Back in my youth, around the time I turned eighteen, my parents converted our double garage into a little flat for me to live in, complete with its own tiny bedroom, bathroom, lounge and private entrance. An inner, lockable connecting door gave me access to the rest of the house. I lived there for the next few years while studying Architecture at University. I was extremely lucky and grateful, and of course put the comfort and privacy to good use with my girlfriend Nikki. She used to stay over frequently, particularly on weekends.
One evening around the middle of winter – this was about two years later – after finishing dinner with my parents, we said goodnight and retired to my flat. Outside, the air was freezing. A fat moon that was close to being full shone down like a distant floodlight, suspended in a cloudless dome of stars. We went straight to my bedroom, which was warmed up by a hefty portable heater turned on full blast in the corner. It was an old type that had metal coils glowing red like oven grill elements.
In the room the only place to sit, apart from the floor, was on the hand-me-down queen size mattress which took up most of the space. Around it was just enough room for a tall wooden bookshelf, a couple of tiny tables used as night-stands, and a low cabinet that sat under a small window. The cabinet housed my record collection, along with a turntable sitting on top. One wall had a cupboard built into it, with three sturdy tall doors painted the same cream colour as the walls. My little apartment was quite snug – small but practical.
After dinner we usually put on our favourite music and fooled around, but that evening we just sat on the bed and waited, looking at one another occasionally. Nikki was pensive. She appeared to be shivering, even though the room was toasty.
“I really hope we don’t get scary hallucinations,” she said, after a while.
“Me too,” I replied, “but I doubt it. We’re in a safe setting, we have good intentions… I think this will be interesting.” I tried to sound casual to ease her anxiety. I didn’t want her to induce a bad trip through fear.
We had just each taken a tab of acid. I was nervous too, since neither of us had tried LSD – Lysergic acid diethylamide – before. The books and stories of acid trips tend to be vague, contradictory, or overly dramatic, with polarizing accounts of either visionary insights or traumatising horror fests. I guess we were hoping for the visionary insights: an enlightenment experience, so to speak. Being an avid Zen Buddhist at that stage, and doing a lot of meditation, I knew that the mind was more mysterious and flexible than the average person believed. I had a strong intention to push the boundaries of my awareness. Nikki had been following my progress, reading some books as well, and was now ready to concede that her Christian upbringing was rather restrictive. Tonight, she was bursting the bubble of religious conformity.
We made casual chit chat, waiting for something to happen. After about half an hour, we started to wonder if the dose was a dud. My sister had gotten it for us, from a friend of a friend; little squares of cardboard with some sort of picture printed on them, like miniature stamps. We had secretly kept the acid in my parents’ freezer, wrapped in aluminium foil as per instructions. Apparently, it would stay ‘fresh’ that way. She was told the guy who supplied it was very reliable, though. He had a reputation to uphold, since he only sold by word of mouth. Earlier, before we sat on the bed, we put the little tabs on our tongues, sucked and chewed on them for a while, then spat them out. The LSD got absorbed without having to swallow.
We needn’t have worried. As we talked, I started to feel weird. My senses became sharper, focusing on small, inconsequential details of the space around me. My attention got absorbed by the colours and shapes of things, like the pillows and bedspread, and how soft the bed felt to sit on. Touching the bedspread was strangely interesting, how the texture felt rich and complex under my hand.
I looked at Nikki. “Everything is becoming weird,” I said.
“Yes, definitely. Something is happening,” she answered. She sat leaning against the wall at the head of the bed with a pillow behind her. She didn’t look nervous any more, just curious.
“It feels like I’m in the wall…I’m merging with it,” she said. “But it’s okay though,” she added, slowly rocking forward and backward. I assumed she was feeling the sensation of going in and out of the wall.
The oncoming sensations were not scary, they just felt unfamiliar. Sensing the elements of my room so vividly took up all my attention for a while.
There was a soft knock on the door; it opened slowly, and my sister’s head appeared.
“Just checking up on you guys. All good?” she asked.
