One of the issues surrounding patriarchy is not just control over people’s bodies, people’s minds, how they’re supposed to respond, what’s going to be an acceptable adventure in this arena, but they also control and prioritize what is an acceptable feeling. And especially in the consciousness community, and it’s been in the religious communities as well, as bearers of moral import, love is put at the top. That’s the high vibration. At the bottom, that’s the low vibration. That’s anger or something like that. And then you have variances in between. What they have done is take a whole spectrum of feelings, and they have said that some are good and some are bad. They’ve turned them into moral qualities, and not just feelings. So what happens is that when people who are not acceptable as equal to the patriarchy, and I’m talking about women, when they have feelings, they are put on a lower spectrum as to what is acceptable for a woman to express. It’s the same thing for men, for those who, like myself, have been sexually molested as children, and raped. When we want to say these things, we are told, oh, well that’s in the past. That’s a patriarchal attitude which wants to control how people can relate within the culture. And that is directly a patriarchal attitude… that’s the place where hierarchy is telling you how to be as a human being.”
-A voice from the audience at Psychedelic Patriarchy
February 7, 2018 in NYC
Last night I attended the Women and Psychedelics Forum at CIIS, organized by Bia Liabate of Chacruna, with support from MAPS. Topics of conversation included the ethics of psychedelic therapy, sexual assault in ceremonial settings, the current state of crisis/division, and our history in a dominator system. We talked about psychedelic-assisted pattern-seeking, deconditioning, education, and healing. For individuals and societies. We talked a bit about the War on Drugs and how it has been used against black and brown people to benefit a few white people. This has been and still is our reality.
Speakers addressed the fact that these cultural problems of social inequality, sexual violence, and greed also exist in this psychedelic bubble. Surprise! (Well not really.)
But I left overjoyed that this space even exists, and while I’m still processing everything from the seven hour conversation — the many lines of thought to be continued — I am almost certain that last night’s gathering pushed me and other attendees a little further into our own hope/work. For ourselves and this community.
Compared to other conferences I’ve attended in the last few years… this gathering was different. The psychedelic space can be an inviting bunch, but the female psychedelic space provided a uniquely thoughtful, stimulating, and progressive mixing of minds.
I loved when Kathleen Harrison compared women’s work in this space to mycelium: a growing underground network, working from the bottom up. A web of connections highly aware that our current system is not collectively caring and compassionate (like it could be!). A group of voices that have chosen not to succumb to attempted silencing and “be quiet”s. We met here and chose otherwise, just like people before us did during the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement. Psychedelic medicine can help us carefully gather information, come back, and share.
Our brains are tuned for novelty. And for good reason. It’s adaptive to be responsive to new things in the environment. Changes, threats in the environment. We’re tuned to disregard the familiar or take it for granted, which is indeed what most of us do. One of the things that happens on psychedelics and on cannabis is that the familiar suddenly takes on greater weight. And there’s an appreciation of the familiar. I think a lot of familiar things are profound if looked at in the proper way. The feelings of love I have for people in my family are profound, but I don’t always feel that profundity. Psychedelics change that balance… The line between profundity and banality is a lot finer than we think.”
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 restructuring. A 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.
Reason is unquestionably a fine thing, but reason is no more than reason, and gives fulfillment only to man’s reasoning capacity, while desires are a manifestation of the whole of life — I mean the whole of human life, both with its reason and with all its itches and scratches. And though our life in these manifestations will often turn out a pretty sorry mess, it is still life and not a mere extraction of square roots. After all, I quite naturally want to live in order to fulfill my whole capacity for living, and not in order to fulfill my reasoning capacity alone, which is no more than some one-twentieth of my capacity for living. What does reason know? It knows only what it has managed to learn, while human nature acts as a complete entity, with all that is in it, consciously or unconsciously; and though it may be wrong, it’s nevertheless alive.”
Her powerlessness to communicate is apparent in the dialogue she writes: the people talk along lines that never cross; each has his own language, which the other does not understand. Even in love, especially in love, any exchange is impossible, because Violette Leduc cannot accept a duality in which she sees lurking the threat of separation.”
It’s 7am on the uBahn. Eyes still puffy from the night before. A woman slowly nibbles her morning brötchen while staring into the static on the broken TV above. Everyone is silent. And in this crowd of straight faces, there I am: grinning like an idiot. Why? I have a little secret. There’s acid under my tongue.
This slightly mischievous feeling is familiar to me. I’ve taken 1P-LSD (a legal LSD analog in Germany) over 50 times in the last six months. Most doses have been small. So small that they’ve merely lifted my mood, generally speaking. But somehow each and every time still feels brand new.
These ritual doses have drastically improved my life and reshaped my perception, but what’s really been going on inside my head? It seems my brain has been especially malleable these last few months. I’ve been able to untangle the knots of thought that eclipsed my reality and made everything a little darker.
What type of people decide to become writers? How much self-confidence does it take to decide one day: “I’m going to be a writer.” What level of self-indulgent satisfaction must one reach before they finally hit send; publish.
I imagine them jotting shit down at an elegantly disheveled desk. Writing with feverish intent and concentration. And not on a computer! With a pen. Just like in the movies. But who’s in the picture? Appears to be white dude in his 50s with a dad bod and greying hair. He wears stylish glasses.
Why does this image come most naturally to me?
I can’t compare myself to this portrait. I’m all over the place. But I like to think my mind has more in common with that dude’s desk than him: it’s messy. But full of curiosities and stories that might be worth organizing and sharing someday.