The other side

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Art of Alex Grey.

(I have mentioned my history with entheogens before, primarily on my previous website, the now-defunct Zapata Tales. A time or two since, readers have asked for details, most recently this week, so here they are. By the way, I don’t do this anymore because there is no need.)

* * * *

I WAS REARED an agnostic. My parents never went to church and never mentioned religion at home.

And I remained an agnostic till January 19, 1997. That was when I first ingested entheogens, first psilocybin mushrooms and, two days later, a mix of mushrooms and LSD.

Why did I do that? I was trying to make some sense out of my life because at that point, age 52, it seemed not to have any. My life, sense. My second divorce was two years behind me, not something I initiated, and it had thrown me into a massive tailspin.

In the space between ages 50 and 52, I had not found any equilibrium. I was drastically adrift, grasping at any semblance of a grounded straw. I looked at dreams. My daughter mentioned a psychologist she knew who was well-versed in dream interpretation.

He lived outside Tallahassee, Florida. We did a phone session about dreams, which was interesting. As the call wound down, I asked if he knew someone with access to peyote because I thought it would help me.

He then said he could help me in that way. I drove to Tallahassee.

len
The double doors at the bottom left led to my bedroom. The puma’s den.

And this is what I found out in the woods, a beautiful home where my new friend lived alone, a lifelong, handsome bachelor and truth-seeker, so to speak. A private practitioner with a Ph.D. from Florida State University.

We got started before dawn the next morning. He gave me ecstasy, which had no effect whatsoever, which was revealing. Getting nowhere with that, he mixed a brew of psilocybin mushrooms that he cultivated himself.

Bingo! That did the trick.

I was lying on the living room sofa with my eyes covered with a sleep mask. I descended into a massive cavern where native people danced. The music came from a CD player, but I did not know it at the time. It was The Serpent’s Egg by Dead Can Dance.

Music is an excellent assist to entheogens, a term I prefer over drugs, which is a wider category that usually carries bad connotations.

Entheogens are not addictive.

After the cavern, I fell further into a world so extreme and astonishing that putting it into words cannot be done. About eight hours later, the effects begin to wear off. What remains is the knowledge of having seen the “other side.” It is not an hallucination.

A good book to read is The Secret Chief by Myron J. Stolaroff. The author believes this, and I agree with him: We are born with a faucet connected to our minds, and that faucet is shut tight because if it weren’t, we could not function. Taking entheogens opens the faucet temporarily.

Imagine yourself sitting on the stage of a theater in the round. The curtain is closed, and then it begins to open all around you, and you see for the first time beyond the stage which is your everyday world.

You see what’s really out there.

When the entheogen effects begin to wear off, the curtain starts to shut again till it’s closed entirely, and you’re back to “normal,” sitting on that stage of everyday life. But you remember.

My new friend recommended a recess, which I took the following day, driving around the rural, wooded area of the Florida Panhandle.

* * * *

One more time

As dawn arrived the day after that, I was ready, I thought, for Session Two, which was a combination of LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. People with experience say it’s important to state your intention before going on these expeditions. This is true.

For this second event, my intention was that I wanted to dance with love. What did I expect with such a notion? Here’s what I thought would happen based on my experience two days earlier. I thought a beautiful woman would appear, and we would dance.

But the Goddess has her own ideas, so that did not happen. What happened was this: There was no vision. I saw absolutely nothing, but what I felt was stunning. A feeling of extreme caring embraced me. It was like nothing I had ever experienced or imagined.

* * * *

The puma and the woman

Hours later, around midnight, I felt relatively normal again, and I was sitting in my new friend’s living room facing him. I thought it was over, so I told him to go to bed, and I would do the same. He went upstairs.

bed
The bedroom on a later night. The light is my camera flash.

My bedroom was on the ground floor right off the living room, a short walk. I went in, undressed and lay atop the sheets. The lights were off, and it was the sort of darkness you find in the forest on a moonless night.

Lying there, I turned into a woman. Just like that. I could see nothing due to the lack of light, but I turned into a woman. I felt it. It’s quite different from being a man. I felt an unfamiliar, strong need to be cared for.

catAnd then I turned into a black puma. I moved my long tail from one side to the other at the foot of the bed. My whiskers twitched. I felt incredibly powerful.

And then it ended. I went to sleep.

That episode was about the only one that I recall fairly clearly. I suspect that is due to its happening near the end of that night’s experience. I was not totally under the influence but in a twilight zone.

* * * *

Going home, buckets of blood

My new friend offered a third night of this therapy or whatever you’d call it, but I told him no. I was overwhelmed. I drove back to Texas.

But I returned nine months later for LSD. The second night of my first visit had entailed a mixture of both psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. The psilocybin effect had been the more powerful by far.

I knew this later, not then.

The LSD experience was very different. Psilocybin is softer than LSD. Here’s what stood out about the LSD, the only thing I remember: Buckets of blood. I was under a waterfall of blood that poured over me. A voice told me it was time to grow up, to become a man.

This sounds horrible, but it wasn’t. It was a shove I needed.

