obsession was that I was unconsciously using logic to hide from all intimacy in my life. Because of my obsession with formal logic, I began to deeply struggle to speak to people.
I once debated with a friend how she didn’t actually know she was hungry until she left nearly in tears saying ‘I was just asking if you wanted to get lunch.’
Even now, 10 years later, I look back at this period with a mix of admiration and sadness. I admire the degree I had my mind honed. On one level, this period was the peak of my rational intellect. It was a kind of pinnacle. The sadness is that, now I can see that my intellect disconnected me from everyone in my life. No one was allowed close enough to hurt me. I was disconnecting myself from everyone. I didn’t have the eyes then to see, but I was beginning the process of removing myself completely from the world of people. I was abandoning my body and my heart and retreating into my mind.
I felt like Dr. Manhattan when he gives up on people and goes to Mars to create his perfect world alone – a god
of loneliness who makes pretty things with his mind.
I didn’t have the awareness to see it then, but the boy who was afraid of Eternity had made a wolf to protect himself, and that wolf was now trying to be a god and create a perfect, logical, ordered world to keep out the messy, swirling infinite everything.
And then I read a book that brought it all tumbling down.
The Second Wound
Godel, Escher, Bach is a book exploring the nature of consciousness.
I’ll spare you reading 900 pages; consciousness, according to GEB, is a kind of strange, self-referential loop, the nature of which is hinted at in the mathematician Godel’s Theorems, the etchings of the artist Escher, and the structure of symphonies composed by Bach.
But for Dr. Manhattan, the poison apple was hiding in Kurt Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem.
As I read that book, I could tell I was bumping up against something I couldn’t quite comprehend.
There’s a famous story of Indigeous Americans looking out to the ocean one day, and they saw that something was happening on the horizon, but they couldn’t make out what it was. Something was riding the water, causing great white foam to rise out of the ocean.
They didn’t know it, but they were looking at the Spanish Armada, and having never had seen war ships, could not comprehend what they saw until men with armor and weapons walked their shores and invaded their villages.
This book was bringing to the shores of my consciousness an armada.
After a few weeks with this book, I took 5 grams of dried mushrooms on a Sunday. This was the highest quantity of psychedelics I had done at this point in my life in a single sitting, and I went deeper than I had ever gone.
It has been nearly 10 years since this happened, but I still remember the peak.
I was walking around my living room/dining room/kitchen area in a circle pattern, thinking. I arrived at a point where I realized everything I had been trying to do with my philosophy was broken. Godel’s Theorem mathematically proves that no formal logical system can ever be complete or finished. It’s technical, but what matters for our story was that it destroyed the project I had revolved my entire life around since the death of my basketball dream, which was the first dream that regulated my life.
This was my Spanish armada. To my borderline psychotic mind, realizing this was a death to my intellect, and the death triggered something.
It was as if my entire intellectual life since age seven was to first build a dam to keep back the waters of god, and my adventuring into writing formal philosophy was an attempt to build a city in the valley below the dam.
GEB was an earthquake that shattered my glass city and cracked the dam, and the 5 grams of mushrooms ruptured the dam. My psyche was flooded again with that which scared me and scarred me most - Eternity.
The eternity of my childhood felt like looking at a train track that extended forever into the distance. The eternity of my childhood was a linear eternity.
This eternity was more terrifying. It was a mobius strip. It began with me, fractured out of me, then back into me, and on and on.
My eternity had grown since I damned it. It had grown from linear eternity to a looping eternity.
To help picture this, imagine your favorite character from your favorite movie having to walk across a great landscape, and it continues unchanged into the horizon, seemingly forever.
That is what my first eternity felt like. Spooky enough for a seven year old.
This second kind of eternity was my first taste of the archetypical psychedelic space many explorers know. It goes by many names but I like calling it Mobius
It is short of like the phenomenon of having a nightmare, trying to wake yourself up, thinking you woke up, but soon realize you’re in the same nightmare, you know what is going to happen, you can’t stop it, it happens again, you try to wake up again, and like a Mobius strip, this is the place many people who visit, when they come back, report they had ‘a bad trip.’
