A “Trip” Across Country
A “Trip” Across Country
During the lockdown of 2020, I heard a calling to find some personal healing with plant medicine. At first I thought I would probably have to travel to a foreign land and end up in a jungle with a shaman. I’ve since learned that the jungle has come to us. Like a spiritual game of Jumanji, the jungle found its way into American suburban homes, townhouses, and apartments.
After several plant medicine ceremonies, I found myself in a house on the East coast with a group of amazing people who were ready to do something unique and beautiful. Given that the country has been so divided in recent years, the idea of taking a psychedelic trip together with others across the nation via Zoom really appealed to me.
One by one, these strangers appeared on a big screen projected on the wall, saying their names and where they are from.
“Hi! This is Rick and Alex. We’re in Jersey”
“Greetings from Texas. I’m Kevin.”
“Hey everyone, Byron and Sue. We’re here in California”
When hate is so prevalent, the craziest thing one can do is love.
North Carolina, Idaho, Tennessee, etc. My heart grew with each one who appeared. In my tribe tonight are my fellow Americans! This feels so ancient, yet so futuristic. I couldn’t help but feel awestruck by seeing all these people from all over the country appearing on Zoom, and knowing what we were about to do together.
“Look for the others”, Timothy Leary once said. After years of feeling alone in my search for something greater, I felt comfort in seeing the others.
It’s undeniable that we have been living in particularly divisive times: Covid, Cancel Culture, Black Lives Matter, the elections, protests, etc. Our culture is rapidly devolving into a Hellish reality of us against them. People are so angry, and that anger is turning into hate. When hate is so prevalent, the craziest thing one can do is love. We must unzip what Ram Dass called “the meat suit” and see each other as fellow souls.
Joining us for this experience are many people who only started getting into this kind of work within the last few years. As if they, too, knew that something needs to change. Yet, change first starts within. It is not forcing everyone around us to change.
When I went to a protest here in New York in the vibrant summer of 2020, I remember seeing people trying to make the other side change–as if more yelling and even physical violence would influence the others to join their side. Trying to make others conform to a viewpoint instead of understanding it can only lead to more problems. We all seem to be living in different realities. It’s amazing we can even communicate at all.
My girlfriend Jasmine unzips the bag with our “sacraments”– given to us by the shaman. I hold it over my heart, telepathically sending it love and gratitude. I then place it on my girlfriend’s heart and she places hers over mine. We take a deep breath, smell the incense in the air, and look into each other’s eyes as we say “I love you”. She ingests hers and I give the room a glance and take mine. I hear her voice say, “See you on the other side”, followed by giggles.
The voices from Zoom say a number of things like “Have a great journey, everyone”, “Love you all”, and “Yeah, we got this”. Everyone lays down and puts on a blindfold. The shaman unites us in a prayer that ends with “I honor the place in you that is the same in me. I honor the place in you where the whole universe resides. Namaste”. You don’t hear that kind of thing much these days. I tell myself I need to keep making this my practice. After the beautiful prayer, there is a countdown from 5 to 1. Everyone is going to play the same playlist at the same time. Although our bodies are in different states and different time zones, our souls will journey synchronously with the same music.
The playlist begins…
Songs from spiritually minded artists like Snatam Kaur, Krishna Das, Yaima, and Bachan guide us deeper into ourselves and yet out of ourselves simultaneously.
Although our bodies are in different states and time zones, our souls will journey synchronously with the same music.
My girlfriend and I hold hands as we drop in together. I get myself in a calm state trying to not over-analyze the situation or fidget with the blindfold, allowing the medicine to work gracefully. Now don’t get me wrong: that doesn’t mean my body is calm. I just do my best to convince myself I am. My temperature starts to fluctuate and my heart begins to beat faster and faster. That familiar pins and needles sensation makes its way to my hands and toes. For some reason, I open my jaw wide and close it multiple times, really paying attention like never before to the fact I have teeth. All these little thoughts and daydreams going by like previews before the actual movie.
I breathe…I just breathe.
I can feel my girlfriend squirming around and our hands repeatedly adjusting themselves so we can feel more comfortable holding each other’s hands. As each song leads to the next, she and I move closer together, holding each other as we go deeper.
About an hour into it, we hear occasional sighing, laughing, moaning, and crying. More and more time passes and then conversations begin to start. The idea of taking off my blindfold and talking to others is, at first, challenging. All my senses are heightened. My inner satellite is picking up too much, and taking this blindfold off might overpower the system. I allow myself to feel all the love I have inside and I feel grateful to be alive. As someone who suffers from depression and suicidal ideation, that feeling was huge for me. I hug myself. I hug the child I once was and the man I am now, and even the old man I one day will be.
Michael Antonio Pagano
I slowly move the blindfold and see stars and purple and blue clouds projected onto the ceiling. My eyes take a moment to focus and then I look around. My girlfriend is sitting upright with a smile of wonderment on her face, taking it all in, seeing the groups of people scattered about talking to one another. I thought that this is what caterpillars do when they emerge out of their cocoons and see each other as butterflies for the first time.
Suddenly I remember the people on Zoom! I turn around and look at the big screen and see the same thing happening. More butterflies coming out of their cocoons. “Wow! Look at everyone,” I say to Jasmine. I go up to the camera and wave and see all of them wave back. “You guys OK?” I ask. “Doing great over here!”, says someone from New Mexico. I see a husband and wife in Ohio giving me a thumbs up. I hear the group in California cheering.
Rufus Wainwright’s version of “Hallelujah” begins to play and I walk over to my girlfriend and kiss her. I feel myself evaporating, turning into the wind. Thank God she’s holding me so I remember I have a body. As if on cue, everyone in the room, huddled together, starts to sing along when the chorus begins. And the faces on the screen looked back at us.
All singing “Hallelujah”
And suddenly…I felt that we’re all going to be OK.