December 21, 2020: The winter equinox; the longest night and shortest day of the year…
I am not the same person I was three years ago. Not by a long shot. Ever since psilocybin mushrooms jolted me out of severe depression, I have thrust myself into the ever expanding world of self awareness and improvement. Psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and endogenous DMT induced through breath work (hypothetical, which I will discuss in this blog), have catalyzed this journey. My story is long so I will break it up into sections. My intent with this blog is to share the very personal struggles, difficulties, and adversities that have deeply challenged my personal and professional life in the last few years, especially 2020 of course, and how I use powerful healing modalities to not only weather the storms of life but remain mentally, emotionally, and physically strong, resilient, and happy. I share this information because I hope to pique your curiosity about such healing modalities as this is without a doubt the future of mental health care. I will first take you back a few years to the day of my liberation: December 22, 2017.
For the first year and a half after eating psilocybin mushrooms on the winter equinox of 2017, life was absolutely incredible. The mushrooms had liberated me from a debilitating severe clinical depression that I had suffered with for almost a year after a few major life events rocked my world. In a matter of 24 hours, after walking on the beach all day with my brother under the influence of psilocybin, my depression was gone and has remained this way since. The universe and I were in love and on a fairy tale honeymoon together. I made a dramatic shift from wallowing in self pity and constantly ruminating about everything I had lost to spending the winter skiing in Lake Tahoe, working with ski patrol on the mountain, a lifetime dream of mine, and when the snow stopped falling, I headed to Oaxaca, Mexico to begin filming a documentary with a videographer I met in Playa del Carmen after my separation with my wife. I had captured her attention with the book I began writing about my journey and she was curious about these plant medicines. She offered to film the trip for free in return for accommodation and food. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I began experiencing incredible improvements in my physical, mental, and emotional health. You just couldn’t find me in a bad mood. It was such a sudden shift from my existence before that day. My micro dosing regimen along with a new lifestyle of conscious living, yoga, meditation, breath work, ice baths, skiing, surfing, running, spending time in nature, reading philosophy and writing turned my life into a fairy tale. I just couldn’t believe how amazing life was after suffering so immensely.
At this point, I still had some savings leftover from the divorce, but not much. My downward spiral after we separated consumed a lot of the little I had left. My nest egg was slowly dwindling and it was certain I would have to start making money somehow. The publishing of the book was still 3 -6 months away and I was sure it would take a while after that to start making any considerable amount of money from it. Even more so, money was not my goal; saving lives was. But I knew if there is any real hope of making an impact on the world and making a significant contribution to the current psychedelic renaissance taking place, I would need capital. I believed in the book. How could I not? A natural, non toxic, non addictive medicine that eradicates depression? Of course it’s going to sell. Everyone on earth needs to know this information.
As soon as I began thinking this way, I was already back in the ring with my ego who was telling me exactly what I wrote above. See, the ego is tricky, it’s elusive. You may think you have your ego under control and before you know it, you realize that was your ego talking. A lesson I have learned on this journey is that the ego is also a miracle of nature. We would not be around if it wasn’t for the formation of our ego; the built in program that will do whatever it takes, at all costs, to survive. This is it’s blessing and our curse. As my financial struggle continued, I noticed very quickly that the behaviors I had worked so hard to shed after my awakening mushroom journey; anger, frustration,manipulation, judgement, fear, insecurity, self loathing, and many more, began creeping back in. When I was in survival mode, my ego was running the show again. How could this be? I wrote a book about how to handle the ego and here I am, ego back on patrol? Again, the ego will survive at all costs.
The Ego/Trauma Connection:
I went back to the restaurant business to make some cash to survive, which began a resentment towards myself and my family as I could no longer concentrate on the book; it was just too much and I had to survive. My life became a visceral oscillation between merely surviving paycheck to paycheck, existing on the bottom rungs of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, or jumping to the top of the pyramid when I had a psychedelic journey or in the midst of my daily yoga/meditation/ breath work routine, seeking enlightenment. At the top, I feel incredible and in love with life, and luckily I am able to tap into this mental state every day with my practices and routines. However, the rest of the day I still had the nagging thoughts, “Where am I going to live? Will I be able to afford rent in ultra expensive southern California? Will my job be shut down?” This naturally strikes fear, making it very hard to focus on helping heal the world through a book. When I am reduced to simply surviving, the beast within steps in to ensure survival. While the beast is a real pain in the ass, dangerous, and always causes trouble, I must feel gratitude for having a part of me that has my back, no matter what. The secret to life is how to balance these two vastly opposed modes of existence.
As I navigated the tumultuous seas of 2020, sleeping on friends couches and staying with family members as I did not have a home after relocating back to San Diego after the divorce, I noticed very clearly that certain people triggered my danger response. Since my journey began, I have been very in touch with my body, my emotions, and bodily processes. The surge in adrenaline and cortisol, the activation of my sympathetic nervous system when certain people stepped in the room was unmistakable. It didn’t take long to make the connection. My oldest brothers’ presence was subconsciously activating my fight or flight response in order to survive the current encounter. This is how my body learned to live for the two years I was under his care as a result of my parents departure to Mexico when I was eleven years old. For the following two years, I suffered psychologically from the harsh, unloving way my brother treated me. I didn’t think it was trauma at the time and lied to myself my whole life about its implications. Until now. Knowing what I know now about mental health, this did not sit well with me as I am very aware of the implications that stress has on our immune system.
Addiction and Trauma expert Dr. Gabor Mate has said in many of his talks that childhood trauma and emotional loss is the root cause of most mental, emotional, and physical ailments as you cannot separate one from the other. In a talk he gave in Vancouver in 2015, he stated that people who endured childhood trauma have more than a 50% chance of developing cancer later in life as well as a host of autoimmune diseases including asthma and diabetes. How very interesting. I developed type 1 diabetes, which normally develops in childhood, when I turned 25. My oldest sister has suffered with asthma most of her life as well as sleep terrors almost nightly. My oldest brother has also been a chronic sleep walker his whole life. Many times he would startle my siblings and I as he was acting out an escape, sometimes breaking screen doors. My father used to punish him when he was young by locking him in his room for days, sometimes weeks on end. His recurring dreams are not a coincidence. The manifestations of trauma can be very gripping and debilitating.
