Restoring My Will to Live

Nancy Solak
Oct 23 · 12 min read

Third Facilitated Psilocybin Trip

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

This past summer, a girlfriend and I (both in our early 70s) participated in a one-week retreat in Jamaica at MycoMeditations. The retreat included three facilitated psilocybin (magic mushroom) trips.

I went because I’ve suffered with depression most of my life. Medication coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy relieved most of my symptoms and has allowed me to live a fairly normal life. The lingering symptom has been that I still didn’t care if I got run over by a truck or not. I knew I didn’t value my life as others valued theirs. My psychiatrist confirmed that this is a sign of depression even when one is functioning well.

Lingering inside me was a wish to find the desire to survive. That’s one of several reasons I went to Jamaica.

My view from the chaise longue (a long reclining chair) on Trip #3

This time the 13 of us participating in the retreat dosed earlier in the day; a couple hours after having a light breakfast. For me, this was ideal since it meant I didn’t have to suffer anticipatory anxiety like on previous days when we didn’t dose until well after lunch.

I took 8 grams.

Within a half hour of dosing I laid down and put my blinders on. I held my arms out from my sides, palms to the sky. My intention was to fearlessly invite whatever wanted to come in to come in. Soon, I felt as though I was embracing the moon. No visions, just off-white, somewhat silvery behind my blinders. The wind was fierce and the fiercer it got, the fiercer I resolved that I could take whatever blew my way.

My mantra became, “Bu yao,” which is Chinese for, “I do not need.” I’d learned this useful phrase the first time I visited China. It comes in handy when salespeople try to sell you something, and it’s also useful when offered cake.

While sitting on the chaise longue, I used my hands and arms, to physically push away something that had not yet revealed itself. Bu yao. I do not need. I started to cry and said, Bu yao. I no longer needed to cry. That was Trip #1 when I sobbed for hours, crying my mother’s tears. The crying stopped.

However, phlegm developed in the back of my throat. With each swallow, I acknowledged a fear from my past: being yelled at, being wrong, feeling embarrassment or shame. Somehow I knew my body was capable of digesting these fears.

The moon returned my embrace and as it did my femaleness swamped my being. Elation filled me as the moon reminded me that I’d not only experienced my own birth but also that of my two children. I was a woman and it felt good to be one.

At this point I wanted to open myself up more. My knees had been bent toward my chest while sitting on the chaise. I slid down to its bottom two-thirds and laid back on the flat part. I wondered, “What should I do with my legs?” They were hanging off the foot of the chaise. I didn’t want to open my legs in sex or birth mode, so I put them into supine cobbler pose. This is a yoga pose where you bend your knees outward on each side and put the soles of your feet together.

Supine Cobbler Pose

The wind continued to blow and I continued to embrace the moon. I enjoyed this for some time — time does not exist when tripping.

In this state, it occurred to me that I think too much; I’m too cerebral and all that thinking has a way of muddling one’s life. I put my hands over my head and pushed against the back cushion of the chair. I was trying to push my brain away. It didn’t want to go — so I pushed harder. Finally, I told it, “No worries. I will remember to invite you back.” My brain yielded.

At the moment of its release, a spot appeared in the middle of my forehead — the spot often referred to as the third eye. The eye of wisdom. The appearance of it jolted me. I’d completely forgotten that it existed.

It presented itself as a baby-blue pearl and moved up to the top of my head where it found a comfortable place in which to nestle. Wow! I thought. It no longer mattered what my body looked like. It no longer mattered that I have a pooched-out belly from bearing children and, perhaps, eating and drinking too much. It no longer mattered that menopause had reshaped the body of my youth. I had something much more valuable than looks. I had wisdom! Wow! Little ol’ me! It was a shocking discovery.

The moonscape was then replaced by green fronds and trees transformed into a forest. The green was dark, the bark of the trees a rich brown with black lines running vertically along their trunks. Suddenly in the crotch of one tree limb I caught a glimpse of an eye. Just one eye. When I looked at another tree, the eye appeared there, in the middle of the trunk. This went on for a while. Wherever I looked, an eye materialized, reappearing in its singularity.

