The following is excerpted from The Toad and The Jaguar, published by Green Earth Foundation.
The distinction between dissociation and transcendence is not always easy to make, especially for individuals with experiential background in Eastern or Western spiritual teachings. In the course of the Harvard project in the early 1960s, we experimented with DMT in the form of intra-muscular injections. While most of us found the experience to be more or less out-of-body, chaotic and dissociative, one of our visitors was an Indian with extensive experience in kundalini yoga, who after the injection assumed a seated yoga posture, closed his eyes and sat motionless and silent in deep meditative absorption for 40 minutes, thanked us and left.
Someone with little or no prior experience with meditative states or practices might simply go completely unconscious, i.e. dissociate, while those with more experience might find themselves in transcendent, out-of-body or absorptive trance states that can be only partially remembered and described afterwards. Body movements, sounds and verbal utterances that are observed by others but not remembered by the subject – also indicate dissociative disconnect, no matter how pleasurable the subjective experience. The ability to make sense of the experience would certainly be a function of having had some prior experiences of transcendent consciousness and acquaintance with the literature of meditative practices.
Stanislav Grof, a very experienced explorer of psychedelic realities, relates an experience with 5–Meo-DMT in his autobiographical book When the Impossible Happens. He smoked what he later estimated to have been 25 mg, i.e. at the high end of the dosage spectrum, unaware of the extreme potency of this substance. He describes dissociative aspects early in the experience:
I lost all contact with the surrounding world, which completely disappeared….The awareness of my everyday existence, my name, my whereabouts and my life disappeared… I tried hard to remind myself of the existence of the realities I used to know, but they suddenly did not make any sense. … There was no biographical or transpersonal content, images, archetypes… none of these dimensions seemed to exist, let alone manifest. I had no concepts, no categories for what I was witnessing.
A little bit later he started to name his experience in terms of Tibetan Buddhist after-death teachings, of which he had made extensive study – believing that his physical body had actually died.
My only reality was a mass of radiant swirling energy of immense proportions that seemed to contain all existence in a condensed and entirely abstract form. I became Consciousness facing the Absolute. It had the brightness of myriad suns, yet it was not on the same continuum with any light I knew from everyday life. It seemed to be pure consciousness, intelligence, and creative energy transcending all polarities. It was infinite and finite, divine and demonic, terrifying and ecstatic, creative and destructive… My ordinary identity was shattered and dissolved; I became one with the Source. I retrospect, I believe I must have experienced the Dharmakaya, the Primary Clear Light, which according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, appears at the moment of our death.
… Some timeless time later, dreamlike images began to emerge, the solar system, the Earth…the last to emerge was the sense of my everyday identity and awareness of my present life. I was sure that I had taken a dose that was excessive and that I was actually dying… I believed I was experiencing the bardo, the intermediate state before my rebirth in the next incarnation. Then I was seeing and experiencing many scenes from my past lives, playing out karmic history in my body – but at the same time in a state of profound bliss, completely detached from these dramas(Grof, S. op.cit., pp. 251-257).
My own experiences with 5-Meo-DMT also began with the smoking of an unspecified (though clearly large) amount brought by a colleague to the Esalen Institute, where I was visiting. I was surrounded by compassionate friends and felt completely safe and protected – though also totally unprepared for what followed.
A shattering annihilation, a feeling of being inside an explosion, and being fragmented into countless tiny shards. I felt as though I was being turned inside out, as though my innards were extruding through my mouth. My body was apparently rolling on the ground (as I later realized), coiled into a ball like the ourobouros serpent. All distinctions between inner and outer, self and other, above and below, were obliterated. Animal sounds appeared to be coming from my mouth. There were no feelings of fear, indeed no feelings at all, other than a kind of impersonal ecstasy. No sense of body, no sense of self, no “I” – only a sparkling sense of awe-inspiring beauty (RM).
There was a complete dissociative loss of awareness of my surroundings. However, apparently this disconnect was a function of my eyes being closed, because at one point I opened my eyes momentarily and could see that I was protected by my friends from bumping into things or rolling into the fireplace, in a kind of instant “reality check.” Immediately after closing my eyes I was immersed again into the swirling, seething maelstrom of synaesthetic sensations.
Whereas Grof interpreted his experience in terms of the cosmology of Tibetan Buddhism, I attempted to make sense of my experience (afterwards) using the language of Vedanta, as well as Tantra yoga.
