In the beginning was the world, and the world was made of atoms, and the world was atoms. Truth Existed, as something objective and elusive, to which I could be closer or farther.
With my first (good) acid trip, I was blown apart by beauty and purpose, and saw how much of a participant I was in my experience. Colors were brighter. The atoms of the world became sacred art. The seal had been broken – where before I had been a scientist puzzling things on paper, now I was part of the puzzle, and it was glorious.
I became an evangelist, feeding irresponsibly high doses to newcomers and feeling confused when they didn’t all have the same reaction I did. My framework was excited; something radical had happened to me, and the integration into my sense of purpose was raw and inconsistent. I had a sense of collective consciousness – or at least tapping into the great unified spirit of consciousness or something. I wanted other individuals to feel like they were part of a collective consciousness too, ironically feeling somewhat uncollective with the individuals who didn’t grok the psychedelic realm, man.
With each successive acid trip, I felt profound insights emerging at subconscious levels, though they remained as just faint impressions to my sober self. This is why I kept going back – I was learning, something really important, and it was changing me. I really did feel better – I was at greater ease with myself and my life, I felt intense love for everyone around me, and I was hemorrhaging art onto every blank page in sight. I accidentally did therapy on myself, permanently healing trauma around my abusive father. This stuff was healing me, and so the nonverbalness of my insights didn’t bother me, really.
In hindsight, I view most of this period as marked by a strong belief that I understood something important – I’d begun a process of self deconstruction, and most of the people around me were still stuck on the world is atoms. I had started out this process as analytical and curious, and now this analysis was giving me a framework for profound changes in my relationship to reality that nobody could understand; in this solitude, I viewed myself as enlightened.
My trips were breathtakingly beautiful, filled with ecstasy and horrible pain. I didn’t shy away from either – I sought out the intensity, and every trip spent at least some time sobbing in agony. I writhed, I gasped, I danced, hard. I increased my doses, put terrifying or sad music on my playlists. I tripped with others, but increasingly alone, sometimes in the dark, sometimes in silence. It was forced meditation on steroids. The acid pried my eyes open, and it was overwhelming and brutally exhausting. I was an infant, formless and unknowing. I was pure love, born to be sacrificed for mankind.
The process of this annihilation followed a cycle of holding on and letting go in a particular way – I was like a gigantic lattice of beliefs, intertwined and mostly functional, all the way from top-level stuff like “conservative social norms are bad” to low-level stuff like “pain is bad”.
With each trip, a chunk of my beliefs would disappear from the lattice. I don’t mean they disappeared from my experience, but more that they would become object, where my experience of the beliefs transitioned from “reality indicator” to “a playful frame” – I lost the sense that the belief corresponded to anything measurable outside myself, and thus lost the sense of control I’d had from feeling like I knew what was going on.
In the void of departing beliefs, the remaining belief structure (to which I was still subject) would attempt to reconcile with that void. This is where my belief in enlightenment came from – I detected that I had a great void in me where many beliefs had been, and when the lattice of remaining beliefs attempted to make sense of it, it came into a “I must be enlightened” framework, a framework I did not take as object, but rather sensed as some indicator of reality. This process repeated subtly for everything – my belief that I was separate from others became object (e.g., “I now see that my separateness from others is just a construction”), and so in its void my lattice latched onto the belief of collective consciousness (e.g. “I now believe we must all be part of the same mind”). My belief in timespace as a traditional, measurable thing that I existed inside of became object, and so in its void I got something like “all internally consistent realities must necessarily exist.”
Keep in mind I was not aware that I was subject to the beliefs I was subject to; internally, this felt like I was deconstructing myself, and the sense of deconstruction did not include giving me knowledge of the things I hadn’t yet deconstructed.
The Journey In was a slow process of whittling away the beliefs I was subject to, and watching the remaining beliefs contort themselves in attempt to maintain the idea that they corresponded to something outside myself. As my island of self got smaller and smaller, my experience of reality – and my ability to function – got weirder and quieter.
I entered profound silence, both internal and external. I lost the urge to evangelize, my inner monologue left me, and my mind was quiet and slow-moving, like water. I inhabited weird states; sometimes I would experience a rapid vibration between the state of ‘total loss of agency’ and ‘total agency over all things’. Sometimes I experienced pain as pleasure, and pleasure as pain, like a new singular sensation for which there were no words at all. Sometimes time came to me viscerally, like an object in front of me I could nearly see except it was in my body, rolling in this fast AND-THIS-AND-THIS motion, and I would be destroyed and created by it, like my being was stretched on either side and brought into existence by the flipping in between. I cried often.
I became sadistic. I’d previously been embracing a sort of masochism – education in the pain, fearlessness of eternal torture or whatever – but as my identity expanded to include that which was educating me, I found myself experiencing sadism. I enjoyed causing pain to myself, and with this I discovered evil. I found within me every murderer, torturer, destroyer, and I was shameless.
