30 minutes before I sat down,
I took 1 Flow capsule.
As I sat down for my morning meditation, I started the hour like normal by sitting crosslegged with my usual blanket.
All too soon, however, a great calm descended on me. I felt so light; too light, really, to be sober. My hands quickly felt dissolved in my lap. The air was like the ocean, undulating in waves of noticeable energy pulsations.
My thoughts were existential and omnipresent; I was continuously wondering why my body felt as light as air from a quiet place in my mind, almost as if I could sense anything and everything with this peaceful, equanimous perspective. I noticed that any unpleasant bodily sensations, temperatures or noises were like dust in the background of my mind. I was thinking holistically about the room, the city I was in, the country, and then eventually the world’s energy body. I thought I could see energy bodies at some point even though my eyes were closed!
I kept my eyes closed for about 45 minutes, feeling so grounded and rooted in the Earth beneath me that nothing, it seemed, could shake me. When I finally opened my eyes near the end of the meditation, I felt as though I was having an out-of-body experience, a mythic felt sense of my consciousness being somewhat displaced from my physical structure.
Afterwards, I shared all that I could put into words with my boyfriend who was, thankfully, present and meditating across from me. He was curious and patient, asking many questions and waiting for my answers as they came with hesitation, wide eyes, and eventually tears. I was struggling to think about how to integrate such a spiritual experience into my physical, day-to-day existence. In the face of such big picture questions I had, it felt as though most little stressors now were… meaningless.
We went for a walk with the dog in the sunny daylight outside and I was able to find a place of hopefulness and acceptance with life. I was able to integrate this experience by managing to uncover what I really loved and wanted to dedicate my life to my passions (writing and music) with more vigour and passion than before.
I forgot that I micro-dosed until we went for the walk. I realized there was a term for this: ontological shock.
Or, try this on for size: drug-induced ego dissolution (Millière et. al, 2018). This is the term used by researchers from the University of Oxford in the UK to the Edmond Safra Brain Research Center in Israel. When you combine classic psychedelics with meditation, you elicit a particular flavour of an altered state of consciousness. What may come about is “self-loss” which is a narrative in one’s psyche linked to symptoms like autobiographical memory, self-related thoughts and mental time travel.
Veering away from the potentially frightening thought of losing oneself, self-related thoughts are not new to the world of meditation. One of the fantastic benefits of meditation in one’s daily life has long been the enhanced “self-awareness… associated with positive psychological wellbeing” (Anna Sutton, 2016). Self-awareness is essentially described as ongoing “self-reflection and insight” which is confused sometimes for mindfulness and offset by rumination.
So, are these what researchers have come up with to start to categorize the quality and types of thoughts that we have? While the brain is still being figured out, the mind is a complete mystery. Or maybe meditators have tapped into a technique that provides them with wisdom that, simply put, non-meditators take longer to unlock (if at all). The technique seems simple: sit down, close your eyes, just breathe and relax.
I started meditating when I was 18 to curb the stress of college. These were efficient, pre-recorded and fully guided brief mindfulness meditations on apps.
However, I kept doing it everyday (sitting still with eyes closed in empty classrooms near my next lecture) because I just found it to be stress-relieving – but at the start, I couldn’t tell you why or how. I just found it relieving to sit and do nothing with no expectations of me or self-inflicted pressure to rush to the next class, deadline or meeting.
The great thing about meditation, if we’re comparing it to psychedelics, is how in control you are. You can start or stop at anytime. You can time it reliably with your smartphone and, rest assured, the timer will make a sound when time is up (wherever you venture to in your mind). You can meditate with eyes closed or open in various positions. You can hum or sing or speak a mantra, even, depending on the style. There’s no specific point because benefits can vary on the individual’s experience and intentions – but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, of all the various recommendations and praise of meditation worldwide.
My worst fear for me is (and has been) to go crazy. While psychology was my major in university (and I did graduate with my degree in psychology), I know “going crazy” is not a medically acceptable term. Diagnostically put, I have been terrified of being psychotic.
So, you might ask, why take psychedelics at all? After all, psychonauts may tell you that in the 1950s, psychedelic drugs in the West were meant to help study psychosis by.. inducing it. Psychedelics were “initially thought to be useful as a psychotomimetic (for therapists to take themselves to help them understand the experience of psychosis)” (Dr. Ben Sessa, 2006).
