How psychedelic experiences can reinforce our connection with nature.
by Sam Reid
One unsuspecting evening in early summer, I dropped 4 tabs of acid on my tongue.
I was alone in my very small bedroom in silent darkness. I thought I knew what to expect.
I knew, at least, that acid is a psychedelic, a word which means ‘mind manifesting’. Psychedelics are once more being propelled into the public eye. Many classic psychedelics have been labelled ‘Schedule 1’ controlled substances (indicating ‘high potential for harm’ and ‘no currently accepted medical treatment use’) by the United Nations since 1971.
'We are on the cusp of another psychedelic renaissance'
Now, more cities and states around the U.S. like California are set to decriminalize psychedelics, and with hosts of funded clinical trials for psilocybin, Ketamine, Ibogaine, DMT, LSD, and others, we are on the cusp of another psychedelic renaissance. Not only can they be effective for a number of ailments from depression, and addiction, to cluster headaches and opiate withdrawals, but research into micro-dosing, or taking a very small, subliminal dose, suggests there are a host of benefits without the need to take a ‘trip’.
The psychedelic experience is a temporary state of altered consciousness facilitated by ‘psychedelic drugs’ or plant medicines like peyote cactus, magic mushrooms, or a score of artificial substances. The experience can also constitute profound moments for those who brave it; in a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 80% of those who received psilocybin said it was one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives. I was hoping for a taste of the profound and meaningful when, in trepidation, I sat cross-legged on the bed and tried to focus on my breath.
Within twenty minutes, light began to flood my body, and the most peculiar changes overtook me. I breathed through the shivers of energy that danced up and down my spine; relaxed, opened my chest, and allowed the process to unfold, dancing in front of my closed eyelids. In an hour, I was reaching such a calm crescendo in my consciousness that I could but breathe in and through. The walls and ceilings breathed with me too.
'For a couple hours of infinity, I somehow remained breathing and alive and willing to enjoy this special state.'
With my eyes closed, I could still see the matrix of energy in the room. Having nothing to do but die, I perished into it all. I was lost in time and space, not merely in my room or even as a person but merely a node in the infinite chain that comprises us all. For a couple hours of infinity, I somehow remained breathing and alive and willing to enjoy this special state. But some whim must have taken me, for I opened my eyes and climbed off the bed, and in doing so rediscovered I had a physical vessel. The fact I could move was miraculous.
At the foot of the double bed was a small desk crammed into a nook opposite the door, and I gazed into the large mirror naively. I could see my young boyish features and slowly I remembered who I was. In those moments I had a more real sense of myself than I had ever had. I saw how my face had been shaped by my terrible desires - it happened to be scarred and bloody from a bike accident a few months prior. On my way to catch a train, racing, inebriated, I had tried to drown sadness at having been stood up on a date earlier, but I hit the deck and my train was missed. Now I saw what everyone else did, and I looked rough. My teeth were broken and jaggedy, and yellowed. My face seemed to sag slightly; I felt prematurely aged. These visual clues pointed to the uncomfortable truth that I treated myself poorly because I did not believe I was deserving of love.
'I had an awareness that tore through my sense of separateness from Nature.'
I offer my experience with psychedelics not as a curious, unusual, or interesting anecdote. That lived reality where ‘I’ melted into everything, what some might call an ego death, momentarily reconnected me to a sense that we are all exactly alike but marvellously apart. I had an awareness that tore through my sense of separateness from Nature.
A few things that became clearer to me: We are not only killing the planet but also ourselves. Our leaders will not take radical action. Even measures we might consider productive such as eco living, reducing plastic, or regulating polluting companies, do not really get to the heart of the problem, which is a worldwide one. The picture is of mass exploitation, both of our planet and of our people. There is a decisive disconnect - we are living unsustainably and it may already be too late.
Psychedelics are innately interpersonal and have a natural link to creativity, compassion and empathy. Studies have shown that those who took serotonergic psychedelics like LSD, mescaline or psilocybin tended to be more 'open' months after a single session. I speculate that openness is related to ‘consciousness’, which at its simplest means ‘sentience or awareness of internal and external existence’, for in becoming more conscious, we become more sentient of our place in the cosmos. Indeed, we find our place in the cosmos is simultaneously from, besides, beyond, below, and within ‘Nature’!
'the trees replenish the oxygen which allows each of our cells to respire, so to log the forests you might as well snip your bronchioles one by one.'
We are told that animals and plants are alive, sure, but in a different way from us, and that's true. But when a strong dose of psychedelics are administered and the ego quakes in fear and tells you it is dying or you're going insane, you can't help but feel it's an arbitrary distinction. After all, the trees replenish the oxygen which allows each of our cells to respire, so to log the forests you might as well snip your bronchioles one by one.
I believe it is this very perception of the universe or Nature as dead, inanimate, and mute which has permitted us to dissect it, use it, and deny its validity outside of human purpose. This view is entirely untenable, and in the face of huge resource extraction, roaring factory furnaces that burn night and day, commodification and untold calamity, we must challenge it, whilst simultaneously noting this ‘shadow’ aspect of humanity.
Why note - and not reject, banish, or abandon?
'psychedelics are a way into that space where I could be both in pain at the state of the ecological crisis, and be calmly assured it would still work out for the best.'
Because noting means allowing it all, including the suffering and the pain, whilst still doing one's bit to relieve suffering whenever possible. I believe the delicious paradox of our position is that we're divine and human, immortal and mortal. For me, psychedelics are a way into that space where I could be both in pain at the state of the ecological crisis, and be calmly assured it would still work out for the best.
Some cultures still honour this Great Mystery whose surface I brush with clumsy phrases. Practices as various as bullet ants, meditation, sex, fasting, whirling like a dervish, Ayahuasca, prayer, chant, yoga, tantra, running, rave, by God, surfing or skateboarding too! Some of these are decidedly better for some than others, and psychedelics should be tallied amongst them with pros and cons.
For those who already have trouble constructing an ego, dissolving it further with psychedelics is inadvisable. Moreover, for those who have repressed trauma, its release upon ego dissolution would re-enact the trauma which may be too much, too quick. Only informed, intentioned people who have undertaken careful research, with special care taken for set and setting, should work with plant medicines.
'Psychedelics and other aforementioned techniques can bring us slap bang into the present moment which is where everything is happening.'
Psychedelics and other aforementioned techniques can bring us slap bang into the present moment which is where everything is happening. There is only power in now. You have a chance to acknowledge the simple miracle of life itself, the hard question of consciousness: how can a brilliant assemblage of atoms, molecules, organelles, cells and organs really create that feeling I have right now of being here?
When we allow this mystery to hang unsolved, but still remain grateful that we are alive, it is this energy that can change our situation for the better. The very 'now' is an infinitesimally small quantum state in which anything is possible and real change can occur.
Psychedelics always helped me appreciate what I took for granted, and I am thankful to plant medicines for expanding my compassion and empathy for Nature and humanity. Through my experiences, I am one step closer to being able to hold the tremendous pain in the world, including the ecology crisis, in one hand, and the perfection of it all in the other.
Sam Reid was issued into personhood before the turn of the century and has been trying to come to terms with it ever since. A devotee of Earth, they can often be found communing with plant allies and generating propaganda. They look forward to a time when no plants are considered illegal.