This is probably going to come out a bit from left field.
Let me place all of this into the correct picture. As you know I have been reading about consciousness and meditating a lot, exploring my consciousness has become essential to understanding who I am and how I respond within the world today.
In short, meditation is all about allowing yourself to recognise that you are consistently running narratives in your head, and most of the time you are lost within them. Its purpose is to enable you not to stop these narratives but to attune yourself to more readily recognise when you are lost in thought and to enter back into the present. There is also a lot of effort placed within mindfulness meditation focusing on what consists as ‘me’ and what is just narrative and mindless thought tracking. Becoming aware of one’s conscious experience as just that, conscious experience and realising that the ‘me’ I believe is making decisions and that I am living from isn’t really there, that there is no ‘seat of consciousness’, that it’s a fabrication brought out through the narratives I am lost within most of the time.
This might sound insane; I talk about it a lot in the book review I link in the next paragraph if you want to learn more about my current thoughts.
As you know I used the Waking Up App which is a side project of Sam Harris, someone I admire a lot due to his intellectual honesty and ability to assist others in exploring their consciousness. Mr Harris wrote a book called ‘Waking Up’ before the App became the main thing, and I listened to it a few months ago on Audible, you can read the review here. What follows are the reflections of Sam Harris on Psilocybin, I found them enlightening.
‘Drugs are another means toward this end. Some are illegal; some are stigmatized; some are dangerous—though, perversely, these categories only partially intersect. Some drugs of extraordinary power and utility, such as psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), pose no apparent risk of addiction and are physically well-tolerated, and yet one can be sent to prison for their use—whereas drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, which have ruined countless lives, are enjoyed ad libitum in almost every society on earth.’ Harris, Sam. Waking Up (p. 187). Transworld. Kindle Edition.
‘I have two daughters who will one day take drugs. Of course, I will do everything in my power to see that they choose their drugs wisely, but a life lived entirely without drugs is neither foreseeable nor, I think, desirable. I hope they someday enjoy a morning cup of tea or coffee as much as I do. If they drink alcohol as adults, as they probably will, I will encourage them to do it safely. If they choose to smoke marijuana, I will urge moderation. Tobacco should be shunned, and I will do everything within the bounds of decent parenting to steer them away from it. Needless to say, if I knew that either of my daughters would eventually develop a fondness for methamphetamine or heroin, I might never sleep again. But if they don’t try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in their adult lives, I will wonder whether they had missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience. This is not to say that everyone should take psychedelics. As I will make clear below, these drugs pose certain dangers. Undoubtedly, some people cannot afford to give the anchor of sanity even the slightest tug. It has been many years since I took psychedelics myself, and my abstinence is born of a healthy respect for the risks involved. However, there was a period in my early twenties when I found psilocybin and LSD to be indispensable tools, and some of the most important hours of my life were spent under their influence. Without them, I might never have discovered that there was an inner landscape of mind worth exploring.’ Harris, Sam. Waking Up (pp. 188-189). Transworld. Kindle Edition.
‘Human beings have ingested plant-based psychedelics for millennia, but scientific research on these compounds did not begin until the 1950s. By 1965, a thousand studies had been published, primarily on psilocybin and LSD, many of which attested to the usefulness of psychedelics in the treatment of clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcohol addiction, and the pain and anxiety associated with terminal cancer. Within a few years, however, this entire field of research was abolished in an effort to stem the spread of these drugs among the public. After a hiatus that lasted an entire generation, scientific research on the pharmacology and therapeutic value of psychedelics has quietly resumed. Psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, DMT, and mescaline all powerfully alter cognition, perception, and mood. Most seem to exert their influence through the serotonin system in the brain, primarily by binding to 5-HT2A receptors (though several have affinity for other receptors as well), leading to increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Although the PFC in turn modulates subcortical dopamine production—and certain of these compounds, such as LSD, bind directly to dopamine receptors—the effect of psychedelics appears to take place largely outside dopamine pathways, which could explain why these drugs are not habit-forming.’ Harris, Sam. Waking Up (pp. 189-190). Transworld. Kindle Edition.
Sam Harris also gives a word of caution, it isn’t all exploration and discovery, ‘In the beginning, my experiences with psilocybin and LSD were so positive that I did not see how a bad trip could be possible. Notions of “set and setting,” admittedly vague, seemed sufficient to account for my good luck. My mental set was exactly as it needed to be—I was a spiritually serious investigator of my own mind—and my setting was generally one of either natural beauty or secure solitude. I cannot account for why my adventures with psychedelics were uniformly pleasant until they weren’t, but once the doors to hell opened, they appeared to have been left permanently ajar. Thereafter, whether or not a trip was good in the aggregate, it generally entailed some excruciating detour on the path to sublimity. Have you ever traveled, beyond all mere metaphors, to the Mountain of Shame and stayed for a thousand years? I do not recommend it.’ Harris, Sam. Waking Up (p. 195). Transworld. Kindle Edition.