There was a feeling of being in the nucleus of the psyche. Awareness of “all and everything” and simultaneously, “This is IT.” The Vedantists say at the highest level of consciousness there is only being (sat), consciousness (chit) and blissful joy (ananda). In my experience there was no self, no body, no time or space, but there was being. There was also consciousness: I could remember everything afterwards. Even though “I” wasn’t there, there was observation and recording going on. And there was certainly bliss, joy, ecstasy unimaginable. I had the sense of being at an exact balancing edge between an internalizing and externalizing movement. I could let go, sinking deep within, falling and opening to a vast inner spaciousness, or I could let the energy come out and express through body movement and voice(RM).
I find myself on my knees, my body is being moved in incredibly smooth, fluid dancing motions, not by me, but by a spiritual Presence within me that feels totally other, unknown, not-me. Yet I don’t feel any fear or resistance, just awe, as I willingly give over my form to be used by what seems to be a deity. I’m feeling my arms moving, and yet I’m not moving them. The presence feels now male, now female, now androgynous, now serpentine. Shiva, Shakti, Kundalini. The awareness emanating form this Shakti-being is all-embracing, all-encompassing of all of me, my body, and the environment. I remember experiencing what it felt like to be the floor that my body was resting on, the land that the house was on, the planet Earth that the land is on, the cosmos that the Earth is in… (RM).
Over the next several years, during the 1980s, I myself had a number of personal experiences, usually in small exploratory groups of two or three friends, smoking 5-Meo-DMT alone or in combination with DMT (in 1:5 quantitative ratio), usually with a vaporizer. We had dubbed the combined medicines the Mayan Twins, because the sudden onset of effects of the medicine, when inhaled, were reminiscent of the shape-shifting, shamanic trickster spirits in the stories of the Hero Twins, in the ancient Mexican Popul Vuh. In these stories, the Hero Twins are able to defeat the terrifying Death Lords through allowing themselves to be repeatedly dismembered and killed and then shape-shifting back to their living human form.
From these early experiences, we realized very soon that it was extremely important, because of the dissolution of body boundaries, to have an agreed-upon ritual framework with clear space between voyager and non-ingesting sitter – or in a group, with clear boundary space between the participants. I remember in one early trial where I was sitting near to a close friend, I found myself traveling through my friends digestive track, having inadvertently shifted my focus of awareness to the organ level, irrespective of body boundaries.
In another small group experience, my old friend RD and I had agreed to travel simultaneously, sharing the smoke from a vaporizer together, while a group of three others functioned as sitter-observers.
There’s a swirling, weaving gridwork of light-patterns everywhere and all around. I can hear someone making choking and retching noises. My friend RD was experiencing the vomit of the world’s suffering, but was not suffering himself, as he later told us. At first I can’t do anything – there is no “I” and nobody else. Then I notice that I’m being moved towards the sound, to reach out with my hand, to touch, to help, to give comfort. “I” didn’t decide to do this, it just happened, sort of like an amoeba oozing over toward the source of apparent distress signals. My voice appeared to be making soothing sounds while my hands appeared to be making touching, stroking gestures. Awareness then arose of the other individual, this particular man, RD. Only after that awareness, came the realization that “I” was doing this gesture, this movement (RM).
It seemed (and seems to me still) significant that the Other was recognized before the Self. The human contact started with a response to the felt need of another being. First there was “Thou”, then “Thou-I” relation, then “I”. Object formation came before object relation. This experience confirms, I believe, the sequence of learning in infant development: the infant recognizes the other before the self, learns to say “Mama” before learning to say its own name or say “I”.
Experimenting with the Mayan Twins combination in individual and small group experiences during the 1980s my colleagues and I gradually came to the realization that there was no particular advantage to including DMT in the vaporizer blend together with the 5-Meo-DMT. It only made for a more intense sudden onset, with vivid three-dimensional, moving kaleidoscopic patterns encompassing the whole visual field or even engulfing one’s whole being. These kaleidoscopic patterns did not appear to have any particular meaning – it was merely a kind of abstract glitter, accompanied sometimes by images of strange, uncaring non-human entities, what Timothy Leary, in The Psychedelic Experience, had called “the retinal circus,” or what Terence McKenna in his writings has called “self-transforming machine elves.”
