If you follow this blog (and again, why the hell would you?) you know that I went on a trip to a country where hallucinogens are readily available to do a little mind expansion retreat. Here is what I learned.
My destination for this trip was South East Asia.
Usually, for me, trips* of this nature are reaffirming, and I needed that. However, this trip went real dark real fast. Rather than the usual crazy, winding, introspective road leading to a cosmic billboard reading, “It’s all good!”, this one had a harshly unavoidable truth in it. It was this: “You’re going to die.” And it would not go away. All roads led to mortality. All trains of thought went directly to the ultimate terminal. And then I felt what it was to do just that. I felt terror. I mean real, heart-stopping terror. Terror to the point that I went straight through denial and anger and got right to the bargaining, thinking to whatever was pulling on my mind, “oh shit, no! Not now! Not yet! I’m not done!”
With what, exactly? What the fuck are you doing to warrant a reprieve?
“No no no no no not now! I can change!”
Change? How many times have you said that before? And you’re how old now? No, now. Die.
And so on. Fucking horrifying. I felt my consciousness separating from my physical form and I was actually thinking “Is this it? Am I dying?” I had to get out of there and reaffirm my connection to this world. I went for a walk. Usually when tripping this hard, I avoid people. Now I wanted as many living forces around me as possible, but the streets of VangVieng are all the same when in that condition.
Soon, I was down by the river and trying to find a bridge I had crossed the night before. I was looking to go over to the island and find a crowd of people. The night before the island had been hopping, with locals and tourists launching little tea-candle lanterns into the night sky. Tonight, however, I found a dark bridge with no one around, dark stairs leading down to it from the road. No lights at all. Just a rickety old wooden bridge over a tributary of the Mekong, an area that did not seem like it was meant for the tourist crowd. And now the auditory hallucinations were strong. They had been there all night (I could hear music and voices off in the distance, but could not figure out if they were actually there or if they were echoes of sounds from earlier). Now I could hear people crying. I walked past a sobbing girl pleading with me to help her find her sister, if she could just get back with her sister, she would be okay, but her sister, I thought, had escorted her body back home six years prior, and then there was just an old tree trunk where the sobbing girl had been, her hair and clothes just reeds and leaves, but I could still hear sobbing, “I want to go home!”, and I couldn’t figure out if that was my thoughts or actually someone’s voice echoing from some bungalow or campfire somewhere.
All of this probably came from someone telling me earlier that the local Laotians don’t go to the river anymore because they believe there are too many lost souls there now from backpackers who have died. Laos has a high fatality rate for backpackers. (A guy I used to see around Seoul died there a few years ago. Got hit by a car on a dark rural road.) Zip-line accidents, alcohol poisoning, drunkenly slipping on rocks as they wandered up river trying to make their way back to their hotels after dark, and just good ol’ fashioned drowning while inner-tubing on the river, hitting each of the river bars as they floated by. Today, most of those river bars have been closed and the zip-lines taken down due to the frequent fatalities. They were so frequent that to protect the tourism industry, some bodies were quietly shipped back to the capital city of Vientiane and “discovered” dead of random/natural causes in a hostel. What was I, should my heart just give out, but a statistic? It was truly terrifying, and my attempts at bartering only seemed to prove that I deserved such an end. It seemed I was losing my case, arguing to stay alive when that was not going to be an option.
I got out of the dark jungle, off the dark, rickety bridge, and wandered back toward the street lights, and found I was a few blocks from my bungalow. I needed to get inside before something killed me. I needed to lie down and try to calm myself or I might really have had a fatal heart attack. I got back to the bungalow but couldn’t bring myself to go back inside. It felt like a tomb there, so I sat on the deck and checked my cell phone and all I could find was articles about global warming, specifically one about the crazy-ass bat-killing heat wave in Australia and how scientists say this is just the beginning, and it is happening much faster than anticipated. This shit IS real. The media isn’t talking about it for obvious reasons, but we have passed the point of no return and our environment is beginning to collapse. There is no stopping it. I don’t mean to sound like a paranoid doomsayer, but I have to because it needs to be said: I am dying, but so is everything else. I am part of a dying system.