In this stressful environment that I found myself in as a result of my financial situation, there was no mistaking that I was always in fight or flight mode around my family. I was in constant danger of my ego returning, reliving the emotions and trauma of the past all over again, especially since the language that was being used in the household was the same manipulative, narcissistic language of the past. Language that I worked hard to evolve within myself. Nothing had changed. This was simply not an option for me.
To my brothers’ credit, I do believe his intentions have always been good and he did shoulder the burden of caring for my other brother and I in our parents’ absence, a responsibility that he was not fit for. My parents had no choice but to leave us with him; my father was suffering with major health issues for which he had to go to Mexico and needed my mom with him. I don’t believe there was any malice in my brothers’ actions. He was traumatized much worse than I was when he was young; he was simply not aware of the cycle of abuse. My father was an amazing man, but he was a warrior. He was not easy on his first born son. Having grown up in the mountains of Sinaloa where life depended on being strong, discipline was first and foremost. My brothers’ narcissistic ways are a direct consequence of the trauma he endured. Our entire family dynamic is also victim to our difficult upbringing. The wide age gap between my oldest sibling and I, along with the cultural differences we each grew up with, as 4 of my siblings were born in Mexico and 2 of us in the United States, have created vastly different worldviews and values which clash often as we have all definitely inherited my fathers’ ego. Because of this, speaking for myself, I have never been able to be fully open about my opinions, values, and life in general. As my entire life and worldview has been heavily shaped by incredible psychedelic experiences, I have had to create an avatar for my family. We don’t speak much about personal issues, our emotions, or anything uncomfortable, especially the males, of course, and most definitely do not talk about sex or drugs. “Drugs” of any kind have always been heavily demonized in my family as a result of my fathers’ adamant abhorrence of them. I am forty three years old and I am the baby of the family, hence an older, very conservative family. Their views are not their fault. The heavy stigma and lies surrounding psychedelics that have been fed to society for the last fifty years weighs heavy on their assessment of such plant medicines. I only have one brother, who saved my life with magic mushrooms, that truly believes in the medicine.
This is quite a predicament since the book I was writing is about my liberation from depression using psilocybin mushrooms, which society still considers a drug. This is a very awkward conversation, so my family, except for the one brother, simply does not talk about such things. A behavior trait that I now see so clearly manifested in myself in my failed marriage and previous relationships.
So I found myself depending on my family for a place to stay, at least temporarily, while trying to complete my first book in an environment in which the topics of my book are simply not discussed. While grateful for having a roof over my head when I had no place of my own, I began to feel unsupported and suffocated, unable to talk about the thing which had saved my life, the thing I am most passionate about. My vision, my beautiful vision of writing a book about my journey in order to help others, began to fade. The less I talked about it, the less I focused on it. Very soon the vision was gone. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. Something had to change.
I decided to take my chances on the road and left for La Paz, Mexico where I could hopefully create a more supportive environment in which to write my book. Within days, my vision was back. I was instantly surrounded with positive, open minded travelers, some of whom are my very good friends to this day, who believed in my vision. It was a powerful example of the heavy influence our environment has on us. I continued working on the book and life was great once again. I volunteered at a local hostel in exchange for free accommodation and food. I felt free of the financial pressure I felt back in expensive California and free of the self limiting environment I had been in with my family. Things were going great, the book was coming along, and then Covid hit…
Not knowing what to expect and facing the closure of the hostel, I decided to go back to my sister’s apartment in Tijuana to wait out the situation and see what happens. As the world watched the pandemic unfold, here I was, back in the environment which brought out my worst demons with no escape this time as this was during the first strict lock-down of the pandemic and I had nowhere else to go. Within a month, my vision had faded again. I was fighting with my sister and my oldest brothers’ dominating presence in her life, the brother who had traumatized me when I was young, was bringing out my anger and ego, once again. I simply could not be my best self around them as I could not turn a blind eye to the dysfunction.
With luck on my side, I received the first stimulus check by the U.S. government. This was just enough to find a room to rent and pay for one month’s rent. It was now June, 2020 and restaurants were starting to reopen. I used this opportunity to find work which secured my finances for at least a few months out. I began working on the book, again, as my vision returned with every meditation, every subsequent psychedelic journey I took, as I cleaned out the clutter that had built up in my mind. I distanced myself from my family and found peacefulness in their absence. A feeling that was tearing me apart.
A month later, I finally finished and published the book. On top of that, coincidentally, the person who rented me the room has turned out to be a very good friend and a fellow cosmic traveler, a supporter of my vision; just the person I needed in my life at just the right time. Thank you universe. This book would have never been written if I didn’t abide by the most important lesson in life: You are the average of the five people you associate with the most.
It has now been a year since I have last spoken with most of my family. I wish so much they could see my vision, if for just a brief moment. I wish so much they could allow themselves to be excited for me and for the book. I wish so much that there was language that could translate to them what I feel. But this is the problem. How I feel is beyond language and cannot be properly described, and as a result cannot be analyzed, scrutinized, or criticized by way of language as we instinctively do. It takes the experience to understand, therefore, to them, there is simply no understanding of the importance of my path and my mission, though we could all benefit immensely, individually and as a family, if we harnessed the power of these plant medicines. If attending regular psychedelic assisted therapy sessions was as normal as taking Xanax for stress or poisoning ourselves with alcohol after work to blow off some steam. If our drug laws were sane.
I have been at a loss on how to deal with this situation. Though I am still very happy, healthy, and feel better than ever, it pains my heart to watch my family dissipate, to fail at getting through to them. But this is what I have been training for. Stoic philosophy is a very important part of my story and my book and if I wish to practice what I preach, then I have to look a distressing situation in the face and say, “you’re exactly what I’ve been training for.”
