love. week eight.
city. new york city
I dropped acid last weekend.
This was the second time that I’ve done acid. The first time was right after I transferred to Penn, and it is (unfortunately) no exaggeration to say that it was the worst experience of my life. The way that I see it, acid took my deepest, darkest, most terrifying inner self, multiplied it by 10000 and then recreated my entire mind/world in its image.
This was a world that was literally constructed around the most intense shame, guilt, self-disgust, insecurity, and paranoia. There is no place to hide, nowhere to go, and nothing to protect myself with. And it lasts for an eternity.
When I think of hell, this will always be the image that comes to mind. A personal hell that was meticulously and carefully constructed to torture me in exactly the worst way.
At a certain point, I felt so disgusted with my thoughts, that I felt that I had to kind of rip them out of my head and put them onto a page, just to get rid of them. The problem was that every time I would write something down, I would re-read it and immediately deem it to be a sham. So, I’d delete it and try again. And again. Eventually, I devised a way of creating a new language which I could use to write, but was unable to read. In this way, I could get rid of my thoughts without them being mirrored right back at me. (I can’t find a copy of this anywhere, but if I do find it, I’ll think about adding it here.)
No wonder I feel apprehensive talking about it. Damn, for a year or so, I was apprehensive just thinking about it.
The funny thing, though, is that I don’t regret doing it. Sure, it was the most tortuous experience of my life, but I do think that it taught me something, if not about the world, then about myself. Without going into too much detail, I realized how deeply certain events in my life continued to affect me. And I realized how certain negative emotions that I thought I could just push aside or ignore, were actively directing me in my day-to-day activities, thoughts, and behaviors. Dropping acid was like taking 10 years of therapy and condensing it into one afternoon. Horrible? Absolutely. Enlightening? I’d like to think so.
And I think that’s why, 5 years later, I decided to try it again.
Over the last five years, I’ve changed dramatically. Both internally and externally. I went from waking up with dread for the day ahead, to going to sleep with excitement for the following morning. Instead of being driven by fear and disappointment, I’m now primarily motivated by curiosity and adventure. Externally, I went from being supported by my parents, with barely any clue what to do with my life, only a hint of romantic activity, socially isolated, and suspended between a Jewish culture I no longer identified with and a secular community that I felt alienated from. Actually, come to think of it, most of that is still true lol but I suppose I’ve just come to enjoy it and have arranged everything just the way I like it. (Okay, I am financially self-sufficient and have been lucky to spend time with some wonderful women.)
Of course, I still have my struggles (and struggle I do), but I was curious to see whether my perceived gains had, like some Republican tax scheme, trickled their way back down into my sub-conscious. In other words, I see acid as the ultimate psychological litmus test. On acid, there is no pretending or denial. I come face to face with myself, and am forced to absorb the full brunt of that encounter.
The second reason for taking it is because in retrospect I realize that I made every mistake in the book on my first trip. I had no idea what to expect, was not in a safe place, was surrounded with people I didn’t really know or trust, and began with a dose that was clearly too large for me. Furthermore, after years of recreational pot usage, I’d grown accustomed to the passing fits of paranoia, lack of mental control, and unexpected psychological states. My work with meditation has also contributed. In other words, I now consider myself to be far more mentally mature and athletic than I was 5 years ago.
I was eager to replace my old, traumatic acid associations with newer, healthier ones.
And finally, I was going on a trip with my friend Shlomo. I wondered how this would go down.
Well, enough stalling. Here’s what happened. Or at least, what comes to mind (or seems relevant for my Love Project) a few days later. I’m going to leave out like 90% of the trip, since most of it was extremely personal, tediously philosophical, and entirely irrelevant to this journal. I haven’t read anyone else’s LSD journals, so I’m sure I’m not going to do a great job describing it, but oh well, it’s not like anyone is paying me to do this. (Speaking of which, I need to start some sort of Patreon or Kickstarter or something.)
I think that the best way to talk about the trip is not by what I experienced, but by what I lost my ability to experience.
Stage One: Loss of Compartmentalization
In this stage, my normal ability to distinguish between my desires, thoughts, beliefs, hopes, worries, and then keep them separated from each other, disappeared. Along with it, my ability to moderate my own experience, expressions, and behaviors disappeared too.
