Cosmic Travel in 20 Minutes

Originally featured in Michael Pollan’s ‘Trips Worth Telling’ series
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Just one inhale sent me falling backward into my pillow. A phantom in my mirror sat up from my body, then walked away. My eyelids shut, and I shot into space. Flying through vibrant tunnels of geometric patterns and down paths not unlike Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road, I eventually landed on “the other side.” Everything was white and black, simultaneously. I seemed to be standing on firm ground in the clouds, with the agency to navigate. I was in the void. There was no distinction between high and low or here and there. Though I’m not religious, Ganesha — Hindu god of beginnings and “remover of obstacles” — appeared. The elephant figure pulsated in the center of my vision as several arms swayed up and down. I was awestruck, eager to explore. I turned and faced a large audience, a sea of young Asian boys. (Don’t ask why. I know it’s specific.) They were all giving me a thumbs-up, cheering me on. Smiling eyes roared in unison: “Keep doing what you’re doing, Erica. You’re doing the right thing.”

At this point, my roommate opened the door, and the visions evaporated. I told her, “I’m on DMT. Please shut the door.” The room returned to silence. The walls seemed to be morphing and dripping with sheen paint. Then, just as suddenly as I’d blasted off, I made a gentle landing back to sober consciousness. I checked the clock. Only 20 minutes had passed. I remember thinking, “That’s it?” But now, several years later, the psychological benefits of that experience continue to crystalize.

That was it. Just one bong rip of DMT — also known as N,N-dimethyltryptamine, a molecule found nearly everywhere in nature and a powerful hallucinogenic — sent me out of this world. I had no idea it would also send me the precise message I needed to hear as a 20-year-old trying to figure out my life.

Like many young people, I went through a period of feeling uncertain about everything. What to do, how to be. I was depressed, skipping class, avoiding responsibilities. (Smoking pot all day didn’t quite ease the existential anxiety.) To escape this inherent developmental discomfort, I used all sorts of substances: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, sketchy pressed pills, various pharmaceuticals. But psychedelics were always different. Rather than a diversion from reality, they provided a meaningful and direct confrontation with my inner self and this outer space we find ourselves tucked into.

On larger doses of LSD, I’ve seen divine feminine figures in kaleidoscopic vision. All women in one woman, or me. Yoni, apparently. On psilocybin (four grams, a doozy), I once forgot everything about the world, including myself. Even my name. Rediscovering everything as I returned from the fog renewed my appreciation and awe of existence. When you forget that music exists and hear a song for what feels like the first time, even T-Pain on WiLD 94.9 can bring tears to your eyes. On ketamine, the most mundane information transforms into divine comedy. And on MDMA, I’ve connected more deeply with people I love. Once I even saw green energy sparks coming out of my hands after rubbing them together. I was able to see the unseeable.

Each of these seemingly sacred experiences has brought me closer to what feels like my most “authentic self.” And while the psychedelic experience has historically been written from a male perspective, with an emphasis on ego loss as the big shebang, that recurrent theme has been a bit less profound for me and other women I’ve spoken to about psychedelic visions. Maybe ego loss is less focal to the female psychedelic experience because we’re primary caregivers biologically. Maybe it’s neurochemically and socially easier for us to “lose ourselves” in flow states of caregiving, such that becoming aware of a lack of boundaries between ourselves and the world may be a bit less mind-blowing. Instead, reaching an inner state of pure self-compassion, giving my ego a damn hug for once, and being reintroduced to myself sans judgment has been paramount. Some space to say: It’s okay. You’re okay.

Reflecting on all the substances I’ve taken, DMT stands above and beyond the rest. DMT delivered the words of encouragement I desperately needed as a young woman to “find my way.” Not a degree. Not a boyfriend. Not a grade on a paper. Not a like on Instagram. I needed to know within the deepest part of myself that I was okay; I was enough. A very basic human need that comes more naturally to some than others.

That brief message brought me back home within myself. And over time, it made it easier to ignore self-doubt and distractions from my truest goals, dreams, and desires. The things that make me talk too fast. The things that make me write. The things that make me feel full: love and learning. The things in this world that need some editing and rewriting.

I definitely don’t have it all figured out, but that single experience gave me the reassurance I needed to simply be as I am. To stop trying to embody a personality or mimic a state alien to myself. To stop worrying about what others are thinking and feeling at all times. This is not a story of ego loss, but a story of ego restructuringA moment of solitude that allowed my mind to better prioritize what matters and what doesn’t. What deserves attention. Especially for women, who may exhaust too much mental energy outside of themselves, constantly thinking about how others are feeling, thinking, and perceiving, this return inward can be especially therapeutic.

People familiar with DMT will often ask, “Did you break through?” And I did. After cosmic travel — whether in a spacecraft or within your own mind — your perspective is bound to shift. Anxiety lifts. Everyday trials and tribulations seem more petty than before. Spiraling thoughts of self-doubt become irrelevant, because, according to the laws of universe, it’s going to be okay. Really, you’re doing just fine. For anyone who grew up programmed to think otherwise — that they’re not good enough, that they should conform like this or dress like that, that they deserve less — a psychedelic experience can help send those negative thoughts out of orbit. DMT politely called bullshit on all that disorienting psychosocial conditioning that surrounded me as a young woman, and then said: Keep going.