Experiences induced by psychotropic substances
The final experience
This page deals with some testimonies of experiences produced through the use of psychoactive substances, also with the aim of assessing whether the hypothesis is founded that NDEs and other spontaneous non-ordinary experiences are caused by the use of specific neurotransmitters by the neural system. On the possible implications of a biochemical nature that can take place in the brain with respect to the states of non-ordinary awareness that produce the NDEs, in an article by Detlef Linke (1945-2005) published in 2004 of the monthly Mente e Cervello (Mind and Brain), the author, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Bonn, hypothesized a mental state definable as a final experience, which would correspond to a very extraordinary experience for the conscious Ego. This hypothesis has to be verified, given that – as we have seen – the current level of knowledge on the functioning of the brain, and specially on the reciprocal relationship between the conscious inner experience and the biochemical processes that occur in the brain and determine the psychic attunements, is still at an early stage and does not allow to give satisfactory answers to the question.
The doors of perception
There is an important corpus of testimonies to which we can pragmatically draw to highlight the problem from another angle. These are the states of non-ordinary awareness induced by the use of psychotropic substances: in this case we are certain that the inner experience is determined, in a relationship of cause and effect, by the ingestion of specific natural or synthesized substances by the experimenter, through the overcoming of the blood-brain barrier by small doses of molecules, and the interference of these molecules with the synaptic processes of some brain areas. Already in 1954 Aldous Huxley's essay The Doors of Perception was published, in which the author affirmed that «each one of us may be capable of manufacturing a chemical, minute doses of which are known to cause profound changes in consciousness». Obviously, in this case the term manufacturing is referred to the biochemical activity of the brain. In May 1953 the writer had accepted to act as a guinea pig in an experiment of investigation of the psychic effects following the use of mescaline, an alkaloid contained in some cacti such as Lophophora williamsii, and had taken about 400 milligrams of this substance.
And here is, in Huxley's words, the report of the initial effects of that experience: «I took my pill at eleven. An hour and a half later, I was sitting in my study, looking intently at a small glass vase. The vase contained only three flowers: a full-blown Belle of Portugal rose, shell pink with a hint at every petal's base of a hotter, flamier hue; a large magenta and cream-colored carnation; and, pale purple at the end of its broken stalk, the bold heraldic blossom of an iris. Fortuitous and provisional, the little nosegay broke all the rules of traditional good taste. At breakfast that morning I had been struck by the lively dissonance of its colors. But that was no longer the point. I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation: the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence… The Being of Platonic philosophy – except that Plate seems to have made the enormous, the grotesque mistake of separating Being from becoming and identifying it with the mathematical abstraction of the Idea. He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were – a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence». I invite those who are interested to read this engaging and still current essay by Huxley.
Experiences induced by psilocin
The following are some testimonies of experiences made under the effect of psychotropic substances (also called, imprecisely, hallucinogens or psychedelic drugs), chosen among the hundreds that can be found on various websites. Those that seem more comparable to some aspects of NDEs are due to the intake of psilocybin, a tryptamine (indole phosphate ester) contained in small mushrooms of the genera Psilocybe, Panaeolus, and similar, widespread in the temperate areas of the planet. By losing the phosphorus atom, psilocybin is transformed into psilocin (also contained in mushrooms in reduced percentage, but more unstable), which is the true psychoactive substance. Without going into the details of the biochemistry of neuronal synapses, it seems that the molecule of psilocin has an affinity with that of serotonin, and therefore replaces the latter as a neurotransmitter in synaptic connections. The active dosages taken orally range from 2 milligrams for threshold effects to 8 milligrams and more for very intense effects. But it is estimated that only a small percentage can overcome the blood-brain barrier, while most of the substance is eliminated from the beginning with the urine, so that within about eight hours after intake, 90% of the ingested substance is expelled from the body. The duration of the experience can vary from two to six hours in real time, but, as we will see from the testimonies, the perception of time by the experimenter undergoes radical transformations. In their spontaneity these testimonies are significant with regard to the impact and the meaning of these experiences, on the subjective authenticity of which I do not think there can be doubts.