The way that I look at it, all of the various aspects of my ‘self’ swirled together into one single self, thereby turning me into the most extreme version of my self, or better, the maximum version of myself. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is very unsettling. Along with that, I perceived the same thing happening to Shlomo (although he’s denied it), and so instead of two moderate and reasonable people relaxing on the couch, we had two very radical personalities attempting to interact across a widening gap. The common ground that united us was slowly dissolving before our eyes. The miracle is (and it’s a testament to our deep and sincere friendship) that we lasted so long. In what I’d compare to a complex and nuanced international negotiation, Shlomo and I understood that we no longer understood each other, but still made every effort possible to retain the slimmest lines of communication and interaction.
(And, of course, when you’re on LSD, you fall under the impression that what you are now experiencing is the real experience, and that every attempt at communication, even while sober, is actually akin to the above scenario. In other words, it becomes clear that every successful interaction is a miracle. The fact that the words that come out of your mouth can enter my ears and still make sense, seems incredible. ‘Nonsense’ becomes the norm, ‘understanding’ the exception.)
At the same time, my experience resolved itself into three modes: self, world, other. It became very important and obvious to me that the ways in which I interact with my own mind, with the world, and with other minds, are completely different. I would transition between these phases in which I would become overwhelmed, say, within my own thoughts/emotions and turn my attention to the outer world in order to steady myself. At a certain point, though, the intensity of that constant cloud of input would explode and I’d go back into the living room in order to spend time with Shlomo. But then again, the kinds of mind reading and self-awareness which that social interaction would require from me would force me to say goodbye after a few minutes and return to my room, taking solace in my own mind.
And finally, the last ‘love lesson’ I’d like to draw from this stage is that it became clear to me that the contents and qualities of my experience were constantly being constructed and reconstructed out of my own consciousness. For instance, as soon as I felt an insecurity about, say, the color of my shirt, I’d immediately interpret Shlomo’s glances as some sort of condemnation of my attire. And, vice verso, when I’d feel overcome with feelings of gratitude, I’d only have room for Shlomo’s friendship and love. I know this sounds cliché, and it is, but to actually experience the sort of feedback loop that exists between my own mind and the external world (and, now that I come to think of it, between my own mind and itself), felt like an incredible realization. Like seeing the ocean for the first time, after only reading poems and descriptions of it all my life. I’m reminded of what CS Lewis says: “The first thing that love does it to obliterate the difference between giving and receiving.”
Shlomo was also excited to tell me that “the world is a reflection of my own mind! Whatever I put out there is mirrored right back to me.” His insistence that I can experience anything that I decide to experience would actually continue to ring in my ears during the remainder of the trip. (“I don’t like feeling scared! Okay, then just feel calm.”)
Stage Two: Loss of Time / Cause and Effect
If Stage One was a lot of fun, Stage Two was scary af. This is where the foundations of normal human experience just melted away. They didn’t (at least for me) slowly dissolve. No, they chose one instant (at the worst possible moment, of course, just as I stepped outside), and then BOOM, gone.
At this point, each moment was experienced in isolation, as if nothing ever came before it and nothing will come after it. Like Nietzsche’s thought experiment The Eternal Return: If you had to live your life over and over again, for all eternity, would you do it? On acid, the question was posed at each moment. If this moment existed for all eternity, would I be happy or freak the fuck out?
(There was also a periodic sensation that time was moving in a circle, or like a Yo-Yo that unravels, and then re-ravels back to the start. Expansion and contraction.)
This was the moment when I was like “Dude, not again. Seriously??? Why do I always get myself into this mess.” (Story of my life.)
This is actually the hardest stage for me to talk about, because it doesn’t really make any sense. I guess the best way to think about it is to imagine yourself going insane. You can still think and feel things, but just in a very mixed up and irrational way. I’d say this is the most terrifying stage insofar as you can still experience terror. You know that you’ve lost control of reality (and your own mind), while still retaining whatever mental function is responsible for primal emotions.
In terms of love, I can think of one lesson I learned at this stage.
While I watched my self slip away, I was faced with a decision. The same decision I was faced with five years ago. I can either fight it or accept it. Fighting it makes sense. After all, who wants to lose their own mind? (Again, on acid, there is no assurance that your mind will come back to you in a few hours.) At various moments, I realized that I know longer had any access to my body (was I lying in bed or taking a shit on 5th avenue? I sincerely had no idea), and was steadily losing access to my thoughts. I felt like I was dying. I was disappearing. Can I accept my own death? Can I welcome it in?
