Dispatches from Mushroom Space: My Psilocybin Retreat

In college I had mushroom tea at a party once before going out to Club Park Avenue with my roommates in Tallahassee. This was over thirty years ago. And it continues to be the most vivid and fun memory of the times I spent at CPA.

My re-introduction to psilocybin came via Michael Pollan’s book – How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Research into psychedelic (“mind/soul manifesting”) compounds that had been stifled, stigmatized, underfunded for decades is now seeing a resurgence – some call it a Psychedelic Renaissance that could transform the treatment of mental illness, addiction, and who knows what else within the next five years.

What drove me to look into this topic was the hope of relief for my husband. Relief from the crippling blackness of treatment-resistant depression and anxiety. An illness he’s battled since middle school. Sometimes the symptoms are managed with treatment. Sometimes the medicine stops working or results in costly side effects.

In our 18 years together, things had never been as bad for him – for us – as in the last 12 months. Erin’s had ketamine infusions at a clinic in Austin. Tried Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. And every drug class that had come on the market.

I couldn’t get Erin into any of the two FDA “breakthrough status” psilocybin trials currently underway for treatment-resistant depression because none were in Austin. And both these studies only took residents of the cities with participating clinics.

The next option was overseas – in countries with no prohibition on psilocybin. Some internet googling led me to MycoMeditations.  I did the research – looking at the care put into set and setting (decisive conditions for optimal psychedelic experiences). This retreat seemed to provide an ideal space and facilitation with which to experience therapeutic doses (high doses) in a safe manner.

I booked the next retreat with availability. It was three months away.

Hope is so important.

What follows are my FaceBook dispatches from the journey.

Saturday morning, September 21, 2019

Gud mawnin! Pan mi way to Jamaica wid Erin.

Excited and nervous. Feels like I imagine it might on a rumbling launchpad during a loooong countdown, waiting to blastoff. Only the destination is the outer reaches of inner space, exploration in different levels consciousness.

The link below explains what we’re up to. Totally legal. And we’re contributing data to the Imperial College London psychedelic studies.

If this works for Erin, I’ll become a psilocybin evangelist. 

We’ll be gone a week. Wish us luck, pray for us, send us intentions/positive vibes, light a candle, cross your fingers, lift us up in your thoughts, etc. We’ll take it all! 

#medicaltourism #psilocybinretreat #psychedelicrenaissance #intentionset #safecontainerforwork #overvieweffect #mysticalexperiences
#entheogenicmedicine #hopeforhealing #pleasework

Saturday evening, September 21, 2019

We’re here! Long bus ride across the island, to the south western fishing community of Treasure Beach.September 24 at 6:25 AM 

September 24 at 6:25 AM 

Trip Report, dose # 1 of 3Date of dose: Sunday, 9/22 at 2pm
Dose: three grams Type of Experience: emotional cleansing

We had our first psilocybin dose on Sunday (the 22nd). Each dose will be larger with # 3 (on my birthday on Thursday) being “heroic”.

I took 3 grams. Erin had 6. The trip lasted about 4 hours. Our cohort (14 of us) gathered yesterday to share experiences and integrate them. Everyone’s experience was different. Erin reported a mild experience with the primary feature being an experience of joy. He said he can’t remember the last time he felt joy. In my mind, the psilocybin is already repairing neural pathways that were atrophied because of the depression.

Some studies have shown, via fMRI, the growth of neurons and dendrites from psychedelic experiences and the physical repair work that happens in the brain.

For me, the experience was gentle. I’ll probably double the dose for today’s trip. I laid in a hammock with my eyes closed and a blindfold. About 45 minutes after dosing, I began to see geometric patterns. And what looked like Aztec artwork- fantastical designs. Constantly changing. I removed the blindfold and opened my eyes and the patterns went away.

I glanced over at Erin where he laid with blindfold and earphones. I watched him take his earphones off. I was suddenly struck by how much of a caretaker I’ve become. That started a period of contemplation where I observed my thoughts and feelings much easier than in mindful meditation. I looked at my own psychology and habits of mind.

Then I experienced waves of sadness and started to cry. I really wanted to sob but didn’t want to make noise and disturb anyone’s trip. So I got up, fumbling for a tissue box (one of the facilitators, there are 6 of them and two are psychotherapists, helped me). I then moved to a chair under a tree with the ocean right in front of me.

