12 min read
- Date: September 20, 2023
- Where: Kiyumi Integrative Psilocybin Retreat (Sep 19 – 24, 2023) at Land van Yemaya, Netherlands
In honoring the privacy of those I shared the Kiyumi experience with, their names have been omitted in this version of my essay.
I wrote this on October 8, 2023, a week after my return from Amsterdam, for a future iteration of myself (FutureAndré). It’s a recognition of the ephemeral nature of such an experience, where the vividness of each moment risks fading into the mists of memory. With this writing, I aimed to seize as many fragments as possible, fully aware that language, in its inherent limitations, can scarcely do justice to the depth of the experience. Nonetheless, the attempt to wrap these moments in words felt important.
It should also be mentioned that the narrative voice here takes on a tone more flamboyant and animated than my usual manner. This stylistic choice seemed apt for recounting an experience that profoundly altered me under the transformative influence of psilocybin.
September 20, 2023
I was seated on a mattress in the corner of a spacious room, the front wall made entirely of glass, framing the stunning wild rural landscape. However, nature was obscured today behind drawn white curtains, which glowed as the midday pushed against them. Mother Nature was supervising over fifteen of us about to embark on our journeys, perhaps to meet her. Or our fears.
In preparation for my first high-dose psilocybin journey, I spoke to a few close friends to understand what to expect. I also listened to, watched, and read numerous accounts of psilocybin journeys, including a 19-minute recount from Sam Harris about his first psychedelic experience in about 25 years (2020). I felt ready, relaxed, and vibrating with naive excitement, moments away from stumbling blindfolded into the vast unknown.
As it turned out, nothing (NOTHING!) could have prepared me for what I experienced. In the same way, a blind person can’t externalize abstract art. Or a goldfish can’t fathom the intricate choreography of a celestial dance, the orbiting ballet of planets and moons in a far-off galaxy.
This was my maiden voyage into the uncharted waters of my consciousness. I stood on the deck of uncertainty without the compass of preconceived expectations or intentions.
My so-called “plan,” such that it was, was the full surrender of a leaf caught in an autumn breeze, trusting the medicine to be my North Star, guiding me through a kaleidoscope of inner landscapes as I approached each moment with a heart and mind as open as a sunflower in full bloom.
I had my journal next to me. In it, I wrote (in handwriting that quickly deteriorated into illegibility):
1:45 pm had first steep. Then another. Then a third. It’s 25 mins later and it’s hitting as I write this. The music seems to be loudening, ears are ringing, and I’m tingly … head is … well …
The final word I scribbled, I can’t read.
At 7:20 pm, my hand found the journal again. The scribbles looked a little less frantic but still chaotic — evidence of a journey I was still undergoing, capturing the final fading shards:
I’m back. Been back for maybe an hour, but was still enjoying the ‘after glow’ lights. But I can still see some of the ‘glow’ — it’s like dry ice vapor in glow — greens, blues, yellows — cyan!
After my psilocybin trip, I found myself continuously jotting down thoughts in my journal, grappling with the immensity of what I’d gone through.
This is my first attempt to shape those scribbles into a coherent narrative, capturing the surreal span of five hours. And yet, even as I type these words, I’m struck by the glaring inadequacy of language to encapsulate the experience.
Trying to map the ineffable onto mere words is a paradox, but it’s the only tool I’ve got. Language, in this case, feels both necessary and utterly insufficient.
Onset of the Experience
It hit me like a locomotive around 25 minutes after consuming the mushrooms (mixed into hot ginger-infused water). A warm sensation vibrated through me (according to my Oura ring, my body temp increased to the same level as the first day I had Covid: +0.9 °C), my ears rang like a mosquito was trapped in my head, yet, in a weird paradox, my hearing seemed to become more acute.
I had to lie down.
I think I was the first, everyone else still sitting up, eyes closed, some open, with eye masks on foreheads, poised, waiting for the medicines’ invitation.
