PHASE I ~ PSYCHONAUT IN LOW ORBIT

INTRODUCTION

These are my thoughts on my first foray in microdosing small amounts of powdered Fungi Psylocybe for one month, one 0.20 gram capsule, once every three days. If you’ve read previous posts, some of this will seem familiar because this was the master document those posts were culled from. Microdosing “refers to taking a small dose of psychedelic, well below the threshold of evident effects usually associated with the drug, while going about one’s daily activities.” (Microdosing Institute) There are few clinical trials of psychotropic therapy, but it is gaining traction as a viable modality, for instance, MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies has been instrumental in organizing, obtaining legal approval and collecting funding for ongoing studies.

The anecdotal evidence amongst experimenters shows:

• Getting into the flow more quickly—at work, hobby, or study

• Increased creativity

• Increased productivity

• Improved problem-solving capability

• Increased overall awareness

• More balanced mood

• Better decision-making ability 

• Making more conscious choices about health, lifestyle, well-being

• More positive mindset 

• Decrease in depression (in a range from mild symptoms to clinical depression)

• Less procrastination

There are risks, especially before the brain is fully matured at around the age of thirty. It’s quite possible that my self described symptoms are rooted in indiscriminate ingestion of psychotropics in my twenties. Other risks are mitigated by a responsible, honest approach. There’s a lot of information available for would be explorers on the internet and until our policy and medical establishments catch up, that will have to suffice.

BACKGROUND

Before embarking on the Fungi Express—or any other psychotropic medicine—it’s wise to be versed in what we’re calling these days shadow work, or bringing to light the contents of the subconscious, which can be nothing more complicated than sitting in a chair and contemplating the anxiety that arises upon doing nothing. The insights and learnings from this experience have been collected, if not fully gelled, over thirty years of shadow work, namely, meditation and tai chi.

Although over the years I have slowly moved away from risky behavior, depression, and poor impulse control, I have remained highly self critical and subject to normal everyday thought toxicity, craving, aversion and all their children. My personal reasons for following a microdosing protocol were simply continuing determination to live in greater equanimity.

I had a daily tai chi practice going on for thirty years and which for the past seven years had been an invaluable ally in the movement towards better health, but six months prior to undertaking my first microdosing protocol a series of external circumstance, including shingles, put my health into a downward spiral until, due to pain and lack of energy from my condition I had to stop practice and have found it difficult to get back. The physical symptoms were accompanied by the mental distress resulting from the loss of the outward expressions of my identity.

I was a little concerned about two things. One, my poor state of health. Two, I was medicated on the slightly mood altering (government approved) pain relief drug, Gabapentin. Three, after researching the prescription drug issue and finding it wasn’t an issue, I read that microdosing is contra-indicative for people on the Asperger Spectrum. Given that I score within the Cambridge Autism Research Centre’s test inclusion zone, and given my general condition, it was perhaps inadvisable to go ahead, but I can only sit on an impulse for so long.

Preparation is key because, as one psychonaut on the Reddit thread “r/microdosing” put it, “in my experience, psilocybin makes you more neuroplastic, so whatever you are programming yourself with during the microdose will be reinforced. So having an intention and being mindful of that intention all day when doing it is far more influential to the experience than variation in milligrams. The medicine doesn’t fix you, you fix you and the medicine just gives your efforts a big push in whatever direction you take yourself.” I apologize to this person for not sourcing them by name/handle but I could not find it because it was one reply buried in a thread.

Intention is as simple as asking yourself what do I want. It can be difficult because you need to go inside and ask your heart “what do I need to be happy.” And your heart doesn’t speak English, it speaks through feeling. You ask yourself what would make me feel happy, complete. The articulations that come back at you that are simple, quiet, not prone to too much revision, and insistent, that is, the same thing occurs to you over and over, usually point you in the right direction. It’s really important to ask for what you want. Part of my early conditioning was that it was rude and selfish to ask for things. It is essential in this work to build a vision of what you want for yourself, to ask your higher self for things and circumstances. Otherwise you sit around your whole life just hoping for something nice to happen while at the same time your subconscious is saying “I don’t deserve it, it probably won’t happen.” In that respect, intention is a prayer to your higher self.

Following the old saw, give God a laugh and tell Her your plans, my intentions were:

To know myself as I truly am.

To understand my role as creator of my own life script.

To settle upon my goals, and to move with certainty towards them.

To free my creative expressions.

To be more sensitive to my physical, mental and energetic processes.

To rise above identification with thoughts, feelings, emotions.

To expand love identification from the personal to the spiritual.

To move into flow.

To relax internally.