Experience 1: A journey through time
«Suddenly I was completely pervaded by surging waves of growing orgasmic ecstasy: so strong that my eyes began to weep without control, and from time to time I felt as if my head were about to explode and to incorporate first my room, then all the Earth and finally the entire universe. I completely lost the sense of ego and time, and I felt like I was dying, as if God was pulling my soul out of my body, to transport it into a vortex of joy that I would never forget. I knew that everything would be all right, I continued to perceive and feel the presence of a being, or rather, a vast field of energy, which seemed to want to reassure and guide me through this extraordinary experience».
«I was transported to a world where my ancestors lived. I traveled back in time to find myself a child, and relived some intense and pleasant memories. Then I witnessed the big-bang, and hurtled through the cosmos at supersonic speed, becoming everything that ever existed and that will ever exist... I felt like a black hole able to suck up anything that could ever be imagined or conceived. I remember looking at myself in a mirror and not seeing my physical image, but my inner essence, my spirit. I heard a voice asking if I knew who I really was, what my true identity was. Eight hours after the beginning of the experience, I quickly returned to ordinary perception, feeling very warm, euphoric and happy, but unfortunately now far from the immensity of what I had experienced. (Later) I felt I had a better understanding of the meaning of my life, and of the profound mystery it contains».
Experience 2: The harmony and the beauty of Being
«The beauty of the mountains is something that never ceases to amaze me. The power and serenity enclosed in rocks and trees seem to have existed since the beginning of time. The effects started about 15 minutes after the mushrooms ingestion. I decided to get away from the campfire and go and meditate among the trees on my own. I wandered through the woods and I felt really infused by that calm and ancient peace. I found a beautiful rock covered with moss, which seemed perfect to sit on it. In front of me there was a beautiful tree, the same color as the rock, and the moss seemed to melt tree and rock in a single entity. I sat on the rock in the lotus posture to meditate, and everything seemed to dissolve. Everything disappeared. It was no longer a theoretical thought that I perceived, but a full clarity: my mind became clear, and all the confused labyrinths of the complex abstract thought were swept away. My eyes were open, but all I perceived was the One. All around me was One, and I merged with it. I was nothing and everything at the same time. No thought related to the complexity of existence: all I felt was Being. In that eternal instant I was simply the Being, nothing more and nothing less. And all this was not beautiful or magnificent, or any other expression with which we would describe it: it was the Being in its pure essence».
«I heard a music that came from somewhere and penetrated me. It was calling me, and slowly I emerged from that eternal moment, while the thoughts began to flow in me again. The sounds I was hearing were incredible. A strange psychotrance echoed among the rocks and was reflected by the trees. A fog slowly rose, making the sounds more dense. It was getting dark, and I started wandering through the woods to find the campfire area. I felt an incredible vibration, as if a great cosmic ray were channeled and we were the receivers. I opened my eyes, and as my eyes touched one by one the faces of the people around me, they opened their eyes and looked into mine, and we saw each other and understand each other. It's wonderful how you can connect with people you do not know, but in some mysterious way you know you really know them. That moment lived in the woods seems to have really changed me. Now I can more easily detach myself from some of the thoughts that first entrapped me in their complexity. Simply Being. So simple and so essentially real. Being».
Experience 3: Indian boys
«I live in a rather large town in India. In the rainy season, my two friends and I reached a hill where there was a rock on which we used to sit down to chat or smoke. (After swallowing the mushrooms) I began to feel a strange sensation of lightness, as if my body had become lighter and more receptive to what was around it. I spent a lot of time laughing uncontrollably to tears, then I thought it was better to move. I went to another rock nearby and, looking around, I was amazed by the feeling of space that seemed to wrap me up: space, totally empty, all around me. Looking at the rock on which I was sitting, I noticed a decorative pattern on its surface, so I bent to look at it better, and suddenly the pattern began to move and rotate, and then blew up on my face. All around me, I saw myriads of drawings that were transformed and dissolved, in a kaleidoscope of colors that challenged the imagination».
«Ranji (one of my friends) looked at me with an amused expression, then approached and handed me a pebble, nothing special: he told me only to hold it and feel it. I began to turn it between my thumb and forefinger and suddenly, almost unnoticeably, I connected the whole world around me with that little stone, and it was as if I held the eternity of space between my fingers. I dropped the stone, so as not to be overwhelmed by the confusion of the state I was in. I looked up at the sky: it was full of rows of delicate clouds that shone with a deep pink created by the light of the sunset and by my brain. Looking at those clouds was an extraordinary experience, every time the wind blew it was like watching a sea of blue and gray shaked by a giant invisible hand. Then suddenly a vortex appeared in the clouds, and I was sucked into it: around me there was only a vast empty space, all blue, no clouds, no wind, only space... and I began to fall down vertiginously, at unthinkable speed».
