Category Archives: Psychedelics
I read Jack Kornfield’s After the Ecstasy, the Laundry a couple of months ago. It persuaded me to take psychedelic drugs instead of meditate. I’m pretty confident that was not Kornfield’s intention in writing the book. So let me explain.
Here is the basic premise of the book:
Meditative practices (Kornfield is a Buddhist, but the book includes examples from several religions) can produce ecstatic and blissful states, grand unity experiences, ego extinction, samadhi, death and rebirth passages and other kinds of mystical experiences that are one of the goals of many spiritual pursuits. But these states are hard to maintain. The seeker may think his life has been eternally transformed. But then the meditation retreat is over and the seeker returns home from the mountains into the daily life of traffic, work, families and distractions. Not only does the bliss itself grow more remote, but even the realizations and intentions to live a transformed life start to dissipate. Even Asian masters who leave their monasteries to run workshops and teach classes in the west often become prey to sex, money, power and the endless distractions and worries of daily life.
Kornfield reminds us that the ecstasy was only a stage in much longer (and endless?) process of awakening. The next step is to learn to live in the moment, accept the life that you have and appreciate the small things. Learn to a life of community, daily rituals, charity, compassion, sharing, caring for the environment and hanging out with dharma friends. This is the most important wisdom that comes from meditative practices, more important than the ecstasies.
Here is why meditation is like taking psychedelic drugs:
1) The ecstatic experience is temporary, and hard to integrate into daily life. That has always been a big complaint about substance-induced psychedelic experiences.
2) Both can have positive effects on health. Proponents of mediation emphasize its utility in stress reduction, improving brain performance, treating addiction, improving sex and as an adjunct to therapy. The same claims are made for psychedelic substances. Shamanic traditions call the substance medicines, and claim an ability to cure an even wider variety of physical and mental problems. Even clinical studies in the West have had positive results in using psychedelics to treat anxiety, addiction, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, cluster headaches and for general psychotherapy (See MAPS, and Heffter Institute).
3) There is a small possibility of negative health effects. Neither technique has any proven physical ill-effects. But a bad drug trip can severely disrupt emotional well-being, especially in people who are already mentally unstable. And excessive psychedelic use can contribute to long term mental deterioration. But some meditators also experience overwhelming upsurges of negative emotions, not to mention long-term frustration and self-criticism when meditation is difficult and not having the effects that are expected. The negative feelings surrounding mediation are usually not so overwhelming as a bad drug trip—but this perhaps has more to do with the fact that many drug trips are taken without adequate preparation, whereas meditators generally have a large amount of self-discipline and awareness of what they are doing. Indeed, some bad nights (accompanied by appropriate purging) can be an essential part of an ayahuasca treatment.
As to long-term chronic effects, moderation seems again to be key. Kornfield mentions several masters who developed serious illnesses. Twenty to thirty years of sitting on your ass without much exercise is not a route to good health. (But, as with frequent psychedelic use, it is also not necessarily a route to bad health).
4) Both claim to provide access to the divine (indeed, the increasingly popular word “entheogen” to describe psychedelic substances means ‘generating the divine within’). They point to states of enlightenment or self-realization. But neither method takes you there directly or leaves you with what Jeb McKenna calls “abiding non-dual awareness.” To reach that state, you have to do some different kind of work. But both can delude you into thinking you have attained or are approaching that state already.
This kind of delusion can be actively encouraged by the proponents of each technique. Drug culture, however, is so fragmented and laden with caveats that I think it is less of a problem. The institutional force and sophisticated tones of contemporary Buddhism and the other meditative establishments are much more misleading. Here is the source of my biggest skepticism of Kornfield.
In another essay that I read a long time ago, Kornfield described the ecstatic experiences as a ‘booby prize.’ The true prize, real enlightenment, was in the next stage of being able to live in this world with enlightened clarity. This is a fairly standard Buddhist and Advaita claim. But the kind of ‘wisdom’ described in After the Ecstasy does not seem to have anything to do with this. Indeed, contemporary American Buddhism as a whole is fairly notorious for having dropped enlightenment as a goal. Kornfield talks of the continued process of ‘awakening,’ ‘realization’, and wisdom, but not enlightenment. He describes the kinds of insights that can come to many people as they become older, not just people who have been meditating for 30 years. As far as I can tell, it does nothing to apply the experiences of ecstasy and mystical experiences into daily life. Instead, it just teaches us to accommodate to the social and material obligations of this world. It is stuff that he could well have learned while earning his psychology PhD. It is a wisdom that is already everywhere even without meditation or ecstasy. (For a more extended critique of ‘consensus Buddhism’ see David Chapman’s blog)
As the tantrika in Daniel Odier’s Tantric Quest says, if the yogi can not leave his cave and be comfortable spending time in town, then the yogi has not yet really awakened. This seems to be the case with most of of Kornfield’s examples. But then Kornfield reframes their falls from bliss and awakening as true wisdom.
I don’t know if abiding enlightenment or non-dual awareness is really a possibility. I won’t know until I somehow manage to awaken to the fact that I am already there (to use the lingo of the genre). Meditation, drugs and ecstatic experiences are, at best, only tools with limited functions in that awakening.
But if I am searching for ecstatic, mind-blowing, self-therapeutic or difficult introspective experiences, I’ll choose drugs over meditation. As far as I can tell, the only reason to undergo years of meditation, muscle cramps, ‘witnessing’ that endless inane chatter in my head, and trying to persuade myself that all those hours were well-spent, is because I have some kind of bizarre work ethic. And even then, there’s no guarantee I’ll get my ecstatic experience. Although the drug experience is definitely easier in terms of time and long-term effort, this does not mean it comes without costs. A powerful experience needs good preparation and follow-up (which could include meditative practices). And it will still be mentally and physically draining.
The illegitimate and semi-legitimate status of psychedelics and entheogens combines with the power of these substances to hit you unawares to produce a much more open interpretive context. If I want to my experiences to be sanctioned and to learn how to interpret them as some kind of progress towards wisdom and better integration into society, I’ll join a meditation group. If I want challenges, confusion, adventure, endless possibility, shifting reference frames, or to just stare into the abyss with awe, I’ll stick with the drugs.
“The natural universe is neither prickles nor goo exclusively. It’s gooey prickles and prickly goo.” –Alan Watts
“All perception of truth is the detection of an analogy.” –Henry Thoreau
“I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.” –Albert Einstein
I’m at the Psychedemia conference on integratic psychedelics into academia at the University of Pennsylvania. The two quotes above are from a poster presentation by Sarah McManus, titled “Pricles and Goo: Playing with Scientific and Psychedelic Metaphors.” She argues that the even though the scientific and intuitive (mystical? psychedelic?) traditions are often grasping towrads the same insights, their different metaphorical styles make it difficult for them to speak to each other. She wants to discover common ground between reason and insight.