Scientifically speaking – let that sink in and check it if you doubt me – SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING, we have another ten years, maybe twenty (but those extra ten years will be a survival nightmare). It is all collapsing. The earth’s vital organs are already shutting down. That’s what I tapped into. I will be dead in ten years. We have all seen the doctor, and we have all gotten the bad news, and we have even gone for the obligatory second opinion, and the news is always the same aside from the quacks who say “You’ll live forever if you drink Doc Miracle’s Super-Juice Elixir!” That’s the oil companies and other industries, and those rich motherfuckers are already preparing to try to survive the impending collapse, but they won’t. Not unless they have figured out warp technology and have found another earth-like exoplanet they can inhabit and pollute. And then I started thinking, “Is this what they do? These inhuman elites? Just move from planet to planet like a cancer, sucking up resources and getting stronger? Is this what happened to Mars? Because damn sure in about 500 years, Earth is gonna look like Mars.” And I started researching it a bit more and THERE IS NO FUCKING DOUBT. We have gone past Malcolm Gladwell’s tipping point and we are in a free-fall to extinction and NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT IT. Wisely so, I must admit. We gave ourselves this cancer, but understandably, we don’t want to talk about it. Many (most?) of us are still in the denial phase.
I had been reading up on transhumanism recently, and that idea had me excited. It seemed our technology was about to provide us with the literal “eternal life” that religions have been promising us for centuries and failing to deliver. Nope. We’ll be dead before we can achieve those lofty ambitions. And we were so damn close! Technically, some biologists have already started classifying humans as cyborgs, due to the ever-present super computer practically fused into our hands – devices without which many claim they cannot fully function. Sounds like a cyber-organism to me, sure. Guy McPherson’s wacky claims are now quietly (as far as the mainstream media is concerned) being espoused by top scientists: We are out of time. Ten years is all the “normal” life we have left here. We are witnessing the end right now, and it will only get exponentially worse in the next two or three years.
And that is no “What if…?” scenario. It simply is.
Since I had my little cardio adventure, I have not been able to shake the feeling that death is now a constant companion, and in my altered states over the past few days, I felt his presence very acutely, as if he were a physical form following me everywhere, tugging at my arm and saying, “No, not just a sec, now!” And I talked with death. I felt myself dying, and I feel like I know what to expect. And it is fucking terrifying. I can’t sugarcoat it. People never like to actually connect the inevitable reality of death with their conscious reality. It is the greatest achievement of cognitive dissonance we have accomplished as a species. However, it has hit me. I have no more cognitive dissonance now. I know I am dying. Let me try to tell you what that moment was like.
I was sitting in my “meditation unit” – a very nice bungalow furnished with a comfy bed and a clean bathroom. No TV, no refrigerator, no desk, just plain white walls, one of which was just a huge sliding glass door, and we were supposed to remain in our private little mental cocoons and deal with our own shit in silence.
And as my mind wandered past the usual trippy jokes and wordplay, it wandered straight toward that dark corner, the deepest recess, where mortality sits, just waiting. I have an analogy for it, but I want to try to describe it as it happened in my head first because the analogy has the twist at the end. You’ll see… wait.
As my mind met mortality and became aware that death was not an abstract concept but a real event that was really about to happen, I thought about my parents and how they had died. Did they feel afraid? My father had just clutched his chest (or so I was later told, being eleven at the time) and said “My heart!” before being rushed to a crappy hospital and dying on a crash cart. My mother, God bless her loving soul, went in a morphine-induced sleep, but she knew as she drifted off, and I sat there by her bedside crying like an infant as I held her hand, that she wasn’t going to be waking up. What went through their minds? Rather, what did their minds go through? I thought about the last words of Anton LaVey, High Priest of the Church of Satan, whose last words were “Oh no… Oh NO, this isn’t right!” and the last words of Steve Jobs who said simply, “Oh wow… oh wow….” As the brain dies, what then? Well…
My mind separated from my physical form and I felt an actual out-of-body sensation. I wasn’t floating above my bed looking down at myself, I wasn’t drifting through walls and seeing angels, I was just disconnected. I felt myself being pulled away and yet I wasn’t moving in my mind. I was moving into something separate, and I panicked. That’s when I started with the bartering. I felt like I was being pulled down into a river and was struggling to get back into my boat. Yet “down” is not a good choice of words because there was no feeling of directional movement, just a separation as if I was moving away from everything that mattered to me – or it was moving away from me – and it only mattered because I knew it was happening. I knew it was going away forever, that I was going forever, and I wasn’t ready to go. And you never are. Nothing about this separation felt familiar, so I fought it. I believed that if I kept fading, my body would shut down, like a car without oil, and I would be detached forever, and I would be dead there in a bungalow in Laos. And my first thought was, “I need to erase my browser history!” And then I felt an overwhelming sense of unfinished shit – things I just couldn’t let go. And that’s why I think some consciousnesses may linger as ghosts, they get to that point, their body dies, and they think, “No, wait! I wasn’t done!!!”and they can’t get back in, and they just can’t let it all go. I always thought that at that point, I’d be like, “Meh, fuck it, that’s not me anymore, I don’t even know that guy. What do I care what kinds of porn he’s been looking at? A lot?” But at that moment it all became intensely important, and it mushroomed from something as mundane as a browser history to what would be left of the people to whom I had been close. I wanted to see my sister and my friends again. I didn’t want to be discovered, some fat, bloated, middle-aged man whose bad heart couldn’t take any more, lying dead in a soiled bed, by the cleaning lady.
