In my late teens and early twenties I was the classic neo-hippy spiritual seeker. Living in the coastal city of Fremantle, it was easy enough to find my fellow travellers and trippers. Part of the bohemian scene in the late 90s, I was a regular at bush doofs, full moon drumming circles, sweatlodges, satsangs, environmental protests, and feral gatherings, I’m sure you get the picture.
I was also deeply intrigued by Eastern philosophy and had taken up almost daily yoga at the local ashram. When not being guided by a teacher, I was experimenting with movement in the park and at the beach, enthusiastically exploring the poetry found within my own body. This pursuit had led me to cut down on smoking pot, drinking or using any intoxicants. I was vegetarian, pretty clean living, and enjoying the natural high of creative community, when the mystery traveller arrived at my friends’ sharehouse gathering.
Fresh from the hippie trails of India, the bearded dude was quietly charismatic. He chatted freely and shared some adventure tales before asking if anyone wanted to sample liquid LSD from Goa. Like waiting in line for communion, we queued and took our turn opening our mouths for a drop of elixir. As the tasteless dew landed beneath my tongue I felt a surge of energy that carried a hint of what was to come.
While the rag tag crew chatted and laughed and someone cranked the music up inside the house, I wandered out into the garden. The trip was starting and I felt a little insular, not sure I wanted to connect with people, as I felt a twinge of anxiety twisting in my gut. A friendly kelpie wandered up to me and I started to observe the warm sensation of patting the dog, and felt my heart opening in compassion towards this sweet creature. Someone I’d never met before joined me and we talked a bit, but my mouth was dry and my ability to form coherent sentences was minimal. Still it felt companionable and the anxious vibes were subsiding. I walked mindfully around the garden, visiting with the early summer sunflowers, they were vibrant even in the dark, facing East in anticipation of the return of the sun. I could vividly smell the fennel and other herbs, my senses were alight. When I returned from my plant communing, the fire was lit and a few people were gathered around it, talking quietly. They didn’t seem to be tripping but were talking about how the scene inside had got kind of weird. I guessed they were the non-partakers.
I opted to stay outside and kept myself apart from the chatters around the fire. I could hear the music, a strange trancy beat, and noticed a friend crawling out of the house, she was keeping low to the ground like some kind of bohemian commando. She was clearly having a bad trip, feeling paranoid about all the strangers, her speech was staccato, nothing she said made sense and soon she fell quiet, sitting on the ground, looking down and gripping on to her satchel. Later she told me I was a radiant goddess who made her feel safe and kept her from fully freaking out, but at the time I barely noticed, as my mind was adventuring entirely elsewhere.
Absorption into Bliss
Looking at the stars, one seemed especially attractive, and as I focused my attention on it, time and space seemed to concertina, then disappear. I became one with the star, light filled my every cell, and I was no longer seeing, smelling, or hearing, just feeling a sort of warm silence imbued with the golden glow of universal love. I don’t know how long this went on, it could have been seconds or hours, I was fully immersed. In this state I felt boundary-less and vast. I was the universe and the universe was me, no sense of separation, no self-talk or mental chatter, not even an ‘I’ thought, just an all encompassing experience of absolute bliss. I noticed nothing at all until I felt the kelpie return to sit on my feet, gently drawing me back to earth.
I kept looking up and saw the planets swirling, I recognised my location on this one precisely, like having a map of the cosmos with ‘you are here’ on it. As my awareness of being in the garden grew, I felt tiny, insignificant, yet the feeling of peace, benevolent love, and connection, stayed with me. I raised my arms and stretched towards the stars, offering gratitude to all the life out there, and marvelling at the loving emanations that seemed to hold this giant system in place. By now my senses were returning, I heard discordant music, someone was arguing with the DJ, and there were multiple other conversations filtering through to my awareness. I knelt down and touched the dog, then placed my hands on the earth and loved them both wholeheartedly. I saw my partner and embraced him, trying to convey through my body the beauty and wonder of everything. His trip, he said, was psychedelic and colourful, he was having fun, although others were struggling and had started passing around joints to try to come down gracefully. Together we watched the stars some more, and when I began to speak about my experience, our place in the cosmos, our divinity, humility, oneness, and collective responsibility, others gathered around, nodding their understanding. My friend was still feeling shaky, but she was okay and as the trip wore off, she said she saw my inner light glowing brightly, she was drawn to me as I had been to the star. I wanted to comfort her, and share my realization that there really was nothing to fear in ourselves or the cosmos.
Later, at home, I journalled about what had transpired. I found some words from yoga philosophy, like ‘ananda’ for bliss, and I wondered if I may have tasted ‘samadhi’. Beyond trying to find the words, I felt compelled to pass on the perspective I’d felt. I wrote a promise to myself to remember that feeling of oneness, to endeavour to stay connected with the universe, and to constantly recall that while my little life didn’t matter in the scheme of things, if I had the chance, I could be a beacon of light for seekers and lost souls.
