Author: Luciana Bellini, EvoLEAD Retreat Participant 2023
I was asked to write about my psilocybin-facilitated journey, and I intended to do just that. However, without an outline of the relevant context, much of the significance the journey had for me would not be appreciated by the reader. Therefore I will first mention the background to my decision to join the Evolute Institute program, as well as the intention for the journey and the setting of the EvoLEAD Retreat.
My Enquiry into the Nature of Existence
Thirty years ago, I pursued philosophy at university. My idea of philosophy was an inquiry into the truth of existence, as opposed to playing around with concepts, which was the prevailing view in academia at that time. Consequently, I eventually left the institution. It was through Eastern philosophy that I found more satisfying answers to my deepest questions. I was particularly drawn to the non-dual tradition of Advaita Vedanta, which posits that there is nothing but Brahman, Sat-Chit-Ananda: Limitless Consciousness, limitless Being, limitless Bliss. The body, the mind, and the world arise in, and are made of, Brahman. According to Advaita Vedanta, the fundamental cause of suffering is not the experience of duality itself but the mistaken belief that this experience is real. When the illusory nature of duality is fully realised, suffering ends, much like our fear of being bitten by a snake ends when we realise that what we took for a snake is nothing but a rope. Approximately five years ago, after engaging with a non-dual teacher for a few months, I had a profound, life-changing experience. The only way I can try and describe this experience is that I saw that everything was made of pure, unconditional love. What I before thought to be ‘my life’ appeared as nothing but a series of thoughts. The body, mind, and world were transformed by this experience. Bathed in pure unconditional love, the body let go of all contractions and the mind was at first astonished and then, when it began to function again, was very still. It took around six months for the bliss to become less intense, to be the new normal. But when the ‘honey moon period’ was over some subtle patterns of identification were back.
My motivation for joining the Evolute Institute program stemmed from the understanding that the first awakening is just the beginning of the path to self-realisation. I was curious whether a psilocybin-guided journey could expedite the letting go of those subtle residual identification patterns. Some teachers refer to this state, where there is no possibility for identification, as ‘the final fall of the self.’ After consulting the Evolute Institute website and benefiting from their exploratory calls with Dmitrij and Patrick, I felt strongly that joining their program was the right thing to do.
The Psychedelic Assisted Retreat – Holotropic Breathing
During the online preparatory meetings, my trust in the competence of the organisers grew. It was also a great opportunity to meet the openness and earnestness of the other seven participants. Meeting them in person at the retreat further enhanced the experience. The beautiful centre and location of the retreat, the delicious meals, and the friendliness of both the organisers and the participants contributed to a pleasant atmosphere.
In the afternoon of the first day, we had a session of Holotropic breathing. It was my first time trying this practice, and I was quickly taken into a beautiful state where I felt the floor under my body dancing to the music. I experienced a mix of joy and sadness, realising that there are no inherently negative or positive emotions; it is only our judgment that makes them so.
The pre-journey preparation process provided another opportunity for bonding, laughter, and dispelling any apprehension. Once ready, we gathered in a round room, where we had arranged our cozy beds in a circle. After listening to the facilitators’ reassuring words, we drank the liquid from our psilocybin cup, put on eye masks, and lay down. The beautiful music began, marking the beginning of the journey.
Notes about my recounting of my journey
What was rational and made of language and images in my journey can be easily remembered and spoken about. Less rational aspects, involving symbols and movements, can also be recalled and somehow told, but readers should keep in mind that while such parts of the experience are very important, they are really not fully expressible through language, and hence they should not expect these parts of the experience to make complete rational sense. Paradoxes may arise from attempts to express the inexpressible, and when we are open to the possibility that the truth is beyond language, such paradoxes can be powerful pointers to this truth. Lastly, aspects of the experience that are totally inexpressible won’t be detailed here because, as Wittgenstein said, they must be passed over in silence. The only way the mind can conclude anything about these aspects is by comparing the state it was before the experience with the state it is after it. And of course ‘the after’ is going to be an ongoing process because living what was revealed is the only way the revelation can fully unfold.
Few words on a recurring symbol
In my journey there was a recurring symbol that needs to be introduced here for those unfamiliar with Kashmir Shaivism. In this non-dual doctrine, Shiva is what Brahman is in Advaita Vedanta: the limitless Being/Consciousness in which the manifold arises and falls and from which it is made.