And I cried. Letting it all out. Who knows how many years of tears I’ve held back that flowed freely now with no restraint. The ocean waves seemed to encourage me to get it all out. The tree sheltered me from the sun.

I thought about the mushrooms being Mother Earth herself, plugged into me and healing me. So, I just breathed and cried until the tears stopped. Perhaps for two hours. The ocean is big and powerful energy that can contain any emotion I could express. All the tears. All the snot. Any toxicity I could expel from my body.

After a couple hours I felt peace. And nurtured by Mother Nature. I looked at the tree as if seeing it for the first time…a vibrant expression of life. I felt gratitude. And safe.

They’ve told us that each experience is different. I got a lot out of hearing about everyone else’s experience. And feel connected with the other people in my cohort.

I’m looking forward to today and the higher dose and know that even if the experience is challenging, I’ll be safe. And it will be good for me. And healing.

More to come. The adventure continues.

Thursday, September 26

Trip Report, dose # 2 of 3Date of dose: Tuesday, 9/24 at 10:00am
Dose: five grams (2 more than trip # 1)Type of Experience: creativity unleashed

Our group spent all morning today sharing experiences from trip # 2. Everyone’s experience was completely different than the first time. Several people had challenging trips. One person was confronted with memories of early childhood abuse.

One woman, 65 years old from Canada, grappled with her Christian faith and came to understand Jesus as a non-binary gendered person. A “They” instead of “He”. This realization brought her peace and seemed to reconcile things for her.

Some experienced intense love, connection. Others grasped complex philosophical and metaphysical insights. The range of experiences were as varied and unique as fingerprints.

Erin had 12 grams (twice the amount as trip 1). His desire was to experience the joy he felt in his trip # 1, but that didn’t happen. This time, his primary experience was physical discomfort – heat and nausea. He asked a facilitator to escort him to an outside shower to stand in the cold water to cool off. He did this four times during his trip. He said he felt intoxicated and some visual distortions but felt disappointed at not feeling the childlike joy he felt the first time.

I noticed Lo-Lo, a sweet puppy at the retreat center who is our surrogate canine since we’re missing our pack, hung out with Erin a lot during the trip. Lo-Lo seems to know where she’s needed.

The dosage amount is highly personal and not correlated to weight. This is why the first dose was small to help calibrate intensity. I think that if I’d taken 12 grams I might have transcended space and time and spoken to the alien Jodie Foster talked to in the movie Contact.

I started my 5 grams in a hammock again, with blindfold on and listening to the playlist used by psilocybin researchers at John Hopkins (the playlist is on Spotify and is called “Psychedelic Research” – some classical music and mostly instrumental).

My transition to an altered state happened after about forty minutes and it was a rapid and intense onset, like a tsunami slamming into me.

I heard tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that quickly got louder and louder until it drowned out the sound of the ocean. Very uncomfortable.

I tore off the headphones. Why did I need the playlist curated by some researcher in a clinic when I’m on a beach in friggin Jamaica with the sound of the Caribbean gently lapping not 50 feet away?

I felt I flash of heat come over me, a surge of energy with a rapid frequency of vibration. Like I had stuck my finger in a light socket. I felt nauseous and removed my blindfold, sat up in the hammock and swung my legs over the side to put my feet on the floor and stare at the ground, ready to vomit at any moment.

The floor between my feet looked like it was made of glass, with my feet on a solid surface but underneath this level the sand and imperfections moved independently like there was a liquid swirling under the solid glass surface level.

The swirling seemed to expand and contract like the ground was breathing beneath my feet. I had the thought “WTF have I done?” – suddenly aware of feeling anxiety over how powerful the medicine is. This is no recreational plaything, certainly not at this dose. And something to treat with great respect.

I kept breathing, knowing the moment would pass. As everything passes. Nothing stays the same. Not a feeling. Not a mountain. Not the stars. The cosmos itself is in constant change.

And still the tinnitus and humming vibration increased. I thought of the hummingbird I saw earlier in the morning and how the vibration was like the beating wings of the hummingbird. Then I felt transported into the heart of a hummingbird and felt what I imagined it might feel like being in the midst of such an energetic vibration. A tuning fork. The anxiety passed, but not the discomfort.

