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death. week 15.

date. 2022

city. nyc

Image by Tanya Trofymchuk

September 21


There’s something I haven’t been completely open about. I wasn’t really avoiding it, it just never crossed my mind to write about it. Which makes it all the stranger.


Since taking shrooms last January, I haven’t really been myself.


Here’s what happened:


Usher had been wanting to do drugs together, and since shrooms had never really affected me in the past, I figured it was a low risk option.


Little did I know.


They kicked in after about 15 minutes. If I recall correctly I had eaten maybe 3 grams or so. As soon as I noticed that time/motion were getting all screwy I knew that I was in for the long haul.


I tried to hang out with Usher and Shantanu as long as I could, but very quickly realized that wasn’t going to be possible. I barricaded myself in my room. Headphones in, laying in bed, staring at the open window as the sun filtered through the curtain swaying in the breeze. I was relocated to… shroomland?

A cosmic experience in which my self dissolves into a mystical stream of universal Being.


As with my last acid trip, I was lucky to experience some of the most beautiful moments of my life. But, as with acid, it was simply too much for me handle.


I was so overwhelmed that I still haven’t fully recovered.


I feel like I stretched my mind, and my sanity, too far, and now I need to lean in the other direction (toward the normal, the grounded, the stone cold sober).


Ever since the shroom trip, I've become extremely sensitive to weed. Each time I smoke, I find myself plunged into some sort of existential darkness. In the past, weed made me feel light and funny, but now I’m forced to grapple with demons that swirl all around me.


I’ve allowed this to shine through in my last few posts, but to be honest it’s been something of a daily occurrence, even while sober. Things that had previously been my friends—things like meditation, music, and philosophy— have now turned their backs on me and threaten me with a kind of faceless brutality.


And so, since January, I’ve been charting a hasty retreat back into the superficial, sensitive to my new fragility, cognizant of the darkness that waits patiently at my door.


As long as I avoid ‘trippy’ activities or thought patterns, I’ve been more or less able to keep my feet on the ground and avoid the worst of the storm.


Anywas, that’s the background to the following story:


When I got back from Europe, I bumped into my friend Effy and, against my better judgement, smoked some weed with him. Fortunately, as long as I was with him I was okay. But as soon as I arrived home, alone, the familiar darkness swept over me. My world quickly grew empty, hostile, ominous, erratic.


I felt, once again, that was losing my mind. I felt, once again, that I was going insane.


But this time I decided to reach out to Effy for support. (Effy is studying to be a therapist and also has a rich history with psychedelics. He is a deeply spiritual, mystical, and emotional person, and I trust him with my soul.)


Here is a transcript of the WhatsApp conversation we had that night.




Hey. I wanted to share something with you. Half as a psychodelist and half as a therapist. I don’t know if it’s going to make sense. I’m a bit high, so maybe this makes sense in my mind, but not on paper. But, if you don’t mind, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.


As I said before, smoking weed has become more complicated for me. I often end up in a bit of a dark place. When I was with you I was completely fine, but when I got home it started to turn dark. And I’m beginning to realize that it’s not the weed. It’s me. And when I’m with you my mind is in one place, and when I’m alone my mind begins to drift into a different place.


And this is something you’ve told me many times; that the weed only presents things that are already there. It makes me think that that darkness is in me, and the weed is just opening my eyes to it.


What do I do about that? Maybe the darkness is just because I’ve been studying about death, or maybe because I’m in a bit of a lonely period in my life, or it can just be my normal depression.




Whenever you smoke, you should try to tell yourself that things are going to come up. Don’t avoid them. If darkness comes up that means that you have something more to learn about your darkness. If you don’t have anything to learn about your darkness, then it won’t come up. It comes up when it needs to.




So you’re saying that I should continue to smoke and allow myself to go to all these places, but I don’t know… it’s not a good place for me to be. It’s not a good place for me to be. And the best I can do now is just to notice that that’s a place that I seem to go and just be aware of that. Just keep it in mind. I’ll make my decision knowing that I’m currently experiencing a darker side of my mind. Even if it’s just subconscious. I believe that if this is coming out when I’m high then this is there all the time subconsciously.


But I really don’t like spending time there. It’s really dark and hopeless and painful. I spent many years there and I didn’t find anything.


I can even tell you what the darkness is. It comes from this sensation that everything is real. That everything around me is real. And that, for some reason, manifests itself as, or produces, or leads directly to some sort of horror. Some sort of darkness. I don’t know a better word for it than that.


So in that sense the darkness isn’t coming from a bad place, it’s coming from a true place. A recognition of what’s actually going on. And I prefer to just be in the sway of it all. I prefer to be asleep.


Wherever there is kedusha, that’s where you’ll find tumah.




To me it sounds like you agree with me that it belongs and it’s here for a reason and when it comes up it means it has to come up.


But it’s a conflict. It sounds like you’re very conflicted. And it’s not the first time; we’ve had this conversation many times where you tell me “I don’t want to take mushrooms and go to that place. I don’t want to smoke weed and go to that place.” But then you do continue to do it. Let’s be honest. And I think the reason why you continue to do it is because there’s a conflict. Part of you really wants to accept and embrace all of these parts of you, but it’s really hard. And that’s the part of you that rejects it.


Continue the journey.


I’m not telling you to smoke more weed or not smoke more weed. Just continue the journey. There’s nothing wrong with either way. You’re learning as you go.


I would love to encourage you to go through the gate more often. Even if it's a dark gate.