I was conscious of my brain having been sent on vacation. Conscious of the wind swirling around my body. Conscious that earlier I’d set my journal and a pen on the dining room table next to me. Conscious that the facilitator known as the “Water Empress” was coming around to check on me.

When I looked back at the scene before me, the eye in the tree trunk transformed into my late brother, Ed. The tree disappeared and he hovered way above it, in the sky. My mother and father stood on either side of him. I wondered, Is this about you, Mom? I looked at her and she stepped back, fading. Is this about you, Dad? He stepped back, fading. Standing out, front and center between them, was my brother complete with his shit-eating grin. My lips upturned at the sight of him. I recalled his wicked humor, how sly and clever and funny he was.

Ed had died of leukemia in 1983 at age 41, leaving a wife and four young children. In my vision he was at his healthiest — a 20-year-old about to get married to the love of his life, Ronnie.

Having experienced depression since the age of 10, I often wished I’d die sooner rather than later.

Before Ed married, he still lived at home with our nuclear family. He also frequented the lake where our parents were building a cottage. I saw Ed in my mind’s eye. He was kneeling on the roof, shirtless and muscular, nailing down tiles, his hair and body bronzed from the summer sun. He was at his physical best. And, “Oh, Brother!” I said out loud. “Stay there! Don’t go away!” I put my finger up. “Be right back.”

I’d been on that chaise for nearly three hours and had the urge to use the bathroom. But before I could do that I had an even more pressing urge. The urge to write. I felt compelled to write down what I’d experienced so far. I sat up, raised my blindfold a tad and asked Ruthie,* the other facilitator in Coquina, to hand me my pen and journal. I ignored my bursting bladder and wrote furiously, flipping one page after another.

As I wrote, I sobbed with love and gratitude for my brother, six years my elder. He’d paved the way for me my entire life — starting with being the first to beat his way down our mother’s birth canal. Ruthie offered me tissue. Remembering what we’d been told before dosing, I refused. We’d been reminded that this was our last chance of the week — let it go! Let everything go! Contrary to all that was my past, I let go; I let my snot go. I let it run down the front of my black T-shirt and it felt both mortifying and freeing at the same time. At last, many pages later, ready to give up my pen, I was escorted to the bathroom.

Now, four hours into the trip, I drank down a full cup of cool water. Keeping hydrated in Jamaica and while under the influence of mushrooms is vital.

Back to my chaise, I took up the same recumbent position. While placing the blinders back over my eyes, I thought, “Ready for takeoff. I prayed Ed hadn’t left. What was I thinking leaving him?”

My brother’s face reappeared, but he was turning to leave. In our real life as siblings living under the same roof, I often begged him to let me come along with him to wherever he was going. Ed, being six years older and me being a gullible child, he always managed to trick me and slip away. “Look!” he’d cry, pointing. “Look at that bird up there!” I fell for it every time. My brother was dreadfully wicked then and he stayed that way until the day he died. He called me “Little Monster.”

Now, in Jamaica, I feared he was going to leave me behind once again. So this time, I asked him with great hope — because I suffer so much depression here on the earth plane, “Please, puh-lease, can I come with? It’s so painful here.”

He shook his head. “No, Little Monster.” He cocked his head and rightfully observed, “Besides, you’ve always been snotty.” We both laughed at the snot all over my T-shirt. I apologized for having been snotty to him and he shook it off, “You were just a kid.”

Then I asked, “If I can’t come with you now, then when?”

Looking over his shoulder at me, with just one eye showing, he said, “Not for a long time.” And I thought, wow! I’m 71 now and I guess that means I’m going to live a long life. It surprised me that I felt relieved by this information because, being depressed, I often wished I’d die sooner rather than later. But then, he raised his index finger, “OR,” he said in a louder voice and with his crooked smile, “It could be tomorrow!” My heart clenched. “Really? I could die tomorrow? Oh, you are so mean, Brother!”

He turned to go, then changed his mind. Like the detective Colombo. “Oh, and one more thing,” he said. I waited expectantly. “There is nothing to fear.”

“What?” I had to shake my head. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard right.

“You heard me. You have nothing to fear.”

Nothing? I have nothing to fear?” I asked.