I forced myself to lay back down and put the blindfold on (as we had been coached to do) but the blindfold felt unnatural and hot and I felt the humming energy pooling in my body and straining for release. I trusted my intuition and removed the blindfold, sitting up again. It felt like I had taken a powerful stimulant…like guzzling a bunch of coffee.

I observed these sensations with neutral emotions. I had my Garmin watch on and checked my heart rate, thinking my heart must be racing and perhaps the tinnitus was my blood pressure spiking. My heart rate was only 73. By the way, I recorded the session as a “yoga” workout and my heart rate never exceeded 75.

The nervous energy continued to increase. I didn’t know what to do with myself. With the ground breathing and swirling, I didn’t feel stable enough to walk. I looked at my backpack and things laid out on the floor beside the hammock and spotted my notebook right beside my water bottle. The pen was clipped to it. I grabbed it and started writing.

I scribbled with a wild abandon. The pen seemed to flick as fast as that hummingbird’s wings, burning squiggly lines on page after page. I saw myself as a scientist, simply observing and recording the present moment. Only instead of a microscope, my instrument was a molecule called psylocibin.

I channeled the energy out of my body and onto paper. The content of my writing was simply whatever was there in the moment…thoughts, sensations. I’ll probably spend considerable time processing what I wrote. Assuming I can read the handwriting.

The throbbing humming energy ebbed and seemed to dissipate. I laid back down in the hammock as a feeling of relaxation washed over me. At just that moment, a breeze cooled me off. I yawned.

After a few moments another wave of energy came over me. Again, the humming vibration of energy gathering. The beating of hummingbird wings. Again, I wrote furiously. I was like a channel for a firehose of cosmic energy pouring through my human neurology. The universe trying to communicate with itself. I got out of the way and focused on the present moment. My awareness of the present felt so intense that the NOW seemed to encapsulate all of eternity. Now. Now. Now. Like a repeating fractal design.

Any thought that came to mind got recorded. Any sensation. And then the energy receded again. And again, I collapsed back in relaxation into the hammock. And yawned. And felt another breeze.

This cycle continued for about two hours. I burned through half the pages in my notebook. Each cycle seemed less intense. Until there was simply relaxation. And me yawning.

I thought about one of the intentions I had set prior to coming to Jamaica. I have a writing project I’ve been working off and on for ten years. It’s the story of me buying a mountain bike, taking it to Spain, and riding across the country on the Camino de Santiago – five hundred miles of an ancient pilgrimage trail.

The project has languished for a couple years now. I have a first draft and about four-hundred comments from a developmental editor – all “craft” type of stuff to strengthen the narrative. But I didn’t feel connected to the material anymore. Just thinking about working on it felt like drudgery. But the project feels like a bucket list item that I have to complete in my lifetime, or it will be a regret on my deathbed.

So when I was thinking about what I wanted to get out of my mushroom trips, I noted one of my intentions was to reconnect with this project so I could get it completed.

So, past the peak of my 5-gram mushroom trip I remembered feeling in a similar state of consciousness as I did riding on the Camino. When all I did for 14 days was pedal for eight hours a day, alone with my thoughts and in a contemplation that deepened with each day to the point that I existed in a meditative state nonstop and every occurrence, no matter how random, seemed imbued with significance.

So I now feel reconnected to that project. And can’t wait to get back to it when I get home. Intention satisfied.

About three hours after the onset, I checked the floor again. There were still moving patterns, but it was subtle, and I had to work to see them. I felt almost back to normal consciousness. And relaxed.

I decided to milk the access to my subconscious for all I could and direct some work on myself.

I thought about who or what I had left to forgive…starting with myself. Nothing came up. I took an inventory of my life and everything felt clean and complete. Except Mom.

I identified a deep resentment towards my mother. For her reaction to my sexuality when she first found out I was gay. And for her continuing to hold a homophobic and dogmatic Catholic stance about it. You’d think 35 years would be long enough to get used to having a gay son, right?

Now I’m in a caretaker relationship with her as she’s declining in health in her mid-80s. It’s not easy, she lives in Panama and has refused to leave where it might be easier for my sister and I to see to her care.