My Guide and the Journey
It all began with black and white symmetrical patterns. I tried opening my eyes (under the eye mask), and the patterns acquired vivid colours. They were fluid, moving, and mixing with one another. There was nothing but colour patterns, and their beauty filled my senses. I was in wonder.
Then, I heard a voice. It was very calm, gentle, loving, and reassuring. I instantly knew that the voice was my guide in the journey. I already knew its name; it was Shiva. ‘You can ask me anything you want to know,’ Shiva said.
I felt immense joy..
‘All I want is for the self to fall. What can I do to make this happen?’ I asked. Shiva smiled, a beautiful smile without a face, just a voice among colours. ‘OK, I can help you with that – Shiva answered – Let’s look for the self, together.’
And this is how my guide Shiva took me into this journey, throughout all colour patterns to look for the self, my self. I knew that the colours were how the world, the whole creation, appeared in the journey. Although Shiva and I did not have bodies, we could effortlessly move through the colours. It came naturally to assume that whatever I was, whatever the self was, it was also made of those same colour patterns.
As we approached various parts of the patterns in search of the self, they revealed their insubstantiality; they were not really there, at all. From the ‘outside’ perspective of the journey, my search for the self through the colours went on for a long while. Despite my growing challenges to Shiva, I was repeatedly shown that there was no such thing as the self. At the end of each failed search, I laughed heartily, as I had never done in my life.
Grounding – a New Sense for an Old Concept
When I was not laughing, I was in total awe.
I asked Shiva, ‘How does the whole creation come to be?’
Shiva smiled and replied, ‘I will show you how it is done.’
Shiva demonstrated ‘how it is done’ not through words but through movements, like a dance in which colours came to be. They came to be in all their insubstantiality, and yet looking very real. Shiva called this ‘looking real’ as ‘grounding,’ but with a sense that was different from that with which teachers I listened to used the term. The more the unsubstantiality of the colours (the creation, the world) was hard for me to see, the more I would hear Shiva saying: ’it’s grounding’ or ‘it’s the way grounding happens.’
- At a certain point in the journey, I felt pain in the patterns of colours corresponding to my foot. I challenged Shiva to show me that this pain had nothing to do with my self. Shiva took me to those patterns, showing me that they were also insubstantial, and called them ‘sensations.’
‘See?’ Shiva said, ‘they are just sensations.’
It took me a while to see the sensations’ unsubstantial nature, and when I did, the pain instantly disappeared.
I said to Shiva, ‘Pain is a difficult one, though.’
And Shiva answered, ‘It’s the way grounding happens’
- At another point, tears were falling down my cheeks. I felt a hand touched mine, a facilitator’s. I wanted to say ‘don’t worry they are only tears of joy, but instead I squeezed her hand and asked Shiva:
‘What about this touch, this kind caring touch, is this also empty?’
And Shiva answered, ‘Ahh, yes, but that is grounding.’
And then Shiva took me to that corner of the colour patterns also, where the touch was, revealing its insubstantiality.
- At yet another point, I was in awe at the perfection of the creation, including the story of this apparent person. Sentences uttered by facilitators and participants in the preparation sessions appeared in the journey also as colours. I saw how everything in my life was meant to lead me to the teaching, and to the awakening, and now to this experience.
Shiva saw my awe, and was amused, and remarked:
‘What are you so surprised about? It is all you, you create it all, you leave traces behind, you find them. And then you are surprised!’
I laughed and said ‘it’s just so difficult to remember I am all of this.’
And Shiva said ‘yes, it has to be. It’s grounding.’
Emptiness, Aloneness, and Unconditional Love
Another unforgettable part of the experience was the recognition of the utter aloneness of this one absolute Being. This aloneness had nothing to do with loneliness, and everything to do with unconditional love. Everywhere I looked, all the colours (the world) were nothing but this absolute Being, all made by the same substance-less substance. Thus, as objects, entities, or experiences, they were totally insubstantial. I saw, in a way impossible to doubt, that this aloneness is what makes pure, unconditional love possible. I understood what equanimity really felt like. Everywhere I looked, there was nothing but this one Being, this one Love, this one and this one Alone. No part of the creation was good or bad, superior or inferior, better or worse.
