A Heroic Dose:
The day I died and lived to tell about it.
The first time I had ever heard of the heroic dose was on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. The popular UFC color commentator and comedian was referencing the work of the late Psychonaut and psychedelic enthusiast, Terence McKenna. McKenna believed that if a person were to take a minimum of 5 grams of dried psilocybin mushrooms in the dark and in silence, the trip would propel the user beyond the realm of ordinary reality and into a separate dimension that would result in positive, long lasting, life-changing results.
It was mid May and my 26th birthday was approaching. I had just been blessed with an ounce of these magic mushrooms and had some special plans for the upcoming long weekend. I was living in my van at the time, a big yellow DHL fleet vehicle that I had converted into a home, and I was one week away from finishing the last year of my 5 year electrical apprenticeship. My plan once my apprenticeship training was complete was to take my wheeled shack and drive it across the country for the summer. I figured this would be the perfect time to experiment with Mr. Mckenna’s theory before I left.
I had a ritual. Every year around the time of my birthday I would go out of town and spend a few days out in nature by myself, meditating and reflecting on the year passed. 2011 would be no different. I loaded up my van, and double checked that I had all the necessary camping gear, food and water, and my bag of special fungi treats. I also brought a translation of The Dark Night of the Soul, a poem written by the 16th Century Spanish Mystic, St. John of the Cross. The plan was to hike, fast, read and meditate for a few days then culminate the long weekend with my big psychedelic adventure.
I went south on Highway 1, from the bustling urban sprawl of the San Francisco Bay Area to the quiet serene coastal mountains of Santa Cruz and Monterey. I drove into the foothills shrouded in the shade of the massive redwood trees that had inhabited the land since before man had come and etched his invasive roads to weave through and around their mighty trunks. I found an abandoned fireroad and twisted my van through the foliage and brush, the suspension squeaking and burping as I navigated my way over the potholes and roots that dipped and climbed out of the hard brown dirt like a speckled minefield.
I eventually reached a small flat clearing that seemed isolated enough to spend a few days without having to worry about seeing any people. Lurching the van into place with a hard crank on my steering wheel, I quickly slammed the van into park. I released the break slowly, as if the vehicle would retreat on its own and decide to roll it’s way back to civilization without me. I took the keys out of the ignition and hopped out to explore my new yard.
For the next 2 days I walked around the sun-drenched hillsides. The fresh spring air and silent redwood sentinels kept me mired in my own thoughts. In the evenings I sat in the metal belly of my wheeled cave, reading and meditating while in the back of my mind I mentally prepared for the challenging trip that loomed in the future. When day 3 finally came I wanted to be as prepared mentally as I could.
This wasn’t my first time taking psychedelic mushrooms, far from it. Since my first time in my early twenties, I had plenty of experience solo-tripping in the outdoors, as well as in quiet living rooms and parties with friends. I was well aware of the power of this substance, and had first hand experience of it changing my life for the better. But this time would be different. This time my plan was to go all the way to the edge, what and where ever that was, and if I went over in the process, so be it. I had set my intention that on this trip I would either find the truth of consciousness and enlightenment, go crazy or die trying. I envisioned myself as a samurai in feudal Japan, an unflinching and unrelenting warrior on a spiritual quest to probe life’s true meaning out of the ethers.
On the third day I broke my fast by eating a big juicy orange. I’d heard that vitamin C makes psychedelic trips more intense and wanted to get the maximum effects out of this experience. I glanced at The Dark Night of the Soul sitting next to me on my passenger seat. I had finished reading it the day before. What I took away from it was that one must go through hell, a “dark night of the soul”, before one can reach heaven. “If that’s the case, then I’m in for a rough day.” I thought to myself.
With my eyes closed, I centered my thoughts on my breath and said one last prayer before embarking on my journey. I then proceeded to eat half the bag of mushrooms I had in my lap, about 14 grams, nearly 3-times that of the heroic does suggested by Professor McKenna. Go big or go home. This was it.
I settled into my front seat and gazed out at the green and brown forest on the other side of my windshield. No turning back now. After about 45 minutes my body started to tingle, the first signs of the medicine taking hold. After that, the glass of the window in front of me started to melt, along with all the once still trees and plants in my view. I began to laugh uncontrollably as I was washed over with pure joy and ecstasy. The scene in front of me started to bend and swirl as if I was under water. Every molecule around me began to pump out small geometric patterns of light. The shapes collided and fractured to make new kaleidoscopic images that tumbled and scattered in all directions. I sank into my chair giggling as I watched the dreamy cosmic show unfold before my eyes.
Time as a concept became lost and my body merged with all the space around me. The cab of the car disappeared at once and behind my closed eyelids my consciousness was sucked down a wormhole, a portal that transported me to an unknown place. My mind’s eye was being dragged across a panorama of previous and future lives. Lives that I didn’t remember, but that I somehow knew belonged to a distant me in a way that reached beyond knowing. I watched as hundreds, thousands, of births and deaths arose and fell to be swallowed by the energy of the space and time experienced in between them. The images marched past my vision in an instant, like a slideshow of montages portraying these familiar strangers. The succession was rapid, and yet seemed to last for an eternity. Men, women, even a few humanoid people not of this earth, of all shapes sizes and colors, shot around in my psyche as my rationale bent to keep up with the breakneck speed of everything it was witnessing.