“Everything is weird,” I said.
She came in and sat on the floor with her back against the cupboard door.
“What’s happening?” she asked. I couldn’t think of another way to describe it. My usual objective thought process was not working, and I kept being surprised by the strangeness of the moment.
“It’s weird,” I said. “It’s so weird!”
She said something like: “What do you mean? Describe it! Be objective!” or words to that effect. I don’t recall our conversation exactly after all these years; Nikki remembered more. She said that my sister and I engaged in our usual verbal sparring for a while. To Nikki, it was glaringly obvious she was taunting me about my lost “Zen-like composure”. She was laughing at my loss of control, but complimented Nikki for her good composure. All I remember at this point though, is saying, “This is weird!” over and over.
Eventually my sister got up to leave.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll be in my room if you need me. Otherwise, have fun! I’m sure it’ll be awesome!”
She walked out and closed the door behind her, and we both stared and stared into the space she had just vacated. It seemed that a vast and vibrant energy bubble that had completely captured our attention had suddenly just vanished, leaving a very noticeable hole. I kept staring at the closed door but not really thinking anything, just adjusting to the shift in energy. Slowly I turned to Nikki. She had been gazing at the door as well. She looked at me with big eyes, and I instantly knew she had experienced the same sensation.
“I think it’s really kicking in,” I said. My voice sounded strange, distant and hollow, as if someone else had spoken.
“Wow, do I sound like that?” I asked, and Nikki giggled.
“You… sound… slooow…” she said in a slow way, and we both laughed.
I noticed myself starting to breathe deeply, in a loud and forceful manner. My body had spontaneously decided to breathe that way, maybe wanting extra oxygen or something. It felt good. I felt very energized.
My awareness of everything had changed, although exactly how was difficult to define. The usual voice in my head, my internal dialogue, had subsided and I felt very present. Nothing was of importance outside of this moment. This room, this bed, my interaction with Nikki…this was all that mattered. There was no fear or anxiety, just a lot of energy directed at paying attention to NOW. That was it. My energy was not divided. In comparison, my everyday mind seemed terribly fragmented with regrets of the past and fears of the future, with vague worries and hopes totally unrelated to my circumstances. I had a lot more cohesion now.
But the present was also fluid and changing. Something shifted, and my attention expanded past mere engagement of sense perceptions. My mind became more abstract, and my thoughts crystal clear. I began to re-evaluate my life. I thought of my ideals, life choices, my habits… personal insights about myself came spontaneously, glaring and self-evident. Nikki seemed to be going through an identical mind shift. We were sharing the experience, like floating down the same river together, riding the rapids, seeing the same sights along the riverbank.
The conversation turned very philosophical. We were infused with objectivity and perspective as we began to assess our everyday lives and the social world in which we lived. We talked about how our society was set up to chase unimportant goals, like owning “prestigious” brands of clothing, or sleek sports cars. We discussed Western values of capitalism, leading to the ruthless plunder and destruction of our environment to feed the growing population of consumers, and the ridiculousness of this. We talked about how most people lived in a haze of habit and repetition, stuck in the proverbial Rat Race, not knowing how to live any other way. In comparison, we wondered what meaningful life goals would actually consist of – for us, it was coming to understand our own nature. We laughed hysterically when we imagined visiting our local shopping mall, with vast quantities of pointless products people craved to possess – but everyone had to give the shopkeepers little pieces of paper first, with the right numbers printed on them, before taking the goods away. Money was hilarious! And everyone agreed to believe in it!
We talked on and on, describing new insights and truths made obvious in this state. As we spoke, our attention was intensely directed at one another. A strong determination to grok every single word and idea that Nikki was expressing kept me fully engaged. When I spoke, her total attention focussed on me as well. It felt as if I understood far more of her meaning than the words contained. The words were just triggers and pointers to her thought processes, a means for me to access her inner self. The sound of our voice extended out from our core to form a sort of kinetic bridge or conduit for a deeper, energetic connection that allowed a direct knowing of the other. The experience felt like I was reading her mind, and knowing she was reading mine. This was fascinating; I became absorbed in this new phenomenon.
