Saturday, August 23, 2008

Psilocybin On The Horizon

Well, it feels like I’m past due on adding another blog entry. My number one fan and number one critic has been indicating that my blog posts are too long for normal human consumption. She’s probably right but that doesn’t mean I’ll be successful in getting any shorter.

Sitting down to do this without anything in mind to write about can make this difficult. So why not just talk about what I’ve been thinking about or what I’ve found interesting lately. That is actually pretty easy and can be summed up with one word: Psilocybin. No, that is not a prescription asthma medication.

This is a topic that some may find disturbing or upsetting but bear with me here. This is something that I’ve been vaguely interested in for a number of years. Blame Carlos Casteneda, Aldous Huxley,native American culure, my own curiosity for interior exploration, and now…Johns Hopkins University. The last one might just be the one that tips the scales on this for me.

Okay without further ado let’s get to what the hell I’m talking about. The latest thing to pique my interest on this subject is this article here ( If you can, read that before reading the rest of this blog entry.

Psilocybin is the active ingredient in – and God I hate saying this – “magic mushrooms”. Over the past few weeks I have done a ton of research into psilocybin and mushrooms, mostly sparked by this latest study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and I am absolutely struck by how similar the after effects and psychological changes evoked by psilocybin are to what I have experienced through years of meditation. It’s uncanny. There’s the whole oneness with the universe thing, and the feeling of being smack in the middle of eternity, the inter-connectedness of all life, the importance of love, and much much more. This “drug” seems to, in general, have an enormously positive effect on people. It’s true that’s not always the case but there are a number of factors that are involved that can determine how a psilocybin experience will go.

Before moving on let me just state for the record that I have never personally taken a psilocybin journey.

Yes, it’s illegal; which, after what I have learned is pretty absurd. But then again I think it’s absurd that marijuana is illegal. (And I hate marijuana.) If you look back on the history of psilocybin in America it’s easy to see why they outlawed it. Let’s just say the hippies might have ruined it for the rest of us. Folks, I’m glad you busted us out of the hypocrisy of the status quo but life is sure about a hell of a lot more than just ‘feelin’ good’. With that being said I’d like to also thank the hippies for all the great music and the very real contribution they made to human development in America and possibly worldwide. There was most definitely some good there.

Sidenote: My number one fan and number one critic thinks I’m a hippie. No thank you. I have no desire to run naked through the woods tripping on LSD. And Alan Ginsberg? I’ve tried but I just don’t feel it. Must have been one of those things where you had to be there. I don’t know.

Some interesting facts about psilocybin: It is physically impossible to become addicted to it. By any reasonable standard it’s impossible to overdose on because you’d have to eat like 16 pounds of mushrooms to get poisoned. (16 pounds of anything would kill you.) It’s significantly less harmful to the body than alcohol, nicotine, and tobacco. It’s been used in spiritual/religious ceremonies by Indian and other native cultures for thousands of years. Most of the participants in the Johns Hopkins study report that their experience was one most meaningful of their lives and still report positive changes in their sense of well being 14 months later when they were questioned in the follow up study. Also, psilocybin is currently the only thing offering any significant relief to these horrible headaches that dwarf the discomfort of a migraine called cluster headaches.

In my own personal research I’ve read hundreds of “trip reports” and have been amazed at what I have found. Very powerful and life changing psychological breakthroughs seem to be quite common. People have stopped the use of drugs or alcohol completely as the result of a mushroom experience. They’ve reconciled with their parents or other estranged loved ones, realized their innate worth as a human being and discovered the importance of compassion and the beauty of life.

Personally I’m starting to think that we ought to hand this stuff out to kindergarteners. (Just kidding)

It is true that people occasionally have “bad trips” that are terrifying and stay with them for a long time. It’s also sad but true that a lot of the people who would do this kind of thing are just your average druggies looking for a cheap thrill or escape from reality.
But…there is a positive aspect to this substance than cannot be ignored or feared out of ignorance. I am open to the possibility that it may very well play an important role in our journey but there are some major caveats to that. Primarily it’s that something like this would only be approached after a great deal of preparation and with a tremendous amount of respect and the right mind set. I think it could be useful for a sincere seeker who has a desire to dive deeper into themselves and the meaning of life.

I’ve searched high and low on the internet and cannot find one incident of someone being hospitalized or damaged in any lasting way by ingesting psilocybin mushrooms. In fact it’s really hard to find anything bad about them other than the risk of picking the wrong mushrooms and getting sick. Yet another absurdity arises to me that this is illegal and yet alcohol, cigarettes, prozac, and high fructose corn syrup are not.