In a moment of FOMO-inspired zeal — fearful of being the party’s underachiever — I didn’t just sip the fungal brew like a casual afternoon tea. Oh no. I committed. I devoured every last morsel of mushroom that loitered at the bottom of my cup as if hunting for hidden treasure.
Believe me, chewing those bad boys was like trying to masticate a leather boot. My teeth waged a heroic battle against the stubborn bits. As I downed the last dregs, I realized I’d polished off one and a half sachets of this cosmic confetti.
Guillaume, my shamanic barista for the journey, casually mentioned he’d swing by in about an hour with the other half-sachet in case my spirit animal turned out to be a glutton.
I slumped down.
Everything felt heavy.
I pulled the duvet over me, poking out bare feet from the bottom and arms out the sides, like a drugged tortoise on its back (in hindsight, pocking my limbs out was a mistake I made again with the second trip, but I won’t next time), and tugged the eye mask over my eyes, but not entirely. I could still see a slither of the left side of the room — the white curtain framing the entrance blowing in the breeze, and I could see our four guides gliding about from their waists upwards.
Then I closed my eyes, surrendering to the darkness.
The Rocket Ship Launches
The rocket ship launched!
It shook and shuddered as it fought gravity and the layers of atmospheric pressure. My chest felt heavy. It felt like Mother Nature herself had decided to sit her metaphorical derrière right on me — cozying up as if she were settling in for her favorite Netflix series. I could only hope she was planning a gentle cosmic voyage, hand in hand, through the universe rather than booting me out of the stratosphere with a divine kick in the rear.
The visions kicked off instantly. No gradual crescendo or mood lighting here. It was as if someone slammed the cosmic gas pedal to the floor.
Suddenly, my limbs felt as if they’d been dunked in an Arctic ice bath. Blood had to flow to the VIP sections of my body (hat tip to Guillaume for the heads-up, which, in my naivete, I ignored). Ah, the joys of the body’s survival “fight or flight” instinct — but “flight” was off the menu, that was for damn sure.
I found myself internally coaching, “Dude, it’s basic thermodynamics! Snuggle those chilly extremities under the covers!” But instead, as I lay there inert, vibrating like a smartphone on silent mode, chills cascaded through me in rhythmic waves. I could track the medicine’s surreal journey — down the legs, along the arms, slaloming through the torso as it commandeered my entire being.
Confronting the Ineffable
As I plummeted through the rabbit hole of perception, my first realization was this: “Language is woefully ill-equipped to capture this rollercoaster, so buckle up, dude, and savor the ineffable.” I mean, seriously, trying to verbalize this felt like capturing spacetime in a mason jar.
As my mental spacecraft punctured the fabric of reality, the experience was, to put it mildly, intense. An internal monologue ran: “Ah, I see why this is a one-time experience for some!”
I found myself reflecting on that darkly intriguing rodent study Andrew Huberman mentioned in one of his podcasts — the one where our tiny, furry friends had an unlimited all-you-can-eat (or drink) buffet choice between water, chow, cocaine water (I know, like seriously, scientists do some weird shit) and psychedelic water (oh boy!).
These mice, so the story goes, took one sip of the psychonaut juice and were like, “I’m good!” (I can’t imagine what psychedelic craziness a rodent would hallucinate) but they binged on the coke water until, well, they weren’t. Morbid? Yes. Relevant? Absolutely. The study resonated in real-time as the cosmos did its cosmic thing in and around me.
Gripping the safety bars of this interstellar thrill ride like a seasoned astronaut, it wasn’t lost on me that not an ounce of dread, trepidation, or fear entered the equation. While it was jarring, it was utterly fascinating.
In this topsy-turvy cosmic ballet, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, Mother Nature and I were waltzing in sync after all.
But as I danced with Mother Nature, I recognized others in the room were having altogether different experiences and dancing to entirely different tunes.