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was synthesized from a small dose of ergot, a rye fungus capable of giving one convulsive ergotism or “muscle spasms, confusions, delusions and hallucinations…” (Tom Shroder, 2014). Definitely a departure from the serene and blissful picture of meditation.
If we know what psychosis such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression looks and maybe feels like, it’s important to understand that psychedelics can both exacerbate and perhaps even induce the frightening and debilitating symptoms. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say that meditating on my microdose provided me with sensations that confused me and left me feeling delusional and hallucinatory.
Now.. this isn’t actually the first time this kind of thing has happened with me and it isn’t the most intense experience of its kind either. My first psychedelic experience was with a few grams which felt… surprisingly light, looking back, due to my source storing their mushrooms improperly and leaving them to be low potency. Later on, I then tried 5 grams of the same kind (also known as “a heroic dose”) and still felt well, in control. So when I was 20, I found myself eating about 10 grams of dry psilocybin (which, to anyone familiar with dosing, may leave you thinking WTF).
With this superhero dose, I had mixed in psilocybin from a new source with very highquality, high-potency strains. I had underestimated this batch because I didn’t know any better – few of my friends took psychedelics and I had only ever experienced relatively manageable psychedelic/psilocybin experiences with my (unbeknownst to me) lowpotency, improperly stored psilocybin.
Needless to say, I was floored. Writhing hysterically yet wordlessly left me preverbal and too stunned with visuals of dancing dragons and artistic filters on my vision to put together anything coherent. I convulsed, was delusional, and hallucinated with all of my senses – total markers of a psychotic episode and completely unexpected.
The interesting thing about it was that I was self-aware the whole time. I did not much need my friends’ reflections of how I was acting. I can easily recall, even now, what I was wearing, what I was seeing visually and what I was hearing audibly. I also wasn’t frightened much emotionally – I more so was curious and in complete surrender to the experience’s flow at that point.
It may surprise you how compassion can factor in to psychiatry and psychology. Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned psychotherapist, has documented the most neglected of our society: the homeless, trafficked and drug-addicted. His thesis? We must not write off these people as merely lazy, powerless or resistant to change – these are usually people who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from sexual and physical violence, psychological abuse, and more (Torchalla et. al, 2014).
Instead of dividing this population from “normal people,” it’s important to understand that we are all on our own unique journeys to become “free from self-generated suffering, and gain insight, clarity and choice in… behavior” (CompassionateInquiry.com). Working on our compassion collectively, then, is a peace effort.
What does compassion have to do with meditation? Well, there is a certain well-known type of meditation in the category of compassion known as “loving-kindness meditation” (Hofmann, Grossman & Hinton, 2012). This is essentially a guided process whereby we meditate on sending love energetically to people we love, people we struggle with, and perhaps strangers we imagine. Neuroimaging studies have shown that Loving Kindness Meditation have actually worked, over time, to enhance activation of brain areas directly responsible for our emotional processing and empathy.
Yes, empathy is something processed in the brain and it may not seem intellectual, but there is intelligence there. The more we continue to suffer with social anxiety, marital conflict, and more, the more we may look away from over-prescribed antidepressants and find ourselves interested in meditation to enhance our own wellbeing (by silently forgiving others and ourselves).
We may also look to psychedelics. Psychedelics have been shown in the research to not only increase compassion, but also enhance empathy (Blatchford, Bright & Engel, 2020). Specifically, “changes in empathic functioning…likely relate to increases in the personality trait of openness associated with psychedelic drug use.” What has also been noted is increased social connectedness and prosocial attitudes. Compassion seems to be aided by psychedelics (or at least, certain psychedelics in certain types of experiences).
Compassion is appearing to be more and more vital in a world where divisiveness can interrupt conversations everywhere. Political divisions, socioeconomic divisions, even divisions between meditators and non-meditators or psychedelic drug users and not – appear to carry with them their own set of judgments and abuse hailing from other-ness. What meditation may seek to accomplish in an age where only more and more people are curious about this Eastern spiritual tradition is to have people open their minds, expand their perspectives and include others in formerly exclusive discourse. What role will be played by psychedelics in these contemplative practices will likely accelerate and aid the spiritually transformative (and compassionate) process.
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Disclaimer: This story is intended for education and awareness, not medical advice