Dried Psilocybe cubensis magic mushrooms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One would have thought that one bad trip would have deterred me forever from the dark, uncontrollable mystic realm of the psychedelic trip world. Because I had survived without slipping into insanity, I would jump and fall down the rabbit hole again. The next time would be more severe than ever… the most intense trip I had ever had.
“Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys slammed the billboard charts of August of 1998, as the summer of my Junior Year came to a psychedelic dénouement. Don’t get me wrong, I was into the Beastie Boys. But I had an entirely different soundtrack playing behind the hazy, multi-colored, chaotic mind-trip of that summer.
There were songs I listened to then that seemed to make perfect sense to me at the time. I read the lyrics and listen to the melodies now, and can remember this revelatory feeling I felt then. However, they seem to be strange, nonsensical riddles to me today.
I loved songs like:
Matilda Mother, a lilting nursery rhyme rocker by Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd:
A Day in the Life, a view of the newspaper headlines through the lens of psychedelic eyes by John Lennon and the Beatles:
I Am the Walrus, a nonsense song that gives a window into the madness of tripping by John Lennon and the Beatles:
and Burning of the Midnight Lamp, a song which I always took to describe the insomnia that came with an intense drug experience by the Jimi Hendrix Experience:
One song was “Mountains of the Moon” off of the Grateful Dead’s palindrome sprinkled 1969 album, “Aoxomoxoa”, which can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MiOKj84cOk. Some of the lyrics state:
Cold mountain water, the jade merchants daughter,
Mountains of the moon, electra bow and bend to me.
Hi ho the carrion crow fol de rol de riddle
Hi ho the carrion crow bow and bend to me.
Today, I know that there are a great variety of influences in these lyrics, and they are a strewn together array of poetic suggestions. The line about “Mountains of the Moon” may have reffered to Edgar Allan Poe, and “Electra” may have referred to the Greek goddess.
But as I listened to these words sung by the late Jerry Garcia in August of 1998, especially after the bad trip I had on LSD, they would make me weep. My drug exploits were described in the words. I wanted the “Mountains of the moon” to bow and bend to me. I wanted to control the universe, or at least my universe. I didn’t want to be controlled by any authority, no higher power, no institution, no parental figure, and no teacher. I wanted to be my own authority, and create my own reality, my own sphere of belief and understanding. I only realize now how misdirected my pursuit was. If I could step into a time machine and speed into the past I would yell into the ears of the young, broken 17 year-old that I was. I would exclaim, “Stop it man! You don’t need to go any further!” But you see, I had no idea the depths of insanity and despair that I was headed towards. There was, however, a merciful omniscient One beyond the clouds who knew of where my journey would end. He was about to give me the greatest glimpse of beauty and freedom that I had ever seen, and right at the moment when I least deserved it.
For some reason, I was able to deceive myself into thinking that the chemical nature of LSD was the reason why I had a bad experience. I was persuaded that more natural substances were safer, because they grew from the earth. One of these substances was the chemical “psilocybin”, which is found in magic mushrooms.
These mushrooms normally grow on cow dung, but are also grown by dedicated individuals that desire to cultivate a more potent species.
We had hippie friends, a couple named “Adam” and his girlfriend “Zen” who grew these mushrooms in their home and sold them. I had bought a batch of mushrooms from them earlier in the summer, which had grey caps and faded white stems. They weren’t a potent batch, and I decided to eat about an eighth of an ounce of them right away. What ensued was a wild body buzz and a case of the unstoppable giggles that I couldn’t control. I would stare at myself in the mirror for fifteen minutes at a time, puffing out my cheeks and watching my face inflate like a balloon, and then laughing and falling about myself.
I had convinced myself that mushrooms were the cleanest, safest trip. I had danced with LSD and the demonic for awhile, probably about twenty trips or more, and the last one had been a view into hell itself. In my mind, mushrooms were different. I was convinced that they were a positive drug, more natural, and only gave one colorful, cheery hallucinations. I had no idea of the deep, Lewis Carroll vortex that I was about to plummet into.
Not long after my bad LSD trip, a week after to be exact, I scored a quarter ounce of mushrooms from Adam and Zen. They had home grown this batch using hydroponic growing methods, and Adam warned me, “Look man, don’t take a lot of these at once, alright? They’re a lot stronger than normal!” They certainly looked different than the other grey mushrooms I had bought from them, they had red caps, and the stems were bright white, and gooey. The mushrooms were moist to the point of almost being slimy. I assured Adam, “yeah man, no worries. I’ll take a low dose.”
The next day, I woke up in the morning with this large bag of dangerous shrooms in my nightstand drawer. My parents had left early to visit a mall somewhere in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I had the day free and the overwhelming urge to trip on these psilocybin fungi. Something dark, oppressive and heavy possessed me to eat a large amount of these red-capped mushrooms, mostly small ones, which had a more concentrated amount of psilocybin than the larger caps. By the time I was done eating them I had made it through about sixty-six percent of the quarter ounce bag. I had shunned the advice of Adam to eat a lower dose. On top of that, I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet! The realization of this alarmed me and I quickly ate sixteen saltine crackers, then I licked my fingers, and drank a glass of water.
