Right after my last cessation of nicotine for the day, I get into bed and look over at my snoring dog on the couch. Her dark red hair turns golden around her pulsing chest. I need to see that she’s still breathing before I lie down, even though she’s young and healthy and there’s no reason she wouldn’t be. I shut off the light and lay my head on top of my pillow, I can smell the lavender fragrance from my recently washed pillow cover. As I lay there I feel a rare, almost forgotten feeling: one of satisfaction. The loneliness and loss that usually clings to me like the smell of tobacco after smoking is nowhere to be found. Instead, I feel contentment, a feeling I’d thought I’d all but lost.
In my head, I am not in some argument with a real or imaginary person, working through the logic of my position like a sailor earnestly navigating the stars on a partly cloudy night. My mind is clear and for the first time in a long time, I feel hope for the following day and a sense of accomplishment for the day behind me.
This feeling sticks with me even as I wake up in the morning. Rather than fighting to get out of bed and leave my dreams behind, I’m pulling off my covers and pulling on my clothes before I can think twice and allow sleep to drag me back under it’s heavy spell. I run my hands through my smooth, flakeless hair and rejoice in the fact that my stomach isn’t crying out for relief.
As the day goes on some irritation does bubble up to the surface of my mind, but I’m able to acknowledge it and not be totally consumed by it. Is it possible that my endeavors have been working, or is this simply an anomaly?
After lunch, I leave my office and go downstairs where my mom is watching the news, or rather, talking heads state their opinions on the news. Her frustrated statements about the state of the world don’t bring me down as usual. I engage without being swallowed by the bleakness of the situation polluting our government and nation. Sometimes when I hear the news I wonder if there isn’t some great power behind everything who gets off at feeding us the most absurd realities. How much nonsense can we deliver before they realize it’s a simulation? But even if this were true, wouldn’t a world without such absurdity be a dull one?
I decide to take the dog for a walk while I work through the post-lunch lows. Most days, lunch leaves me in a state of exhaustion, depression, and anxiety that I often sleep off or fight to avoid sleep. But today I just feel a little bit tired. I see other people at the park where I take my dog. They’re minding their own business, and rather than swearing their mere existence for being somewhere where I’d like to take my over-hyper dog, I simply move on.
Is it better, perhaps, to not be good?
To understand this shift from a pathetic, half-life to a contented purposed one I need to bring you back to my past and into the ambiguity of my mind and its history. I was not always like this. In fact, ever since childhood, I would say that negative thoughts have haunted me. Usually, I can only recall the bad memories, rarely the good ones.
Bad memories and anxieties are a pestilence I have only recently started to be cured of. Could what I’ve been doing really be working so well or is it merely a flash in the pan?
Ever since adolescence, I’ve had this pleasant wickedness I could summon during moments of anger, frustration, and condescension. It is a narcissistic ability that I’ve all but lost, but now in my nihilist early adulthood as I struggle to make meaning or motivate myself to some purpose, I find myself trying to rekindle it. Surely, it was some fabrication of assurance in the face of powerlessness and chaos, a superficial thing, but the possibility that it may hold something deeper requires some investigation.
I was never a bad kid. Sometimes prone to emotions that would accelerate from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, namely anger. I was argumentative, stubborn, and had a visceral need to be right. I would often defend my point, even after I realized I was wrong, just to see if I could beat my opponent into submission with my twisted debating. The easiest way to trip someone up in an argument is by making them upset. This was one of the first lessons I learned from my older siblings.
Besides these pugnacious propensities, I was usually kind and only rarely a bully – my sister had taught me it was better to be the punisher than the punished. In adulthood, these explosive characteristics have been dulled, but they still dwell deep within me. More often than not, they manifest as general irritation and moodiness that sticks with me, rather than a fire that is quick to burn up all of its fuel.
Though my frustration is always near, if not present, this fiery anger that used to give me such energy and purpose has slowly died along with other, more idealistic sources of energy, namely the idea that the world is a good place, life is a solely wonderful thing, and I inherently have purpose. Adulthood and some basic awareness of the world have left me like a bent nail in a block of wood that was hit haphazardly too many times by the random swingers of a toddler in a toolshed. I often wonder if it’s better not to just pull out and try again. Though the extremity and immediate cruelty of suicide have pulled me away from performing such final acts, even during those times long gone I seriously ideated such things.
For all of my depressing tendencies and broken beliefs, I have never been able to shake the idea that we have souls and are somehow connected in a way we cannot plainly see. Yet, this belief no longer packs the meaningful punch I used to get from it. Like anything, souls can be lost, empty, and damaged. A wholistic spirituality relating to the universe and the fallacy of the individual permeates my mind, yet even that cannot lift me from this hole I’ve dug. It merely pokes its head up from the surface to whisper encouraging words now and again occasionally getting a word through the torrential hurricane of a nihilistic world.