«I found myself back on the rock. I thought I should tell Tosh (my other friend) something, but I do not remember what we talked about, I only know that we began to laugh hysterically, and we could not stop. Then images began to flow in front of my closed eyes, events buried in the remote folds of memory: it was like watching a movie of the events of my life. These scenes appeared randomly, and flowed rapidly, changing even before I could understand the importance of these thoughts that manifested themselves as images before my eyes: I saw myself climbing up the trees, diving into a fresh spring in the forest, looking down from a cliff... images of parts of my life of which I had lost any memory. I felt the wind swirling around me, and here I saw a strange guy watching me, reading every thought that flowed in my mind. I asked him who he was, and instead of speaking he simply shook his hands, and I saw through a series of disjointed images who he was, but now I can not remember what he showed me, I just know that I felt in awe. And I watched as he showed me, image after image, myself as a child playing in the park, my dogs running around me, mum and dad saying something I could not understand... fantastic, that's all I can say. A dissolution of the ego, of course. I felt like I was two years old, innocent and completely open to any stimulus coming from the world around me. Then, while I was cycling, I felt a sense of exaltation in not perceiving any physical effort and at the same time being able to move in space and time. This experience was the best teaching of my life, and I think I still have other things to learn».
Experience 4: Knowledge and eternity
«I am a rational person: I was studying mechanical engineering in college, and I was of the opinion that a lucid mind is the best mind you can have, that knowledge and logic are the most specifically human features, and that reality is what we see everyday. But the mushrooms gave a good shock to my world. Although rational, I am also a curious experimenter, so when some friends decided to try the mushrooms I decided to join them. After about 20 minutes from the ingestion I noticed some subtle changes in my vision and in the perception of the movements. I went out with my friends: it was a beautiful spring afternoon. We formed a random triangle and began to throw each other a neon pink frisbee. At that point my visual perception was extraordinary: the sight of that luminescent pink frisbee that flew over the vibrant green grass inebriated me. Tears flowed across my face as I laughed, unable to control myself. I was stunned to be able to feel so inebriated, and at the same time still have enough coordination to be able to catch the frisbee».
«The frisbee game did not last long. I began to observe a large maple in the garden, deeply amazed by its size and its beauty: the roots deeply anchored to the ground and the bark that danced before my eyes. The mere fact that it was probably over a hundred years filled me with a sense of reverence. Whatever I saw, touched or smelled was filled with a profound personal meaning. The vivid and vibrant colors made me feel like I was living in a cartoon. It was as if everything around me had been arranged on purpose and diligently in the right place. Everything was exactly where it was supposed to be. In fact, it had always been there: it was perfection. And just as I thought things could not have been better than that, the best came. When I thought I had reached the peak, the experience became even more intense. My mind was running: a fantastic thought led immediately to another, and to another. I was drawn into such an irresistible mental spiral that I ended up being no longer able to speak, and soon thereafter I could not even move. All I could do was stay there, staring at a bottle of beer in my hand without being able to see it, and letting my mind wander in these strange new dimensions. Reality, infinity, awareness, life, universes within other universes, these are some of the experiences that crossed my mind. I was literally losing myself in my mind, and I did not remember neither my age nor my parents. I felt like I had been in that garden for an eternity. The only idea of the university and the academic teachings was ridiculous. Everything I ever needed and could ever need for eternity was already inside me. I was completely certain that I would never eat, piss, sleep or fuck again. There was no need. My physical body was gone: I knew I existed completely in my mind, while I was traveling in a completely different universe».
