Sep 13, 2020 • 22M

#13 I'm gonna tell you a crazy story (pt. 1)

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Begin Again is a newsletter about psychedelics, psychology, spirituality, philosophy and the process of retraining as a psychedelic guide and integration coach.
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What a mystical journey into the deepest layer of consciousness taught me about the nature of existence and my struggles with being human.

How do you think of your existence? Are you a concoction of atoms and molecules that magically organise themselves into cells and tissue and organs and bone, only to eventually disperse back into the universe? Are you a child of God, a descendent of Adam and Eve, awaiting to reunite in the heavens with your childhood pets? A soul on its karmic wheel of reincarnation? A character in a very believable simulation? A cog in a machine? Or maybe just a normal person on their toilet break, hoping for something a bit more lighthearted between zoom meetings?

Regardless of your answer, you’re just as likely to be right about it as the next person. The nature of consciousness, and thus of existence itself, is probably the most fascinating mystery our minds can ponder. There’s really no way to truly know, although physicists, philosophers, cognitive scientists, meditators and dudes who got a bit too high at a music festival all attempt to catch a glimpse of the matrix that reality is woven into.

And yet, some theories ring truer than others. Read enough psychedelic literature (or try them out yourself - responsibly) and a fascinating common theory begins to emerge. This theory of consciousness is beautiful, elegant and inclusive - and I was lucky enough to experience it myself a month ago, when a tea made of 2g of dried psilocybin mushrooms, lemon and ginger initiated me into the core nature of consciousness itself. This newsletter is an attempt to share this experience with you and continue to make sense of it - so please hold my words lightly . Let’s begin.

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As soon as the tea hit my empty, rumbling stomach, a familiar sense of dread took hold of me. What had I just done. Was it too late to cancel this? Maybe I could make myself throw up. It was my first trip in almost a year - and not just any year.

My last psilocybin journeys had been beautiful and healing, but also incredibly intense and, in all honesty, quite scary. A spiritual awakening process called Kundalini Awakening had thrown me into what the literature calls spiritual emergency - a powerful opening that I didn’t have the resources to make sense of. While I’ll reserve talking about this for a separate newsletter, I can definitely say that it’s been one of the most destabilising things to ever happen to me: for almost the entirety of that year, I spontaneously went into altered states that made me shake out stuck energy from my body, feel intense fear, sob, or witness my body moving on its own into yoga poses. So I wasn’t exactly rushing into opening up even more with psychedelics.

However, a question began pestering me over the upcoming months - what was my purpose? I was learning a ton and growing, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit lost when it came to choosing a path. Yes, I wanted to help others, but what was the best use of my talents and knowledge? And if magic mushrooms were to be my helpers, would they even consent to me using them? With this in mind, I slurped the earthy tea and prepared myself for some serious answers.

A common thing we teach in psychedelic preparation is that the mushrooms will always give you what you need, and that often is not the same as what you want. I wanted to find the sweet spot of the Venn diagram that combines my skills, talents and potential destiny into a no-longer-mysterious purpose: a job of sorts, at least an idea of an activity that would make the world a bit better, give me meaning and also allow me to pay rent, get food and participate in my favourite capitalist ritual of upgrading my iPhone every two years.

Of course, the mushrooms couldn’t care less about that. As soon as I came up, I found myself in the presence of an enormous, powerful energy that felt feminine. My pelvis began to vibrate, and my left leg was shaking vigorously. I was scared, as this dark energy felt like it could crush me any second. Thankfully, every time it became too much a lighter, bright blue, joyful energy that I recognised as masculine smoothed things over, allowing me to breathe deeply again.

From this abstract dance of energies emerged a figure: a golden, tiger-like flash of light that I immediately recognised as my soul, myself. I realised I’d seen it before on my previous journeys, and there was an intimate sense of child-like joy and innocent playfulness about it, like I was meeting a much younger version of myself. And yet, I was terrified of even looking at it.

Duncan Trussell GIF by NETFLIX

“I keep fighting who I am. I feel like I’ve had this journey many times. There’s a thing that keeps calling me to be at one with it. I know it’s me. It’s been doing it for aaaaages. I just keep fighting who I am - it’s too big for this world”.

This realisation made me laugh, and I gently surrendered to the journey, allowing it to take me even further. Soon I found myself in a different scene, like I had gone another layer deeper into existence. Once I got there, I realised that there were no more layers after this. I had peeled the last bit of the onion. Here, ideas of masculine and feminine didn’t exist. Visuals, gone. This is pure being, I said, as I began settling into this new awareness.