So I go to my toolbox. My daily tools consist of yoga, meditation, breath work, ice baths, surfing, reading philosophy, and practicing gratitude. This current family situation, however, is extremely heavy and extremely delicate, so I wanted to pull out the big guns.
Psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA have saved and enhanced my life beyond anything you can possibly imagine and continue to do so, and breath work has added a layer of endorphin activating activities to my toolbox. One reason I love this particular breath work that I practice, called the Wim Hof Method, is because it is hypothesized that it activates DMT in our brain. Because of this hypothesis and the incredible feeling I get when I do the breath work, I have become curious about DMT. N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a naturally occurring molecule found in many plants and animals and hypothesized to be found in humans as well. A particular toad species, the Bufo Alvarius, or Colorado River Toad, found in the Sonoran Desert of northern Mexico and southwestern United States, wears a protective poison on it’s skin that contains 5-MeO-DMT, a slightly different and stronger variant of DMT. When this poison is dried and smoked, the user can experience a powerful, but short acting psychedelic experience. It is said to be the most powerful psychedelic experience known to man. When the brew Ayahuasca, which contains a plant derived form of DMT, is consumed, the experience is much longer due to the Ayahuasca vine, which is a source of harmine, an alkaloid that inhibits the breakdown in the digestive system of DMT, thus staying in the body much longer. DMT, both ingested and smoked, has been used as an entheogen in South America by various cultures for ritual and spiritual purposes for thousands of years. Recent research suggests that even one dose of DMT can lead to a significant reduction in depression, stress, and anxiety for months and even years following the experience.
Mike Tyson has famously credited the toad for his decision to get in shape and return to boxing. “My life completely changed,” says Tyson. “I came across this, this medicine or drug, whatever you want to call it, and I’ve never been the same,” Tyson told Joe Rogan on the Joe Rogan Experience. “It’s like dying, you are humble, vulnerable and at the same time invincible”. In an interview with ESPN, Tyson said the experience has had great effects on his cognitive abilities. “I smoked it and everything went … boom! It killed my ego, my life changed completely.” He added that the effect of DMT is “inconceivable” and has no words to explain it.
“It lasts forever but it only took 15 minutes. As soon as I realized I was nothing, all my fancy stuff didn’t matter. When you think you know everything and then you realize you don’t know anything, then it is a big awakening. You can call it growth or divine intervention. I won’t say it is God but it was the death of my ego, I felt so naked and afraid because all I ever had was my ego and that made me a very special and famous person.”
Iron Mike Tyson claims the 5-MeO-DMT still has lasting effects on his ego. “It sounds like a movie script but it’s the real deal and now I wake up smiling and laughing and I wonder ‘what the fuck happened?” He also claims the experience has taken care of his materialistic habits.
My curiosity for DMT has grown exponentially over the course of my journey. Story after story like Mike Tyson’s have made the experience very enticing. Every time I felt the euphoria and visual hallucinations at the end of a breath work cycle, I wondered if that was indeed DMT? I had planned on trying Ayahuasca when I was in La Paz, Mexico, still working on the book, as DMT is not a controlled substance in Mexico, therefore Ayahuasca ceremonies are quite common. I was going to include a chapter about the experience in the book, perhaps the final chapter. But then the pandemic started and I returned to the U.S. and went ahead and finished the book without this experience.
After the challenges and trials of 2020 and my family issues tested my newfound resilience, I needed a reset. I had another opportunity to try DMT, but this time it was the toad, the poison of the Bufo Alvarius. I wasn’t sure if I could afford it and to be honest, I was kind of scared. I decided not to do it, but my new friend and astral traveler that the universe had connected me with wasn’t having that. She insisted that I go and even offered to pay for my experience. How could I turn this down? As with everything in life, this was no coincidence. This turned into possibly the most important day of my life.
The Bufo Alvarius Journey:
We crossed the San Ysidro border en route to the shaman’s house deep in the favelas of Tijuana, Mexico, an area tourists do not go nor would you really want to. As we weaved up and down, left and right, through the dry, brown canyon landscape littered with shacks, I felt anticipation and nervousness for what I was about to experience. We finally arrived at the gate, dogs sunbathing out front and a subtle clack of chickens coming from behind the gate. We were led through the house, by the outdoor hand built toilets, and into the ceremony room; a round tepee style concrete building decorated with cow horns hanging from the ceiling, spiritual symbols plastering the walls, blankets neatly folded in a circle around the room, and the infamous poster of Mexican curandera Maria Sabina smoking a joint, hanging in the center of the south facing wall. We sat cross legged around the room and awaited our instructions. After the group was offered rapé (pronounced hape), a smokeless tobacco product used as a nasal snuff in many cultures of Latin America, which they believe grounds the mind, body, and spirit, we were ready for the toad venom.
Our shaman advised us to surrender to the experience, to not resist any visions, and to simply observe it from above. He assured us that our bodies will be watched over and safe as we travel into the astral plane; they will be awaiting us when we return. We closed our eyes as he lit a small fire in the middle of the room, bringing warmth to the chilly morning and filling the air with the pleasant smell of burning wood. He threw some sage into the fire for added aroma and air detoxification. One by one, he lit the toad venom in the vaporizer as we inhaled deeply, holding the vapor in our lungs as long as we could. First, my friend to my right took a puff and laid down on the floor, breathing heavy, having what seemed like an intense experience. Next, my other friend did the same. Watching their reactions, I couldn’t help but be a little scared. The shaman approached me. It was time. I put my lips to the vaporizer and as he lit the venom, I inhaled deeply and held my breath. Ok, said the shaman, “acuestate, buen viaje”(“lay down, journey well”).