I suddenly noticed gaps in my attention, like momentarily forgetting what I was saying… I also couldn’t tell how long we had been sitting in that room; it could have been minutes or hours. Strangely, it didn’t matter, time was not something to worry about. What was important was the interruption of my life-long “continuity”.
I didn’t recognise myself; it didn’t feel like the old, familiar me any more.
The story of the self that we all develop from the first glimmer of self-consciousness, formed through the constant thought patterns that define us, was being interrupted. My perception was different, my thoughts were different… I was still the same being, but… it felt as if I was bigger. Some part of me had opened up, unfolded, like a big tent. A part that had been there all along – asleep perhaps – had woken up. Now the real Me was present.
From this vantage point, it was evident that all my life, a large part of myself had been dormant: my everyday mind, seemingly aware and clear, was anything but. I just did not have anything to compare it to, so I never knew the difference. Now, I experienced the difference, as direct understanding instead of an idea. This gave me new clarity about the human mind.
As Nikki and I continued to talk, it became evident she had the same insight about human consciousness. Based on our present state, we concluded that people exist without fully knowing themselves, since everyone has this large part of their mind but doesn’t use it. As a race, we are not entirely consciously developed. Some individuals might intuit their potential – philosophers, or psychologists perhaps – but it was obvious that we, along with everyone else, were walking through life half asleep. Except Zen Masters! I remembered what I read in books on Zen, and how the Masters were forever telling the students to wake up, wake up! It was obvious the Zen masters had managed to access a greater portion of their awareness. The monastic lifestyle they adopted was skilfully designed for waking up the Mind; if successful, they lived and viewed life from this, or a similar, type of expanded perception. Consequently, their world view was very different to that of the average person.
However, our current psychological expansion had not resolved the bigger mystery: who or what were we really, if we were not the previous Janusz and Nikki we thought we were? Even if the real, more complete me was awake now, who was that? Where had I been before this life, before this body? The answers seemed elusive. Were they hidden in still deeper parts of myself, yet undiscovered? I felt perplexed and very disconnected from everything…
Meanwhile, my mind state continued to change. Along with the self, any certainty I had about the world was quickly crumbling. First it was social concepts, then my identity… now my whole sense of physical reality was becoming bizarre!
Gradually, while we sat there discussing human awareness, we had drifted into an unknown world. Reality had changed around us in curious ways. The world I was now witnessing, although made up of things whose shapes and uses were vaguely recognizable, truly felt like an alien landscape. We were two strange beings on a strange planet.
While it was tempting to disengage from Nikki at this point and get fully absorbed in my experience, I had enough control to maintain the link. I needed to be sure she was okay and didn’t panic or anything, since everything was becoming increasingly peculiar; I think our mutual affection kept us talking, describing what we were witnessing to each other.
Instead of my room, the space around us was just a structure that provided shelter from the surrounding environment: a “large box” that offered protection and warmth, and visual screening from everything else out there. Stiff hinged doors, fitted with mechanical levers and locks that I could control and close, made it inaccessible to anyone from the outside…unless someone chose to break through the windows or doors, or even the walls and roof. My flat was now a temporary and rather limited shelter set in exotic and unpredictable surroundings. I had a vague sense that something unknown out there could be dangerous. Anyway, we sat in what felt like a huge toy house.
I thought of the world at large. As if on command, my mind drifted beyond the four walls of this room, and I realised I was an abstract awareness witnessing a strange, material world. It was foreign because I was a being of consciousness, and the world was made of matter. I was clearly not the same as everything I could sense around me. Even my body was not me. My body was something that I was currently using to move about in this physical dimension. I was inextricably linked to it of course, but I was not this body. I was controlling it with my will: I could move the hands, the arms, I could make it get up…I was driving it like a vehicle. This vehicle on its own had a kind of mechanical intelligence, since it knew how to breathe, how to digest, how to eliminate… It could heal itself if it had to, but it could not think for itself. It had no will. If my consciousness left it, it would just lie there. It might carry on functioning by itself for a while, until it ran out of energy, its fuel – food and water. Slowly, it would start to fail, bits of it would stop working, one after the other, until it died. Years later, I saw this body/vehicle concept incorporated in the movie Avatar; it was exactly the sensation I was experiencing. Right now, I was a timeless being of pure consciousness running around in a body suit.