There seems to be a respect within the literature also available online, informing the reader that you will have positive and negative experiences whilst you take magic mushrooms. WholeCelium’s sight says the following about ‘bad trips’, ‘Bad trips can be caused by suppressing intense emotions, such as sadness or grief. Allowing these emotions to be there – really feeling them and expressing them – can be a turning point in the bad trip. It can become a transformative experience. That’s why we [psychedelic care workers] don’t like the term ‘bad trip.’ Sure, the experiences we are talking about can be really tough. But difficult is not the same as bad. Even if these states of consciousness are terrifying, they can be an opportunity to learn a deep lesson, resolve a mental conflict, or even heal a traumatic experience. I’ve seen people breaking down crying. Sobbing and wailing loudly. We’re always relieved when someone moves from being paranoid or terrified to being sad and expressing it.’. I find this really interesting; we all have the possibility to sit within various mental states on any day, and magic mushrooms only enable one to experience consciousness in a different way, without taking away the negative, but rather allowing you to fully experience and work through specific things held within your subconscious.
I’ve met many people who have taken magic mushrooms to ‘lose control’ or ‘unwind’ who have had a negative experience and never done them before, but very few honest searchers of their consciousness who have said they will never do them again or that they are ‘bad’ due to negative experiences whilst on them. The benefits one can experience as a whole as they explore consciousness seem to far outweigh the negatives, especially if said negatives become opportunities to learn more about yourself as you let go and listen to what your conscious says to you.
It’s been interesting talking to a couple of very close friends and my wife about this, there seems to be an innate desire to say, ‘mushrooms are bad’, and then when challenged and research is done people begin to see that mushrooms as a whole, and specifically psilocybin mushrooms, have extremely useful benefits when done for the right reason and in the right way.
Because of this, I began to research more about mushrooms and mycelium, and what I found has blown my mind. We owe our existence and possibly the survival of the planet to this fungus. I don’t say this in jest, what we as humans have done over the last few hundred years has ruined so much of the planet, but I think there is a way through if we curb our damage and begin to search for answers in unlikely places, such as mycelium. Life moving from the sea onto land seems to only have been possible due to fungus growing and producing soil, as without mycelium we wouldn’t have soil at all.
A fantastic couple of videos to learn more about this are the following (Fantastic Fungi is not free, but well worth watching – it’s available on most streaming services for a small price):
Not strictly about mushrooms, rather about DMT, a sister compound to Psilocybin
After watching those I wanted to learn more, so I have recently bought (and am currently reading) the book linked to the Fantastic Fungi film. I will be reviewing it in due course.
I am certainly learning a lot and realising that life is far more interdependent than I often like to think. For example, do you know that every single almond produced has had a bee associated with it, without bees we wouldn’t easily have almonds? We use almonds for a ton of things, we never think about the bees, who sadly seem to be dying out.
There’s a course on growing mushrooms (in general, not just psilocybin mushrooms) from the psychedelic society, that I think would be really interesting to follow along with to learn more. Plus, I live in the countryside in West Yorkshire. I bet there are so many mushroom areas where I could take my family and we could forage. There is so much about nature that I don’t engage with, and this mushroom exploration is making me begin to question a lot about how and why I engage with nature.
So, I am going on a foray into Psilocybin (Psilosybiini). I want to learn about myself, I want to have these experiences that so many say are life-changing when done with respect and a level of understanding that ‘just wanting to get high’ will never give you. So next weekend I am going to travel to a beautiful village in West Yorkshire and take a small amount of Magic Truffles to explore my consciousness. I will write up my experiences, sharing them on this blog in the next few weeks, and I hope I can engage with you all on a level of understanding about this, though I know many will reject all of this simply on the basis that psilocybin mushrooms are illegal in the UK.
The fact that they are illegal isn’t something I am going to get into on here, though I obviously have thoughts on the subject. Rather I will focus on the exploration that I feel I need to go on, as that’s the reason behind this journey. Our consciousness is something that deserves our attention, and this is how I choose to explore not just what is within me, but what makes me ‘me’. Wish me luck.
_End of Blog Blurb_
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.
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Farewell For Now – When Belief Dies
- Farewell For Now
- When Belief Dies #100 – 'Psychedelics, Philosophy & God' with Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes
- When Belief Dies #99 – 'Open and Relational Theology' with Thomas Jay Oord
- When Belief Dies #98 – 'The Take Over' with Daniel Kelly & Roger Bretherton
- When Belief Dies #97 – 'The End?' with Daniel Kelly