I would often do impulsive things like this without a plan for my day. I only knew that I was about to trip completely out of my mind, and that was my only agenda for the day. I quickly phoned up my friend, Riley, who had acquired an interest in psychedelic experiences like me. “Hey Riley, how’s it going man?” I said on the phone. “Good Benny, what’s up buddy?” Riley vibrantly answered. Riley had an intense personality, and could quickly go from being a vibrant, positive person to being angry and throwing things across the room. “Dude…” I said, “I just ate a butt-load of these red-capped mushrooms that Adam and Zen sold me, and am about to trip my brains out. C’mon over and let’s hang out bro! You can call up Adam and Zen… and maybe take some too and we could trip together?” Riley was always up for a chaotic experience, and replied, “Sure Benny, call em’ up and set up a time to meet, I’ll be by to pick ya’ up in 10 minutes man!”
I got a hold of Adam and Zen, and they agreed to meet us in Cuyahoga Falls at the Best Buy Department Store parking lot with a bag of these mystic, red-capped shrooms for Riley to take. I even offered Riley some of mine, but Riley wanted some for himself, so we set up the deal and were on our way.
As we entered the Freeway ramp onto Route 8 South going towards Akron, Ohio, I began to start tripping. The funny thing was, it had only taken Riley 7 minutes to pick me up, and maybe another 10 minutes to get to the freeway ramp. I had eaten the mushrooms about 25 minutes before, and I was already tripping, and getting uncontrollably high. I don’t remember anything that I said to Riley on the drive, just that he was amused by my crazy comments.
We arrived at the Best Buy in Cuyahoga Falls, and Riley bought an eighth of these cursed mushrooms from Adam and Zen. We decided to go in and look around at Best Buy for a bit. This was 1998, and Best Buy stores had signs depicting the music artists, bands and movie stars who topped the charts of popularity. These apparatuses hung in the air from the ceiling. I looked at these signs, and the skin from the faces of these people, which looked like demonic aliens from another world, began to melt off of the signs and drip into the aisles below. I turned my head slowly towards Riley, and said, “I don’t feel so good man. Do I look ok to you?” Riley laughed, and it sounded like Dracula’s laugh to me. He responded, “It’s funny man, but right when you said that, your face turned completely green!”
I don’t remember the car ride to Riley’s place. I do know that we got to his house and he immediately ate some of these red-capped psilocybin mind-destroyers. He ate about half the amount that I did. By this point I was in total hysterics. I couldn’t walk without losing motor control and falling on the ground. I would go from uncontrollably laughing to manic crying and sorrow. Riley was becoming afraid of what these mushrooms were about to do to him!
I talked to Riley’s cat, Oscar, for awhile, and thought that he could see inside of my soul. I looked at Riley’s carpet and saw what appeared to be life-size bacteria swarming around and multiplying. The magnifying glass on the world below was getting larger than I could take. I went into the bathroom and saw a swirling carousel of angry little fairies swarming around my head.
Fast forward a mind-time-lapse into an hour later…
We were outside. The sun was shining with myriad clouds in the sky. I began to have my “peak” experience on this horrible, intractable mind explosion. I went to a realm of every color. I went to the land of purple, where Riley looked like some sort of indigo monster from hell, and creatures of a violet tint scattered all around the grass around me. I also experienced orange, yellow, red and blue realms. I looked out into the grass and saw a silhouette shadow of a tormented man’s soul reach up from under the ground into the sky, seemingly longing to touch the edge of heaven’s gate or some form of luminescent light, a relief from torture. But he was just as quickly sucked back underground to continue in his vexation. I didn’t have any beliefs at the time, but I somehow knew that this man’s soul, and this affliction, was eternal.
I picked up the phone to call my girlfriend Harmony. Our relationship had become so estranged. I had to make things right. I spoke out loud to Riley, in as intoxicated an accent as I’ve ever had, “Dude, if she doesn’t answer the phone I’m going to die!”
The phone rang once… I paced facing the southeast, and murmuring statements of hope and promise. “I love this girl, I know she’ll answer, I know she’ll be there!” I looked like I belonged in a mental ward. The phone rang the second time… I paced towards the northwest, becoming the manic opposite of the contra-positive direction, I yelled out, “I know she won’t answer, I’ll die, I know I will! I’m doomed!”
I paced back and forth four times as the phone rang in what seemed to be synchronicity. Harmony’s answering machine picked up. I yelled out to Riley and the universe, “That’s it. I’m dead…”
I literally dropped to the ground with my arms folded across my chest like a corpse. Riley told me about it later. He said that my face went completely pale and he thought I was dead for good.
