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Windowpane to the Soul
with Drugs of Boom
by Jon Hanna
Nov 2010
Citation:   Hanna J. "Windowpane to the Soul (with Drugs of Boom)". Erowid Extracts. Nov 2010;19:4-6.
Drugs of Boom, Photos by Jon Hanna
In Portugal, "personal use" quantities of illegal drugs have been decriminalized. This environment allows festival attendees to feel more comfortable about displaying their drugs to those staffing Erowid Center's Psychoactive Drug Information Booth. The photos below represent some of the range of drugs that Boom attendees brought to the festival.
MDMA ("Sass")
Tabernanthe iboga Extract
DMT + Harmala Alkaloid Blend ("Changa")
Shiva LSD BLotter (Reportedly Strong)
Chocolate Disks (Containing 16 g Psilocybe atlantis Sclerotia Each)
Methylone Capsules (200 mg Each)
MDMA Tablet
4-Acetoxy-DMT in Capsules

Years ago, I dropped magic mushrooms with a married couple in New Orleans' French Quarter. My friends, who were new to psychedelics, spent some time blissfully gazing into each other's eyes. Until one point, when the guy pulled away and nervously asked me: "Is it possible to look too deeply into someone else's eyes?"

Flash-forward to August 2010. I'm at the Boom Festival in Portugal with compatriot Alicia Danforth, where we will be running an Erowid Center psychoactive drug information booth. People have questions; we may have some answers. We've brought the website on a laptop, along with assorted print-based resources to hand out. Later in the week, we'll be taking part in a panel discussion about psychedelic medicine on the main Boom stage. Pre-event, we've been asked to give harm reduction presentations to the volunteer staff of Kosmicare, a safe haven for attendees having difficult drug experiences (see Erowid Extracts, Nov 2008;15:12-15, for a detailed description of Kosmicare). But at the moment, Iker Puente, a student of transpersonal psychology and Holotropic Breathwork, is running the Kosmicare team through a training exercise.

Iker asks everyone to grab a partner whom they don't yet know personally. Without talking, we are then supposed to simply look at our partner until Iker tells us to stop. I pair off with Silvia, an attractive young Spanish woman, and we sit down to stare at each other. A degree of nervousness between us manifests itself with a bit of chatting at one point, but largely we do pretty well. Minutes slow down. It seems most natural to look into Silvia's eyes--but then, this starts to feel somewhat uncomfortable. Looking at length into another person's eyes is an intimate activity. As reflected in my introductory tale, it can be intense even when one knows and loves the person. Yet the gaze of this beautiful stranger is captivating, and I'm falling into her eyes...

Something odd starts to happen, something entirely psychedelic. I realize that this woman's face reminds me of a dear friend, whom I do love and have not seen for years. After staring for so long, my mind appears to be attempting to make sense of this unusual situation by throwing up "new" versions of Silvia's face, which more closely resemble my friend. While the face from my memory doesn't quite match, my brain keeps trying. This creates a strange shifting, strobe-like visual "flanging" of faces, like a film that has lost every third or fourth frame. I decide to conduct an experiment by looking at Silvia indirectly, using only my peripheral vision. As I do this, her face explodes into a rapidly changing series of faces, each one belonging to a completely different woman. It's as though my mind is tossing up the faces of every woman imaginable who even vaguely relates to this person in front of me. It's disconcerting, and I return to a direct gaze. I've had that sort of experience before, but not often when I am totally sober!

Eventually, the 5-10-minute eternity passes, and Iker's voice draws us out of our hypnotic task. With virtually no conversation involved, I feel a happy bond with Silvia--something peculiar to share with a total stranger. During the group discussion after the exercise, one of the volunteers describes an experience similar to mine, featuring a psychedelic shifting of her partner's face. I'm pretty impressed that such a strong alteration of consciousness is so easily accessible, sans chemicals. What was surprisingly novel for some of us, however, turns out to be old-hat for Alicia. "I attend the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology," she whispers. "I've done this exercise a bunch of times."

