Psychedelics

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Yesterday I watched a Ted Talk discussing the effects of psychedelic substances on the brain. I clicked on this video absentmindedly, not really expecting it to tell me anything I hadn’t already heard before. To my surprise I was given new insight into why my psychedelic experiences have been the way they are. It also gave me even more reason to believe that psychedelics really do allow us to connect to some deeper consciousness, a divine connectedness. It is a glimpse beneath the veil of our earthly illusions, and the things we think and perceive in these altered states are perhaps more real than the reality our sober minds produce.

I knew that taking psychedelics altered the way our brains perceive the world. I knew that they break down our biases and inner walls so to speak. They remove the shackles of our well worn neuronal connections and allow us the freedom to explore the vast possibilities of our consciousness and perception. What I didn’t know is that this brain state is very similar to one we’ve all experienced before: childhood. Apparently a child’s brain works in a very similar way to a brain on psychedelics. Isn’t that fascinating? I had often described my experiences with LSD as being a child again in a new world. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is fascinating and new. There is so much joy and curiosity and discovery to be had.

As children none of us were too enmeshed in certain ways of doing things or seeing the world. There were many more possibilities open to us. As we age, our brains naturally start to sink into patterns, strengthening certain neural networks while allowing other, less used pathways to shrivel and shrink with disuse. Eventually we begin to feel trapped in our ways of thinking and seeing the world. It feels impossible to change or view the world from a fresh perspective. And in reality, while it is still quite possible for us to change, it will be much harder than it might have been when we were younger.

Imagine a cart being pulled over the soft earth. Once you’ve made tracks in the dirt, it is easier to follow those tracks again. The more you follow those particular tracks though, the deeper they become. Eventually it will be quite difficult to make new tracks or break out of the ones we have been taking. A child’s mind is an image of virgin land, no tracks, no footprints even, just a great expanse of possibility and wonder. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that adults tend to enjoy children so much. While our own minds may feel incapable of breaking free of our patterns on their own, spending time with a child is sure to be full of surprises and new experiences. Children have the ability to pull us in new directions we would have never considered on our own. Kids are funny. Kids are weird. Kids are surprising, unpredictable even. That is the magic of a newly developing brain. That is the magic we may all experience again for ourselves with the help of psychedelics.

This comparison to a child’s mind helps explain a lot of the experiences I’ve had with LSD. The idea that psychedelics are able to break down our preconceived ways of seeing the world only strengthens my conviction that the feelings and truths I’ve experienced in that altered state of mind are real. LSD isn’t making me hallucinate or become delusional. LSD helps me to break through the illusions that I live inside of. It helps me see the world for what it is again, through fresh eyes, with the innocence and imagination of a child. I don’t for a second believe it’s a coincidence that one of the reoccurring perceptions people come away from a psychedelic experience with is that we are all connected. There is a powerful feeling of connectedness, contentment, joy, peace, trust. It is reconnecting with the wisdom of the universe, a deep sense of reassurance that everything is as it should be. There is also the ever present image that everything in life is a cycle, and that it’s okay to have faith in and surrender to that cycle. Now more than ever, I feel confident in that belief.

Alex Grey's “Gaia” | Pinkocrat

The Great Outdoors

I have always lived out in the country. At my childhood home, my parents had four acres of land lined with dense woods. Although most of the woodland area didn’t belong to us, we would always wander down through the trees to the charming stream at the bottom of the steep valley. This was one of my favorite activities when I was growing up. As I got older I would explore further and further down the stream in both directions. I have many stories of adventures in those woods with my friends, my family, my dogs, or even just by myself. I treasure the time I spent there and don’t plan on selling that house or the land even once my parents pass.

Even when I moved out to an apartment while attending college, there were plenty of gorgeous deep woods for us to explore right off campus and right outside our apartment complex. My college was nestled high in the hills of West Virginia, only visible after a long drive on winding back roads. It was almost like a small village hidden in the trees. Even now I only live a short walk from the river and can wander up into the trees right behind my house whenever I want to. I’ve always had the advantage of having nature right in my backyard.

The other day at work, we were talking with a girl who was originally from a big city. She was exasperated by the lack of people and places to go in our area. She even complained that she missed looking outside and seeing houses and buildings. Now when she looked outside she would just see cows. I said it at the time and I’ll say it again, who would rather look at buildings than cows?! Its baffling to me that some people would actually prefer living in a crowded city. To me that has always seemed like a nightmare.