REDACTED, REDACTED, and REDACTED were to my left. In front of me was REDACTED, and across the room, but directly in front of my position, was REDACTED and REDACTED.
Time became an amorphous concept — was it five minutes, or had an hour passed? I couldn’t tell. But what I did perceive — loud and clear — in full all-singing-all-dancing surround sound, no less, were the vocal non-words of the three ladies stage-right and REDACTED front and center.
Each emitting sound reflected whatever drama they were confronting. REDACTED was guttural, primal, a sensory tapestry contributing to the beauty.
(Later, when I opened my eyes, I would “see” the emotional landscapes of my fellow voyagers rendered in vivid, neon hues, as if painted by a techno-impressionist.)
Lia had been clear that morning: Language was not encouraged in this sacred space, but raw, primal sounds were welcomed.
True to her instructions, the room’s sonic texture was a living, breathing entity, responding to the melodic backdrop that served as our collective dance partner. With each new track, the medicine and the music fused, heightening the communal experience we were all on.
As the tracks transitioned, the visuals downshifted, as if catching their breath to build energy. It was a respite, a momentary decrescendo before the next climactic rise.
And in this breathing space, I felt a sense of tranquil unity.
Whatever roller coaster of emotion my fellow voyagers were riding, it folded into my experience in the most enchanting, magical, and beautiful way.
At some point within the hour — I couldn’t say precisely when, given that time had basically retired from its 9-5 job — I sensed Guillaume’s tender aura entering my personal bubble. “How are you going, André?” he queried, his voice soft, like a hug.
“I’m good,” I either vocalized or telepathized. “This is wonderful,” I added, prying open a reluctant eyelid for a momentary reality check.
“I have the rest of your mushrooms ready,” he offered, or something to that extent. “If you want it.” Then he glided off to rescue someone else.
I wobbled upright and folded forward, my bare feet (still) poking out from under the duvet like shy woodland creatures. There it was: the awaited mug with a teaspoon jutting out like a lone oar in a shipwreck. I whisked the spoon, sipped the celestial nectar, and chomped down on the remaining fungal nuggets loitering at the bottom.
With that done, I flopped back into my plush cocoon, slid my eye mask back into position like a knight donning his helmet, and eagerly plunged into my visionary odyssey, a dreamscape I wanted to continue to discover.
Somewhere on the tranquil side of the initial cosmic launch, the metaphorical spacecraft had settled into a soothing orbit like a vinyl hitting the perfect groove. I felt awash in a serene tide of love and gratitude as if some cosmic DJ had just flipped the switch from ‘chaos’ to ‘chill.’
A serenity drenched me as if love and gratitude had merged into a kind of ethereal rain shower.
Cracking open my eyes, I peered through a sliver of reality beneath my eye mask. What greeted me was an Aurora Borealis of colors unfurling in the room. These weren’t just any hues; they were iridescent and neon, like colored gas.
And then, like the slow realization that you’ve been singing the wrong song lyrics for years — or reading the book of reality upside down — it struck me: I was not just witnessing colors but ‘seeing’ sounds and emotions manifest as light.
These hues gyrated in harmony with the room’s symphony of human expressions — cries, sobs, and grunts that could have been exhalations of ecstasy or perhaps visceral reactions to some profound nightmarish revelation.
Our quartet of guides (their love, caring, and patience can’t be overstated) — Lia, Guillaume, Santi, and Avner — wove in and out of my visual field like ethereal wraiths on a neon-lit dance floor.
It was as if they were sewn together from vibrant, fluorescent threads and mathematical origami — think millions of hexagons articulated in mind-bending mathematical precision.
At that moment, it was like I had unplugged from the Matrix of subjective human perception — shedding what Donald Hoffman refers to as our limiting “VR headset” of reality. For the first time, it felt like I was getting a backstage pass to the Universe, a peek into what might be an objective glimpse of reality.
