Finding the Feeling

For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.

In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.

We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.

It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.

Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.

So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.

This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
  3. Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
  4. Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
  5. Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
  6. Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
  7. When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.

If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.

If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?

Gratitude Journal for a positive mindset - The Happi Empire

What You Damn, Damns You

Anger Meditation in Four Forms - Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

What you damn, damns you.

What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness.

Paul Selig

Paul Selig was the guest on the podcast I was listening to as I drove home yesterday. At first I was skeptical. He was described as an author and “medium.” He talks about “channeling” these other voices and entities that tell him what to write in his books. Anytime I hear outlandish claims like this, my defenses immediately go up. My first instinct is: this is a charlatan, a grifter, a scam artist. I am angered at the audacity of some of these so called mystics and the way they blatantly take advantage of their trusting, if not naïve, followers.

After listening to him speak for awhile, I did hear a lot of interesting ideas. Whether or not he actually believes he is channeling spirits that tell him these things, I have no clue. However, a couple of the things he ended up saying really struck me. Particularly the quote I shared above: What you damn, damns you. What you place in darkness, calls you to the darkness. I even tried to look it up to see if this quote could be attributed to anyone else, but wasn’t able to find it anywhere. This actually makes me curious to read at least one of Paul Selig’s books, in case there are anymore insightful tidbits like this.

I wanted to talk about that quote today and dissect it a little bit. It reminds me a lot of the famous Buddha quote: Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I never really realized that this idea could be expanded to encompass practically all negative emotions. Often we lash out at the world around us, thinking subconsciously that our refusal to accept someone or something will help us maintain distance from it. But in fact, that hatred, that anger, that denial, that distaste, actually allows the very things we want to avoid to have more of an effect on us. It is equanimity toward all things that will set us free.

Take a moment to reflect on some of the things (or people) that you hate. How does thinking about these things feel in your body? Perhaps you notice a tightening in your chest, a narrowing of your eyes, growing tension in your shoulders. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s likely not pleasant. Now consider how these thoughts affect whatever it is you’re thinking about. I’m guessing it doesn’t affect it at all, right? So why do we continue to lower our own vibration for the sake of anger, hatred, etc.?

Sometimes it genuinely feels as though we have no choice. We’re made to feel these emotions. That’s how I thought about things for most of my life. And at times, it’s still hard to remember I have a choice. It definitely takes a lot of practice to resist that spark of fury when someone cuts you off in traffic or offends you in one way or another. I may not ever be able to eliminate these visceral reactions from my life completely. However, just reframing the way you see things is the first step. It makes a huge difference. I used to cling to my anger and avoidance. I claimed it as part of my identity even, defined myself not only by the things I loved but by the things I hated as well. It wasn’t just hard to let go, I didn’t want to let it go. These negative feelings felt important somehow.

Just noticing my own thought patterns and emotional reactions has made my life so much easier. While I’m not able to completely avoid getting angry or upset, it is a hell of a lot easier to calm myself back down and let those feelings flow through me without clinging onto them. Now I have much more energy to direct toward the things I love, the things I’m grateful for, the things that bring me peace and joy.

If you notice yourself ruminating about the things that irritate you today, try to remember that you are the only one being affected by these thoughts and feelings. Hating the slow driver in the left lane in front of you, doesn’t do anything to that driver. It doesn’t bother them, nor does it make them drive any faster. So why are you making the situation even more unpleasant by punishing yourself? Can you let it go? Do you feel resistant to letting it go? Can you get curious about why that is? Don’t be too hard on yourself if this is challenging at first. I still struggle with it all the time. The important thing is that you’re aware and you’re trying. That is something to be proud of.

Lessons in LSD

On Labor Day, after spending the morning hiking through beautiful new woodland areas and visiting my grandmother, my boyfriend and I decided to spend the last several hours of his visit on acid. I’ve been so eager to have another trip since I’ve been reading about psychedelics for the past few weeks. This time I was determined to take at least as much as I did on my first trip, which was five hits. A lot of the experiences described in the psychedelic studies were due to high doses of the drugs, likely much higher than even what is contained in those five tabs. As summer was beginning to wane, I felt long overdue for a spiritual, transcendent experience. And I was so happy to have my beloved there by my side.