She gave several quotes from scientists–most of which I can no longer remember–who confess that their models are never truth but only useful approximations; that we are nowhere near understanding the basic nature of the universe; and that at best science can only capture fleeting moments in time and make very limited, context-bound predictions.
I know we could dig up several more quotes from scientists asserting the opposite: a firm belief in theories and particles; that we are at the verge of understanding everything; and only have to work out the details to work out. But I think she has a point. As I have written elsewhere, the most exciting science creates some of the most mind-boggling mystical visions around.
But after reading the poster I wondered: Why would scientists want to study mystics and mysticism? Why should mystics care about science? I don’t think they have much to offer each other yet, even when they are heading in the same direction. The divergence between the two lies in more than just metaphors. There are also fundamental differences in how to gain knowledge and what to do with it. The universe may be prickly goo and gooey prickles–but our modes of accessing it excessively emphasize either the goo or the prickles.
Although some scientists like to make big theories and philosophize, most of science is about reducing the great, holistic, super-entwined structure of the universe down into manageable chunks that can be analyzed and transformed into clear, useful, focused results. They retreat in trepidation when confronted with ineffable, unmodular holism. This is both because of the need for testable hypotheses, and because of the social pressure to justify research through practical consequences. Mystics, however, are all about dissolving our attachment to the particular manifestations of the universe. learning to be aware of the whole and perceive the undifferentiated fabric. The scientists work hard to put words and formulas to the parts that they analyze. The mystics are searching for those experiences that are beyond words.
Some scientists are curious about the mystics. They even like to brain scan meditating monks. But even that is all about breaking the brain down into its modular parts to figure out how it works. It has nothing to do with helping people to reach those mystical experiences. In fact, encouraging an over-analytic mind may even make it more difficult to obtain those experiences. At most, after they study all their brain scans and understand the chemistry, science may be able to develop more drugs to facilitate mystic experiences (Alexander Shulgin, for example–as well as more underground chemists today). But there is little incentive to do so, because such drugs would surely be made illegal.
In the end, the mystical scenarios created by scientific theorizing are held from us at arms length, beautiful ideas for us to appreciate but not to experience. At best, we must take it on their word that a few elite mathematicians are experiencing ecstasy through the symmetries and algorithms they discover.
Some mystics (and scientists) like to point to the similarity between mystical perceptions and the conclusions of scientific research. But I never find that very compelling. The analogies are often vague and sometimes misleading representations of science. And I often feel that the appeal to science is merely an appeal to authority, a way to justify mysticism to a skeptical audience. It is not an appeal that really helps us to have the experience. And once you’ve had the experiences, you realize that the science offers just one of many possible interpretation.
Most scientific research into psychedelics these days has more modest goals, usually to investigate their potential for therapy (basically the only kind of research that can get government permission). The investigators recognize that mystical experiences are often a crucial part of the therapeutic experience—an experience which may lead to quitting smoking, curing cluster headaches, or reconciling to cancer. But they have little to say about that experience (at least in their published work). Their research is still limited to correlation, i.e. showing a high number of patients who receive the psychedelic treatment have good results as compared to those who take placebos. The reasons and mechanisms remain mysterious, and the experience itself is valued mainly for its practical results.
Technology is the one other place were many people see an overlap between psychedelic mysticism and science. Many people like to give credit to psychonauts and psychedelic drugs for many recent advances in computing and networking (although the military surely deserves as much, if not more credit). And in turn, structures and metaphors of networking, computing and information are providing new ways to interpret the psychedelic experience (among psychonauts at least–less so among institutionalized scientists). But the more thoughtful of these theorists will be the first to admit that it is just fun and games. That the most difficult thing about mystical and psychedelic experiences is that the minute you try to stop it, to think about it and describe it, you have lost it. That’s no use for science, and no use for mystics.
(But there is still the possibility that continued interaction of clinical scientists with people on psychedelics confronting the ineffable unverse will have some kind of long-term effect on science, and even vice versa. I suspect that the results will look quite different from the science and mysticism we currently have–perhaps something more like alchemy?)
I was hit by a taxi on my bicycle about a year ago. All I can remember about the crash is a large yellow hood and thinking, “no way out of this one.” After that, I have some brief memories of the ambulance and being pushed into the MRI machine. Each time I asked about my wallet.
It happened about two days after an extremely emotional and weepy psychedelic experience. I was riding my bike before dawn around Manhattan. As I rode through Central Park after about an hour of pedaling, the same emotions from the trip were starting to well up. The last I remember was leaving the park towards foot bridge to Ward’s Island. I suspect the accident was my fault, that I was riding the wrong way down a one-way street. It happened at an intersection that I normally avoid because the one-way streets all go the wrong way.
A couple of months later I read John C. Lilly’s account in The Center of the Cyclone of how he had injected himself with soap bubbles after his second (bad) LSD trip, putting himself in the hospital in a coma for two weeks. He could only remember intending to inject himself with a sleep medicine, but not the actual injection, and certainly not filling the syringe with soap. He was convinced that the LSD had awakened a self-destructive urge within himself. While unconscious, he had also spoken with unearthly beings who had helped him on to the right path.
Nothing so exciting happened during my blackout. My face was pretty well scraped, and my brain felt like it was rattling a bit loosely in my head (no concussion they said). But the recovery was pretty easy—even enjoyable. The oxycontin was nice. After the initial pain subsided, I saved the rest up to eat in a couple of large doses (I’d been reading about oxycontin addiction in a class I was teaching and wanted some firsthand experience). Nothing much happened the first time. I got a pleasant buzz the second time, but nothing so nice as to make me want to do it again. Much more pleasant was that, whenever I exercised (I was doing long walks of over an hour and a half to work, rather than bicycling) my sense of smell became much stronger and I felt very emotional. I quite enjoyed that and was disappointed when it stopped.
I often thought about the idea that I had gotten into the accident on purpose. During my ayahuasca sessions several months later, I saw myself bouncing and rolling over the taxi. It was a very unlikely scenario given the pattern of my scrapes. But the flamboyance was very appealing. I need some dramatic gesture in my life.
I could never find my bike. After several calls to the police, I just gave up. I still haven’t bought a new one. I had had another (smaller) accident several months before. After that one I had promised myself to pay more attention when I am riding. It was clearly a promise I could not keep. I also am not willing to ride with a helmet. So it seems like a good idea to stop riding for a while. And I found that I enjoyed the walking even more. I realized that I was alway a bit tense on the bicycle, trying to make the lights, worrying about cars, dodging potholes. Walking is a more human pace.
I’ve recently bought a kick scooter, so I can ride with my daughter. I’ve started commuting by scooter. It’s bit over an hour to the office. As my muscles get stronger and I develop a rhythm, I like it more and more. Doesn’t seem much safer than a bicycle.
