by Z.S Allen
A mind-expanding, consciousness-obliterating, cosmic trip into the unknown via drugs.
|It was turning out to be just another summer. That time off in between semesters where you attempt to fashion your life around being a productive citizen, and working your menial waiting job at the overpriced seafood restaurant downtown. You slop into work each day with an unnatural grin on your face and the lingering question “what am I doing with my life?” itching at the back of your skull.
This situation, although it may vary slightly from individual to individual, is in many ways a very blunt way of describing the summer months of your typical college kid after their sophomore year of college. It’s too early to think about the internships or shadowing opportunities at the hospital or accounting firm, but too late to still mooch off your parents cash. They throw you out in the hard, hard streets to earn your way, and make that food from Taco Bell taste like your hard earned dollar.
I was one of those college students, like the many out there slaving away at your average paying customer service job. I worked at a tourist café in Hershey, and everyday I asked myself what I’m doing with my life while dreaming about ‘letting the birds fly’ to my pathological liar of a manager. I was another run-of-the-mill rebellious young heart with a mind that I was beginning to learn how to use.
I was in the midst of an identity crisis and looking at my future with an uncertainty that only a 20 year-old college kid going through an identity crisis and mulling over his future could fully comprehend. I would compare it to being inside a glass room. You can see everything around you moving and changing, but you stand there, boxed in and confused as to why you are inside a glass box, and angry that you can’t seem to get out of it and move forward. I craved progression; I needed to move.
Everyday I woke up somewhere in the 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. range depending on my shift, or if I wasn’t working, then noon would be about right. I was beginning to fill the static void my own way. My usual 8-12 mile runs through the mystifying summer mountain trails of Mt. Gretna were becoming increasingly dull, the bi-weekly binge-drinking parties were becoming more of a hassle than a legitimate good time, and with friends who smoke pot like it’s an elixir of life, I suddenly was getting caught up in the idea that this is the way things are, and should be, rather than thinking outside the universal box.
I was a downtrodden soul, lost in the fray of life as so many others have before me, and although I put on my best face before I went out, my true emotions ran deeper than the deepest oceanic trench, and often my friends would have to snap me out of moments of deep thought where it was evident that my mind was floating around elsewhere while my body continued its basic survival functions. Whether it be bowling, riding bike, smoking a joint, or riding the Great Bear at Hershey Park, I was constantly in and out of the metaphorical “it” and spent the majority of my time simply trying to find the answer to a questions that neither Socrates, nor Einstein were ever able to land a finger on.
“What am I doing here, what is my purpose in life, what is LIFE?”
The questions were mining their way through my brain, taking hostage every axon and dendrite in their path and leaving my mind in a constant state of disarray and utter confusion. I was approaching the breaking point, and at times I even wondered if there was a purpose to it at all, or if we were simply here and that was the fullest extent of it. I couldn’t accept this thought though. I had the strongest feeling welling up inside of me--a knowing of sorts--that there was something massive out there; something that is part of the self but ten-times more massive than the most colossal idea ever conceived. I just had this gut feeling that the answer was out there, and that if I gave up now and didn’t push through this acorn-sized obstacle, then I’d never be able to take on the Great Wall that protects the secrets of the great unknown.
It was around this time that I had the breakthrough I wasn’t looking for, and what I believe was a monumental turning point in my very young life. It was a delicate situation how this all came about. As usual, I had gotten off an eight hour shift and was eager to drink the night away before I had to crawl out of bed the next day and look my sorry self in the mirror, only to rinse and repeat. I had reached the low point of the summer, and I was open to just about anything aside from burning churches, any acts of terrorism, animal cruelty, and attending a Ke$ha concert. My friend who kindly invited me over for a night of strong drink and good conversation was mentioning how he had recently stumbled upon a pretty good amount of magic psilocybin mushrooms… And here is where things get interesting.
It was as if suddenly an excitement bomb exploded in my chest, but I tried my best to keep cool, and play it off like it wasn’t a big deal. “Now that sounds cool,” the tiny voice in the front of my head blurted out. I had no idea what these things were, but as I was reeling in self-pity and looking for answers to those questions previously mentioned, it wouldn’t take me much persuasion. I asked my friends, all of whom (at this particular party) had both tried and experienced these morsels of mystery before, to explain what exactly they do. The best explanation they could muster was “you just think really deeply and everything moves, it’s hard to explain.” Well, that sounds pretty consciousness expanding to me, “Count me in.”