When I hit the ground, I lapsed out of time and space. I saw the sky fold up like a book and there was a black abyss beyond it. I felt my soul leave my body and was sucked up beyond the clouds. I had no concept of the duration of this, and everything felt eternal, like a dream. Visions of the end of my life also flashed before my eyes like a 24-hour movie in seconds of time. I saw Harmony and my family crying as I was carried out of Riley’s yard in a stretcher towards an ambulance. The entire scene of my death was played out before my very eyes. I do then recall seeing a man in a robe, holding a staff. He met me in the air, and he waved his hand and sent me back down. I actually saw my body lying there, as cold as a cadaver, as I sped back towards it as if I was falling from a skyscraper directly back into it.
I took a deep breath of life giving air and gasped. I immediately sat up cross legged, and I desperately began to pray to whoever was out there. This all happened right in front of Riley’s eyes, and he told me about it later. I looked up into the sky and began to cry. “Is there a purpose for me?” I yelled up. “If there is, give me a sign, please!” As I said this the wind blew across my face. I looked into the clouds, and they parted. A glimmer of sunlight shone on me, and I could’ve sworn that I saw a vague outline of a face behind the clouds. I felt this wave of comfort come over me, and cried more. I had long hair pulled behind my ears and my tie-died shirt on, sitting cross-legged in a field and crying. I couldn’t hear any audible voice, but I could hear this phrase in my heart, that I needed to “play music, and love people…” The omnipotent force left me and I knew what I had to do. I had to turn my life around and make everything right. I had just encountered the God of the Universe.
Years later, I would read passages like Psalm 139:7-12, which would describe this experience:
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
Even at my lowest moment of fear, degradation and ignorance, the Lord of the Universe desired to show Himself to me. I can’t describe this any other way, except to say that He is completely, totally loving. It’s amazing that He just wants Himself to be known. He won’t force Himself on anyone, but His beauty is breathtaking, life-changing and filled with wonder.
After this encounter, I ran into Riley’s house, and found anything in his fridge that could purge this poison out of me. I chugged a half-finished 2-Liter bottle of root beer. I took two slices of leftover pizza and scarfed them down. Riley followed me inside, trying to calm me down. He was beginning to trip himself as well, and after the experience I had a fear began to overtake him. “Benny, calm down man!” He said.
An hour and a half later, Riley would call the ambulance on himself, because he was afraid that he was dying. He actually told me that for one moment of about 7 seconds, he had flatlined in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
“I need to call my parents and have them pick me up man!” I yelled out at him. “Where is your phone?!” It’s as if an insane bout of conscience had overtaken me, and all of a sudden I wanted to change everything in my life. Riley reluctantly gave me his phone. I called my parents and my mom answered.
“Ma!” I exclaimed.
“Ben! Where are you? Are you ok?” My Mom instinctively answered.
“No I’m not ok Mom. I need you to pick me up at Riley’s house! I’m freaking out on drugs Mom, I need you to come and get me!” I babbled on.
“Ben! Oh my God! Where are you?”
“At Riley’s house! Uhhhh… Dude, Riley! Where is your house!” I yelled.
“What’s the address of the house?” My Mom emphatically asked.
“Dude, Riley! What is the address of your house?” I yelled at Riley.
“I don’t know!” Riley responded. The mushrooms had started to invade his mind.
“You don’t know the address to your house man?!” I yelled back.
“Ummmm… It’s ummm… ‘Callender Drive’!” Riley responded in inebriated confusion.
“Callender Drive Mom!” I said on the phone.
“What’s the house number?” My Mom urgently asked.
“Dude, Riley, what’s the house number?” I asked Riley.
“I don’t know man!” Riley yelled back, laughing an unstable cackle as he said it.
I don’t remember much after that, though I know that Riley began to freak out and go into the worst trip of his life. I looked out the window and saw my parents with their grey 1991 Cadillac coming down Callender drive slowly, and looking for me. I ran out of the house barefoot into the street. I got in the backseat of the car with my Mom and fell into her arms. I felt as if I was two years old again. I began to cry and ask my Dad if everything would be ok. He assured me as if he was the father I had as a youth again, “Ben, everything’s going to be ok. You’re just freaking out. It’s the drugs…” We had a conversation about the mushrooms I had ingested, and they took me to the hospital.
At the hospital, a female Asian doctor had a conversation with me. “Are you still hallucinating?” She asked, as hair seemingly grew out of every orifice of her face. “Uhhh… yes…” I replied back with fear.
We ended up back at the house that night. After a good hearty meal of beef and vegetable soup and bread, I passed out for hours. I just couldn’t stop crying and mourning over all the terrible things I had done to myself and to others. I swore that I would get sober. No more pot, no more booze, no more psychedelics. I would turn over a new leaf. The overwhelming realization that there was a God out there who was looking down on me entered my mind, and would never leave me again. I had no idea who this God was. What did He want from me? Was it just a figment of my imagination? He seemed so real, and yet I didn’t know if I could reach out to Him again. I would not forget that feeling I had sitting cross-legged in the grass and talking to Him. It was a memory that would haunt me in the months to come, as things spiraled further down…