You Will Forget, You Have Forgotten
In the beginning was the world, and the world was made of atoms, and the world was atoms. Truth Existed, as something objective and elusive, to which I could be closer or farther.
With my first (good) acid trip, I was blown apart by beauty and purpose, and saw how much of a participant I was in my experience. Colors were brighter. The atoms of the world became sacred art. The seal had been broken – where before I had been a scientist puzzling things on paper, now I was part of the puzzle, and it felt like waking up.
I became an evangelist, feeding irresponsibly high doses to newcomers and feeling confused when they didn’t all have the same reaction I did. My framework was excited; something radical had happened to me, and the integration into my sense of purpose was raw and inconsistent. I had a sense of collective consciousness, like I was tapping into a great unified awareness or something. I wanted other individuals to feel like they were part of a collective consciousness too, ironically feeling somewhat uncollective with the individuals who didn’t grok the psychedelic realm, man.
With each successive acid trip, I felt profound insights emerging at subconscious levels, though they remained as just faint impressions to my sober self. So, in an attempt to bring more faint impressions with me, I kept going back – I was learning, something really important, and it was changing me. I really did feel better – I was at greater ease with myself and my life, I felt intense love for everyone around me, and I was hemorrhaging art onto every blank page in sight. I accidentally did therapy on myself, permanently healing trauma around my abusive father. This stuff was good for me, and so the nonverbalness of my insights didn’t bother me, really.
In hindsight, I view most of this period as marked by a strong belief that I understood something important – I’d begun a process of self deconstruction, and most of the people around me were still stuck on the world is atoms. I had started out this process as analytical and curious, and now my analytical habits were giving me a new framework – one for profound changes in my relationship to reality that nobody could understand; in this solitude, I viewed myself as enlightened.
My trips were breathtakingly beautiful, filled with ecstasy and horrible pain. I didn’t shy away from either – I sought out the intensity, and every trip spent at least some time sobbing in agony. I writhed, I shuddered, I danced, hard. I increased my doses, put terrifying or sad music on my playlists. I tripped with others, but increasingly alone, sometimes in the dark, sometimes in silence, where I lay still and staring directly into my own blistered mind. It was forced meditation on steroids, and it was utterly exhausting. Inevitably, during each trip, I would think I can’t go on – there’s no more of me left, I am as weary as the dead – yet somehow I kept on, like a body dragged on a rope behind a speeding car. The acid pried my eyes open with the gentle power of god. I was an infant, formless and unknowing. I was pure love, born to be sacrificed for mankind.
The process of this annihilation followed a cycle of holding on and letting go in a particular way – the slow dissolution and defense of my lattice of beliefs.
We’re each a gigantic, complex lattice of beliefs, intertwined and functional; the large scale, top-level lattice features things like “conservative social norms are bad” or “if I save enough money, I can retire”, while the bottom, low-level stuff consists of the granular, unconscious ones, like “pain is bad” or “I move through time”.
And with each trip, a chunk of my beliefs would disappear from the lattice. I don’t mean they disappeared from my experience, but more that they would become object, where my experience of the beliefs transitioned from “reality indicator” to “a playful frame” – I lost the sense that the belief corresponded to anything measurable outside myself, and thus lost the sense of control I’d had from feeling like I knew what was going on.
It’s a bit like visual illusions – have you ever felt your brain ‘snap’ from viewing an illusion one way, to viewing it another? Nothing about the concrete sensory data changed – you’re still seeing the same shapes and angles – but the frame you used to make sense of it shifted, quite suddenly, and maybe you became aware that your experience of the illusion was your frame, and that the frame was not inherent, that it could move, and maybe then you held what you saw lightly, playfully, without the idea your frame actually corresponded to reality.
In the void of departing beliefs, the remaining belief structure (to which I was still subject) would attempt to reconcile with that void, like the seared ends of a burned paper curling in on itself. This is where my belief in enlightenment came from – I detected that I had a great void in me where many beliefs had been, and when the lattice of remaining beliefs attempted to make sense of it, it came into a “I must be enlightened” framework, a framework I did not take as playful, but rather sensed as some indicator of reality. This process repeated subtly for everything – my belief that I was separate from others became playful (e.g., “I now see that my separateness from others is just a construction”), and so in its void my lattice latched onto the belief of collective consciousness (e.g. “I now realize we must all be part of the same mind”). My belief in timespace as a traditional, measurable thing that I existed inside of became object, and so in its void I got something like “all internally consistent realities must necessarily exist.”
Keep in mind I was not aware that I was subject to the beliefs I was subject to; internally, this felt like I was deconstructing myself, and the sense of deconstruction did not include giving me knowledge of the things I hadn’t yet deconstructed. My lattice of beliefs was undetectable to myself, and only became alive at the edges of what had been destroyed.