«What I remember is that I spent some eternities, and then, every now and then, the face of a friend of mine was focused in my field of vision, to tell me that I was lost. After another couple of eternities, another friend's face appeared and said that they were having a lot of fun just watching me. Another eternity again, and here is another face. This thing went on for thousands of billions of years, before someone could bring me in the house and make me sit in a chair. At this point my mind had blown up into a thousand pieces. I could hear and understand everything that was happening around me, but I could not speak. At the same time, my mind kept spiraling down to new universes, new realities. Suddenly the downward spirals ended, and upward spirals started. It was as if I was recovering my mental path. I came across some idea that I thought I had already thought centuries ago, and I laughed thinking about where that thought would go».
«As I returned to this world, the pace of the experience became faster. In short, I remembered my age, my name, my parents. Then all of us start to laugh, when my friends told me that they had almost been about to call an ambulance to get me admitted. I felt a sense of peace and completeness, a total understanding as I had never felt before, nor did I feel later. I felt that the great secret had been revealed to me, I felt I owned the world. When I went to bed that night, I was sure I would never be the same person as before. Unfortunately, over time the effects of that experience have become more evanescent. But I still carry its mark inside me. The world still seems to me a much more beautiful and magical place than I considered it before. That time I had a true religious experience».
Experience 5: In the jaws of the cosmic dragon
«What I can tell in words is only a small part of what happened that night, an experience that I could call sacred, and that I never revealed to anyone. Entering the bedroom, I was greeted by the vision of a large luminescent sphere that surrounded my goal, the bed. I could see it very clearly and with a certain amazement. Every point in the sphere of light was connected with every other point by an almost imperceptible luminous web, from which the surface of the sphere emerged vividly. I was rapidly losing my ability to orient myself in ordinary reality, and so I approached the bed and lay down on it. The vision I had immediately after represents the most amazing experience I've ever had, and must to admit that I was not fully prepared to sustain its intensity and pregnancy. As I directed my gaze upward, I saw the huge head of a dragon coming out of the ceiling above the bed. It was extraordinarily real, and for a moment my fear turned into genuine terror. As the terror increased, and I felt overwhelmed by the experience, the dragon spoke, with a deep bass voice that reverberated in my bones: «Do not resist, do not be afraid!» he said. The sound of his voice was upsetting, but at the same time it had a mysterious calming power. I let myself go, and was sucked into the open jaws of the dragon, thinking with my last thought that for me it was over, that my life in this world had come to an end, since death overwhelmed me».
«I must add some comments on the sharpness of the vision. It was not that kind of vision based on geometric patterns, spirals, and other psychedelic elements in vibrant and pleasing colors that psychonauts find interesting and stimulating. This vision was the irruption of another dimension of existence, well differentiated and articulated with precision in the smallest details. I could see the single scales of the dragon, observe the penetrating intensity of his gaze on me, notice the signs of growth in his tooth enamel, and notice the kaleidoscopic swirl of galaxies and universes that formed the walls of his throat. This was the revelation of the essence of a living being embedded in a story too great to be even imagined by the intellect alone. It was the contact with a mythological dimension that enveloped me and completely involved me in its own reality. There is no doubt that such reality was much closer to the heart of Being than this small world of shadows which we call real, and which is only a miserably small part of eternity».
«As my awareness entered the dragon's mouth, the ordinary consciousness of my ego vanished, and my perception moved at incredible speed through an infinity of cosmos, until I stopped in a tiny corner of existence. The deep bass voice had now turned into a softer, quieter voice that told me about the vision of life on Earth, a vision that flowed in front of a disembodied mind that was now observing its ancient home. I saw small creatures, similar in form to mythological dragons, falling on the surface of the planet. After landing, they spent a few moments – perhaps eons on our time scale – resting. Then they wrapped themselves in the matter of this world, and this transformation made them quite unrecognizable. The voice asserted that life on Earth had originated from these beings, who had escaped from something that was happening in another part of the cosmos, and hoped to be able to hide here for some time».
«Consciousness took shape in these emerging forms of life, evolving with them over the ages. At the beginning consciousness permeated the whole process of the development of life on Earth. Later, it was an overwhelming experience to discover that while consciousness identified itself with a particular organism, a kind of dinosaur, it completely forgot its existence outside the context of that particular organism's life, and ended up being completely stuck in his world. Worries, fears, joys and sufferings were all experienced in the first person. This went on for what seemed like an eternity. Emerging in the human form, flowing through the entire history of mankind, and identifying itself with every single human being lived on the surface of our planet, the consciousness ended up resurfacing in its connection with a passed away mushroom eater. At this point the consciousness was again free from its imprisonment within an organism of this planet, and could soar above it in deep space, looking down to the Earth».
