How long will I slide?
Separate my side, I don’t —
I don’t believe it’s bad.
Slit my throat,
It’s all I’ve ever had.
Wednesday, January 4th, 2023–7:04 am
With no one else around for miles, the only sounds were the murmur of the water and the classical music permeating through the air and bouncing off the hills across the river.
I wish I’d asked what was playing. It would be cool to know if the soundtrack to my voyage had been, say, Wagner or Vivaldi, but I really couldn’t tell you except that it was classical. I was too scared to think about it.
Actually, I was terrified.
“Yo se. Puedo verlo en tu cara. Relájate, respira, confía en la medicina — todo va a estar bien.”
“Okay — listo?”
Those were the last words I heard as the two of them closed in on me. Mayela gave my back a reassuring stroke as Xavi positioned himself to my right, slightly bent at the knees. I heard the rush of butane and watched the tip of the vaporizer burst into a thin, piercing blue flame.
I’d come too far to back out now.
Fuck it, I said to myself.
If I die, I die.
Wednesday, January 4th, 2023–5:05 am
I checked my watch before tossing around the bed for the umpteenth time. I had 25 minutes before my alarm went off, but trying to get more sleep was no use. I was wide awake.
They’d be there to pick me up at six, so I had some time to kill. I got up, considered a cold shower, decided against it, dressed, then packed a bag. I remember staring at myself in the mirror for a long time, consumed with emotions. So many thoughts about so many things, coming from every direction. It was overwhelming. At one point, I picked up a banana and stared at it, but a vision of me vomiting it out made me put it down and decide to go on an empty stomach.
They arrived just after six, Mayela and Xavi. I’d only met them yesterday. And briefly. But I’d chosen to trust them. Why not? I had to trust someone.
I jumped into the car, and after a curt greeting, we were off. The drive was about half an hour through the hills and farmlands of southern Oaxaca, eventually leading to a dirt and gravel road enclosed by overgrown trees.
The ride to the river felt surreal. We drove in complete silence as the silhouettes of the surroundings began to appear in the dawn’s early light. I stared ahead at the two strangers sitting in the front as the car bumped and twisted along the road.
What am I doing here? This doesn’t exactly feel safe. Is it too late to back out? I don’t even know these people or where they’re taking me! Why are we going so far? Couldn’t we have just done this back at their place? What’s going to happen to me? Will my ego vanish? Will I be shot off into hyperspace? Will I encounter astral entities? Am I ready to discover what it’s like to have a near-death experience? What if it’s not near-death, and just death?
Did I mention I was nervous?
After we stopped, I hopped out and followed as Mayela and Xavi made their way through some bushes and tall grass.
“Cuídate con las plantas, no las deja tocarte.”
After an obstacle course through a small field of poison ivy and short hike down a shallow, sandy escarpment, we arrived at ‘the spot’, on the sand by a mellow river. The east bank rose with mountains, and the west bank, where we were, was covered in rough sand, rocks, bushes, and broken trees. I wish I’d taken photographs, but I was too nervous to think, teetering on the fight-or-flight see-saw.
Mayela told me to take it easy while they set up. The sun hadn’t quite peeked over the adjacent mountains, but the sky had already become a clear, cloudless blue.
Xavi spent some time clearing the debris while Mayela laid out a square white sheet and lit four heavy candles to punctuate each corner. She took out a speaker, a pretty big one, and began playing classical music. Then she drew a pentagram inscribed in a circle (a pentacle) on the sand and explained the symbol’s significance in mysticism.
I was barely paying attention. From the corner if my eye, I watched Xavi pull out a torch vaporizer and a couple of bubble pipes from his pouch and set them down on the blanket. Okay fine. Let’s call them what they were, crack pipes.
Mayela then taught me a few simple movements, and the two of them chanted for a minute while performing some yoga-like movements. My mind was reeling. I kept stealing glances at those pipes below, feeling the intensity inside my body and mind. An intensity of equal measure anticipation, worry, curiosity, and fear.
They gave me a few instructions, explaining that I’d first have a microdose to gauge my response — which made me feel slightly better. They also said that it’s best to smoke the vapor standing up to fill your lungs, and that they’d help me to the ground once I leave my body.
It’s a weird thing to hear someone tell you that in a moment, you’re going to leave your body. I mean, I’d read and read and read that that would happen. But actually being on the verge of it happening, well, suffice it to say, it caused more anxiety than exhilaration.
Xavi sparked the torch and began vaporizing the cloudy, yellowish shards in the pipe. This was the microdose. I inhaled, held it in for a few seconds, and let it out.
I felt it instantly. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. My vision and the surroundings became sharp. I got a tingly feeling — but that’s about it. It wasn’t much. A wave of energy. Nothing psychedelic. A microdose.
Xavi put down the first pipe and picked up the second, already loaded with the full dose.