The Journey In was a slow process of whittling away the beliefs I was subject to, and watching the remaining beliefs contort themselves in attempt to maintain the idea that they corresponded to something outside myself. As my island of self got smaller and smaller, my experience of reality – and my ability to function – got weirder and quieter.
I entered profound silence, both internal and external. I lost the urge to evangelize, my inner monologue left me, and my mind was quiet and slow-moving, like water. I inhabited weird states; sometimes I would experience a rapid vibration between the state of ‘total loss of agency’ and ‘total agency over all things’. Sometimes I experienced pain as pleasure, and pleasure as pain, like a new singular sensation for which there were no words at all. Sometimes time came to me viscerally, like an object in front of me I could nearly see except it was in my body, rolling in this fast AND-THIS-AND-THIS motion, and I would be destroyed and created by it, like my being was stretched on either side and brought into existence by the flipping in between. I cried often.
I became sadistic. I’d previously been embracing a sort of masochism – education in the pain, fearlessness of eternal torture or whatever – but as my identity expanded to include that which was educating me, I found myself experiencing sadism. I enjoyed causing pain to myself, and with this I discovered evil. I found within me every murderer, torturer, destroyer, and I was shameless. As I prostrated myself on the floor, each nerve ending of my mind writhing with the pain of mankind, I also delighted in subjecting myself to it, in being it, in causing it. I became unified with it.
The evil was also subsumed by, or part of, love. Or maybe not “love” – I’d lost the concept of love, where the word no longer attached to a particular cluster of sense in my mind. The thing in its place was something like looking, where to understand something fully meant accepting it fully. I loved everything because I Looked at everything. The darkness felt good because I Looked at it. I was complete in my pain only when I experienced the responsibility for inducing that pain.
I lost many more concepts besides love, like ‘death’ and ‘self’ and ‘other’. Somewhere in all this I lost the belief that I was enlightened – I realized that to think I was enlightened, I must also be holding onto a belief about what enlightenment is made out of, and to have a concept about enlightenment, I must also have a concept about what it is not, and about who has it and doesn’t, and how this was functioning as a division in concept between myself and other, and was incompatible with the experience of self as the divine. When I realized this, the belief faded, and some deep part of me melted away. The word ‘enlightenment’ became a joke, one that applied and did not apply to me and others equally.
With this journey to annihilation came loss of function; for example I had lost many of my beliefs about my experience of time, and so my experience of time changed drastically; I constantly found myself in moments of infinity, like time had slowed down in between my thoughts, and I completely lost my ability to hold plans for my future. I lost the belief that ‘pain was bad,’ and so my experience of pain transitioned to something closer to curiosity, and I became less responsive to hunger. The thought of being tortured for an eternity didn’t scare me at all. I was fully prepared to go insane. I stopped working, and my income dribbled to a halt. I was a creature inside a dream, formless, a conduit of something unnameable. This state was an awareness and peace unlike anything I’ve ever known before or since. This state – and all the weird states I described above – maintained itself in between doses, when I wasn’t tripping, as well as for nearly a year after I quit.
My goal was to keep Looking, because I wanted to see everything. I strove to observe every part of my experience in the finest detail, and in this process I began to disappear. At some point I realized if I continued down this path I would die – both philosophically and physically, because the
TRUTH IS NULL. THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE TRUTH IS NOT-SELF. TO KNOW IS TO DIE.
I felt ready to die, or something close to that. I felt that I could stare at it without flinching, that I was unafraid; in fact I’d taken to compulsively whispering under my breath “I am dead” as I moved through the days of my life.
But upon realizing TO KNOW IS TO DIE, that to achieve completion was suicide (which I say with the greatest love and awe possible), I noticed that a rejection formed, and the movement towards Looking flipped to a movement away. I watched the decision happen to me, as if TO KNOW IS TO DIE by its nature contained a renunciation of that truth. If to know is to die, then it was in the very nature of life to look away, for that which does not look away, does not exist. The understanding was the rejection. I’d been swirling around it like a galaxy in my search this entire time, and the moment I finally laid eyes upon the white hot core, I fell into and through its event horizon. I was reversed, I was undone. I was completely, finally, mercifully, finished.
And so, after about 40 trips in the span of 10 months, I stopped doing acid. It was easy to stop, like casually turning off a light, but it was painful and disorienting. The Knowing felt like a lover I’d said goodbye to, and I would go to sleep feeling the ghost of it around me, and the bittersweetness of not touching it. I ached.
