Greetings, Fellow Journeyer.
Why I need some cosmic study buddies. And why you might, too.
I participated in my first magic mushroom ceremony last summer. I had taken mushrooms many times when I was younger, in a casual, playful way, and knew the name ‘magic’ was wonderfully well-deserved. But the experience of taking them within the focused container of a ceremony was a whole other thing, of an intensity that astonished me. The term ‘life-changing’ gets thrown around too lightly, but it really did change how I see and understand and try to navigate life.
I traveled home feeling clear-headed, extremely chill, and quietly optimistic about what might lay in store for the new and improved version of me. I tried to remember everything I had discovered in my visions during the ceremony, about life, and work, and love. Tried to apply it to how I went about living, and working, and loving. But after a very long winter, of plans gone astray and my son bringing one horrendous disease home from daycare after another, I felt pretty lousy, and a bit lost. It was like COVID had undone the mushrooms’ good work; like I had purged the magic back out with all the mucus and blood and stomach acid the disease had wrung from me. Whatever grooviness I’d gained was gone, leaving a space for despair to creep in and start building a nest in its place.
So when I was given a chance to go back for another ceremony this spring, I decided it would be a good idea to take it. After the epic nature of the first ceremony, I didn’t imagine that a second one could be as impressive. But I needed some kind of help, and something to look forward to. And this was the best option available to me that I knew of.
I sat down on the floor beside the great fireplace of the Nature Temple, with the big honking heroic-dose handful of hideously bitter truffles I’d been given. I’d been thinking a lot about what my intention was for coming back to this place; what it was I hoped to figure out. And the question I decided to ask was: Where do I belong? Nested within this were several slightly smaller questions: Where in the world, geographically, did I belong? Amongst what people? In which vocation? So really what I was asking was a huge, heavy, please-save-my-life-and-soul-all-in-one-go kind of question. And I fully expected a heavy experience in response.
What I got instead was hilarity. I mean, it was big; it was everything. My worry that this second ceremony weekend would be less impressive proved fantastically misplaced. I saw all of existence in one endlessly swirling and sparkling and interconnecting entwinement of life and death, that existed entirely beyond our human experience of time and space. I could make it flex and throb with the movements of my hands and the will of my mushroom-god-mind. But mostly, I just contemplated it, and the duality of life and death, and of the forces that kept it in balance: caring and not-caring, giving and taking, control and surrender, masculine and feminine, individual and collective.
And the whole thing was hilarious. I mean, some of the humour was pretty fucking dark. And perverse. It wasn’t good clean wholesome family-hour humour, for sure. But it was funny. Everything, on a long enough time scale, I saw, was funny eventually. So infinity was a real crack-up.
I did worry that my laughter might be putting my fellow participants off their trips, and did try to stop, but that only made it all seem funnier. The facilitators checked on me repeatedly, mistaking the ongoingness of my amusement for fixation. I wasn’t fixated on anything; my visions moved on from one weird stage to the next. They were just all funny - even the ones that made me cry. And at some point I realised that this might have something to do with why there are so many stories and images of monks and Buddhas laughing for reasons quite inscrutable to those around them. The cosmic life-death entanglement of eternity was a big, freaky, amazing joke. And I got it.
Wait. Does that mean that I had become the Buddha? I wondered the next day. Had I achieved enlightenment?
And my answer to that is yeah, I had. Briefly. And I’m as surprised about that as anybody. But that’s what the mushrooms told me.
You know what else they told me? That I am really good at mushrooms.
What does that mean, ‘good’ at mushrooms? Can anyone be ‘bad’ at mushrooms? Certainly, everyone reacts differently to them. Some people don’t seem to click with them at all. There were other participants at that same ceremony, who took the exact same truffles I did, and didn’t get much out of the experience. Didn’t have any visions. Didn’t get any answers. Didn’t even enjoy themselves. But I sure did.
I don’t bring this up just to boast; there’s probably no worse place to be competitive than in pursuit of spiritual improvement, and I don’t want to be that guy. I’m the first to admit that I am bad at lots and lots and lots of things. My list of failures and shortcomings thus far in life is either the makings of a comedy or tragedy, depending on how you choose to look at it, but it is decidedly long. That’s partly what makes the idea that I am ‘good’ at mushrooms - or anything - a surprise.
