I arrived with an intention to connect. There was a sense of celebration, too, because my first real psychedelic experience felt like it would be a reward for all the personal development work I have done over the years.
When I left that same evening, what I took with me was an appreciation of opposites; overwhelming gratitude for the loving connection to my wife and son; and a sense of my effortless brilliance, coupled with a deep understanding that, whoever I am, I exist only in relationship – it is solely through connection to the people who cross my path and walk alongside me that I am able to shine.
I fought with myself a little at the beginning – partly because my mind struggled to surrender, and also because, despite seeking connection, I found myself lying under a mountain of blankets, cold to the core, wrapped and buried in my own cocoon. As isolated as I may have felt, however, I was nonetheless connected to something: my personal journey, perhaps; a private indulgence I would later share with others, as they shared theirs.
Despite reassuring myself that we would talk afterwards, I felt a yearning for connection to the others who shared the space with me. Maybe that’s why I had the odd dialogue with myself throughout the 4-hour journey.
During the first of those internal exchanges, I was quick to point out to myself that such withdrawal is a familiar state for me – a conscious choice, so often made from a place of reluctance and fear, because engagement demands of me both energy and courage. Here were the first opposites: Connection and isolation. Engagement and withdrawal. Fear and courage. All are valid. All contain beauty. All are necessary.
There was a musical soundtrack to the entire experience and I noted with fascination my lingering preference for vocals over instrumental pieces. The sole reason was that those songs brought an unmistakable human connection.
This year promises (and will demand of me) more contact with people. I need to do it (therein lies the potential for growth and community), and I have the people in my life who make it easier for me. The facilitators of this briefest of retreats are a fine example: two people grounded in themselves and each other, living their lives with the quiet confidence of knowing that their distinct commitment to a better world is the way to go. Their certainty means they are in no hurry. Patience and love abound in their work, and I know I will return to travel with them again.
At intervals I was entertained by the forceful nature of my mind. It wanted me to pursue the detail of various story lines, to reflect on the previous two eventful days with colleagues and clients; but instead my brain kept offering colours and geometric patterns. I laughed as my mind asserted itself through the infused reality, demanding its intellect and intensity be acknowledged: ‘Colours and shapes? Really?! Colours and shapes? Look at me. I’m a fucking genius! Look at the complexity and brilliance of what else I can do.’
In my laughter I saw another set of opposites: The simple and the complex. Enjoyment and reflection. Surface and depth. Again, all are true. All are valuable. All are part of the whole.
There was a recognition that, yes, my mind is an incredible resource, and that its strength and dominance, softened by a natural curiosity, and sharpened again by a trained ability to reflect, can be more effective when not forced upon circumstances. Eventually, having had its power acknowledged, my mind relaxed, and my thoughts turned to my family.
There was the connection this experience held for me: my wife and son. I would return to them a few times as the undulating playlist carried and caressed me, and each time I felt deeply blessed. The first occasion led me to think of my family back in England and how much disconnection is there. Not just between me and them, but also for them between each other. An old, wounded disconnection from childhood; the abrupt disconnection of sudden bereavement; and the slow, prolonged disconnection of dementia.
How fortunate I am to have what I have, and to be who I am. As I write, I see that both of the most important people in my life arrived when I was not looking for either of them. I want to write, ‘Stop looking and be wherever you are. Be alert, be alive, and respond as fully as you can to the circumstances, the people, and the opportunities within which you are always embedded.’
My thoughts also drifted to the colleagues from the past few days and how, there too, I am fortunate. At this point in my life I have more connections than I have ever known, and I am so much richer because of them.
In the midst of this, possibly at the peak of the afternoon, I felt an enveloping sense of what I am and the pure majesty available if I drop the effort to be – as if the effort stands in the way of expression. Everything is already in place and the power lies not necessarily with what I have learned or accumulated, but with what has always been there.
The profound humanness of us all – as the mind will gladly testify – is hugely impressive and often beyond what we see and experience. Not hidden, but certainly overlooked, only fleetingly felt, and seldom realised. Again, the power lies in dropping our guard and pretense, and trusting that we have everything we need (and vastly more besides).
Laughter arose in me again at the annoying music we had been told would come. A monotonous tone which took me with it for while, before I surfaced to establish a conscious, limiting judgement. I smiled and laughed at the narrowness of my mind. (Where’s that greatness now, mind?)
Eventually, the tone gave way to a more melancholic piece. Ah, melancholy. Of course. Welcome, my friend. There is something about melancholy which makes me feel whole. Or maybe it’s because it just makes me feel. It stops me in my tracks, and holds me firmly and lovingly. It compels me to connect at a deeper level within myself and every other human in existence, because such depth is shared by all, even though it may not always be acknowledged or desired.
A few songs later, I broke down in uncontrollable tears. There they were again: my wife and son. Not chosen by me this time, but thrust upon my consciousness by the lyrics of a song which cracked me wide open.
‘Know you are loved’, the woman’s voice sang. Those are words my wife regularly offers me. The rest of the song was a plea to shine, spread light, and bring kindness, love and compassion to the world. Be strong and brave and know it’s okay to be afraid. I saw myself telling my son, whom I had left that morning after a delightful two hours of connection, to do precisely those things. Not because he should, but because he can.
Simultaneously, that same encouragement reached me from my wife, both in celebration and instruction. (She has always believed in me and regularly tells me to show people my wings.) Again, how fortunate I am to be at the centre of such a circulating conveyance of beauty, love, hope and promise.
And that is the final point of this summary – that she and I are blessed to be able to imbue the soul of our son with all the qualities the world needs, and which we are fortunate to enjoy in our own relationship. What a privilege. What a journey. What a life.