Discover more from Both/And
Out There and Back: My Psilocybin Journey into Forgiveness
On hyperspace, consciousness, and healing
When I embarked on my psilocybin journey, I didn’t think it would be life-changing. I had read about the power of plant medicines to heal those with depression and addiction. I’d heard the accounts of people saying it was the equivalent of cramming a lifetime of therapy into a single day. It’s not that I thought these claims were false, I just didn’t think this experience could change my life. I was wrong.
Welcome back to this series about psilocybin, my personal journey with plant medicine, and the future of mental health. Last week, I had my first journey with psilocybin and what follows is a detailed trip report. In the next piece, I will expand my focus to consider the future of this powerful medicine, the challenges facing people wanting to embark on their own journeys, and insights on myself and my relationships post-journey. My journey recollection isn’t fixed in time. Every day, I continue to learn more about what I went through.
Let’s pick up the thread from the last piece (I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already). Having met with some, let’s say, unfortunate guides, I connected with one who immediately felt right. I will call her L. As we chatted on WhatsApp about the psilocybin experience, her calm confidence was impressive and comforting. In handling my anxiety, she would remind me that there is nothing to fear inside my mind. It’s my mind, after all. It might sound simplistic, but those words gave me great ease as I prepared for the journey. She spoke about her experiences with the plant and told me that she was in love with her mind.
“I never was,” she messaged one day. “I always held back from myself. I now live in complete harmony with my thoughts and decisions. And you may not believe this, but accessing all these different avenues is so easy and familiar to me now. It’s like reading philosophy for the first time. It’s hard. And you have to think about it and mull over every sentence. When I go in now, everything makes sense. You understand your OWN language.”
I didn’t understand the power of her words until I went on my journey. Now I can see that she was speaking to the person I would become after my journey. Describing profound psychedelic experiences and the feelings that come up afterward is tricky work. In some sense, the visuals you experience are utterly banal and beautifully absurd. In other cases, the experiences happen on a deeper level of consciousness. Bear with me as I recount my experience. As far out as it might sound, it’s more real than real.
As luck would have it, after I met L, I met another fantastic guide. But there was something about L that clicked. I can’t stress how important selecting a guide is to the overall experience. These medicines are no joke. If you don’t approach them with the reverence and preparation they deserve, you could easily have a bad experience.
With a date set, I had one month to prepare. I started weaning off coffee, which was an immensely challenging addiction to break. I focused intently on meditation and yoga. I went to a kinesiologist for the first time, which was an enlightening experience. I read everything about psychedelics I could get my hands on, from Terence McKenna to the world’s leading psychiatrists running medical trials (Sacred Knowledge is an excellent entry book for anyone interested in this space). Everyone prepares differently for an experience of this magnitude. My way was to read and think.
The day arrives
September wore on, and then suddenly it was the day of my journey. Five days earlier, I had stopped drinking coffee altogether, which caused a day-long migraine. I had also committed to a plant-based diet with no alcohol. The night before the journey, I stopped consuming all liquids and foods until the experience was over.
L was emotional when I arrived at her home. Throughout the month of preparation and chatting, emotions came easily to her. It seemed a bit strange at the time, but who was I to judge? Having traveled out and back, the ease with which she can tap into her emotions makes complete sense now. I too feel emotional at the thought of someone embarking on their psilocybin journey.
I arrived at 8 am and ingested the medicine shortly thereafter. There was no ceremony or shamanistic incantations. She presented me with a medium-size teacup filled to the brim with 5 grams of ground-up mushrooms and a glass of water. It took four big gulps to get all the mushrooms down, and at one point, L filled a teaspoon with mushrooms and said with a slight smile that just that amount would result in a massive trip.
With the medicine in my system, L told me that I would put on an eyeshade as soon as the visuals began, and I wouldn’t take it off until the end of the journey. Under no circumstance should I look at her. She was my lifeline to this world and if she appeared to me as someone else, it could be a jarring experience that could catapult me into a frightening space.
The visuals came on slowly and then took over my field of vision. From our vantage point, the cloud shadows on the mountains began to expand and grow in strength. Then the mountain itself began to beat as if it had a giant, breathing heart. Eyeshade and noise-canceling headphones on, I laid down on the bed. The journey had begun.
A rough takeoff
Before I knew it, I was on a bumpy takeoff. I felt like an astronaut being shot into space with G forces pressing down on my body. Direction lost all meaning but it felt like I was going up. I began to feel nauseous and sweaty. It was uncomfortable, but I wasn’t scared. I just went with the flow as best I could.