My recurring nightmare Mobius strip was the feeling of having any kind of thought, and then realizing that that thought, in formal logical terms, was false, and then, I’d judge the thought that just determined the previous thought was false, as false.
I was stuck in a loop where Dr. Manhattan broke, and was canceling everything I thought I could think.
It felt like my brain was going to break, or white out, or reset.
I ended up literally running out of my house. Without shoes on, I began to jog around my neighborhood. Thankfully, and actually pretty quickly, the rhythmic breathing, sunshine, flowers, birds, and pumping of my muscles moved my psyche into a flow state.
It became gorgeous - the spring rain had fed the grass and trees and bugs the night before. The setting sun was painted with pinks, purples and oranges and reds. After two hours, I decided to stop. Not because I was tired, but because I thought it’d be kind to my future self.
But by the end of the experience, as I sat in my driveway, admiring the soft warm glow of porch lights, I was sitting before a funeral. Basketball, my first bulwark to my atheism, died when I was 17. And now at 21, my second bulwark, Logic and Philosophy as the meaning-maker for my life, laid shattered before me.
I don’t remember doing it, but I must have thrown my philosophy journals away after this. I haven’t seen them in a decade.
I also didn’t realize it then, but that mushroom experience mutated Dr. Manhattan. He was still blisteringly sharp, but with Godel’s Theorem, he killed his own dream, and emerged from the experience convinced that no thought, statement or sentence was logically rigorous enough to justify meaning or existence.
For the next 6-8 months, I don’t have many specific memories, but I do know most of my friends from that time began to worry about me. I hid it, but in hindsight, if I had been living with my parents during this time, I’d likely have been admitted to a psychiatric evaluation or a mental institution.
I wasn’t suicidal, but rather actively nihilistic.
A woman and a book brought me back.
RAW and Exile Senior
Two beautiful things happened my senior year that saved my life.
The first is that I began my first significant romantic relationship. One of the greatest rebuttals to nihilism are those first few months of being in love with someone. For the first time in my adult life, I found myself not thinking about god or meaning or how the visual system processes information. I was thinking about her eyes, or what kind of jokes made her laugh, what her parents were like, the texture of her dreams, and when I would get to feel her skin flush with passion next.
It was a gift to my tenuous brain. It was a soul reprieve during a period when I was metaphysically wounded.
The second miracle was discovering Robert Anton Wilson.
This dead man saved my life.
His books Prometheus Rising and Cosmic Trigger introduced me to what is still, to this day, my metaphysical perspective on existence, something he called Model Agnosticism.
“Model agnosticism holds that any grid we use to organize our experience of the world is a model of the world and should not be confused with the world itself. Alfred Korzybski, the semanticist, tried to popularize this with the slogan, ‘The map is not the territory.’ Alan Watts restated it more vividly as ‘The menu is not the meal.’”
His books drive the point that no interpretation of the world is the world. All interpretations of the world are ‘reality tunnels’ trying to make sense of the infinite (including logic).
Once model agnosticism is accepted, the next step is Metaphysical Pragmatism, and metaphysical pragmatism rescued me from the mutated Dr. Manhattan.
Each of us is what the Sufis call ‘the master who makes the grass green.’ Specifically, each of our nervous systems are evolutionarily designed artists creating realities for ourselves, and metaphysical pragmatism is the perspective that no human nervous system can possibly know the Objective Truth, rather the best we can aim for is to create the most effective (and enjoyable, beautiful, fun, and blissful) model of reality that we can.
The great art of one's life is to create an effective and nurturing model of reality (and to always be open to updating, cultivating, growing, and changing models).
