As I approached the levitating, shiny surfaced cube, an overpowering sense of deja vu consumed me. A deep droning, wave-like hum filled my ears. In the foggy darkness that surrounded me, three shadowy figures lingered. The black floating box, situated in front of me, bobbed and rotated in mid-air. I knew I had seen this scene before but could not remember when or how. As I approached the cube, I knew it to be my death. Still, the unshakable sense of deja vu was telling me it wasn’t my time. I turned my back to walk away, as I had presumably done once before. In an instant, I blasted free from my consciousness. Propelled into infinity. Thrust into the deepest parts of immaterial existence. An indescribable realm of beauty, wonder, and awe lay before me.
In the winter of 2022, mere weeks before the birth of my second son, I embarked on a week-long journey of exploration through the use of psilocybe cubensis (aka magic mushrooms). I spent two weeks preparing for the intense series of experiences I would have. During this time, I abstained from alcohol, journaled about my goals and aspirations, and meditated on my blockages. I wrestled with an existential crisis, a natural part of my ongoing spiritual exploration and cultivation. The birth of my first son had been traumatic, to say the least. Although I felt that my wife and I handled it with positivity, courage, and grace, it shifted our perspective on life. This shift led us to make a significant life change. One that would allow us to spend more time together as a family. One that would allow us to cultivate a life in pursuit of our passions. One that would see us live a life unhindered.
I had been consistent in my meditative practice and exploration of my consciousness. Despite my efforts, I still felt held back from reaching my higher self. Self-limiting beliefs and the rational ‘monkey mind’ left me doubting myself. I often found myself questioning my newfound beliefs and the choices we were making. I needed a psychological reset. A subconscious reboot of sorts, to jumpstart into the new version of myself I had been striving for.
A profound psychedelic experience appeared to fit the bill.
This expedition would by no means be my first experience with the funny little mushroom. I first tried the ill-tasting fungi in high school. I was in Ventures (the highest level of the boy scouts) and an upcoming weekend event seemed like a great place to give it a shot. Our group was co-running the event and I, with a long-time friend and fellow group member, had been tasked with security on opening night. This role was a formality and was most definitely unnecessary. But given the circumstances, we felt it was a great opportunity to trip in the woods under the darkness of night.
The experience was memorable and fun. It led to more experiences with friends in and out of Venturers throughout high school and into my post-secondary years. Not all of those experiences were enjoyable though and I had many ‘bad trips’ over that time. Most of these resulted from the nauseating effect the dried mushrooms can have on the stomach when consumed whole. This reaction is caused by chitin, an indigestible polysaccharide and a major component of the fruiting body of the fungus. Known to trigger inflammation, immune responses, and detrimental gastrointestinal effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and even stomach pains, chitin can be a serious block to an otherwise good time. Unfortunately, I was not aware at the time of the ways to mitigate these unwanted effects, so I would often end up nauseated and vomiting. As far as set and setting go, this is a terrible way to start a trip.
For the uninitiated, set and setting are key tenants of any psychedelic experience and they refer to one’s mindset and surroundings. The more someone can prepare for, and control the environment of the experience, the more likely they are to have a positive outcome.
As a result of these bad past experiences, I would often start a trip nervous about the stomach-turning side effects. This would only hasten them into existence and almost ensure a bad trip from the get-go. In university, I discovered that alcohol helped me cope with the nauseous side effects. But those experiences ceased to be mystical or enlightening. The depressant nature of alcohol and the party environment in which I took the mushrooms, deprived the experience of its purity. In time, I hung up my proverbial mushroom trip belt and abstained from consumption for over a decade.
However, I never lost interest in the misshapen, golden-capped shroom, or other psychedelic substances for that matter. Despite some less-than-enjoyable experiences, I knew deep down that it, and similar substances, had something unique to offer humanity. After all, they have been with us from time immemorial. And there is a rich history of their use in cultures from all over the world. In Greece for example, there are ancient records dating back 3500 years, of Eleusinian Mysteries. The forebearers of modern Western thought took part in a mystic ritual and ceremony, that was a staple of Greek society for more than two thousand years. There is also archaeological evidence at the now-Turkish ruin of Göbekli Tepe, that dates the use of psychedelic elixirs to over ten thousand years.
If you have an interest in a deep dive into the long history of psychoactive components and how they shaped our modern religious and spiritual world, I recommend reading (or listening to the audiobook) The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion With No Name, by Brian C. Muraresku.
In more recent times, extensive research (over the last 20 years) has illuminated the positive benefits of these compounds. When used in a controlled environment, usually a clinical setting, they can help with anxiety, depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health complications. In other words, these substances can make significant alterations to one’s consciousness. They have the ability to rewire neuronal pathways, which can lead to an improved outlook on life and positive behavioural changes. In addition, they are safe. There is no chance of overdose, they are non-habit forming, and there are no detrimental effects on one’s physical health.
I would like to point out an interesting fact that the human body has essentially evolved to metabolize these compounds. From a molecular standpoint, most psychedelic substances resemble the neurotransmitter serotonin and connect with the serotonin receptors in our brains.
Needless to say, psychedelics continued to be an interest for me, even while I was abstaining. I would read books and watch documentaries on the topic, even though I was steering clear of them. The fear of their ill side effects or what they might dig up from the depths of my mind kept me away for a long time.
In time, the intractable pull of the mind-expanding opportunities inherent in a psychedelic experience drew me back. The ease of buying magic mushrooms online helped too! But this time, I wanted to take a different approach to that of the past. This time it was serious. Something akin to a psychedelic study trial or treatment, or an ayahuasca or peyote ceremony. I wanted the experience to be therapeutic, and cathartic, and help me work through some of the issues I felt were limiting me in my daily life.
Simon is a former renovation contractor turned writer and author. Apart from writing about his experiences with spiritualism, Simon has a passion for reading, podcasts and spending quality time with his family.