There are some lessons—some pieces of intelligence, if you will—that are seemingly impossible to impart using words. They’re experienced based, and no combination of vocabulary will succeed at describing their impact and importance.
The hallucinogenic experience and the education that it can provide falls in this languageless realm.
Ask the right people, and they’ll attest to the fact that I am about as “experienced” (in the Hendrix sense of the word) and equipped to attempt such an explanation as virtually anyone alive. Not only have I partaken in the forbidden and sacred fruits of psilocybin and LSD well into the hundreds of times, but I have enjoyed (if that is the right word, which it certainly may not be) them under a vast range of circumstances—from tripping joyously in the comfort and serenity of nature within the familiarity of friends and lovers, to vibing on the anger and aggressions of physically violent persons at parties gone wrong, to within the unexpected confines of jail. Although, admittedly, those days are increasingly behind me.
Suffice to say that if anyone has a solid grasp of what they are and what they can do and is capable of imparting this strange knowledge, I should be up to the task. But for the most part language fails.
You Kind of Have to Be There
Most anything that I explain to you will seem laughable. I could tell you about seeing (or perhaps entering?) the future, or about feats of tremendous and unbelievable physical prowess both performed and witnessed, or about telepathy or any of the countless other “strange” things that generally traipse their way into the psychedelic storybook, but those of you who don’t know any better would just roll your eyes and assume some form of temporary or perhaps even lasting insanity. And you would be right to do so.
So I’m not going to try to explain in great detail or convince you of the validity of my claims. I’m simply going to point out a few of the key lessons that can be derived from hallucinogens, and leave it at that.
It’s important to keep in mind the word can. The hallucinogenic experience is very personal and individual. It is dependent upon mood and circumstance, otherwise known as “set” and “setting”. More on this later.
Without any further ado, here are a few lessons that are common to the psychedelically initiated. We’re not going to go into the benefits that are becoming increasingly accepted by the medical field, benefits pertaining to anxiety, PTSD, and addiction treatment. Or into the increasingly popular business and productivity benefits that people are finding in microdosing.
For now, we’ll just stick to some of the “weird” realizations…
- You are insignificant.
The universe is a massive, disinterested place, and hallucinogens have a way of making it clear that in the scale of lightyears and millennia, you don’t amount to much of anything.
This might sound terrifying, but it is in fact rather liberating. It really takes the pressure off.
- At the same time, you are incredibly powerful.
Your significance is limited, but scalable. Each and every person wields a fantastic amount of potential, and—while we’re all galactically unimportant—we are also contradictorily of great importance and value. Basically you don’t matter at all, but you also matter a great deal.
Get used to contradiction when it comes to the world of psychedelia. It’s a big part of the whole strangeness.
- Things aren’t quite what they seem.
The world we live in is a façade, and behind its mask is something wholly different. I’m not even going to attempt to explain—it’s much deeper and more complex than words can describe.
Suffice to say that once you apprehend the false presentation of daily life, you find that its struggles are less damaging and its triumphs are easier to discover. As Shakespeare put it, “All the world’s a stage.” The more you recognize that, the more of a role you play in directing it.
- Time is illusory—there is only now, ever.
There is no past and no future. There are only a timeless series of moments. We are always endlessly in the present, although we are usually not aware of it because we are so fixated on the illusion of the past and future. This is a central theme of many religions, Buddhism in particular.
The practical benefits of this knowledge are huge. Consider how much more bandwidth you have available when you forget about your concerns relating to the before and after, and instead learn to attend to the moment at hand.
- Transgression is fun.
We live in a world that is seized with rules and standards for living. We are endlessly caught up in a net of acceptability. Stepping outside of this net to break a rule or take a risk can be a thrilling, liberating experience.
It’s not only personally fulfilling, but can lead to material or cultural success. The greatest minds in history achieved what they did because they transgressed outside of accepted norms and shaped reality to suit their vision.
- Love is fundamental.
Love is just as real and essential to our existence as oxygen, water, shelter, and so forth. Not only do we need it to succeed individually, but to thrive as a culture.
