Two years went by before I was able to write of this Experience; on brief hiatus as Doctoral Teaching Fellow in American Literature/Creative Writing, University of Louisiana-Lafayette and on a high from being, ostensibly, “commissioned” by New York cigar magazine Smoke for a gonzo piece to be titled: “Fear and Loathing in Amsterdam,” I could not have been happier; upon returning from a savage seven-day journey to and through Amsterdam–with the magazine Owner having “killed” the piece within days of my return, its commissioning Editor-in-Chief fired in the same breath, I was bereft. My friends “felt my pain,” but only a handful were ever told of the night in Room 55 of the Hotel van Onna.
Graduate-level teachers/classmate and my own students say that they saw me as a changed man; in truth, I was simply shattered. I had written of this Experience to intimates on several “members-only” psychedelics-related USEnet groups and was approached by a man I knew only to be a “Dan Merkur,” whose counsel got me through what might have been a stay “in a safe place” or worse. Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Merkur was working on a book which became Unconscious Wisdom: A Superego Function in Dreams, Conscience, and Inspiration [SUNY Press, 2001] and who put into context that which had befallen me this night in Amsterdam. His Introduction [pp. xvi – xix] may be viewed here.
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Streaming…I remember your room 55 might have appeared to you as a doorway…I did visit Amsterdam looking for it. I wanted to step through…I wanted to weep also…to search for something Holy.
Frank Wyatt – of Happy The Man
(Listen to “A Dream of Amsterdam” by Frank Wyatt, from his first solo album A Certain Whisper)
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I have not seen things in the same way since returning from Amsterdam, November of 1996. Nor have I gotten a satisfying explanation as to the experience suffered by or befallen me in room 55 of the Hotel van Onna. I believe I cd have sustained a clear blue sky opening up and producing a pterodactyl at my feet more ably than I have this incident–for it requires something of me, and I do not know how to proceed with the knowledge.
Let me admit or confess, firstly, that drugs were involved. Chasing around Amsterdam for a directionless Gonzo story, I was obliged to sample the local wares and did my utmost to both fulfill Smoke’s mandate, that I: “Smoke everything!”, but also to generate enough anxiety that a “Fear and Loathing” piece might be realized. Along the way, thrown into the mix, as it were, there was some MDMA, LSD and psilocybin, and the 2cb gobbled down an hour or so before touring the Van Gogh Museum allowed me to see painterly technique in a fresh way. But on the evening in question, I was taking it easy…only a bit of hash in the system, wch has never, for me, produced “the Visionary Experience.”
My world began to change measurably at about 2:00a.m., laying on a small cot, head propped upon a pillow, as I dictated that wch was to become the Smoke magazine piece. The batteries in my borrowed laptop had died and–the writer that I am–cd find no pen or even a sliver of graphite in the many pieces of luggage accompanying me on this savage nine-day outing. And so I resorted to the Dictaphone with the new Duracells, and I thank Bog now that I did–for the episode is captured on tape and shall attest to the sincerity of the experience.
So that some future cartographer of Unusual Phenomena might gain maximum insight into this happening, I will endeavor to recall the whole of that wch kept me for nearly two hours, sacrificing, if I must, the quality of the prose in so doing.
Leaning against the wall, wch served as the cot’s headboard, propped upon a pillow and speaking into the Dictaphone, I was suddenly beset with the strangest of sensations: That the rear of my cranium had given way, my brain (&, with it, all cognition) melding with a greater power, wch, after several seconds of analysis on my part–drawing, as I cd, from the Zen and hippie texts of mine acquaintance–I knew to be the Great Cosmic Overmind. I remarked to the tape machine that “something really weird is going on here,” and immediately I recoiled from the reclining position and, simultaneously, noticed the existence of a small mirror positioned directly under a tiny overhead reading lamp.
The lamp and mirror become extremely significant in my perception of this event, as I write now, recalling that Pythagorus and his cult were, in the development of the discipline of Geometry, seeking a means by wch to communicate with the Divine–a direct transport to the realm of angels, if my memory is any good at all…
With the overhead light just barely above head-level, I had unconsciously allowed my right eye (wch was closest to the mirror and light) to relax, such that, instead of maintaining a perfect 45-degree angle and head facing the toes, I had begun to find my neck tilting toward the mirror, my right eye accepting the reflected light as the favored focal point. It was at this juncture–having felt the feeling, realizing the existence of the reading lamp and concomitant refraction in said mirror–that I noticed an identical lamp and mirror beside the door leading to the hotel hallway. These mirrors and lamps are real, physical, and presumably are still intact in Room 55.