As soon as I exhaled, I felt the world vanish. I slowly laid down on the blanket, closed my eyes, and prepared for an intense ride. As I closed my eyes, I disconnected from my body and waves of intense euphoria enveloped me from head to toe. It hit me like a brick wall and in a moment of fear I took a big gulp of air and just told myself to breathe. I took a few deep breaths as the sensation seemed to grow exponentially. After the initial shock, I soon found myself in familiar territory. I realized the sensation I was feeling was not new to me at all. This is the feeling I get when I do a deep round of breath work, specifically the Wim Hof Method, a thousand times over. But it was familiar, confirming, for me at least, the hypothesis that DMT is activated endogenously in our body during this breath work. What form of DMT is produced, I don’t know, but I am quite certain that some form of it is activated during the breath work. I became extremely overjoyed that, in a sense, I was finally testing this hypothesis that had been on my mind for the last three years, even if only anecdotally.
A soothing, comforting feeling came over me as this natural feeling, this familiar friend intensified. I was removed further from my body as any relation to it dissolved, and my fear subsided. My breath became steady, controlled, and deep, just as I have done thousands of times during my morning routines. In the middle of the abyss, I noticed my mind trying to find something to attach itself to. In the midst of the most peaceful feeling I have ever experienced, my mind had to find something. At first it was simply wandering around trying to formulate some sort of reality. Then it became a visual moving target, almost a pinprick of light, moving about my awareness. My mind tried to latch onto it but it kept moving. Simultaneously and instinctively I thought to myself, “Follow the breath. Breath is life. I’m breathing, so I’m alive. Just flow with the breath.”
My attention would return to my breath, to my lungs. And again my mind would wander looking for the spotlight. Again I would naturally and reflexively return my awareness to the breath. This continued for probably several minutes before the intensity seemed to wear off a bit. I laid in complete peace and awe, breathing steadily, and feeling the absolute perfection of existence. I opened my eyes and looked up at the skulls hanging from the ceiling over my head. Everything appeared normal but I was still feeling the effects intensely. I sat up, excited to tell the shaman that I’ve experienced this before during breath work, but as soon as I sat up, he motioned for me to lay back down and enjoy the experience. Abidingly, I laid back down and gave out a sigh of contentment. I felt such gratitude for these plant medicines, for the people I have attracted in my life, for these powerful, ineffable, ethereal healing experiences that have enhanced my life so much. I started laughing at how perfect and beautiful life was. Before I knew it, my laugh turned into the laugh/cry that has become a staple of my breath work practice. People who have experienced this laugh/cry know exactly what I’m talking about.
There is a feeling during a heavy psychedelic experience that is the sum of all emotions. The culmination of joy, happiness, contentment, and simultaneously sorrow, grief, and pain. It is one of the most miraculous and healing feelings one can experience. The first time it happened to me, I was lost in beautiful visions as I was thinking about my father who had recently passed away. As I fell into deep meditation, I experienced an outpouring of love and gratitude. It was such a heavy, joyful feeling that I started laughing. My father was a very happy man. He was always smiling and laughing. The vision of him laughing made me laugh harder and it soon felt like he had taken over my body and just wouldn’t stop laughing. I laughed harder and harder and then felt pain and sorrow that had been trapped in my body as tears of laughter turned into tears of sorrow. I didn’t know if I was happy or sad because the physiological reaction is identical. We convulse uncontrollably, gasp for air, and shed tears. In this moment I realized my vantage point or opinion about whatever current thoughts were flowing through me causing this laugh/cry dictated which one it was; whether I was laughing or crying. I could switch back and forth and feel both emotions at will by switching thoughts, or I could view it all as funny and have a really hard laugh. The body reacts the same. I was bewildered by this feeling and afterwards felt such a calm peacefulness, as if I had opened up a valve and released massive amounts of stress. I began experiencing this laugh/cry almost daily during my breath work practice. It has become a predictable and important part of my routine. I can’t emphasize how powerful this has been and continues to be for me. I have wondered since if my father’s energy was present that day…
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests that stress does not only occur in our minds but builds up in every cell of our body over time. Dutch born professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, author, researcher, and educator Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk dives deep into the science of how the body retains the imprints of trauma in his powerful best selling book, The Body Keeps the Score. As we age, our minds attempt to bury traumatic events that are too painful to process. This leaves lingering, residual stress trapped in the body, in our muscle memory, with unresolved emotions and feelings. Dr. Kolk claims that these unresolved traumas, many times experienced in early childhood, have a tendency to leak into our personality later in life and manifest in abusive relationships, behaviors, and addictions. In a way, these dysfunctions are familiar territory, having embedded themselves in our psyche at a young age in order to survive, so it subconsciously becomes our default behavior. Both Dr. Joe Dispenza, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree with an emphasis in neuroscience, and Dr. Bruce Lipton, American developmental biologist most known for his groundbreaking stem cell research at Stanford Medical School which helped spark the study of epigenetics, have written best selling books, Becoming Superhuman and The Biology of Belief, respectively, discussing the psychological origins of many physical ailments. Both doctors believe that at least 95% of our behaviors, which make up our personality, are subconsciously written programs based on our life experience and that in order to break our patterns of behavior, we must tap into our subconscious mind and rewrite these programs. Excavating and reprocessing forgotten and repressed traumas is essential to clearing our mental slate for a new program to be written.
The physical release of trapped emotions from traumatic periods in my life by way of breath work as well as psychedelic journeys have been an absolute game changer. It is as though I have trained my body to trust this release of stress so much that in most situations I feel under complete control, free of stress and anxiety, because I know I have the key to the release valve. If the build up of stress becomes a problem, I simply open the valve and let off some steam. My body knows what to do. Laugh it out, process the energy, and be ready for the next day, the next challenge. I emphasize that it is not a conscious decision to start laughing. It happens during deep meditation and is born out of the muscles in my body, not my mind. My body bypasses my mind. The “laugh/cry” is a blessing. This is but one of many stress relief tools that I have incorporated into my daily routine to help me weather the storms of life. I have learned that by leveraging my physiology in the form of meditation, yoga, ice baths, hot saunas, and exercise, I can improve my psychology. When practiced enough, as in the case of Wim Hof, otherwise known as “The Iceman,” where he showed that he could consciously control his skin temperature while wearing a “cold suit” by using his mind alone, then one can begin to use their psychology to positively influence their physiology. This then becomes a self feeding loop of stress relief, mental peace, clarity, confidence, and physical health. When this becomes your new baseline, it is much easier to fall in love with life.