I am always surprised by just how natural the effects of LSD feel. It feels like coming home. It feels far more real than my sober reality ever could. It feels like waking up, cradled in the arms of mother earth, of the universe. Never has the mantra “everything is as it should be” felt so true. Static electricity seems to fill the air, connecting me to everything, supporting me, energizing me.

We spent the first moments of our trip gently stretching on our yoga mats in the sunlit grass. Every sensation seemed amplified and completely new. What a joy to move this miraculous body! How good it feels to explore myself as if for the first time. Every breath was orgasmic. Crisp clean air, expanding my lungs, flooding my blood, my brain, with oxygen. So simple, so satisfying. I doubt I stopped smiling for even a second.

One of the first things I always notice when I trip is my habitual thought patterns. “What’s next?” I’m always asking myself. Planning the next moment, rather than enjoying the one that I’m in. Searching for satisfaction outside of myself instead of inside. There is no judgment muddying this self-reflection, only interest and amusement. How strange it is to not be able to see the perfection of the present while sober. It seems so obvious, so unavoidable on acid. Never has it been more clear that these feelings of ecstasy come from within, that I have the power of happiness inside me always, regardless of my external circumstances.

After reveling in and exploring our own bodies for awhile, we moved inside to explore and enjoy one another. I’ve always cringed at the phrase “making love,” but for the first time in my life, I truly felt that was what we were doing. There was no anxiety, no shame, no hesitation, no expectation, just pure presence, pure love. At times I truly lost myself. There was no separation between our bodies or our souls. As we laid silently in one another’s arms afterward, I felt that no words could accurately express what had just passed between us. Perfection is the only one that comes close. Thankfully, it also felt like no words were needed. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, joy, and oneness with all the universe. My heart was overflowing with unconditional love for all of existence. It seemed as though we were only given distinct forms in order to experience the miracle of coming together again.

We spent the rest of the evening gathering tomatoes from my garden, making dinner, snuggling, laughing and watching YouTube. At one point we attempted to be creative. I was dying to write. Poetry seemed to be endlessly streaming through my head. However, when I put pen to paper, I couldn’t seem to find the right words. These realizations, the beauty of existence, these transcendental truths were so clear in my mind. Yet there were impossible to express accurately with mere words. Despite my best efforts, psychedelic experiences are largely inexpressible. At best they translate into platitudes and clichés. So here’s a vague representation of what I always come away with:

  1. Everything is as it should be.
  2. Everything is a cycle, spiraling out endlessly into infinity.
  3. I have everything I need inside of myself.
  4. Love and laughter are all that matter.
  5. We are all one.

These are by no means new ideas. However, the psychedelic experience allows me to perceive and appreciate these truths in a deeper way. This appreciation and poignancy perseveres long after the effects of the drug wear off. I would liken it to splashing your face with water in the morning. It’s a splash of gratitude and energy for the soul. It’s a reminder of who we really are. A confirmation that all is well, that we are exactly where we should be.

Perhaps the most striking and fascinating of the lessons I’ve learned from acid are the idea that everything is a cycle. This can be frustrating, but also quite comforting. It truly gives me the gift of believing that death is not the final ending. There is no ending, only new beginnings. Psychedelics give us something that unfortunately we cannot share with one another through language. It is something, I believe, everyone should experience for themselves. It’s a remedy. It’s a revelation. It’s a rebirth.

Mind menders: how psychedelic drugs rebuild broken brains | New Scientist

Fire Element

As a kid, I was always really into things like horoscopes. I’m not sure I ever fully believed them, but I thought they were fun and I still do. I lost interest for a while as I got older, but became intrigued again during my yoga teacher training. One of the teachers at my studio does natal charts. Up until meeting her, I had no idea that horoscopes were so complex. I thought it was all based on your sun sign and nothing more. Once you add in all the other layers such as your moon, your rising, the different houses, etc. it can become a much fuller and more accurate picture of a person. There is still so much I don’t understand about it, but would love to learn.

Yesterday, just for fun I decided to try out one of those free natal charts online. I am honestly still surprised by how accurate it was. Not only did it shock me how well I saw myself reflected in the horoscope, but I was shocked because no matter what type of “test” I take, the result seems to remain consistent. There was an unbelievable similarity between what my natal chart said and what the results of my Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory said. And it wasn’t just mine. Both of these tests revealed similar things for my boyfriend as well.