The evil was also subsumed by, or part of, love. Or maybe not “love” – I’d lost the concept of love, where the word no longer attached to a particular cluster of sense in my mind. The thing in its place was something like looking, where to understand something fully meant accepting it fully.
I loved everything because I Looked at everything. The darkness felt good because I Looked at it. I was complete in my pain only when I experienced the responsibility for inducing that pain.
I lost many more concepts besides love, like ‘death’ and ‘self’ and ‘other’. Somewhere in all this I lost the belief that I was enlightened – I realized that to think I was enlightened, I must also be holding onto a belief about what enlightenment is made out of, and to have a concept about enlightenment, I must also have a concept about what it is not, and about who has it and doesn’t, and how this was functioning as a division in concept between myself and other, and was incompatible with the experience of self as the divine. When I realized this, the belief faded, and some deep part of me melted away. The word ‘enlightenment’ became a joke, one that applied and did not apply to me and others equally.
With this journey to annihilation came loss of function; for example I had lost many of my beliefs about my experience of time, and so my experience of time changed drastically; I constantly found myself in moments of infinity, like time had slowed down in between my thoughts, and I completely lost my ability to hold plans for my future. I lost the belief that ‘pain was bad,’ and so my experience of pain transitioned to something closer to curiosity, and I became less responsive to hunger. The thought of being tortured for an eternity didn’t scare me at all. I stopped working, and my income dribbled to a halt. I was a creature inside a dream, formless, a conduit of something unnameable. This state was an awareness and peace unlike anything I’ve ever known before or since. This state – and all the weird states I described above – maintained itself in between doses, when I wasn’t tripping, as well as for nearly a year after I quit.
My goal was to keep Looking, because I wanted to see everything. I strove to observe every part of my experience in the finest detail, and in this process I began to disappear. At some point I realized if I continued down this path I would die – both philosophically and physically, because the
TRUTH IS NULL. THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE TRUTH IS NOT-SELF. TO KNOW IS TO DIE.
I felt ready to die, or something close to that. I felt that I could stare at it without flinching, that I was unafraid.
But upon realizing TO KNOW IS TO DIE, that to achieve completion was suicide (which I say with the greatest love and awe possible), I noticed that a rejection formed, and the movement towards Looking flipped to a movement away. I watched the decision happen to me, as if TO KNOW IS TO DIE by its nature contained a renunciation of that truth. If to know is to die, then it was in the very nature of life to look away, for that which does not look away, does not exist.
And, after about 40 trips in the span of 10 months, I stopped doing acid. For months afterwards I tried hard to rid myself of the Knowing that inhabited me like a trembling infant god, to shut the eye that had been bleached to ivory by the heat. Joy-rightness-fun echoed up from somewhere deep within me when I started relearning anxiety, insecurity, or fear. They were wonderful, because they meant I was something. I could feel my edges again, signs where I’d started to forget what I really was and started to buy into the form I was becoming.
I began to see others who I’d once long ago seen as unenlightened, as now much more advanced than me – as symbols of successful forgetting, I wanted to cling! I was an idiot child, surrounded by adults, who were wise in the ways of the world. They were successfully immersed in their roles. I was impressed.
The integration back into normal life was really, really weird. I eventually came back, getting mostly functional after about a year, although some effects never left.
I didn’t realize that what I’d done to myself was noteworthy or unusual – I sort of assumed other people must be doing this a lot and it was no big deal. As far as I was concerned, I existed in a vacuum. I hadn’t read any texts, followed any rules or traditions, undergone any training, or talked whatsoever with any spiritual teachers. I had no calibration of my experience with the rest of the world – until two years later I talked about my experience at a dinner party and people responded with shock and strong interest, which really stroked my brain’s reward pathways.
Once this whole thing became A Story, it started getting even weirder. I wrote about it on reddit and got a huge amount of attention. People started referring to me as the Acid Queen. Opinions were divided – some looked to me with awe and asked for advice, while still others explained how I was infantile or unbalanced, and that you can’t get very far with LSD, that only meditation would get me to the real stuff. I found myself immune to the spiritual opinions of others – this thing within me was utterly beyond doubt, and the words others spoke seemed like games around the Knowing. People tried to match the things I described to various traditions or stages, but these discussions felt like play. Why describe the unnameable?
The “talking about it” was weird. The place I had been was always this presence behind me, like this slow ancient god had thrust its hand into the world and I was a character painted on the tip of its thumb. And to talk about it was to give it form, to say what it was and was not. How was I supposed to talk about it at all? It felt dishonest, or silly – and yet talking about it was hard to avoid – I was now different, and I found myself sitting at parties sipping on wine like an alien in human skin – and to be honest about what was most relevant, or to talk about philosophy (a common topic in my friend circles), the ancient god was hard to avoid. I could feel the silliness of it whenever I tried, and if I tried too hard I started falling into intense spasmatic episodes where I experienced extreme pleasure, pain, and ego death, which has occasionally embarrassed me in otherwise normal human conversations.