If images and thought-forms related to a person’s actual human existence appeared, they tended to appear later in the session – and then only when the individual had some particular exploratory or healing intention. I remember once or twice having the distinct impression/sensation, after inhaling the combination, that I was waiting for the “retinal circus” to subside, as if it was some kind of film screen in front of my eyes, and when it did subside, there opened up a deeper dimensional field with meaningful scenes of people and spirits and landscapes. For these reasons related to the content of the experience, and the practical reason of ease of ingestion, the experiences described below were predominantly with 5-Meo-DMT, inhaled through a vaporizer.
The context and set was always meditative and focussed ultimately on spiritual understanding and healing. Many of my experiences seemed to include cosmological visions and reincarnational memories as well as personal healing processes, with the cosmic predominating early, at the highest-deepest part, and the incarnational-personal later, as the intensity subsided.
Multi-colored lines of light formed a kind of dome covered in a faceted geometric network of jewels, the whole dome spinning silently. The jewelled dome seemed to become a kind of lens, through which I could seen into other worlds beyond, where the points of light were stars and galaxies. At first there were tiny scintillating sparks of light against a velvety blackness. They merge to become a brilliantly colored, weaving, flowing tapestry of geometric forms, extending infinitely in all directions. Then this kaleidoscopic field of patterns dissolved my body into it, so that I don’t see it anymore – I have become part of it (RM).
A common theme in my experiences was an awareness of first seeing a scintillating tapestry or lattice of multi-colored gems and jewels and then merging into and becoming one with it as it rolls over me and through me so there was no more awareness of body, of self, of things or of feelings. Although there is no sense of self, at some point a kind of witnessing focus seems to appear. I came to call the lattice-like tapestry, the “matrix of all possibilities.” Reflecting on such experiences in the normal waking state, I speculated that perhaps this lattice-matrix was a perception of the molecular level of reality – where all is combinations and permutations of patterns and interconnections – no things, no objects, no boundaries between inside and outside.
The weaving, waving field of geometric shapes and lines folds and falls over me, or I fall into it. I am seeing small spherical globules of white light, like pearls, that are glistening, shining moist, and perfectly aligned and interconnected in complex three-dimensional webs, reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller’s dymaxion structures, yet always changing, unfolding and enfolding. These webs are what constitutes my body, clustering in certain areas to make organs like my eyes.
They also constitute all other bodies and forms around me. Each individual is a kind of cluster in this infinite ever-changing molecular web. Each thought or feeling or experience is also a local cluster in this holographic matrix of all possibilities. A sun of pure white light radiates out from the center of the swirling, pearl-studded crystalline grid. It is too intensely bright for me to maintain the focus of attention, so gradually I lose awareness of it and emerge back out of the infinite oneness back into my body-form (RM).
For some, this geometric lattice pattern may dissolve into primordial pure light or a formless void. Or, following the inhalation of the medicine, the experience may transition, synchronously with the exhalation, into a kind of blissfull stillness. Cosmic patterns of stars and planets may permeate or oscillate with formless void visions. Here are some examples from accounts written by participants in our explorations with this medicine.
(Male) As my breath went out, I went in. And still I fell. The last vestige of resistance, a mere quiver of anxiety, subsided. I was fearlessly falling into an incredibly spacious, powerfully radiant, ancient but ever-present center, at once still and moving, a Core from which all things were arising, would arise, had arisen. I had let go and I had arrived. I was Home. That which I called “I” hung suspended in a vast, spacious and imperturbable Universe. I felt freed from my usual burden of aches, pains, tensions and fears, unconstricted, deeply and profoundly relaxed, at home in life, in a state of no struggle, deliciously, effortlessly healed.
(Male) I was able to guide my body to a laying position, though I had little body awareness. A deeper letting go seemed to occur by allowing the body to rest without muscular effort. All body awareness dissolved into awareness of soft, expansive currents of bliss. Even the sense of joy and amazement which this engendered dissolved as identity merged into formless Being. At that edge between Form and Formlessness, I felt the sense of being at a threshold which I had never before crossed. With both the joy and the difficulty of a birth, separate identity was relinquished, and all that remained was boundlessness. The relief and the sense that finally the ancient, primordial Search was over was utterly indescribable. There seemed to be an oscillation between pure undifferentiated Being and Observing Ego, because I had awareness of coming into Form, feeling profound ecstasy, joy, gratitude and love, and then dissolving back into That which from these feelings flowed. I became aware of a sense of arriving, of finally having found what felt like I had been looking for for eons. I realized that where and who I am is self-evidently beyond life and death. A thought arose of my dying sister-in-law, and relief spread throughout at realizing the fallacy of death. A vague sound was associated with this relief, a wetness reminded me of bodily existence and I realized I was crying.
