When I think about the impact that psychedelics have had on my life, it’s difficult to overstate their significance. What started out as a relatively innocent curiosity into minutely perturbing my consciousness 7 years ago has led to an unimaginable unfolding of eye-opening events.
My journey with psychedelic experiences began with cannabis while I was in college. Some of my early experiences involved getting high and then listening to Yoga Nidra guided meditations, which provided instructions for observing sensations throughout my body.
These meditations weren’t particularly interesting whilst sober, but under the influence of cannabis I felt the boundaries of my body dissolve in a way that was incredibly novel to me at the time. I felt the limits on my consciousness dissipate, and I felt an innate pull within me to continue this inner exploration into other states of consciousness I previously did not know existed.
I’ve since experimented with several different compounds throughout my journey with psychedelics, with a total number of experiences somewhere around 100 at the time I’m writing this. There are some that I’m more familiar with than others, but for this paper I will focus on the three that have been the most impactful for me: mushrooms, LSD, and ayahuasca.
I like to call them the “old reliable” psychedelic, and have used them the most out of any other substance. Practical and easy to fit into a busy schedule. Always beneficial. Often profoundly healing and insightful.
For me, they provide an experience that is the most natural and organic feeling of any psychedelic, as if they were symbiotically paired with my body and consciousness. I feel the spirit of the earth working in and through me, showing me through direct experience that I am an extension of the planet and the universe.
The lessons from these teachers don’t typically come in the form of direct, cognitive, easily applicable insights such as with LSD, but rather are more symbolic and somatic. It is as if they are showing me wisdom instead of telling me.
This often takes form as a surge of emotional waves, which can be unpleasant at times. But my ability to communicate and dance with the mushroom has improved steadily over time, and I am now able to sit back and observe these emotional rises which have previously been overwhelming.
It feels as if I am learning to allow the life force or energy that is already within me, amplified by the mushrooms, flow more naturally. This is how the mushrooms act as a teacher to me. It is a teaching in surrender – to the natural flow of what is. Not what I would like or prefer the experience to look like, but exactly what is taking place at this very moment – nothing more or less. Learning to surrender to the heightened emotional states that mushrooms invoke often leads to the blossoming of intense feelings of cosmic awe and wonder.
Mushrooms are my go-to for regular emotional maintenance. They are the oil changes for the vehicle of my spiritual being. These experiences help me be my most loving and compassionate self in the default world. It helps me surrender to the emotional turbulence of experiences like addiction and anxiety instead of fighting against them.
I highly recommend the book Decomposing the Shadow by James Jesso, which is essentially a user guide manual for how to have a mushroom experience, and strategies for building an effective healing relationship with them.
Out of all the psychedelic experiences I’ve had, there is one that stands out to me as the most profound. The one that first opened my eyes to peeking behind the veil of my own existence. The one that gave me the direct experience of true oneness that I had only read about in books. That substance is LSD.
While I don’t much prefer it any longer at this stage in my journey, it served an invaluable purpose in the beginning of my psychedelic explorations.
The incredible kaleidoscope of dancing patterns on a tapestry, the morphing of clouds in the summer sky into infinite white fractal universes, the discovering of new colors I never knew had even existed in the sunset sky… these visual insights were an instant hit that were remarkably tantalizing.
LSD provided razor-sharp cognitive enhancement and direct insight into my own patterns of behavior, which proved to resonate more with me early on when I didn’t yet understand how to navigate the heavy emotional waters of psilocybin.
At that time, LSD was easily my favorite psychedelic, and it was a sure bet that any time I had a weekend to myself, LSD was on the agenda. I quickly learned that I much preferred journeying alone since I found it to be much more conducive to surrendering deeply into the experience.
One weekend, when my girlfriend at the time was out of town, I prepared myself for a day trip with LSD. This was probably around my 10th or 15th journey. The usual display of visual distortions took place, but when things started to get particularly intense, I retreated to my headphones and put on some music.
I started playing the album Dusk to Dawn by Emancipator from the beginning, and by the second song was enraptured by the music. I remember the sensation of my very existence, seemingly one thread at a time, slowly merging with the sound waves of the music. Little by little, there was less and less of myself left, and more and more of just pure music and awareness.
Eventually there was only music, and I was gone. There was absolutely no “I” anywhere to be found. Myself as I knew it no longer existed, yet the music kept on playing. When the album was nearly finished, I suddenly found myself back in my body, wondering where in the world I just was for the last 30 minutes. My body was in the same place, but my consciousness had gone somewhere else.
