A Journey, Not An Escape

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

Long time reader, first time writer. Forgive the somewhat trite pseudonym, as I'm writing from a dead-drop e-mail account that's not linked to my real identity. I'm sure you understand, given the somewhat more controversial nature of writing about psychedelic mushrooms than smoking the occasional joint.

Like many who went to college in Central California, I ate mushrooms a handful of times. Nearly every time, I either learned something new about myself or had some core principle of my consciousness upheld. The first time I shroomed, I was moved to tears watching a spider weave its web, perfectly framed between two swaying redwood trees. This renewed my appreciation for the everyday miracles of nature. To this day, I'll often stand on the sidewalk of my busy DC-area street and watch a leaf drop to the ground with a similar sense of wonder - something that no doubt vexes hurried commuters.

Perhaps my most profound experience came during a trip that was by all accounts transcendental.

I was walking along a path in my favorite stretch of forest, and as I broke out into a meadow, all of the trees seemed to bloom simultaneously. I wondered if this is what Heaven was supposed to be like. That led to another thought: what if I was already dead, and that this was my paradise? I began to think of how I hoped my life had meant something, and that I'd gotten to say what I wanted to say to my friends, family and loved ones before I passed. I then began to think of what exactly I would say to  these people if I knew my death was imminent. Far from being a negative or morose experience, I made peace with my eventual death, and I often revisit those thoughts.

I used shrooms two weeks before 6423235_c04495719e_bundergoing major reconstructive surgery after a skiing accident, steeling myself for the pain and rehab as I stood on a beach and watched the pounding waves from a winter storm. I used them after my recovery was complete, relishing being able to run, jump, climb and roll around on a secluded, sandy beach on a early fall afternoon. I used them to come to terms with ending a relationship, and another time, to begin a new one.

Not every trip was a good one, but even the bad ones taught me things. I learned I've got the psychological stamina to turn around severe fear. I once was nearly bitten by a black widow spider after finding myself covered in ticks after my sober buddy (don't trip solo!) convinced me that crawling through a dense thicket was the best way back to a trail.

It wasn't all just feel-good hippy stuff, either. Shrooms helped steer me on my current career path. Some thoughts I had during a trip compelled me to check out all the books my university library had on Middle Eastern politics and history, which informed my decision to study the M.E. in graduate school and spend another year traveling through several Arab and Muslim countries while studying Arabic and gaining a first-hand appreciation for the region and its culture. In turn, I'm now employed in a position that pays me to read, write and study the Middle East, and I couldn't be happier.

It's been over six years since my last trip, and I don't know if another one's in the future. Professional considerations make it unlikely, and I honestly don't know if I have the right mindset for it anymore. At the time when I used them, it was right for me. Psilocybin is a powerful and potent thing that can't just be abused whenever you're looking to escape. I made that mistake a couple of times, and I didn't gain the profound lessons that my more memorable trips gave me.

If used with caution and an open mind, psilocybin can show you things about yourself and the world that you'd never considered. I'd never say that EVERYONE must try it at some point in their life. But if it's something you're curious about it, try it and see where it takes you. You'll always remember the journey.

(Photo by Flickrite underbunny)