I hope it is obvious to you that this doesn’t mean postmodernism. There appears to be laws of nature that if your model does not properly map, you will suffer and possibly die. RAW makes this point with the following experiment at the end of the first chapter of Prometheus Rising:
“To explore the Thinker and the Prover, try the following: 1. Visualize a quarter vividly, and imagine vividly that you are going to find the quarter on the street. Then, look for the quarter every time you take a walk, meanwhile continuing to visualize it. See how long it takes you to find the quarter. 2. Explain the above experiment by the hypothesis of “selective attention” — that is, believe there are lots of lost quarters everywhere and you were bound to find one by continually looking. Go looking for a second quarter. 3. Explain the experiment by the alternative “mystical” hypothesis that “mind controls everything.” Believe that you made the quarter manifest in this universe. Go looking for a second quarter. 4. Compare the time it takes to find the second quarter using the first hypothesis (attention) with the time it takes using the second hypothesis (mind-over-matter). 5. With your own ingenuity, invent similar experiments and each time compare the two theories — “selective
attention” (coincidence) vs. “mind controls everything” (psychokinesis). 6. Avoid coming to any strong conclusions prematurely. At the end of a month, re-read this chapter, think it over again, and still postpone coming to any dogmatic conclusion. Believe it possible that you do not know everything yet, and that you might have something still to learn. 7. This is the hardest of all exercises and comes in two parts. First, observe closely and dispassionately two dear friends and two relative strangers. Try to figure out what their Thinkers think, and how their Provers methodically set about proving it. Second, apply the same exercise to yourself. If you think you have learned the lessons of these exercises in less than six months, you haven’t really been working at them. With real work, in six months you should be just beginning to realize how little you know about everything. 8. Believe it is possible that you can float off the ground and fly by merely willing it. See what happens. If this exercise proves as disappointing to you as it has to me, try number 9 below, which is never disappointing. 9. Believe that you can exceed all your previous ambitions and hopes in all areas of your life.”
His humor, philosophical clarity, and psychological depth helped me slowly build my reality tunnel back from the brink of what in hindsight was nearly a psychotic break.
With the help of love and RAW, I managed to graduate with a 3.7 GPA. The first weekend after my last round of finals, I decided to take some mushrooms and go on a long hike in the Texas Hill Country. As I reached my metabolic peak, I reached the physical peak of the hill I had been hiking.
I felt an old familiar story rising into my consciousness. It was the mutated Dr. Manhattan.
I realized something.
The first time I felt eternity, the linear eternity from my childhood, my intellect protected me from it for 14 years.
The second time I felt eternity, the looping eternity my Junior year, it traumatized my intellect. Falling in love and cultivating model agnosticism rehabilitated my intellect, but I hadn’t processed the trauma.
And this day on mushrooms, I felt Dr. Manhattan began to express himself and his expression was my first real encounter with feeling the texture of the energy of Nihilism.
It was as if he was trying to convince me to give up on life like a Roman orator would do before the Senate. His claim: consciousness is an evolutionary spandrel (a term for a secondary function of an adaptation), that its purpose is to generate stories that generate meaning, and that it is all an illusion humans are trapped inside of, and if they break out of it through reason and logic, they are left with meaningless, and they die.Like a skilled attorney, he brought out all the evidence I’d gathered over the years; he cited the hundreds of studies I had read that demonstrate the many ways humans are designed to deceive themselves, how all are most primal instincts are in service of our genes, and how any rebuttal I had to this supported his point, all rebuttals are the genes trying to hold on to the illusion so the meatsuit will continue its march through time towards reproduction.
He was asking me to give up on living.
I remember my response with photographic clarity.
I dancingly balanced on a fallen tree trunk as he passionately orated. I felt like an innocent, carefree child. Playing while I listened.
When he finished, I said:
“Maybe…and so I’m going to make the most beautiful art I can, because, if you’re right, everyone living shares this tragedy, and beautiful stories could help.”
And that was it.
There was no back and forth. It was matter-of-fact. It was done. It was one of the most important moments of my life up until that point. I sat before the story that kills life, and I chose to to be an artist.
I tell this story because that day I made a critical choice, I actually assumed he was right and I subconsciously have carried this belief in the center of my heart since then, but I exiled him from my conscious mind.
This most recent experience with Ayahuasca was a reunion with my mutated nihilistic Dr. Manhattan.
The Six Weeks Leading
Since my college days nearly a decade ago, a few things have happened. Most notable to our tale is:
- I discovered and studied Carl Jung.
- I started journaling and meditation religiously.
- I discovered and integrated the psychological model Internal Family Systems.
- My 10 previous Ayahuasca experiences have centered around Dreams and Internal Family Systems
So, with the help of journaling, dreams, parts work, and ayahuasca, I’ve filled out my inner kingdom in
recent years, and it’ll be important to introduce them so that the things to come make sense.