I don’t know if I’ve learned anything from this accident at all.
I ate a space cake one night in Amsterdam a while ago. When it kicked in, I walked around the city watching the clock tower wavering in the mist and the bridges stretching and flexing as the struggled to break free of the roads. I sat down next a canal, and watched the water flicker and send sparks into the windows of the houses lining the canal. My body sent out glistening threads of energy to join the sparks, and then invited them to flow inside my body to shimmer and tingle. It was getting very sensual. I imagined myself as a baby nuzzling into my grandmother’s bosom (an image that had come up a few months before during a psilocybin trip). I thought about how wonderful it would be to feel a woman’s touch right now, her hair drifting across my skin, her nipples soft and resisting between my fingers, our stomachs grazing together. The shimmering, tingling energy spread out from my body, engulfing my skin. I went to a sex club.
It was a relatively downscale club, with a small lounge where the patrons and women could meet each other. I first talked to a short, plump, dark-haired girl from Hungary with a beautiful smile. She had an open expression and easy-going manner that made me feel at ease. Foolishly I figured I should look around first (damn that impulse to be a well-informed consumer!) and she soon went off with another guy. So I approached another woman who was blonde, tall and buxom. I suspected it was a mistake from the beginning. Her expression was haughty and her voice a bit angry. But the rounded curve of her hips did not stop, and her breasts were the breasts of my grandmother. I told myself that I was not particularly articulate tonight, and wasn’t looking for conversation.
I wasn’t exactly thinking with my dick, either. I was not looking for a fuck, but to feel the soft, supple flesh. I was not surprised when I could not get an erection. My whole body was pulsating in a way that made my penis feel irrelevant. But she just kept sucking and sucking over the condom. I asked her to slow down, to rub me a bit. She only kept sucking in frustration. I told her that I didn’t need the sucking, that she didn’t need to do anything. She could just lie down and relax, and I was happy to feel her, smell her, bury my face in her body. She lay on the bed for a bit while I ran my arms and face over her legs and buttocks, felt the flesh of her armpits and smelled the crook of her neck. When I put my cheek on her stomach, she squirmed away and complained that it tickled. Then when I then put my face in her bosom and licked her nipples she said I was hurting her, no matter how softly I did it. Finally she told me to stop kissing her, that she wasn’t my girlfriend (It was the first time my mouth had touched her. Everything else was just cuddling). I looked into up her angry eyes.
“What do you want?” she asked with a strong Eastern European accent. “You want to put the whole thing in your mouth?”
“Yes, that would be great,” I said. I saw her puzzled expression, and realized it was meant to be an insult.
She said I was drunk. I told her I had only drunk Red Bull that evening, but she clearly didn’t believe me.
“What do you want?” she demanded again.
“I just want to touch you.” That was clearly insufficient, and I racked my still-foggy brain for a better answer. I was going far to deep, searching a psychological explanation. I finally explained that I couldn’t really explain what I wanted. But then suddenly it became clear to me. I smiled and said, “Maybe it has something to do with not getting touched enough as a baby.”
She scowled at me. “No, you just like women.” She said it as if it were an accusation.
“Well, yeah, of course. That’s why I’m here.” She laughed and I laughed—the only positive connection we had all night. She asked if I wanted her to suck my cock again. I said no. That made her angry again, and she walked out of the room.
It looked like suck and fuck was all I had paid for. Of course, there was no reason that she had to act as receptacle for my fantasy projections, or even just lie there quietly if that’s not what she wanted. But I was still annoyed because I didn’t think I was asking for much.
I had originally paid 5 Euro too much. She had promised to get change, but I figured that was unlikely and it would be part of the tip. Now, as I put on my clothes, I thought about how to demand my change.
She came back in to clean up. Before I said anything she told me that after she finished washing herself, she would get my change. Disarmed by this, my irritation receded and I told her to keep it.
“No, wait for it,” she insisted.
“No, you keep it. I’m sorry I made you angry.”
She looked in my eyes, “Thanks. It’s OK.”
As I walked back to my hotel I decided the encounter was not so bad. It certainly was not the kind of mechanical encounter that could be so disappointing. I did not get what I wanted, but perhaps what I needed. The mix of ethereal sparks, luxurious sensuality and grandmother’s bosom that I brought to the encounter surely set my expectations way too high. All those sensations and images pointed to something beyond sex. Sex always promises to take us to those places. And perhaps it can point the way, and even bring us a bit closer. And if we cultivate ourselves, and learn how to have sex really well and channel those pulsating energies. It may even take us the edge of the ineffable. But my grandmother’s bosom is still only a dream. In the end I’ll still have to surrender and fall into the ineffable hole.
So, last night SWIM (Somebody Who Is not Me: a common internet drug forum acronym) ingests a shitload of M without telling me. Next thing I know, he’s curled up on the floor moaning and ahhhing like he’s almost ready to come. Man, he’s trying to erase his ego again. I’m pissed. We were supposed to go to the club tonight. He knows perfectly well you can’t get past the bouncer without an ego. But we can’t even get there at all if he’s curled up on the floor like a wanker.
So I’m lying on the bed wondering what the fuck I’m going to do tonight. Then I look up, and that asshole SWIM is hanging off the ceiling staring at me. “Get out of my face,” I say, “You’ve already screwed up my night. I don’t want to deal with your shit.”
He doesn’t listen and just keeps staring. “I told you to fuck off!” I yell at him. “I just want to get high and have a good time. I don’t need your crap.”
That asshole doesn’t care about anything. He just turns around and starts ripping a hole in the ceiling. He wants to pull me in there. It’s just lights and swirls, endless fucking repeating patterns, and these big, black gaping voids. It’s a fucking mess. “No way,” I say. “I just want to get laid. I don’t see any pussy in there.”
He doesn’t give a fuck what I say, and starts pulling the hole down over my head. I get off the bed and head out the door to get away from him. But the bastard has pulled all the fiber out of my muscles. Next thing I know I’m lying in a heap on the floor and he’s dragging me right into that damn hole and I can’t do anything about it.
All I can say is that SWIM is into some weird, fucked-up shit in there. He hangs out with these total nerds: gnomes, green elves, talking little white flying fuzzballs. They’re just prancing around these castles and pyramids covered in Christmas lights, having parades with fucking Snow White and Bozo the Clown, fighting sorcerers and all kinds of geeky shit like that. It’s totally Dungeons and Dragons. And there’s no pussy anywhere. Well, unless you count SWIM’s grandma’s pussy (I told you he was into some fucked-up shit).