The collage ended with a zoomed out view of nothingness. I peered at a pure void, no color sound or senses at all. Then a quick huge burst exploded, a flash of light that I intuitively knew was the Big Bang. The vision expanded rapidly in an instant to reveal the stars, planets and emptinesses of all the galaxies that make up all the universes that make up all that is. I was seeing the moment time was created. The perfect first moment that held all reality frozen in an ever changing dimension. Then, like a retreating tide, it sucked back in just as fast as it had gone out, and folded in on itself, back to the nothingness. The Big Crunch.
Suddenly I was ripped away from the scene and found myself back in my van. The trees were still melting outside in the fading light of the setting sun. I immediately became aware of a crippling pain in my stomach. I doubled over in my seat and gripped my steering wheel with both hands, wincing at the pain.
I staggered through the shower curtain I installed as a makeshift wall between the cabin and the cargo area of my mobile home and collapsed on the yoga mat that doubled as my bed. I grabbed a blanket and pulled it over my head in an attempt to escape the pain in my gut. I peeked out and saw the bucket I kept for “emergencies”. I thought to myself “You can make yourself throw up in there and end this whole thing. Get off the ride.”
I started to consider it, when another thought popped into my head, “I thought you wanted to be a samurai. Truth, crazy or die, remember?!” I sank back and considered my next move. As I lay there in pain and indecisive, two separate voices began to emerge in my head like an angel and devil on my shoulder, reminiscent of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons.
On one side was the voice of my rational mind, “Everything’s going to be fine. It’s impossible to overdose on mushrooms. You just gotta ride this out and wait for the trip to end.”
On the other was the voice of fear, ”You idiot! You’re gonna be the first mutha fucka to O.D. on shrooms! The authorities are gonna find you here in a couple days with puke on your chest and shit in your pants. You fucked up…”
As these two responses battled it out in my mind, a third perspective started to emerge. It was the perspective of the whittness. It watched in silence as the other two went on feuding. I slowly started to identify with this third view, distancing myself from the rational and the fear.
Once I fully accepted the witness, the cramps in my stomach instantly subsided and transformed from splitting, intense pain into mere sensation. I acquiesced and accepted that I would either be fine or not, and in that moment it no longer mattered. I laid motionless with the acute feeling that my ego, along with my body, had just melted away like a fragile ice cube in the hot sun.
With my physical body gone, my consciousness was now able to access what I describe now as my mental and emotional bodies. I saw the place where the idea of “me” exists as thoughts, and how those thoughts produce emotions. Then I saw that without a body to express them with, these emotions were useless. I began to weep. With each tear a piece of this emotional body died until there was nothing left.
I returned to my mental body, now the last place that “I” existed. With no physical body to express emotions, and no emotional body to express thought, my mental body was useless. It sucked away like water down an open drain and pulled “me” with it as it left. My mental body died, and with it’s exit swept me into the realm of pure consciousness. I was in, and at the same time I was, a dimension of pure clear light and infinite creativity. Pure mind, pure thought my only identity.
I began to play, moving in and out of different realities at will. First I became a flower and experienced what it’s like to have a root system and feast directly from sunlight through photosynthesis. Then I shifted and became a bee, buzzing around in undying dedication to my queen and my hive. Next I became a bear free in the wild, then contrasted that by becoming a bear trapped and locked in a zoo. I experienced life through the eyes of the man that bagged my groceries the week before, then through the eyes of a woman I saw waiting at a bus stop in passing a week later. I jumped around like this for what seemed like hours, riding on a sort of psychic wave through different perspectives, exploring and experiencing any and everything I desired.
My joyous cosmic frolicking came to an abrupt end when I was suddenly engulfed by some kind of ball. The luminous cocoon surrounded me and I was immediately propelled down through a tube of white light. In an instant I was slammed back into my body, back into my van, back to earth, to “reality”.
I laid still under my covers, grasping with invisible hands to reclaim myself and remember the person I was before the Odyssey. But that person was gone. In his place was a new, reborn “me”, someone that would be forever changed. As I struggled to comprehend all that I had just whiteness and experienced I asked a question to the fleeting spirit of the chanterelle mushrooms, “What just happened?”
What came back was astonishing yet obvious, “What you just experienced is the process of passing away and rebirth, ego death. You already understand this on an intuitive level. You need not explain it, nor prove or convince anyone of this truth. Carry this perception with you and fear death no more.” The silent communication faded while I rapidly slipped back into sobriety.
The purple night outside leaked in to close the view of my once sunny clearing. I curled up under my blanket in my austere hermitage and fell into a deep restful sleep. My dreams were flooded with visions of Jesus, the Buddha and Krishna. In the morning I awoke, fresh and full of energy. I made my way north, back to the bay, in silence as my intellect grappled to put the events and visions of the previous evening into comprehension.
After I returned, I told my younger sister the story about what had happened to me on my secluded retreat to the mountains. When I was done she asked me, “Wait, what day was it that this all happened?”
“Two days ago.” I answered, “Why?”
“Dude, you do realize that that was your birthday, right? You had a death experience and were reborn on your actual birthday.”
I had been so focused and adrift in my wonderland that I had lost track of the days and forgot that it was actually my birthday that I had witnessed and come back from my own death. I chuckled at the wink and nod from the universe, her synchronicity poking me as if to say “Just in case you doubted me…”
That trip changed my life. It humbled me and removed my fear of death forever. A week later I graduated, quit my job and hit the road. I’ve been traveling ever since…