I don’t want to get into all the ways I have felt hurt and betrayed by Mom. Not just as a young man. But continuing even now. It’s enough to say that it’s not just the past, but it is a current active campaign of hers to make her judgement, disapproval, and rejection clear to me. Even as she says “I love you” it seems she thinks she can change me by the force of her will.

I don’t expect her to change. I gave up on that long ago. I just bury the resentment, hide it and carry on.

As a young man I’d had the experience of holding my center with someone screaming “faggot” at me – just observing the absurdity of someone feeling so threatened by my existence. But with Mom, I still get triggered. And I don’t want that anymore. I want the umbilical cord completely severed. It’s way past time. I’m going to be 52 tomorrow!

It occurred to me to create a ritual for myself to release the resentment.

I caught the attention of one of the facilitators at the retreat and let her know what I wanted to do. She followed me at a respectful distance as I looked for a rock on the grounds of the retreat center.

Immediately, a rock called my attention and I picked it up. It was dark, round and smooth. It felt warm from the sun and had a nice heavy weight to it in the palm of my hand.

I held in in my hands in front of me, imagining all my anger, resentment and negativity flowing into the rock.

I held the rock reverently. The anger and resentment at feeling betrayed by my mother had served me well in my life. It had given me the fire, the “fight” to push back and assert myself as a gay man despite the opposition of the late 80s. Despite my parents. Despite hatred coming from religious people and institutions. Despite a hostile government. Despite a horrible plague that cut down so many of my brothers.

That fire and fight had kept me alive. It had served me well. I honored it. But I didn’t need it anymore to survive. It was time to release it and make room for more love.

I used the stone as a sponge, and rubbed in over my chest, arms, neck, head, back, legs, feet. I imagined myself scooping negativity from my body into the rock.

I suspect it’s not the craziest thing the retreat facilitators have witnessed from folks tripping on magic mushrooms.

I walked to the gate of the villa and opened it to go out onto the beach. As soon as I opened it, Lo-Lo ran out ahead of me.

I walked to the edge of the sea and faced the incoming waves and the wind. I held the rock a bit longer. It was an old friend. Lo-Lo sat on the sand next to me looking out at the sea in the same direction. She seemed to sense the importance of the moment and it felt nice to have her be my witness.

Then, the moment felt right and with an underhand toss I threw the stone into the ocean. I heard it plop and saw its splash. And then I faced the breeze with outstretched arms and let the wind fill up the space within me that had been emptied.

As I walked back, my sandals seemed to spring my feet.

I participate and volunteer in a community and non-profit called Mankind Project that delivers transformational programs for men. The primary program is called the New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA) and it’s a weekend experiential training that also serves as a men’s initiation ritual. It’s a powerful and moving experience and I recommend it to friends all the time.

Some elements of the NWTA are borrowed from Native American traditions (with permission from Lakota elders).

This part is for my MKP brothers:

My animal name is no longer Relaxed Leopard.
I am Yawning Hummingbird.
Aho!

Sunday, September 29

Trip Report, dose # 3 of 3Date of dose: Thursday, 9/26 – 10:36 am
Dose: 4.5 grams (2 more than trip # 1)Type of Experience: spiritual/mystical
Duration: about 3.5 hours

I got in the same hammock I’ve been in all week, with headphones set to play the Psychedelic Research playlist on Spotify from John Hopkins University’s research program. The air barely moved – hot and humid. I balanced a little battery-operated fan on my leg to get cooling airflow on myself.

I started noticing a transition in perhaps 30 minutes – a relaxation in my body. Every muscle seemed free of tension, with pleasure throughout my body. It reminded me of taking a narcotic like Oxycodone for pain. Or morphine – I’ve had two kidney stone ER visits and they treated the pain with morphine. My awareness remained intact and not loopy.

Psilocybin is not a narcotic, so this feeling seemed unusual. Perhaps since the body can produce all sorts of feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin, endorphins, etc., it must have been cranking these molecules out.

The playlist had started with Vivaldi (classical music) and now moved to a flute song that reminded me of Native American flute music. I thought of Victoria, the housekeeper at home growing up in the Republic of Panama.

Victoria was from the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous peoples of the interior of the country. During my childhood, she was my “Mary Poppins”. I spent more time interacting with her than my parents, since Mom and Dad both worked.