So SWIM takes me to this room full of filing cabinets and leaves me there while he goes and flies around with his little green buddies and parties on top of one of those pyramids. I’m pissed. They’re having a good time doing whatever shit they do, and he just left me here twiddling my thumbs. So I start digging through the filing cabinets to see if I can find any weed or blow. But all I can find are these file folders with pictures from my life. There I am feeling lonely and abandoned in the crib. There I am crying when my friends are giving me shit for pissing my pants. There is my dad calling me a moron. Shit, man, who wants to see this kind of stuff? Boring. Why does he want to save this crap here in these filing cabinets like some kind of shrine? Nobody cares about this shit.
So I’m still rifling the drawers looking for weed when SWIM comes back and tells me they’ve decided that I haven’t finished my task. I have to zip my skin back on, and they’ll send me back to earth so that I can finish doing what I was supposed to do. Fine, whatever. I’m sick of this geekdom. Maybe there’s even still time to go out and catch a buzz. I have no idea how long I’ve been in this fucking place.
Next thing I know, I’m back on the floor. I can move my hands and arms now, and kick my feet up and down. But then, just when I’m starting to feel alright, I open my eyes and there is my Mom hovering over me. At first she looks worried, but then she starts yelling at me and shaking this broken glass in my face asking how the hell I made such a mess, and what do I think I am doing, and why can’t I be like my sister, and don’t I know how much trouble I make for her, yap yap yap yap yap . . . .
Shit, I don’t need any of this. I just want to get high and have a good time. Is that so much to ask?
I spent 10 days at an ayahuasca retreat in Peru. Ayahuasca is a traditional medicine/psychedelic substance made from plants found in the Amazon. My retreat was high in the mountains. But the shaman was a mestizo from the Amazon, and the ayahuasca brewed by his family in the jungle. Every shaman has his own ayahuasca mix. This one emphasizes cleansing (which often means violent vomiting). He also encourages 4 days of a ‘dieta’, which meant no salt, bland white foods like yucca, rice, eggs and plantain, and a nightly drink of tree bark tea. He says one night of drinking ayahuasca while on the diet is worth 100 nights of drinking without the diet. The retreat hosts (Ayahuasca Satsangha) also encourage mixing ayahuasca with other techniques such as yoga, meditation and ayurvedic health, so that the impact of the ayahuasca can be extended more deeply into our lives after we leave Peru.
The shaman starts by singing icaros into each glass of ayahuasca before we drink. The icaro is a kind of chant. The words of each icaro may change. The tones are the most important part, and are sometimes whistled rather than sung. I was told that the tones are like telephone dial tones; they call the spirit of the ayahuasca (who is usually seen as a woman wearing green). Throughout the ceremony the shaman continues to wave his tree branches and sing icaros that protect us from outside energies, and to help good energy flow through our bodies. Sometimes he does it for the whole group, sometimes for each of us individually.
The ayahuasca takes effect after about 15 minutes. I can feel energy pulsating through my body, and see lots of bright, disjointed, colorful neon lights and fractal patterns when I close my eyes. It is all a bit chaotic: rushing sensations in my body that don’t quite correspond with the ever-blossoming patterns in my mind. The sound of icaros and tree branches seems all pervasive. And I laugh at the chorus of vomiting that surrounds me. My sense of space is disoriented, and I can’t quite tell where it is coming from. Sometimes right next to me, sometimes far away in a distant cave.
After a while, the lights become more intense, sometimes coming together into castles or mountains. The bodily sensations become more of a pleasant vibration. Then I hear a deep woman’s voice. “There is more. I can bring you higher. But first you have to cut everything. Cut family, cut friends, cut your job.” I think about cutting my daughter, and see an empty, glaring void. I hesitate. The lights turn off.
For the rest of the night, I mostly see only a few dark, whooshing patterns and hear only the sound of vomiting. I become lost in my thoughts. They are generally nasty, self-critical thoughts. I tell myself that all of this ayahuasca drinking and spiritual stuff is for losers. It is only an escape, a way to avoid responsibilities. That this is the story of my life, running away from responsibilities. I try to make it look so lofty and spiritual, but that is all just a lie. I just can’t face up to the world.
Thoughts and images of my ex-wife come up repeatedly. I realize I am still deeply connected to her, and that this connection has something to do with her illness (depression, panic, some paranoid schizophrenia—along with some intense religious visions that make me reluctant to call it an ‘illness’). I try to understand what this connection is. I even feel some attraction to her illness. I suspect that it really was my illness, that I gave it to her. But that doesn’t seem entirely true. It was already inside her. But I surely took advantage of it as a depository where I could project and deposit all of my shit. And now I can’t escape it so easily.
I also saw how deeply my ex- knows and understands me. Probably better than anybody else. Certainly better than my girlfried Luna. I can’t cut her off so easily. And as I think this, I start to feel the pain of her life. The many sleepless nights; the constant anxiety, panic and paranoia; the lost dreams and betrayal. Her pain flows into my mother’s isolation and bitterness, and my father’s. I am nauseous. I get on my hands and knees and want to vomit, but it won’t come. A voice says, “Don’t think you can get rid of us that easily.”
I lay down again and have a few scattered visions. One is of my bike accident a year before (which happened about two days after a psilocybin trip. As I was riding, the feelings started to come up again. I can’t remember the accident itself, although I was hit by a taxi and it was probably my fault). I see myself rolling dramatically over the hood of the taxi. I know from my scrapes and injuries it could not possibly have happened this way. But I think that this image is evidence of some flamboyant death wish. I want to show off my contempt for everything in some dramatic gesture. But then I think that my death wish is really just my inability to face anything and desire for escape.
I see the naked torsos, thighs and asses of some women I have known. It all looks so pointless. It is beautiful on the outside, but what do I think I can find by sticking my penis into that? We are just acting out our personal issues onto each other when we have sex.
When the shaman comes to sing an individualized icaro and wave the fan over me, I feel insects falling on my face—real insects. I don’t know whether to brush them off or not. One crawls over and starts to tickle my lips, and I blow it off. I hear it fall onto the pillow (in the morning I find that it was a leaf).
As the effect wears off, my mind is racing. The same thoughts keep repeating over and over again, or else I try to craft them into stories that I will tell to my friends. This relentless, narrativizing voice is intrusive and loud, and I can’t shut it up. Then I see a big red circle, with bright yellow words like a light bulb saying “FUCK INSIGHTS!” I laugh. “Yes, fuck them all,” I say. But my mind keeps racing, pushing everything else out. I want it to end.
Finally, I vomit—perhaps the last person to do so. It is a huge, explosive vomit. My jaw flies open so strongly that I was afraid I hurt myself, as if something much larger than the actual vomit was coming out. I continue to vomit, with long, endless dry heaves that are digging deeper and deeper. Then diarrhea. When I go back to my mat, my mind goes straight back to the same old themes, trying to force everything together into a coherent narrative with a proper analysis.