As the Journey In was bizarre in my past steps, the Journey Out was bizarre in my first steps. For months afterwards I tried hard to rid myself of the Knowing that inhabited me like a sacred shivering infant, to shut the eye that had been bleached to ivory by the heat. Joy-rightness-fun echoed up from somewhere deep within me when I started relearning anxiety, insecurity, or fear. They were wonderful, because they meant I was something. I could feel my edges again, signs where I’d started to forget what I really was and started to buy into the form I was becoming.
I began to see others who I’d once long ago seen as unenlightened, as now much more advanced than me – as symbols of successful forgetting, I wanted to cling! I was an idiot child, surrounded by adults, who were wise in the ways of the world. They were successfully immersed in their roles. I was impressed.
The integration back into normal life was really, really weird. I eventually came back, getting mostly functional after about a year, although some effects never left.
I didn’t realize that what I’d done to myself was noteworthy or unusual – I sort of assumed other people must be doing this a lot, because of course I wasn’t the only person who’d tried acid - all this was no big deal. As far as I was concerned, I existed in a vacuum. I hadn’t read any texts, followed any rules or traditions, undergone any training, or talked whatsoever with any spiritual teachers. I had no calibration of my experience with the rest of the world – until a few years later I talked about my experience at a dinner party and people responded with shock, which was a sudden and strong reframe for me. I was different from other people, apparently, in a much bigger way than I’d thought. This shook me up.
Once this whole thing became A Story, it started getting even weirder. I wrote about it on reddit and got a huge amount of attention. People started referring to me as the Acid Queen. Opinions were divided – some looked to me with awe and asked for advice, while still others explained how I was infantile or unbalanced, and that you can’t get very far with LSD, that only meditation would get me to the real stuff. At this point, for a while at least, I found myself immune to the spiritual opinions of others – this thing within me was utterly beyond doubt, and the words others spoke seemed like games around the Knowing. People tried to match the things I described to various traditions or stages, but these discussions felt like play. Why describe the unnameable?
The “talking about it” was weird. The place I had been was always this presence behind me, like this slow strange god had thrust its hand into the world and I was a character painted on the tip of its thumb. And to talk about it was to give it form, to say what it was and was not. How was I supposed to talk about it at all? It felt dishonest, or silly – and yet talking about it was hard to avoid – I was now different, and I found myself sitting at parties sipping on wine like an alien in human skin – and to be honest about what was most relevant, or to talk about philosophy (a common topic in my friend circles), the strange god was hard to avoid. I could feel the silliness of it whenever I tried, and if I tried too hard I started falling into intense spasmatic episodes where I experienced pleasure, pain, and ego death, which has occasionally embarrassed me in otherwise normal human conversations.
I sought out other people who I felt understood, though this isn’t quite the right way of saying it. Other people understanding was a concept that disappeared with the dissolution of my character. Maybe better is to say I sought a mirror in others – to be in the presence of another who, for whatever reason, induced divinity. This happened occasionally, and when it did my thoughts became a mantra: THEY KNOW, THEY KNOW, THEY KNOW – and then my experience of them as an other would break apart, because their knowing became my knowing and I felt myself expand to encompass them, and I would start crying or something equally confusing. This process occurred independently of [the frame of] them actually “knowing” – sometimes they would end up very confused, without having experienced anything special at all.
But in general, the conversion-to-story became a point of ongoing muddiness for me – I was trying to believe in my human character again, but now my character had this mystic spiritual journey backstory, and what was I supposed to do with it? Go around talking about consciousness until I started crying at people? Even alcohol had become psychedelic for me; it lowered my carefully cultivated inhibitions over the screaming divinity, and this which resulted in awkward things like me going to a party, drinking a beer, and then staring at my hands while going “whoah, man, they’re like… flesh claws.”
Over the years, without realizing it, the Mystic Spiritual Journey Backstory began to calcify – as in, it began to slip from a flexible framework I took as object into an indication of reality to which I was subject. This was marked by a few things:
An increased interest in becoming a guru or spiritual teacher.
A belief in the authority of existing gurus and spiritual teachers
An insecurity around my identity as someone who had Been Somewhere
While previously the opinions of confident spiritual people had slid off my back, now they gained hold in me and moved me.
The Void was still within me, but it started to fade from an intense, ever-present vibration just behind my consciousness, into a warm memory flitting occasionally at my edges. I knew it was leaving, but I was even more confused – isn’t losing the Void exactly what I was aiming for? How much Void should I lose? How close should I be?
The answer might seem something like “Just find the balance that allows you to live your life,” sort of like “If you really like golfing and also family time, figure out what percentage of time spent maximizes everybody’s happiness”, but you must understand the kind of process happening here is totally different. This was not the weighing of two desires, this was reality deciding how self-aware to be. My character wanted self-preservation (and thus to not Know); the Void didn’t want anything at all. My character wanted balance; the Void was formless and absolute and utterly beyond desire. Only one side could do any figuring out about what balance even meant.