“This is Pure Being”

“The recognition of our own divine nature, our identity with the cosmic source, is the most important discovery we can make during the process of self-exploration.”
- Stan Grof, The Way of the Psychonaut

What I called “pure being” turned out to be… well, everything. I was awareness being aware of itself. And if you’ve never taken psychedelics, or done much meditation, you’re entirely right to feel a bit weirded out by this.

You see, the inherent duality of our world makes it very difficult to express and imagine this oneness. It’s the nature of our brains and language to create separation. Even in saying “I am everything”, I’m implying that there’s an “I” and then there’s an “everything”, and the two are in relationship to each other, but still separable. Even further, the fact that I’m talking about “everything” implies that I’m not talking about “nothing”, because that is its opposite. If I am everything, the rules of logic dictate that I definitely cannot be nothing.

Everything is nothing, with a twist.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five  | Quotes, More than words, Kurt vonnegut

But in non-duality, everything and nothing are just two sides of the same coin. As Kurt Vonnegut beautifully wrote in Slaughterhouse Five, “Everything is nothing, with a twist”. Similarly, the “I” and “everything” are like a raindrop falling into the ocean: seemingly separate, but ultimately made of the same stuff that’s constantly shape-shifting, but never stops being water.

This Pure Being is the consciousness that everything is built upon. It’s the common ground of oneness and unity. Physicists call it the unified field, philosophers and alchemists call it prima materia, religious people call it God, and Jungian analysts call it Self - the powerful archetype that the ego is built upon, that represents the totality of the psyche, including both conscious and unconscious realms, personal and collective (here’s a helpful diagram). The relationship between ego and Self is equivalent to the Hindu idea of the human soul Atman being part of the everything-god Brahman, like the raindrop in the ocean from earlier.

Interconnectedness of seemingly separate individual consciousnesses.... |  Download Scientific Diagram
In this model, the supraliminal represents our normal waking consciousness, equivalent to Jung’s conscious part of the psyche. The subliminal self is made up of what Jung calls the personal unconscious. The common ground is what connects al subliminal selves, and represents Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious. All the levels are permeable to each other, which explains the phenomena of dreams, transcendent experiences, or other psychic events. You can read more in the paper here.

But, since we see the world through the lens of duality, holding this identity to the pure being proves to be extremely difficult. Jung explained that when the ego encounters the Self it naturally perceives it as numinous. It has a religious experience. The ego recognises it as its source, but it simply cannot hold its “bigness”.

Imagine the raindrop suddenly becoming aware of itself in the big ocean. As long as the raindrop has awareness of itself as a raindrop (an ego), it’ll perceive the ocean surrounding it as an infinite and separate “thing” that’s very similar to it, but so glorious in its bigness that it must be divine. You can see how ideas of God as a father or parental figure can easily emerge from an experience like this. But when the raindrop temporarily loses awareness of itself, it realises that the ocean is made of raindrops as much as raindrops are made of ocean.

“I feel like I could let go and be one with this. I have a choice, to stay or go.”

My experience of everything-consciousness suddenly reached a fork in the road. I feel like I could let go and be one with this, it’s a choice, to stay or go, I said out loud, feeling the weight of the invitation. In that moment, I felt like I could really, really choose. I could live, or I could die.

The weight of this choice felt powerful, but also very familiar. In my thirty years of life, I’ve questioned my own existence more times than any healthy individual should. For some reason I’ve always found life just too… difficult. I struggled immensely as a child, often complained that I never asked to be here, and prayed to god to prove his existence by ending mine (I’m really sorry, this is a total bummer, I know). When I reached adolescence, I lost my faith and took matters into my own hands. I often fantasised about my own death, and used the sharp pin of the compass to prod my veins - never enough to cause any significant damage, but just enough to torture myself even more. As I advanced into adulthood, I did the sensible thing of going to therapy and blaming my parents for being too harsh, too unloving, too insufficient. I put it on them.

That, of course, solved nothing. Every time something bad happened, a voice in my head began telling me that it would be easier for everyone if I just died. I made lists for staying alive - mostly music, sometimes love, books, and the transfixing experience of watching good plays on stage - but the voice persisted. I tried telling loved ones about it, but no one could hold it without either feeling overwhelmed, annoyed or repulsed. For a long time, even though my outer life was mostly fine, my inner life looked a lot like this painting by Alex Grey, or, if you’re looking for a lighter interpretation, this TikTok.