The memory had the quality of a vivid daydream. In the first person, I inhabited the body of my seven-year old self and showed Victoria a Tarzan comic book. I pointed to a page with a character drawing a bow, ready to fire an arrow in a hunt. Tarzan stood beside the character (which I couldn’t see) and offered this coaching: “shoot straight”.

In Spanish, I pointed to the words and taught Victoria how to say “shoot straight” in English. She repeated it until she got it right. Then she taught me how to say it in her indigenous language: “kide medre”. It’s a real memory.

In my hammock, I picked up my notebook and started recording the daydream with clear and calm handwriting — unlike the frenetic scribbling of trip # 2.

I thought I might forget to breathe, I felt so relaxed. It seemed I’d not taken a breath in a long time. But I had no fear. All was well. Just pure relaxation.

The flute music sounded beautiful and completely unpredictable, with seemingly random notes. I picked up my iPhone to note the song – it was Paul Horn “Inside the Taj Mahal”. I assumed the song was an extended meditative version that ran for thirty minutes to an hour. But when I noted the name of the song (and wrote it down), I realized the song had only been playing for 23 seconds.

I took a breath. And looked around. There were no visual distortions. Instead, my perception of time’s flow couldn’t be trusted. I could relive an entire immersive scene in my head, calmly and in utter relaxation, within the space of a single breath.

I closed my eyes and saw an elephant facing me with a long colorful trunk curled up and covered in a complex pattern. It was the Hindu god, Ganesh. The apparition didn’t occur to me as supernatural. And I have no cultural connection or much knowledge of Hinduism. I figured the visitation to be an association to India because of the “Inside the Taj Mahal” name of the song.

I kept taking notes. My body felt great, like instead of blood flowing in my system, it was honey.

And the flute played on. I relaxed into the hammock.

The music shifted to another flute song. I opened eyes and noted the name of this song: “Flute Traveler” by Ron Korb. I was curious about the interplay of music with the psilocybin experience and now understood why the researchers at Johns Hopkins were studying this.

I heard my voice telling myself soothingly, “just relax the fuck down”. It’s with the same tone of voice I use with the dogs at home when they’re getting riled up. I put the iphone down.

Glancing over at Erin, I noticed he had raised his hand where he lay.

A facilitator came over to him, helped him sit up, and held his arm as they ambled over to the outside shower. They turned on the shower and Erin stood there letting cool water spray on him.

They walked back to Erin’s home base. He laid back down and put his blindfold back on.

A gentle rain started.

I had offered Erin my little fan on multiple occasions and he always turned it down. I don’t know why. He doesn’t tolerate heat as well as I do. The opposite is true about cold. The psilocybin seemed to amplify Erin’s susceptibility to heat.

When the facilitator walked away, I put my notebook and phone on the ground, got up from the hammock and snuck over to Erin, careful to not make a sound – Erin has super-hearing, and can detect a rat fart from across a street.

I positioned the fan on the top of Erin’s backpack, directing the airflow toward his head. He didn’t react. I crept back to the hammock and got back in my cocoon, retrieving the phone and notebook again.

I wrote, thinking about the unique ability to render experience into words. No other animal can do this. Can think in symbols. And most people throughout history had not been able to do this. What a privilege to be alive during this period of human evolution.

The act of writing seemed to add a reflective structure to my journey – my experience bounced off the mirror of my notebook and back to myself over and over, like two mirrors facing each other and reflecting each other into infinity.

I closed my eyes again. The music shifted to another song. I didn’t bother to note or write it down. Still feeling relaxation. Pleasure. Giving myself over to a calm sense of well-being.

I heard a rain pick up strength. Hitting the thatched palm leaves of the hut’s roof. And with a different sound as drops hit the concrete beside the hammock. Then the wind blew – not the ebb and flow of breezes, but sustained airflow. It increased in intensity and I started to hear leaves blow around me. Heard the pages of my notebook flutter. I felt the temperature drop, the wind bringing a front of cooler air. I opened my eyes and the day had darkened. Dark clouds filled the sky.

“Nice,” I thought to myself. And felt excited. I use a Bluetooth bone conducting headset, so it rests outside my ear canal without obstructing hearing. Classical music played with strings slowly building in dynamic to a soaring pitch that matched the gathering intensity of the rainstorm.