One of the main things I have taken from these various tests is that of the four elements, I identify most with fire. I am filled with passion and conviction. I am easily angered and can come off as aggressive when speaking about something that means a lot to me. These are things that I’ve recognized in myself for a while now. The part I only connected to this recently is my constant desire and longing. I am always reaching, searching, consuming, feeding the fire inside me. Nothing is ever enough for me. I don’t know when to stop. I am constantly trying to fill myself with food, drinks, drugs, activities, etc. But instead of being filled, I burn right through it all. The fire inside simply glows brighter for a moment, then demands more.

I’m not quite sure what to do with this information. I’ve known for a long time that nothing external will ever be able to bring me lasting peace, happiness, or comfort. Still, that hasn’t kept me from trying to satisfy myself with whatever I can get my hands on. I suppose it’s always helpful to have more of an understanding about myself and why I am the way I am. It’s just my nature. There is nothing wrong with me. We all contain aspects of the four elements inside of us. I just need to practice getting in touch with the other three that are not as prominent inside of me. Then I will hopefully be able to feel more balanced and complete.

Photo by Justin on Pexels.com

More Than This

Like most people in my area, I was raised Christian, Methodist to be more specific. My family was never super religious or anything, but we did go to church every Sunday when I was little. As soon as I was old enough to question things, I did. When I found that none of the important questions I raised could be answered, I decided to cast aside these religious teachings and become an atheist.

Without really realizing it, I harbored a lot of pain and resentment toward religion after that. I spent a lot of time feeling superior to people that were still religious. I thought they were idiots, brainwashed, or at the very least painfully ignorant. Slowly I began to give up that anger though. While there are plenty of things I disagree with about a lot of religious teachings and organized religions, I don’t feel the need to fight against them or throw them out entirely anymore. I’m content to let others find comfort and meaning in life in whatever way they see fit.

My yoga journey has reawakened my interest in spirituality and the things we still don’t understand about this existence. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts addressing these fascinating subjects. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and there is simply nothing better than learning something new that completely changes your perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot of those kinds of things in the last few days and I’d love to share a few of them with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what we are. For most of my life, it seemed obvious. We are these physical bodies. We are matter moving through the world and when we die we’re dead. Our consciousness disappears. These bodies turn back to dust. A few things I’ve heard have led me to challenge that belief though. Did you know that what we consider to be our body is actually made up more of the empty space between/within atoms than the actual atoms? Not only that, when you only consider the cells our bodies are composed of, we are made up practically equally of germ/bacterial cells as we are human cells. How can that be?! It completely changes my conception of what it means to be me.

With those two things in mind, it seems like we should identify more with our consciousness and the energy inside of us than our physical bodies. But what exactly is that energy and where does it come from? I don’t pretend to know. But I have learned that our thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions are not as immaterial as I once thought. I may not have all the answers that I would like to have, and I may not ever have them, but I believe there is much more to existence than can currently be understood or explained by science. I no longer have the arrogance I once did. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much for me to learn and discover. And that’s okay. I am so excited to keep searching.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Feeling Emotions In Your Body

As I was growing up, I remember crying quite a lot. I guess it’s normal for kids to cry often, especially little girls. Even as a teenager I have many memories of crying myself to sleep at night. It seems sad, but I actually miss those days. Now I go literally years without a single teardrop. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not exactly. Not crying doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happier than if you cry every day. Crying is a release. It’s a release I’ve actually been longing for and unable to find for a long time now.

Until recently I didn’t think too much about it. I figured if I wasn’t crying, I must just not be sad enough. As an adult, I’ve always thought of myself as not a very emotional person. However, as human beings we are all emotional creatures. Unfortunately some of us have just cut ourselves off from those emotions. I don’t necessarily know if it’s a natural defense mechanism in my case, or if it’s because of the SSRI that I’ve been taking for around 6 years now. Perhaps neither, or a combination of both. I suppose the reason doesn’t matter.

It’s only come to my attention lately because I have been working with a few kundalini meditations. For some reason, each time I do one of these practices, I feel this deep pit of emotion open up inside of me afterward. I’ll randomly feel the urge to cry throughout the rest of the day. It feels like there is so much feeling welling up, but still I am unable to fully release that energy. Although I’m sure I need that release, it’s not a pleasant experience. So, true to form, I’ve been shying away from kundalini, despite my interest in it.