Without love, our individual and collective beings lose value.
- Beauty is everywhere.
There is a reason you’ll find tripping people staring at something seemingly ordinary like a rock or leaf or even a pile of dirt and saying, “That’s beautiful, man.” It’s because we are constantly surrounded by beauty, yet we rarely take the time to appreciate it.
An understanding of this will allow you to find more enjoyment in life, and to find your own ways of adding even more beauty to the mix.
- Everything has meaning.
For the most part, we go through life thinking that the things we say and do and witness are more or less meaningless. But in reality, everything is loaded with meaning.
You don’t speak a single word that isn’t saturated with meanings beyond mere definition. You don’t go through a single person to person interaction that isn’t heavy with significance. From the policies enacted by governments to the products we buy to the seemingly random actions we take, there is an undercurrent of meaning of which we are rarely aware.
The more you learn to recognize the deeper meaning, the better you can navigate existence and insert meaning of your own.
- Everything is one—not just connected. It’s all one.
We tend to think of life as a series of disconnected objects and events, but that’s all part of the façade we discussed earlier.
At a distance, things might appear isolated, but upon closer inspection you find that it becomes more and more difficult to find separations. As Alan Watts once put it, the edges of things are “wiggly” rather than clearly defined.
Take our relationship with the sun, for example. It seems pretty far away, but we feel its warmth on our skin and its emissions penetrate our bodies, and we depend on it to hold our planet in place and to nourish the plants that maintain our food chain and produce our oxygen, etc. It doesn’t take very long to realize that the sun is an essential part of each of us supposed individuals, just as much an essential part of us as our heart or brain.
And so it is with literally everything. Things aren’t just interconnected—they’re part of one big whole.
This kind of understanding is vastly useful, driving success in everything from romance to business, to (hopefully) environmental regard.
- Everything is possible.
Our world is filled with artificially constructed borders, both physical and mental. Every time we think we’ve come up against a limitation, we go beyond it. Concepts that are beyond our wildest dreams today are going to come true in some forthcoming present. It might take time, but with enough focus and consideration anything can be accomplished.
For example—since the dawn of time our species has looked and wondered and created stories about touching the moon. It took a while, but we got there.
- Everything is fragile—it all hangs in the balance.
There is nothing in existence that isn’t hanging by the thread of impermanence. From a good mood being broken to love unraveling to death and destruction, there isn’t anything that isn’t precarious.
And that goes both ways—not just into deterioration. That bad mood is always on the edge of tipping over into happiness. Solitude is a single interaction from becoming friendship. The inevitable product of death is life.
We’re always dancing on the edge of a razor. The more we are mindful of this, the more we will work to maintain the things we find to be important, and to be attentive to what’s at risk.
There Are More Doors than Dead-Ends
It’s important to mention that hallucinogens are by no means the only tools for realizing these truths. It can be achieved through the creation or appreciation of art or nature, through various spiritual practices, through scientific discovery, or simply through careful observation and consideration. And a whole lot more. Math, even.
Hallucinogens can be—however—one hell of a shortcut.
But you can’t just pop some drugs and expect magic. Hallucinogens are a tool and educational opportunity, and they should be treated as such. This requires endeavoring through them under the right aforementioned “set” and “setting”.
The “set” is your mental space when going into the journey. Mental preparedness should be considered for any drastic undertaking, and psychedelics have a more dramatic effect than you can possibly imagine.
The “setting” is, well, your setting. Careful consideration should be given to where you take them, who you’re around, and even what items and foods you have at hand. Keep in mind practicalities like physical, mental, and legal safety.
In the end, it’s simple (and complicated)—the hallucinogenic experience can have a profound effect on how you view and interact with the world. The potential benefits are many—well worth the often over-embellished risks. This is why so many cultures throughout history have used them as important tools in religious, healing, and growth ceremonies.
So go for it—get weird. It will provide you with some fantastic experiences, as well as some nonsensical stories.