Shaking the snow globe

There’s a big fat girl made out of sunshine and she’s rolling all over me. I’m sitting in the garden, teeth chattering, knees knocking, in the swelter of Thai midday. A floor fan hums quietly behind me on the patio. I don’t feel hot, but am dripping with sweat. I reach for a face towel sitting in the cooler. It’s been two hours since I placed the tab of LSD on my tongue and I’m starting to come undone. There’s a overwhelming feeling of peeling away, like the band-aid of my personality being pulled off. What’s left is an infinitely expansive state of being without me behind it. At this point I start to feel panicky, realizing that I am merely a figment of the universe’s imagination.

Artwork by Sylvia Ritter

Inspired by Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, I decided that at 55 years old, it was time for me to try psychedelics. Prior to reading this, I had always seen LSD as a recreational drug without considering the literal meaning of recreation as re-creation. Recreation is typically defined as leisure activities we pursue when not working, like boating or golf. In the context of psychedelics, there is something more profound implied. You, or your idea of you, is transformed. What I discovered was a transcendent experience of undifferentiated consciousness, unfathomably vast and omnipresent. To get there, I dissolved into it, which at times felt like a near-death experience.

This universal consciousness, or what Aldous Huxley called, “The Mind at Large” is hidden from ordinary perception, considered to be the esoteric realm of mystics. In Huxley’s view, LSD offered a gateway to this direct experience, bypassing the “reducing valve” of our conscious minds. It’s something akin to a deep meditation, when there is no longer anything that steals our attention and we lose ourselves in a state of unencumbered being. There is no “I” who is the experiencer to judge or witness, rather an endless ocean of radiant, pure being, and you are It.

Radiance is a word that I keep referring back to because of how everything around me seemed to be infused with light. This energy in its unfiltered form is so blinding that our ordinary perception must somehow protect us from It. I caught a glimpse of It in the garden that morning, which appeared to me with such a dazzling intensity that I had to cover my eyes. It was a shimmering sheet of lightning, three feet from my face, persistent and terrifying in its brilliance.

In the same way our conscious minds are shielded from the blinding luminosity of the Mind at Large, it occurred to me that the self is like a pearl, wound in layers of psychological protection from our sense of separateness. This self evolves over time, developing unique facets and colors that attracts others and hides a grain of loneliness at its core. Each pearl is a consequence of our human individuality, which serves its own needs first. LSD expands perception beyond these layers, rejoining us with our source and the sense that we are everything, and everything is us.

The Mind at Large revealed some profound insights during this trip, in what felt like personal messages meant only for me. They occurred as thoughts in my head, but not my own thoughts, as if transmitted from a version of myself that understood things in a way that I didn’t. I was drinking wine that day, as I often do on a Sunday, and about four hours into the trip, the thought arose with extreme clarity, “This is not helping you.” It was evident to me that the thought was referring to the glass of wine in my hand, which I happened to be enjoying. I don’t drink every day, and when I do it’s in moderation. But somehow, I knew that this message was meant to serve me. In fact, my overwhelming feeling from the entire trip was that the universe is on our side, rooting for us in ways we can’t comprehend. Suddenly, it seemed, everything was happening for me and not to me.

The small change of phrase in this realization was transformative. Like the first time I thought, “I get to go” instead of, “I have to go.” Another thought that resonated in my head was, “This body wants to let go.” None of these thoughts felt like instructions, ultimatums or criticisms, at least I didn’t respond to them this way. I sensed they were compassionate messages, urging me to consider them as from a trusted friend. I heard them in my own voice, but also understood that they were coming from a higher mind, one which perceived me with an extreme clarity.

I interpreted these thoughts from the higher mind as my drinking was working against me, and all my health concerns stemmed from being overweight. These things were related and there wasn’t anything I had to do, no mandate or command. So the next day I stopped drinking and didn’t take another sip for six months. Even then it was for a friend’s birthday, and I couldn’t bring myself to drink much at all. Over the next nine months, without any change to diet and actually pausing my regular resistance training, I proceeded to lose 15kg. This body wants to let go.

Pure being radiates. It attracts goodness, abundance and well-being. It is not something to be attained, but to which we submit. Pure being transcends worldly problems and solves them in a way that material processes cannot. The Mind at Large is a gateway to this pure being, guiding us to it by means that are otherwise inaccessible. How do we know when we are in a state of pure being? It happens when we relate to things exactly as they are versus how we think they should be or how they have always occurred to us in the past. It transcends the automatic loop of judgment and response according to the patterns governed by our self. Such an enlightened state is impossible for most of us. If we’re lucky, we experience it in fleeting moments.

I didn’t have a typical psychedelic experience. No synesthesia, no talking plants, no swirling colors or wild visual illusions. Apart from the electric blue aura around everyday objects, I wouldn’t say that my mind was playing tricks on me. As my trip companion teased, “Maybe your mind is always playing tricks on you.” Fair enough, as under normal circumstances we’re only able to perceive a tiny fraction of the visual spectrum, bypassing this reducing valve is certain to let in more of the mysterious invisible world.

I also cried a lot during the trip. Not out of sadness or pain, but gratitude. I felt grateful for the experience of knowing that this uncaring universe seemed to be telling me that I was OK and It was on my side. The message of compassion I felt was new and profound. I sensed that even tragic events in my life had a purpose and not to blame myself or others for them. Loss always leaves a hole and that hole has gravity. I realized that I need to accept it with simplicity and not be pulled into its field and consumed by it.

As much as this trip was a near death experience at times, it was also a religious one. If religion is our attempt to understand the origin of our creation and honor It through acts of worship, LSD reminds us without dogma or fear, that to honor It is to honor ourselves equally and our belonging in the world.

Out of all the dozens of journal entries I’ve been publishing on WordPress since 2008, this has been the most difficult to write. The thoughts and feelings here seem wholly inadequate in describing the experience of being It and It being me. I wish I had the artistic talent to express this in some more meaningful way. But inspiration takes many forms, and if pure being radiates, then I submit to become just that: a radiator.

One day you will stop
and sit down, hard, in your chair
to realize all you are given
from angelic realms who support you.
You will weep into your hands
in a gratitude never felt
in your body before.
Contain it and be honored.
Radiate it and be blessed.

— Ann Churchill