Birthday Trip

A few weeks ago I decided to take a “special” trip for my birthday. I planned to take a generous dose of magic mushrooms, sit out on the patio, and bliss my ass off. It was a lovely warm August afternoon, with blue skies and fluffy clouds: basically the perfect time!

Best seat in the house.

As someone who’s taken shrooms many times, I’ve never done it alone and mostly outside before. Weird, right? And as it turns out, this experience was much different than any I’ve ever had. In fact, it’s changed how I’ll approach my trips from now on. (Note: this is a pretty personal post, but since I’ve been telling myself I should post more personal stuff, I’m kinda on the hook for it…)

Around 5 p.m. I took 3 grams of shrooms, ground into powder and mixed with almond milk and chocolate syrup (to mask the nasty taste). Less than 30 minutes later, I was feeling a giddiness at my core, a kind of rising energy that I always get from these. By the time an hour was up, I was ready to head outside.

For several hours I reclined in a lawn chair and stared up at the trees and evening clouds as the sun began to set. My husband Chris was off to a Pat Benatar concert, so I had the place to myself. It was very serene — the clouds drifted by, morphing from shape to shape, sometimes into faces and animals. I stared in awe at the sky, watching the endless play of motion. The trees and plants swayed and “breathed” in that familiar way that shrooms allow you to see. The evening sun still shone, but it wasn’t intense enough for me to need sunglasses. I sat there listening to music on my new noise-canceling headphones, and when I closed my eyes with the sunlight on my face, I saw strange and beautiful patterns behind my eyelids like bright, melting glass. The light sometimes flickered when distant trees cast their tiny shadows in front of the sun.

Agog/agape.

Once in a while I’d pop my eyes open, and the full scene of the garden, the sunset, and the pine trees towering over me was almost overwhelming. I had a powerful feeling of reverence for all I was seeing, all the life that surrounded me. Looking up at the trees, with their branches swaying gently, there was a distinct feeling of presence — I don’t know how else to describe it. I’ve had flashes of this before over the years, but this time it was stronger than usual. I didn’t even mind the planes which constantly buzzed noisily overhead, something which is normally pretty annoying. This time they felt like just another part of nature, simply people going from place to place. (The headphones definitely helped there.)

Music was a large part of this experience. I went through a few things, mostly low-key instrumental stuff at first. I eventually settled on some Irish music I used to love and haven’t heard in ages, and then settled on Enya who I also haven’t heard in a while. I used to love her music, and somehow it was perfect for this situation. My aunt Helen, who passed away years ago, was a huuuuuge Enya fan and used to sit in her garden (and her bathtub!) blissing out to her music. I suddenly missed her a lot and wished I could call her up and tell her what I was up to. She would definitely have approved.

Once in a while I got up and roamed through the yard, staring up at everything. At one point I was overcome by the music and the beauty of the trees and plants around me, and I broke into tears, not knowing why. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in the last 10 years, and the thought came to me that maybe I should allow myself to do that more often. A teaching moment from Professor Psilocybin.

I began to realize how these mushrooms, combined with music I love, tend to unlock emotions I normally suppress… There have been many times (while sober) when a certain melody or lyric hits me in just the right way and I instantly feel myself begin to tear up, but I always stop myself. Why is that? I decided that maybe I should just let it happen from now on. “I’m not a robot, geez!” I said aloud, probably to the amusement of a squirrel somewhere.

Staring up at the trees and sky with tears inexplicably running down my face, I suddenly missed my parents more than ever and wished I could talk to them again. The people who brought me into this world are both gone, and that’s a void I don’t think I’ve fully reckoned with, even now. It’s an untethered feeling that has heavily influenced this existential thing I’ve been going through. (I’m happy to say that my stepdad, who married my mom when we were kids and fully embraced that father role, is still with us.)

Cathedral of trees.

I eventually decided it was time to go inside, as the sunset was getting murky and the sky was growing darker. I wasn’t really hungry but felt I should eat something anyway, so I made a salad (with an extra large helping of crispy onions, thank you very much) and ate it while watching a bit of a live Kraftwerk video. A few minutes in, though, I decided that I’d rather hear music than see someone else’s visuals for it. “This [watching videos] is telling your brain what images to pair with the music, when the mushrooms are already trying to do that,” I declared to nobody in particular. This is what my husband would call “stoner logic.” It made sense to me, though!

So I popped the headphones back on, flopped down on our bed, and zoned out to more music. This time I put on some tunes by Scottish band Runrig which I haven’t heard in ages, which really hit me deep in the feels… Even the stuff sung in Gaelic, which I don’t understand at all, was really mashing my emotional buttons. My mom’s side of the family has roots in Scotland, so maybe some of my DNA was having a moment.

