- Posted February 18, 2013 by
Providence, Rhode Island
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Getting to the Other Side of the "Doors of Perception"
I was raised Catholic in the suburbs of Chicago and attended Catholic schools from age 5 to 18. Throughout my teens, I always went back and forth between believing and not believing in God, depending on my social affiliations. In other words, it seems in retrospect that much of my faith depended on whether or not it was cool to be into God at any given moment.
When I was 18 and a freshman in college, I was fairly lost. I was not happy in my social life and was probably clinically depressed. September 11th had occurred during the first week of classes that year. I constantly fought with my good friend from high school and held strange idealistic and elitist beliefs about my surroundings, perhaps as a way to deflect the blame for my unhappiness off myself and onto my peers and setting. Although I never said it, deep down I felt I deserved to be among my "equals" at an Ivy League school and not in the Big Ten. I realize now how preposterous and pretentious this sounds. But I truly believed that I deserved the best in the world for some innate reason that even I couldn't have explained if pressed to do so. I was in need of a guide towards some kind of clarity.
Bringing my Catholic background with me, I would semi-regularly attend mass at the campus church in the beginning of that year. With September 11 fresh in everyone's hearts and minds, God seemed a solace of sanity in a broken, chaotic, uncaring world. Being a freshman on a humongous campus in a new state, disconnected from the world in which I actually had a place and a role and a reciprocal understanding of the same certainly made things challenging as well. Perhaps it was my eagerness to break through the wall of my frustrations, perhaps it was that I was beginning to meet people who encouraged me to be myself and pursue my own self-realization. But whatever the case, I was ripe for the particular "event" I am about to recount.
I should state now that this point in my story involves substances whose legal status is, in a word, complicated. However, I must also affirm that I do not condone or practice the use of illegal substances, especially in an abusive or self-destructive manner. The legal status of certain controlled substances is rather arbitrary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, even within the United States. While some drugs, for example, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or PCP are illegal for obvious reasons related to their potency and highly addictive attributes, other drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and any number of over-the-counter or prescribed pharmaceuticals are perfectly legal and, in some cases, fairly unregulated. With this said, what I am going to discuss below is one particular controlled substance, namely psilocybin (the active chemical compound in psychoactive mushrooms), whose legality in the United States is regulated primarily in terms of its sale and not its cultivation or use. Since I never purchased or sold this substance, my use of it does not in any way imply malfeasance on my part.
That said, substances such as psilocybin are known as entheogens and are primarily used as "helpers" on the path towards greater self-awareness and consciousness. And they have been for thousands and thousands of years throughout human history. It is true that they are also used for recreation and with the casual understanding that they will cause one to "trip" and thus detach from reality instead of experiencing a much deeper kind of emotional or spiritual awakening. Given a modicum of both physical and mental preparedness and precautions, they are safe and do not affect one's health in any adverse manner.
How I came across these mushrooms for the first time was in the spirit of science. That same freshman year, a friend of a friend - both were chemical engineering students - decided to grow his own. Having never tried them before, his curiosity was primarily scientific. "What is this substance and what does it really do?" was the thesis question. Having done the research, he learned enough to cultivate the fungus on his own and educate himself on what their effects would be. And here's what they are: After consumption - either by ingesting the skinny, greyish mushrooms themselves or brewing them into a tea - we reverted to our primal yet most innocent and childlike selves. Our group of six soon found ourselves exploring the nearby woods, seeing things we had never seen, breathing in the brisk springtime air as if we had never noticed it before. Because we really never had. What this substance does, in a nutshell, is to safely break a person down to his or her core or natural self, as we would be without technology or modern culture or stress or anxiety. And we simply see. We see each other. We see nature. We see love. And although at times it can be frightening and challenging, these kinds of events are essentially a break from our normal means of perception. This is exactly why we are able to re-prioritize and re-assess ourselves as a result - at very few other moments can we truly step away from ourselves and all of our worldly baggage. The fact that it can be achieved by a substance should not invalidate it. Because it works. And this is the kind of push that we so often need but can rarely find. I was pushed through the door and the next day I woke more refreshed, more hopeful, and with more clarity than I had ever had before. I was the master of my fate.
My appreciation for why religion exists and is so important for so many people around the world, despite my non-belief in any dogma, has grown. It is a conflict only in the sense that I must always maintain this spirit of non-judgment and open-mindedness even in the midst of those to whom only one way to worship exists, whatever their tradition may be. How I reached these conclusions is complex and involves a lot of soul-searching. I chose to focus on merely one of the "keys" to my awakening in this piece, but there are many, many others. But this one in particular was very potent and allowed me to both take advantage of the wisdom and knowledge I had accrued before the event, and to put them into practice almost immediately afterwards. This is the power of entheogens - they are great helpers, but ultimately only we can help ourselves.
Please do not let the use of psilocybin deter you from taking my story seriously; it is not addictive and I am not nor ever have been a regular drug user. I was, at the time of my first use, and immediately afterwards, as surprised as you might be right now to read about how significant this particular substance could be for my life.
In this piece, I hope to have explained and expressed my understanding of what religion was to me and how I found freedom and peace in my life now that I am free from it. I am an atheist if you wish to call me that, but more importantly, I am a freethinker. And this has opened up my life to my goals and dreams in a way in which I never thought possible. My only hope is that I have at least suggested a way in which one's thinking can turn from one of despair, fear, and uncertainty to one of self-realization, joy, and hope. This may not require one to abandon religion altogether, but for me, the changes I underwent disqualified faith and dogma from my list of life options. Perhaps it is, at times, not easy to be this way, since it is hard to describe it to others without sounding pretentious or elitist. So I typically keep these things to myself. But I do believe that the metaphorical "doors of perception", as Aldous Huxley dubbed them, are indeed capable of being unlocked, perhaps with meditation, perhaps with life experience, perhaps with the help of entheogens such as psilocybin. All three and many others have been important to my development as a freethinker. What I do know for certain is that on the other side of those doors is not only a sense of liberation, but, to me, the path towards my own self-fulfillment and happiness.