The stage was set. It was an early morning in late June, and after much research and mental preparation everyone arrived at my house around 8:30 a.m. and we threw our ‘vegetables’ on PB&J’s and choked them all down. From this point on, you must bear with me, as there are not words to describe some of the things that happened during the course of this trip, and subsequent ones, but I’ll do my best to describe what I saw and more importantly, how I felt.
One hour in and all six of us are sitting on my back patio which sits partially in the woods, and is surrounded by my yard full of blossoming summer flowers and lush green grass. The Beatles were blaring in the background as we eagerly awaited what was to come, “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song, and make it better…”. I looked out at the tree tops in the distance and they start to sway and move and had a sort of glow around them that I had never noticed before. My coordination was beginning to go, and I was feeling sort of drunk, but happier than I had felt since Christmas morning.
“And anytime you feel the pain, Hey Jude, refrain, don’t carry the world upon your shoulders…”
Two hours in and my life had turned right side-up. Everything that I thought I knew, I was now reconsidering. Time had slipped away and became infinity, while I debated with myself the idea of time, and how man-made it felt. I was wrestling with my ego while the clouds beckoned me to share in the beauty of life, and the grass reached up to hug me. I laid down and out of my back grew roots that gently rolled through the soil and I became part of the earth.
For the first time in my life I understood the word “bliss” to the fullest extent, and as the massive floating cloud bears and eagles in the sky were vying for my attention, flouting their ancient Myanesque tapestries draped over their backs, I simply stood in my back yard witnessing the world that I had lived in all my life, for the first time in my life, and I was utterly speechless. I looked around and my friends were all in similar states of mind, starring at trees and flowers, lying on the trampoline, giggling, laughing, and experiencing the other nearly-unexplainable dimension that is veiled to the sober eye.
We were all synced up to something magnificent, something beyond words but could best be described as colossally cosmic—the All One. Take the entire history of the world, all 4.8 billion years of it and turn that into energy and shove it into your skull and you may have an idea of the power and knowledge that was being forced upon me. It was terrifyingly pure and unfathomably beautiful.
I had established a connection to forces I had never before confronted, and it blew my mind several times over. I had just scratched the surface off the lottery card of life, and underneath was a vague answer to my question “What is life?” Damn. That was profound; Tibetan Book of the Dead profound; divinely profound. Absolute profundity…
When I came out of my experience, it was though two months had gone by, and I had discovered so much that it was almost overwhelming. I was forever changed, and for the first time in my life I had a clear direction. The cosmic compass was pointing the way, and I was more than ready to go with the flow.
A few weeks later I was talking to a friend of mine who had several experiences like mine and was a regular on the music festival scene. I only knew a few thing about music festivals, like that Woodstock was a music festival, hippies usually assemble at them, and that there would be camping involved. All of which sounded cool to me at the time, so on a whim and in the moment, we found one that weekend, and two good friends, my eighteen year old brother, and I set off for Grateful Fest 2010.
Leading up to Grateful Fest however, I began to decipher my “trip” by looking to the past for ideas, and researched how and why these things expand your mind like they do. It was as if in eight hours (real time, two months eternal time) my life, personality, and very being was undeniably altered for the better and I had figured everything out. My identity crisis was gone, I broke out of my long despised routines of drinking and smoking, I had a smile that nobody could turn upside down, I had inspiration to finish writing my long-stalled novel, and I had a spiritual revival the likes of which I had never dreamt could occur. Things were beginning to come together faster than an architect building a house with a beginners-level Lego set.
July was in full swing and we were on the road to Grateful Fest. I was reading “The Doors of Perception” by famous scholar and novelist, Aldous Huxley, which is based on his experiences with mescaline and LSD, both psychedelics that Huxley believed held unimaginable potential, and neither of which were scorned by society at the time. We were listening to Jimi Hendrix and soaring down Interstate 81, our backs to the past and our sights locked on fun times and open minds.