Even if you deny that every part of the universe (you and I included) are parts of the same whole, therefore, innately intertwined, you cannot dismiss the thought that we are all members of the same human race, we all share the intangible and mysterious quality of life. More than that, actively doing harm and hating one another will not solve any problems. It is such a simple belief, yet it’s one that is so readily rejected. I believe we can thank our primitive humanness for that.
I once believed that I would do some good in this world. I would be a friend to animals. I would save the environment. I would administer life-changing ideas via ink on a page like doctors administering vaccines. But not only are many admirable and helpful ideas cast aside as heresy and indoctrination, but so are the very things I’ve just compared them to. So even if I could be a “success” in this way, the certainty of positive impact is undetermined and unlikely. Moreover, the scary thing about writing and communication as a whole is the dastardly likelihood of misinterpretation.
The fact that truth has died in my lifetime continues to point to the nihilism of this world. Falsehood has donned the skins of many figureheads from politicians to celebrities to news anchors and pundits, swearing that its fallacy is truth, swearing that its hatred is good. It has split the world in two, and both sides say the other is lying, hateful, evil. How can someone who believes they are on the side of God even begin to listen to Satan?
With AI already here, I’m not sure if there is any hope left for truth to prevail. Now, more than ever, people will believe what they want.
Therefore, I want to play with the idea of becoming the contented and righteous villain that was always buried within me or at least see if I’m capable, if only in fantasy. I want to dig up that grinning darkness that’s buried beneath niceties and polite behavior, I want to be fully aware of myself, even the crawlspaces I’ve boarded up and the crannies that lurk outside the glow of the light. Who knows? Maybe in the end some hatred will be lost and some justice served.
Besides depression, a major barrier I have to regaining this darkness-embracing mindset is anxiety. Anxiety is a pathetic illness, it makes you unsure and weak. With anxiety, an easy decision is made impossible and oftentimes leaves you with no decision made at all, which in turn, upgrades your anxiety.
It leaves you lying in bed rethinking the day’s conversations, thinking back to moments years in the past, cringing and scrunching your face up, robbing you of sleep and peace.
I think my first step to vanquish this thing inside me is to simply act and be honest in conversation. For this I use a role model as my guide, a past girlfriend who is so free-spirited and in the moment that she does whatever she wants, without thinking too hard. For the most part, I think she’s better off for it.
I have a not-so-unique blend of anxiety that combines social anxiety with an obsessive-compulsive variety. Not only do I worry about making the wrong decision or offending others, but I obsess over my physical environment.
My keys. Wallet. Phone.
My laptop is dry and undamaged (I’ve destroyed two, one from spilled tea and one from vomit, so I have the check the entire thing before bed to make sure it is clean and dry).
The windows in my car (which I sometimes have to run my finger over when it's dark so I know they’re shut).
The doors of my car (which I glance back at several times after exiting the vehicle).
The gear stick (which I always check to make sure through the window that it is in “park” and won’t roll away).
I’ve even started to look at my dog who sleeps nearby before bed to make sure her chest is rising and falling before I turn the light off.
But this ex-girlfriend of mine is exactly the opposite when it comes to these types of anxieties. While I think some active awareness of these things can be healthy, mine drags me down and makes me feel like a defective robot.
I remember one time while we were living together, my ex was telling me about her experience at the pharmacy. She went in like normal and when she came out her car wasn’t there. She looked across the parking lot and saw it in a different spot. She never locks her car and figured that someone must have gotten in and moved it. But why would someone do that? When she got to the vehicle she noticed that the car had been left in neutral. Security cameras later revealed her car slowly rolling across the lot as she gingerly entered the pharmacy with not a worry in her mind.
It may sound silly but I almost envy that characteristic she has. It may get her into some trouble, but for the most part, she’s never had any serious problems, and even if she does, her mental weight is all the lighter for it.
Furthermore, when she talks to people or does anything, she doesn’t hold back. She is 100% herself, always, and radiates a joy that I have never seen elsewhere. I mean not to insinuate that she is blissfully happy all the time, for she is not. Grief and depression haunt her every step, but the idea that it could all end in a second, I think, is a liberating one. When she is enjoying herself, her mind does not pull her away and ruin the moment like mine does.