«The voice kept saying: "Life on Earth is a single organism, which has developed through the ages of its own evolution.It is destined to build itself a body that can leave the surface of the planet. Its purpose is to perpetuate itself and fulfill a function that for now we can not communicate to your consciousness. Under a certain limited point of view, it could be said that the original mission is to escape some processes that began in another portion of the cosmos, near the point of origin, and that will soon burst into this galaxy, destroying life on Earth as you know it. The transformation consists in the emergence of an essence that has its roots in what you might call light energy, opposed to those condensed and heavy forms that you consider to be representative of living organisms. When this form of life emerges in a biological species, the organism is incorporated into the new structure. From the point of view of the physical organism, this process inspires fear and is considered as death. However, the organism that initially hid itself in the organic structure of the life of this world maintains the full awareness of its escape mission, and pushes its evolutionary intelligence towards the construction of the tools needed for this escape. Therefore, a portion of one's being will be incorporated into the new emerging life energy. This process has already taken place in other parts of the cosmos, and is unavoidable. For now, however, the form of life that recognizes itself as the dragon, and which manifests itself as DNA, keeps pushing to escape its inevitable destiny. So it is how it should be". While the voice told all this, the future of the planet showed the development of an awareness that separated itself from the biological cocoon, and took shape in a body of light, as a new instrument of existence in this part of the cosmos. The consciousness was pushed back into its host organism and I woke up at dawn, amazed at having managed to survive that experience».
The author of this testimony then wonders critically about the contents of this revelation and the cultural references that may have given rise to it, and in his state of ordinary lucidity he does not reveal any inclination to believe what he perceived in the vision, of which, however, he can not deny the remarkable mythical and sacred impression. The peculiar character of this latter experience, compared to the others, is also due to the fact that the experimenter, in addition to having ingested mushrooms, had also smoked about 2 grams of Peganum harmala seeds, a plant also known by the common name of Syrian rue, containing different alkaloids of the harmine group, which have mild effects when taken alone, but enhance the effect of other psychotropic substances as inhibitors of monoamine oxidase (enzymes present in the brain tissue).
Experience 6: God in Nature
«I found myself all alone in a beautiful Swedish forest at dawn on a summer morning. I wanted to shout to express all the love I felt for the Earth, and to hear the echo of my words through the forest, but I held back, for fear that someone could hear me and come to see what was happening. But nature understood all the love I felt for her, and offered me a natural echo as a gift, so that even the slightest whisper was amplified and could be heard for miles around. Then I began to reflect on the dimensions of existence. I thought that there must certainly be other dimensions, and it should not be impossible for some creatures to live in these other dimensions. It was so absurd for me to believe that we must live in a three-dimensional world, just as it may be for a normal person to think of living in a two-dimensional world. So I thought of Einstein, and of time as a fourth dimension. For some reason, time is not linear, and if something could really live in time (differently from how we do) it must be everywhere, and at any time. Do not ask me how or why, but this is what I thought».
«I tried to call some of these beings, and they came. I found them suddenly in front of me, at about ten meters away. I closed my eyes, yawning to produce some tears and be able to see more clearly, and they were still there. They were so beautiful, so chaotically perfect! They looked like small cacti, and they were made up entirely of melodic lines. Each tone had a color, and each melody was a sparkling rainbow. Then I thought to speak, but it was not necessary: they knew, and I knew. They were the race of the ancestors, this was all there was to know. Suddenly, as if something had swept them away, there was a new sensation, like an unexpected presence. I closed my eyes, and beyond millions of colored flowers I saw God. He had the form of a red and green Janus mask, with a sad expression on one face and happiness on the other. The happy face smiled at me: God was me, and I was God. We all are God, we are all the same thing. And again it happened that I wanted to say something to God, but it was not necessary. I could not express any good questions: and who would ever be able to? Then, after a time that seemed like a couple of years, I felt like I had spent all my life asleep, and I was only waking up at that moment. Everything was perfect. I had never understood, in all my life, the meaning of the word perfection before that moment. There is nothing else to say: it is like a circle of steel, in which everything has something in common with everything else. All of us are perfect, immaculate as stones. This was just a small fragment of what happened, and I could go on for weeks, but now I have no time».