Back to the Bufo Journey:
As I laughed harder than I had in some time, my laugh turned into the cry. I started feeling utterly sad and helpless that, more than likely, no one else in my family besides my brother will ever experience what I was experiencing. That we would most likely never truly bond as a family as the divisions that were created in our youth have stood strong our entire lives. In addition to our divisions is now my ever growing challenge of what can be described as the “overview effect.” The overview effect is what many astronomers experience after “seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth [from] space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, ‘hanging in the void,’ shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this ‘pale blue dot’ becomes both obvious and imperative.” It is not an exaggeration to say that returning from a strong psychedelic experience leaves the user with that same feeling, viewing life from such a broader vantage point, that it becomes difficult to connect with the same conversations, the same viewpoints, the same outlook and values, as before the journey was taken. After such a profound experience, such life changing epiphanies, it is very hard to relate to the worries and behaviors of the past. I know many people personally who have had powerful, life changing psychedelic journeys who struggle with this.
I cried and let myself feel the sorrow of this inevitable situation. I wanted to heal my family but there was nothing I could do. As the tears flowed, I felt a lightness come over me. I felt a deep understanding and acceptance of all of these issues as it was revealed to me that it was not my job to save everybody. It was not my fault that these conditions exist. I felt a forgiveness of myself and my family for our lack of connection. I felt peace that even if we carry on with our lives and nothing changes, that ultimately, peace will inevitably come to each of us. I was grateful to find peace amidst the sorrow.
Just then, the experience intensified. As I laid with my eyes closed, I saw and felt my head split open like a flower blossoming in the spring. Out of my head poured out what I can only describe as the culmination of all my experiences, all my memories; my entire existence. This energy poured out of my head as water escapes a broken fire hydrant. As all of this information was being released, I noticed that I was regressing in age. I was stepping back in time in my mind, year by year. I felt emotions that I had felt in each of these years as reminders of what I had lived. It was a very powerful, rapid regression. Within seconds my brain, my mind, had peeled back the layers of time and plugged my awareness into my eleven year old brain, the year I suffered a lot of family trauma; the year my parents left my brother and I with our oldest brother for two years.
An intense feeling of reliving the emotions of that time swept over me like a tidal wave. A rush of pain and suffering engulfed me before being swept away in another wave of understanding and acceptance while yet another tidal wave of connection, bonding, and belonging filled every fiber of my being. Before I knew what was happening, that surge of emotions was swept away in yet another whirlpool of visions and another cathartic release of trapped emotions. This cycle continued for probably several minutes before the effects started weaning again, slowly gravitating me back to earth, back to my body, back to the ceremony. I was full of love, and a feeling of deep peace was vibrating in every cell in my body.
For a brief minute there, I was the kid who would stay at school long after class was out for fear of going home to an apartment devoid of love and connection. To an apartment in which the nightmare never stopped. Though his intention was to help me excel in school, it never occurred to my brother that forcing me to do advanced algebra at eleven years old at one in the morning while standing up because I kept falling asleep (he had taken my chair so I wouldn’t fall asleep) was going to have a traumatic effect on my developing psyche. It never occurred to him that punishing me for not completing his math and reading assignments, on top of the homework I was given at school, would embed a record of insecurity, fear, and resentment in my mind to be referenced when I dealt with adversity as an adult. It didn’t occur to him that a two year punishment of doing the dishes and chores, never being allowed to watch t.v., and eating dry pasta because I didn’t deserve sauce, was going to manifest into a fear based, scarcity mindset later in life. It didn’t occur to him that what a child needs at that age is love, not overbearing discipline. And it definitely didn’t occur to either of us that these two years would determine how we would relate to each other for the rest of our lives. But how could he know that? He was not a father, he was a brother. A brother who was beaten and disciplined in much worse ways than I in order for him to grow up strong in a world of survival. And none of us knew the scarring effect my parents’ absence from our lives for those two years would have on our developing brains, individually and collectively. For what it’s worth, I did become a straight A student in math and English into college; discipline does serve its purpose. But then I burnt out a year into college and left for the Alps to ski for a winter. As the universe would have it, this magical trip was the biggest inflection point of my life, introducing me to skiing, nature, psychedelics, and the magic of Europe and travel. It changed my entire life for the better.
In the midst of my 11 year old mind, I understood why he did what he did in that moment and forgave him. I realized and accepted that this time period was responsible for many of the dysfunctions I carry to this day in my personality but that it was nobody’s fault. I accepted the family traumas, past and present, that make up our current dynamic. I felt clarity for the path forward as I surrendered control of the situation, trusting that it would all make sense in the end. I felt the weight I had been carrying for the last year lift off my shoulders as the universe took control. I let out a big sigh of relief as I rolled over onto my right side in the fetal position, smiling and enjoying this rebirth. I finally felt peace again.