I’ll wrap it up for now but will probably post a follow up on this subject at some point along the way.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dream A Little Dream With Me

Every so often have I have dreams that affect me at least as profoundly as any waking experience; in some cases, even more profoundly. They seem to come as powerful messengers from some place beyond what is normally accessible to me. The specifics of each individual dream don’t feel that important. The details aren’t what matter but rather the overall imprint that is left behind in my consciousness and the change that inevitably results from it. The actual content is symbolic as far as I can tell but I awake feeling as if I have been to another world.

In most of these cases I am aware that I am dreaming as it happens. In fact, that is usually the dramatic turning point; that moment when I become aware that it is a dream and that I can do out of the ordinary things. I become aware that something significant is happening. After this kind of event I will sometimes experience a deeply peaceful and blissful state and other times, in contrast, I will feel a sense of sadness so deep and raw that there are no words to describe it.

One of the most common analogies that appear in so many spiritual teachings is a description of life as a dream. There is the constant admonition to wake up. One of the more odd perceptions I have occasionally encountered is a slight difficulty in differentiating waking life from the dreaming state. Yesterday’s real life event feels comparatively significant to yesterday’s dream. Neither have a tangible power over my current situation but both leave imprints behind that can color my perception if I am inattentive enough to allow that to happen; if that makes sense. It makes sense to me.

Further on in the dream analogy is the idea of ‘being awake in the dream’. Buddha was called “The Awakened One”. He awoke within the dream of this life. This doesn’t mean that his physical body evaporated into a ray of light and floated off into some heavenly realm, but clearly some transformation took place. His physical existence on this plane (the dream) continued on, but his experience of life was permanently altered. He transcended human suffering and vowed to help others do the same. He taught an eightfold path and Buddhism was born, another religion that would inevitably suffer from many of the same trappings that afflict all organized religions at one time or another. Perhaps he could have disappeared into a beam of sunshine had he chosen to, but he didn’t.

One of the more interesting things about Buddhism to me is that the entire religion is centered around alleviating human suffering. In a nutshell, the cause of all suffering is attachment and desire. This is not an opinion but rather a verifiable fact that anyone can confirm the truth of by simply paying attention and analyzing any distress they may experience. The natural tendency is to distract and run away but by paying attention on a regular basis and tracing one’s suffering back to the root, the truth of the Buddhist philosophy can be experienced firsthand. Furthermore, they say, suffering can be overcome. There are practical methods and techniques that can be applied. In contrast to western religious philosophy, Buddhist doctrine places salvation squarely on the shoulders of the individual.

The events of our lives play out in front of us in movie and dreamlike fashion. It’s interesting to hear older people talk about how they don’t feel old and how quickly it has all gone by. I think this is because the observing presence, the pure consciousness in the background, remains unchanged from birth to death; even before birth and after death. Everything else changes. We suffer because we attach and want impermanent things to be permanent. We get caught up in the particulars of our own personal dream and lose touch with the observing awareness. That is the real “us” and it is why the self-conscious part of our mind will never feel old.

I had an interesting experience as a child and one of the things that came out of it was the perception that “I” had been in existence long before this current lifetime. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it was clear and definitive and did not leave question. People talk about reincarnation and remembering past lives but that’s not how my experience was. I had no specific recollection of past lives; just direct experience of the timelessness of my own existence. The idea of reincarnation is reasonable and logical to me but it is also purely speculative. However, I have definitive ‘proof’ of my existing in some capacity prior to this lifetime. That, of course, brings up the questions of where, when, and how; and though I find these to be intriguing questions, I also find them to be unimportant. What is important to me is where I am now and how that may affect wherever it is that I may be going.

Another outcome of my experience was the realization of how utterly brief a single lifetime is in the overall scheme of things. It is (dare I say) much like a small piece of one of last night’s many dreams. I’ve often had the thought that people would suffer much less if they had the slightest inkling of the astounding brevity of their current experience. Everything that happens to us, we somehow think it will last forever, but the scenery is changing faster than we can comprehend.

We are, understandably, attached to the scenery and we are also attached to ourselves. But our ‘selves’ as we perceive them, are most certainly no more real than a dream. The personality, who we think we are, is a creation of our own imagination. Attachment to this phantom causes tremendous suffering. In a sense we are all dreaming our own little dream at all times and, in that regard, are creating our own experience and are living either in heaven, hell, or someplace in between based on our individual capacity to navigate through the hologram.

As these words are being read someone else’s dream is brushing up against my own and both the act of writing and reading this may just leave some little imprint on both of us that alters our perception of whatever particular act is next up on stage in our own individual drama. It is both dream and stage play, comedy and tragedy, blissful fantasy and horrific nightmare. Do you feel it changing even as you think about it? Can you sense yourself apart from it all, observing from somewhere just left of center stage? I hope that you can and wish you the most pleasant of dreams…even as I begin to hear the volume of the cosmic alarm clock growing louder and louder, somewhere off in the distance.