The matter that made up this body would come apart from the current shape after it died and get re-appropriated and remade into something else. It would become part of some worm, or a tree, or a bird, reshaped into other things making up this world. Everything, at its tiniest level, was made of the same “stuff”; a substance which was incredibly durable, but could easily be remoulded into different shapes, like clay. The world was set up to constantly change its shape in a perpetual shifting dance. Everything ate everything else, or reacted with everything else, and got transformed from one thing to another. But what controlled all this matter, what made the things move about, was the will of consciousness. Without it, matter would just randomly sit there.
I was curious to see what the outside looked like, so we decided to check it out. We stepped out into a short hallway and walked up to the front door. Luckily, I knew how to work a lock and chain; I opened it carefully. Outside, it was not as dark as I remembered a night to be. I looked around, and everything was bathed in a strange blue luminescence. We walked out onto the patio, then down a few steps and onto the front driveway and garden. I glanced back at what we had come out of. It looked vaguely like our house; it still had the shape I remembered. To think that I spent years living here was surprising. It was just such an arbitrary structure in this vast world; why would I stay here? This house was so random.
I noticed a pervasive stillness and silence. Nothing moved except us. We walked around slowly and saw objects of different shapes…shapes like trees, like a car, like a wall and a gate. They seemed randomly placed, just sitting around anywhere. And the space around the objects was just so…empty.
We quietly opened the front gate and walked through into the street. It was no different to our front yard. There was no sound, just trees, walls, the road…but even though things were differently shaped, they were all the same eerie colour: a sort of washed-out blue grey. And they were all made of the same weird stuff, like papier-mâchē or modelling clay, except hard. Nikki later remembered we said that everything was “plastic”. I looked around in puzzled wonderment. The whole scene felt like a film set: real but somehow fake at the same time. This feeling of “plastic fakeness” persisted as we walked to the nearest street corner. Slowly, I enlarged my awareness to sense the whole neighbourhood. Everything around me was the same impermanent, artificial construct. The whole world was plastic. We looked around for a while, then walked back into our front yard.
Years later I would experience a very similar feeling, in lucid dreaming. When you gain your normal self-awareness in a dream, and look around in fascination at all the surrounding dream objects, you see them clearly even while knowing they are not real. That night, everything was there, but it was not real. I sensed the impermanence of everything: from the man-made things like cars and houses, to natural grass and trees. Even my body was temporary.
I wondered what would happen to me when my body stopped functioning. I vaguely sensed a vast, invisible mass of consciousness just out of reach of my mind. There seemed to be a blockage of some sort, like a memory loss. I just couldn’t remember where I was before I was in this body. Where did I come from? If I just concentrated hard enough…no, the memory or knowledge was not there. Perhaps when this body died, I’d be free to connect to it. Perhaps I would fully remember myself…but I just wasn’t sure. Why was I here, anyway? To play with this body? To interact with all the other objects? Is that why it had this mobile shape, these appendages?
I looked at my hands. I could move them around, flex my fingers and make them do different things. It was fascinating. I wondered what might have been inside that pale grey, smooth outer skin. For a brief instant, I was tempted to look inside. I considered ways to open up my palm, just a little bit. Some sharp object might do it, the surface didn’t seem that tough. But even though I was deeply disassociated, a level of sobriety remained, and I realized that it was probably not a good idea. There was no fear or panic, no emotional involvement, just a clear understanding that it was not wise to willingly damage this vehicle I was currently using. To do so was inefficient.
