Yesterday I gently knocked at the doors of perception, but then was violently hurdled through them. You see, I have been lifting the sail of meditation for maybe a year or two and felt it was time to be strapped onto a consciousness-altering rocket whose navigation system had been deliberately left uninstalled. Was it to be awakened? Was it to transcend reality? Was it because I was bored. At that point I didn’t quite know, but I knew it would be profound.
About an hour later things, matter, colors, shapes, started to skew. My depth of field was the first to morph and life took on a 2 dimensional character, as if I was constantly walking through a 2 dimensional plane, physically ripping through spacetime into the next layer. As my cerebral blood flow decreased, material reality started to peel back revealing something completely new and novel; I understood what was visually happening around me even though it could have just as easily been incomprehensible. It was more accurately an amalgam of the two. As I managed with great difficulty to text a friend with my impaired motor functions, I wrote, "Everything is, but isn’t."
Aside from the visual symphony of existence avalanching around me begging to burst at its seems, I was far more interested in the inner landscape of being. I sat near the water. Now sedentary, I tried closing my eyes. Patterns appeared that kaleidoscoped, gyrated and took on forms that had no real-world equivalent but only meaning. I felt what I saw even though I cannot describe it now. Thoughts flowed in concepts that soon became too difficult to comprehend. I opened up my eyes again.
At every succeeding moment my mind inched toward the edge of insanity. The utter feeling of helplessness cries for breakdown and there were peaks that only intimated at the effects becoming stronger. These were the seconds where I forced myself to stand and be reminded that I chose to do this, even though I still didn’t know why. Much like when the perturbations of life exhaust our nerves and we want to scream, these instances came at almost every corner. My altered state shed my strengths and compelled me to observe all those little things that I held deep inside, hidden away from myself, that caused me unease and grief. Ah! I’m learning! i said. It was painful, but it was true. I also smiled upon realizing that the most dear things in life were the connections we hold with others. It certainly weren’t administrative quandaries that rattle the tears. A mile-marker was crossed.
After I fastidiously made a to-do list of things I needed to repair, my delirious mind-state started to ease into a soft reverie. I wasn’t clutching the rocket with white knuckles anymore. I was able to talk coherently and formulate thoughts. A placid relaxation overcame me. Near exhausted, I sat again near a small park and put my hands on my knees. I don’t believe I ever looked at my hands objectively, but there they were. Hands. My hands - connected to my arms, to my torso, and to the rest of it all. This was when a spark of consciousness ignited and I understood the separation between mind and body, body and spirit. The objectivity took on a role of discernment that the vessel I inhabit is just a series of chemical reactions that has an expiration date. I was gently reminded of the word soul. Mind the reader, I am not religious, nor terribly spiritual, but I cannot deny that I experienced Pasha the thought separately from Pasha the image. This is information that may take more than a few lifetimes to fully appreciate. Mile-marker 2, and possibly the more important a-ha.
As the effects finally waned, I reflected. I wouldn’t classify it as an entirely pleasurable experience, but then again, it wasn’t my intention. I was alone. A transpersonal dimension of mind flooded my consciousness and I was exposed to a underlying and ever-present layer of our universe. For me, it is a rite of passage every human should should consider experiencing, to know, or to remember, or to awaken to.
The power of psychedelics, however, is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime. William James said it about as well as anyone
One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.
Sam Harris — Psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, DMT, and mescaline all powerfully alter cognition, perception, and mood. Most seem to exert their influence through the serotonin system in the brain, primarily by binding to 5-HT2A receptors (though several have affinity for other receptors as well), leading to increased activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Although the PFC in turn modulates subcortical dopamine production—and certain of these compounds, such as LSD, bind directly to dopamine receptors—the effect of psychedelics seems to take place largely outside dopamine pathways, which could explain why these drugs are not habit-forming.
The efficacy of psychedelics might seem to establish the material basis of mental and spiritual life beyond any doubt, for the introduction of these substances into the brain is the obvious cause of any numinous apocalypse that follows. It is possible, however, if not actually plausible, to seize this evidence from the other end and argue, as Aldous Huxley did in his classic The Doors of Perception, that the primary function of the brain may be eliminative: Its purpose may be to prevent a transpersonal dimension of mind from flooding consciousness, thereby allowing apes like ourselves to make their way in the world without being dazzled at every step by visionary phenomena that are irrelevant to their physical survival. Huxley thought of the brain as a kind of “reducing valve” for “Mind at Large.” In fact, the idea that the brain is a filter rather than the origin of mind goes back at least as far as Henri Bergson and William James. In Huxley’s view, this would explain the efficacy of psychedelics: They may simply be a material means of opening the tap.
Huxley was operating under the assumption that psychedelics decrease brain activity. Some recent data have lent support to this view; for instance, a neuroimaging study of psilocybin suggests that the drug primarily reduces activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in a wide variety of tasks related to self-monitoring. However, other studies have found that psychedelics increase activity throughout the brain. Whatever the case, the action of these drugs does not rule out dualism, or the existence of realms of mind beyond the brain—but then, nothing does. That is one of the problems with views of this kind: They appear to be unfalsifiable.
DIRECTLY FROM THE STUDY - "As predicted, profound changes in consciousness were observed after psilocybin, but surprisingly, only decreases in cerebral blood flow, and these were maximal in hub regions, such as the thalamus and anterior and posterior cingulate cortex…...These results strongly imply that the subjective effects of psychedelic drugs are caused by decreased activity and connectivity in the brain's key connector hubs, enabling a state of unconstrained cognition."