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…)