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As Pants The Hart
A Story About Sex & Sensuality & Psychedelics
Yesterday when the mushrooms came on I tried to enter the perspective of a deer.
What is it like to be a deer? I guess they don't think very much like us. There is some decision making I'm sure, but it's not structured into an ideology. I don't think the deer is self-conscious, it's not worried about what others think about it. The deer is very sensitive, especially to sound and smell and vision. She gets very slow, observing all around. If she's thirsty she'll move to the stream, not impulsively, but measured against the need for safety. She probably prefers a quiet part of the stream so she can hear if any predators are nearby. And she might be thinking of escape routes. I don't think she's anxious about this, not like I get anxious. Deer anxiety is sober and reasonable. Person anxiety is self-stoking. People are prone to paranoid loops, the discomfort of an imagined threat primes me to be more pessimistic and scared. Deer anxiety is a clear signal to move somewhere safer. Person anxiety can be a hangover from a memory of something that happened 20 years ago.
So in deer-mode, I tried to use my intuitive decision making to find comfort. I tried sitting still by the stream, but it was too loud, I couldn't tell if I was safe. It took me a long time to realise I could hear frogs croaking right next to me, they had been drowned out by the white noise of the rapids. So I couldn't listen for threats - sometimes the rocks moving in the streambed sounded like wheels crunching on the road. So I walked uphill, followed the road away from all that noise. I saw a falcon, gliding from the top of one cliff to another, unbelievably high up, fearless, deadly. Imagine him dropping out of the sky and taking out his prey! Like a surgical missile strike. Amazing.
It felt good to be out in the sun, out from the shade of the maple trees and warming up. But again after a couple of minutes out there I felt unsafe again. I thought the midday sun might burn me. I was self-conscious of being seen by the train passengers, or anyone that might have driven down the road. Then the wind bothered me, the noise in the leaves. Then my footing - the gravel was slippery underfoot. Everywhere I went, my instinctive body determined a lack of safety.
And I realised why our civilisation has evolved air conditioning and springy-soled shoes and apartment buildings with locks and security guards and smooth tarmac roads: the natural world is dangerous and uncomfortable.
The deer can make peace with the danger, find an acceptable level of risk, live out her life around predators and sunburn and ticks. But not us, the small fears drive us mad. And we're such clever creatures, we can make anything: bug spray, furniture, penicillin, calculus. The combination is explosive! Super fears and super tech.
So I was feeling uncomfortable, unsettled, unsafe. And the mushrooms intensified everything. I felt myself being squished and smeared, distorted, rolled out like dough, tugged downstream by the river's current. Not for the first time I thought: I am in the no-man's land between micro- and macro-dose. If I'd had more, the river would take me. I'd be forced to surrender to it. But I have one foot in and one foot out.
I was very indecisive about adding MDMA to the mushrooms. I was already feeling high and weird and uncomfortable. Do I want to get higher? Will the come-up make me sick? Trying to decide yes or no was maddening. I'd already committed to the process, I didn't want the option to back out.
And I had an insight. All my discomfort feelings were tied up with the lack of safety. MDMA I know so well, it simply switches the unsafety feeling off. So I took the first of two MDMA doses, and immediately felt relief, the placebo kicking in before the drug. The relief quickly escalated to bliss, waves, pulsating, radiating, like a bucket of hot water thrown hard against my chest, saturating everything around me.
I was so enchanted by these riverbank maple trees, as soon as we got here. As a kid I would draw trees as if they were solid, a solid cone, or a sphere, or a bubbly cloud shape, I thought of trees filling up a space. But later in life I learned from close observation that many trees are mostly empty space. These maple trees: the branches are a structure for putting leaves in their place. The leaves form a wafer-thin dome, anywhere they can get direct sun. There’s a light green colour that you can only see when you stand under a broad-leafed tree in full sun, the leaf illuminated yellow on top and darker green shades beneath, it's an active participatory ecstatic colour because that is what a leaf looks like when it's really leafing, that's the moment it's most alive. It's so joyful to see a being in its place in the ecosystem, thriving. If leaves could sing it would be a deafening chorus at that moment.
I went into this trip looking for something.
I want to find the path to sensory pleasure that is not mediated through mental action, not thinking, not languaged. The way the deer moves through the world, proceeding by intuitive decisions, choices that flow together effortlessly. What do I mean by mentally-mediated pleasure? I mean things that feel good "because" of some abstract reasoning. The pleasure of seducing a hot woman "because" that affirms my status as a hot man. The pleasure of breaking a taboo, doing something transgressive together feels good "because" its a mark of trust to say I want to break the rules *with you*. The pleasure of being a competent lover, "because" if anyone asks, you'll tell them "he really knows what he's doing with a woman" and I will know l'm a real grownup, not an embarrassed baby who's scared of sex.