Here, the distant pinpoint of knowledge that somewhere, somehow, I was with my friend Shlomo provided just the tiniest drop of solace. I knew that I might be taking a shit in the middle of 5th avenue, I knew that I might even be letting my mind, and thereby my self, disappear into nothingness. But I also knew that I was with my friend. And that if my friend was letting me do it, well then, it couldn’t be all that bad. In other words, at the moment that I was no longer able to trust myself, my trust in my friend (no matter how feeble and abstract) was the only comfort I had.
I welcomed in my own insanity. I welcomed in my own death. And was met with the most pleasurable and enjoyable experience in my entire life.
Stage Three: Loss of Self
I’ve been listening to Sam Harris tell me for a year now that the sense of self is an illusion. And that the goal of meditation was to dissolve that illusion and instead exist as simply an awareness of the contents of consciousness. And I suppose that I’ve been mildly successful at perceiving a drop of that a few times.
But it wasn’t until this moment that my self just effortlessly and completely disappeared without a trace. I suddenly found that the only thing that existed was existence itself, and my awareness of it. It’s wrong to even call the awareness mine. It was simply awareness.
This is all getting far too philosophical and ambiguous, so I’ll just cut to the chase.
When the only thing that existed was the totality of existence itself, the question of good and bad just ceased to make sense. I felt like that monk who just sits on a hilltop and watches contently as the world rolls by before his eyes. There’s nothing to do, nothing to change. Existence itself is perfect, any change or preference could never affect it.
I don’t know. I feel like this is all coming out far too Buddha-y. And not exactly helpful. I’ll skip to the last stage and then maybe circle back.
P.S. When I realized that I was suddenly experiencing ‘self-transcendence’ (I feel like an asshole for even writing that), I put on a few of Sam’s meditations, one of which was his Metta (Loving Kindness) meditation and another was his classic Dzogchen (a form of mindfulness) meditation. These have undoubtedly colored the rest of my trip.
Stage Four: Loss of Awareness
I think that my trips are just manifestations of my deepest concerns. In this way, I think that the final stage of my trip was not an inherently mystical, religious, or erotic experience, but simply the final culmination of my work in meditation, philosophy, and love.
I can try to use words to describe it, but I don’t really think the description is all that interesting. But, okay.
Try to rid your awareness of all of its contents, but while still retaining its structure, and then see what is left. It’s not unconsciousness. It’s pure consciousness. Or, pure structure. But also, structureless. Okay, I give up.
Or how about imagining that your entire awareness was completely submerged in a single thing, let’s say the color blue. Just pure blue-ness and nothing else. But you are the blue-ness. Or, the blue-ness is you. Or, just, blue-ness.
Like I said, the description isn’t really that interesting.
For me, there was a sense in which the loss of awareness was both an experience of pure life and pure death. There was a sense in which the loss of awareness was both an experience of pure light and pure darkness. There was a sense in which the loss of awareness was both an experience of orgasm and of excretion. There was a sense in which the loss of awareness was both an experience of god and of the self.
In was at this point of the trip that Freud’s Death Drive (Todestrieb), Buddha’s Emptiness (Sunyata), and Heidegger’s Nothingness (Nichts) really took on meaning. Well, more than meaning, they crystalized into something that I could be perceive. Actually, I couldn’t help but perceive them. I felt that to live was to die, to experience was to be empty, and nothingness is always at the core of existence. Each thing and its opposite were really the same. I can’t really explain it. Freud, Buddha, and Heidegger already tried to do that.
But in these senses, I was able to process my own experience with the languages and systems that have been developed by psychoanalysts, mystics, philosophers and yogis. Without these vocabularies, I would be left with nothing to say. I would be utterly confused. And, perhaps, that would be ideal. Probably, I would not even have had those experiences in the first place.
Like a hollowed out stone that is used to draw water from a pond, I think that these languages and systems have helped me handle my own experience, but this says nothing about the truth or nontruth of these systems, ideas, or practices.
I believe that the human experience is structured like a story. A story which is subtly altered each time it is retold. I can only experience my own life, and only via the interpretations that I lend to it. And, in this case, I have borrowed the interpretations of those who have come before me, who’ve perhaps had similar experiences. But that does not alter the fact that these are simply and essentially interpretations. Just as the hollow stone says nothing about the water that it carries, (it wasn’t even designed to hold water!), but simply brings it close to your parched lips, the vocabulary of the great mystics and thinkers are only capable of rendering my otherwise nonsensical experience into something I can understand and process.