As a child, I was deeply traumatized by the film Fire in the Sky about Travis Walton’s alien abduction. There is a scene where Walton wakes up in a sort of hanging cocoon filled with a gelatinous substance in the depths of an alien spaceship. That scene scared me to my core, and during the take-off into hyperspace, I felt like I was experiencing a version of it.
Looking back on this moment, I believe this was my ego dissolving. Based on everything I had read, I thought the ego would be destroyed in front of my eyes. It would be an event that I could see and then analyze (i.e. my ego is dead, everything is possible!). That’s not what happened.
As I was being fired into hyperspace, my ego was ripped apart at the seams. Sensing that it was dying, my ego put me into that Travis Walton spaceship scene as a last-ditch effort to get me panicking and fighting. But the fear and the upset didn’t come. In and through, as the psychonauts like to say.
Takeoff lasted about an hour or so (time is a fluid concept in these spaces). At one point, I wanted to go to the bathroom. L told me that I hadn’t drunk any water since the previous evening, so logically I didn’t need to go to the toilet. But she knew I wouldn’t stop thinking about it, so I stood up and put my hands on her shoulders, and she walked me to the toilet.
“Don’t take your blindfold off, don’t look at your penis,” she told me. When I sat down on the toilet, I became an Egyptian hieroglyphic. This wasn’t a hallucination. I wasn’t looking at hieroglyphics. I was a blocky little man sitting there peering into an infinite tunnel of other hieroglyphics.
Until this point, I had listened to classical music (Mahler’s 5th adagietto, among others). However, the music was too much. It was too mechanical. It was too masculine. With what I can only imagine was a soft smile – since she had subtly warned me that something more ambient would be a better choice – L replaced the music, and I arrived peacefully in orbit.
Welcome to hyperspace
I was now floating in a relaxing, warm space perched on the edge of an infinite galaxy. It wasn’t the deep cold space of the movies, but a hyper-dimensional realm. Terence McKenna famously hypothesized that this hyper-dimensional space was a realm of pure thought. The commonality of people’s psilocybin experiences, McKenna thought, was proof that we can gain temporary access to this higher dimension or realm of pure thought.
Holding everything together was a numinous feminine energy or consciousness. If I were a religious person, I would say this energy was God, but it didn’t strike me as such. There were no religious images here (nor was there any mention of the Covid-19 vaccine. Sorry, anti-vaxxer shamans). This was a place of elegant calm on an infinite scale.
Taking a break from deep space, L and I began chatting. I am not sure how or why this started, but we had the most beautiful flowing conversation. At this stage, my ego was little more than a distant memory. What was left was my pure essence. Any misconceptions I had about myself or personas I projected in day-to-day life were gone. And so we chatted. It was as if I was having a deep catch-up with a very old friend.
We spoke about everything from privilege in South Africa to our upbringings and the events that shaped who we were. There was a lot of commonality in our life experiences. We even debated the merits of drinking coffee. (She won that debate. I haven’t had coffee in over ten days now, and I don’t plan on going back). Throughout this flowing chat, I was exploring new corners and galaxies in my mind. At times, the transcendent feminine energy would present herself in mischievous and playful ways. It was as if I could feel her in the room, just around a corner, coyly inviting me to follow her. Catch me if you can, she seemed to say.
Eventually, L told me that it was time to go deeper. With her by my side, I knew I could. Putting the headphones back on, I went deeper and deeper. I don’t remember the transition, but I entered a warm, blueish space.
I was moving slowly the way blue whales move through the ocean. The movement was glacial but with a profound sense of power and elegance. I was held up by the divine female consciousness that controls that space. I regretfully use the word “control” here because the connotation of control implies a form of power that doesn’t exist there. I was communing with her energy. Her energy embraced me.
In this landscape, I began to see my loved ones as if they were in celestial bodies that I could move around with ease. Like a constellation of stars, I could see their energy shining in radiant blue light. I could see and feel their love but also their pain. I won’t detail their exact pains, but what I experienced was empathy. By connecting with my empathy for loved ones and friends, I was healing myself on the deepest level possible.
My parents divorced when I was 6, and the trauma of losing my dad and caring for my depressed mother resulted in a profound shift in my true personality. I was a caring and empathetic little boy who suppressed those beautiful aspects of his personality to cope with life in a broken home. For more than 35 years, my ego and analytic capacity drove me, while the wellspring of empathy and love was suppressed deeper and deeper.