Later in the week, after grabbing some lunch during the hottest part of the day, I experienced an unexpected benefit from having taken part in the exercise of looking into a stranger's eyes. Alicia has a keen perception for noticing people who are having difficult trips, so she headed off to speak with a guy who she thought might need help. Although they parted ways after a short discussion, when she and I began to leave the food court, he found her again and Alicia introduced me. "Hey Jon, this is a new friend of mine. I thought we might hang out with him for a while."

Assessing the guy through my dark sunglasses, I quickly grok that the tense young man standing before me appears--just under the surface--to be entirely unhinged. I've seen his condition before. This guy is super high on LSD, probably paranoid, and at the very least he's distrustful of the situation he's found himself in, where a total stranger wants to hang out with him for some inconceivable reason. He looks as though he might punch me, as easily as shake my hand, and a split second of his fear jumps into me.

Alicia then asks, "Can you take off your sunglasses so that he can see what you look like behind them?" As the moment crashes against me, I think, "Jesus fuck, thanks, Alicia! Why not completely remove any protective 'guard' that I might have and let acid-dude scour the contents of my entire being?"

Which I feel beholden to do, so I take off my glasses. The thing is, I'd just had someone plumb the depths of my eyes, only a few days earlier. I could deal with it. I really had no fear. I felt clear, positive, and comfortable with this guy looking into my eyes as long as he needed to determine that I posed no threat. I felt good opening myself up by removing my sunglasses and allowing a moment to create a personal connection with this tripping stranger. It didn't take him long to see into my heart and know, gazing eye to eye, that I meant no harm.

Over the course of that day, and into the next, Alicia and I helped this guy deal with the challenging thought-processes he was having during his trip. Although troubled, he turned out to be a great person, and we also ended our brief relationship with a happy bond.

Eyes really are windows to the soul.

BELOW: Translated snippet from an article about the Boom Festival that appeared in the Portuguese news magazine i informação, which discusses Erowid's participation.

Boom. Attacks of panic, paranoia,
bad trips? They deal with everything

A tent for harm reduction experiences with drugs, psychedelic psychologists
and one laboratory. Where i discovered the other side of the festival


The camera of Jon Hanna has already photographed many of the different drugs that circulate in the Boom Festival. And until Thursday, the day when the festival ends, he will continue to take photographs. The 42-year-old North American wants to collect images of all types of drugs in order to post them on the Erowid largest database about psychoactive substances on the Internet.

"I bring you a Dalai Lama", a kid with a blotter hit of LSD in his hand says while entering into the information booth (which is actually an Indian teepee). For the second time, Jon was invited by the festival organizers to give advice on drugs and to answer questions "on the basic academic studies as well as personal experiences", he tells i.

"A few minutes ago a kid was here who wanted to try magic mushrooms for the first time", he says. "This person wanted to know what time of the day is best to take them, what dose is recommend, and other information of this sort." To the side of the computer where one can access the Erowid website, the specialist on psychoactive drugs has posted a sign in English where he encourages festival attendees to bring out their drugs to be photographed. "Yes, we are that geeky", it says.

Brit, a 29-year-old Dutch woman, enters the tent with a smile and a bottle of iboga in her hand. "It is an extract of the hallucinogenic substance from the root of an African plant that can be used to cure addictions", she explains. "It can allow one to overcome dependence on heroin, alcohol, tobacco, or other addictions." It is the first time that Brit is attending the Boom; however, of the nine-day festival, she only has three to have fun herself. During the other days, she is working as a volunteer for the Kosmicare project, a harm-reduction tent at the festival that provides support to those who have challenging experiences with drugs. "Once I had a difficult trip with LSD in Belgium, and it passed badly", she says. "It took me a week to recuperate". After this episode, the Dutch woman was inspired to help others going through similar experiences. "It is easier to recover, when you are not alone", she remarks.

Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Nov 2010 - Jon Hanna - Published in Erowid Extracts.
  • v1.0 - Jan 13, 2011 - Published on