I got out of the hammock, slipped the phone into the pocket of my shorts, and stepped under the hammock and out from under the hut. I looked up to greet the rain, notebook still in my hand.

The raindrops grew heavier, creating big splotches on the notebook. I turned around and tossed the notebook under the hut, beyond the hammock, the pen clipped to the cover of it. Turning back, I closed my eyes facing the wind. The wind drove the raindrops which pierced the skin of my hands, face, head with chill. I looked up and felt unsteady on my feet.

I turned around to get back into the hammock, but it fluttered in the strengthening gale, already twisted up. So instead, I sat down on the concrete, cross-legged, and inched back until my back rested against one of the hut’s poles.

I faced the wind and rain, feeling the warm wood of the pole against my back and up my spine to my head. It held me firmly in place. I closed my eyes and looked up, letting the rain pelt me. Feeling my t-shirt soak and cling to my body. Feeling water flow down my face.

I opened my eyes and saw a seagull, riding the wind and soaring over the crashing waves. Dark clouds above it. I closed my eyes and imagined switching places with the seagull, stretching my arms out and holding them like wings. I could feel air flowing past my arms, between my fingers.

Another childhood memory arose. I sat in the passenger seat of a car with my right arm sticking out the window. I played with the airflow, cupping my hand and feeling the aerodynamics as I tilted my cupped hand first up and then down, letting the wind push my arm aloft.

Then I switched back to being against the pole, it was the same feeling of childlike sensation only better…I could use both arms. I moved both arms around, soaring as a seagull again. Feeling the wind hold me up. Moving this way and that way, stretching my chest out, taking deep breaths. I felt exhilarated. Felt myself smiling. Laughing.

The wind blew hard now. Driving a powerful rainstorm. All hell had broken loose with this downpour. There was no thunder. I felt no fear. Just the energy of the storm, and me in the middle of it.

Then another memory, I’m a child again. At Summit Gardens, a zoo and botanical gardens in the former Canal Zone of Panama. It was the field trip of my first-grade class at St. Mary’s School. A bunch of us kids ran around an open field in the middle of a rainstorm as teachers and chaperones tried to corral us. But we weren’t having it. I was flush with the excitement of outright rebellion and running around in a driving rainstorm. Exhilarated. Laughing.

Then I was a seagull again, with back against the pole. Arms still outstretched and riding the currents. Eyes closed. Rain pelting my eyelids. Music (via my waterproof headphones) reached a crescendo of strings, the soundtrack to an epic movie when the hero discovers a grand vista, the panorama of a mythological land newly discovered.

I thought about how my previous two magic mushroom trips had prepared me for this experience.

The first trip: gentle, allowing deep sadness to well up and spill forth for two hours followed by deep peace and a sense of nature’s nurturing presence.

Then the second trip: a firehose of powerful electricity, like being flushed by lightning for two hours, making me nauseous but ultimately connecting me to my writing and then, as the vibrational energy ebbed, inspiring me to work on myself and my internal relating to Mom. My Yawning Hummingbird journey.

It occurred to me that, beyond my previous two mushroom trips, my entire life – everything I had experienced, everyone I had ever known, every smile, every tear, every sensation, every thought, every action, all of it – had led me to experience this singular moment of pure joy.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I considered that beyond my life — the entire universe, all of creation, the big bang, the coalescing out of primordial plasma, the evolution of life and complexity, had come into being for the sole purpose of providing me this one vibrantly alive moment that represented the reason the cosmos existed. I thought, “all of this is for me?” I felt humbled, blessed, with a crest of gratitude so intense I could barely stand it. I cried tears that streamed down my face mixed with rain.

The rain felt cold. I started shivering. I dropped my hands to the concrete floor. It felt warm. I pet the floor with both hands, like I would pet my big dogs at home. I rubbed the warm surface through the pooling water. My eyes still closed. The rain still driving. The storm continuing to strengthen. The wind roared, things blew around and fluttered all around me.

The shivering seemed to knock pieces of my shoulders off and these went flying. The music I listened to continue to soar started to reach a crescendo. More pieces shivered off. And then my body felt broken into pieces that dissipated into the rain. I didn’t exist as a dude called “Paul Minor” anymore…only pure sensation. Only bliss. Pure, aching, ecstatic bliss. A moment so pure, so good, so perfect. Pure beingness.