I looked down at my body and saw it shaking. I was wearing track suit pants and a light long-sleeve cotton jersey; when we decided to go outside, we just got up and left the room. The air was probably freezing, but I couldn’t feel the cold at all. My body must have felt it though, hence the shivering.
“Let’s go back in,” I said to Nikki. “I think it might be very cold, we should probably warm up.”
We walked back in, closed all the doors and automatically sat down directly in front of the heater. There was a distant feeling of relief. I felt my body absorb the heat, like it was sucking it out of the glowing elements. A certain level of warmth seemed to be important for this material body to function properly. It was much happier now than when it was outside. This current mind state I was in was probably not conducive to its long-term survival. I couldn’t imagine eating anything, for instance. My connection with it seemed very distant.
I don’t remember anything else significant happening that night. Nikki and I talked on, but if we thought or said anything ground-breaking, it stayed behind in the other dimension. We sat there for a long time, sucking in heat, then slowly began to drift back to our familiar sense of self. I wouldn’t call it “back to normal” any more; I now think our normal state of mind is just as arbitrary as the one on the LSD experience. There are probably countless ways to perceive the world at large, and interpret those perceptions. Who says that the everyday conscious state we know is the correct one? It’s just familiar because it’s the one we constantly use. For most people, it’s the only one they’ll ever know – getting drunk is not comparable; it inhibits clarity and dulls the senses. In years to come, I corroborated this notion. I had a few more LSD trips, and each one was slightly different. My understanding shifted to a completely new perspective. I witnessed other aspects of myself, and managed to restructure the world in different ways.
As we were coming down from the trip, I felt a deep sense of loss. My larger self was shrinking, and my sharp clarity along with it. A short-lived but vital part of me was folding up, becoming inaccessible again; I was falling back into the sleep of my everyday awareness. The whole night’s experience was morphing into a dream-like memory. I could remember the salient points, but, like a dying candle, the bright light of lucidity was dimming, dimming…and finally was snuffed out.
It was almost morning and we were both exhausted, like discharged batteries. I had expended a massive amount of energy, even though I hadn’t done anything physically strenuous. Neither of us were ready to sleep, though. My mind was still hectically processing the experience and wouldn’t shut off. Just before dawn, we decided to go out on another walk, this time wearing warm clothing.
We ambled at a leisurely pace down the still-empty streets, and everything was once again quite familiar. The sky grew lighter; birds started singing, the occasional car drove by and nothing was weird. We knew this world, we knew how to interact with it, how it functioned. I remember we walked to some park with children’s swings and slides, and sat on the swings for a long time in silence, swaying slightly, absorbing the sun and the sounds of things waking up around us. We stayed out for hours, too tired to talk, just resting and processing our strange journey.
Eventually we came home and joined my parents for breakfast. I wonder what my Mom must have thought, seeing us that morning. We shuffled in like Zombies, hardly animated, staring off into the distance. We didn’t eat much either…I couldn’t handle more than tea and a slice of toast. She probably thought Nikki and I had a fight, since we weren’t talking to each other. The truth is, I wasn’t distant from Nikki at all; I felt totally connected, aware of her every move, but after that stupendous peak overnight, we were just happy to sit and gather our energy. I remember being pretty much out of it for the rest of the day.
Approaching the experience objectively, it might not appear particularly dramatic – no scary monsters or holy visions, and my Zen Satori remained elusive – but it was nevertheless vastly impactful. By breaking the continuity of my awareness, it destabilized my perennial assumption – my certainty – that the world was merely what I normally perceived it to be. The fact is, the world that we inhabit is infinitely complex and enigmatic. My identity was also reconfigured in the process, given the LSD had unlocked a part of my being that was previously concealed. It transformed my self-understanding; now I knew there was more to me because I felt it, I remembered being it. The Mystics were right in looking within. There is a mystery there, a hidden untapped potential lurking in the human mind that I believe could redefine our culture and world-view. Whatever method is employed, be it entheogens, meditation or some other practice, the journey is a significant and rewarding one to take.