Don’t Get Caught in a Trip Trap; Psychedelic Lessons for this Collective Moment
“Remember that year we had to stay at home?” I said to Beth, my partner. It was a joke that belonged to March, back when she and I thought we knew what was coming.
I didn’t expect a civil-rights uprising larger than The Holy Week Uprising that happened in 1968 after Martin Luther King was assassinated. When Angela Davis says “this moment holds possibilities for change we have never before experienced,” such a statement bears pause, if only to appreciate the sheer profundity of it.
A pause, however, is not going to happen.
May I suggest we toss the overused word “pivot” into the trash, in case we get tempted to use it now. Pivot is silicon-valley zeitgeist code for what a company does when failing. In basketball, a pivot is the act of keeping one foot on the ground to maintain balance while rotating. This moment is not a pivot. There is no foot on the ground because there is no ground. What this moment is, I don’t know. Nobody else seems to know, either. I mean, is school even a thing now?
A few Sundays ago, I ingested roughly 30 grams of psilocybin mushrooms in honor of Kilindi Iyi and walked through a desert landscape that looked like Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, but with neon dragonflies and all my friends were there. What I was able to glean from the interdimensional topography was this – We are experiencing the collapse of multiple systems simultaneously.
I wrote in my book before the pandemic even started – Our moment is defined by a collective state of consciousness so infused with surreality and cognitive dissonance, it can only be called psychedelic, and not in a good way. Not knowing what the fuck is going on is the shared purgatory we are all living in.
We are like that person who has taken a psychedelic for the first time and says, “How long have I been tripping? Feels like days!” before being informed it has only been an hour. This is where we are as a collective right now. Let that sink in.
There are many other superficial things that make this moment like an acid trip. We prepared and stocked up on food. There’s crap in the freezer that no one wants to eat. Should we go to the store? Should we not go to the store? Masking up, remembering the hand sanitizer, are stoner problems like finding your wallet and keys. When in doubt don’t go to the store.
Like, what is “outside?”
I thought it wouldn’t matter what clothes I wore in a pandemic. People aren’t going to see me anyway. Turns out it matters a lot. When I prepare to journey on mushrooms, I try to wear a nice outfit. Same in this so-called lockdown, I’ve never looked so sharp. It’s tone deaf to the moment to take too many selfies, so an ethos has been born of – if a tree falls in the forest and it looks especially fabulous, be grateful your cat was there to see it?
Everybody seems to be experiencing elaborate downloads. One of the only things I came up with on my high dose mushroom trip was that the things teenagers say when they are stoned are very important right now. Because teenagers are important! Have been this whole time! When they smoke weed they say, “Whoa!” pause, and observe. They don’t lay a trip on what they are observing, they simply take it in.
From where I’m sitting and looking at the world through my screen, I’m seeing friends waking to radical politics and healing powers, grieving losses, creating and reshaping business, falling down rabbit holes of disinformation, gardening, breaking up, dancing on video, living like a nuns in the woods, working too hard, not working at all, falling into shame spirals, crawling out of them, telling other people how to act, shame spiraling again then blaming it on the internet, all the while managing to dream, in a concrete way, new sustainable structures that will replace the current death machine.
I’m seeing each person find the action and non-action that lets them sleep at night, all amidst the cacophony of the ancestors rising up from their graves. See, that’s going on too. Maybe the ancestors are here because of the inordinate amount of spirits crossing over. Maybe they are here for the revolution. I’ve felt the same ancestral crowding when sitting with ayahuasca. Like in ceremony, we are falling in love with one another telepathically and when this ordeal is over we will live different lives. We don’t even have to worry about keeping this commitment. Our lives will be changed whether we want them to be or not.
Psychedelics shift the grounding points of reality – just enough. It doesn’t take much. The pandemic has cracked reality thoroughly. Sheltering in place is more than most Americans can take, but all of us got a taste of it and it’s not going away anytime soon. Spiritual seekers subject themselves to ordeals of isolation because the world of matter loses its solidity in such conditions. Currently, the only grounding point in my reality is that there’s always a mysteriously large number of dishes in my sink. Everything else feels weird, like molecularly weird. Songs hit differently. They land on me and I find myself crying, holding my heart, or fiercely dancing on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere with earphones on.
