Originally published on Psychedelicfrontier.com
It is a wet February night, and we are gathered at Caleb and Dan’s suburban apartment. There are five of us—our hosts, plus Alex, Jason, and me. We have a larger group of friends, but the rest of the crew is not into “serious” drugs. The five of us jokingly call ourselves the “Psychonautic Subcommittee” ever since we tried MDMA for the first time together last fall.
Tonight, it’s time to explore a new psychedelic frontier. We each grind an eighth of an ounce of dried mushrooms, mix it with orange juice, and gulp it down. It tastes of earth.
I am uneasy but excited for my first psychedelic experience. I’ve been reading plenty but I still don’t know what to expect. Caleb has taken shrooms many times and absolutely loves them, so I’m glad to have his expertise and infectious enthusiasm. The rest of us are entering new territory.
I feel it in my legs first. They’re wobbly. Then reality begins to seems less real, and more joyous. More flexible.
An hour later I have more energy than I know what to do with. Absolute euphoria floods through me, as though each moment of existence is a triumph. We can’t keep our minds on any task, flitting from one room to another, energetic but aimless, beaming.
We move the couch to the side of the living room in order to make more play room. Then we decide to insulate ourselves from the rest of the boring, sober world, and push the couch right against the door. With manic nods and smiles, we agree that this is a great idea. Jason expresses concern about the fire hazard of blocking the only exit of this third-floor apartment, especially as we are using the stove burner to heat a chunk of coal for the hookah. We admit he has a point and move the couch back.
The ceiling swims. I have never hallucinated before, and I laugh like a little kid. It’s so incredible, to see something I know is stationary dancing and shifting. The whole ceiling seems to circle around the sprinkler head, which remains stationary.
I feel like climbing, so I lift myself onto the countertop divider that separates the kitchen from the living room. Four feet higher in the air, I have a much better view of the dancing popcorn ceiling, as well as the lunacy unfolding below. Dan lies face down on the couch and says he is zooming through a dark space with bright lights in geometric patterns. Jason is sitting cross-legged, staring wordlessly into space, his jaw slack and his eyes focused on something only he can see. Caleb tells me about Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory—that humanity has evolved to its current state largely because of psilocybin mushrooms—but I find it hard to pay attention when the ceiling is dancing before my eyes.
My energy cannot be contained and my attention span has shrunk to a single moment. The shackles of past and future fall away and I am completely consumed by the present. Free of worry, free of deadlines, free of problems. There is only now.
Caleb and Zachary and I wander into Caleb’s room. Zachary lies down on the bed, his face buried in the pillow. “Oh my God,” he says after a moment. “I can still see you guys moving around the room. I can see your shadows against some kind of wall. When you talk I can see your mouths move.” Normally we would be inclined to give him a psychiatric evaluation, but tonight we’re ecstatic. High five for clairvoyance!
After a bit I retreat to the carpeted office floor with Alex, closing the door behind me. We wave our hands in front of our faces, watching the overlapping shadows on the ceiling. The room is bathed in new colors every few seconds, as the slideshow screensaver on Caleb’s computer rotates through different images. My hand leaves faint trails as it passes through space, as though light itself has an echo. The room is transformed into something magical, otherworldly. A sanctuary.
Alex insists that this is the way to trip—by yourself, or with one other person, enjoying the magic of quiet moments and completely exploring this new form of consciousness. He says that when you do normal things, like sitting around the table smoking hookah and socializing, the magic is diminished. It’s not as special, because you’re just doing routine things, and trying to apply your mind to regular tasks. I have to agree. The drug’s effects are most noticeable when I quiet myself into a contemplative state. Then, free to forget reality’s limitations, my imagination runs wild.
Just speaking out loud, trying to cram this transcendent experience into the constraints of everyday language, robs the experience of its magic and drags me back to consensual reality. Engaging with language is tempting because we have so much to share with each other, but the effort is difficult and distracting. I have no words for these feelings. What’s worse, the part of me that is adept at finding words for complex ideas has gone on vacation.
Still, I’ve committed to enjoying this trip with four of my buddies, my fellow explorers. I can always trip alone or in smaller groups some other time. Tonight is our night. I leave the sanctuary to reconnect with the others at the table. Alex joins us a few minutes later. We pass the hookah nozzle around.