I should also add that I’ve long believed that anxiety is a kind of levee that keeps back offensive behavior. Just like I know I couldn’t live with the guilt of killing someone, I know that if I am rude to someone or offend them (intentionally or otherwise) I will also suffer. I believed it was this knowledge of internal consequences that prevented people, at least somewhat, from working against their conscience. Yet, in the case of my ex, this doesn’t seem to be the case. She may have the occasional gaff, but no more than average, and I’ve never seen her act untoward to anyone. Not only that, she makes people comfortable with her non-judgemental character.
Therefore, I have decided to live like her, in my own way. I think by assigning less value to intrusive thoughts and pervasive anxieties, along with keeping up my meditation and daily exercises, I can eliminate this anxiety and acquire that which I’ve lost. Awareness is an invaluable key to unlocking the vagaries of the mind.
If I want to say something, express my feelings, or do/not do something, I will. Then, I may be able to evolve somewhat and rediscover that nebulous motivation I had in my younger, more purposeful self.
There are many ways to shed a part of yourself while searching for another. One of the best ways to do so is to “split the mind” or take psychedelics. As a younger man in the infancy of adulthood, and approaching it, I often took acid and mushrooms because it felt like I was seeing and interpreting the world by stripping away the filters and ingrained perceptive tools I’ve spent my life building. These experiences felt like a view of raw reality, a hidden peak into dimensions that lie beneath the superficial one we perceive.
If I want to lose my anxiety and become a new person, I figure taking psychedelics again may be a good start.
I should add that this is a task that I do not do without hesitation. While I’ll take small doses of mushrooms here and there, I haven’t done a “hero’s dose” or anything close to it in years, and for good reason. Such experiences throw you out naked into the cosmos and force you to tear down your walls, shed your armor, and kill the guarded part of your mind (the ego) so that you can experience things more openly. In other words, it uproots you. The older you get and the more roots you have, the more jarring and unpleasant the experience can be.
Since those turbulent times of seeking ego death (and one time receiving it), I have sought to do the opposite. Rather than freeing myself from my preconceptions, I’ve wished to root myself in them for the sake of stability.
This time when I take them, I’ve devoted myself to embracing the awareness that comes with it, like the first time I ever partook, that time my self was shattered.
My parents are gone for the weekend, so I decided it’s as good a time as any to break down those barriers and attempt to break apart my psyche so I can more quickly build it back together.
I sit in my room 30 minutes after eating six times the dose of mushroom chocolate I usually take, which is three squares of the bar. The reminiscent flavor of a crunch bar remains in my mouth. I can already feel the high pressing into my stomach and lifting me up. I have an ultimate disc turned rolling tray dotted with splotches of resin on my lap as I sat on the couch in my room with the blinds closed. It’s dark and comfortable in the room, if not slightly stuffy. Darkness like this is cozy and I don’t want any eyes from the street looking through the window.
I’m not sure what prompts me but suddenly I remember this old jar I used to use where I’d mix various herbs, weed, and tobacco to roll smooth and tasty cigarettes and spliffs. After a little bit of searching in the congested corner by my bed I find it along with a couple of large mason jars packed with weed leaves and discarded buds from when I grew cannabis in Vermont.
As I place the jar, my eyes catches the shelves above my couch. I look past the items on my shelves every day, rarely paying them any notice. Most of the trinkets have been there since childhood but what draws my attention now is a small plastic cylindrical container with a plant I had found about two years ago.
I had been staying at my girlfriend's house that summer. She lived in the elbow of the cape, a small town called Forest Hollow. It was a delightful mix of artistic middle-class people enjoying their quiet lives on the cape and the ultra-wealthy who had mansions lining the point – a private road that had hundreds of billions of combined network vacationing there.
It was the kind of place where many of the residents who came for the summer had inherited the money, so much of it that some of them didn’t see any need to work. Perhaps some of their parents and grandparents hadn’t held a serious job because of their inheritance that they were happy to do the same.
One day my girlfriend at the time, Jodie; her brother; her brother’s friend; and I decided to sneak onto one of the properties that was vacant at the time. We wanted to sit out and enjoy the sunset from a prime viewing spot. But we had to be careful, because some of the nosy, jobless neighbors would love nothing more than to call the private security or police and have us apprehended. So we snuck past hedges and kept on guard as we navigated the giant property.
Behind some tall boxwood bushes just a hundred feet from the water where no one could see us I spotted a strange plant. I enjoy identifying plants and herbs, in high school one of my best friends and I used to go out to the local forest and try to identify as many plants we could, always on the lookout for psychoactive herbs that we’d later make into salves, tea, or tinctures.
While I couldn’t name all of the plants that grow in New England, I could surely recognize most of them (at least the wild medicinal ones), and when I couldn’t I liked to use a Plant ID app on my phone that was rarely inaccurate.
