Living Things: Mushroom & Dragonfly

The sky and the grass were rushing with waves, as was the lake, waves upon waves in the waves, the sky and the grass, my hands, all waves. I waved my hand to wave the waves, waved away they waved. Upon the wavy grass I waved, intermittently running down to the dock to wave at the waving water (little waves); nostalgia in its most pure state overtook me: hearing Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell, over and over again, in the tape deck on a trip to Galveston, Texas, dipping myself into the ocean for the first time as a little person, swimming into the unknown and returning to shore with crude oil caked on my thighs (“This happens all the time,” my uncle says. This is 1994.).

Dragonfly, Amtrak Station; Saratoga Springs, NY (August 2019)

On the dock of the lake in 2014 — not in the Gulf of Mexico — I save a tick for the first time. I take note of this. Why am I doing this? I hate ticks. Like, really, I hate ticks. I release the tick into the water and declare to no one in particular, “I want to sleep where the deer sleep.”

Naked upon the waving grass, with sunlight splintering (and waving) through the green canopy, I see them hanging over me: dragonflies. Resplendent in blue, green, brown, turquoise, yellow and red, they hover above me, a battalion, hovering and dipping, hovering and dipping. Each time a mosquito ventures to feast upon my exposed tanning skin, the dragonflies drop to devour. This reciprocity of natural care, my exposed body in the waving sunlight providing a draw for the mosquito and a feeding ground for the dragonflies.

I remain on the grass for twenty minutes, an hour, a lifetime, and the dragonflies continue to hover, feed and protect, and my fondness for dragonfly increases to love. Perhaps this is the first time I have truly felt love, or at least understanding, of my space in the natural world, naked, with the mosquitos, the dragonflies, the grass and trees and water (which are, by the way, always waving anyway), the tick I sent to the lake, and the deer in the brush where I suddenly want to sleep. I laugh. I laugh so very hard, my body pulsing, becoming waves now, I am crying and laughing so absolutely, I have never felt this laughter before, this is the origin of laughter, it must be, where I am now. I radiate my laughter toward the dragonfly. My first physical gift to nature.

This was my awakening. This day on the shore of Fishhook Lake, Minnesota was initiate to my current relationship with Earth and all their critters and more-than-human[1] participants. It was the grace, wisdom and ego-melting influence of psilocybin that opened and allowed this relationship to flourish.

The colonization of indigenous peoples — of the mind, of nature, of economic and global history — has led western culture to discount these states of supreme vision and clarity, this necessary journeying toward overwhelming reality. The cannibalistic invention and forced political intervention of judeo-christianity myths upon peoples denounced these profound phenomenological experiences as sinful, superfluous, and wasteful. This demonization has crept into every corner of society in the form of policy, wrecking not just the supremacy of the natural but also our collective imagination, severing our tether to Earth. Although the sea change is gently affirming otherwise in recent literature, most popularized in Michael Pollan’s delightful, humane and accessible book on the history and science of psilocybin (How to Change Your Mind: What The New Science of Psychedelics Teaches us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression & Transcendence), as well as erstwhile mushroom prophet Terence McKenna’s recovering of ancient and indigenous practices of medicine, knowledge, history, and intergalactic visioning. It is a recovering. This is a lost knowledge, not a discovery. In his recent historical documentation of indigenous people’s movements in Bolivia[2], historian Benjamin Dangl sources oral history-telling to expose an empowered recognition of the achieved utopia before colonial quartering — the literal dismemberment of peoples, stories, and knowledges.

Our relationship to the natural has been quartered so severely that “tripping” has become the thing of recreation, to be taken unceremoniously and without respect. It is dangerous for the spiritual to be devalued to mere past time, just as it is dangerous for religion to wield authority over our origin story with Earth.

I can say, without a doubt, one dose of psilocybin changed my life. Chronic depression, anxiety, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts were a constant until this dose of psilocybin. They have not disappeared, but the wisdom of the mushroom remains so strong and rich with teachings, which I am still processing, and have not yet needed another dose since that July afternoon in 2014. Similarly, my relationship to nature, although by that time had developed from hate to appreciation, was still held at a fearful and distrustful distance, as observer, not participant. Psilocybin changed this. For someone brought up with a hatred of nature, this remains the most significant and life altering experience I’ve had.

Although the beauty of the waves were soon overwhelmed by a pillow of darkness, my head in the toilet as I vomited, not just the contents of my stomach, but it felt as if the entire structure built by society and my own angry, frightened, desiring ego were released into that toilet. After my head was in the toilet for half an hour, my dear friend and guide gently took me by the shoulder, and lifted me up as I gasped for air. He said, “A slight adjustment, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s easier to breathe if your head isn’t in the toilet.”

A slight adjustment is all it takes — to remove your head from the toilet, to adjust your proximity, to be witness to the actual physical waves that are pulsing on every level, always, the enormity of this fleeting event.

This often does not seem possible and it is only after being sucked so far up my asshole, and the passive aggresive, pervasive asshole of capitalism, that I will find myself suddenly, in a copse, on the edges of a field in Kansas, having been severely depressed for months, ignoring the deep wisdom I acquired from mushroom and dragonfly in 2014. Then I adjust, recover, and continue to recover, to recover my proximity to dragonfly, to recover the waves, the physical waves manifesting around, over and thru me, always, wave after wave.

I feel the mosquito bite and look above, for dragonfly.

[1] A phrase I will continually appropriate from naturalist philosopher David Abram. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. David Abram, Vintage Press, 1996.

[2] The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and Decolonization of History in Bolivia. Benjamin Dangl. AK Press, 2019.

Adam R. Burnett writes. More at adamrburnett.com

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