The thing I’m most afraid of is also the thing I’m most attracted to.



Yes, I get that :) have a goodnight.




And this really is the whole moral of the story. The thing I’m most afraid of, is the thing I most love.


I can try to avoid it, but at my own risk.




I recently finished reading Death, Society, and Human Experience by thanatologist Robert Kastenbaum.


He mentions a study (Nagy, 1948) that found that children between ages 6 and 9 tend to personify death:


Many of the [6 to 9 year old] children represented death as a person. Interestingly, personification is one of humankind’s most ancient modes of expressing the relationship with death. One nine year old confided:


Death is very dangerous. You never know what minute he is going to carry you off with him. Death is invisible, something nobody has ever seen in all the world. But at night he comes to everybody and carries them off with him. Death is like a skeleton. All the parts are made of bone. But then when it begins to be light, when it’s morning, there’s not a trace of him. It’s that dangerous, death.


When I was younger I would have a recurring nightmare in which a robber would break into the house in the dead of night. (I would experience it from the point of view of whichever bed I happened to be sleeping in. I would try to wake someone else up, but was always frozen, unable to alert the family. Even when I was sleeping next to my dad.)


Eventually the robber would find me, and that’s when I’d wake up.


(Sometimes the ‘robber’ would take the form of a two SS officers.)


I always assumed that this was a normal nightmare and that many kids have it. But I now wonder whether the robber was a personification of death, which arose after my brother died. Perhaps I was afraid of death striking the family again, suddenly, in the ‘dead’ of night.




Safier (1964): The youngest children seem to interpret both life and death as a constant “ongoingness,” a flux. “Something goes, then it stops, then it goes on again.” Next, there is an intermediate stage in which the dominant idea is of the outside agent. “Something makes it go, something makes it stop.” An external force gives life and also takes it away. The highest stage embodies the principle of the internal agent. “Something goes by itself, something stops by itself.”





In another of his books, On Our Way, Kastenbaum tells the story of a 9/11 widow who lost her husband in the Twin Towers. She relates:


After my husband died, I tried to think, ‘what was the last thing I said to him?’ We think this way when we have lost somebody we didn’t expect to lose so suddenly. So I try always to say, ‘I love you,’ as though every parting might be the last.


I tried this when I said goodbye to Effy tonight. It felt great but I’m still not sure about it. Might be too morbid. Even for me.


Life begins with the assumption that death ought to be avoided. In other words, the irrational conviction that life is worth living. As death gradually, or suddenly, approaches, the organism struggles valiantly to hold on, as much as possible, to life.


Death allows us, often even forces us, to cut through the humdrum misery of everyday life and recognize the principle of our deepest faith: at its core, life is sacred in all its forms.


I watched a documentary called Flight from Death. It is loosely based on Ernst Becker's book, Denial of Death, whose central thesis is that all of human culture is a response to our anxiety around dying. The argument goes something like this:

Humans, perhaps uniquely among animals, are intelligent enough to notice that we are heading toward death.


We understand that we can’t physically escape it.


So, instead, we try to escape it symbolically.


Through culture. We identify ourselves with something which either promises direct immortality (for example, most religions), or something which may become relatively immortal on our behalf (the state, the community, the arts, the company, and so on).


But then, when our symbols of immortality (economic, political, religious, moral, artistic) are threatened or destroyed, we experience a symbolic death.


Think of a job loss, an ended relationship, a communal tragedy like 9/11 or social catastrophe like the Catholic Church scandals.

In an instant, the cultural bulwark that we had been subconsciously relying on to maintain our denial of death comes crashing down. In an instant, we find ourselves once again face to face with mortality.

After a massive tragedy, many people search for new symbols. This often takes the place of having children, religious conversion, or renewed patriotism.


[At the same time, our pursuit of immortality can take a malicious form. We can resort to (physical or psychological) violence in an attempt to lift ourselves up by pushing others down.]


Terror Management Theory states that when humans are exposed to the reality of death, they react with violence toward perceived others and with care toward perceived similars. This has been demonstrated through dozens of studies. For example, even subconscious reminders of death cause judges to deal more harshly with social dissidents (such as prostitutes or petty criminals) than they otherwise would. Similarly, subconscious death cues cause study participants to react more negatively toward those of differing faith or race.


Becker cautions us that humans cause evil by trying to triumph over evil in the pursuit of immorality.


It suddenly strikes me that my chronic headaches (which I am quite certain are psychosomatically tied to my depression) only arrived in 4th grade; in the months following 9/11. I had never connected those two events before. Due to my 'sickness', I actually missed about half of the 4th grade. I can still remember the charred papers that would float their way into our backyard from the smoldering towers. I would gather them up and try to decipher their texts. I remember driving past the wreckage, month and month. I remember thinking that it looked like some kind of monstrous skeleton. I remember the American flags that began to appear on all the cars and houses. What I don't remember is anyone explaining to me what happened. In my mind, everything that year took place in silence.

My brother died just before I entered the 2nd grade. And then 9/11 just two years later. Was it too much death for me to handle? Was I unwilling to experience death all over again? Was I simply no longer able to feel?

Sometimes when I'm at the dentist I'll dig my fingernails into my palms to drown out the pain. A small pain to replace a great pain. Did I choose headaches over heartbreak? Depression over grief?

There may be a correlation between the intensity of one’s anxiety of death and the degree in which you’ve failed to fully live.


“Everything has been figured out: except how to live.”

- Sartre

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