“I always have my eye on you. That does not mean that nothing you consider bad will happen, but you must remember, you never need to have fear.” He winked, and this time when he turned away, he faded into the shadows. That eye. His eye. How fascinating.

I returned to my mantra, bu yao. I do not need. But it wasn’t working anymore. Now I saw that I DO need things. I DO need all this air that’s pouring over me. I DO need the other participants on this trip. I DO need food. I DO need love. I DO need to write (thank you WORDS — I love you!), and I DO need beauty in my life. I DO need my wonderful husband, children and grandchildren. I understood that I needed these things because I was no longer going to fear being alive. Whether it be a long or short life, I had been freed to live!

Continuing on my trip, pondering whether I was going to live a long life or die later in the day, I recalled a scene from my childhood. I was 14 and my brother was 20. He still lived in our childhood home, both our bedrooms on the second floor. As most every eighth grader of the day, I had an autograph book and wanted Ed to sign it. He was in his room, probably dreaming of getting married the following year on his 21st birthday. Sitting on his bed, I asked him to sign the autograph book and held it out to him. He took it and the pen. He wrote something, then drew an eye. When he returned the book to me, he said, “Big Brother is watching!”

Actual autograph Ed wrote circa 1961. Had to go into the crawl space to my memory box to find it.

Despite lying on the chaise, when the meaning of this foretelling came to me, I nearly fainted. I am safe! I am safe! I do not need fear anymore, except, of course, for real ones. I wept in gratitude.

The wind had become stronger and I reveled in it and its possible danger. It felt so fierce I wouldn’t have been surprised if the roof had been torn off Coquina. I expected dark thunderheads crossing the sky, heading for the house. In my newfound freedom I ripped off the blinders while I sat up and looked outside. It was as sunny a day as one could imagine. Not a cloud. But the wind. The wind continued to whip through the house, rattling its shutters and, I felt, even its foundation. All the wind was real. And the rest . . .?

I rose and filled myself with water, then as I went to sit next to my girlfriend who was seated in a reclining chair nearby, I took in her beauty. She was still inside her trip. Sitting on the marble floor next to her, I faced the ocean and savored its beauty. Tears streamed down my face. When she awakened and saw me, she pulled me toward her and said, “I love you.” And I told her I loved her too. We sat in silence.

An hour or so later, we were called to meet as a group where each of us told a bit of how our trip went. I wore my snot-filled T-shirt as a badge of honor. While pulling my shirt taut, I told Eric, the founder and head facilitator of MycoMeditations, “See! I let go! I snotted myself.” His smile conveyed his happiness for me. When I showed the others, they laughed and gave me a thumbs up.

As we went around the circle, I kept thinking how much I yearned to get into the ocean, something I hadn’t dared do all week. But after we bore witness to each other’s stories, dinner awaited and I knew that if I did not eat right away, it would all be gone. My stomach felt hollow. It was nearly 6 p.m. and all I’d eaten since awakening was a light breakfast.

I ate quickly and soon after, I lifted the latch on the gate that separated the property from the beach and the ocean. I still wore the clothes I’d put on that morning. Sweaty, dirty and snotty, I stepped down a few cement stairs to the beach. The sand had cooled in the early evening. At water’s edge, I watched the waves pound the shore. I said to myself, “I acknowledge you, fear.” To the ocean, I said, “I know your power is something to be feared.” So, I took my time. I studied how the waves crashed, just like one watches for the jump rope to come around, and then when it’s safe, you jump in. At just the right moment I waded past the heavy-duty surf, hurrying as best as I could before it could knock me down. I continued to walk through the water that came chest high more quickly than I anticipated. The waves, now gray, swelled around me. Without fear, I laid back, allowing the ocean to catch me. Such a gentle landing. The water encircled my body and scalp in the most delicious way.

Then I looked up and right above me, I saw the moon.

End Note: Today, months after this trip, I continue to have many issues, including ones dealing with relationships and impatience, and yes, I still have fear. And though the hard edges of my fear have softened, what has been strengthened is my will to live.

*Name changed to protect privacy

Nancy Solak

Written by

born tricked out with anxiety, a reluctant traveler (www.areluctanttraveler.net), writer of travel memoir, facilitates writing workshops, loves hearing stories

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