As I looked out the window on our drive back across the border, I reflected on the journey I had just taken. A journey that took about forty minutes and thrust me to the farthest reaches of the universe and into the deepest recesses of my mind, unleashing the trauma buried within, releasing trapped emotions, and reaching a feeling of acceptance that I have never quite felt to that depth. Thirty years of trauma resolved in minutes with nothing more than a puff of the poison of a desert toad. A year of resentment towards my family for their lack of support for my book, resolved and dissipated in seconds. A mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual reset that I could not have imagined. I suddenly realized very clearly the very important lesson I originally learned three years ago in the midst of my life saving mushroom journey: I was suffering because I wanted things to be different than they actually are, which is impossible in the present moment. I realized my ego had re-infiltrated my mind the moment I began worrying about finances and started writing a new story: “Your family should be helping you. They should believe in your mission.” “Should” is a very dangerous word the Ego loves to use. Should is just an opinion. Tricky and elusive ego you are. What the bufo did was calm this inner turmoil so I could realign myself with reality. In this realignment is where peace and acceptance is found. So I go to my playbook: Taking Back My Mind, the book I wrote as a guidebook on how to deal with adversity. I flip to the Stoic quotes in the back and read a few for guidance:
“Let us bring our will into harmony with whatever happens so that nothing happens against our will and nothing that we wish for fails to happen.” ~ Epictetus
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what is in Fortune’s control and abandoning what lies in yours.” ~ Seneca
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl
“We build our lives action by action.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” ~ Anaïs Nin
“Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands.” ~ Seneca
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
“You never fail until you stop trying.” ~ Albert Einstein
“If you set your goals ridiculously high and fail, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
~ James Cameron
I felt such gratitude, once again, for these powerful medicines nature provides us for personal improvement and growth. I was in awe of the simplicity of it all. The universe has a plan for my family and I am somehow a very inextricable part of it.
I share my story because I want there to be no mistake that my life, past and present, though full of incredible and joyful experiences, is not absent of dysfunction, pain, sorrow, adversity, and struggle. Despite these numerous, sometimes paralyzing, challenges however, I continue to thrive every day thanks to these powerful healing modalities. I want you to understand how these methods could apply to you as well and start to entertain the thought of exploring this vastly improved approach to mental health. We owe it to those who are suffering, to ourselves, and to our families.
It is very easy to fall into the victim mind frame when you grow up as I did, as it is mostly a subconscious process. The promise of psychedelics is the ability to disassemble our psyche. To peer into the origins of our behaviors so that we can begin to rewrite a new program based on love, empathy, understanding, unconditional acceptance, collaboration, and abundance, rather than fear, insecurity, self doubt, anger, resentment, hate, jealousy, scarcity, sorrow, and hopelessness. The power of psychedelics lies in the opportunity to erase old, self defeating patterns of thought and behaviors that lead to mental health issues and addictions, and revamp our outlook on life, our personality.
When you touch the void, you lose all sense of the self that you have been subconsciously creating your entire life since birth, the story that makes you who you are. A psychedelic experience is, in a sense, stepping outside of yourself and viewing your life from above. Just as a professional sports player views the game on the screen in order to improve his performance when it matters, we must harness this unique opportunity that psychedelics, yoga, meditation, breath work, and any number of spiritual/mental practices offer. The opportunity to see our performance in life from above so that we can improve any weaknesses or blind spots we may not see when we ARE our story, when we ARE our ego. I believe it is every human’s responsibility to visit these altered states of consciousness just as it is the responsibility of the player to watch the game with the team. Only in this way will any team, any individual improve and strengthen their game, otherwise we are playing blind. As Alan Watts, the late British philosopher, author, and psychedelic advocate has said, “The ego is nothing more than the focus of conscious attention. It is a biological troubleshooter scanning the horizon for any trouble making changes, just as a radar on a ship scans the ocean. Is there anything in the way? The radar does not see the entire ocean just as we do not see all of reality. So if you identify yourself as your trouble shooter, you will naturally be in a perpetual state of anxiety.”
Ego is our barrier from reality. Stepping outside of the mental construct of our Ego inherently means connecting with our true, higher self and with the universe on such a deep level that it often changes us on a fundamental level, many times shifting our worldview and ideologies completely. Priorities become more clear and obvious. Many devout atheists have become spiritual after just one psychedelic experience. Many times epiphanies such as, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” (Jiddu Krishnamurti) rattle us to the core when we see these truths. And many times these experiences spark purpose and creativity in a mind that was blind to these realities, manifesting in a push for change, be it through music, literature, art, politics, etc.
Experiencing oneness is experiencing perfection. I believe, as many leading trauma experts do, that the foundational reason we suffer in the mind is because of a loss of self, a loss of connection to source energy. This loss is what fuels addictions, as addictions are merely our minds way of trying to find a connection to something when we feel lonely. When we find a vice that supplies that feeling of connection, we attach to it. Recent research on addiction with rats in what is known as the “Rat Park Experiment” has shown definitively that addiction is not about the drug, it is about connection, or lack thereof.
In the “Rat Park” experiment conducted in the early 1970’s by Bruce Alexander, a professor of psychology in Vancouver, rats were given two water bottles, one laced with cocaine and one without, echoing experiments carried out in the 1920’s from which we had drawn most of our knowledge of addiction. This time, however, instead of an empty cage with two water bottles, the rats were provided a much larger cage with cheese, colorful balls, tunnels, and most importantly, a social environment with plenty of rats of both sexes. The results were the exact opposite. Whereas in the original experiments conducted in the Twenties, where most of the rats died from overdosing on the cocaine water, these rats were not interested in the cocaine water at all. They rarely drank from it and none of the rats drank it compulsively, and no rats overdosed. It was concluded that addiction isn’t about the drug, it’s about the cage.
When we experience this profound connection to source energy again, we reconnect with the universe, just as a raindrop turns into the ocean. This sensation of merging into the infinite is the main tenet of virtually every faith and spiritual practice on the planet, which I believe were created out of these ineffable, mystical experiences. There are many parallels between spiritual tenets and the psychedelic experience; transcendence of self, believing in something bigger than us, being the most common. You can learn more about the psychedelic origins of religions by reading up on Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape Theory.”
Once we experience the perfection of the universe in all it’s glory through all of our senses, the madness of life dissipates into an ebb and flow, dancing together as two parts of the same coin. When we return from this experiential vantage point, we can view our worries, stresses, and anxieties through a whole new lens, as a natural part of the dance of life. Every crest needs a trough and every back has a front. We come away with a visceral understanding of non-duality and oneness conceptually and as an objective truth. We learn and believe to our core the world’s biggest secret: Psst… Everything is connected. Connection, just what we were looking for…
To get to this place, to earn this fruit, one must surrender and dissolve everything one knows, everything familiar, everything that makes us human, because the essence of a human being is the illusion of separation. To understand oneness, which is to understand reality, the human ego must be torn apart. Everything you have been taught must be disassembled and tested.
