She had all the attributes of a great character. She was capable of madness, like the affair with her land, but she also possessed a great lucidity. She embodied those contradictions that make for great characters, like when she nearly died upon learning that I enrolled in the Communist Party. But she is not the main hero of my body of work, nor the most permanent. No, I am the most permanent. Writing is to write for oneself… We separate ourselves from people by writing.”
-Marguerite Duras on her mother in Me & Other Writing
Psychedelic researchers, advocates, and skeptics alike met on February 13th, 2019 in Melbourne for the Mind Medicine Australia launch. Fresh from San Francisco and eager to meet people in this city also interested in psychedelic medicine, I bought an early-bird ticket.
February 13th, 2019, 5:30 PM. At this point in life getting ready to go out involves more time bopping around with acid under my tongue than looking in the mirror. Microdosing quells my zapping nerves and oftentimes overactive mind, especially before larger gatherings.
So I took a small dose before biking to the University of Melbourne for the Mind Medicine launch. The bats weren’t out yet, but they would be soon, and the air was a perfect 23°C. I locked my bike, tried to tame my helmet hair, and entered the Sidney Myer Asia Centre. Immediately greeted, thick lashes ushered me to the left. More smiling eyes appeared around the corner, showing the way upstairs. I entered the full, bustling theater.
There were only a few seats left. Everyone was finding their space, finding their friends. I sat down in the back and observed the crowd. No matter if it’s in Melbourne, London, Berlin, or San Francisco, the general attitude and sense of psychedelic conferences remains the same: compassionate, curious, positive, and present. There’s this shared understanding, communicated with kind and sometimes cheeky glances that say: “We’ve seen a glimpse of the possible. That’s why we’re all here.” It’s usually a clash of characters, buttoned-up scientists, artists. The kind of people you might bond with at a music festival and never see again are there, anticipating a lineup of lectures.
Sound cultish? It really shouldn’t. People from all edges of the earth have been interested in psychedelic medicine and its potential for millennia. Many aboriginal people wonder what took us so long to make the connection. This goes beyond a Reddit thread.
“Hi neighbor,” the man next to me introduced himself. He was wearing a sheen suit and said he wanted a job.
The transition from fully committed to quitting was slow to start. My hours of operation started to sync with my circadian rhythm. The 9–5 became 8–3. Mornings were so efficient that by midday, I’d be fried. Done with screens, done with meetings. So I’d leave the office early.
On a microdose of acid, I’d feel completely in tune with my energy capacity, unable to ignore the afternoon dip. There was no more gray area of hanging around the office or poking around on Twitter, letting the time slip as the outside world turned. No more “should I stay or should I go” debacles in my head. I couldn’t sit (er, stand) at my desk any longer for the optics of working a few extra — unproductive — hours. I realized the work would never be done, so it was up to me when to go. And as soon as I felt accomplished for the day, I’d slip out the door. Down the stairs. Into the sunlight.
I didn’t initially start microdosing at work for the professional edge like many people in tech. I started to manage shifting moods that made it hard to leave my apartment. To feel better just being. And it worked. I felt happier and more comfortable within myself. I took it on workdays because I wanted to stay consistent in my regimen (one day on, three days off). Heightened imagination, concentration, and energy at work were really just nifty side effects. But eventually, this new way of feeling, thinking, existing made it much harder to spend time in the office.
After microdosing for six months, I didn’t progress at work; I quit.
The self is the way we organize reality. It is mutable. Ephemeral. It’s an organizing structure that arises and is always completely embedded in relational reality. It’s never apart from that relational reality. That’s it. It’s pretty simple.
Oftentimes when people hear the teachings of no-self, they think that no self exists, or that no self should exist. But that’s not what it means. The teachings of no-self mean that we are not fixed, we are not permanent, separate, isolated. We are this dynamic reality. We are as Dōgen says: a flower of emptiness. A mutable articulation of reality.
So the teachings of no-self are not aimed at erasing ordinary personality or diminishing our worth, our needs, our vitality.
The self is not a problem to be solved or an obstacle to be obliterated. Quite the opposite. The teachings are about liberation from constricted states of suffering. Liberation from the delusions that we have about the self. They aim for our full participation, with kindness and clear thinking.
It’s also true that when we let these teachings sink in, when we allow them to touch us, they are deeply, deeply challenging. Because they ask us to risk a new way of being…
Releasing the hold on the self is a necessary and radical event that is liberating. It is also a process that leaves the practitioner to the edge of the known and beyond. The practice requires a willingness to allow everything on which one has relied and what is most intimately known — the self and one’s notions about the nature of reality — to shift and change.
If we look closely at this process, we find the ability to allow it is intimately linked with our experience of trust. And it requires an encounter with trust. Ultimately, it requires trust in life itself.“