THE JOURNEY

The recommended dosage is 0.1-0.4 grams of psilocybin, supposedly about one tenth of the dosage required for the full panoply of effects, once every three days for four weeks. I took 0.2 grams. As the protocol progressed, I was able to stop taking the painkillers, my energy gradually improved and I was able to begin a gentle exercise regimen. It was comforting to know that Fungi Psilocybe hadn’t interfered noticeably with the healing.

The immediate and noticeable effects were somewhat uncomfortable. Called “body load” in the community, there’s a moment in every pschonautic adventure when the hallucinogenic effects haven’t manifested but you know there’s something funny going on and you think, uh oh! I’ve just gotten on an express train and I’ve no idea where it’s going or how long it’s going to take. With the amount I was dosing, it was like I got on the train, had that “uh oh” moment, but the train sat in the station for the next four hours. As an after-note, it’s suggested that the current research dosage is about one third of what I took: 1 mg per 1 kg body weight which would put me at 0.07 grams, or 70 mg., which might explain the discomfort.

I was hoping for all the benefits cited by experimenters but, overall, the experience was far from transcendent, perhaps even “subscendent”. Based on previous encounters with psychotropics, I expected to be transported to mystical heights, or at least be offered a glimpse of my divinity. All I got was a vivid picture of my humanity. It offered a view of the density of my delusion and highlighted the grueling non-stop chatter of my conditioned self. Psilocybe allowed me recognize that from the moment I woke up I had been dealing subliminally with anxiety, isolation, hopelessness, dread, unworthiness and post modern cynicism.

This was not what I was expecting, but still a valuable symptom because it gave me something to work with. I can’t stress enough that the voices most of us take to be ourself are nothing but the voices of our ancestors (and everybody else’s ancestors through teachers, friends, etc). Every voice and character that somehow made an impression on us in our formative years—all deep echoes of normal humanity—the brain records and plays back to us as our mind constructs our personalities. For me that means: the parochial, disapproving and judgmental voices coming from my Protestant Irish Scottish ancestors; the barking rules of military bases where I grew up; the schoolyard’s casual cruelty and churlishness; the sophisticated arrogance of an English public school boy; the nihilistic cynicism of Punk and the screw-you-got-mine mindset of Eighties, and everyone of them steeped in the invisible dividing waters of status consciousness we swim in, competing, as we are, for limited resources at the bottom of this 6,400 km gravity well. This is not to say there aren’t positive aspects of all these cultural milieus such as Truthfulness, Loyalty, Good Humor, Discipline, Respect, Service, Leadership, Iconoclasm, and… well, the fact that there’s nothing inherently wrong with abundance. These qualities can—if attention is purposefully steered towards them—outweigh the negatives, it’s just that the negatives are more noticeable to our nervous systems which evolved to notice threat.

It showed me my arrogance, my pride, my selfishness, my anger and my hate. It showed me not to make me feel bad but to help me understand that the characters that evolved/accreted to me were the me’s that evolved to deal with trying circumstances; they helped me survive in hostile environments and that they don’t go away until they’re acknowledged and put to rest, something they don’t do if I hate on them. They tell me, “we did what we did to survive. Those were the times.” And I can say to them, “I’m sorry I hated you. Please forgive me for not acknowledging you. Thank you for protecting me and being with me. I love you.”

Please note that these are not feelings that we “shouldn’t” have. Variations of these feelings have served our species in its survival and are far older than any of our histories. Where they become damaging, I think, or at least can stand in the way of our evolution, is when they’re repressed through punishment, mental or physical.

It was, as I say, grueling and I could have stopped, and thought seriously about it, especially when I began to idly speculate how it would feel to draw a razor across my wrist—not something I would seriously consider (please see Side Note below)—but it was a good opportunity to put into practice what I’d learned about the illusory nature of self and repeat the mantra, because spirit likes ritual, “I am not my feelings, emotions or thoughts, they are just the conditioned aspects of my temporary being overlayed upon my true, original nature. Return to breath, return to heart, return to the present moment.” (Axis Mundi)

Some moments of clarity shone through. Samadhi is not a foreign state. It’s there waiting behind the curtain of quotidian existence. Everyone experiences a degree of samadhi in those moments one is aware but there are no thoughts. Nature in its peaceful guise is a good instigator: grand views, waves on a beach, leaves falling around you in autumn, cumulus clouds in cerulean skies, pets, companions who don’t feel the need to fill every silence, not to mention making music, painting, etc.

SIDE NOTES & LEARNINGS

How deeply entwined are the voices we all have internalized as our sense of who we are! This is why shadow work is important. There are plenty of people who, years after an encounter with psychotropics, are still walking around in shell shock after the abrupt dislocation from their sense of self. Syd Barrett comes to mind as the first and greatest of my generation but there are countless others, some of whom I know personally. In highlighting these voices, the medicine (ayahuasca does this, and cannabis can too) offered through plants offers us a chance to subvert our conditioning, but only if we recognize the illusory nature of our selves and are prepared to deal with the potential psychic wound and use it with moderation and intention. Ultimately, one can’t think oneself out of a trap that thinking got one into. Intellect realizing its own dreamlike nature is best immediately followed with the ritualized healing incantation (again, because spirit likes ritual) that one has settled on.