I was doing OK until “Running to the Light” came on. That song always gets me, and it packs an especially emotional punch considering its connection with the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy (you can hear and read about the song on YouTube). The opening music is stirring enough, but then the lyrics begin:

Running round the sacred mountain
The rushing stream
Feel the power
In everything
By the water, where the air is clear
Surrender everything

Again came the tears, again for no reason I could think of (and annoyingly bringing plenty of snot with them), but I let them out for a few minutes and it was fine. It felt like something I needed to do.

I then switched to Steely Dan for a while, which is always fun to listen to because their sound takes me back to my 70’s childhood when I’d hear them on the radio. I went back outside for a few minutes and wandered the yard in the dark, staring up at the starry sky and listening to “Aja” (considered to be one of the finest-produced jazz-rock albums ever, with good reason). It was cool and tranquil out, and the trees were still towering over me, though it was too dark to see them swaying and breathing. But I knew they were. “We’re still here,” they seemed to say.

By this time my energy was changing a bit — the trip was still in full effect, but my mood shifted and I felt it was time to go downstairs (into our basement “nightclub”) to do some dancing among the blacklights and lasers. So I did that for about an hour, which was a blast, but then I finally started to feel hungry again. I shut everything down and went back upstairs, fixed myself a Impossible burger, and plopped my ass down to watch the series finale of “Better Caul Saul.” How’s that for a change of pace!

Right when things were getting intense in the show, and with only about 20 minutes left, I got a text from Chris announcing that he was bringing some friends home from the show with him. We all went downstairs, and I somehow had the energy to do another hour of dancing and hopping around like an idiot. I was in a good mood the entire evening, and I was surprised to find that even with unexpected company dropping by, I still was! Normally that really irritates me.

Finally I collapsed into bed for a long, mostly dreamless sleep. The next day I felt refreshed, ready for the weekend and not dreading my return to work on Monday. This trip was just what I needed: some joy, some catharsis, some wonderment and escape. I decided to do this shroom thing once or twice a month from now on.

And you know what? In the weeks since that trip, I’ve felt myself drawn back into the back yard more and more, staring up at the trees and sky. At times where I’d normally flop down on the bed to read the news, or times when I’d be inclined to fire up a videogame, more often than not I’ve been opting instead to sit out on the patio and listen to podcasts, or just watch the trees and clouds in silence. It’s become something I need to do. It’s recharging and re-grounding, which is probably a sign that I’ve been trapping myself indoors too much!

I remember taking this photo because the clouds looked like a spinal column(!). But to be fair, I also saw Mickey Mouse at one point, so…….

(Side note: I feel very fortunate to have this setting in which I can enjoy these experiences. Thinking back to the many years when I lived only in apartments, I would have had to just do my tripping inside, or do it in a public park…and that does not sound appealing. Especially in Seattle’s public parks these days. Nopeity-nope.)

This reminds me of something I’ve heard world-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets say several times in interviews: magic mushrooms shouldn’t be taken for entertainment. Yes, they can be fun, but they hold so much more potential than that. He calls them a “sacrament”, and that’s how I’ve begun to view them. I now regret introducing a few people to them via “Hey, let’s take shrooms and see weird stuff!” instead of teaching respect for them first and foremost. I really should have known better.

And they do deserve respect. This last trip has changed me in ways I’m just now beginning to explore, and that hasn’t happened since I first had them in Amsterdam all those years ago. It’s inspired me to look into various worldviews that support this weird, reverential feeling I’ve been describing, which is deeper than just thinking “Oh, what a pretty flower!” I’ve been doing some reading about animism and pantheism, which are both pretty interesting.

But that’ll have to wait for a later post…because as I write this today, I’m about to embark on another trip! 😉

Brain fight!

These days there are two constants in my daily information intake: 1) reading the news, and 2) browsing social media. However, the news is often terrible and social media is always terrible. This means my brain is constantly at war with itself on how to stay informed about what’s going on without feeding into my half-serious fantasies of retreating into a remote cave where the news can’t reach me and social media doesn’t exist.

My first instinct is to stop reading the news to help preserve my sanity. That’s what a lot of alleged experts say to do: “Just stop reading the news! You’ll be so much happier without all that negativity in your life!” But my brain has other ideas. Whenever I ponder this option, my brain says, “Hold up, now. Don’t you wanna be informed? Do you wanna be clueless about what’s going on out there, even if it’s awful?” Of course I don’t wanna live in ignorance, brain! But there’s just so much horrible stuff being said and done by horrible poeple, and more is always brewing on the horizon — is it healthy to keep reminding yourself about that, day after day?