Zachary has provided poster paper and crayons. I quickly sketch a warthog in purple crayon, and Zachary stares at it, astounded. “It’s like it’s alive! The tusks are wet!” Dan draws a smiling cartoon man. The colors bleed off the page and hang in the air like ribbons.
In the kitchen, I bend down and look at the countertop. Shapes appear to rise right out of the counter and into the air, like a city made of Lego blocks. But the shapes keep on moving—blue and white and aquamarine cylinders, rising and falling like pistons in slow-motion. I reach out to touch them, and they immediately recede back into the flat countertop. Whoa!
Alex says something that stays with me. “Somewhere out there,” he says, “there are five guys just like us, tripping shrooms for the first time.” Statistically, it seems likely enough. Our counterparts, whoever they are, understand this experience; they feel the way we feel. And maybe they’re asking the same question, wondering if we’re out here as well. Parallel tribes of psychedelic voyagers separated by space and knowledge, never to meet and shake hands, but united by the thread of wonderment.
These are the kinds of thoughts that take root in our fertile minds, growing into unexpected tangents and realizations. My thinking process has been tweaked, but I like it. I ride each thought to whatever uncharted territory it takes me to.
How did we ever start using terms like “recreational drug use,” “drug abuse,” and “Schedule 1 Controlled Substance” to describe this experience? Only modern Western culture could make this trip to wonderland sound so nefarious and unappealing. What we’ve discovered tonight is a fairy-tale realm that tops Neverland, Narnia, and Oz. A place where inanimate objects move, colors come alive, conventions and assumptions are cast to the wind, and the giddy energy of childhood is rekindled! Who knew such an enchanted place existed outside the boundaries of everyday consciousness? What else is out there?
We smoke a bowl and I indulge a bit too much, thinking it will be like usual.
I’m lying on the couch when the arbitrariness of our place in the universe crashes down on me. Everything about human culture strikes me as perverse, absurd. I recognize the Ben Folds song playing from the speakers, yet it could not sound more alien. What is a song? What is music? We sit around making noises, and etch these noises into tapes and discs so that other can hear the noises again and again. What’s the point of all that?
And movies: a bunch of people playing pretend in the most contrived scenarios imaginable. The so-called story of any movie is actually a project involving hundreds of people, all intent on duping you, the viewer. They gain your trust in a miniature reality, only to betray it when the credits fall. The dialog is read from a script; the camera angles are precisely executed by professional cinematographers. All of the heroes are actors—phonies, impostors—and the whole “art” a contrivance. And we are happy to sit down and watch these made-up stories about made-up people struggling through made-up conflicts.
How can we possibly become emotionally invested in such trivial games? Don’t we know it’s an elaborate pretense? Even I, a lover of music and film, cannot help but acknowledge the nonsensical nature of both.
Sex, too, strikes me as utterly absurd. Men and women are born with what parts? And they do what together? Couldn’t they just shake hands, speak a password, and be done with it? Why the sexual act, with its passion and pleasure, its power over our lives and decisions? How bizarre that we are attracted to one another, that we commune in such a raw, physical act. Sexuality defies logic.
It gets a little too real. I start thinking about my life, my relationships, my career—everything I could be doing better. I question my lack of direction, my complacency. It’s my first time with a psychedelic, and I’m getting a taste of just how much it can kick my ass. I remember how ecstasy smooths over the cracks and creases of reality, covers everything in its golden glow of love. Mushrooms, however, make me confront myself. Barriers come down and excuses crouch away like guilty dogs.
Anxiety builds. I want the effects to wear off so I can feel normal. I want the comfort blanket of my ego back, complete with its defense mechanisms. Without the illusion of certainty, without my self-protective lies and assumptions, I feel exposed. Cornered! The assumptions that undergird my everyday reality have crumbled and the rest of me is collapsing into the foundation.
“I feel anxious,” I say, my first step towards escape from this crippling self-appraisal. I talk it through with my friends. This alone is a fight for me, because my natural tendency is to deal with problems on my own; to listen, but rarely to express anything too personal. But tonight I manage to give voice to some of my insecurities. Does anybody have their shit together? Do you know what you want in life, and are you on your way to achieving it? Am I just settling for mediocrity?
They are coming down off the shrooms and reassure me. None of us has it all figured out, they say. But look at us, we’re all okay. And we’re here together. Right?
The anxiety fades away. I am left with my friends on a Friday night. Back to normal, but a new normal. This vacation from everyday consciousness has floored me and it will take some time to put myself back together. My eyes and mind have been opened.