At the age of sixteen I met God for the first time.
As a child of left-wing intellectual and atheist parents, this was a memorable event in my world.
Admittedly, this experience was triggered by a small dose of ‘Magic Mushrooms’ I had consumed during a camping trip with friends in the USA. I did not have expectations of what the psychogenic mushrooms would do for me beyond intensifying my perception (especially visually) in the way friends had reported from their trips. My trip turned out differently than I had expected. Not only did I experience an intense connection with all creation in the universe, but also had the feeling of having met an abstract version of God, that revealed itself to me as a felt sense of pure love. This event has profoundly shaped my understanding of the world and my trust in being connected to life in a profound and loving way.
The facilitators made sure that we would go on the ‘journey’ with open eyes, hearts, and a clearly defined intention.
Since this experience, and throughout my subsequent career as a psychologist, I have been interested in the possibilities of psychedelics and especially their use in Psychotherapy. After psychedelics were most regrettably put on the black list of illegal substances in most countries in the 1960s and 1970s, they are now experiencing a long overdue renaissance. In the USA, substances such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), MDMA (ecstasy), and ketamine (a strong tranquilliser with psychedelic properties) are now recognised as breakthrough therapies and are therefore accessible to systematic psychological and pharmacological research. The success rates in the treatment of chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, and fears of death associated with terminal diseases such as cancer, are so remarkable that the benefits of psychedelic substances can no longer be denied.
These two contributions provide a good insight into the historical background of the demonising of psychedelic substances, the prejudices that have persisted for decades, and the actual risks associated with these drugs.
The more I learned about psychedelics, the more I became interested in another psychedelic experience. This time around, I chose a context that would provide me with a safe setting for my experience. I decided to attend a three and a half day workshop run by the British Psychedelic Society
, that conducts professionally facilitated psychedelic workshops in Holland and has earned an excellent reputation.
I set off on my journey to Holland, leaving my life in Berlin behind me. The starting point of the workshop was a meeting of the sixteen participants in an Amsterdam coffee shop. In Holland, the sale and consumption of ‘magic mushroom truffles’ is legal. The truffles are part of the root system of the mushroom and have the same psychedelic properties as the actual mushroom.
After purchasing our most important ingredient, we drove by coach to the Retreat Centre, which is located an hour and a half outside Amsterdam on the edge of a picturesque nature reserve. After arriving on Friday afternoon, the rest of Friday and half of Saturday were dedicated to preparing emotionally, psychologically and physically for the trip. With a lot of empathy, the facilitators led us through various self-reflection exercises and made sure that we would go on the ‘journey’ with open eyes, hearts, and a clearly defined intention. Part of the preparation is a one-to-one talk with one of the facilitators, during which one’s personal intention, fears and the appropriate dosage are discussed.
I took a dosage that Timothy Leary supposedly called a ‘heroic dose' — I can confirm that it was, at least for me!
Saturday lunch time, we readied ourselves for the ceremony (the psychedelic part of the retreat). Like children who still believe in Santa Claus, we gathered excitedly around the large dining table. The facilitators started handing out the packages of truffles that we had bought in the coffee shop. We each started pounding on one of the airtight packets of slightly moist truffles with a heavy object, in order to create a creamy paste. For the good wishes of each person to pass into each truffle package, we worked in an assembly line formation. Everyone worked on a truffle packet for a while and then pushed it on to the next person, so they could mould their energy and intention into the truffles.
The actual ceremony took place in a large room that had been lovingly decorated with flowers and candles and sixteen mattresses. Each mattress was equipped with an eye mask that we put on after taking the mushrooms, for the intention was to focus inwards.
The mushroom truffles are taken as an infusion (tea). The truffle paste is mixed in a cup with hot ginger water (the ginger is used to prevent nausea, sometimes caused by the mushroom truffle). The tea doesn't taste good, but was not as bad as I had expected. Anyone who has ever survived a treatment with mushrooms used in traditional Chinese medicine will find the taste of psychogenic mushroom truffles unremarkable.
I took a dosage that Timothy Leary supposedly called a ‘heroic dose' — I can confirm that it was, at least for me! After drinking the tea, we each lay down on our mattress and pulled on our eye shades, thus allowing us to focus on the inward journey. During the entire trip, we were accompanied by a wonderful playlist that had been specifically created for the different stages of a psychedelic mushroom trip.
The questions and the intention with which I had entered the retreat were quickly rendered irrelevant. It appears I had the pleasure of a so-called ‘transpersonal experience' - one that did not focus on my personal life, questions, or struggles but tapped into something universal.