Feeling pushback, my brain tries to compromise. “Maybe you can just read the headlines once a day, then stop. Or even do a news fast by avoiding it completely for a couple of weeks. Then you’ll feel better!” Sounds like the rationalizations of an addict, right? I’ve actually done the news fast thing before, and it does provide some relief. But the moment I start catching up on current events again, I immediately start sinking back into that quagmire of dread that I was neck-deep in before.

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A grim comfort

Things are getting darkly intense, folks. Certain evils are now becoming commonplace in America: denial of provable facts, bigoted attacks on people just trying to live their lives, widespread disinformation literally killing people, the alarming rise of religious nationalism in our government, the weaponization of religion to oppress and control, the increasing popularity of dangerous authoritarian figureheads, the worsening attacks on elections and the rule of law… I don’t do politics on this blog, but if you read factual reporting, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

This stuff is not new, but it’s accelerated in the last decade to a terrifying boiling point. It makes me anxious about the dark times I can clearly see on the horizon, but I also know that anxiety is useless — all we can do is use our voices and our votes to try and slow the bleeding.

This also comes at a time when I’m trying to make peace with the transitory nature of life and decide for myself what really matters — and what I’m willing to obsess about — here at my half-century mark. Existential crisis, ahoy!

Which brings me to this morning as I was lying in bed, trying to motivate myself to get up and begin working. Out of my sleepy mind sprang this thought: sure, my time here is brief and I will eventually be the proverbial dust in the wind, but there’s something I seem to have forgotten.

So will they.

These enemies of truth and compassion will also die. The evil they spread isn’t permanent, and it can be pushed back. We’ve seen it happen! However bad things may seem, there are ebbs and flows to this stuff. We may not live to know the full story, but in the long game I think they’re losing. And their desperation is glaring.

It really irks me that once I’m dead I won’t be around to continue watching this absurd show, because I really, really want to see where we are in 50 years. But I’ve decided that after seeing the impermanence of some of the good things in this country, I choose to take some comfort in the impermanence of the bad.

Is pointlessness the point?

I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions.

Robert Anton Wilson

I vaguely remember when death used to be this abstract, far-in-the-future thing that I didn’t need to think or worry about. These days, at age 50, I think about it quite a bit. People I know and love are dying with more and more frequency (I actually just learned of one today), and eventually it’ll be my turn. I keep having grim thoughts like: “Will I go before my husband? Will he be OK without me? What if he goes before me? We don’t have kids and we don’t live close to family — am I gonna die alone? Will I go peacefully in my sleep, or after weeks/months of pain? Who will remember me 10-15 years after I’m gone? It’ll be like I was never here at all! Like, death is unfair, you guyyyyyys!” (That was my best whiny teenage voice. You’re welcome.)

At the same time, I feel a stab of guilt for even having the audacity to expect my memory to live on. I haven’t done anything great or noteworthy to earn that. And what a privilege it is to be able to contemplate this stuff when so many are suffering in the world, struggling to even survive. Just who do I think I am, anyway? Bad Dobby, bad!! *slap*

But honestly, I think most of us have these thoughts at some point. Contemplating your death can be healthy, or so they say, because nobody escapes it…but if you dwell on it too much, life can turn into a nihilistic “What’s the point in doing anything??” slog. And the past few years I’ve been feeling that way a lot. Probably more than I should. Hell, it’s taken me six months of stopping/starting/rewriting this post to finally finish it, because I keep hearing Bette Midler’s voice whining: “Why bother?” (She really nailed it with that bit, folks! It’s hilariously apathetic.)

It can get more complicated when you don’t believe in God or things like Heaven and Hell, as in my case, because sometimes it feels like your existence boils down to “I’m a bag of meat on a rock hurtling through space.” Which itself may not be 100% terrible, depending on your attitude… But I need more than that. And looking back at the books I’ve been reading the past few years, it’s pretty obvious that I’m searching for a more optimistic view of The End™.

So here are some thoughts I’ve been having on all this stuff. I’ve come to believe that being atheist or agnostic on religious topics doesn’t mean your mind must be also closed to…other things. Just like there are 500 varieties of vegetarians, there are 500 varieties of nonbelievers. Sorry, that’s probably a crappy comparison but you know what I mean.

My philosophizing is armchair-level at best, so maybe expect kiddie pool wading vs. deep dives…

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Digital ghosts

This is a re-worked and updated 2016 post from my other blog.

In November 2014 I got on Facebook and there were all these messages posted to a friend’s profile saying things like: “Steve, why??” “What happened?”  “i miss you my best friend.”  I thought “WTF?”, with a sinking feeling.  Many more messages followed, referring to him in the past tense, and finally it hit me that he had taken his own life.  For weeks afterward, people posted messages on there as more and more people found out about it.

Coming to terms with his death and that horrible sense of loss was one thing — but this business of someone’s Facebook profile staying active after their death, and people posting messages to it (and each other), was something new for me.

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