For who knows how long. A couple heartbeats? Twenty minutes?

I gradually became aware of thoughts again. Of the wind and rain beginning to ease. Of my back against the pole. Of breathing. Of drops hitting my face. I no longer shivered. I thought “I don’t want this bliss to end”. I heard my own voice reply, “Don’t worry. When your time on this earth is passed, you’ll return here.”

I thought about how my ego called “Paul Minor” was an illusion. My true nature was like that of mycelium permeating the ground of an entire forest, not the individual mushroom that happened to emerge to release spores. My separateness is not real.

I thought of how a drop of ocean spray carried in the wind has a finite existence, and during this existence it may think of itself as separate, bound within the surface tension of a drop of water. And other drops of ocean water appear to be separate as well. But, eventually – longer for some drops than for others – the drop rejoins the sea and loses its individuality, merging with the cosmic ocean existing beyond this time-bound plane, existing in the realm of the undifferentiated. The infinite. The eternal.

I felt gratitude. Gratitude for every experience I had ever had. For every drop I’ve ever met. For the MycoMeditations retreat in Jamaica. For the facilitators. For each of my fellow adventurers going on their own epic journeys – warriors, adventurers, explorers, scientists, seekers. I felt love.

I sat with that while the rain slowly eased off and then stopped altogether. I opened my eyes. The wind had almost stopped. I scooted away from the pole, still sitting cross-legged, to be fully under the sky. And sat in relaxation with a feeling of deep well-being.

Opening my eyes, I looked out to the horizon and, as if to signal the crossing of a threshold from the mystery back into ordinary reality, I saw a waterspout at the horizon.

I’ve never seen a waterspout or a tornado before. I wanted to share it with someone. I stood up and stretched, looked around and spotted a facilitator nearby. She sat meditating with eyes closed. I approached her and lightly touched her arm, beckoning her to follow me. She followed me back to the edge of the villa where I pointed out the waterspout.

Others joined to observe. My clothing thoroughly soaked, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my mobile phone to take pictures and video of the spindly waterspout.

And took pictures of the spot I had sat in and had my indescribably beautiful experience. I was to continue to take pictures of the hut the next day.

The pole reminded me of the story of Siddhārtha, who sat under a fig tree in India, centuries ago, and pierced the illusion during meditation. He became the Buddha – the Awakened One. And went on to become a spiritual teacher. The sacred Bodhi Tree is now a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. I felt that pole had become sacred to me.

Looking around, I spotted my notebook. It had blown into the center of the hut. The pages soaked around the edges. I sat down and wrote, keeping to the dryer center of each sheet.

In my reflections, I thought of other wisdom traditions, teachers and mystical experiences –the experience of a carpenter from Nazareth who fasted in the Judaean Desert for forty days and forty nights, the dancing of Sufi Whirling Dervishes, drum circles, indigenous shamans using portals such as ayahuasca, mescaline, peyote, starlight.

I thought of the “Overview Effect”, spontaneously experienced by astronauts who gaze upon the Earth from outside its atmosphere and report shifts in their perspective so powerful that, despite all their scientific training, they described the impact as transformative.

The direct mystical is not limited to “special” people. It is available as a human birthright. I thought about how sick our modern technological global culture is – just turn on the news to see it: the treatment of the environment, skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide around the globe. People, even the young, reporting increasing levels of loneliness and isolation.

Perhaps psilocybin isn’t for everybody. But it should be available to everyone. For decades, the study of these chemicals has been shut down and stigmatized. But now, respected research facilities around the world are racing to explore these special molecules. So much is not known. But we are emerging from the psychedelic dark ages and into a new renaissance. Many predict psychopharmacology and the understanding of consciousness will be transformed within the next five years.

How poetically just that our modern society stands to learn so much from indigenous cultures and the powerful medicines they use. Perhaps it’s possible for a brand-new world to emerge from incorporating these entheogenic compounds into the human experience worldwide.

My takeaways include a plan to engage with a meditation practice, and perhaps drumming. To keep journaling. And to attempt to strengthen my connection to this experience, which already feels like it could leave me – like a dream that seems so vivid when I first wake up yet by the time I go to breakfast with Erin I can barely remember enough to make it worthwhile to share.