After a while, at about 3 in the morning I find the energy to stagger the 100 or so meters up the hill (although it felt much, much farther) to my bed. I vomit at least twice more into the toilet.
The next day I learn that most people had an extremely difficult night. Mine was relatively painless. But this trip left me in the same place of critical self-loathing that the psilocybin trips had left me last year. Ultimately, higher doses of psilocybin had less and less effect on me, leaving me with only those nasty thoughts and little other experience. How can I get past those thoughts?
Before drinking my ayahuasca, I state my intention into the cup: “I want to surrender. Teach me how to do it. Help me to know what I truly feel.”
I kneel for a long time after drinking. After about half an hour, I see a dinosaur head with huge teeth staring at me through the jungle—not threatening or scary, just staring. I try to nuzzle him but he disappears.
I lie down, and a red-haired shepherd goddess opening some golden gates for me. I go through and float over a lovely, cartoonish pastoral scene of green rolling hills, cloud-like trees and lollipop bushes. Every now and then I see cruel yellow eyes staring at me from dark corners, but I smile at them and they smile back. Then I float into a landscape of dark mounds and shadows filled with malevolent eyes. I smile at them, and they all turned into smiling chocolate ice cream cones.
Then I shoot out into space, with neon lights swirling all around. The colors are dark, but they are incredibly bright. I see a spiral of purple lights flowing up from the earth to join the light show. I realize that the whole purpose of civilization is to produce a purple dye that is needed for the universal light show. All the pollution and transformation of the atmosphere—this is the purpose of civilization. Why are we trying to reverse it? I laugh. It’s no more pointless than any other meaning of life I can imagine.
The lights start to come together into ethereal landscapes. The background changes from the blackness of space into white, and the lights shift to more pastel colors, forming into castles, trees and mountains. A pleasant vibration starts to pulse through my body, which is floating through the sky. Suddenly my ex-wife and her pain appears in front of me. But she quickly transforms into a lonely baby, desperately grasping for love and security (reminiscent of an image of myself from an earlier psilocybin trip). I cradle the baby and hold it to my breast, and it melts into my body. The same thing happens with my mother. Then I see a boy of about 14, angry, snarling and hostile. He has big glasses. He is really just a nerd, I see, and the hostility is just a cover. I invite him to join us. He doesn’t have to talk. Just sit with us.
As he sits with us, the neon landscapes become more beautiful. The nasty thoughts from last night appear in the form of physical words. But I can let them slip right past, usually without reading them. A deep female voice tells me to sit back and flow. “This is time for a massage, nothing more.” The vibrations grow stronger and stronger. Over time, the visions get less spectacular: long, endless fields of vibrating bars, rolling up and down like a calm ocean. The colors become muted. But the physical vibration remains strong. I feel like I am floating above the fields, blissful and calm.
I have some brief visions of small tropical resorts isolated in the middle of endless, bright barren landscapes of light. I think that this is like enlightenment: cold, barren, forbidding, isolated and lonely, but at the same time indescribably beautiful and seductive. And ultimately a little bit boring. I don’t know if I want it.
I finally purge as I start to come down. Violent, but not so strong as last night. As the images and vibrations fade, my mind starts to chatter again. None of it is very interesting, but I can’t let it go. I want to sleep, but can not. I get a splitting headache that does not go away until noon. When the headache dies down, I take a walk in the mountains. The colors and details of the landscape are incredibly strong, like when I take psilocybin. I feel at peace.
I learn that we were attacked by a rival shaman last night. Our shaman spent much of the night fending off his bad energies and blocking spiritual darts (a job he claims to have enjoyed very much—master of his game on the open playing field). The other participants were very aware of this, and saw black clouds and demons when they opened their eyes. For most, it was an even more difficult night then the first. I was totally unaware, enveloped in my own bliss.
Tonight, I state a simple intention: “I will cut, friends, family, job.” I suddenly see myself embraced by a goddess in an act of sitting intercourse, like one of the Shiva-Shakti statues.
Nothing happens for a long time. I try breath and relaxation exercises. But most of the time I lie there, bored. I try but often fail to let go of the random, trivial thoughts that float through my head.
I start to doubt again. It doesn’t look so exciting when nothing happens, does it? Don’t you feel stupid paying so much money to lie here on a mat in the mountains hoping for transcendence? Even when you do get transcendence, it just goes away quickly. You would make much better use of your time building up your real life rather than chasing these enlightenment fantasies.
I have a couple of brief sex fantasies. Then I pull back in doubt. Is that why I am not having visions, because I brought lust into the healing? Did my lust block the spiritual experience? . . . Or is my problem really that I repress my lust so much, that I should just accept it for what it is? I go round and round on this. Fuck, just stop.
I do get two images. One is of my daughter when she is a teenager. She is still a lovely, affectionate girl. She says a couple of nasty things about me—the usual kinds of things that teenagers say about their parents. But it doesn’t bother me. I know she will have to slip away and be her own person. I hope that I will have enough resources to help her if she ever needs it when she is older.
The most substantial vision is of me sitting at a small, round stone table on the top of a mountain. It is a bright, barren, stony landscape. On the table is a weird ceramic sculpture made up of disks. It is clearly supposed to represent two people having sex. Suddenly a very short, green elf-woman flies in. She looks like a pickle. She says, pointing at the sculpture, “That’s what you guys like to do. It’s not what we like to do. Well, we do it, but not like that.” The disgust is tangible in her pronunciation of “that.” Then she flies off into the sky. I try to follow her, but she just laughs at me and zooms away, leaving me back on my mat.
I am called up to the front for a blessing from the shaman. I stumble when I stand up, and realize that the effect of the ayahuasca is stronger than I realized. Kneeling in front of the mesa (an altar between the shaman and the drinkers) I can feel the wind of his fan going through my body. It is a bright green color, filling me up. I can’t stop smiling. I feel like I am growing taller and straighter.
The rest of the night I feel drunk, fading in and out of sleep. I have a brief vision of Snow White leading a parade out of the F.A.O Schwartz toy shop, but it does not engage me very strongly. I stagger home at about 3 or 4 in the morning, and the drunk sensations do not go away until after dawn. The sensations are mostly physical rather than mental. I think that I need to learn how to read my body better, get better connected. Later in the morning, after the ayahuasca has worn off, I dream that I am a tantric masseuse.
Tonight I ask Shakti to teach me what is important in my life. I bring up the image of her embracing me again.
I kneel for a long time. I lie down when I start to feel some mild physical sensations. I see an ocean of glowing, multicolored ice cubes. It is gorgeous. Then I see flows of purple lava, but it fades quickly. My final image is my offering a wooden tray full of dark wooden blocks to my daughter. Nothing happens for a long time. I am bored. I wonder what the last image means. Is it a connection to my daughter that I just can’t cut?