Many hours later, after the effects had diminished, my friend told me that I had been laughing loudly, something I was unaware of during the experience. I’ve felt immensely better since that night.

lake
View from the back of the house.

Entheogens have been used for direct religious experiences through human history and beyond. Primitive art shows it.

Indeed, since verbal descriptions of what happens can be next to impossible, art comes into play.

ART
A different sort of Heaven.

In 1999, I attended an entheogen conference in Palenque, Chiapas. That was a year before I moved to Mexico. Amusingly, one of the attendees was a New York Port Authority cop. Another attendee was a dentist from Tennessee who gave me a dose of 5-MeO-DMT.

dmt5-MeO-DMT provides an experience similar to LSD but it comes on far faster, instantaneously, and only lasts about 15 minutes.

I sat on a bed, smoked it, and collapsed backwards. About 15 minutes later, I was back to normal. It’s the only time I tried 5-MeO-DMT successfully.

In 2000, about eight months after moving to Mexico, I flew to Atlanta, rented a car and drove back to the Panhandle of Florida to participate in a group session in which the entheogen was a chemical analogue of ayahuasca. And that was the end for me.

I was told — you do hear voices — that I didn’t need to do that sort of thing anymore, so I haven’t. By the way, group sessions are far from ideal. Stick to solo sessions with an experienced helper.

* * * *

Recreational drugs

Many, probably most, people who take psychedelics do it for fun. I take a neutral stance on this matter. There is a consciousness out there — God if you will — and she will let you see her if that is your wish.

However, if your desire is recreational, she will not let you see her, or perhaps not to the same degree. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never done this for fun. Your mindset matters very much.

* * * *

Conclusion

I was an agnostic for most of my adult life. I am not anymore. It would be next to impossible to experience the things entheogens provide and not realize there is something far beyond our daily consciousness.

* * * *

Good books to read

  1. The Cosmic Serpent — DNA and the Origins of Knowledge.
  2. Food of the Gods — The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge. A radical history of plants, drugs and human evolution.
  3. DMT, The Spirit Molecule.
  4. The Way of the Shaman.

 

20 thoughts on “The other side

  1. Interesting. Your experiences with entheogens (never heard that term before) differ from mine, but there are similarities. You had those experiences in your 50s. Me, it was in my 20s. I was a pretty straight-laced kid until I went to university and came into contact with lots of people who ingested various substances. My parents were teetotalers and went to church on Sunday, but I wouldn’t call them “religious.” I was searching for something more meaningful and read books on Eastern philosophy as well as a few by Tim Leary and John Lilly and their experiences with LSD and sensory deprivation chambers.

    Unfortunately, my first few experiences with hallucinogenics were recreational and didn’t provide much insight although it facilitated a lot of drinking and smoking and little sleeping. After university I spent the better part of a year taking LSD on a semi-regular basis with a good friend. We were (are) both musicians, and I found the drug amazing for writing and appreciating music. We had some pretty wild times in a good sense and received insights and “cosmic messages” (not sure how else to describe them). The last of which was a message saying that “you’ve received all that you’re going to get from taking LSD and it’s time to stop.” So I did. I think I’m a better person for these experiences, but I haven’t tried to analyze them very closely. It must have been quite different to go through this in your 50s and in a religious capacity. Wishing you all the best.

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    1. Brent: What jumped out to me from your comment was that you too were told that it was time to stop and, like me, you did just that.

      As for your thinking you’re a better person for it, I absolutely feel the same, and I am. Thanks for the feedback on this.

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    2. By the way, by sensory deprivation chambers, I assume that is what is also called flotation tanks. I’m a fan. Did it just once back in Texas. Interestingly, there is a hotel in a town not far from here that also has that service. I’ve been meaning to go do it again. My wife never has.

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      1. I’ve never come across a sensory deprivation tank. As for peyote, I tried it once as well as cubenses (sp) and psilocybin mushrooms. I did not experience the same euphoric, inciteful and feelings of aliveness that I did on LSD. I just kind of sat there with no particular thoughts and unable to communicate with others. Perhaps I’m not cut out for mushrooms. That stage of my life is over and has been for over three decades. Now it’s just the odd beer or glass of wine. I’ve even cut booze down to a minimum, which is a good thing. My grandfather had a shot of sherry (medicinal) until he died at 99. We’ll see if I can last that long. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

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        1. Brent: Flotation tanks are very nice. I need to get down to the one nearby. One day. It’s in a swanky hotel, and part of its “spa” area.

          As mentioned, psilocybin is a far smoother experience than LSD. Given the choice, I would always choose mushrooms. But I’m not choosing anything anymore along those lines. Booze either, of course, medicinal or otherwise.

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  2. I was such a control freak in certain stages in my life that drugs of any kind scared the wee-wee out of me. About 10 years ago, I mentioned to someone when we were out in the mountains that I think I would have liked to have tried peyote under “supervision.” They told me that wasn’t a good idea for me and I respected them, so I didn’t. I was always so afraid of losing control that I never really experimented and now at this stage of my life if I were to try something I’d probably have a heart attack! Enjoyed your travels though, señor … shades of Carlos Castaneda..