My cosmology recognizes that suicide is a wasted effort and that the pain and suffering—the low vibrational energy—doesn’t just disappear. Suicide simply puts a stop to one tiny aspect of the grand experiment and any low vibrational energies must then be taken and dealt with by a new incarnation. In the Buddhist cosmology the word for this is karma, which “isn’t a judgement / punitive system, it is simply a matter of attracting like vibrations.” (Natha Robertson) Our work while incarnate is to experience and process all of our humanity and find a way to transmute karma or, the negative energies we inherit, into something positive (stopping the wheel of karma). I know it sounds a bit like I might be suffering from Jerusalem syndrome, but as a suffering being (in the Buddhist sense of the word suffering as existential thirst) if you process that suffering, you lift that burden from the collective. I also understand why for some people there is no choice because the suffering is literally insufferable. Interestingly, of the people I know who have taken that route, being shunted and displaced from the roles they have taken on as their self identity have been an obvious and prime causal factor. And this is perhaps why the negative aspects of the experience came through so strongly for me: my identity over the past twenty years have been tai chi guy and house dad; and so, when I simply did not have the energy to exercise while in thrall to sickness and with both of my children having recently flown the coop for universities, the ground of my egoic being was removed.

In setting intentions, imagination needs to be exercised. One needs to project forward. There is a symbiotic relationship between my conditioned self and the person I wish to become, the unconditioned self. Neither can exist without the other. The conditioned self, the ego, is essential because it is the parent of the higher soul and our interface with the material world, and it can’t do its job if it’s continually trash-talking itself: “I’m no good, oh I’ll never reach my goals, I don’t deserve x, y or z, .” The unconditioned self is also an integral part of us and is that part that draws us towards realization. As such, I’ve found it useful to cultivate models of my unconditioned self. In Tibetan Buddhism, this is formalized through contemplation of the guru, stylized as Tapihritsa or the Buddha Shenla Odker. My models are a tad more playful in that, for a while, I was walking around with the voice of Venom saying, “dude! Chill out! I got this.” (Venom is the eponymous alien of the Marvel Comics movie that subverts the common alien trope of insatiable-invader-and-destroyer-of-all-life-on-planet-Earth by making the protagonist of the movie a sympathetic alien/human symbiote.)

CONCLUSION

Microdosing works but perhaps not in the way one expects. It shines a light on the subconscious, which is not nimble like a bicycle messenger, it’s like a supertanker. It has vast amounts of cargo and it takes slow, sustained effort to change its direction. Preparation and integration are essential. The words of the Reddit psychonaut bear repeating: “In my experience, psilocybin makes you more neuroplastic, so whatever you are programming yourself with during the microdose will be reinforced. So having an intention and being mindful of that intention all day when doing it is far more influential to the experience than variation in milligrams. The medicine doesn’t fix you, you fix you and the medicine just gives your efforts a big push in whatever direction you take yourself.”

Plant medicine is just like any other medicine: it’s best only taken for a specific purpose, and it helps to have trusted people you can check in with along the way. Microdosing psilocybin is a crash course in shadow work. It’s crucial to not run away from the negativity because it’s the body/mind’s way of releasing old imprints; it’s just the outer husk burning up, but for that one must be prepared.

My intentions and affirmations don’t need to be so grand and can be as simple as:

• Whatever arises I will stay with my breath.

• To allow the medicine to move me towards the highest good.

• I am not my feelings, emotions or thoughts, they are just the conditioned aspects of my temporary being overlayed upon my true, original nature. Return to breath, return to heart, return to the present moment.

AFTERWORD

I was set to begin a second month of microdosing but my intuition was nudging me to wait. I confirmed my hunch by communing with the iChing, which I find useful when I’m vacillating about an important decision. I think that much of the benefit from my first protocol is still going through the mill; insights and realizations are still integrating themselves into my beliefs and behaviors. For instance, forty days after completing the first phase, I still find myself assimilating. The latest insight is that this document marks an end to feeling like a victim of my circumstances, an end to looking backwards and a beginning of a life lived in the moment with purpose for a better future. The medicine gives you insight and then you take that insight and sit with it and work with it until it’s thoroughly assimilated. What I’m beginning to love about microdosing is the slow pace of the work. I’ve always been in a hurry to reach my goals and consequently have missed many of them. I’m learning to be much more patient, to appreciate the beauty of the slow dawn rather than the momentary flash of insight.

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