It’s strange to think that most people actually live in cities now. Each year humanity becomes more and more separated from the Earth. I find that terribly sad. To think that some people have lived their whole lives within the confines of New York City for instance. Even Central Park or other state parks in more populated areas don’t do the true majesty of nature justice. While I was in awe at the unique, natural landscapes in Hocking Hills State Park when I was there, it was still somewhat spoiled by the sheer number of other people there, making that serene, calming environment noisy and crowded. There is a special magic that can only be found alone in the silence of nature. It breaks my heart to think that so many people will never experience that. There are even plenty of people that have no desire to.

I believe that humanity has lost something crucial to our survival when we severed our ties with the natural world. For so many centuries we viewed the harsh conditions of the outdoors as our enemy, not realizing that it was also an essential part of us. Not realizing that it has the potential to heal as well as harm us. That we need its nourishing energy to be happy and healthy and fully alive. We have all come from the earth and whether we want to accept it or not, we are still a part of the earth.

I know a lot of people that have hopeful fantasies about humanity living in space or on Mars one day. This has always seemed like an impossible, as well as idiotic plan to me. Humans think space will save us once this planet has been utterly killed. Yet no one seems to realize what life separated from our Earth mother might really be like. I imagine life in space to be absolutely desolate and devoid of all of the things I love about being alive. I truly would not want to live if it meant being apart from the Earth. That would be no life at all to me.

And sadly that life apart is something so many humans already seem to be living, oblivious to the majesty of life that they are missing out on. Even people living in smaller towns with a grassy patch of backyard to themselves, can’t comprehend the meaningful time I have been able to spend in nature all my life. Sitting by a single tree behind a fence as neighbors drive by or mow their lawns cannot compare to being fully immersed in the deep, green forest, or all alone on the bank of a great river. The former is a sad substitute for the latter.

I believe it is because so many of us have spent our lives separated from nature that we have so easily been able to continue destroying every piece of it. So many people see this as necessary development, as “progress.” They don’t realize that what humanity builds, while impressive and amazing at times, can never compare to what nature has already provided for us. When so many people have lived their whole lives away from the natural world, it’s no wonder they are unable to grasp the importance of it.

I don’t know that there is any way to help so much of humanity realize what they have been missing out on. Like many things lately, it seems like a lost cause. However, contemplating all of these other lives I could have led, makes me so grateful for the life I have. It has truly been a blessing to grow up and experience this little sliver of existence the way I have been able to. To be accustomed to only the sounds of bird calls, rustling leaves, and running water outside my windows my entire life. To have spent so many days barefoot, with the warm soil between my toes, walking through the shallow water of a clear stream. Collecting enough wild berries at the edge of my yard with my grandmother and sister to make a pie. Always having plenty of space to garden or simply bask in the sun. To have always had loyal, loving, innocent animals at my side. To be able to gaze at a sky full of stars each night I have been alive. I would not trade this life of mine for anything.

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Fond Farewells

Today’s yoga class is the last one I’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite regular students. She is an older woman named Carol. I felt a strong connection to her right away and was always pleased to see she would basically only come to the studio on Saturdays for my class. We would always stay and chat for a few minutes after class about our practice or about politics. She was truly a delight. There was a palpable absence when she didn’t come to class.

A few weeks ago I found out that she was moving back to her home state. I was quite sad knowing that soon I’d have to say goodbye to one of my students and a good friend. As I prepared my class for this week, I decided to design it specifically for Carol. At the end of practice she always works on her bakasana (crow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose.) As a special treat for her I made the whole class a build up to get us ready for those exact poses. I was happy to talk with her after class to discover that she noticed and appreciated this gesture of mine. I also gave her a small farewell gift. I had planned to give her one of my many hag stones since they are supposed to be good luck. However, I forgot them when I left this morning. Fortunately, I had a lucky howlite crystal keychain I decided to give to her instead.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I am not very good with people. I’ve never really understood how to appropriately approach different social situations. So while these kind gestures may seem second nature to a lot of you reading this post, know that for me it took a great deal of consideration and effort. To be honest, I don’t really know if that was “normal” or not when saying goodbye to someone you care about. I often worry that I am being over the top. As I was contemplating what type of small gift I could give her, I even second guessed doing anything special at all. She is just someone I see once a week for an hour or so that I probably won’t ever see again. I’ve certainly parted from people that were more integral in my life with less fanfare, sometimes without as much as a goodbye. I noticed that I was asking myself if it was “worth it.”