I saw how this Emptiness is very full, and also saw the pre-condition for being able to see this – for seeing the fullness of this Emptiness. This pre-condition is to recognise the total insubstantiality of what appears. What makes the Emptiness so full is not what appears in it; it is that which is real in what appears: nothing but this Emptiness itself. Emptiness knows itself in all its Aloneness, and this is unconditional love.
How Can I Remember This Forever?
There were moments when I was very aware that the journey would end, and in those moments, I worried about forgetting Shiva’s guidance and reverting to the belief in the self. I was not afraid of forgetting Shiva’s words, but the experience of full Emptiness, the non-experience experience which cannot really be expressed in words – I can only be it. I told Shiva this.
Shiva answered: ‘OK. Let’s look for the one that may forget.’
I laughed, but also this time realising that whatever this apparent person did, it would not matter the least to what I really am. Whether this apparent person forgets or not, whether it goes back to identify with beliefs, or lives very moment in the light of the truth, nothing of that would make the slightest difference to my real Being. This acknowledgment brought another wave of unconditional love, but this time towards this apparent person that I was meant to go back to. I saw with the same equanimity that this apparent person is but one colour amongst all the others, all of them shining with the same splendour.
Thank you and Goodbye.
The narration of my journey will now end with another part of the experience that I consider also extremely important.
Toward the end of the journey I wondered why none of my teachers figured in it, and yet they were so important in my path to the Truth.
Shiva, as if reading my mind, smiled, then pointed to the colours and asked, ‘Do you see them here?’
I looked and could indeed visualise them amongst the colour patterns, one by one, with the most important having the biggest presence.
I said to this teacher of mine: ’Now I also really see it, what you also see, the dance of Shiva.’
But as I kept looking, he vanished, and then all the other teachers too vanished, right in front of my eyes. They completely disappeared, leaving nothing but insubstantial colours.
Then, I asked Shiva
‘What about you Shiva, at least you are real, aren’t you?’
But Shiva did not answer at all. And I knew, really knew, that Shiva was gone. The guide that took me in this wonderful amazing, awesome journey, was gone forever.
And felt immense bliss.
The ‘Return’ from the Journey and the Integration Sessions
Upon ‘returning’ from the journey, Emptiness was everywhere I looked, encompassing my hands, the friends, the room, the bed, the trees outside, the sounds, and the air itself. And this Emptiness was full. We went to have dinner and did not talk about our experience amongst ourselves until the day after, as the facilitators rightly suggested that there would be more unfolding and so to stay with the journey rather than trying to express it. After dinner they encouraged us to make a drawing of our experience and provide pastels and drawing papers. And that was a very good idea because the day after, in the first integration session, our drawings greatly helped us to share our journeys with the rest of the group.
During this first day of integration and sharing, as well as the day after, I felt that all the participants were deeply affected by their own journey. The post-journey openness that I profoundly sensed in all of them was for me yet another sign of the beauty of letting go and of being open to whatever arises.
Every time we try to conceptualise or experience our absolute divine nature, we fail. But it is good we fail because this failure shows us again and again that we are not an object, not something we can experience in a subject to object relation. It does not matter the teachings, the stories, the words, the awakenings, the revelations. This journey showed me that it was time to let them all go. Letting go completely of all the stories and desires. Including the desire for liberation. What is left is unconditional love, love for Love, expressing itself in all sort of ways.
Some argue that psychedelic guided experiences have nothing to do with the kind of revelations that go beyond the mind. They claim these are nonsense. They say that all psychedelic experiences result from the rewiring of the brain, a rewiring that creates new more intelligent ways for the mind to work over previously gathered information, and to deceive itself in the process, for instance by creating the illusion of a revelation, hence by being surprised of its own creation.
Others contend that all psychedelic plant medicines do is to remove some limiting mind filters, so that the mind becomes open to an experience of reality which is closer to the truth of our true nature. So, they say, insights and revelations do occur through the mind but are not a creation of the mind.
I think both perspectives are right, and neither is. Above all, it does not matter. These are just two possibilities, among infinite ones, of our true Being experiencing itself as it does. It experiences itself all the time as what is not and, sometimes, as what cannot be spoken about. In both cases, there is always only this one Being experiencing itself. My psilocybin-guided journey has shown me this, and, of course, I already knew it. Because, the truth is, we cannot learn about our true nature because we are told what it is. We know our true nature because we recognise it. So, why should it matter the way this recognition comes about?
Dr. Dmitrij Achelrod,
co-founder Evolute Institute
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