Your whole life, no matter how blasé and mundane it may seem, suddenly becomes SO fucking important. So important you just can’t leave it behind, you cling to it like a life raft in a tempest. But you just can’t, you just keep pulling further away, and that’s when the terror hits you. And it is sheer. Sheer, immobilizing terror. I think even the terminally ill must keep this moment in their minds as a mere “possibility” until it actually hits, and when it does, it is terrifying.
And then it’s not. That’s just it. You’re gone. In retrospect, it all happens very fast. Now my analogy was this: Imagine you had a sadistic father who wanted to teach you how to swim. So he says to you, “Tomorrow, I’m taking you to the pool, and I’m dragging you up onto the high dive, and I am throwing you into the deep water below. So think about that. Good night!” And that’s it, it’s unavoidable. You know it’s coming, because your dad is a man of his convictions, and you know you are powerless to prevent it. And it’s not like he said, “We’ll do it when you’re 90!” No. It’s tomorrow. Sun-up, and into the drink you go, like it or no. So all you can do is dread it. And the next day, sure as shit, like the condemned prisoner that you are, dad grabs your little 5-year-old butt and drags you up onto that diving platform. And then it is too real, because you aren’t imagining it anymore, you are there. You can see the water below, smell the chlorine wafting up, feel the gravity on the wind… and you kick and struggle, but you just keep moving closer to the edge and then he tosses you, you are weightless, falling, your stomach goes up into your heart and you feel that sheer terror I mentioned.
And then you go under, pop back up like a cork, and you and your dad have a splash fight. And that was it.
So that is dying. SHEER FUCKING TERROR… for a bit. Then once again, it’s all good.
But there is still that sheer terror in there, and that is no small pill to swallow, even for a few moments.
But then, yeah, it’s all good. (And here’s a thing: I think we have all done it before, perhaps a lot, but we repress terrifying experiences.)
It was at this point that I had to go for that walk, and I felt like there were dead people all around me. And then I did the internet thing when I got back and realized, Oh shit, we’re all gonna die, and this, too, is not hypothetical. Tomorrow. Dad is throwing us off the high dive tomorrow.
I mulled this over and over as one does in such a state until I finally fell asleep, had some crazy dreams I can’t remember, and woke up singing Tom Lehrer’s “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.”
And so after all of that, I found myself back at the same conclusion I always ended on after such trips: “There’s nothing I can do, so I may as well do what I want.” It was like God said, “YOU again? How many times do I have to tell you? This is all that’s left, this is DEATH. There’s nothing more I can tell you at this point. Stop coming back with your head full of hallucinogens looking for more answers. You want to know what’s happening? You’re gonna to die soon. Does that satisfy your curiosity?”
Now some will say I am being unrealistically negative and hyperbolic. These are people still in the throes of cognitive dissonance. I do not have that anymore. You never realize what a fundamental part of human thinking that cognitive dissonance is, then it gets pulled like a lynch pin and everything falls together. I saw it, I felt it, I know it. It’s not opinion anymore, it is scientifically proven, tested, fact. The Pacific Ocean is all but dead. The Gulf of Mexico is dead and decaying. Potable water is vanishing and the EPA just recently said, “Fuck it, we’re not gonna regulate whatever industrial wastes that get dumped into the water supply anymore.” The icecaps are nearly gone and whatever untapped methane and/or prehistoric viruses are buried in the permafrost are a year or two away from rising up like the vengeful ghosts of the murdered and killing at least 1/3 of us. And not pleasantly. Suffocation is the cause of death there, either from methane or from snot clogging your sinuses and your throat swelling up. Then, in those moments, you will feel that terror I mentioned.