Most people seem to interact with others in the way they do simply because it comes naturally. For me, each interaction requires a lot of thought and careful consideration. I spend my mental and emotional energy very sparingly. So when I thought about the fact that I would never see this person again, the cold, logical side of my brain told me it would be a waste to exert any energy making an effort for a relationship that was inevitably ending. Normally I will justify kind gestures by telling myself it will end up being a benefit to me in the future. Even though that may sound heartless and selfish, it’s just the way my brain works even when I do genuinely care about the person involved. It’s usually the only way I can keep myself from avoiding the interaction all together.

I decided to just ignore that icy, calculating side of myself this time though. I felt like I wanted to do something for Carol, so I did. It felt right, and that was enough. Then, as I saw how much my small gestures meant to her, as I saw her teary eyes above her mask as she thanked me for everything, I knew I made the right decision. It doesn’t matter if I don’t see or hear from her again. It doesn’t matter if ten years from now I don’t even remember she exists. Sometimes it’s okay to just be grateful for the fleeting moments in life. Today was about honoring the meaningful connection I made with another human being if only for a brief period in time.

I am always so focused on the future, that sometimes it can be hard for me to find value in the temporary. Yet, nothing lasts forever. Today was a reminder of that. It was a reminder that each moment must be appreciated for what it is, without worrying about what it could be or what it will mean for the future. Isn’t is good enough to be happy just for the sake of being happy? It doesn’t have to last indefinitely for it to mean something. There is truly a lesson in everything if you care to look for it. I am grateful for Carol and the many lessons I’ve learned thanks to having her in my life for the time that I did. I hope she has gained as much from our time together as I have.

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Relationship Standards

I was watching an advice show where someone wrote in to ask about how not to bring old relationship baggage into a new relationship. This person was feeling anxious about similarities in behavior between her past and present partner and wanted a way to ease her mind and stop worrying about being dumped by her new partner. I don’t know what I expected to hear, but I was a little disappointed that this person’s situation wasn’t more comparable to my own. Because I was hoping to get some advice or insight for myself.

My problem is almost the exact opposite. I can’t seem to find anyone that is similar enough to my old partner. I know I shouldn’t be comparing them to him in the first place, but I can’t help myself. Yet there are so many factors I have to consider while I’m doing so that I wonder if it’s really the other person falling short or me. Now, I’m trying to be fair here. I don’t expect them to be perfect, or a carbon copy of someone from my past. I am just looking for that same sense of connection.

On paper, it probably wouldn’t look like there was anything too remarkable about my last relationship. But there was this ineffable vibe that this person gave me. I don’t know what it is exactly. It’s not just that person either. My best friend is one of those people. My coworkers seem to be of that kind as well. I even randomly met someone the other day who has been in my mind since then. Just from that brief conversation I could tell they were potentially one of these special people as well. I’ll try my best to explain what exactly this quality is I am searching for in others.

It feels like when most people look at you, they aren’t really looking at you. They are seeing you distorted through all of their expectations and assumptions. They are seeing the person they want you to be. When you speak to these people you get the sense that they didn’t really take the time to hear you. These special people of mine are different. They really see me. And somehow they accept me anyway, love me anyway. What could be more beautiful?

Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t consider myself a great listener or someone who is open to letting people be whoever they are and accepting that. I don’t know if the people in my life that are like that with me are even like that with everyone. Perhaps there are just invisible threads that connect some of us in that special way. But even though I’m not always open and loving, something about being seen lets me be. It is a vulnerable, thrilling place to be. It makes me feel truly alive again to be near these types of people.

The problem is there don’t seem to be very many of these people. I’ve only met a handful my entire life. When I start talking to someone new, I really try to give them a fair chance. Even though I can usually tell if someone has that vibe or not right away. Meeting through the internet makes it kind of hard to be sure. These people are always conversationalists though. They are as good at talking as they are at listening. They ask lots of good questions and have interesting opinions and perspective on things.

It is quite emotionally exhausting to sift through the population trying to find these people. I feel guilty every time I have to break things off with someone for seemingly no reason. Most of the people I’ve met were perfectly fine, but they just weren’t right. I wasn’t feeling that connection. They weren’t really seeing me.

This is where I start to doubt myself though. Is this all in my head? Am I projecting all of this onto the people around me? Am I just looking for excuses to keep carrying this torch for someone who couldn’t care less about me now? Is this some kind of complex defense mechanism to keep people away?

Occasionally I’ll push forward with a new relationship long past when I’ve basically decided it isn’t going to work for me. Just to see if the person just needs more of a chance, if they’ll grow on me. I always end up just feeling guilty in the end for leading them on and wasting both of our time. I’m not someone who would ever “settle.” That has never been an option for me. I much prefer being on my own to being with someone I don’t absolutely adore. I guess I’ll just keep looking and trusting this one sliver of intuition that still speaks to me.