A couple of hours after the ceremony, after many people have gone home, some visions of landscapes come to me. But as I move into them I think that I left my daughter behind in that little port town down in the bay. I turn back to get her and the visions stop. I start to think of my ex again. I think of how painful her life was, of the unfulfilled dreams after she moved to the United States. The pain starts to engulf me. I am inside of a dark cylinder, that goes deep, deep down into unperceivable depths. I am aware of how much her pain has seeped into me. I also feel the pain of my parents, of Luna. But it is all trivial compared to the pain of my ex. It is a pain that is bottomless, a pain that seeps into me and pervades every fiber.
It goes on like this for what feels like hours. Finally, the nausea comes into my stomach. I get on my hands and knees to vomit, but it won’t come. Only a few burps and dry heaves. “Come on,” I implore. Finally, it explodes. And then more dry heaves, digging deeper than I thought possible. And more vomit comes out, and then more.
At the end, my body is shaking with tears dripping down my face. I kneel and hear a woman singing (quite probably from the music that was playing). It is loving, nurturing, healing. I raise my head and open my mouth. A warm, glowing milk fills my throat and torso, radiating out to every corner of my body. It is pure love and healing.
I see waves of a purplish-pink substance, translucent and filled with bubbles, thick and viscous like a very soft plastic. It washes over me, again and again, purifying, nurturing, making me feel a boundless love like I never could have imagined.
I am praying in front of a huge, wooden Buddha. I see the back of my ex-wife’s head in front of me. She is also praying. Then I see the dark shaft of her pain, but now it is outside of my body. Golden threads curl and unfurl from the depths of the shaft. I know that this is her illness. Some of the threads reach out and embrace me, entwining me in their light. I think about how deep my connection to my ex is, something from before we were born, something that can not be cut. I have no deep connection like that with Luna. But I have betrayed my ex. I can’t betray Luna, too.
But I had to betray my ex to save myself. Her illness was a poison, slowly killing me. I certainly can not go back to her and be suffused with that poison again. Families are insane. They take love and spiritual connections, and then destroy them in these hells of mutual criticism, nagging, disappointment, jealousy, smothering and betrayal. No I can’t go back to that. But I must recognize this connection.
Then I see bodies being hacked into pieces with blood flowing everywhere. And the purple-pink substance come back again, washing over the flesh and blood, transforming it into boundless love.
As the last purple-pink wave washes away, I open my eyes. My body is shaking. I have never felt anything like this before. Of all the experiences I was imagining or hoping for with ayahuasca, boundless love was not one of them. I’ve always thought of it as flaky New Age stuff. I take a sip of water. It is incredibly sweet, as if artificial sweetner were added (sort of like the artificial feeling of the neon lights). I put it down, worried that somebody had vomited in there (when I drink again several hours later, the water is fine). I step outside to pee. The stars in the sky and the leaf in front of me all seem part of the same dimension, with no distance between them.
Back inside I collapse in a chair. After a while, my mind starts chattering again. I think about how I will tell this to friends. I want to shut it off but I can’t. Finally at dawn, I walk home. When I take a walk in the hills in the late morning, I can feel the sensations of boundless love rise again. I wonder if the boundless love came from outside me, or if it something I had inside me all the time without knowing it. What should I do with an experience like this?
I drink a cup and a half tonight. Most of the other participants have reduced to half a cup, or stopped drinking altogether. They don’t like it when they lose their sense of time and place, when they get lost in chaos and negative experiences. They want mild experiences with practical insights. But I want it strong. Only when it is strong can I escape that trivial chattering and analysis in my mind. I promise again to cut friends, family and job. And I imagine Shakti’s embrace.
I get some mild light shows at the beginning, but nothing strong. I begin to feel my ex’s pain again. But the female voice tells me to put it away. I see a black, felt bag attached to a wall, and put the dark shaft in there. This is one of many bags attached to the wall. Then I see that I am inside a huge black sphere with thousands of pinpoint lights in it. The bags are miniscule compared to the size of the sphere. I am pulled into the middle of the sphere, surrounded by a smaller sphere of streaming golden and silver sparks.
Then nothing for 4-5 hours, until long after the ceremony is finished and most people have already gone home. I would go home too, but my body can’t move. I am still chattering to myself, trying to figure out why I am not experiencing any effect, when the physical sensations start to grow stronger. I try to shut off the thoughts, or let them flow past. Again, and again, and again, and again, and again.
Then I remember the instructions from from the first night, “FUCK INSIGHTS!” I latch on to this, thinking of the many reasons why insights should be fucked. Insights are my job, it’s what I do. I generate insights 40 hours a week. It’s my meal ticket. I can’t build anything, can’t grow anything, can’t take care of anything. But I can generate so many insights that I can no longer tell which ones have truth and which ones are bullshit. When I comment on a conference paper and say “it has many insights,” what I really mean is that the paper has nothing meaningful or substantial to say. It only has some vaguely interesting observations on trivial things. Insights are the death of truth. They are all about translating truth into words. But the very act of translating an experience or sensation or feeling into the abstraction of a word has already distorted much of the truth. How much worse for me, with my relentless skill in translating everything into ever more abstract concepts and ideas. I have no idea what threads of truth are still left. That is the danger of ayahuasca: it lets loose all the crap and self-justifications and fears of ego in your mind just as much as it frees up the true feelings and allows direct connection to the universe. And we have so little ability to distinguish between them. Many of us grab on to those insights, especially when they seem to provide solutions to practical problems. But when we translate them into practical solutions, we have already lost that visceral truth underneath, we are already misguided. Insights have fucked me long enough. It’s time for me to fuck them!
That was an insight too. I laugh. There’s no escaping insights. We are so screwed. But that one felt good.
My mind turns to my job. I see that I am in the service of the devil, cultivating and spewing poisonous bullshit. The bullshit runs unfathomably deep. Every one of us professors thinks we see the bullshit around us, even the bullshit in the university. And most of us think we stand outside of it, that we are somehow offering our students an alternative. But it is precisely this belief that is our blindness, that makes us such an indispensable part of the bullshit dissemination system. Our main role is to teach students to sit still for long periods, listen, ingest and regurgitate. We instill them with skepticism, competitiveness, attachment to being right, guilt, overwork and self-doubt. We think we are critical of society, but we are the ones who train and produce people who will become polticians, greedy businessmen, lawyers, soldiers, and all those other people who make up those institutions that we so readily criticize. Or we’re preparing them for long lives in their office cubicles, never able to stand up for themselves, or to even understand what they desire and need because they are so aware of the other point of view, the possible ramifications, the dangers, the needs of society, and are so dominated by intellect. In the name of freeing their mind, we open them up to Big Brother. The diplomas that are supposed to create opportunity are actually proof of submission, that they have reformed all their ambitions and desires into the shape of what other people want.
