I didn’t expect to be so angry after my first psychedelic experience.
I felt stupid for believing all the bullshit propaganda I had been fed while growing up on Saturday morning cartoons. The puritanical terrorist organizations of the early eighties had convinced me drugs would destroy my life and I would get AIDS the first time I had sex. No wonder all my high school friends who were fucking and getting high seemed so happy. They were!
Not only did the mushrooms not fry my brain like a scrambled egg, but I actually felt better than I had in a long time. I get why the First Lady lied to me, but B.A. Baracus? I pity the fool!
Then I got angry for believing in this hippy plant medicine crap. None of the other traditional treatments helped me, so why would a tiny mushroom that grows in cow shit be any different? I was used to being let down, but this time the stakes were higher because I was going to kill myself if the psychedelics didn’t work. I decided to keep pushing forward for one reason. When it came time to put the gun back in my mouth, I wouldn’t have any doubts if I could ever be happy. Whatever the outcome, this would all be over soon.
My next step was finding an experienced guide that could help me navigate a large enough dose to shock my brain out of its funk. These are Schedule 1 drugs, which come with a lengthy prison sentence if you are caught using or possessing them, so no therapist is openly advertising their services.
Then I remembered a section in “How to Change Your Mind” where Pollan said, “The membrane between the aboveground and below-ground psychedelic worlds was permeable in certain places.” Now I just had to find that place. Later in the same chapter, he described how he had some luck meeting the “right” people at a plant medicine conference. So, I opened a new incognito window and Googled “psychedelic conferences near me”.
That’s when I realized what Frank was trying to show me. A better writer would find a creative way to describe what I saw. I would rather just show you:
I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, but nothing on the screen changed. Just two days prior to this moment, while under the influence of a powerful hallucinogen, I met the aquatic equivalent of a glowing Lassie who was trying to lead me to what I can only imagine was a little boy who needed rescuing. Now, I am supposed to believe it is a random fucking coincidence that the very first search result is for a psychedelic conference whose mascot is an octopus? Sure, anything is possible, but what are the odds?
What I was experiencing was my first mind-scrambling moment of synchronicity. That is the word the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung used to describe a “meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved.” He suggested these occurrences, when noticed, can provide the observer with such profound insights that they can alter the course of their entire life.
The inspiration for synchronicity came to Jung during a session with one of his patients. Despite her commitment to the process, he felt the young woman’s progress had stalled because she “always knew better about everything”. She was using her exaggerated rationalism as an intellectual defense mechanism, which was getting in the way of her healing.
During one of their sessions, the patient was trying to make sense of a recent dream where she had been given an expensive piece of gold jewelry in the shape of a scarab (a type of beetle). As she was talking, Jung heard a gentle tapping noise from the other side of the room. He got up to investigate and realized it was a rare scarab beetle, not normally found in that area, scratching on the glass. He cracked the window, gently picked up the goldish-green insect, and handed it to his patient saying “Here is your scarab.”
Unfortunately, the good doctor never explained why this was such a meaningful coincidence for his patient, but he did say the moment was so profound it had “punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance”. Only after the experience did she start making any meaningful progress in therapy.
Like Jung’s patient, I also used my intellect as a form of self-defense. I had a rational explanation for everything because if I could understand it, then I could control it. I was a Grandmaster at manipulating people like pawns on a chessboard so nobody could ever get near the king. It was exhausting and turned me into a grumpy depressed asshole.
What people didn’t know, and what I didn’t even know at the time, was why I acted this way? Six-year-old Hank was incapable of processing the unspeakable things that happened to him, so my psyche unconsciously built an impenetrable bunker where my soul could hide and be safe. Nothing could get in or out. No love. No joy. No sadness. Nothing was ever going to hurt me again.
Locking myself inside kept me safe, but it also became my prison. My own personal moment of synchronicity was like a nuclear bomb going off inside me. The powerful shockwave slammed into my bunker with such force it punctured a tiny hole in the concrete reinforced wall, through which an octopus slid me a rolled-up message from the Universe that read “Go to Pittsburgh!”
Much like Alice chasing the white rabbit, I was curious to see just how deep this octopus hole went and the only way to find out was to jump in and follow Frank. For the first time in my life, I made a spontaneous and irrational decision. I bought a ticket to the conference, booked my hotel, and immediately started thinking of a cover story for my adventure. I was convinced I would get locked up faster than David Berkowitz if anyone found out a mystical octopus told me to rent a car and drive eight hours to a hippy convention.
I knew it was crazy too, but something about it just felt right. Down, down, down I went!