Here is where having a decade of consistent practice with psychedelics comes in handy. This collective moment is a lot of things but one word that sums up the down side is that it is grandiose. Psychedelics too deliver grandiosity as part of the package. Awe is overrated, especially when it’s the bad kind, like when you can feel a wave of something dark like an approaching dust storm enveloping all of the land and you think this might be the end of things. Like now.
It’s natural to try to make sense of what’s happening. When tripping we think we’re geniuses because well, we’re tripping. In the Covid-19/Uprising whiplash we think we’re geniuses because we can “research” things on our phone. Not knowing what is happening, at all, is extremely uncomfortable for even advanced humans. Whether it’s that Covid-19 is or isn’t going to proceed in whatever way, or Nazi networks working out of Russia are infiltrating the protests, or the cops hand was or wasn’t in his pocket, to children are being rescued from tunnels under the cities, we’re all scrambling to make sense of way too much information coming at us, much of which is false.
On my first LSD trip, I was convinced a man who I see a lot at the local bar was C.I.A. I convinced my girlfriend, too. We thought Frank was C.I.A. for like six months until someone came around who was a legit Russian spy. Because psychedelics are grandiose, we don’t have epiphanies that tell us we need to change the air filter, we have downloads about Secret Ops, the gnostic Christ, we over-identify with Mary Magdalene and dolphins. If there’s anything dangerous about psychedelics, it’s this. Like tripping, the state of unreality we are being subjected to now is so threatening to the ego, we defend against it by grasping on to a narrative. If there’s no reliable one to hold on to, and there isn’t, we borrow another person’s or we make things up. Everybody’s doing this right now because we feel so helpless, but when we type and talk and spew without thinking, we poison the information commons. It’s what creates the noise we are having to wade through to get to anything of value. In an ayahuasca ceremony, it’s the MAO inhibitors in the medicine that connect everyone telepathically to one another. It’s considered good manners to not force everyone to be inside your head with you. Maintain, dude, the stoned teenager says. Remember there are inside thoughts and outside thoughts, says your Mom.
A psychedelic trip can occasionally become an inescapable world of suffering, a situation Beth calls a trip trap. The more I try to escape a thought loop the worse it gets because I’m focusing on it too much. Eventually something comes in, a thought, an energy, that makes me feel instantly better. You can bet I’ll hang onto that thing as long as I can. Maybe get a PhD. in that thing. Many a mediocre insight has killed a psychedelic’s cruise upon my psyche. It takes time and skill to learn how to go with the flow of a journey, to not crystalize every thought form and approach what’s going on with curiosity, looking at it from all sides, objectively.
“It’s not personal,” I said on my mushroom trip, to a concrete block with a dead mouse inside of it. To the craggy fingers of a juniper tree, I said, “Taking things personally is a real problem us humans have.”
“Friends don’t let friends get sucked in by Q-anon!” I blurted to the antennae on my car.
Fredrick Brennan, creator of the 4Chan website, had a vision of how to build 8chan while tripping on mushrooms his hot stripper girlfriend gave him. Dr. Bruce Damer received information in ayahuasca journeys that led to his creating a new model of the origin of life on earth, as well as the design of spacecraft architectures. Diana Slattery downloaded a legit alien language during a period of over 400 psychedelic trips. For better or for worse, psychedelics have been present whenever incredible advances have occurred upon the landscape of both culture and invention. I have no doubt future worlds are assembling themselves right now in psychedelic mind-space. On my high dose trip, I saw the fractal geometric architecture of language itself. I figured out how to locate theft and disentangle hijackings from words, but if you were to ask me to articulately explain it, I wouldn’t be able to. I would have to consult a linguist.
For every sublime work of art created on mushrooms, there are a thousand badly drawn amanita’s hoping to spread world peace through the whimsical. It’s essential that we be honest about our individual skill levels; understanding the difference between serious inquiry and entertainment, ceremony vs. Sephora sage, real innovation vs. high quackery. The psychedelic moment is a precarious one for the willfully ignorant.