We can see the results in how students change over their four years at university. When they spew poisonous bullshit as first-years, it is usually obvious and untactful. We train them to be more nuanced and skillful in their deployment of poisonous bullshit, to learn how to spew it so it sticks. Sure, we teach them logic, analysis, how to use evidence, how to write clearly. Those techniques are fine. But we confuse those techniques for truth. They are only tools, which can be used to demonstrate just about anything. The more we focus lopsidedly on these intellectual tools, the more we are unable to understand, believe, or even to perceive the emotions and impulses that shape how we deploy those tools—those things that come out in biases, assumptions, convictions and the rampant emotional immaturity of professors. And because we are so unaware, these emotions remain unrecognized, untended, transformed into vile, poisonous bile as the only way they can be expressed. Just sit in any academic department (or read the blogs of ex-academics) and feel the anxiety, insecurity, resentment, status fears, jealousy and anger of graduate students and faculty. The atmosphere would be almost visceral if not for the enormous efforts we have made to block off any awareness of it. How can any institution that creates this kind of poisonous bile not be serving the devil?
None of these ideas are new to me, although I am expressing them more forcefully and dramatically than usual. But finally, after 4 years of hesitation it is now clear to me that I can no longer stay in my job.
I suddenly have a childhood vision of my grandfather’s farm. I used to stand at the back of a tractor that he drove around the farm. One day, two other children whom I did not know were visiting the farm and were allowed to drive the tractors. I jumped on the back of one of the tractors and the boy yelled at me to get off, that it was not safe. I got off and looked at my grandfather. He did not do anything to defend me. It was a small thing, but I burst into tears. I realize that from that day I began to lose interest in the farm, and even in nature altogether.
I hate the voice of safety. It is the voice of authority, of absolutism. It is a dogmatic voice that crushes the spirit. How many children have been similarly crushed by the voice of safety? Safety speaks in absolutes, and allows no argument or disagreement. It poses itself as pure common sense, which you are foolish not to follow. All reasonable arguments are crushed with the fear that “something bad might happen” (the same fear that lawyers use to ruin the world). And it tells us that this bad is so bad that it is worth sacrificing all the possible good that can come to us, and that it is even worse than all the dissatisfaction, disappointment and dullness that will come from listening to the voice of safety. It tells that the only good worth having is the good that comes from defending ourselves and being safe. The voice of safety does not even allow for reasonable compromise, only slavish obedience. The arguments for staying in my job—economic security, status, the fear of failure and that I may go down some even stupider path with no return—are also the voices of safety. The voices that crush.
Yes, these are all more insights. And they are just more forceful versions of thoughts I have had before. But they come with an unreasonable extreme and an emotional conviction that tells me they are not my usual intellectual contortions, that they have their roots somewhere deeper. And I did not vomit all night long, or even have diarrhea (although plenty of farts and burps). This is not shit to be purged. It is the shit of my soul.
The cleaning lady comes at 7AM and I have to go back to my room. During the walk, I resolve to listen more carefully when such feelings and ideas come up in my daily life, and to listen less to the reactive voices of ego and safety that always come in their wake. If those voices won’t compromise, I’ll just have to ignore them.
I tell the apprentice shaman (who used to work for a hedge fund) that I am a bit frustrated with my lack of visions and difficulties in losing myself in deeper experiences. He suggests that I take a second dose about 40 minutes after the first, after the MAOIs have done their work and the DMT can run free. Before stating my intention, I express my gratitude to Shakti and ayahuasca for what it is already done for me. I reiterate my commitment to cut friends, family and job, and ask her to guide me deeper into the truth.
Again, nothing much happens for a long time, even after the second dose. It only starts to take effect gradually towards the end of the ceremony. There are no visions—indeed for most of the night I only see a blank darkness when I close my eyes. I feel it physically: the feel of the blanket, the breeze of the fan, the energies surging through my body, and most of all the music. I am there in the moment, not off in a different world. I know the ayahuasca has really set in when I start to listen to the icaro. In the earlier sessions I usually found the icaros and the sound of the fan a bit annoying. This time is voice is amazingly powerful, deep and rich. I hear incredible nuances and shifts in tonality and melody.
The ceremony finishes and the apprentice turns on some music. I easily dissolve into sounds. As is common for me on psychedelics, the different instruments and parts of the music become highly distinct. But now they reintegrate on a higher, emotionally saturated level. I am riveted by the emotion in some (but not all) of the singing. Every few minutes, I feel energy flowing through my body in waves. Sometimes it reaches out to my toes and fingers, making them curl. It is the same energy as an orgasm, but reaching farther and deeper than any orgasm ever does. I realize that lust and sex are always a search, for some deeper, core feeling and truth. I feel like I am getting far closer to that core than ever before.
Thoughts and insights come to my awareness every now and then. But instead of getting caught up in them, I see how it is just my ego trying to justify something that it wants, and explain away something it doesn’t want. I see how the over-analysis takes me farther away from the truth. I see how my thoughts serve to distort my emotions. I see how I use thinking to look for the cracks in everything, to never appreciate the pleasure as I encounter it. I see how I internalize other people’s negative comments. I see how my ego stuffs those negative comments into a corner and lets them fester and rot in my soul. I see how I change my thoughts in light of what I think other people might think of them. I see how I also deceive myself in my attempts to create a better self-image. I see how I fear criticism, how I fear somebody will say something nice about me (and usually misunderstand me in the process) and how I fear that nobody will pay attention to me at all–there is no way to win. I see how nearly every attempt to make something better just makes it worse because of our abysmal ignorance of what we really need. I see how the more we learn and anlyze, the more abysmal that ignorance becomes. I see how I have no idea what is good for me because I am so lost in my intellectual contortions. I see how we, as a species are totally fucked. And it is hilarious. Every thought dissolves into laughter. Sometimes it is a gut-busting laughter. And the thought disappears. As the laughter dies down, sometimes I mutter, “We’re so fucked.” And then I return to the physical ecstasy and sound.
I hear several moans of pleasure around me. I think what a wonderful thing it is for 14 of us to be lying here, lost in our own worlds but simultaneously sharing this. I open my eyes and see that most of them have gone home. There are only about 4 of us left. That makes me laugh, too.
The shaman has brought his wife and baby, who are sleeping in the corner. Every now and then I hear the baby cry for a few seconds, which fills me with indescribable pleasure. One time I look over and see a silhouette of the mother sitting and cradling the baby, and it is so beautiful.
