Lately, there's been a flood of news about psychedelics being used for various mental health issues – mostly for depression and anxiety. I assist in creating a publication for a group of psychiatrists, so I tend to pay attention to these headlines. But I'm certainly not educated enough to make any conclusions about this rising theory of medical use of drugs that were once both 'recreational' and controversial in the decades beginning in the 1960s. Back then, hallucinogenics were associated with 'hippies' and free thinkers like Dr. Timothy Leary and author Ken Kesey. Of course, for a young adult, that made the appeal all the greater.
I'm someone who places high value on consciousness and control. However, back then, at the age of 20-something, I felt aligned with the movement that swept from the wild California coast all the way across mountains, plains, and valleys to my little comfy midwest nest along the meandering Mississippi. And, with this personal essay, I am admitting to you, in public, that I had a memorable encounter with an unintended, wild trip that sent me far beyond the borders of my small river-front town. Let me point out before I share that journey – it was a one and only out-of-body and mind experience. One that I vividly remember and, to this day, recall with wonderment, curiosity, and gratitude. Yes – gratitude – for returning to full conscious control of mind and body after 'tripping' to another dimension and surviving to remember a valuable stop on that 'magical' journey.
For background (and an excuse), I was in one of the darkest periods of my life. Alone, very sad. Living with cruel losses and in basic survival mode. Some of the people around me were experimenting with LSD, psilocybin, and Ganja (in its many forms). I had not joined them. Until one night when my then-boyfriend fell asleep early in the evening, leaving me alone with a small plastic bag of little capsules filled with sprinkles of colored pellets. The apartment was bare. No TV, no stereo. No radio and no company – just me with my thoughts and a heart so heavy I thought it might fall to the ground. So I swallowed one pill. And, when nothing occurred, I tried another - and soon left all the weight of my young life behind.
The first impact was visual. Bursts of Kodachrome color spiraled out from a shimmering 14 Karat gold center. And the light show continued. I had zero awareness of time or place, reality, the inside or outside world. Consequently, I was not terrified (as I should have been). My first phantasm bore a resemblance to my conscious life. I'd been writing and performing puppet shows for children on a weekly basis – and, suddenly, I actually was the puppet - a puppet named Fickle Fox in a two-story building overlooking the River Thames (I'd never once set foot out of Minnesota in real life). I leaned my furry brown body and pointy nose out the shuttered window, wiggled my ears, and sang to the gurgling river as it wound its way beneath London Bridge – "I am a little fox I am, Fickle is my name. I am a clever fox, you know, so come and play my game." It was an amusing and pleasantly light moment on my 'trip' of a lifetime.
After more psychedelic visions of morphing shapes and colors, I found myself in Africa – a country that had no relevance in my life outside of a required high school geography class. Temporarily landing on that vast continent, I had an experience that was not, in any way, connected to my experience, interests, education, or imagination. It was, indeed, my first introduction to the cradle of human evolution. Fifty-some years later, I remember the hallucinogenic experience in detail:
I stood on the edge of the Nile River – which was not wide but narrow, winding, and swift. The fast current rushed downriver from me and wound a curve to the right. I was alone, with only the sound of the river cascading around the bend. Overhead was a sky of bright blue. The banks of the Nile were short and steep - a reddish-brown color sprouting with slender reeds of green that bowed in a wind that I could see but not feel.
Then as if lifted on the same warm breeze, I was lying upon the water, floating with the current, looking up at a brilliantly blue sky. My back felt pleasantly cool. The front of my body warmed by the sun. My arms were outstretched, and I had no fear. And then I heard a voice. It came from a distant place somewhere beyond the cloudless sky. It was a low, calm voice telling me - "You are every Black man who has ever lived." The words were drawn out, delivered like a prayer as I floated around the bend in the river winding its way to the Mediterranean Sea.
I am a fair-skinned caucasian female. I'd never learned anything about Africa in school, had never met a Black person, and could not (at that time) find the Nile River on a world map.
From that profound, drug-induced insight, I returned to a level of consciousness and found myself trying to navigate a set of stairs that narrowed at the bottom like an endless tunnel. Indeed, someone (I do not remember who) was delivering me to the local hospital because I'd not 'come down' from my double dose of the hallucinogen.
There, a nurse wearing a surgical mask came to my bedside and explained she was inserting an IV feed to help rid my body of whatever drug I'd taken (I had no idea). I do, however, remember her blue eyes – the color of the sky in my vision. "You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen," I told her before drifting off to awake many hours later to conscious life.
Within a year of that drug-induced escape from reality, I moved to California for a new start. I earned degrees in archeology and anthropology and topped off my education with a further B.A. in African studies (the sole white person in the university's program). I cannot say that the once-in-a-lifetime psychedelic journey informed those academic choices. And I certainly can't opine on the value of mind-altering drugs as medicine. But after decades of pondering my experience on the Nile, I think Iwas handed a universal truth. We all, whatever our differences, have roots in the continent that gave birth to human evolution. Deep and under the skin, we are brothers and sisters.
I hope you are all enjoying the season - we are gratefully free of a wildfire finally, thanks to benevolent rain. And speaking of thanks - sincere gratitude to those of you who have donated to my lifetime sculpture project - The Caldor Heroes' Tribute. Every dollar is important, and no amount is too small to be appreciated! You can learn more HERE.
Here's what they are 'cleverly' calling a Spooktacular Giveaway - A chance to claim a free eBook. Don't be Afraid to CLICK HERE! (PS - Mine is among them and frightfully well-rated on Amazon! - The Song of Jackass Creek) - and I just saw that Amazon has a sale on the paperback for just $7.34? what??? Consistent 4.4 - 5 Star reviews!