“There’s a Red House over yonder, that’s where my baby stays…,” we pulled into a large white limestone parking lot with the dry dust signaling our arrival, and we drove around, looking excitedly for a parking spot to set up camp. The festival was organized around a giant arena with the main stage in the center like a bulls-eye, and checkered by vendors of all types. Surrounding all of this were hippies and hipsters alike, all barefoot and grinning hysterically. The hippies were rockin’ their tie-died Grateful Dead tour shirts from ’75-’89 and the hipsters wore their tight cut-off jeans, white v-neck t-shirts and beanies—even though the temperature was hovering steadily around 90 degrees. It was quite a scene to roll in to.
“I ain't been home to see my baby, in ninety-nine and one half days… Wait a minute something's wrong here, the key won’t unlock this door…,” Thanks Jimi.
We parked next to a bunch of old heads, aka an older group of people who had toured with the Grateful Dead back in their wild days, and you sensed were quite seasoned to the festival scene. Right away we were vibing with these folks. They came over and gave us a free case of Coors Light, to which we lit up a joint and passed around. Festivals are like nothing else in the sense that drugs are part of the culture, and essentially legal while you’re on festival property.
The people gathered at this festival were some of the nicest I’ve ever met in my entire life. They accepted you for who you were; no exceptions. It was like they could read your soul. You had to be “up front” about anything because they could smell a lie a Greatest Hits album away. This place and the people created a special sort of energy, the likes of which I had never encountered before, but it felt good. After we had met our neighbors, drank a few beers and loosened up a bit, we went and walked around this new world. Everyone had that familiar eternal smile that I’ve been blessed with ever since my experience, and although all of these hippies were different than your average robotic citizen, they were comfortable (maybe too much so) in their own skin, and you could tell.
Dogs were roaming around, the majority of which were the coolest pit bulls I’ve ever seen, tents of all different color and shape went on as far as the eye could see, music was always stretching through the humid air, cars were covered in white limestone dust, people were getting high and EVERYBODY was synced into the vibe—the eternal All One.
People were hiking up and down the rows of tents along “Shakedown Street” (approprietly named after a Grateful Dead song), or the place where everyone goes to purchase their various goodies of the event, and we bought ourselves various psychedelics, and with our eternal smiles we gobbled up our little tabs of LSD laced paper or our mushrooms and prepared for a date with the deepest reaches of the universe and a mind expanding journey that would have made Timothy Leary and John Lennon proud. The sun was beginning to set, about two hours until its customary surrender to the moon, and the festival began to take on a new life.
This was completely new territory for me. Where I’m from things like this don’t happen; this is a unique sort of thing; a time-tested product of the counter culture movement of the 1960’s and ‘70’s that made California famous for its rebellious nature and free-loving whimsy. These festivals aren’t free-for-all’s, they have a strict code of conduct that includes checking your vibes at the door and spreading the celestial love. It’s a place where you walk in with your morals, and walk out without them, but with that eternal smile for everyone to see.
When the sun set, the volume turned up a notch or ten, and the naturally outrageous collective that gathered on these hallowed dirt-and-limestone grounds kicked things into hyperspace—as they say. It bore a close resemblance to the 1960’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters became famous for.
People were dancing and cheering loudly, singing along to Grateful Dead cover songs with the electric guitar soaring and jazz organ piping, creating an awesome sort-of rhythm in the not-too-far background. People young and old were walking around with as many glow sticks and strobing lights as possible, while others were throwing fire torches 20 feet into the air while the hula-hoopers hooped. The scene was beautifully synergized and everyone was tapped into the moment and vibing every second of it.
I looked at the stage and caught my first sight of sound, while the lights display that projected a rainbow of light onto the white stage took on a new dimension, and turned into an actual rainbow that soared off into the brilliant night sky. People radiated an energy that you could both see and feel, and it was incredible. My mind was blasting off into infinity, every second stretched a millennia, and every pick of the guitar string captivated all fifteen of the senses I now possessed. I had nothing but pure affection and perfect synchronicity coursing through my rainbow-colored veins. Even the ground took on a new life in all of the blissful chaos, as out of the dirt and sand came smiling Native American faces, and more Mayan-like symbols and hieroglyphs that jumped out like they were trying to tell me something.
The scene eventually became overwhelming for the four of us. Things began to get so outrageously out of whack, that reality began to bend, contort, and twist in ways that nobody other than a psychonaut could possibly grasp. We decided to head back to camp to settle down a bit and see what a change of setting had in store for us.
