How does it feel to die and be resurrected?
After reading the article I’m more convinced than ever that so-called near death experiences are a phenomenon brought about by DMT, believed to be produced in the pineal gland in humans and massively flooding the brain – and entire system – during the process we so poorly call “death” (when by all accounts it seems to be a process like everything else we encounter during our lifetimes). The features of both experiences just seem way too similar in my understanding.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand the brutality of it: Life. I don’t – no longer – think, I’ll ever be – or can be, actually – comfortable nor living with a sense of innocence. Not even get half-fixed, to be brutally (!) honest. Ayee! My luck.
November 2010. I had awoken like any other morning — late, swearing, and still stoned from the night before. But on this particular morning, I found myself pinned to my bed by a throbbing pain…
Over the past five years, I’ve read, listened to and watched a large number of personal accounts from individuals who have embarked on their journey with “Mother Ayahuasca” as indigenous people call the medicine. I think I can say firmly that this one here might be the most poignant as well as compelling one. Although I can’t imagine where Mee-ok took the courage to self-administer the brew in a solitary setting, the fact that she did tells me something about the degree of despair she must have felt (in particular when learning her story of illness and tragic past).
I have wondered countless times, whether partaking in a ceremony might help me heal, but so far, haven’t taken the plunge. However, as I have no access to conventional trauma therapy in an outpatient setting and don’t believe in most conventional modalities any longer, it’s been long dawning on me that sooner or later I may have to overcome my fears or concerns regarding psychedelics and somehow scout out a way of getting access to them as well as identifying and establishing a safe setting. I’d prefer a clinical environment if at all possible and have exhausted any options of participating in MDMA-assisted therapy through MAPS.org. (Although their phase III round of clinical trials has expanded to multiple sites in the U.S., access to treatment is currently limited to U.S. residents and from the area that the particular trial takes place in. So no luck for me, so far. I’m hearing that compassionate use modalities might start somewhere in 2019. I have no idea how to pay for the trip and how to support myself while being there, so I have to hope that compassionate use might come to a country near me). But having to wait until some time in 2019 or beyond sounds too daunting as I’ve been holding out for so long and under very difficult circumstances.
Anyway… I put this story out here for you to hopefully be inspired should you consider going down the path of psychedelics as a tool to foster healing for yourself. I wouldn’t recommend an approach as Mee-ok took, but the potential of this incredible plant medicine seems huge. (Make sure of a safe setting, though, if you can and find out about risks as well, so you can make an informed decision).
I had a very, very interesting conversation with someone tonight, who has had infrequent experiences with DMT (smoked). We got into talking over antinatalism, a philosophy that basically contends that procreating is per se an immoral act as it is less painful for the individual person – or sentient being, if you extend the idea to wildlife and all sentient beings – not to have been born altogether, an idea which I found a compelling one on first read/listen. Exactly! It’s been my feeling all along that life – or conscious, self reflecting awareness including its own annihilation upon death – is nowhere near a “gift”, but rather a cruel joke of the universe! That person I had this conversation with had posted a link to an article on antinatalism on their Facebook page a while back and I had commented on it, basically along the lines of what I’m saying here: Yes, they – the antinatalists – got it right! I would have been better off to not have gotten shackled with conscious awareness and all the “perks” that come with it, like knowing that you were given said awareness, but knowing at the same time – or at some point – that you’re going to have to concede it upon death. That’s cruel, isn’t it? It’s like giving your child that special treat they’ve been pining over and going “OK, you can have this for [insert amount of time], so make the most of it, bask in the pleasures it gives you as hard as you possibly can, because here’s the thing: I will take it away from you never to have it again in t minus [insert amount of time]!” I’m not even a parent, never have been and still know that this is bad parenting and plain old cruelty! You just don’t do that, right? To me, consciousness and conscious awareness are very similar: Hey, there, individual, I – actually we as in: Your Mom and Dad or your Moms and that doctor and their test tube or your Dads, that Doctor and their test tube or maybe even just your Mom/Dad and the Doc and that test tube – gave you life, which means that all things going “well” you’ll have conscious awareness somewhere down the line, you’re going to hang on to it for another while – provided you don’t suffer cerebral trauma at some point – and then… boom! The lights go out for all eternity! You call that a gift?! Not in my book, folks! So, when I learned the term antinatalism through this new friend’s Facebook posting, I now had a word for something I’ve been feeling all along: Consciousness, sentience, having been born is not a gift. It’s a cruel, cold, heartless joke of the Universe! Or as another friend once put it: Consciousness is a virus. And “god” is an asshole. Can’t object to either of those statements.
We then went on to discuss NDEs, as I had admitted to my new friend that there was a time, when I obsessed over them after having gotten brutally reminded in 2009 of an experience I had at age four by way of getting retraumatized when reading up on NDEs and more particularly the criticism pertaining to them. I seem to have dissociated from that experience for all my life until it was forcefully recovered from the recesses of my memory that night in 2009. As I instantaneously remembered all the details of the experience by getting prompted through said reading up that night and all the visceral distressing sensations flooding my system I collapsed and had to be hospitalized. In the days and weeks that followed I deemed this experience so early into my life to be a distressing, “meaningless void“-type of NDE as recounted by amongst others e.g. Nancy Evans Bush.