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Trading Pain for Pleasure

How much pain are you willing to put up with to keep someone close to you? I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time now. Some days I feel like I would sacrifice anything just to have that special connection. Other days I wonder if it’s really worth it, if I’m just addicted to reopening old wounds in a desperate attempt to feel something again. I can never decide what would truly be best for me. Should I try to protect myself and try to give up these feelings? Or should I follow what I feel no matter how painful the outcome? Can I really trust these feelings? Or am I deluding myself?

I always feel like there are two sides of me constantly arguing with each other. My brain, my logical self says, “Move on! You are being stupid. This is pathetic. You are romanticizing the past. There is nothing but suffering to be had by clinging to a memory.” But my heart, my emotional self says, “Nothing else makes me feel like this. Nothing else makes me feel anything. That has to mean something. I don’t know what, but I can’t ignore this pull. Everything else seems grey by comparison.” My brain interrupts in protest as I try to express this ineffable feeling, “You are a literal crazy person. You are one of those creepy, stalker, weirdos. You’ve lost sight of reality.” The shame and embarrassment of this likely conclusion usually halts me in my tracks, keeps me from acting, keeps me from even pondering the question anymore.

I am so terrified that any further attempts to reach out will only reinforce this idea in the mind of this other person. Is that how they see me already? Would they be right in seeing me that way? Maybe so. For the longest time, I felt cheated and insulted by the idea of mere friendship. Now I am horrified that I turned my nose up at such a generous offer. After all that I have done, I don’t really even deserve that. And maybe because of those past mistakes, those egregious, selfish acts, I should resign myself to this bond being forever severed.

I’ve genuinely never felt closer to anyone, never been known so deeply by anyone, never cared to know anyone else so deeply in return. But perhaps this fixation, this constant clinging, is what has been preventing me from developing any other significant relationships. Then again, I always come back to the question: Is it even up to me? Am I even able to truly let this go, even if I decided I wanted to? It seems like right now, the best I can manage to do is go numb, to not think about it. In fact, just writing this all out has left me emotionally exhausted. I think it’s about time to stop for now.

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Time Wasted?

Today, like everyday, I had a lot I planned to do. I had to come into work instead of working from home. I still manage to do a lot of my personal tasks even while at work. Except today was a little different than I planned for it to be. I came back into my office after we completed today’s forensic interview, and just as I was about to get started on my to-do list, my coworker came into my office. He had brought his coffee, took a seat, and began to talk to me about a myriad of different topics. I closed my notebook reluctantly.

I had planned on finishing up a few things and rushing out the door once I was finished with my work for the day. However, we ended up talking for nearly three hours. Now the workday is nearly finished. Not only did I not get to head home early, but I also haven’t finished any of the things I set out to. As someone who sticks to a very rigorous, personal schedule, this causes me a lot of anxiety.

It is hard for me to deal with days like today. I feel as though time spent chatting, even with interesting people that I really like, is time wasted. Nothing quantitative was accomplished in those three hours we spent talking. I now have less time left in the day to do my “important” things. It is difficult for me to convince myself that I didn’t just waste time today by talking so much with a friend.

I think most people would find this mindset fairly bizarre. I enjoyed myself. We talked about a lot of fun, interesting things. We laughed. We smiled. And I probably developed a slightly deeper friendship in the process. But on paper, I have nothing to show for those hours. My anxiety is not pleased. I feel rushed to make up for lost time.

Yet because of the way I feel about these kinds of days, I think I cause myself to miss out on some of the parts of life that are truly valuable. I miss time with people in my life that I will never be able to reclaim. How could I value writing on this blog, journaling, reading, or drawing over genuine connection with loved ones? I don’t even understand this myself. Yet there are many days I miss opportunities to hangout because I am “too busy.” But when I really think about it, my time would probably be better spent do these “less important” activities. I am going to try hard to be grateful for the time I spent talking with my friend today. It was important to me. Even if it wasn’t necessarily productive.

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To Understand & To Be Understood

Navigating interpersonal relationships has always been something I really struggle with. But last night I had an interaction that made me really proud of myself. Let me explain. A lot of the time I feel almost threatened by other people. It’s as if their presentation of who they and the things they say and believe are saying something about who I am. And I need to defend myself, my identity. I hope that makes sense.

I understand this is irrational, but I get caught up in the moment and get into arguments or get fed up with the person all together. But yesterday I somehow managed to avoid my normal pattern. And it felt so good.