With emotion front and center in my mind, I happened to stumble upon a podcast that was talking about just that. The woman being interviewed even described exactly how I’ve been feeling, but haven’t been able to put into words. She said that she never really understood it when people talked about feeling their emotions in their bodies. For her, emotion was always a mental state, not something you necessarily felt physically. She even talked about the way she likes to visualize walking down a staircase from her head into her body in order to find that deeper, primal connection with herself.

After hearing that, it dawned on me that I haven’t been feeling into my body at all for a long time now. I guess part of me even felt powerful and strong for never crying. But courage is sitting with those emotions, not blocking them out. I want to make an effort to really rediscover what it feels like to experience life from my whole being, not simply living in my head all the time. I feel like I’ve been taking this body for granted, not fully embracing it as a part of myself. I’ve somewhat disassociated from my body as I’ve grown older. I’ve lived the last decade or so of my life as if I’m just this floating head, completely disconnected from the physical world.

Even though it feels scary, I’ve been trying to come back to my bodily sensations when I notice myself getting too caught up in my thinking mind. It seems like the only two emotions I feel anymore are anxiety (if that can even be considered an emotion) and anger. So I’m going to start there. I’ve already noticed that allowing yourself to be open to the experience of whatever it is you’re feeling let’s you have the space to really be present with it. It feels much better than trying to avoid or control it.

The next time you feel yourself starting to get overwhelmed, take a few breaths and tap back into your body. Let go of any thoughts you might be having and simply ask yourself, how do I feel right now? What is going on in my body? Maybe your chest feels tight. Maybe your clenching different muscles. There’s no need to try to change what you notice. Just noticing it is enough. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is. Forgive yourself for the way you feel. Offer yourself compassion. Emotions, even painful ones, are just another part of the human experience. They teach us about ourselves. They connect us to others. They are energy moving through us. Trying to avoid these feelings just causes them to become trapped within us rather than flowing in and out of us like the breeze. Let’s relearn how to let go. Become the curious observer of your own human experience.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Defining Moments

Each of us have moments throughout our lives that come to define us. It might not even seem like a memorable event at the time, but looking back years later we come to realize that it was an important turning point for us. One of the things I find most beautiful about the human experience is how often some of our darkest hours turn into something to be grateful for down the road. We are able to find resiliency and meaning in the most difficult and harrowing of circumstances.

For some reason, I have really been contemplating my past recently. When I was younger it seemed like my memory was an organized folder of events laid out in order. As I’ve collected more and more experiences though, that folder has become a complete mess with huge sections that seem to be missing entirely. As a child, I was sure I’d want to remember everything about my life and have detailed records to look back on fondly once I was older. However, at some point, maybe around the end of high school, I changed my mind. It felt like I was collecting a lot of notebooks full of worthless musings rather than important accounts of my daily life. Besides, I had yet to feel any need to look back through those early diaries.

Now it seems like I’ve changed my mind yet again. I’m quite distressed by how cluttered and unclear my memory has become. At some point I’d like to start working on a timeline of my life, adding details of whatever form as they come to me. That is a daunting endeavor, but I thought I could at least start by recounting some of the significant, what I would consider “defining moments” of my adult life.

1. Discovering Neuroplasticity

This may seem like a silly, impersonal moment to consider as one that defined who I am now, but looking back I know I would not be where I am today without it. Although my education in psychology has not necessarily been a great financial decision in the long run, it provided me with a wealth of information that is priceless to me. I wanted to study in this field because the brain has always fascinated me. I wanted to understand what is was about me that made me feel so different and separate from everyone else. I wanted to learn what was “wrong” with me and how to fix it.

One of the most impactful, useful pieces of knowledge I collected in this pursuit was the concept of neuroplasticity. From the brief bits of psychology I had learned before that, I had assumed that after a certain age (an age I had already unfortunately passed) the brain stopped developing. I felt hopelessly trapped in the thinking patterns and habits that I had already unconsciously been developing my whole life. I wasn’t happy at the time, so I would never be happy.

Finding out that no matter how old we are we have the ability to actively and intentionally change the pathways in our brains, strengthening and forming new connections, was groundbreaking. For the first time in my life, I really felt like I had control over my own happiness. It gave me the hope and confidence I needed to finally trust in all the woo-woo self help nonsense I had always cast aside as wishful thinking. That was the day my journey to create myself truly began.