But something never gelled with this explanation I gave myself. There was always a hunch that it might have been the drugs administered prior to surgery that brought about an experience, which is also known as “ego death” or “ego dissolution” in some psychedelic experiences or under the influence of ketamine, also known as the “K-hole“. (Terence McKenna, a popular “psychonaut” of the LSD-/drugs-/Hippies-hype-era talks about ego death here). Well, I can’t thank my new buddy enough for enlightening me on the fact that “dissociative” drugs like ketamine – and the one I was administered prior to that surgery at age four – are profoundly different in their “trip” quality from psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, LSD or DMT. I try to put the difference in a nutshell (and as a side effect briefly recount the experience I had at age four):
My new friend said – from experience as well as from reading up on the subject matter – that dissociative drugs are mainly about that: Dissolving the “ego” and in the process leaving the subject with an experience that feels like there never was, is or ever will be anything anywhere near that which most of us deem to be “objective reality”. In other words: Dissociative drugs do exactly what their name implies: They dissolve any preconceived or learned idea about yourself and the relationship to your previous or present social context. Think of this experience like some”thing” telling you: “You don’t exist. Nothing ever existed. Nothing ever will exist. Because all there is, is – nothing!” And yet a strain of consciousness remains that enables you to put you through this rather hellish experience. The root cause of suffering here – to me – is this: Utter deceit! Everything you ever held to be true, you now realize: It was all a big lie! You can’t remember how you upheld the lie or when the lie came into being. But you’re left with the very distressing realization that none of it was ever true, nor will it ever become truth! I can’t think of a more painful experience to be honest. (and some of the mystics of ancient times report to have been through similar states of consciousness through fasting, meditation, physical discomfort to the max a.s.o. a.s.f.)
Mind you: In our “baseline” waking consciousness we fiercely hold on to that “ego” with all we got! Right? Think of the last big fight you had with your significant other/spouse/family member, when the heat was cranked up to the max with yelling, throwing of items and verbal abuse of some kind! Why? Because you were “defending” your idea of who you are at the core and that in the aftermath of the other person saying or doing something that threatened that very idea of self. No? Yes. I thought so. So, for all practical purposes and saying this in front of the backdrop of having gotten socialized in the “Westerners’ ways”: Ego death is possibly the worst thing that can happen to you! (Yes, it’s worse than death, because for all we know for sure and for now is that consciousness does not extend beyond a well functioning physical body; I know that I’m out on a limb here, but this would be a different debate altogether).
Ok, back to my new friend and our conversation: Based upon what I laid out above we quickly realized how similar some “hellish” NDEs were to a “K-hole” experience or the experience of ego death altogether. My kind new friend let me in on his wealth of experience under the influence of DMT, psilocybin and other psychedelic substances that the major difference between “dissociative drugs” and psychedelic ones is this: Dissociative ones end there. Your ego, your idea of self, your whole world gets wiped out. That’s it. End of story. Whereas psychedelic experience can sport an episode of ego death, but offer something else in addition to that: Blissful travels through unseen galaxies of colors, sights, sounds, possibly meeting alien or “supernatural” beings and all that often accompanied by a sense of “interconnectedness with the cosmos and all there is and was and will be”. I’m improvising here as I’ve never had a psychedelic experience in my life. (so far… ). In other words: The “K-hole” leaves you “feeling annihilated”, whereas psychedelics take you to “other dimensions”. (with or without a dissociative episode; I use citations marks here for my new friend and I agreed that these realms still only exist in our “intoxicated” brains as there is no testable evidence for said dimensions to exist anywhere else but in our brains).
Now…. having said all this, we also quickly established that the blissful types of NDEs resemble a psychedelic one almost to a T. (they got all those elements, like a feeling of leaving your body, hovering above a scene, observing it, your consciousness extending “out” and “blending” with another realm of consciousness, which some describe as “god” or “divine/angelic beings”, sometimes meeting relatives or Jesus or god him-/herself – and all or most of the former being accompanied by feelings of unspeakable bliss).
So… was it possible that NDEs are just that? Maybe your first, but pretty surely your last psychedelic trip before the curtain falls for good? We could only know if any of the really dead – those who did not survive their “brush with death” (NDE) – came back and told us about it. Yes, I’m aware that some people contend they had this happen to them – not in person, but through a “medium” or “channel”, yada, yada. I have to admit that I’m a sceptic and I very much appreciate being given the opportunity of testing incoming information through the lens of my own common sense, backdrop of experience and critical thinking. When employing the latter three – including my “NDE” at age four and particularly when adding it to the equation of personal consciousness – I can’t help but go: Hogwash! (NDEs, that is). But that, of course, is only my current, possibly temporary, very subjective assessment and judgement on the situation. The field of NDEs is a complex one and for reasons of fairness, find an introductory overview here on Wikipedia.
