Citation: Pharmakos. "The Shadow: An Experience with LSD (exp108316)". Erowid.org. Sep 29, 2017. erowid.org/exp/108316
||(blotter / tab)
I will say, first of all, this is an unusual trip report, as far as I can judge. As a first time experience, I did not approach it with anything other than my native curiosity. I did not prepare and was moreover quite radically unprepared, and the character of the trip was in any case overwhelmingly solipsistic and internal; as such I have included only scant details of set or setting and focused instead on the purely subjective. I did this because I felt this experience might have value for someone and I hope, with it, to help them understand something which perhaps they did not understand before, and which I am still trying to understand myself. What follows is as true a record as I can render of the most important thing that ever happened to me.
Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. By that logic, until LSD, I was barely alive - more of a somnambule going through the motions of sentience without training even a fragment of that light, that curious beam of consciousness, on myself. The first time - four tabs, alone at night - was one of the most intense and transformative experiences of my life.
It began innocently enough: giggles walking home after holding the moist blotter under my tongue (as instructed) some 30 minutes before. Giggles and a slight, barely perceptible shift in the look and feel of things.
The first alarm was looking, after getting home, at a poster on my wall. It was moving.
After that, it all started to go wrong. Fear, panic overtook me. The walls my fragile little ego had built to shield it from everything else in my psyche melted under waves of neurochemistry like so much sand. All my fears and anxieties marshalled their forces and gathered menacingly at the borders. I lay down in bed, paralysed by the sheer force, the strangeness of it. Nothing can prepare you for how unutterably weird the psychedelic experience really is. It is quite literally ineffable, beyond any words, which is probably why psychedelic cliches are so common. It is easier to translate that weirdness into readymade sets of images and concepts, agreed upon by generations of trippers, than to attempt to set down your actual experience itself. Indeed, one of the chief values of LSD is its ability to reveal the staggering limitations of language to capture the quiddity, the whatness of life. (You may notice a great deal of this is going to be me saying how hard something is to describe. I know its a cop out. I’m trying my best.)
So there I am, lying in bed clutching at the duvet like a child frightened of the monster beneath.
Then, something happens. I step outside my thoughts, and the panic slowly engulfing them, and observe the whole show from outside. I find there is a part of me which is unaffected, which can look on dispassionately and simply analyse, record and consider this fear. I inhabit this mental space. I take all the fearful thoughts clamouring for attention and, one by one, turn them over in my hand like curious minerals. I realise that their clamour is the desperate clamour of an ego utterly petrified of itself - of itself! Not of anything, but of itself alone! The fears are my own creation.
I wonder if I could remove them, but I find them oddly permanent. I initially think that perhaps I am not trying hard enough, or that I need more of the drug, but those thoughts immediately seem absurd. The fears are as much a part of me as anything else.
That was the revelation that shook me. My fears weren’t bad, evil, to be eradicated.
That was the revelation that shook me. My fears weren’t bad, evil, to be eradicated.
They were useful, the result of aeons of evolution, preening the response of the organism to an environment which included potential threats. Except that in our modern environment, which decidedly does not contain leopards, tigers and the perpetual possibility of imminent death, the fear-response, having nothing to do, was latching onto all sorts of mundane pseudo-problems in an effort to do its job properly.
All these fears, then, had a common root. I tried to get to it, working my way down branched trees of concepts, looking for the source, the fear-response itself, the motive engine of anxiety.
This seemed to take a long time, but at some point, I had what I would… hesitate… to call a vision, were it not so decidedly mystic in character. It was not a sight, or even a hallucination (anybody familiar with psychedelics knows they are not true hallucinogenics, you don’t really see things that aren’t there), it was something like an idea. I cannot explain in what sense I “saw” it, but this was indisputably so. It appeared to my mind, or my mind’s eye, with the perfect clarity of a real thing, only, somehow, even more real, even more substantial.
It was a spider, or something like a spider-shape. My eyes were closed at this point, but I “saw” it on my chest. It was so unspeakably horrifying I can scarcely convey the aura of pure, primal terror that surrounded it. Gradually, slowly, it crawled from my solar plexus toward my neck. I was frozen to the spot, and wanted desperately to open my eyes, run from the room and into a cold shower and the bright light of morning and normalcy, but some part of me knew I absolutely must not do this. I also knew that I still had that part of me, the unaffected, observing part, which I could switch on if I needed to, but I felt like this experience needed to be lived through in its full potency. In order to understand this thing, I needed to feel it.
Time by this stage is a myth, a rumour. Hours or minutes could have elapsed in the “creature’s” apparently interminable journey. For all I knew, I had been there for days.
Then it crawled down my throat.
I will pause for a moment here. I want you to read that sentence again. I want to convey something of the revulsion I felt in this moment. Not just fear, but revulsion. I was utterly disgusted by this thing, it was worthless, vile, contemptible, lickspittle, turncoat, coward, traitor. And as it slid and wiggled down my throat and into my stomach, I realised that, above all, I pitied it.
This poor thing! I thought. Its entire existence given over solely to that which is beneath contempt, that which is horrid and hateful and loathsome and shameful! I was overwhelmed by the most unbelievable feeling of compassion and love for this thing, and I cried, I actually cried for it. I wanted to take it into my arms, hold it, tell it there was nothing to be afraid of, because above all, it was afraid, not me. I wanted to help it, and as I felt this, it moved from my stomach, passed through me and settled on my skin, and I realised it was no longer a spider. The spider-form had vanished. What was left was a tiny frightened, cowering child. It was me.
In this moment, the pure, rapturous love and awe that swept through me was greater than anything, any emotion I had ever felt. I had glimpsed, I realised, a fraction of this light on MDMA, but that was like a candle compared to the sun I was feeling now. It encompassed everything, enveloped everything, illuminated and occluded in the same gesture. I opened my eyes for the first time since what felt like a very long time, but the feeling did not abate. The sun was rising. I opened the curtains. The world outside leapt out at me like a thousand friendly handshakes. I felt so, so alive, and I knew then I had gone through the most important experience of my life.
It took me a long time afterward to process all this, to reintegrate it into my everyday life. I think in many ways I still am. But this experience was the catalyst, the hinge around which my whole world turned. I read a lot since, looking to make sense of the experience. Psychoanalysis, mysticism, religion, philosophy, neuroscience, biology… I know now that what I saw is what Jung called the Shadow. The part of us that is always watching, ready to do literally anything to protect itself. It is, by its nature, a coward, which is why it is so revolting, why it assumed the guise of a creature that frightened me (curiously, I am no longer wary of spiders). I saw how this thing was the root of conditions like PTSD, and more than anything else, I saw that everybody keeps this thing, this fearful infant dressed up like a horror, deep inside of them. You begin to see, when you realise this, how often people behave in accordance with its secret edicts, how often we appease the Shadow at the expense of those around us; and when you realise that, it becomes a lot harder to hate or judge anyone.
I still do, of course, and more often than I’d like. Just knowing this thing is there doesn’t always loosen its hold on you. But you also realise that it is a thing of phenomenal, unstoppable power. In life-or-death situations, it keeps people fighting long after they thought they had no fight left. It cannot, and should not, be got rid of, but tamed (or at least half-tamed), and put to work for you, not against you.
Achieving this is a long, difficult road, and one I suspect few people (sadly) ever even begin to walk. I am gradually realising that I will be walking it for the rest of my life, but maybe the goal isn’t as important as the journey. Maybe the point is just to walk.
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