This plant stuck out for two reasons. Firstly, it was on the edge of this tremendously manicured property. The hedges around us were as flat as a concrete wall, the grass was trimmed until it looked like carpet, and the flowers were dead-headed fastidiously – reminding me of the many hours I’d spent on other billionaires' properties in Stowe, VT, deadheading day lilies that no one would see except for our landscaping crew. But this plant looked out of place on the edge of the property, under the oak tree, it looked like a weed.
Secondly, this plant was tall for a weed, about three feet high and had large hemispherical pods hanging from its small green limbs. These pods were thorned and looked razor sharp. I did not recognize it, but something inside me told me I should. It looked alien and unlike any other plant I’d ever seen. It was practically shouting at me for attention with its strangeness.
My Plant ID app identified it as a plant called Shaitan's Star and a quick search on Google revealed to me it was a highly psychoactive and poisonous plant, namely its seeds. Carefully I plucked one of the pods but it still managed to nick my thumb and draw blood. I tucked it into my bag and when we returned home, I did some research.
The seeds of this plant were highly toxic and extremely psychoactive, classified as a deliriant like Mandrake root. Apparently, the plant has a long history of mystical use, but the dosage is so small that overdosing is dangerously easy. The experience is said to last for 12 hours up to several days and it throws you into a state where you can’t distinguish your hallucinations from reality.
Anyone who has taken acid or mushrooms knows that while hallucinations do happen, the most profound ones are seen with eyes closed. With open eyes you may experience breathing, movement, trails, or see faces and shapes and colors in things you normally wouldn’t, but even in the most extreme cases you know that what any hallucinations you see is due to the drug’s hijacking of the normal processes in your brain.
With Shaitan's Star this is not the case. According to reports, it’s referred to as the “nightmare plant” because it hurls users into a nightmarish realm where they see horrifying images and sometimes forget that they even took a drug to begin with. It can also trigger dormant mental diseases.
As I recalled these events and the power of Shaitan's Star from the comfort of my bedroom, I removed the now-dry pod from the plastic case and held it in my hands. I sat down on the couch, brought the disc back to my lap and spilled the contents onto the rolling tray. They were hard to make out in the poor lighting, but I could see that the dry seeds were black and had many small points like a little star. I used a quarter to break open a small clump of seeds and within them were many smaller brown seeds that looked completely innocuous.
For a moment I seriously considered taking some of them, but I had no interest in death or a trip that lasted for several days, so I scooped them up and placed them back in the container and put it back on the shelf.
I unscrewed the cap of the mason jar with the mixed herbs and tobacco and then dumped some shake from an old bag of weed on top. A couple seeds from the cannabis I had grown were mixed in, but I figured I’d smoke them anyway.
I rolled up my spliff with herbs, tobacco, and weed mixed together on my rolling tray and smoked it. The smoke tasted like mugwort, stale tobacco, and homegrown weed, along with many other flavors from the variety of herbs in the jar. There was a pungent harsh element to some parts of the spliff, an alluring and bitter taste that made me wonder what else was in there. But I’d never put anything dangerous inside the jar, so the mysterious flavor didn’t bother me.
The sensation of smoking calmed my nerves as I continued to fall deeper into my trip. After I finished I felt a little bit funny and dizzy and I decided to meditate.
I can almost feel the shape of my mind and within it, are three-dimensional shades of blackness highlighted by red. I breathe deeply and listen to the guided meditation, the soothing voice telling me where to focus my attention.
Before long, I’ve traveled back to a distant memory, one that is saturated with the thick smoke of salvia, a physically harmless psychoactive plant that transports you elsewhere for about five minutes when you smoke it.
I’m back on the conveyor belt in the large, empty hanger I’d visited several times while in the clutches of the ominous plant. I can feel those malicious, god-like forces hovering over me out of view. As I’m carried along the conveyor belt, I see that I’m approaching a square of light in the distance. Just like my last experience here, I can see that the square is my field of vision on the other side of the salvia trip. As I approach it, I can make out my desk and bong that I kept there during my junior year of college. However, unlike before, I noticed a second window beside it. As I near it I can see that it’s more like a trapdoor or a small, square door you might find in an attic, colored a deep hemlock-green color, and featuring a small brass nob.
Something whispers in my ear and I reach out and pull the nob open. I’m sucked inside.
I don’t remember what happens next but when I come to again, I notice that two hours have passed. Even during my first most powerful experience with mushrooms, I never saw or felt anything like that. A total loss of time like a salvia or DMT trip. Moreover, I feel relatively sober, but somehow still affected.
As I get into bed that night I feel a small grin cross my face as I rest my head on my pillow. I have that feeling that something good is coming to me, or perhaps, I to it.