I’m in the middle of a very interesting book titled, prosaically but accurately, How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. The subtitle is What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence.
Apparently, psychedelics are making a comeback or at least coming out of the shadows where they never really went away after being made illegal decades ago, in no small part due to the endless antics of Dr. Timothy Leary.
There are indications of legal openings for some uses of these incredibly therapeutic materials.
Leary’s main thing was LSD, a chemical compound developed in the first part of the 20th Century, but entheogens — my preferred term for the various mind-expanding compounds — have been known and used for centuries in various cultures around the world.
If you know little of entheogens, I highly recommend this book.
I dived right into the sea of entheogens in 1997, and I swam around for a spell. It helped me immensely in the wake of a divorce that left me in an exceptionally bad place.
In 1997, I ingested psilocybin mushrooms twice and LSD twice, all under the guidance of a kind psychologist who lived in the woods outside Tallahassee, Florida. I have written about this previously, but many years ago. Perhaps this is a different take.
Between 1997 and 1999, I also took Ecstasy five or six times alone in my Houston condo. Lovely material.
And during an entheogen conference in Palenque, Mexico, in 1999, a year before I moved south, I inhaled vaporized 5-MeO-DMT. My final entheogen experience happened in Florida about a year after moving to Mexico. I was up for a visit.
During the ayahuasca experience, a voice spoke to me loud and clear: You don’t have to do this anymore. And I haven’t.
All the experiences were stunning, but it seems that some of it, important parts, had faded from my memory over the two subsequent decades. Pollan’s book brought them back.
Here are three
First:Dancing with love. This took place during the second psilocybin experience. If you state an intention before doing these things, it often will affect the experience. I said I wanted to dance with love, something I was feeling an immense lack of in the wake of my divorce.
What I imagined would happen was that a loving woman would appear to me, and we would dance. But that did not take place.
I saw nothing. There were no visuals, quite the opposite of what had happened during the first psilocybin excursion when the visuals were incredible. Instead, a sea of love enveloped me. It was sheer feeling and nothing like I had ever experienced in my life.
It was how you might imagine being embraced by God.
Second:Sea of blood. This one was a mix of LSD and psilocybin taken simultaneously. After the experience ended, the psychologist told me I had been laughing the entire time, which was strange considering what happened. A flood of blood from above had poured all over me.
Think the final scenes of Carrie.
While this sounds horrifying, it was not. Quite the contrary. While this happened, a voice told me it was time to grow up and become a man.
Third:The black panther. I remember this best of all, perhaps because it happened after I thought the experience had run its course. I was with my helper in his dark living room around midnight. It’s ended, I told him, and I decided to go to bed.
I felt totally normal.
I went into the bedroom, got undressed and lay on the bed in the dark. And I turned into a black panther. Just like that. My tail swished. My whiskers twitched. It was real. An incredible feeling of power. I don’t know how long it lasted, but then I became a woman.
I felt an extreme need to be cared for. I don’t know how long that lasted either, but then I drifted off to sleep.
I’VE GOTTA lot of Mexican relatives. Some are nicer than others, and some are better-looking than others. This is one of the nicer, better-looking ones.
Her name is Chandra. When asked a couple of years ago why she is so pretty, she unhesitatingly responded: Because God made me this way.
Chandra is 8 years old. She has a brother, Jaime, who is also nice and good-looking. Jaime is 12, and he’s teaching himself to play the guitar. He’s also a choirboy.
Chandra and Jaime’s mother is named Alma, which is Soul in English. She is about 34 and quite beautiful. Their father, our nephew, died two years ago of cancer. Those were bad times, but things have improved.
Chandra and Jaime are always glad to see me. I like that.
I’m always glad to see them too.
I saw Chandra this afternoon at the coffee shop downtown where her mother is working part-time. The bunch of folks at the table behind her are more of my Mexican kin.
(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.
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.
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.
And 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.
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.
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.
5-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.
* * * *
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.
* * * *
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.
FOR THE FIRST time in my life, I have been roped into the role of Godfather.
This is strange due to my not being a Catholic or a Christian or even a believer as they define it. I’ve dodged this job a number of times since moving south many years ago, but I finally got volunteered by my child bride. I don’t recall if she asked me first or not. She likely did due to being a Mexican wife.
They are quite different from Gringas. Better.
While I am the Godfather, she is the Godmother, and she did all the work. I just showed up yesterday and tried to look devout. I was the only Gringo there, so I stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Our guest of honor, our Godson, is the second child of a nephew. The baby, about eight months old, is named Oliver Lobsang if you can believe it. Lobsang is not his last name. It’s his middle name, and Oliver Lobsang doesn’t even like me. He howls when I enter the room. He’s anti-Gringo.
But now I’m his Godfather. Take that, Oliver Lobsang!
When we showed up at the Basilica downtown at 1 p.m., there was lots of activity, mucho money-making on the part of the priests. A little girl was getting what I assumed was her First Communion. Waiting in the wings outside was a bride-to-be. That’s her in the photo. Fewer quesadillas, honeybun.
The Baptism took place in a side chapel, and there were about eight babies being soaked at the same time. God gets assembly lines.
I assumed a sanctified face, exuding spirituality.
The deed being done, we headed nearby to the traditional party. Tacos were served, as was beer, Sprite, Coca-Cola, salty nuts and a big cake. I only stayed an hour because the music was loud, and those things run on forever.
As I stepped out to the cobblestoned street, I heaved my Holiness aside, and headed to the Honda with a smile on my face. I’m a Godfather. I hope Oliver Lobsang doesn’t expect much from me. I was dragooned, amigo.