What I experienced is, to a large part, beyond words, but I will try to express it as well as I can. In essence, I can only describe it as the ecstasy of creation experiencing itself. Or, in the words of the philosopher, Syd Banks, I experienced Mind, Consciousness and Thought.
I believe I screamed “this is so beautiful; it is too beautiful for any one person" multiple times into my pillow.
For a large part of the 7-hour trip, I was completely immersed in ‘Mind' - a sea of the most breath- taking images and colours. Everything was geometry, fractals, worlds unfolding, collapsing, enveloping me, channelling through me. There were ancient symbols and what felt like Hindu Gods - powerful, awe-inspiring and of unearthly beauty. There was form and formlessness. There was light and darkness.
Then there were moments of Consciousness. I can't even say that I was conscious, because ‘I' did not figure much in the experience. There was Consciousness about the experience, a recognition of what was happening. Every once in a while, there was utter bliss in ‘finding' a body part, an awareness of there being a foot, feeling a hand against the floor, a piece of fabric in a mouth (my pillow case in my mouth, I suspect), the hand of another human being (a facilitator who came to hold my hand). Every physical experience was incredibly intense and at the same time disembodied, because I could hardly relate it to myself. Finally, I travelled to the centre of the universe, the source of everything that is. In other (brief) moments, there was Thought; a meta-perspective in which I thought about what was happening - links that could be made to other human experiences, conditions and other thoughts.
During this part of the trip, I was in complete ecstasy. I can't even call it joy, it was just the stupendous wonder of being Creator and simultaneously witnessing all of creation. I believe I screamed “this is so beautiful; it is too beautiful for any one person" multiple times into my pillow.
During the next part of trip, I encountered all-encompassing and shattering grief. Again, it was not personal grief, but I was grieving for humanity: the holocaust, South Africa, Venezuela, a friend who was raped and, by grieving for her, I was grieving for all women who have ever been assaulted. The grief felt bottomless and I think I sobbed and howled for a long time and definitely drenched the trousers of the wonderful facilitator holding me during this period.
When grief faded, there was love. In a vivid progression, all the people in my life I love passed by. I was overtaken with a sense of timeless connection, abundant love and deepest gratitude for having them in my life. It felt like a spider’s web of love was holding everything together, me included.
During the entire experience, my late mother was very present, and I mourned not being able to share this spectacle with her, while at the same time feeling as if she were there and guiding me in my process. One of the other participants reported the next day that, during his trip, he had been ‘making' a movie in his mind. The subtitle of his movie was ‘You are who you love'. I feel this to be true. I love many people. I am me. I am them. I am the space in-between. This realisation brought me back into contact with the divine energy that I had already encountered at the age of sixteen.
Life revealed itself as constantly ever-changing, volatile and beautiful.
Once the effects of the drug waned and I started to emerge, my sense of self reassembled. Then, for the first time in hours, I opened my eyes and enjoyed the visual afterglow of the mushroom truffles: the vibrancy of the leaves of the trees outside before the window, the rainbow glow surrounding each person that came into my focus and the intensity of the food that had magically appeared the in the centre of the room. The taste of the raspberries and the chocolate I ate was a transcendent experience in and of itself!
During the seven (!) hours of my trip everything developed so fast, so intensely and with such incomprehensible beauty that there was no time to deal with the fleeting moments of fear and darkness that also emerged. Life revealed itself as constantly ever-changing, volatile and beautiful. Visually, a sequence of the movie Dr. Strange
is an amazingly accurate reference for my experience, naturally without Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The last one and a half days of the retreat were dedicated to the processing of the experience. Half of the Sunday was dedicated to sharing our trip experience. The stories I was allowed to witness were inspiring, touching and sometimes hilarious. From our group of 16 participants, only one participant had an unpleasant trip - but even he felt that this experience had added value.
Since I have returned, many people have asked me if I would recommend such a trip. I would - in most cases. It is certainly helpful to know yourself well and to have some awareness of the shadows of your psyche and which life themes are still sore points. Bad trips, that most people fear, are rare, but they do exist. I would therefore strongly advise you to book a professionally facilitated trip with trained staff to guide you through the process.
Now, a few weeks after this mystical experience, I am still full of wonder. I feel privileged to have experienced something that feels like a peek behind the curtain of existence. I am grateful that I was able to surrender so completely and so fearlessly to immerse myself in that which, in some moments, seemed to border on the experience of madness. Never before have I allowed myself to surrender so completely to control and to surrender to a pure experience. For me, this surrender was only possible because I could fully trust the safe environment of the retreat and the loving and attentive facilitators of the British Psychedelic Society
. I am deeply grateful to them and all my fellow travellers.