I sought out other people who I felt understood, though this isn’t quite the right way of saying it. Other people understanding was a concept that disappeared with the dissolution of my character. Maybe better is to say I sought a mirror in others – to be in the presence of another who, for whatever reason, induced divinity. This happened occasionally, and when it did my thoughts became a mantra: THEY KNOW, THEY KNOW, THEY KNOW – and then my experience of them as an other would break apart, because their knowing became my knowing and I felt myself expand to encompass them, and I would start crying or something equally confusing. This process occurred independently of [the frame of] them actually “knowing” – sometimes they would end up very confused, without having experienced anything special at all.
But in general, the conversion-to-story became a point of ongoing muddiness for me – I was trying to believe in my human character again, but now my character had this mystic spiritual journey backstory, and what was I supposed to do with it? Go around talking about consciousness until I started crying at people? Even alcohol was psychedelic for me because it lowered my inhibitions, which resulted in awkward things like me going to a party, drinking a beer, and then staring at my hands while going “whoah, man, they’re like… flesh claws.”
Over the years, without realizing it, the Mystic Spiritual Journey Backstory began to calcify – as in, it began to slip from a flexible framework I took as object into an indication of reality to which I was subject. This was marked by a few things:
- An increased interest in becoming a guru or spiritual teacher.
- A belief in the authority of existing gurus and spiritual teachers
- An insecurity around my identity as someone who had Been Somewhere
The Void was still within me, but it started to fade from an intense, ever-present vibration just behind my consciousness, into a warm memory flitting occasionally at my edges. I knew it was leaving, but I was even more confused – isn’t losing the Void exactly what I was aiming for? How much Void should I lose? How close should I be?
The answer might seem something like “Just find the balance that allows you to live your life,” sort of like “If you really like golfing and also family time, figure out what percentage of time spent maximizes everybody’s happiness”, but you must understand the kind of process happening here is totally different. This was not the weighing of two desires, this was reality deciding how self-aware to be. My character wanted self-preservation (and thus to not Know); the Void didn’t want anything at all. My character wanted balance; the Void was formless and absolute and utterly beyond desire. Only one side could do any figuring out about what balance even meant.
And so somewhere I knew that I was becoming Character again, and trying to go around teaching people some concrete, definable truth. Somewhere “else”, the world was without form, and void; and darkness was beneath me, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And the Character was perfect, ‘more advanced’ than the baby it had been, for it had engaged in successful forgetting.
This sense began around 3 years after I quit acid and lasted for about a year, but ended with a few more acid trips, which I’d gotten lax on taking at my ideal “twice a year” frequency. I eventually realized what had been occurring right behind my eyes, that a part of me had become vulnerable in its desire to be invulnerable. I became crushed by my own attempt to control my reality, which was a relief, because in being reduced to pieces I realized,
WHAT CAN YOU SAY OF ME THAT IS NOT TRUE?
I saw a vision of myself climbing behind a lectern in front of a wide audience, who gazed at me as a guru with a Mystic Spiritual Journey Backstory – an image which had appealed to me greatly. But then I cleared my throat, turned to the blackboard and in a bright rainbow brush, painted the words I DON’T KNOW. “Do you understand?” I asked them all in between giggles. “I have nothing to teach you. I am an idiot. I am unenlightened. I am a child. I am the one who has come here to learn.”
I began to inhabit a greater comfort with holding multiple roles at once – that of authority or submission, that of teacher or student. And it felt comfortable, because I ceased being attached to any role at all.
I realized that I didn’t really want to teach, which I’d understood as imparting knowledge from me to others. I realized I yearned to find the divinity in others, divinity that they already held but might be hidden from both of us like a puzzle, and solving the puzzle together with another seemed delightful.
Most recently, my journey has felt like a series of waves that fold on over themselves. I plunge into the Knowing, come out a child, over time slowly start thinking I understand something, and then plunge in again and get humbled. I feel like a cake with layers that are growing thinner.
I am learning to handle identity shifts with more grace. Sometimes I still think I can teach (why am I writing this blog post?), other times I don’t. I learn to enjoy the parts of me that think I can teach. I get cocky and think I can teach about that part of me that learns to enjoy my desire to teach; when I notice this, I learn to enjoy that meta layer as well. This whole process is slow and surprising and really really fun. I am surprised at how constantly I am shifting and noticing and transcending and embracing more and more meta narratives about myself. It doesn’t stop.
I don’t know how I feel about “finding balance,” but the swing of my pendulum seems to be getting shorter. For example, there’s no way I could have written this post three years ago, I would have been constantly interrupted by crying and inability to conceive of words. If I’d written it a year ago, it would have been much less gentle. If I’d had written it next year, maybe it’d be much less confusing, or something.
I’ve also learned that I’m definitely not a mystical guru. For one, I really would like to be a mystical guru, which is very uncool. I still experience insecurity, fear, confusion, and fragility, which, despite how much fun I’m having, is still something gurus seem to be more appropriately calm about.
I am pretty confident that I have no idea what I’m talking about, though. As usual: Nothing I say is true, do not ascribe truth unto my words.