More than one therapist has told me that I have constructed an elaborate defense around my emotions. I am not unique in this regard. I have worked hard to prevent even the most minute crack from forming, lest the dam wall breaks and the waters flood through. I broke through that barrier when I was in the embrace of that feminine energy, feeling empathy and love for my family. It wasn’t an event that I watched unfold or an action taken. With the ego dissolved, I was left with nothing but feeling. The healing took place on a level of essence, not in my analytic mind.
My son’s energy had a more robust radiance than anyone else’s. His energy had a whitish hue to its blueness. As I marveled at him next to my wife, our blue energies encircled us as if we were in a cocoon. I could see the roots of this energy ball extend below us as we floated, ensconced in pure love.
As this encounter came to a close, the focus turned inward. I floated free of the confines of gravity and skin. I could see my body’s median line with balls of colored energy (chakras, I later learned) lighting up. My energy was being aligned. For the past several months, I had struggled with persistent lower back pain. Incidentally, the back pain has entirely resolved itself since the journey. Gone completely.
As I was doing this work on my body, I breathed in an ocean of air and then exhaled a similarly historic amount of air. The thought occurred that this must be a form of nirvana. At that exact moment, the most intense visuals appeared before everything went still. They defy all words or concepts, but it was as if everything collapsed into a single point. Nothingness. Sound had been removed from sound itself.
I continued to go deeper into spaces that presented themselves. Whenever the song changed, I felt as though L was standing on the deck of a cosmic spaceship, loading up different levels for me to explore as she surveyed the galaxy. The music changed and whoosh, a new level rushed in. At another moment, I found myself laughing about the anxiety I had felt before the journey. I was the purest form of myself. How could I have been scared of this? Looking back on the experience, the only fear I had was before the journey, never during. (Note: fear is an integral part of this process. These experiences aren’t a joke, and under no circumstance should they be taken lightly. Things can happen very differently if the right steps aren’t taken.)
I saw my life through an expansive lens that revealed interconnections and meanings I could never have imagined. Eventually, I took off the headphones and L told me that I had been going deep for three and half hours. The effects of the medicine were starting to wear off. I sat up, took the blindfold off, and was able to look at her directly for the first time.
Although I had exited hyperspace, I was still “tripping”. Everything around me was alive. L went to prepare food for me when I noticed two orchids perched next to a window. They turned their attention to me, and I could feel them look at me as conscious beings. They had the personality of little older women. A breeze came through the window, and the more diminutive orchid got a great chill and did a little shimmy.
Before I knew it, I was giving L a deep hug goodbye and then embracing my wife. Holding my son when I returned home was among the most profound experiences of the day. It was as if his radiant, pure energy was able to cross the void. I held him as if I was holding him for the first time. Even now, as I write these words with him napping next to me, I can feel our love and bond on a cosmic scale.
Out there and back
Since journeying, I have been waking up in the small hours of the morning and listening to the track that took me deepest as warm tears flow. It’s a feeling of pure joy for being who I am for the first time. My diet has dramatically improved as I don’t crave any unhealthy foods. The idea of having french fries feels akin to putting carrot juice in my car. I can see how different I was as a person just a couple of weeks ago. I can see how I’ve suppressed my true self for decades.
My experience allowed me to connect with my small self, the child who experienced a divorce. On this journey, I jumped deep inside and rescued that part of myself. He is me again. I am whole. This could only have happened with the removal of the ego. Or it’s dissolution, to be more exact. For now, the ego is in its place and I am aligned. I know these effects won’t last forever. Alignment can be fleeting. Yet, I know that this space is there within myself. This discovery is a gift that I have searched for long and hard. I am sure I will return when the time is right.
A couple of months ago, my father signed up for this newsletter and will most likely read these words. It’s one of the strange quirks of the internet that we can snoop on each other without actually making contact. Going into this experience, I was curious as to how he would show up in my visions. I was sure that he would, but I feared it would be in a dark and ominous way. There is a lot of trauma there, after all.
My father did indeed appear, but instead of manifesting as a dark or scary form, I saw his love. Stripped of the emotional baggage of the last 35 years, I saw him as the human being he is. I had empathy for him for the first time. I forgave him. I write these words with tears in my eyes, for it has taken me a long time to feel these emotions. When you cut out all the bullshit – and we are drowning in bullshit these days – what is left is love. It is the force that binds in indescribable ways.