I was scared.
Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023–7:05 am
I’d just passed the eleven-hour mark on the overnight bus from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido.
It had been a comfortable journey, but an altogether tense and uncomfortable ride. One week prior, I’d decided to make the excursion to the popular surf town in Mexico to meet two shamans who would guide me through my first DMT ceremony.
I was a senior in college when I first learned about Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. I’d just read the book — among a series of others in the same vein — DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Dr. Rick Strassman, and the experience, the molecule, the explanations and extrapolations, they all stretched my mind to levels it wasn’t yet ready to stretch. I decided I wanted to try it.
Not right then. It was a little too scary still. But soon.
I won’t bore you with the details, but ‘soon’ turned out to be nineteen years later, after I met an Egyptian flower practitioner who’d come to Mexico from Cairo (after a one-year stint in Peru) in search of exploring plant medicines. She told me about the shamans, that they had a lot of respect for the plants, and how they cared primarily about sharing the benefits of plant medicine with the world. They didn’t charge for the ceremonies, but accepted donations.
So there I was, on the overnight bus, watching this video of Mike Tyson describing his experience, deciphering this personal account of someone’s trip, and reading this reseach article about the strong correlation between DMT and the near-death experience.
These are just a few examples among many. Perhaps the most ubiquitous takeaway from my research was what happens on DMT is extremely difficult to explain or put into words. Pardon me for pilfering the line but, according to those who have done it, you can’t be told what it’s like to do DMT.
You have to do it for yourself.
Colour me curious. As someone who considers himself above-average with articulation, I saw it as a challenge. I wouldn’t be able to describe it perfectly, but surely, I could get close. I would use my words, damn it!
After arriving in hot, humid Puerto Escondido, I checked into the hotel, had some waffles, and made my way to where Mayela and Xavi ran a small, sustainable eco-hostel. I first met Mayela, who began to explain some of the broad strokes of what they do and asked some questions. Then Xavi came and went deeper into the spiritual and medicinal side of things.
I had, starting with that first book two decades ago, read hundreds of pages and watched dozens of interviews about DMT by experts and people describing first-hand accounts. Somehow, it felt like I knew more about the drug than they did. But then again, to them, it wasn’t a drug at all. It was medicine.
We talked for about 30 minutes or so. They said that the earlier in the day it happens, the better it will be, and suggested picking me up at 6 am the following morning and taking me to a particular spot by the water that they used for their ceremonies.
Mayela then left to tend to something, I shook Xavi’s hand, gave him the address to my hotel, and that was that.
Wednesday, January 4th, 2023–7:05 am
Alas, I didn’t break through.
I was close, but ultimately I fell short, held back by the fear that had built up over the hours and days (and years!) leading up to that moment.
They’d advised me to trust the medicine, take as big a hit as possible, and hold it for as long as I could — at least ten seconds. I did no such thing. I was too scared. Shaking with fear, I took a medium hit, but after about three seconds of holding it in, it started to happen, and I must have vacated my lungs after about five seconds.
It happened fast. As in, really fucking quickly. Instantly, actually. In about two seconds, I lost control of my body, but not in a way that made me fall, more like I could no longer sense or feel that I had one. Kind of like I was floating.
It’s extremely difficult to explain. All those motherfuckers in the videos and articles were all right. Sure, I can use buzzwords and expressions like “ego-death” and “out-of-body-experience,” “oneness,” “connectedness,” and all that esoteric jargon — but the truth of it is — it’s impossible to explain the feeling. You’re there, but you’re not; you can feel and think and reason, but you also can’t.You can’t really move, but you also can.
It was truly fucking ineffable.
A few seconds later, I saw it. A single, black, oval-shaped hole in the sky. It first appeared as a tiny line, like a small slit in a piece of fabric, then the sides expanded and opened to reveal a pitch-black centre. It remained open for a brief moment before closing and disappearing from view.
Right then, I knew that I hadn’t broken through and was on my way back. No traveling through hyperspace for me. No machine elves. No tête-à-tête with inter-dimensional beings. Not this time.
I was certain that that slit, hole, portal, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it, would have been what I’d jettison through had I followed their directions and taken the maximum dose.
It took another minute, maybe two, before I could use my mouth and basic motor functions. I sat up from the lying position and contemplated what had just happened. Another minute or two, and I stood up. It took several more minutes for the waves of energy to subside, but the journey was well over.
Time was, of course, majorly dilated. But if I had to guess, I’d say the climax lasted approximately 60–90 seconds. The journey itself? Perhaps five minutes. The entire experience was over — I was back to baseline sobriety — in around 35 minutes.
Life, at its very purest. That’s what it felt like. Unbridled purity.
I’m proud of myself for finally having taken the plunge. In the future, I hope to fully open the door for myself, so I will know what is.
I look forward to breaking through to the other side.