And so somewhere I knew that I was becoming Character again, and trying to go around teaching people some concrete, definable truth. Somewhere “else”, the world was without form, and void; and darkness was beneath me, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And the Character was perfect, ‘more advanced’ than the baby it had been, for it had engaged in successful forgetting.
This sense began around 3 years after I quit acid and lasted for about a year, but ended with a few more acid trips, which I’d gotten lax on taking at my ideal “twice a year” frequency. I eventually realized realized what had been occurring right behind my eyes, that a part of me had become vulnerable in its desire to be invulnerable. Without realizing it, I’d started to believe my own story, that I’d “been somewhere special”, that I really did have something other people didn’t. I didn’t know I believed this story. I thought I did – I would think things like “Ah, I notice I’m attached to the story where I know a lot of spiritual things, how interesting!” and then feel better about it, but in fact this “noticing the attachment” was, in me, a way of reassuring myself that I did in fact know enough spiritual things to notice the attachment! With true expert survival skills, this section of belief had dipped below the visibility line so that it would not be destroyed.
In this, I’d become crushed by my own attempt to control my reality, and with another maintenance dose of LSD I’d steeled myself to take, I found-
WHAT CAN YOU SAY OF ME THAT IS NOT TRUE?
I saw a vision of myself climbing behind a lectern in front of a wide audience, who gazed at me as a guru with a Mystic Spiritual Journey Backstory – an image which had appealed to me greatly. But then I cleared my throat, turned to the blackboard and in a bright rainbow brush, painted the words I DON’T KNOW. “Do you understand?” I asked them all in between giggles. “I have nothing to teach you. I am an idiot. I am unenlightened. I am a child, I am the one who has come here to learn.”
And it felt true. It felt deeply true, not in like a cool ironic sense of tricking you into being taught or anything, I mean like I legitimately do not know, and any role I take on as a teacher is a ticklish joke, a hilarious roleplay.
I began to inhabit a greater comfort with holding multiple roles at once – that of authority or submission. And it felt comfortable, because I ceased being attached to any role at all.
I realized that I didn’t really want to teach, which I’d understood as imparting knowledge from me to others. I realized I yearned to find the divinity in others, divinity that they already held but might be hidden from both of us like a puzzle, and solving the puzzle together with another seemed delightful.
Did this realization hold over time? Yes and no. My journey has turned cyclical, like kneaded bread with layers that grow smaller and folded. I do not hold full knowledge of myself; the answer is a wall, the question is the path.
I relate to all of it very differently depending on the day. I have been learning how to handle identity shifts with more grace. I often find ways I solidified around a belief beneath my awareness. I’m sure there are many more I haven’t noticed.
I don’t know how I feel about “finding balance,” but the swing of my pendulum seems to be getting shorter.
I’ve also learned that I’m definitely not a mystical guru. For one, I think being a mystical guru would be super cool, which is in itself very uncool. I am anxious, I want your approval, I am insecure, disdainful, afraid; I am a failure, I am confused, I am evil, I am loveless, I am lonely, I am fragile - all things proper gurus seem to be more appropriately enlightened about. I am tremblingly human, with a fat sense of self in a very real-feeling character that claws at the world in awkward attempts at self preservation.
I am not where you are going, I am not what you want to be; I am a student, unwise, behind you on the path; I just slipped over the event horizon to end up right back where I started, and all I got was this lousy [infinite sense of delight]. Don’t listen to me, I cannot speak. Don’t look to me, there’s nothing to see. I stand here knowing less than you. Place me where you want me; you are the arbiter of truth, for what can you say of me that is not true?
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Really cool post. I have had the same experience, having trouble choosing between "consciousness of arbitrary nature of self, devotion to God/Love/formless wonder/ignorance/truth/whatever you want to call it" vs. "being pragmatic and fitting the role provided to me by evolution, since it probably will make my neurochemicals happy and comfortable, and maybe I need to be grounded in my ego to be a responsible and compassionate person." Hard choice, if we really have a choice at all. I live now in the former devotional state, trying to join pragmatism and responsibility/rationality with devotion to God/Love. I do not see why they would be mutually exclusive, especially since we have inspirational figures like Jesus, Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, etc. as examples of some of the most devotional, yet responsible and influential people. If the Void wants nothing, there is no resistance to self-sacrifice in the service of all of life.
I like your conclusion in favor of humility and ignorance. Follows Socrates (one thing I've realized is that all of my epiphanies have happened to others for thousands of years). However, I still agree that imparting knowledge has a role, even if it is piece-meal and tangential. You seem to feel the same on a deep level, since you thought it worthwhile to compose this piece. ✌️
Thank you very much for this, this, this "I don't know what." Wonderful, really.
And good luck on the forthcoming future legs of the journey!