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5-MeO-DMT And The Void of Nothingness
Here's my experience with 5-MeO-DMT, and why it 'disappointed' me greatly.
Once, I took what most consider to be ‘the most powerful psychedelic available to man.’
This is a more obscure substance, so I’d recommend a google or two if it’s foreign to you. I did it as part of an academic study, and this conjured up all sorts of feelings and impressions beforehand. I’m a psychedelic advocate and I wanted to do the organization (and the tryptamine family at large) proud. I had done DMT more than once before, and felt certain about my ability to have some sort of magnificent religious experience I could handle with grace and refinement. I had visions of reporting my drastic changes to the researcher, the astronomical internal yet otherworldly depths I’d visit, and how beautifully I’d describe my newfound enlightenment in the post-trip questionnaire. This experience was none of those things.
No, literally. It was none of those things.
I arrived in a small room at a nondescript facility in the Czech Republic, where I was living at the time. They took my blood and asked me some questions, and then guided me into an all-white room where I was re-introduced to the researcher who’d be sitting with me, along with a guide named Chad, who was not a scientist but some sort of psychonautic geographer with open-toed sandals.
‘Have you taken psychedelics before?’ He asked. I nodded. ‘When you take the Breath of Five…” He paused, searching for a metaphor, “…You’re on an elevator that goes to the very top, and then, when you see that you’ve hit the top floor, you keep going past it.” He insisted on calling the drug ‘Breath’ or ‘Breath of Five’, and I insisted on calling him Psychedelic Chad. Psychedelic Chad had me sit on a mat on the floor. We did some breathing exercises. I was nervous, but resolute. He filled up a pipe with a tinny smelling substance, and asked me to close my eyes and envision a lake, which I presumed was a metaphor for the Breath. “Would you like to dip your toes in the water before you swim? Would you like to wade, gradually? Or would you like to dive right in?”
I considered the question, hoping I’d appear polite and adequately cautious. “Dive in head first.” Though in my head I said, ‘Load me up, big guy! Give me what you got! I’ve got this handled!’ I answered this way for two reasons. The first is that half and pre-threshold experiences tend to make me uneasy. More importantly, I wanted them, or me, or anyone who would ask about it in the future really, to know that I was capable of handling the Big Stuff. I was an impressive psychonaut who could navigate the breaking of her world into many indiscernible pieces of shrapnel with courage, and interpret the existential junkyard of its infinite waste with ease. I took a swig from the pipe and laid back on the mat.
There’s a moment before a very large trip where you’re made very aware that you’re about to have a very large trip. A sort of, buckle up type of feeling. A few things happened in very quick succession. A small voice in my head said… ‘buckle up.’ I felt a sort of shrinking feeling, or perhaps it was an expansion that made me feel as though I was leaving a shrinking body behind. I felt as though I was about to do the opposite of whatever flying is. Sinking? Submerging? Curling up into a black hole? ‘Be strong.’ I thought. ‘Be brave.’ Then, I felt an enormous, horrendously powerful tear in what might have been my brain, though it hardly mattered where exactly the tear was occurring. Finding the epicenter of it would be a bit like trying to find the central point of a very bright light. ‘Oh boy!’ I thought. Here came the religious awakening I had longed for.
Except, I immediately regretted doing this and I immediately knew that there was no turning back, though I realized I desperately wanted to. I felt unready, under-prepared. I tried to let go, which is what most experienced users recommend, including myself. So I thought, ‘Alright. Let go!’ and in that decision was an encoded instruction that sunk me deeper into the mat. I felt myself, either from experience or intuition, inching towards a very familiar void, and the tear had spread from my fingertips to the bones in my pinky toes, and I urgently wanted to remain where I was, and not be on 5-MeO-DMT. I was on the precipice of Things and No Things, and it occurred to me that as I was incarnating a human form it was really nice to have Things and know where Things are. My understanding of the basic principles of my existence was a kind of halo of protection that was rapidly dissipating, and in deep, existential fear, I was left more less thinking, “…God damn it. Why do I always do this to myself? Why do I always forget…”
The forgetting of the void is of course itself a product of my division from the void, and that gap began to close. The question was replaced by, “Forget what, exactly?” and then again replaced by the vague and formless concern of having thought something about something, or wanting to be something about something, and then that too vanished, and an oceanic quiet descended.
And then, Nothing.
It is difficult to describe Nothing. Not because I wish to remain cryptic but because absolutely Nothing happened, in the most real sense of the word. There was no thing to happen, and no thing for no thing to happen to. It is a genuine Void of Nothingness, and even that is an outrageously generous interpretation of it. The experience did not ask to be described nor did it desire my understanding of it.
Suddenly, or perhaps gradually, but with the certitude that suddenness possesses, a thing was in a white room that was filled with vague multi-colored geometric shapes. “I’m so tired, I’m so tired,” said the thing. “I’m so tired.” Psychedelic Chad sat before the thing, and nodded solemnly, with just the right combination of kindness and concern. “I’m so tired…”
I had been reborn, though entirely without narrative. Perhaps I had imagined a religious experience as something with context, something with which I could grasp firmly from start to finish, anecdotally and solidly, to hold in stark contrast to the doldrum of my normal patterns of thought, being, and experience. Tears streaked down my face, though I wasn’t sure why. Sticky and wet. That was me, I was sticky and wet. “I’m so tired.” I said, and it occurred to me that I had been the one saying that over and over and over again, as though my mouth was processing the feeling before my brain could. I felt like a literal baby. I was making sounds for some reason. I clearly had a need. I just didn’t know what it was.