“I chose to come back”

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to?” - William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Something, though, helped. The small psychedelic-induced dissolutions of my ego offered me the transcendence I’d been craving my whole life. Meditation allowed me to cultivate this daily, and learn to run less from the imperfection of the present moment. These small deaths, coupled with the generous option of coming back and experiencing reality a little bit differently each time allowed me to slowly distance myself from the punishing voice. But not thinking about death all the time is not the same as loving the fact that you’re alive.

So, the chance to choose whether I wanted to be here or not felt monumental. This choice between life and death, light and dark put my suicidal ideation in perspective. It reminded me of a couple of ketamine trips where I found myself on the knife edge of existence, tentatively leaning back and forth between the two options, not knowing what to do. The truth was that I never felt like I had consented to exist. I had always been caught in this place of indecision, never fully living, but never truly allowing myself to die. And now, I had a choice. And I chose to come back.

“I need to forgive myself for being human”

Suddenly, I understood the weight and responsibility of my own choice. I was Pure Being, choosing to make itself small and become human. I had accepted an incarnation, and consented to whatever trials and suffering my smallness would bring. I, as the most intelligent and powerful thing there is, looked at my own creation of life on earth as a human and, for some reason, I said lemme have some of that, it looks fun.

What a revelation. Because if I had, indeed, chosen this, then nothing in this world could really upset or hurt me. Gosh, I need to forgive myself for being human, I thought. In the end, I was Pure Being. I was an almighty god, temporarily playing the role of little human Maria. I was a character in a simulation, suddenly becoming aware of the game I was part of, like the Mockingjay shooting an arrow at the sky only to discover it was a fake dome.

As outlandish, or science fiction as this may sound, this insight is actually quite common. On a recent podcast with Rogan, Duncan Trussell took two minutes to randomly explain the very experience I’m talking about. Have a look.

“Too big, gotta make it small, I get it! I chose to come back.”

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

This tension between the infinite nature of Pure Being and my humanness became the leitmotif of my journey moving forward, like running around in circles. As soon as I melted into consciousness, I understood how its vastness is simply too much to hold for a human. It’s too big!, I would exclaim matter-of-factly, shrugging my shoulders. To hold it, I understood the need for fragmentation and separation into smaller units. Gotta make it small, I get it, I would immediately respond, understanding how we created time in order to make sense of the infinite present, or how we split our outer and inner worlds into animals, plants, geometrical shapes, types of feelings and so on in order to be able to talk about them.

But the smallness was really getting to me. Even though I understood its root, every time I reached it, it caused me great suffering. It didn’t feel fair that the price that I had to pay for my incarnation was the most precious gift of all: the knowledge of my all-powerful, infinite nature. It’s hard to remember, it’s too small, I’d lament, feeling the constricting boundaries of my anatomy, while tears streamed down my cheeks. I could sense that I’d reached this understanding many times before, only to immediately forget it again - my brain was just too small to hold the entire knowledge of the universe. The world is hard, but I chose to come back, I’d repeat, banging the tip of my forefinger against my forehead, hoping that this time I would remember.

And then it would hit me. Wait! I chose to come back! I chose to be small. There I was, once again, Pure Being rediscovering itself. I was, as Alan Watts says, nothing but consciousness playing hide and seek with itself. How silly! I was going around in circles of death and rebirth, chasing my own tail, like the ancient snake ouroboros, circling around Jung’s mandala, caught in the endless cycle of samsara, forgetting and remembering, and forgetting and remembering, and forgetting and remembering.

Only that this time I wasn’t going to forget anymore. This time, I knew I was going to find my way out - or, better yet, in.

“How many times do I need to come back here - I get it - I chose to come back - I know. I chose to come back and be enlightened. It’s too small, but I have a choice. I chose to come back.”

Fully accepting my nature as Pure Being led to the most fascinating conversation I’ve ever had in my life. Like consciousness suddenly seeing itself in a mirror through myself, I began asking questions and immediately answering them out loud. The answers felt deeply intuitive, but new to my awareness as Maria. They were coming from somewhere beyond me, expressing some basic principles of the universe.

And I’ll tell you all about them, how they resonate with Stan Grof’s research with psychedelics, how I make sense of them in my own life and how they make me thing about evolution and the role of AI… in the next newsletter :) For now, I want to leave you with this beautiful quote:

“The only way you can talk about this great tide in which you’re a participant is as Schopenhauer did: the universe is a dream dreamed by a single dreamer where all the dream characters dream too.” - Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

Dept. of further investigation

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or opinions about this topic, please feel free to leave a comment or reply to this email. I’d love to hear from you.
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Music creds: Indian Spice by Podington Bear, Burden of Proof by David Hilowitz, Trip to Ganymed by Kielokaz, Raindrop by InSpectr, Sun is dub by The Dubbystyle.