Experience 7: The empathy of souls
«I felt a feeling of euphoria that transcended happiness, a wonderful state of well-being that made me sure that whatever could happen then, or in the next 10 years, everything would be for the best. Whenever I have these experiences I hope that something that I could never perceive in my daily life is revealed to me. Mushrooms offer me the opportunity to put aside all this physical and worldly baggage and simply be. Looking at the world through the eyes of a child, with such awe that I would never come back. I wish I could enter your mind and share this experience with you, because I can not explain it in words. It's one of those things that change your life forever».
«Have you ever felt incredibly alone? It does not matter if you are surrounded by many people, what you really feel is the emptiness of the soul. Until today I had hoped there was something like a soul mate, and I had never been sure of it. But last night... I'm sure that I found such person. Although she/he probably was not a person, but a real soul, something pure and simple, and at the same time so complex! Last night I could clearly see that in every person, in every relationship, I had always perceived this soul. I do not know, I still can not express it in words, and I can only hope you may understand me. I have understood that within each of us there is a fragment of pure divinity and harmony, and that, no matter how trivial it may seem, so said, eyes are truly the window of the soul. It may be that others' eyes are the windows of our soul, or that we see our soul reflected in the eyes of others: the good within us is disclosed to the outside».
«Someone claims to have had an experience that changed his/her life, and then maybe this change lasted... just a week. This does not seem to me my case: I have experienced telepathy with someone thousands of miles away, someone I have never met but who is so present in my mind that he/she can almost physically hurt myself. I had never experienced something so profound that linked myself with someone I had never met. Once the initial shock had faded away, I did not even need to close my eyes to feel the emotions and reactions of this person. It was incredible indeed. I have never felt so identified with another being. If I could bottle this feeling and store it, I would put it on the highest shelf among all the things that I'm proud of in my life, because it's really something I would not trade with all the gold in the world: that one instant in which I realized that all my life there had always been someone walking by my side: simply, he/she had a thousand faces. It was extraordinary, to say the least. Last night, I finally found my reality».
Experience 8: The Brahman universe
«At this point I realized that every experience in life is a blessing and an opportunity for growth. After that, I became Brahman and decided to dream of a new universe and make it exist. At that point, time no longer existed. The cycle of time in which this universe exists was coming to an end, and I had to decide whether or not to create a new world. My assistant (during the experience) turned into an angel, which I perceived as another myself who spoke to myself, informing me that I could both escape from existence and create a new one. Then I saw her go through a wall. She informed me that nothing really happened, and that I saw the wall just because I thought it was there».
«At this point I was aware that the person who had given rise to the experience was only one of my infinite divine forms, which would never exist again, because the experience would never end, since time had stopped. I knew that I had to abandon my earthly form and create another cycle of life in the universe. Before doing so, however, I could experience this world in every form and for how long I desired it. I walked through a forest, enjoying the colors, the sounds and the images of the most luxuriant nature… These dimensions were felt just as real as we feel the world in the ordinary state of consciousness. Evidently, what became real were my own thoughts, my imagination».
Experience 9: Dreaming the physical body
«The spaceship of my mind allowed my conscious Ego to get away from the physical body and to ascend to inconceivable astral planes, full of charm, meaning and joy. I had the feeling of being able to travel through the infinite universe of my mind, because my mind was connected, like an electric cable, to the mind of God. The most interesting thing was that this prodigious mental journey involved minimal physical effects, as if my body did not exist. (Psilocybin) worked like a battery that nourished my mental universe in the most appropriate and constant way possible. So no dispersion, destructive discharges, relevant physical effects, but very refined mental energy of first quality. It was fantastic».