(Female) I experienced what I can only describe as pure awareness, though not self-identified. An awareness that travels in search of more, ever increasing, ever expanding and unattached – free of any limit, binding or density. It was pure awareness moving through space, though not like a dark starry sky, rather like the intervals between everything all combined. The “I” or “me” was gone. It was an experience of no individuality yet I had very definite awareness and full existence. I said “I need help” – expressing a desire for the attention of others to enable me to focus, maneuver and navigate in such an unknown dimension. With the group attention, we journeyed to the “left-overs” of God, as Carlos Castaneda put it, or the outer limits of God. Then jointly we journeyed beyond, co-creating, co-realizing and traveling – exploring out into the very “nothing” beyond the universe, and then into the somethingness of form, like the energy of somethingness at the atomic or molecular level. We began recapitulating the evolution into form, rapidly entering all phases and kingdoms – the elemental, mineral, vegetable, animal … each with a new found awarenes, understanding and capability. An experience of “Hey, look what I can do” of grand proportions. Each evolution finding itself, experiencing the opportunity of intention – particularly in the human form, and delighting in it, deliriously and hysterically. It literally cracked me up, through all the episodes of evolution.
(Male) At this point I was in an utterly empty place, where the only remaining thing was light itself. There were no features, not even a sense of energy flux. The place seemed as full as it could be, without containing a single object or pattern. Getting somewhere else, or waiting for a manifestation, simply did not occur to me. The guide later called this space the “plenum void”, a term from mysticism that means the empty space that contains everything, a kind of featureless fullness. The basic nature of the experience was an initiation into the radiant void.
(Male) This medicine hurled me deep into the fiery firmament, with instantaneous, absolute death of ego, no-self on the quantum level of consciousness-chaos, harmony and bliss. The deepest fullest release from the chains of Illusion. This big bang of God-orgasm, creation overwhelming bliss, no choice but absolute surrender to the primal current. Flooding back to consciousness, still fully aware as the body was permeated and open to the infusion of the ultimate ground of being. Body fully open to assimilate throughout every atom of being blissful non-attached truth of the unlimited eternally fresh, fiery present. Left with a sense of unbounded joy and sensory delight beyond description.
(Male) Flying into a radiant ball of fire – the sun – entering it and plunging through it, coming out the other side, bouncing off the moon, landing on all fours on the moon, surrounded by giant space beings watching silently.
(Female) Unfolding of spatial structures and geometric patterns. Then there is a bird, a swan, light and large, who flies with me over the Earth, and the Earth is so beautiful. The Earth looks as though set with pearls, dazzlingly beautiful, and I have the thought “Oh my God, how beautiful it is.” I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the Earth.
The cosmological visions one may have with this substance depend to a large extent on the pre-existing worldview of the person having the experience. James Oroc, in The Tryptamine Palace (2009) devoted a whole book to relating his profound life-changing mystical experiences with the smoking of 5-Meo-DMT, in which he was transformed from “a hardened atheist who embraced an inherited cynical material-reductionist worldview” to someone who is “indelibly aware of the existence of G/d.” He writes that this first experience “was responsible for radically changing me into a spiritually inspired and much more hopeful human being.” (Oroc, J. op.cit. p. 3)
The experiences Oroc relates include all the elements of the classic mystical, cosmic consciousness experience others have also related with the smoking of this substance: radiant white light, recognition of unity and love as the organizing power of Universe, complete dissolution of ego-identity, oneness with G/d, and a sometimes abrupt return to normal consciousness of one’s body. After a year of self-experimentation, during which he smoked the substance two or three times a week, he unexpectedly had an experience of vivid contact and communication with a loved one who had died several years earlier. This experience expanded his worldview even further into previously unknown considerations of the after-life – and he “decided to take a break from tryptamine smoking for a while… to reflect on the possibilities that this experience had opened up.” He stopped thinking of 5-meo-DMT as a “drug”, instead considering it a “sacrament of some kind.” (Oroc, J. op.cit. p. 49)
Stanislav Grof, in his account, related receiving a whole series of death-and-rebirth visions of his past incarnations and witnessing the struggles of these past dyings with calm, even ecstatic detachment. Like Grof, I also found myself rapidly reviewing a series of past lives especially the deaths of these lives:
Images of decapitation, dismemberment, disembowelment flashed by, in rapid succession, including an image of being run through the chest with a sword – yet there was no fear or horror associated with these images. The following thoughts occurred: “Death comes to all, now it’s your turn. This is it, the termination. Resistance is impossible and pointless besides. It’s too late, the annihilation has already happened.” As I gradually came back into my body, after ten minutes in real time, I felt bathed in pure joy and completely at peace with myself, the world and my death (RM).