Your life is a mirror image of your consciousness. As the late David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. said, “Everything you see happening is a consequence of that which you are.” If you’re life is shrouded with stress, anxiety, dysfunction, or dissatisfaction, then you must destroy the mindset that created it and build a new one. Out of this can manifest a new life in which these dysfunctions don’t exist. A rebirth in a more connected, peaceful, accepting mental state; a state that stays with us for weeks, months, sometimes years. One powerful Bufo experience can, has, and continues to save and change lives.
A preliminary research study published in Psychopharmacology in 2019 stated that “a single inhalation of the psychedelic drug 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) is associated with sustained improvements in satisfaction with life, mindfulness, and a reduction of psychopathological symptoms.”
Extensive research is now being conducted around the world, not only for the therapeutic effects of DMT, but many other psychedelics as well. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), founded by Rick Doblin in 1986, is currently conducting a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-site Phase 3 Study of the “efficacy and safety of manualized MDMA-assisted therapy for the treatment of severe post traumatic stress disorder.”
As published by MAPS on their website, “Phase 2 clinical trials have shown that MDMA can reduce fear and defensiveness, enhance communication and introspection, and increase empathy and compassion, enhancing the therapeutic process for people suffering from PTSD.”
“In a MAPS’ completed Phase 2 trials with 107 participants, 61% no longer qualified for PTSD after three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy two months following treatment. At the 12-month follow-up, 68% no longer had PTSD. All participants had chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD, and had suffered from PTSD for an average of 17.8 years.” In a mental health care industry that has been stagnant for decades unable to resolve the growing global mental health epidemic, these results are unprecedented. Especially considering that these molecules are non toxic, non addictive, and side effects are extremely rare. Rather than attempt to perpetually dampen our emotions with addictive drugs, fueling the profit driven pharmaceutical paradigm, these powerful modalities aim to resurface buried traumas that are causing dysfunction and reprocess them in a healthy way in order to move on in life; to resolve the problem at it’s core.
Similar results have been achieved using psilocybin and LSD, which was referred to as “acid” in the 1960’s, to assist talk therapy for the treatment of anxiety, end of life existential distress, treatment resistant depression, eating disorders, and numerous other mental health conditions. The science is irrefutable and the success stories, just like mine, continue piling up.
While psychedelics may not be for everyone, they are undeniably one of the most powerful tools we have to peer into our own mind. To paraphrase Czech Psychiatrist Stanislof Grof, “Psychedelics are to psychology what the telescope is for astronomy and the microscope is for medicine.” To not utilize one of the most powerful, effective, non toxic, non addictive therapeutic tools known to man to improve our individual and societal health, I believe, is a dereliction of duty as a human being, as we all suffer with some sort of trauma and dysfunction, which leaks out into those around us and into society.
When most people describe a DMT experience, especially the first time, they describe it as dying. This naturally sparks fear in our mind and rightfully so. The experience, in every sense of the word, is exactly like dying. It is in fact hypothesized that there is a surge of DMT in human beings at the moment of death. If this is so, then it would make sense that the experience is literally the experience of dying. Now, stop for a second to think about the implications of this research. Why would we want to experience dying ahead of actually dying? Let me tell you why.
Can you imagine losing the fear of death, as many end of life cancer patients who underwent psilocybin assisted therapy did in a study conducted by Johns Hopkins in 2016? The paper, titled, “Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial,” was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and showed that 80% of participants continued showing clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety 6 months after the study. These are people who were sometimes days, weeks, months away from certain death, and they lost their fear of dying. In one such case, the patient who underwent psilocybin therapy for a crushing existential distress he had suffered with ever since being diagnosed with cancer, was consoling the family who was standing around him crying. He was telling them everything was going to be just fine.
But what if we are not terminally ill? How could we benefit from staring death in the face and coming back to a young, healthy body, where we can literally feel reborn? Where we can ride the momentum of this experience to catalyze change, perhaps a new beginning? This study was done with psilocybin, but what about DMT? A molecule that, in my opinion, feels even more like dying. There is currently research being conducted on the efficacy of DMT to treat depression, addiction, and a variety of mental health issues and so far the results are very similar to those of psilocybin therapy. About 80% of participants report decreases in stress and anxiety, losing the fear of death, and overall increased life satisfaction.
In a study conducted at the University of Michigan in 2013 titled, “Mystical’ psychedelic compound found in normal brains of rats,” researchers confirmed a rise in levels of DMT in some rats experiencing cardiac arrest. Drawing on this research, it is hypothesized that humans also experience a surge in DMT at the moment of death. This could explain the white tunnel often seen in near death experiences. DMT has been coined “The Spirit Molecule,” after the popularity of Ph.D. Rick Straussman’s documentary of the same name. It would be no surprise that a molecule that allows us to peer into the spiritual world, to walk the tightrope between consciousness and unconsciousness, would have an important role in the dying process. If this is indeed true, as I believe it is, then this means that the last feeling we will ever have is the most profound, euphoric, albeit initially scary, peaceful feeling you can imagine. It feels, in a sense, like going to heaven and merging with the unity of all things. Time is irrelevant, there is no beginning or end, no destination, and the feeling is infinite, like a never ending dream. It is very likely that the idea of going to heaven was sparked by similar transcendent experiences by our early ancestors who then developed fables of these journeys once language was developed, once again touching on the “Stoned Ape Theory.”
When we experience what can rightfully be described as dying and it turns out to be an incredibly profound, peaceful experience, we subconsciously shed the learned fear of death that we grew up with. As Mike Tyson said after his bufo experience, “Dying is beautiful.”