2. Hopelessness, Helplessness, and Heartbreak

The second defining moment I had as an adult was losing the love of my life for the second time. Although it happened once before, I felt the second instance was more devastating, more final. When this person came back into my life after years of no contact, I actually cried from sheer joy and gratitude. I still remember wishing I believed in God at the time so I would have someone to properly thank for my unimaginable good fortune. Little did I know that hardly over a month later, I would have been cursing that same God as it all came tumbling down around me.

I won’t get into the details, but when he left that day, the pain was so great that I numbed myself from it. I sat is silence for a long time. I was speechless, directionless. I felt utterly hopeless. I felt no other option other than to surrender to that immense ocean of sorrow before me. But that surrender allowed something beautiful to bloom inside me. It made me realize that clinging to the image of happiness I had always had in my head, wouldn’t make it any more possible. I accepted that perhaps I may never achieve that particular dream.

As heartbreaking as it was to let that dream go, when I did it allowed me the space I needed to realize that what I had been envisioning certainly wasn’t the only possible form of happiness. I knew that I had the ability to craft another, different, yet equally happy life for myself. Even if that life would be one I’d spend alone. At that moment I felt a shift. I felt a swell of energy inside me, urging me not to give up just yet.

This is the night I remember when I hear people talking about their “dark night of the soul.” Painful as it was, it taught me that I am much stronger than I thought I could be. It has given me a new image of my inner strength and resilience. It forced me to finally take the reigns of my own life.

3. Yoga Teacher Training

The previous life events were what I believe ultimately prepared me to delve deeper into my yoga journey. When the stars aligned and I somehow found myself in teacher training, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Before then I thought yoga was just about exercise and flexibility. I was shocked and delighted to find that there was so much more to it than that. I am so grateful for all of the amazing things I learned in teacher training that have helped me to continue to deepen my own practice.

It has even helped repair my relationship with spirituality in general. After years of ardent atheism following a Christian upbringing, I never thought that I would be open to anything anywhere near religion or “faith” ever again. I still consider myself an atheist, but that hostility and hatred I once harbored for anything religious or spiritual has finally faded. Yoga has helped me make peace with a lot of the grey areas of life and make peace with myself in general. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to share what I’ve learned and continue to learn with my students each week.

Overall, the combination of these three events in my life completely changed the trajectory I felt my life was on when I was younger. Contemplating these moments reminds me just how amazing this life really is. Just when I start to feel like I know it all and can predict exactly what will happen for me next, life surprises me yet again. What a beautiful thing it is to be a part of this world. I can’t wait to find out what else the universe has in store for me. Stay curious, keep learning, and be open to everything that comes your way. You never know how important it might be.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Psychedelics

Alex Grey 2 - Hads Trippy - Image via Thingstolookathigh com

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

Outgrowing Selfishness

I’ve always thought of myself as a very self-centered person. Autism could be a contributing factor to a lot of my more selfish tendencies. It’s not ever been a malicious selfishness. I’m not acting in my own interest at the expense of others. If I ever have, I’ve only unwittingly done so. It’s more like sometimes I forget to consider other people entirely, because I am too busy being consumed by my own inner world. I can still remember when I was very young, noticing that other people would often compliment someone else’s clothing or hair, etc. I remember asking my mom why I never felt the urge to do that, even if I did like something about someone else. I assumed it was only because I was shy and socially anxious. Only after I began forcing myself to compliment people did it become a comfortable, natural habit. I was surprised to discover that it even made me happy.

As I continue to get older, I’ve noticed myself becoming more and more interested in being of use to other people. And the way that thinking of and helping others is its own reward. I once thought selfishness was just a personality trait. I’ve now started to wonder if it’s simply an aspect of youth. I remember hearing about older people focusing their remaining energies on giving back to the community and supporting their family. It seems like in the later stages of life, giving back, sharing what you’ve learned and acquired with others, becomes the most personally fulfilling thing. I always had a hard time imagining myself in this role. Now it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

I’ve heard the metaphor of life being compared to a wave in the ocean. In the beginning we are one with the sea, then we crest for a time, the illusion of an individual entity, before eventually falling back into the water we came from. The longer I live, the more convinced I become of two things about this life: Everything is a cycle, and everything is one. These are the fundamental truths I keep coming back to when I have my spiritual experiences with LSD. It is comforting and profound. I can see it everywhere I look. It gives me hope that every ending inevitably leads to a new beginning on both a micro and macro scale.