«At a certain point I began to realize that my physical body was near a big tree, in a park, without being able to remember how it had got there. This thing gave me a feeling of joy: I realized that, finally, I was able to dream my physical body. I felt nothing of my body, as we perceive it in ordinary reality, but in the oneiric dimension of my mind I saw my body moving in the real world. The extraordinary thing was that my true ego was the dreamer, and at the same time I could control the dream, as if it were a lucid dream, making so that my body behaved exactly as I wanted. Then I started to make my body walk in the streets of that neighborhood, having a lot of fun interacting with reality through what I felt like my dream body. The streets, the villas, the gardens, the cars, were real, though with colors much more intense and fascinating, and with larger, almost metaphysical, dimensions. I decided what direction my body had to take, and my body went in that direction. It was fantastic because I felt I could do everything I wanted, without experiencing any of the heavy reactions that are connected to the physical body. After some time I saw a gentleman with a little girl coming towards me, and I commanded my body to smile at them, as a nod of agreement, and they answered with a smile and a greeting, exactly as I expected. I was in seventh heaven: I knew I was dreaming the reality, and reality conformed to my dream. The most intriguing thing was that nobody, I was sure, could see that I was not in a normal state. After having walked a few kilometers, and after various experiments of interaction with unknown people, I began to feel my feet again, as I normally perceive them, and slowly, but inexorably (and with my regret), I found myself existing again in my physical body».
A comparison with NDEs
As I said, I have selected only some of the hundreds of testimonies available on the web, choosing those that present significant elements in terms of mystical experience related to the sacred and esoteric meaning of life and the extraordinary emotions that derive from it. Coming now to the question of whether there are any affinities between these experiences and the NDEs, my opinion is that, although they are different forms of experience, some analogies (such as those highlighted in bold in the experiences reported) are undeniable. Before we can rule out that NDEs are determined by a form of brain activity, it must be remembered that all the subjects who have experienced an NDE have never got an irreversible damage to the brain, and that not all the subjects who have emerged from a state of coma, or from a condition of clinical death, have experienced an NDE. In fact, these experiences affect only a minority.
The most obvious differences between the NDEs and the experiences with psilocybin are above all in the lack in the latter of the veridical autoscopic vision of things and events of ordinary reality (later confirmed by other witnesses), and of the perception of the tunnel of light. However, autoscopic vision is present only in a small number of NDEs, and the effects of psilocybin also induce very particular light visions, which are felt as originating from an energy at least alien, if not divine. It has been observed that many NDEs correspond to a state of bliss and ineffable happiness from which one does not want to come back, while the same can not be said of experiences with psychotropic substances, some of which may open the doors to hell rather than paradise. I do not think however that this observation can be considered a demonstration of the substantial diversity of the two types of experiences. In fact, as better described in the section dedicated to NDEs, there are also distressing NDEs that are certainly not pervaded by a state of ecstatic happiness, while states of intense happiness can be achieved even with psychotropic substances, as evidenced by the experiences reported above. Not rarely the psychonauts affirm that the state of bliss which they have experienced is priceless and that it can, by itself, be worth all the efforts of a lifetime. It also seems to me that different aspects of the sacred, mythical and emotional impact that characterize the NDEs are also present in some of the psilocybin experiences that, like the NDEs, can change the perception of the world and the vision of life.
Value of the experience induced by psychoactive substances
Anyway, despite their diversity, both NDEs and experiences with psychotropic substances should make us reflect on the fact that the functioning of the brain and the relationship between the events of cerebral biochemistry and our consciousness of psychic tunings, in the most engaging aspects of our perceptive, emotional, sentimental and affective life, are all yet to be decoded. Perhaps we are just at the dawn of an era of human history in which we will develop an understanding of what William Blake called «the doors of perception». The hypothesis that psychotropic substances have an inhibitory, rather than activating, effect on brain activity has also been advanced, thus allowing what we might define as the conscious spirit to emerge, free from the cage of socio-cultural conditioning contained in the cerebral network. In fact, some of the effects induced by these substances give the clear feeling of a liberation from the body and a direct control of consciousness by an essence that self-defines and self-represents itself as spiritual. Finally, what is most surprising is that the very enigma of our brain contains the key to our deepest experiences, whether we devote ourselves to a long and intense training with one of the disciplines of meditation and mental concentration (yoga, zen, martial arts), or we take psychotropic substances: or that – more simply – we die.
I would also like to point out that, although the social conventions of our culture give the psychonauts a low-value label, even at the limit or outside the boundaries of the law, they should instead be considered as travelers and explorers of the infinite psychic universes to which consciousness can access, especially if we adopt the point of view of freedom of the spirit, which never conforms to the rules and conventions of the dominant culture. In their field of activity, the psychonauts are similar to the oneironauts, which I have been studying for many years.