The media is generally silent to avoid panic and chaos, and the power elite let everything go to hell in order to make the last cash grab they can in some wacky scheme to try to save themselves. (See earlier comments about warp drives and exoplanets. Some of these assholes are building luxury bunkers in New Zealand or some shit.) If the cooling tower at Fukushima falls, that will start a nuclear fire that will produce enough radiation to kill everything in the northern hemisphere, but that’s just one of the inevitable scenarios we face as a species. Take your pick from the list above, or research the topic and find more. And who’s in positions of power to save us? The greedy, narcissistic assholes that have been making mad profits off of our destructive behavior in the first place.
Ten more years. We are already seeing massive die-offs. I’m not saying this as an alarmist, I’m not trying to create scary click bait or be a “bummer” as the kids say. I am just stating a fucking FACT.
Perhaps I am one of the early ones to break through the cognitive dissonance and see this coming like an asteroid visible to the naked eye. Maybe everyone has been aware of it but is just not talking about it, and I am here like the slow kid who finally gets the joke and laughs awkwardly ten minutes after the conversation has moved on. I don’t know.
Still, that’s what I got from this trip: In ten years, I will be dead. So will most everything else on this planet. Whatever is not dead will be dying. The earth will recover, but we will not be here. The only record of our existence will be a puzzling layer of petroleum plastics somewhere in the geologic record.
I feel like I am not selling the gravity of what this realization has done to my mind. I guess I just can’t. Until you break the cognitive dissonance program, it’s just “Meh, it sure looks like it’s happening, but who really knows?”
We know. I am going to die, probably from heat stroke, dehydration, heart attack, suffocation, or some combination therein. And it will happen before 2030. I can see the end of my life. I can feel it. That’s never going to go away until I go away. Everyone else will, too. My sister, her children, everyone. I feel fucking horrible for the children. They didn’t even have a good run yet. We screwed the shit out of them. And I just realized that is a very poor choice of words, but… yeah, we did. Each generation slowly killing the future of the next, and now here we are and they have no time at all.
The earth has had enough. We are out of time. That’s it. We truly were a shit disaster of a species. If you know me, you know I think aliens spiked our DNA back in our earliest days, and gave us this fever and nature is taking care of us like a hit man takes care of a snitch. We are the abomination, and nature is eradicating us so it can go back to doing what it is supposed to do without crazy alien monkey hybrids fucking up the ecosystem. I tried to write something when I started my trip, and this is what I wrote (it sucks, but it gets this idea across):
There used to be tigers, but the hungry apes hunted them to extinction. The hungry apes ate everything, and they made terrible machines and fed them the earth. And the hungry apes and their machines devoured the natural world. They weren’t always like this. They used to be like all other life here, but one day sky creatures came and they put a spirit into these apes and made them ravenous. Now they are always wanting more, never sated by what they have, and they grow in number with each passing year, just eating and making more hungry apes.
And then I cut to the ending:
Alright, that’s a wrap. Scrap it. Thank you, everybody! … OK, let’s go again, this time with the bees. They looked pretty cool, right?
Aliens or no, we went off the rails and nature is making the correction. Nature is us, and we are the correction that will get rid of us, isn’t that fitting? That’s how nature works. Fucking flawless. In a few millennia, life will come back, and perhaps even we will reincarnate as something living here again. Or we just dissipate into the ether, never to think another thought. No identity, no sense of awareness, nothing.
Sheer terror. Then it’s all good again. It’s just over.
Afterthought: When my grandfather got up there in years and he was basically a pacemaker-powered humanoid, he had Alzheimer’s pretty bad. I referred to him as a “world-walker” because he seemed to be navigating his way between this world and the next. I think now I am feeling the same discombobulation. The veil is torn. He was a happy, gregarious fellow, so like him, I do not want to end this on a dark note, so I will end it with a lyric made famous by one of my favorite bands:
Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. — The Grateful Dead
See you on the other side, Ray. — Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters
If you are having trouble coping with our impending demise, here is a tutorial I wrote waaaay back when I began this blog. Maybe it will lighten the mood. Otherwise, here is a recent report all about the impending death of our species called “Deep Adaptation.” Check it out.
*Trips: Organic hallucinogens, which is a risky endeavor in Laos, as they have the death penalty. Perhaps this is where my focus on death really came from?