You know when you watch a penguin walking on land, and you think, “Aw, what a goofy, trundling little thing you are.” But then you see it swim and go, “Ah, so that’s what you’re built for. You’re incredible!” That is the best way I can think to describe the difference between me in polite society and me in psilocybin. In mushroom mode, I feel like I am fully submerged in my element. I feel as though, after an entire childhood of waiting for some portal to either Wonderland, Neverland, or Narnia to reveal itself, I have finally found it. That I was right to believe there was more than the most limited version of reality we are all trained to work in. And that in this other, deeper, weirder realm, I am fantastic. I can take anything my subconscious throws at me, and turn it into something marvellous. I am resonating with the universe as I am meant to. And it and I are profoundly, gloriously enough as we are.
To be clear; I am not a big party kid. Two sips of alcohol are enough to give me a hangover. But twenty grams of truffles and eight hours of tripping balls and I feel just peachy in the morning. I don’t know why. I just seem to be built for it.
So maybe it’s not exactly that I am good at mushrooms, but that I feel good with mushrooms. Or maybe those are the same thing. Or maybe there is a difference, but it doesn’t matter for our purposes. What I know is that they suit me. And that I asked the mushrooms where I belong. And that they answered in their own weird, elaborate way, With us.
But what does that mean? Yes, I can really hang with the mushrooms when I visit their fairy kingdom. But I can’t live on that level. So where does that leave me?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And I’ve decided I need to do two things:
Try to bring who I am in The World of Men more in line with who I am in The World of Mushrooms. Try to sustain an ember of underworld magic in the light of my day-to-day. Try to remember what the mushrooms showed me; not just in a way that fixates on the peak experience, but in a way that moves the learning forward, as all growing things must.
Try to grow my life in the mushrooms’ direction. I did ask the mushrooms what kind of work I should be doing, and they did answer that I was good at mushrooms. So I’ve been looking at what work there is to be done around them. I don’t have any aptitude to be a grower or a researcher. I don’t have any training to be a shaman or a therapist. I might make a good facilitator, but that would require training and moving to another country where trips are legal, and maybe learning Dutch. Which is a scenario I would be into, but one that isn’t going to happen overnight. I have to start from where I am, with what I have. And what I have is a healthy sense of wonder, a preposterous sense of humour, a passion for words, a delight in swapping stories, and a compulsion to seek and say the truth to the best of my human ability.
I believe the path to pursuing both these things is one and the same: Integration. That is what I’m interested in. And I am looking for others who are interested, too. Integration work is deeply personal, and no one else can do yours for you. But that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to go through it alone. I’m still pretty new to the integration game, but it doesn’t take much research to learn that a key element to good integration is having other folks to talk to. Having one well-trained guide or a therapist to speak with is not a bad idea. But community is a whole other thing, and one I’m more keen to encounter. People like me, who aren’t claiming any particular qualification beyond their willingness to go on their quests. Whether those involve mushrooms, meditation, music, mountains, mandalas, or other methods they find mind-expanding. Who are curious and brave and humble enough to keep searching and reflecting and sharing. Who keep trying to get a bigger view of reality, and to live better in light of it. Who would like to offer and accept little bits of assistance with the work along the way. Friends, you might call them. Or study buddies.
Thus this digital message in a bottle, which I now cast out into the dark and unfathomable sea of the interweb, and hope for the best.
If you do find this note, and would also like some encouraging camaraderie on your cosmic quest, then please join me, and help me make this space a good one. It’s brand new. I have plenty of ideas for it, but expect it to evolve in ways I don’t foresee. And you’re most welcome to be a part of that. Subscribe. Send a message back to me; in reply to the welcome email, in the comment section of a post, or by joining one of the upcoming chats (I’ll announce those when it’s time). Invite a friend or two or ten. Maybe one day we’ll even gather in the actual, tangible world. For now, I’m excited just to be here.