Instead of feeling personally challenged or attacked by what my friend was saying, I just listened. Really listened, with genuine interest and curiosity. I didn’t get upset or get lost in my own interpretation of his words. I allowed myself to be curious. To really try to understand not only the words, but how he intended them, what he was really trying to convey.

I asked a lot of questions. Questions that led to answers that surprised me. Instead of angry or frustrated, I felt intrigued. For once I felt confident enough in myself to not feel threatened by the perceptions and actions of someone else.

Normally that conversation would have devolved into a bitter argument. Over nothing honestly. It would have left me feeling aggravated and ashamed and more alone than ever. But instead I was able to let it turn into an insightful, meaningful conversation that helped me understand my friend better. Maybe even allowed me to provide some support and comfort to him. For once I was able to take myself out of the equation. Finally I was able to focus on who I was talking with rather than myself. And it felt so incredibly good. It was one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time.

I am so proud of my behavior. I was able to remain calm and inquisitive. I expressed myself honestly, openly, clearly, and confidently. My friend even said jokingly that it felt like he was talking to a therapist at one point, which I took as a compliment. Therapists listen. They ask questions. They remain selfless in the interaction. They help people. I hope I was helpful. Even if just for one brief encounter.

I also hope this interaction was not just a random fluke. I hope that it is a reflection of some type of inner growth that has occurred over the last year. I want to have conversations like I did last night again. I want to be able to stay calm and through that openness and willingness to be vulnerable have more moments of genuine connection with my friends and loved ones.

I have to remind myself that each person in this world has a fascinating, unique universe inside of them. And I want to learn about those inner worlds. What could be more interesting? I’ve often heard the phrase “to love and to be loved” expressed as the quasi goal of this life. But I would add to that “to understand and to be understood.”

I’ve spent so many encounters in a hostile state, focusing on myself, wanting to be understood, yet not at all expecting I ever would be. But I was missing half of the equation! I was not trying to understand the person I was talking to. I was too wrapped up in myself to understand them. It is equally nice to love as it is to be loved. I am just now finally learning that it is also just as nice to understand someone else as it is to be understood yourself.

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Happiness & Relationships

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There is a lot of research that suggests having meaningful relationships with others and frequently interacting with other people is associated with a higher level of happiness and wellbeing. I doubt anyone would be surprised by this data. It seems like common sense. It stands to reason that a social species like human beings would gain comfort and pleasure from our relationships.

However, correlation cannot prove causation. Having more interpersonal relationships could be leading to increased happiness. Or it could be that happy people are more likely to form close bonds and socialize more. It could even be an unmeasured third factor that is contributing to this phenomenon.

Despite this data not necessarily meaning you need these relationships to be happy, it still troubles me. Maybe a lot of my unhappiness is due to my tenuous relationships and social ineptitude. The pandemic has allowed me to notice a drastic difference which I did not expect. I thought I would rather always be home alone than go to work every day, but surprisingly I felt much happier and less anxious on the days I went in to the office. And it did seem like my life was more vibrant and interesting when I had a “friend group” I would hangout with frequently, if not daily.

I genuinely miss being in school. It aided me greatly to be corralled together with my peers on a fixed schedule. I find it quite difficult to maintain close, regular contact with people on my own. Apart from family, there is really only one person left in my life that I would consider a close friend. And we go weeks without even sending texts usually.

I don’t mind being on my own for the most part. I keep myself busy and enjoy many solitary activities. I’ve always been an introvert, and find social gatherings quite draining and stressful. Yet I fear because of all of these factors I will inevitably end up all alone in life.

As I watch my social life dwindling with age, I am scared. But I have no idea how to change. Even when I do make plans to be more social, my anxiety prevents me from following through. I don’t feel like I am necessarily unhappy because I am lonely. But maybe the link is just not apparent. Maybe my mental health would improve if I had more friends. It does stand to reason that a species which evolved to depend on being part of a larger group would suffer some type of mental or physical effects from being alone.

I am the youngest person in my family. My one true friend considers moving out of the area someday. Will I be strong enough to survive on my own? Will I be brave enough to form any new bonds? Ultimately I feel helpless to improve my position. And it makes me uncomfortable knowing I have to depend on other people. I sincerely hope that I am the outlier in the population that can manage to find happiness without the love and support of others. Because I really don’t see myself becoming close with anyone new. I’m lucky I’ve been able to find acceptance from the few people I do have in my life. I can at least be grateful for them right now, and try to let go of the rest.

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