The Nature of Awe
I grappled with the inadequacy of language, feeling like a painter with only three monochrome colors trying to capture a sunset. The only word that captures the feeling is “awe.”
The sensation of awe is often highly subjective. It could be looking up into the clear night sky and confronted by the beauty of the Aurora Borealis. For some, the birth of a child captures this ineffable awe. I recall watching a YouTube video years ago — a woman giving birth, naked, in a river, surrounded by a circle of familiar faces, family, I suspect. The whole raw, dripping tableau unfolded before my eyes. The moment she held her newborn, I could practically feel her awe pass through the screen, a pixelated window to her sublime realization of life. Yet, it was still just a secondhand glimpse for me.
There, floating in my new chromatic universe, my eyes wide open to an alternate dimension of perception, I felt it too.
Awe. Pure, unfiltered awe.
The Mantis shrimp boasts some of the most complex ocular apparatus in the animal kingdom. They can see polarized light and a spectrum of colors tenfold greater than our human limits, UV light included. In that surreal moment, I felt like I was channeling my inner Mantis shrimp, reveling in an expanded spectrum of awe-inducing reality.
The sensation of moisture cascading down my neck arrested my attention at some point — a cool, almost liquid air. Initially, I suspected another fly was the culprit.
Earlier, I’d observed one depart from my arm in what can only be described as slow-fucking-motion, a neon vapor trailing in its wake (I know!). But nothing could astonish me anymore. Every object, every fiber of matter, pulsated with an ethereal luminescence. Even the curtains appeared to join in this universal dance, rippling into cascades of hexagonal polygons rendered in a clarity that outclassed any HD I’d ever encountered.
I cautiously raised my arm to fend off the imagined intruder. This action marked one of the scant instances of movement I had exhibited in hours. REDACTED later confided she had wondered if I’d crossed the threshold from living to not — given my stillness and silence, she’d sought Guillaume’s intervention.
But the moist sensation was tears — not the byproduct of emotional turmoil or overwhelming joy, but the tangible result of profound awe. These tears had been flowing quietly, unnoticed, for some time. They’d saturated my eye mask, and until this revelation, their presence had eluded me.
Ego Death and Oneness
I oscillated between states of closed and open eyes. The spectacle unfolded uniquely differently in each state, yet its beauty was a constant — utterly mesmerizing.
The concept of “ego death” ebbed and flowed throughout the experience. There were extended intervals when it had fully dissolved, leaving me immersed in a tranquil tapestry of synesthetic colors and geometrically intricate objects. This fusion coalesced into an enduring sense of awe that spanned hours.
It was so beautiful, yet, again, I recognized that language was insufficient to communicate these stretches of awe.
As the journey neared its end, fading, as human reality started reaffirming shape and form, individuals began rising to dance, entranced by Lia’s ethereal vocals, subtly underpinned by Avner’s unseen presence.
An aura enveloped everyone, their forms bathed in a gaseous hues. The curtains shimmered with geometric precision, their hexagonal facets still rendered in unparalleled clarity.
I jettisoned the eyemask but lay bound to my spot by the gravity of the experience, not wanting to miss any of it, just observing the beauty of the scene. I wanted it to continue for hours more.
Once again, the inadequacy of language renders me ill-equipped to encapsulate even fragmented echoes of what transpired. Yet, the imprint it left on me is indelible, even as specific details dissolve into the fog of memory.
As I lay there, words failed to transcribe the ineffable visions.
Even now, those moments are spectral whispers. However, what I glimpsed with eyes wide open remains etched in comparative vividness. Sounds visualized as chromatic colors, the universe distilled to mathematical hexagons, and an “ego” dissolved into pure awareness — all cohering into an enduring tapestry of awe for hours on end.
Man, what a fucking ride!
I wrote this narrative for FutureAndré because I recognize I may never have this same experience again. As it turned out, fifteen unique experiences were shared in our sharing circle afterward. And by the end of the retreat, thirty experiences were had, one “sober” and not one the same.