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    1. Peggy: For much of my life, I too had elements of control freakiness, but when I went down the route I described here I was totally adrift and willing to try pretty much anything because I felt I had nothing to lose, and perhaps I didn’t.

      Yes, you’re a bit longer in the tooth than even I am, so who knows if it would be a good idea? But maybe it would be. If you are happy with things, just let it be. No need.

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  3. P.S.: I had a friend who was a professor at the University in Colima who decided to go down to Peru and work with the indigenous. He got way into ayahuasca for quite a few years down there. One day he was walking through the jungle and dropped dead.

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  4. Thanks, Seńor Felipe, for the comments/stories.

    I have had the good fortune to have been raised a Christian, although I cannot claim to have always been a good one, and I can see at least some of the damage done in our histories by “Christians.” I would not be surprised to find that there is much damage I am unable to recognize.

    It is my belief that you have indeed encountered the other side, a thing we will all see in our own ways when this life leaves us. I look forward to it. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do. In addition, I see no point in worrying about the inevitable.

    If there is a perfect way to live this life, I have not found it. I continue to try my best to live my part of it well and often for the benefit of others. I can say that with these advancing years, I have become better at it.

    Saludos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ricardo: While I am not a Christian, I support the Judeo-Christian tradition of much of the Western World. Religion is a good thing in spite of some people doing bad stuff in its name. There is no perfect world. But a religious world is, generally speaking, far better than one without it.

      Yes, getting older makes us better … except for when it doesn’t. Some people are like that. Sad.

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  5. Interesting, to say the least. The most intriguing sentence, for me, was “Your mindset matters very much.” I’m going to think on that. Judging from some of the comments, I think you’re right. I just haven’t decided why.

    Thanks for including the reference material. I’d like to learn more.

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    1. Ray: Yes, apparently, your mindset, your intention before going into this, is a huge factor in what happens. I received exactly what I was hoping for. You haven’t decided why? I think the why is that God, or whatever you want to call it/him/her, is paying attention to you. If you’re serious about it, you are taken seriously. I was dead serious, as serious as I had ever been about anything in my life. If you’re fooling around, which many, if not most, people are, you are not taken seriously, and you get a joyride or, depending, something very, very unsettling. Unpleasant, even nightmarish, things can happen. Never happened to me, however. Not even close. My experiences were 100 percent positive. Best thing I ever did in my life.

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    2. Ray, P:S: The DMT book is the least of the ones I mentioned due to its drastically needing an editor’s red pencil. The first half is devoted in painful detail to the intricacies of getting government permission for this sort of research. The interesting stuff starts halfway through. It’s a serious defect in the book. I only remembered this just now.

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  6. It seems strange to take ideas about these things from a country song, but a musician I heard from Lubbock, of all places, put it this way: “I was born into the mystery, and into the mystery I will go.” Since I’m not likely to go down the entheogens (new word!) path or get religion either at this point, that’s probably the conclusion I’ll go with.

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  7. As one of your longest-time readers, I know your story of enteogen-enabled self-discovery. Yet it continues to fascinate. Based on what you write, it’s almost as if these few treatments completely turned your life around. Really, it’s nothing short of amazing.

    There’s some interesting research going on into the use of such compounds — primarily ecstasy, I believe — to treat PTSD. Apparently the early results are super-promising. Yet the USA’s Puritan-inspired drug policy makes this kind of thing very hard to do here. Sad!

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we’ve had some not-so-good experiences with some of the entheogens you’ve mentioned.

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    1. Kim: it did completely turn my life around, and it was amazing, More than.

      I did not get into ecstasy much in what I wrote, but I’m a fan in spite of their being some evidence that it possibly can cause physical damage, probably if it’s taken over too long a period of time, which I did not do. In the late ´90s I took ecstasy about six or seven times, always alone and always at home. Unlike the more powerful stuff, there’s no problem in taking it without supervision.

      Ecstasy is also known as Adam (as in Adam & Eve, specifically) and MDMA. It was used a good bit by the therapy community decades ago with lots of success, it seems, until it too was made illegal by, yes, the Puritan-inspired U.S. drug policy. I’m sure it’s still used that way to a lesser extent, but it’s gone underground. It’s been said that a more accurate name would be empathy instead of ecstasy, but people who sold it dubbed it that to increase sales, and I am sure it did. Like LSD, psilocybin, etc., it can be used recreationally or as a self-help tool. Mostly, it seems, it’s used recreationally.

      In the last few years, MDMA is making something of a comeback for use in therapy, and U.S. law enforcement seems to be making some exceptions for its study and use in some circumstances. This is great.

      I found it quite wonderful. It lasts about six hours, and the come-down is a little yucky, minor headache, etc. I always just took an aspirin or two and went straight to bed. It’s a form of, or similar to, amphetamines.

      One of the best experiences of my life was listening to Kitaro’s “Light of the Spirit” while on ecstasy. Now there’s something you don’t forget.

      Sorry to hear your entheogen experiences have not been positive. Ummmm, wonder what that indicates.

      Liked by 1 person

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