Well, what does this have to do with love?
I think that the fact that the erotic featured so heavily in my experience, both in this trip and in my first, is important. (I asked Shlomo if his trip was sexual/erotic and he thought I was insane.) I think that the fact that my conception of god and existence is so tied up with my conception of eroticism and sex is interesting to say the least, and probably worrisome to anyone reading this. But I’m not worried. You know why? Cuz it was awesome ;)
After the peak stage subsided, I began a graceful and hours-long descent back down.
Five years ago, in the midst of the terror, the one person who appeared to me as a savior and helper was Aparna. After my trip, I messaged her to let her know that I had dropped acid and realized that I needed her back in my life. As it turns out, an acid trip is just an acid trip and not real life.
This time, another girl took Aparna’s place as the comforting lover (‘the one that got away’). This time I wasn’t so naïve as to tell her. In any case, though, it seems clear that there’s a place in my heart, if not in my life, for an intimate partner. When I needed support, I didn’t look toward my parents, my friends, my role models, my protectors, my god. I looked toward that woman in my life whose love and care remains unrealized, and thus unspoiled and uncomplicated.
I have a theory that love and sex are incompatible. As soon as love is actualized, all of the idealized promises that have been made by society, pop culture, and generations of art and literature, about the purity, the sanctity, the transcendence, the saving grace, the mystery and profundity, the downright holiness of love are let loose like the bated breath that I never even realized I was holding in. The idea of love is far more beautiful than even the most wonderful lover. Or maybe I’m just bad in bed.
(For the record, even I don’t believe in my own theories.)
In any case, it’s not the girls who were the sexiest or the most affectionate or the funniest or the most fun or the best chemistry or the most ambitious who I brought to mind in the midst of my chaotic trip. It was the quietest, simplest, and probably strongest love. A girl I barely even realized I had a crush on until the time came to say goodbye. The one who liked to laugh at my dumbest jokes and got along well with children. It was the girl who knew me best, and only then, after 10 months of being friends, fell for me.
Okay, enough about her. She can write her own blog one day. My point is just that deep down, I am looking for a partner. A reliable partner. Someone to support, and someone to support me. A life partner.
[Note: It's now a year later and I accidentally tripped on some shrooms. This time, I was able to get passed my reliance on an external lover and take solace in my own self, my own love. I realized that all of the other loves in my life were simply preparation for this final, most complete, most sacred love. Love of self, which is of course, love of all.]
If I can push this one step further, there was a moment, on the ride down, that my identity shifted from all of existence to a far smaller unit: the family.
A father. A mother. A child.
I was the father, of course. But more than that, I was the family, and the family was me.
I’m lucky to have been raised by a loving family. And I suppose that I’ve never fully separated my self-identity from that unit. Or, I thought I had, but LSD seems to insist otherwise.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, so I’ll just wrap things up. After all, what can I learn from a bunch of drug-induced hallucinations?
Here’s a start:
1. Contrary to what the left (marxism) and the right (capitalism) would like me to think, my activity (or productivity) is not the (only) core of my life. Sometimes passivity and attention can be more rewarding than creation and experience.
2. Be more tolerant towards others. We are all responding to the chaos of existence in our own way. During the various moments of my own insanity, I was given glimpses of the views that populate other people’s lives. People who are dedicated to their religion, their art, their work, their mental health, their money, their power, their friends, their family. The list is endless. Even if something looks silly to me, it probably doesn’t look silly to the person who is doing it.
3. Be proud of my own path; it leads to wonderful destinations. And trust my instincts (particularly, for this moment, regarding which women I choose to date). During my trip, the more I followed my own heart, the better it got. The more I insisted on what was proper/expected/reasonable, the worse it got.
4. A family is not a job or a task. It’s a state of being. It’s an identity.
The truth is that if my first acid trip was the worst experience of my life, this second one was the best experience of my life. That being said, I doubt I’ll ever do it again. For all of its glory, it was a tremendously difficult ordeal. And, I just don’t think it’s something that I should put myself through again.
But I suppose I’ve done my best for this moment. I’ll leave it there.