In my psyche there is a Kingdom. In the castle there is a throne room, made more of tree than stone, it is a living room in the original sense of the word. The throne grows out of the trunk of a tree and on it sits my archetypal King. His name is Yggen (from Norse’s tree of life Yggdrasil). He is kind, caring, calm, perceptive, and direct. He’s the me I move from most often.
Fenrir is here. My liberated intellect, no longer guarding me from eternity, he is free to be led by the King’s curiosity. He is the one who reads nonfiction, studies, and note-takes. He is the one that tracks all the threads of a conversation, people’s microexpressions, changes in tones, and slips of tongue. He loves the maps and the menus.
Always dancing, my archetypal lover is never still. Her name is Evee and she wears a golden dress that at times is as invisible as a laugh, and sometimes as gold as the center of a star. She is my rapture, my bliss. She is who cries with a sunset or the just right chord in a song. She loves poetry and simple stories, great phrases, and the movement of the surface of water. She is my muse and the messenger for my Daimon.
There is my inner child, Sol. He is 5, with bright curious eyes. His hair is combed over and he wears an oversized white shirt. He’s always holding a bowl of blueberries, and while he is easily scared when people are upset, he has an infinite excitement for the wonder of the world. He wants to learn everything and wants to experience everything. Fenrir is particularly fond of protecting him.
The two new additions to the family came to me the last time I sat with Ayahuasca. My inner Warrior, Thor; and my inner Magician, Thoth. Since discovering them on Ayahuasca, I have had a dream for each of them where I met them in the dream and it was awe. The first four parts I introduced are parts I have only met in my imagination or in waking altered states of consciousness. I haven’t met any of them in dreams.
But Thor and Thoth, I’ve met the forms my unconscious created for them, and they are both beyond what I could imagine on my own.
Thoth came to me on a moonlit dock somewhere along a South American coast. He was flying above me, looking like an impossibly large Ibis. Then he dove into the water next to me, and I saw his huge form under water. He then flew out of the water and landed upright on two large human feet about 10 meters from me. He wasn’t looking at me. He felt like a wild animal, like a lion or tiger. He had a human torso and human legs, easily seven feet tall. His arms were huge wings. He was somewhere between feathered and lion-skinned. The side that faced the earth when he flew was a light blue (more white than blue), the side that faced the sun was a purplish-blue.
I tried to hide behind a steel gate. He instantly turned towards me, lept, landed powerfully on top of the gate, crouching like a gargoyle. As fear immobilized me, he leaned his face within an inch of mine and all I could process were huge eyes that missed nothing and wanted everything. Then I woke up.
So yeah, that’s Thoth.
He’s the part that knows how to speak, write, create, experiment, test, refine; he knows alchemy. He’s the part that understands dreams, the subconscious, and symbols. I struggle with this part, because some of the things he knows disrupts people’s sovereignty, but we’re starting to trust each other.
Lastly, there is my warrior Thor. This is the part that loves getting elbowed in the face playing basketball, that enjoys the feeling of his body being exhausted after training, the part that wants to win, but also the one who wants to protect. He is the part of me that would kill a man to protect my family, and the part that would protect an idea from a mob. He is my aggression embodied and directed.
He appeared to me in a dream as a large Arabic looking man with eyes made of alchemical gold with alchemical inscriptions on them, and a scar running down one eye in the pattern of a lightning strike. Something about his energy in the dream felt like it was simultaneously a bull and a thunderstorm.
Thus, my primary parts are:
Sol (Inner Child)
And about six weeks before drinking ayahuasca for the 11th time,
Dr. Manhattan returned and fucked my life up.
The Smoldering Knight
One of my favorite myths is ‘The Green Knight.’
In it, a mysterious Green Knight comes to Arthur’s Camelot and challenges the Knights of the Round table to a game. One of them can deal a single blow to the Knight with his own giant green axe, but whoever strikes him must meet him at his home, The Green Chapel, in a year's time to receive their blow in return.
Sir Gawain accepts the challenge and cuts the knight's head off in a single swing. The Green Knight’s headless body, revealing his magical nature, picks up his severed head, who smiles at Gawain and says “Meet me at The Green Chapel in one year.”
And thus the adventure ensues.