Death in Western culture is approached and treated in an extremely unhealthy manner. As opposed to many ancient Eastern cultures who embrace death, who see it as a part of life, as part of the great cycle of existence, we in the West approach it with fear and sorrow. We project our innate, dualistic perception of reality upon death and define it as the opposite of life instead of a healthy part of life. This is one of the reasons it is so powerful to experience non-duality and perhaps the reason many people lose the fear of death after a strong psychedelic experience; they have redefined death as an intrinsic, necessary, and healthy part of life. In other words, death IS life. Instead of facing the inevitability of our mortality to maximize our precious time on this planet, instead of making death a normal topic of discussion knowing full well that it can and will show up at any moment, we in the West tend to shove death into the back burner, the back of our minds, speaking and thinking very little about it until absolutely necessary. And then it hits us like a brick wall because we have subconsciously convinced ourselves that our loved ones will be around forever. We are never prepared for death. We preserve bodies with toxic chemicals that are harmful to the environment in order to feed our need for permanence.
By normalizing death through transcendent experiences such as during these non-dualistic psychedelic journeys, deep meditation, yoga, breath work, or any number of spiritual practices, and even further literally experiencing the sensation of dying, the fear associated with it dissolves, at least for me. The body knows what to take away from the experience and this manifests in a feeling of deep peace within. A feeling that I still carry over two months after my first DMT experience.
In addition to this feeling, the weeks following my journey, I felt extremely connected to and aware of my breath, feeding my brain with oxygen, making me even more relaxed and peaceful, feeling incredible. I believe this is a result of being so in tune with my breath during the journey and deliberately breathing through the experience in order to maintain a semblance of reality. Perhaps when my mind was floating through nothingness, through infinity, through the abyss, searching for something to attach to and only found my breath, repeatedly returning to it like a boomerang after each attempt to fly out into the cosmos to formulate some sort of reality, new neurological connections were made in my brain, fusing my awareness to my breath. Researchers from the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain have found that DMT promotes neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons.
“This capacity to modulate brain plasticity suggests that it has great therapeutic potential for a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders, including neurodegenerative diseases,” says Jose Angel Morales, one of the study’s authors.
This ability to be mindful of the breath, the gateway to the soul, is what yogi’s have been trying to achieve since the birth of humanity. The fact that one inhalation of 5-Meo-DMT could bring about what it takes years for many experienced yogi’s to achieve is absolutely unprecedented. When these practices are combined, as goes the intertwined history of yoga, meditation, and psychedelics, the possibilities are endless. These practices and tools contain the potential to alter human history, helping us shift away from individual and societal fear based thinking.
The individuals’ perspective creates their reality which feeds into the collective reality. As Paul Stamets, renowned mycologist has said, “psychedelics (he was talking specifically about psilocybin) make smarter, nicer people, and who doesn’t want that?” Indeed, what if we could live in a world where these powerful plant medicines were available for all to use for self improvement? If the stigma was washed away and replaced with science? How much more of a kind, empathetic, peaceful, collaborative, compassionate society could we create? How much healthier would we all be?
So What Now?
We develop relationships by sharing experiences. This is common sense when we grow up playing team sports. We have a common agenda, a common goal, and experience similar joys, trials, and adversities. We develop similar mindsets. Many times a family finds themselves disconnected from lack of common experiences, beliefs, and worldviews. My family is one such case. Sometimes the consequences of a big age gap, cultural differences growing up, and educational differences place a wedge in the development of meaningful relationships. And sometimes these differences prevent family members the opportunity to truly connect for an entire lifetime, each stuck in their own world views. A psychedelic experience can take vastly different people to a common landscape upon which to connect, strengthening and many times sparking relationships. Though every experience is different, many of the insights brought back from psychedelic journeys are very similar. Some of my best friendships to this day were formed in the matter of hours during a psychedelic journey and countless others solidified with each profound experience shared together. It is an experience you don’t forget. Perspective shifts can be very bonding as a new outlook on life, existence, and the natural world ensues. Perspective shifts that are very much needed in today’s world.
There are hundreds of anecdotal testimonies of relationships and marriages saved by psychedelic assisted couples counseling. The experience is bonding by its very nature. Why not use safe, non addictive, non toxic “bonding” medicine instead of alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs to deal with the void we feel due to a lack of connection?
I shudder at the thought of how much beautiful, potential life has been and continues to be shattered due to the antiquated laws surrounding these much needed medicines, prohibiting their sacred, healing use from the people who need them the most. By doing so, we are robbing ourselves of our full human potential and mother nature is paying the price.
We must realize and understand our small place in this vast, miraculous ecosystem that we are a part of and learn to live in accordance and in symbiosis with each other and with the natural world. Just as a school of fish moves in unison in order to appear like a larger animal to protect against predators or a flock of birds fly together because it is aerodynamically advantageous to work together than fly solo. The examples are endless and ubiquitous throughout the natural world which depends on this natural ecosystem to exist. Those who work together with nature flourish, those who don’t, perish. Especially during these current pandemic times, we need every tool at our disposal to get us through these trying times. We need now more than ever to reconnect with nature, with each other, and with ourselves.
As ancient Greek slave turned Stoic philosopher Epictetus used to ask of himself, “How much longer are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”
What can you do? Begin the conversation. Share stories like mine. Talk to friends who have had life changing psychedelic experiences. Make the subject of an individual, cultural, societal, spiritual, and collective awakening the most important topic to discuss, because it really is. Let’s not keep doing the same thing expecting different results. Let’s harness science and progress. There are now psychedelic clubs or organizations in most states in the country and most big cities as decriminalization has begun across the country. Connect with them. Learn about the history and science of psychedelics. Become familiar with the current research. Open your mind to the possibility of alternative therapies to treat your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well being and that of those around you. Help those close to you who are suffering gain access to these life saving plant medicines. Vote. Help change the laws. Do it for those you love. Do it for yourself and for your family. Do it for the future of your children. Do it for the human species and for our mother Earth.
“The evolution of mankind is paralleled by the increase and expansion of consciousness.”
~ Albert Hoffman