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Quiet the Mind, Open the Heart
A year of transformation since a journey into psychedelic hyperspace
It’s been over a year since I went on a journey into the depths of my psyche facilitated by psilocybin mushrooms. As I open another season of writing here it feels like the right time to reflect on everything that has happened since that profound experience. The aftermath of my trip into hyperspace has been significantly more eye-opening than I could have imagined.
The last year has been one of the most profound, challenging, and confusing of my life. Bringing in the new required moving past the old. I ended relationships with several clients that weren’t sustaining my true ambition, a subject that I will return to in a future piece. Upending my work life required another step into the unknown and, honestly, it took me nearly a year to complete. My wife and I bought our first house (from a Jungian analyst, no less. Talk about synchronicity!). Then we fell pregnant with our second child. Our beautiful daughter was born in late July, which accounts for my radio silence over the last three months. But that wasn’t the only life-changing event to take place since my journey.
Carl Jung wrote that “a point exists at about the thirty-fifth year when things begin to change, it is the first moment of the shadow side of life, of the going down to death. It is clear that Dante found this point and those who have read Zarathustra will know that Nietzsche also discovered it. When this turning point comes people meet it in several ways: some turn away from it; others plunge into it; and something important happens to yet others from the outside. If we do not see a thing, Fate does it to us.”
While I might have been a couple of years late, Fate has indeed done something to me. After 32 years of no communication with my father, I wrote him an email in early September. There weren’t many words other than to say that I wanted to talk. He wrote back and since then we have exchanged increasingly longer emails. It feels strange to share such intimate details of my life here, but my story is emblematic of the awe-inspiring power of psychedelics to change lives.
How was I able to overcome the oceans of distance between me and my father? The psychedelic experience provided fundamentally new insight into my core wounds. With my ego mind temporarily disabled, I lost the ability to think of my dad in terms of anger, upset, and pain. I felt a connection. It was the missing link in a lifetime searching for the little boy deep inside me that longed for his father but was too hurt to admit it. Without the lessons I learned in the presence of the numinous, I wouldn’t have found the courage to restart my relationship with him. In case you are new here, you can read a detailed account of my journey.
It’s tough work reconnecting with my dad. I find myself returning to my earlier writing and notes about the journey for guidance. A transcendent self emerged from that space and wrote a vivid account that feels like a guidebook for the present. The last paragraph of my trip report, for example, is particularly helpful.
“My father did indeed appear [in hyperspace], but instead of manifesting as a dark or scary form, I saw his love. Stripped of the emotional baggage of the last 32 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.”
As I wade through the intense emotions that reconciliation has brought up, my unconscious keeps reminding me of the importance of love. Recent dreams have dealt with this material and I will unpack one in my next essay later this week. Writing through these changes has also been an important part of my processing.
All the more synchronistic is that my father was reading these posts long before I reached out to him. This newsletter reached across whatever void was separating us over these many years and helped establish a framework (or at least a basis) for our relationship now. I don’t know what that relationship will be or what comes next but suffice it to say we have an active relationship for the first time since I was eight years old.
The role of psychedelics in personal growth
The mushroom didn’t cause this reconciliation. But it did help me feel forgiveness and vulnerability. The numinous consciousness I encountered out there helped me find inner empathy and the ability to forgive. This is no small feat. I have carried so much pain about growing up without a dad that I was unable to process any other emotion. The thinking mind has been quick to turn that pain into anger so powerful that it can shut off any love that I have for him or indeed myself on an elemental level.
Out there in the beyond, I cut through the pain and I experienced the love that exists between me and my dad despite everything. The mushroom didn’t create this connection out of thin air, it merely allowed me to tap into it by temporarily quieting the noise in my thinking mind. That, in turn, allowed me to feel vulnerable enough to forgive (which doesn’t mean absolve, but that’s a topic for another day).
Forgiveness, the popular quote goes, means giving up all hope for a better past. My anger kept me in the past for three decades but ironically I couldn’t confront it without experiencing complete vulnerability. We often think of vulnerability as weakness, but there's a type of vulnerability that is strength and presence. In my case, I needed the mushroom to help quiet my mind, embrace vulnerability, and ultimately open my heart.
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Deep down, I don’t feel as though I could have reached out to my dad without the psilocybin journey. It helped me break down the invisible walls between us and inside myself. Perhaps that could have been achieved through intense meditation or some other transcendent experience. Either way, psychedelics along with therapy and dream work helped me achieve something I thought impossible just a couple of years ago.
Can everyone heal?
Many people experience similar breakthroughs with psychedelics and others don’t. Long-awaited results from Compass Pathways phase 2b clinical trial with psilocybin were published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings make for difficult reading as they underline just how far we have to go in harnessing the power of psilocybin for large numbers of people.
While mainstream psychologists and the pharmaceutical industry continue to work through the data, the therapeutic use of psilocybin will remain largely underground. That’s not necessarily a bad thing given how the pharmaceutical industry operates but the onus remains on the psychonaut for a meaningful experience. This comes down to the intentions and choices made by the psychonaut. Where the substances are consumed and with whom (otherwise known as set and setting) make an enormous difference in the outcome.
Thinking about the last year of transformation, I am convinced that a critical barrier to a life-changing experience is the individual’s willingness to face the unknown and then do the work that follows. If one can find that depth of courage, the rest will fall into place. Easier said than done. I have experienced moments of pure ecstasy on this path to wholeness (which is only just beginning). But ecstasy is terrifying and I don’t let myself forget that.
At the end of Liber Secundus in The Red Book, Jung wrote, “the door of the Mysterium has closed behind me.” A year after my journey, I feel as though this door has only just closed. I long to return, and I know that I will someday, but for now, I am left with insights and a glimpse into new parts of myself.
Since this newsletter is about the crossroads we face with psychedelics and mental health, it’s important to underline what Ram Dass used to say. “The spiritual journey is individual, highly personal. It can’t be organized or regulated. It isn’t true that everybody should follow any one path.” My experience with psychedelics is one example of how these substances can radically transform lives with positive results and hard work. The results have been beyond anything I could have imagined.
Welcome to season three of Both/And! It was a healthy summer season of posting and a much-deserved break spent welcoming our daughter into the world. With the year almost over, I have made a plan to make Both/And into something deeper. I am adding a paid tier with regular content appearing twice per week. The core offering will remain free.
Paid subscriptions are one way to free up the time needed to make a real go of it. Look out for a wild dream piece later this week and a longer essay on true ambitions and daimon next Tuesday. I will have some more updates then as well. In the meantime, thanks for coming on this journey with me. I am excited to be back with you. Please feel free to reach out, as always.