I know… it might be devastating to think that we really get annihilated upon death. For most this is an unbearable thought. I don’t think it has to be. For is infinite, eternal consciousness really such a “good spell” (gospel)? For real? Let this sink in, if so inclined. And sorry for going off into the deep end of things. (I get like that…)
Yup. Got this under my belt. As soon as … two weeks old.
Interesting self-assessment and extrapolation. Worth a read, I’d say. A note on booze: As for myself, I’ve come to see some quality in alcohol in regards to giving you (easier) access to some well-buried blind spots in your psyche. If you can get there in better ways, then I’d always recommend those over intoxicating yourself (along with the usual aftermath of a hangover). By and large, though, I think Ben Freeman makes compelling points concerning our (culturally approved) use of alcohol vs. other mind- or consciousness-altering substances.
In 2009, I was brutally made to remember an NDE-type experience I had at age four and in the context of a surgical procedure. After it was brought back to my memory I struggled in making sense of it and “integrating” it. I’m fairly certain that this experience contributed to my lifelong C-PTSD, but is not its root cause. Before I digress any further: I had always wondered about NDEs and if they were all they are allegedly said to be in the literature. I had my doubts. Now this paper pretty much reconciles my doubts with my own thoughts surrounding all reports on NDEs both ancient and more recent in so far as they might be an echo to traumatic experiences made before, during and after child birth, largely referring to Stanislav Grof’s idea of “birth perinatal matrices” in four stages.
I have to say that this makes more sense than anything else I’ve been reading on the subject in years – going on five years as of today. To me, it’s a conclusive and comprehensive “stab” at reconciling post-traumatic symptoms with near death experiences and revealing their similarities as to their genesis.
If nothing else, this paper offers at least an additional view on NDEs and non-conventional states of consciousness as they occur during psychedelic experiences. Worth a read, I think. And to me a potential answer to a lot of questions I’ve been harboring. See for yourself, if so inclined.
James Jesso: “How much is too much psilocybin? Is ‘five dried grams in silent darkness’ safe? I take the long road around to explore these questions by first exploring the concepts of how our relationship with our parents when we are children influence our sense of self (attachment theory, orienting voids, and compass points.) I am sorting out these ideas and…. ”
I have to admit that for the past 10 years or so, I have repeatedly contemplated upon trying mushrooms, particularly psilocybin myself. My reasoning was like this: I know for a fact now that I am strongly challenged in all regards “attachment” or to be quite blunt: I don’t. Attach. To people, that is. Whenever I did make a comittment, like e.g. a romantic relationship, they all ended in me being left by my former partners. After all these failures and particularly after having gotten divorced from the person I thought to be the love of my life, I had to sit myself down and face the fact that I am simply incapable of forming a sustainable, meaningful, emotionally sound and intimate relationship with another person. Hell, matter of fact, to this day I’m unable to have a healthy “relationship” or even just friendly attitude towards myself. Without going down the abyss of self-contempt, self-sabotage and self-destructive behaviours of all kinds, let’s just say that I can’t feel and perceive myself in a healthy way. That being said, I thought that a psychedelic experience and particularly that aspect of “self dissolution” and “blending into a larger realm”, which is often described as non-judgemental, all encompassing, all loving, might provide me with a visceral experience of total acceptance or even – love. I am pretty sure today that I missed out on the first and so I thought that by experiencing it once in all its glory, it might set off a process of more self acceptance, compassion with myself or even love of self and thus ultimately – put me on a healing trajectory. So far, so good.
But… I never actually took the plunge (of trying psilocybin or any mind/perception altering substance other than alcohol). After watching James’s podcast episode on the question, what amount of psilocybin might be safe and for whom at all, I know what held me back: It was a less conscious, but lingering concern for finding myself in an experience that – from all the personal accounts and reports I read or watched – might be just a tad bit too close to what I’ve experienced at age four (the meaningless void/hellish kind of NDE or altered state of consciousness much like that Nancy Evans Bush described in her book and later work). In other words, I was apprehensive of the whole thing to the point of avoiding it so far as I felt that the nature of a psychedelic experience might have me retraumatized beyond the point of ever getting to fix it ever again. In yet different words: Whatever “reason” and sense of confidence – built or retained – I might have saved, it could all be destroyed by one bad trip.
I guess, I have to say a mountain-sized thank you to Jesse for warning me and others in plain language about some of the risks involved in trying psychedelics. I guess, I’d be more trusting and less concerned, if I had access to an environment that might help me handle the experience and in particular – walk me through the integration phase post-tripping. I heard that for a while Dr. Gabor Maté offered Ayahuasca retreats particularly for survivors of (complex) PTSD. I had subscribed to a mailing list and heard back from them only once – and the price tag on the whole thing was just impossible for me to do at all seeing as I have become disabled, had to burn all my savings prior to being entitled for support from welfare and I’m now relegated to the sidelines of life. But who knows, maybe I’ll find other, safer ways of giving myself access to mushrooms – or maybe Jesse will talk about that in a future podcast.