To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelicHumphry Fortescue Osmond
Ah, September! It’s “Indian Summer” here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The weather is relatively peaceful and warm. Yes, there are micro-climates all over the place; and this usually means “dress in layers”. But I’m about to have an indoor experience. An experience of the sort I haven’t had in over 20 years. A mind-altering experience made famous by the hippies, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and the granddaddy of them all, Dr. Albert Hoffman. I’m dropping LSD tonight. The 20th night of September.
Just to be clear, I’ve had experiences with both psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) and LSD, but all of my prior trips were solo. My first psychedelic trip, with magic mushrooms, was back in 1992 when I was still a student at San Francisco State University. I wrote about that experience on this blog. It was wonderful, but also challenging. It forced me to come to terms with some of my shadows — potentially leading to a “bummer” or “bad trip”. Fortunately, I had been studying both the pharmacology and psychological effects of several mind-altering substances, so I had a good idea what to expect. I didn’t try LSD until 1994. The experience was more benevolent, yet it lasted much longer. Four years later, I had another experience with magic mushrooms. I sat on the living room sofa, squat-style, with greatly dilated pupils, convinced I could feel “the inner workings of my stomach”. My roommate was properly amused, and maybe a little concerned. I survived.
So here I am at my friend’s house with jazz music playing on his most excellent sound system. It’s about five o’clock and I’ve already meditated and set my intentions. This is the first time that I have specific goals in mind, both of which have to do with uncovering blocked memories. My friend brings out the vial of liquid LSD. I’m glad that we’re doing this together — should be interesting. The dosage, delivered via dropper, is about 100 micrograms. This is less than the 250-300 microgram dosage common in the ’60’s, but more than either a micro-dose or “recreational” dose. I am perfectly at ease when the LSD (dropped on my hand between the thumb and index finger) is finally ingested at 6:12 PM.
Thirty minutes later, I start to feel the effects (that was fast!). They come on stronger than I remembered — perhaps attributable to a higher dose. There is a rush of excitement all over my body. Some obscure musical composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen is playing in the background. Colors are starting to take on a more vivid appearance. I feel compelled to document this event by taking a video of myself describing my experience. It is one of many videos that will be taken that evening.
7:30 PM: Eric Dolphy’s last album, Out To Lunch is playing. I’m analyzing the music from every possible perspective. No words to describe it. A “presence” is felt over my left shoulder. It’s very persistent. I whip out my iPhone to take another video. “There’s this figure over here [pointing over my left shoulder]. What do you want? [a moment later] You’re not the person I thought you were”. Despite my dismissal, I am feeling good. It shows on my face. The colors are now starting to move. The outlines of various objects look like they are animated with colorful dots of light that scurry back and forth. It wasn’t like this in 1994, boy howdy.
7:45 PM: I’m already taking another video, just as a blast of hard jazz music reverberates through the house. I ask Rich for the time; he is confused by the question; I ask it a few more times and finally get an answer — with a smile. We’re both having a good time (time… time… time…). Even though we are deep in this magic trip, I worry about the volume disturbing the other occupants of the house. I’m sure this violates the Hague Convention of 1907. My brain is being flooded with serotonin. I feel like dancing, even though I’m sitting comfortably. It doesn’t make sense, but I’m going with it!
8:10 PM: Now we’re listening to the Turangalila Symphony by Olivier Messiaen. Yes, that was my suggestion, given my special knowledge of “classical” music. I have to spell out the name so that my friend can locate the YouTube track, which in my state, was a real challenge. Intense, tribal rhythms blare over the speakers. It’s elemental, raw. Nothing is held back (ah, the French!). I feel an ancient, atavistic connection to those early humans who looked up at the stars with awe and wonder. This symphony, by the composer’s admission, is a love song. A savage, beautiful love song that lasts well over an hour. The name literally means “time-play” (time-play… time-play… time-play…) in Sanskrit. Out comes the iPhone again for another video. I’m flying now!
Who-Knows-What Time: I’m starting to feel as though my forehead is getting larger. I still know who I am. But sometimes, as I stare at nothing in particular, I feel like I could very well be other people. Why am I thinking of Laura Linney? Is it her intense gaze, her fragility? Now it’s some other actor. A handsome, middle-aged male. I don’t know his name but I recognize him. Is there a forehead connection that I don’t know about? The physical sensations are really out of this world. I could very well metamorphose into some twisted Aztec god of war if I only knew what the time was (time was… time was… time was…). We go outside for a bit. How we manage to walk is far beyond me, but walking we are. I look up at the stars and marvel at them. Where are you from, my friend? The answers are within you, comes the response.
7:30 AM (next day): Who needs sleep? Dumb question. I need it, badly. I’m finally, finally coming down. I’m tired and hungry, having attempted to sleep on and off all night. In another hour, I’m back on planet Earth. My friend and I say our goodbyes over coffee. And even though the morning sun gently burns my retinas, I manage to drive home with a poem already forming in now-expanded mind.
It was all worth it.