The idea of the fluctuation of selfishness throughout life seems to fall into that framework as well. When we are born, we are totally dependent on others. Although no longer in the womb, we are still very much an extension of our mother, feeding from her very body to survive. Then we slowly but surely begin to gain independence. We revel in this newfound freedom, we test it’s limits, we find our individuality, just like the wave on the ocean. For awhile we are lost in the intoxication of this illusion. The illusion that we are separate.

No matter what, if any, religion or spirituality you subscribe to, getting older tends to remind us that we are all one, with our fellow humans, other species, the earth, everything. We all depend on one another, we all live through and because of one another. We’ve all sprouted from the same source, just as we will all return to it someday. Like waves in the ocean. But just like the ocean, the tide is relentless. There is no ending to the ebb and flow, there is a constant undulating cycle. It is a beautiful thing to be reminded of this. For me especially, it is nice to be reminded of the way things change, the way I change without even realizing it. What may seem terrifying and impossible to accept one day, seems as easy as breathing when the time finally arrives. We don’t need to worry about how we will handle situations in the distant future, because this current version of ourselves won’t be the one dealing with it anyway. We’ve simply got to keep going and trust that when we get there we will be the person we need to be to get through it.

So there is nothing to fear. Not even death. Because no matter how many cycles come to an end, a new one starts simultaneously, spiraling out into infinity. For a time it may be important for us to be selfish, to learn how to best take care of this newfound self. But there is also beauty and comfort in playing with the very idea of “self.” What made me decide to draw the line where I have? Why is this body the only thing I consider me? Maybe I am actually more than this. That boundary seems to be expanding, little by little, every day. And one day this little brief wave that I am will have fully submerged once again.

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Love Without Fear

A book I recently finished had a chapter near the end that touched on the idea of unconditional love. It tied this love that we are all capable of and that most of us have experienced at some time or another to the idea of inner divinity. We have often heard from spiritual or religious texts that we all contain a godly essence, a spark of the divine. This book suggests that we are experiencing a direct connection with that higher self when we feel such deep love. That in fact, this god or higher consciousness or whatever it might be, is this love.

While I don’t particularly believe in any religion or in a deity of any kind, I thought this was a beautiful and profound sentiment. There is certainly something transcendent about those moments when we lose ourselves in that feeling of unconditional love. It’s as if nothing else in the world matters. There is a sense of peace and clarity in our hearts and minds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to always be able to feel that way? To always love with our entire being in every moment? To look at everyone you meet with the tenderness and compassion that you would look at your own child? It is an intoxicating idea. How different life would be!

Many teachers and texts have suggested that it is indeed possible to reach that state. Perhaps we’ve even walked among those who have. This made me wonder what it is that keeps me from feeling that love all the time. What is holding me back? Eventually the answer I came to rest upon was fear. It is scary to love. To love that deeply, one must allow themselves to be vulnerable. And being vulnerable can be quite difficult. To be vulnerable is to accept the possibility, perhaps even the inevitability, that you will get hurt.

Logically my mind agrees that this is a worthwhile risk. After all, love is what matters most in this life. The benefits of giving love freely far outweigh the risks in my opinion. However, my heart is still fearful. It shrinks away from the pain of loss, of rejection. I always beat myself up when I feel I have squandered my love on someone who doesn’t appreciate it. I tell myself that I was a fool, that my love has no value, that it has been wasted, that I should have expected such an outcome from the beginning.

In reality, the negative self-talk that follows is more hurtful than any loss or rejection could ever be on its own. I’d like to work on changing my internal dialogue so that I am able to strengthen my connection to that divine love within. There is nothing to fear. There is no shame in unrequited love. It doesn’t have to hurt. It is the ego that recoils in pain. It says what is wrong with me? Am I not good enough? Does my love not matter? Am I not worth loving in return? But none of these things really matter. I can work on shifting my focus from those questions to the experience of love itself. It feels so good to love. That feeling is enough. I don’t need to be loved in return in order to experience the pleasure of giving love.

Each moment of life seems as though it would be sheer ecstasy with a heart that open. I don’t want to keep myself from that any longer. Especially because of fear. I have been given this beautiful gift of life, and to show my gratitude for that fact, I want to give love endlessly. It is this grateful heart that can carry me through anything if I just let it.

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