The walk lasted only a few minutes, and we stopped several times, utterly captivated by the sight of laser pointers and Christmas tree lights that turned into indescribable masterpieces of art that would have had Picasso and Michelangelo envious. By the time we arrived back at camp, a century or two had passed, and our eternal grins started to widen; the stars were out.
We weren’t just looking at the stars, we were now amongst the stars; floating in the cosmic reaches of the universe, out of our minds, out of our bodies. There was a time when you just had let go. A time when the acid became the teacher; where things stopped being fun, and got very real. My mind was floating about the cosmos like a distant moon, absolutely astounded by the pure nature of the galaxy; completely star-struck, mesmerized by the connectedness of life, and caught up in the All-One. We were all synced up, witnessing the magic together, but separately. I understood the Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s album, the Dalai Lama became a close acquaintance, the Buddha himself gave me personal lessons in spiritual enlightenment; the hand of the perpetual Oneness swept me up, and I was born again.
As the sun rose, the rays of light caught the morning fog and created a glow that is forever etched into my mind. I was the only one awake to see the new day, still riding out the waning effects of my medicine. I laid down on my blanket and stared admirably at the pinkish-orange sky. I gazed up at the clouds as they morphed into bizarre but beautiful things. For about twenty minutes I watched mammoth cloud-lizards with feet the size of Wal-Marts and bodies stretching off into the horizon slowly trudge across the sky, walking on what looked like a glass floor that hovered just below the clouds with an unexpected grace.
When I awoke from a brief sleep I was cheerful and revitalized, ready to take on the world with a reborn soul and a vigor that I didn’t know that I possessed. Something buried inside me was awoken and as we packed up and left the festival, I had a feeling that I needed to grow and progress in a vastly different manner than I had thought. I decided that I needed to stop simply thinking about ideas, but use all of my skills to spread positivity and knowledge to as many people as I could. I had developed a drive that centered my focus around changing the world, whether that be person by person or on a mass scale. I had come to the realization that I wasn’t going to be just another average-Joe. The conventional lifestyle wasn’t for me, and no matter how bad I’d love to be the guy with the white-picket fence, the candy-apple red BMW sitting in the driveway and kids running around the unnecessarily large house with squirt-guns, I just know that it wouldn’t make me happy.
I’m a firm believer in living in the moment and focusing on what you’re doing now versus setting your sights on next month. If you’re constantly living in the future, you’re missing what is going on right next to you, and you miss out on so much of what life is really about. If you can’t stop and take a minute to observe the beauty that surrounds your every breath, then you’re missing out on what life is really about.
I learned more this summer about myself and life than I believe most people will in a lifetime. While some students get overwhelmed thinking about all the projects, papers, and tests they have next month, I’ll be watching the sunset, and admiring every burning color that the sky paints.
I don’t believe for a second that what I have done to achieve these revelations is in any way wrong. Quite the contrary actually, I believe that people are missing out on a huge part of life if they don’t explore the deepest recesses of imagination and consciousness. These “drugs” such as magic mushrooms and the precursor to mescaline, Peyote, have both been prepared as religious sacraments and tools for spiritual enlightenment by North and South American Native Americans dating back over 7,000 years.
These “drugs” can be abused and used solely for their high, but they’re unconventional in the sense that you learn a lot from them, where as with drugs like alcohol or tobacco you know you’re just going to end up a sloppy drunken mess with an addictive buzz. I don’t believe that psychedelics have been given the chance to prove their worth, and although there’s currently a psychedelic revolution beginning again in modern psychiatry, the last 40 years have seen no progress in exploring their vast potential.
One day, maybe the stigma that psychedelic’s have been given will be lifted as their potential becomes mainstream. As in Huxley’s book Island, about a utopian society that uses them for their spiritual and creativity-enhancing abilities, I foresee a resurgence of these tools in psychiatry, spiritual enhancement, and in professions which require creativity and problem solving.
As I said before, my various experiences have changed me for the better and I’m glad that I was able to see through the veil of government propaganda, and embark on the most consciousness expanding journeys of my life. These two experiences rank in the top ten most inspiring and influential moments in my entire life, as they do for many people, and my goal is to help lift the negativity bound to them, and infuse a new era of peace and individuality.
“All we are saying, is give peace a chance…” -John Lennon