The researcher graciously apologized and gingerly lifted my hand. He drew some blood from my pointer finger. I’d like to say I watched in awe, but I didn’t. Why wouldn’t he do that? Why wouldn’t that happen? It wasn’t strange that I had a finger, because clearly I did, and it wasn’t strange that he was drawing blood from it after I had swam in the sea of nothingness. No thing was strange, every thing that was happening was happening. What else was there to do?
The unified feeling of everything happening with resounding accuracy faded quickly. At first, I felt as though nothing monumental had happened (in part because it hadn’t!). “Is that it? Is that The Top?” There was nothing there! Literally nothing! What’s the fuss? Don’t we all know this, somehow, somewhere? I think these thoughts were partly spurned by my proximity to the void. I had just touched it, I was still very close, but every moment was sending me further and further away from it, and with this distance the formation of my halo of understanding returned. I was a person who could form a string of thoughts reflexively, and it was time to use that proclivity to understand what had happened. This is what the halo does, it crystalizes the ineffable into literary form as currency to maintain and operate its glow.
At first, I was angry. Not at myself, but at the person who had thrust me into the throws of nothingness so that she could remember. How selfish! I was minding my own business, being a guy! Being a person-guy! But she wanted to experience something different than what she always experienced. At the expense of me! Now I was confused, and scared. For both of us. Wasn’t her experience, day to day, enough? Why did she have to involve me in this? “Why do I always do this to myself?” I said aloud. Psychedelic Chad just nodded, quiet.
At any given moment, invisible currents pass through or fully permeate my being. Sometimes they linger. Sometimes they’re ephemeral, like love, or joy, or anxiety. Sometimes they’re interpreted physically, like heat, or cold, or rain. When this happens, I have a choice, always. Do I accept that it’s happening, or do I reject that it’s happing? Up until that point, I had demanded control of every single wave that visited my shore. Sadness was granted entrance but treated atrociously, hardly nurtured and often ushered out in a rush. Fear was judged and misinterpreted as weakness. Pride and longing were fed, like bottomless pits, at the expense of other visitor’s health. Happiness left me on my knees, either in awed and shaky mercy for its visit to such an undeserving host or with a pen and contract in hand, “Will you stay? Do you promise? Do you swear you won’t go?” My body was inhospitable, unwelcoming, a groveling mess. I was always pushing and pulling something in or out of it. I felt very, very exhausted.
“I’m so tired.” But this time, I knew who was saying it, and why. I looked at Psychedelic Chad, with his knowing, furrowed brows and open toed sandals and thought, ‘Wow. He’s just a person-guy who also doesn’t know why he’s a person-guy, and I wanted so badly to impress him.’ Be brave. Let go. Have the experience. Why’d you have the experience? Why’d she do that? Was it good enough? Was it real? Was it nothing? Was that it? He took my blood, was I polite enough? Was it good? Was it bad? Should I stop crying? I should stop crying. Why’d she do that? Why’d I do that? Why’d I forget? Did I have a bad time? No, I had a good time. Right? Was it something? Was that worth it? What was it for? Did I do it wrong? Did I describe it right? Do I understand it? I wasn’t ready. Was I ready? Was I, Was I, Was I?
I could not touch the void without criticizing myself for it. I could not return without reprimanding my own curiosity. Nothing was impervious to the hyper-vigilant eyes of my own self-judgement.
Somethingness returned, and I decided to be very careful with how I interacted with it. I can’t quite say why an experience so characterized by lack of experience brought this one thing to the surface. I had a friend who participated and had another experience, and another friend who had had another altogether. Perhaps I had taken the deepest, most transcendental nap I had ever taken. Perhaps it’s simply the first thing I always do, and the shock of doing it with such a clear, un-filled mind was enough to give it the buoyancy to rise. It’s very hard to say.
I put my shoes on and exited the room. I filled out the questionnaire. I didn’t know what to say. I liked my body and being in my body, I think. It was important, I guess. I am processing it, I thought. I’ll be grateful later. I’ll check the *10/10* box on the religious experience section, for now. I’ll fill it out well, I’ll do a good job, for me, and for the psychedelic community, and to prove that it was worth it, the terrifying rip, the shrinking, the void.
“Was it amazing?” Asked a woman in the room with me who was waiting for her turn. I paused for quite a long time. I decided not to answer. Was I, Was I, Was I? Instead, I filled out the questionnaire cautiously. Compassionately, with unanswered questions and nebulous, undefined judgements. Was it religious? ‘Don’t know.’ Was it good? ‘Don’t know.’ Was it negative? ‘Don’t know.’ I was being honest, and it was surprisingly untaxing.
I walked along the Vltava River with my fiancé. We stopped at a café where I filled up a takeout box with probably five pounds of food. We sat on a bench and I ate it all, as though it was my first meal. In some ways it was. I looked at all the things, I liked all the things.
He asked me to describe what had happened. Reflexively, I wanted to describe it well. I wanted to impart upon him the importance of the Nothingness. I wanted to say, ‘Nothing’, as though I was clever, as though I had touched something so great that there would never be a way to accurately describe it. This wanting to impress upon him the importance of my experience was an invisible current, and for the first time in perhaps ever, I looked at it cautiously.
‘Oh. You’re here. You’re welcome here. You’re very welcome here.”