I said to myself (mebbe two minutes having elapsed from vague perception to cognition), that were I again to recline, allowing my right eye again to wander in the prismic stream betwixt these two little mirrors, and feel again this All-ness, I would endeavor to seek the nature of the phenomenon. The feeling came again, and again I remarked of this to the Dictaphone, and again I pulled away–for this time, I was impressed with the knowledge that should I not resist, I wd accept this state as “my consciousness,” which I took to mean I wd be rendered insane.
I realized at this point that the experience at-hand was no LSD flip-out, but rather a True Occurence, a supernatural event. Let me be perfectly clear: At no time in any past drug trip have I ever failed to comprehend that wch is consensually real v. that wch a substance has allowed of the neurochemistry to appear altered. I cherish those many moments I have had in the grip of psychedelic experience, but I have always known live from Memorex, as it were. To test the phenomenon further, I decided to spend 20 minutes on the john, to clear my head, after wch I would return to the reclining & slightly rightward position, taking again into my right eye the mirror with its refracted light. And so I did so. And when I did, I experienced precisely the same occurrence, only this time I allowed myself to remain in this Vortex for as long as I cd stand it, knowing fully that I may never be “right” again, shd I persist for too long. This thing I call the Vortex possessed few real qualities. The hue was of a grey-green and, spacially, it appeared to be an inverted bubble of endless proportion. There was a fierce sucking aspect to it, vacuum-like, but never did it emanate evil. It simply Is. To be part of was, or so I understood, an honor. I was being invited to share in all knowledge that ever has been and ever will be. But societal constraints breed cynicism, and I also knew that I wd not be able to relate that wch was learnt by me and stay free: that my confession of All Knowledge wd likely lead me to the bughouse.
And so I stayed for as long as I felt I cd in the Vortex, and within it gained insight into mathematics and proportional calculus, whose extent my limited vocabulary and paucity of training fail to allow me to express here & now. But it was there: infinite space and All Knowledge, to be shared of by one more brave than me.
When I withdrew after this third sojourn, still after only tens of seconds, I found that I retained a great quotient of its power, and for a long moment realized that I was among the intellectual elite of world history. Ordinarily, such an endorsement wd have had me erupting from all ports (ask some of my friends!), but the Vortex had also stripped me of ego. I did not rejoice, but instead felt very special and humbled by the opportunity. And it was when I acknowledged humility, absent ego, that the experience became life-transforming, shifting from the cerebral, to that of the heart, and then of the soul. I proceeded to stand, feeling an attachment to bed and position to be unnecessary now, and was struck-through with Love. There are not words sufficient to describe the power of the “heart”–but compassion and charity spring immediately to mind, two years hence, when contemplating this night. A cleansing wind blew through me, and, shd I have dropped stone-dead from where it was I stood, I wd have passed from this sphere bearing God’s own promise of eternal acceptance.
The mural artist Robert Dafford called it “a state of grace,” upon hearing my story. That is what it was.
I had been forgiven of all the wrong I had ever committed; but, more powerfully, I knew, at that instant, that I had been forgiven, and the self-knowledge of mine own worthiness to receive such absolution was exhilarating and overwhelmingly humbling. But it was not over.
Something nagged at me, as does an unremembered face. I walked to the front door, knelt, and stared at myself in the other mirror, and again the room, all physical confines, fell away, and I saw myself in all stages of physical, emotional and intellectual development–the All of me now, exposed and apparent to me, and understood by me–and was given license to ask questions, cast them into the Void, anything I desired, and, spontaneously I did, asked one and only one question, wch was: “Who am I?” It came back the answer, wch was God’s answer, true and eternal, I was assured–not a voice or lettering of any sort, but a response, clear and indelible and undeniable, resounded in me for nearly an hour, registering in my soul, brought me to my knees and shook me to involuntary weeping.
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Read my 1997 press release for “The Logbook of the Ship Henry David Thoreau“