One of the few visions I have is of Luna and I having sex. Sometimes I am inside my body during the sex, and other times I am outside, watching us fuck as we float in dark space. Waves of happiness flow through my body, sometimes creating audible moans and bringing me to tears. I think that making love to Luna is as close to perfection as I can get in this world. It is not only the sensation and the power of her boundless libido and huge pulsating orgasms. It is the fact that she has so much love to give. I can see it when she is with animals and children, and her pleasure in taking care of people. But she has so much trouble expressing it. Some of the trouble is because of her parasitic and ungrateful family. Some is because of her emotionally distant boyfriend (me) who finds so many ways to deflect it. Most is just because of her volatile personality and many ways she has of undermining herself (like most of us do). But when we have sex, that love comes out openly, mingling with the physical. I think what an honor it is that she has chosen to love me. She could have any of the dozens of men who routinely come courting her, and yet she chose me. And I think of the love in her eyes when she gives me something—and of all of the times when I have resisted that generosity. But when we have sex, it all comes together—the love, the generosity, the passion, the vulnerability and the pleasure—open and flowing. Some people dream all of their lives for moments as perfect as we have when making love. I can have it every day when I am with Luna. Why do I get so hung up on the other stuff? None of that matters compared to this.
It goes on like this for hours: laughter, music, sex with Luna. All of it pulsating and surging through my body. It is still going on when the cleaning lady comes, although it has settled down a bit. I barely manage to stagger back to my bed. The entire day, I just sit there, smiling, recalling the sensations, feeling the reverberations as I pet the dog or look at the mountains.
My only thoughts during the day are reflections on the physicality of my ayahuasca experience. It was so sensual and colored by feelings of inexhaustible love. This caught me completely by surprise. For most people, ayahuasca is predominantly visual. But my visual experiences were very much secondary. I was expecting and hoping for all kinds of things: to fight with demons, a death and rebirth experience (thus my frequent promises to cut), to undergo a mythic journey or to speak with alien beings. But instead I got boundless love and physical ecstasy, something I was definitely not expecting.
I have never thought of myself as a physical guy–quite the opposite in fact. But I can find precedents for it in the past five years of my life. During the second half of my marriage, we did not have sex. And with other people I usually did not like hugging or touching. I even told myself I did not like physical contact. But the month after I decided to break with my wife was an explosion of sex, masturbation and massages. As I have expressed earlier in this blog, I truly admire and am grateful to some of the sex workers I met in this period. It ended with my meeting Luna. It was love at first smile, and we were in bed within 4 hours (she says for the first time since her husband died several years before). She has a supercharged libido, and to my surprise I have usually been able to keep up with her. Since then, I have been much more open (although still sometimes uncomfortable) to touching and hugging my friends. And I have been giving much more attention to comfortable surroundings, showers, and sitting at home naked. And spending lots of money on massages of all kinds. And Luna and I are still together, beyond all odds.
If these are not all just random changes, what do they mean? I have usually assumed that they are just compensation for my history of excessive self-repression of my sensual side. Sometimes I even fall into a more regrettable yet conventional interpretation of them as just routine lust drives, something that I should try to overcome. But the power of these sensations brought on by the ayahuasca, along with the fact that I was the only person experiencing it this way, makes me think that my connection to these physical sensations is deeper and more visceral than I have realized. My previous aversion to touch had more to do with the adaptations of my lonely, low-contact childhood and my fear at what might happen if I allowed that sensuality to burst free without control. But I need to embrace sensuality, not escape from it. I remember a passing thought from last night: A spiritually-minded masseuse I have visited told me briefly of the awakening that had convinced her to change her life and become a healer. I should ask her to tell me the story of her conversion in more detail.
The retreat hosts tell us that many of the effects of the ayahuasca and its cleansing may not become apparent until six months or more after the drinking. We are not supposed to drink alcohol, have sex, masturbate or eat pork, duck or piranha for one month after the dieta. This past week, I do find myself more attuned to nature, more in the present, sometimes walking around with a huge smile on my face. I have more enthusiasm for exercise and yoga. I can sometimes even feel some of the emotions and feelings of the ayahuasca sessions surge up within me again. None of this was true yesterday, however, when I went to campus for the first time in a month, where I absorbed the anxieties and nervous plans of my students and colleagues. By the end of the day I had that same barren, slightly irritated and somewhat restless feeling that I have lived with so routinely over the past 25 years. I took a long walk through Central Park and meditated in the zendo afterwards, but still couldn’t shake the feeling. Finally, as I took the subway back to Queens and saw the fleshier bodies and softer expressions of my immigrant neighbors (a generalization that is not so true for my neighbors from East Asia as for Latin America, Tibet, India and the Philippines) and watched a baby playing across from me, I felt the smile come back. And I had a lovely walk home where the stars, trees and bricks seemed almost indistinguishable.
I’ve signed up for massage classes. I’ve even told a couple of people that I plan to quit my job at the end of the semester in December, on the assumption that if I tell a few people it will actually come true (although I’m not sure I said it with a conviction that convinced them). I’ll see what happens. I think one key is, instead of planning it all out, to be open to whatever comes and honestly distinguish the true from the crap.
About four years ago, for only a few months, I was pretty successful at inducing visions. I would slowly relax each part of my body, and then imagine myself going down a dark hole. Sometimes I would look for characters from my dreams and start talking to them. Their responses were spoken out loud, in outrageous accents. At other times, images would emerge spontaneously: pelicans; hurtling black asteroids crashing into hypersexualized angels; brown bread with peanut butter; Suzanne Somers; worms wearing Chinese dragon masks; an dangling silver earring of a horse standing on the world; pussies across the sky; huge, dirty land squids that suck me inside them; a monk walking through a pine forest; a blue hippopotamus coming out of a lotus; a wolf tail coming up my anus and out of my mouth; a hairless green rabbit with full lips that is swatting flies with its long tail; a dark, wooden, swirling thousand-armed goddess that is sodomizing me.
One of the keys to bringing up the more spontaneous visions is not to resist them, not to feel embarrassed. (This is certainly not the only key, because I’ve had no luck with visions the past three years, except for an occasional river serpent seen off the side of the RFK Bridge that refuses to talk to me). When the bats bite at your ear and grab your hair don’t brush them away. Let them grab, and the cave will open up. When you see Disney’s Little Mermaid, don’t get all snobby and reject her in the hope that something more tasteful and refined will show up. Go with her. Look into her big, limpid two-dimensional eyes and sympathize with her deep yearning for a husband. She’s actually pretty fun and will take you for a great ride.
The best vision happened was while I was listening to Sheila Chandra singing her long resonant syllables over a drone. I saw a heavy, naked dark woman sitting cross-legged on top of a blue pool. Her head was raised, and the voice was coming out of her mouth. Her mouth grew larger and darker, a huge black hole. Then her body split in half, two slabs of red meat. A gorgeous red flower grew up from between the two slabs.
That last vision still sticks with me. But what do I do with them? I’ve had no glimpses of the great unity, symbolic resolutions or unmistakable revelations. They just came and went. For a while I tried to subject them to Jungian analysis. That may be why they stopped coming.