I suppose a natural follow-up question to this could be what I gained from this experience, or how I applied it to my life. It took a few years to properly integrate, as it fundamentally altered who I knew myself to be, and I didn’t yet have proper integration of the know-how in my psychedelic toolbox.
The experience of not-self solidified the belief in me that the mystical teachings and readings I’d come across were true – that I really, actually am only awareness. I am not my body, my thoughts, my feelings, my relationships, my career, or my possessions.
If not-self is what I am, then I am made up of fundamentally the same substrate as everything else in the universe. Everyone I meet is, at their core, the same as me. Not just similar, but the same. With this new knowledge, I found myself with a newfound desire to connect with other human beings like I never had before. I saw that if I harmed another person, in any way, I was only harming myself.
Slowly, I learned to become more aware of how my words and actions affected other people, and began to realize how self-centered my worldview really was. I found true happiness in genuine connection and service of others, and my previous desires based in materialism and accumulation began to fall away.
Since this experience, I’ve attempted many times to recreate it with LSD. I’ve come close, but nothing has ever compared to that first time. Perhaps LSD will resurface again as a valuable tool for me sometime in the future. But that initial opening to me was the one turning point in my life.
I now refer to my life in terms of: before that experience, and after. The person I was before that experience seems completely unknown to me now. It is my hope that others who wish to undergo similar expansive experiences, not just with LSD but other substances as well, have the opportunity to do so safely, as our ancestors have done for centuries before us.
I came to discover ayahuasca through podcasts such as Joe Rogan and Aubrey Marcus. I remember hearing Aubrey’s descriptions of exploring vast worlds of entities, and being visited by jungle spirits who communicated and interacted with him. Aubrey also talked about receiving direct messages from these spirits that clearly showed him his life mission, and he had since gone on to achieve exactly what he was shown during his experiences.
At this stage in my life, I found myself deeply conflicted in the career path I had chosen. I had graduated from an engineering program and began to take on more prestigious jobs that gained recognition from my family and friends and ever-larger paychecks. Part of my old self felt proud of what I was accomplishing, but as those desires began to fall away, I knew that the person I was becoming was not interested in these materialistic endeavors.
Despite the temptations of “success” and the attention that accompanied it, a deeper longing in me began to emerge for a life dedicated to my truest self. I felt trapped; caught in between two worlds. I decided ayahuasca could help me sort things out. So I flew down to Peru for my first solo trip out of the country to undergo four consecutive nights of ayahuasca ceremonies under the guidance of a master shaman.
My direct experience with ayahuasca was very difficult. I found the experience to be extremely physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. On another level from any psychedelics I had tried. My success at surrendering to the experience was grim; I found myself fighting and resisting quite often, but with a few pockets of absolute pure bliss.
In these moments, I saw the walls of protection I had built up around me as a vast city skyline, and the medicine gently but firmly knocked them down. Massive skyscrapers of armor fell to the ground, leaving my true self at the core with room to breathe and see who I really was.
When I came home, I again found myself conflicted and struggling to integrate my new self when all of my surroundings in my daily life stayed the same. Same house, same job, same commute, same friends… same everything, except my internal perspective. I knew I needed to start changing my external world to match my internal world.
I began to attend Psychedelic Society meetups, talking openly with others about my experiences for the first time in six years. Shortly afterwards, a few months after returning from Peru, I received the insight I didn’t realize I had been waiting for.
Clear as day, while on my commute to work one morning, I was listening to a podcast about psychedelic therapy, enthralled by the speaker’s descriptions of how the therapy worked and its incredible benefit for those who were suffering. Hearing this, I immediately re-entered the clarity of the ayahuasca space of the flattened cityscape. I saw the life I was meant to live as a therapist and healer. It was so clear to me that this came from my deeper self that I had touched while on ayahuasca, and it felt like I was finally starting to see the truth clearly.
I’ve since transitioned my life to leaving my once-valued career in engineering to returning to school to become a therapist. After several years of solo inner exploration, I’m finally learning to have the courage to express my truest self, and allow my inner authenticity to find its way out into the external world.
I’ve become an active member in my local psychedelic community and started a monthly integration circle where I facilitate a safe space for small groups to share their experiences with others while being supported in their psychedelic journeys. This is something I wish I had during my early years of exploration.
Serving in this way allows me to give back to the community while I begin building a new life in the healing profession. I’m incredibly grateful for the truths that psychedelic substances helped me uncover in myself. They have been tools of the utmost value for me as my tricky ego has found innumerable ways to sidestep the truth. But that’s a story for another time.