I don’t see a lot as exceedingly complex. Many things are fairly simple, but the trouble is that simple isn’t easy. – Ayishat Aknabi
People know one little thing and they think they know the whole system, the mushrooms said. They were speaking in the voice of Kilindi Iyi, because how could they not. Kilindi Iyi, Detroit psilocybin psychonaut, master martial artist, teacher of Kai Wingo, king of the high dose protocol, who shockingly passed away last April. I hadn’t planned on eating so many mushrooms but watching the protests on the live feeds for five days straight left me feeling bewildered as to how I could steer my journey in a good direction. The 25-30 grams blasted out the system and showed me the range I was operating within.
Once you recognize how much you don’t know, they said, and the limitations of your reach, you can start to investigate the parameters of your ecosystem. Survival, change, and divine creation don’t happen alone but in collaboration with everything, the ecology, human and not human, birds, bugs, books, spaceships, all of it.
In this collective moment, in the darkness of night, we wonder what we could have done to the fragile ecosystem of the earth that would incite it to send a virus from a bat or a pangolin to come destroy worlds. We wonder how our participation in structures of white supremacy have caused things to come to this. Like, personally, what have I done?
Ann Shulgin, co-author with her husband Sasha of the psychopharmacological memoir PIHKAL, A CHEMICAL LOVE STORY, when talking about what it means to live a psychedelic life, makes a point to center the importance of doing what she calls “shadow work,” in the Jungian sense of the word. Meet the inner monster so it doesn’t take on a life of its own and rule our lives, projecting evil onto others. We are all doing shadow work now on some level whether we want to be or not. Ann warns that the work is hard, even dangerous, and suggests doing it with a trained therapist.
“I would really suggest you don’t try to do it with psychedelics, it’s not necessary,” she says at a 2013 Psychedelic Science conference. Indeed, intentionally meeting the monster right now is probably overkill.
When Cornell West goes on a major news network in the middle of a pandemic/uprising and says, “It’s time to get funky!” it’s a signal from the mothership. It’s a call to action. This is not a time to be “sanitized,” or “disinfected,” he says. He’s talking about the power of the human heart here, you see, which is all kinds of messy. That is what we must bring to this moment, to the psychedelic. Normalcy has been upended enough for the medicine and the prayers and the strategies to begin working. The system is disrupted because we have to go inside its body and move some things around – with our human hearts. This is the moment we are in.
The night of my trip, the front lines of the protests were getting scary in real time with people getting tear gassed and shot by rubber bullets. Seasoned activists were having to educate others on basic protocol. Find your leaders and empower them. Don’t trust strangers unless they know someone you know. Nurture the lineages and histories of your people and those you care about.
On around 30g, I felt the frontlines of the protests as a microcosm of everything going on, the psychedelic movement in particular. The number of people holding down a movement, a tradition or a beautiful idea, is a finite yet changing equation. We walk with an ethos of protecting the Earth but forget that our own small communities and relationships are very much in need of protection. The psychedelic exposes fragility. It’s okay just to care for one’s own, sometimes. I felt incredible love for every teacher I have had the honor of meeting in the world of psychedelics, Kathleen Harrison, Kai Wingo, Annie Oak, Mike Jay, among many. Saying people’s names is important.
Once we finally are able to gather in large numbers again, we will see how things are different now. Systems have already been rearranging themselves towards greater equity because we saw it all in unison. We must stay awake to this and not act as if it hasn’t changed. If Fredrick Brennan can envision the structure of 8chan while tripping on mushrooms, we can download entirely new structures for our movements to come alive in civic, academic, and cultural spaces that include every single one of us in a right sized way. We are psychedelic so we will be onto any impostor shit, the un-dead, thieves, creeps and pretenders. The new will feel impossible because it is. We’ve seen this. I may not know what’s going on, but I recognize the math. It’s a song in the colors of it’s an incredible time to be alive.