What happened to my brain; neuroplasticity and LSD
I am certainly not the only one to have such a transcendent experience on LSD. Neuroscientists have used fMRI scans to observe the many brain changes that occur during a trip. Without getting too deep into the chemistry, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) inhibits serotonergic neurons in the raphe nuclei — meaning there’s less release of serotonin, a naturally occuring feel good neurotransmitter, into post-synaptic neurons. This is thought to enhance the response of 5-HT2 receptors which causes the distortions of sensing and thinking, common to an acid trip. There’s also an increase of blood flow to the visual cortex, which may account for the hallucinations many people experience.
The simplest and best explanation I’ve heard is that our brains are like a snow field, with the well travelled neural pathways like popular ski runs. I also like the analogy of our minds being like a vinyl record, with the needle stuck on our favourite songs. Yogis might call these mind grooves our ‘samskaras’ or habitual patterns. These patterns of thinking tend to drive our desires, and prompt our behaviours for better or worse. Taking a substance like LSD or psilocybin (from mushrooms) clears the field, or skips the needle on the record player to new tracks. The drug gives your mind freedom to rewrite the patterns, to re-wire the neural pathways created by neurons that have fired off together habitually. New firing patterns may occur in synchronised patterns that cause ego-dissolution (my feeling of being tiny and insignificant), and prompt the sense of connection I, and many others, have felt. Neuroscientists believe environment plays a part, as our thoughts unite with the environment, just as my mind united with the star. It seems these psychedelic drugs can maximise neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to change.
Have a Good Trip
Since the acid trip that changed my life, I’ve studied natural medicine, behavioural therapies, positive psychology, yoga and meditation. I’m intrigued by the possibilities of these kinds of substances for human potential, yet I also believe you can open up those ‘doors of perception’ using non-drug methods such as the techniques of yoga. So while I’d prefer to guide you through a deep meditation or yoga class, if you are going to dabble in the world of LSD, here are some hints and tips to help you have a good trip;
- Prepare body and mind
I recommend giving yourself at least a week of abstinence from anything that clouds your mind, including marijuana, alcohol, toxic environments, and foods that don’t agree with you. For me the pre-trip dedication to yoga, plant-based food, and clean living worked a treat, while some of my friends had rather more murky experiences. It’s also important to be in a reasonably positive mood and mindset, or as Timothy Leary said in the ’60s, it’s all about ‘set and setting’. Whatever you are feeling is quite likely to be amplified, so although a good trip is an opportunity to change your mindset, be careful if you’re feeling particularly anxious, depressed, or going through a period of high stress.
- Trust and safety
Ensure that you trust the source of any substances you ingest. I took a big risk dropping acid offered by a stranger at a party, it could have had weird excipients, and the potential for harm is obviously high. Of course unless you’re in a clinical trial, or have access to a drug testing facility, you can’t know for sure what you’re taking, hence my suggestion you go hard on yoga instead! But if you are choosing to take a drug trip, try to do it in a place that is physically safe, with people who are emotionally safe, this is what Leary observed as the importance of setting. Imagine what my friends’ bad trip might have been like if there were no kind friends around to comfort and care for her. As I found, your mind merges with what you focus on, so being in a place that is aesthetically pleasant, or even better, out in nature is ideal. However because your mind is operating differently from usual, be super careful around water and heights. The Hollywood depiction of someone on drugs thinking they can fly and jumping off a cliff or tall building is not so far fetched.
- Reinforce positive brain changes
Studies have been done using LSD to change addictive habits such as alcohol consumption and smoking. If you are wanting to shift your lifestyle, you’ll need to follow up your new found insights with repetition, through writing, meditating, visualisation and trying to follow the new, more desired lifestyle habits you choose. The brain is plastic at any age, but if you go back to your old ways of thinking and behaving, you’ll easily slide into your old grooves. Like training a muscle, our brains need repetition, rest and reinforcement to integrate the new ways of being.
Welcome To Your New World
That acid trip really did change my life. Although I had some good friends in that particular community, I no longer wanted to be around pot smoking, drinking, and the grungier aspects of the alternative culture. Instead I went on silent meditation retreats, invested in yoga teacher training, and moved to a semi-rural property where I could live a quiet life with my partner, raise children and dogs, surrounded by nature and books. Though I was already into yoga, since my realisations, I’ve studied yoga philosophy intensively, and this has helped to map my experience so that I could better articulate the ultimate essence of human nature, which is the same essence throughout the cosmos. Now I run yoga teacher trainings and give talks where I remind seekers of their blissful nature, and offer them the tools of remembrance that I have found helpful. I also work as a cancer researcher, writer, yoga therapist and coach to help alleviate suffering. I don’t know where my path would have led otherwise, but I do know that acid trip changed my life for the better.