I’ve come to think that the 3-dimensional geometrical web, extending in all directions, that you first “see” in front of your eyes and then perceive as all-pervasive, inside and out, is the molecular level of our physical reality. Molecules of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and various elements and compounds do not “know” or care whether they are inside or outside of your body, or associated with any object or form in the external world. There are no objects or bodies or boundaries at this level — there is only the totally impersonal, ever-changing network or web, crystalline lattices of replicating patterns. An image that comes to mind from Mahayana Buddhism is of the jewelled net of Indra – symbolizing a universe of infinitely replicating mutual interrelations among all things and beings.
Other researchers have come to similar conclusions, pointing to perception of microcosmic, molecular (and sub-molecular) realities as the interpretive key to the understanding of high-dose tryptamine experiences. In his recently published autobiography The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, Dennis McKenna (2012), the ethnopharmacologist brother of the adventurous explorer Terence McKenna, eloquently describes a DMT-smoking experience he had, after a 15 year-hiatus in his psychedelic experimentations. In this experience there were none of the “self-transforming elfin entities” that his brother Terence had famously described. Instead the experience seemed to be a glimpse into the impersonal, no-thing-like, fragmentary “frenzied neurochemistry” of our own brains.
All the elements were there: the frozen feeling bubbling up and permeating my body like quantum foam fizzing up to engulf the fragmenting mind, the feeling of acceleration, my dissolving self urging me to let go, to surrender, as I was sucked into the visionary maelstrom. … The experience was far more austere (than in the earlier trials – ed.) Reality is a hallucination generated by the brain to help make sense of our being; it is made of fragments of memory, associations, ideas, people you remember, dreams you’ve had, things you’ve read and seen, all of which is somehow blended and extruded into something resembling a coherent conscious narrative, the hallucination we call “experience.” Dimethyltryptamine rips back the curtain to show the raw data before it has been processed and massaged. There is no comforting fiction of coherent consciousness; one confronts the mindless hammering of frenzied neurochemistry (McKenna, D. op.cit. p.160).
Anthropologist Jeremy Narby, in his ground-breaking investigation of Amazonian shamanic knowledge systems involving the ayahuasca brew, similarly describes his working hypothesis as follows: “In their visions, shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level and gain access to information related to DNA, which they call ‘animate essences’ or ‘spirits.’ This is where they see double helixes, twisted ladders, and chromosomal shapes.”(Narby, J. The Cosmic Serpent, p. 117).
Repeated observations by myself and others, have revealed that one can actually distinguish two sorts of web-patterns: one that is crystalline-geometric, with straight lines between nodes; another that is more organic and fibrous, with multiple branchings, like you might see in microscope images of slices of nerve tissue. The Pueblo Indian image of Spider Grandmother’s web of creation also comes naturally to mind.
Using the metaphor language of neurophysiology, perhaps in such experiences we’re subjectively experiencing the interface of neuronal nets and molecular grids, “seeing” or “being in” now one, now the other. Nerve impulses travel along axons as sodium and potassium ions are pumped in and out of the nerve-cell membrane. Transmission across the synaptic cleft is by release of neurotransmitter molecules. There are 10 billion nerve cells in the brain; 100 million photo-sensitive rods and cones in the retina. So when you’re “seeing” the grid-web, sparkling with jeweled luminescence, you’re registering the activation of millions of the light-sensors in your retina. When you’re sensing yourself embedded in the web, without distinction of “self” or “other”, you’re sensing being part of the cellular-molecular web of all life, extending infinitely in all directions.
In some of the experiences recounted above, there seems to be an awareness, a subjective perception of even deeper levels of the microcosm – of atomic and sub-atomic quantum level and the ultimate void – expressed in phrases such as “primordial void”, “ever-present center”, “formless Being”, “primary clear light”, “ground of being” or “vast spaciousness”. In the course of one 30 minute experience, the voyager’s visions may oscillate between microcosmic web patterns and macrocosmic star formations, within personal (though not ego-centered) awareness – seemingly embodying the ancient Hermetic maxim – as above so below, and as without so within.