I feel hopeful. I feel grateful. I feel like I got what I came for when I went to Jamaica. And I got something so much more. I’m excited to see how my experience, and the experiences of Erin and my fellow MycoNauts, unfolds in the weeks, months, years to come.

Erin did not have as rich an experience as I did, at least not that he knows of yet. I’m hopeful for Erin’s healing and relief from crippling depression and anxiety. I trust my ability to be with whatever comes out of this for him. I feel a strengthened ability to support him and that I’m part of a new and growing community that can be a resource.

Please reach out to me via private message for more information if any of this psychedelic stuff calls to you. I spent all summer studying this topic before going to Jamaica and am happy to share what I’ve found to give you a starting point or to aid in your own hero’s journey.

Much love to you all!

Two week follow up report, October 13

It’s been two weeks since we got back from the psilocybin retreat in Jamaica.

Erin reports he’s still processing — making connections and drawing meaning out of the similarities between his three doses. He says the jury is still out regarding lasting effects.

The thing about this medicine is that it’s an active partnership between the mushroom and the voyager. I believe much of what someone gets out of their psychedelic experience (as in life) depends on the meaning created by the person and how this meaning is integrated into their life.

In the previous twelve months Erin’s rarely joined me to walk the dogs. The black pit of depression can make simple things, like getting out of bed, take heroic effort. However, yesterday we walked the dogs together. Early. And it was Erin’s suggestion. That’s an objective sign of improvement!

For myself, I’m still riding a wave of gratitude, contentment, and creative energy. I journal every day. Not because I “should” (what I used to tell myself). But because I’m having fun with it. I have a notebook that I use for everything now – as opposed to having different tools for work-related items versus home, etc.

  1. Creativity. I capture ideas, to-do lists, pieces of writing, possibilities for creating, doing, being. I burst with the energy of ideas ranging from future adventure possibilities, ideas for connecting and renewing relationships, to a re-framed way of looking at Mom’s “age in place” care in Panama as the slow build of an assisted living facility that could someday expand to serve others in addition to Mom.
  2. Connection. I’ve noticed I’m more open with other people. The wait staff at Austin Java (where we go to breakfast) hang out with us now to hear about Jamaica and share stories from their own lives. I’ve shared with co-workers, and clients – personal sharing I would normally withhold. These people, in turn, have opened up to me. These two weeks I’ve felt more richly connected to others than I did before Jamaica.
  3. Spring Cleaning. It’s seems easier for me to throw things away. I got rid of a bunch of clothes and two boxes of work-related papers I had been holding onto for years. Where previously it had been a struggle, I now feel freedom around moving items out of my life that no longer serve me to make room for the new.
  4. Fingernail Chewing Habit. I’ve chewed my fingernails since I was a kid. An unconscious habit done while deep in thought, reading, or watching TV. The habit has never been a big nuisance worth trying to change. Plus it seemed too ingrained. But since Jamaica, I haven’t chewed my fingernails once. I’ve had to use clippers on my fingernails for the first times. Ever. Whatever the brain defragging and neuroplastic reset the psilocybin helped unleash in my nervous system, I can now point to a concrete and objectively verifiable generative change that resulted: the complete disappearance of a life-long nail-chewing habit. With no effort. It’s like other shifts in belief and perspective created new neuro-pathways that rendered the older nail-chewing patterns irrelevant. Amazing.

I’m looking forward to what continues to unfold. To creating new experiences and adventures not even conceived yet. To allowing more connection and less holding back. To staying grateful. Present.

And to practicing the “being” part of human being.

4 thoughts on “Dispatches from Mushroom Space: My Psilocybin Retreat”

  1. Beautiful, Paul! It brought tears to my eyes to remember the beautiful ritual of you rubbing the stone over your body and releasing it into the ocean. Lolo and I were privileged to bear witness! Please keep writing. I look forward to seeing your memoir about the Camino someday!!

    1. Thank you Denise! I’m so glad we go to connect in Jamaica and that you and Lolo were a part of that special moment for me. I’ll keep you posted on the Camino memoir! And plan to stay in touch with you! 🙂

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