That's what I mean by mentally-mediated pleasure. It's mostly happening in my head, "because" of some reason. It's a solo act, my lover is an implement to get me there.
There's a place I get to sometimes with sex, where there are no "because"s, when I "get out of my head". But it's not easy for me to get there. I have a lot of conditioning that gets in the way.
In my 20's I found a lover who could get me there with intensity. She was kinky. She showed me how to handle her forcefully; always considerate, never degrading, but always intense. Sometimes the intensity would crack through all my mentalising and I could join her in animal consciousness.
I made a map of her pleasure. I learned how to play her body like an instrument.
When we weren't having sex she was unkind to me, distant, she wanted me to never settle in and get too comfortable in our relationship. I don't think I understood until now that she was afraid. Obviously not afraid of physical intimacy, but the personal, emotional dimensions were off limits.
One day we took acid at the beach. We were having sex, and in that altered state I felt I wanted to take her somewhere new. I told you I had a map of her pleasure. I loved to bring her close to orgasm and make her wait, I'd back off, let it linger, hold her in suspense. We talked a lot. She would tell me what she wanted, or I'd tell her what to do, I could give or withhold permission for her to climax, just with words.
The acid put me in a creative state, I tried something new. I was familiar with the game of fast and slow, but the new move I discovered on acid was absolute stillness.
The tenderest connection.
No rising or falling, only stillness.
The only movements I allowed were microscopic changes in muscle tension, maybe breathing 5% deeper, really not doing anything physical at all, operating entirely in the field of subtle energies.
I felt I was completely inside her perception loop.
I think it was the hottest moment of my life. I don't know how long we stayed in that connected blissful state, it's like we found an escape hatch that took us out of the flow of time.
After that I felt so alive, like I wanted to turn cartwheels on my way out of the shower. But she freaked out. She went from unkind to flat out mean. She treated me like I'd stolen something from her.
I guess she was just like me, inexperienced and still working out how to be an adult in relationships. I didn't know how to make sense of it. I was utterly confused but I had nobody to talk to about it so I put the whole thing in a locked case somewhere and tried to forget about it. And maybe I took a lesson, that kind of intimate connected sex is dangerous, it's not worth the risk.
I've never really gone back to that place we were in together at the beach. I don't know how. I think I needed the intensity to get me out of my head. She opened a door for me. But when I crossed the threshold I felt punished, shunned, humiliated for going there. So it's a relief to revisit the story and feel I have some compassion for her, I can understand what it might have been like for her. I think she found herself more exposed than she was prepared for. I showed her a kind of naked she didn't know existed, and she was not ready to go there, at least not with me.
But this story isn't about her. If you asked her she would tell a completely different meaning from the same events. The point is the meaning that I took: don't go there! Don't go there! Not with her, not with anyone, not alone, don't go there.
So, coming into this trip I knew I wanted to remember the path to my intuitive embodied pleasure, unmediated by intellect, my pleasure without meaning, without "because".
The mushrooms turn up the volume on my inner experience, every minor discomfort is deafening. It didn't take long for me to understand that discomfort was my perception of unsafety. So then the MDMA switched off the unsafety feeling. Let me tell you, the combination of amplified interoception and a profound unshakeable sense of safety: that's a recipe for bliss.
I said our human anxiety is a self-stoking cycle, one bad thought can blossom into maddening paranoia. But it goes the other way too. There's a bliss in pleasure-enhancing pleasure. The deer can be comfortable, settled, relaxed, maybe even happy. But I don't think she knows about gratitude or awe, or transcendence. I could be wrong of course but I think there are domains of pleasure the animals know nothing about.
So in this charged-up state, the hot pulsating energy humming in my chest, I had to dance. I didn't decide to dance, the music decided me to dance. It lead me like the tango dancer leads his partner: you, now, you're coming with me. *Yes, sir, happy to oblige.*
And right here, here is the answer I was waiting for, this is why I came into this trip: I remembered how to experience unmediated pleasure. I've done it a hundred times before. That pure sensuality state of being, that's me on the dancefloor. It's so fucking obvious in retrospect.
12 years ago I did my first Vipassana meditation retreat. On the way home, after 10 days meditation, amplifying the sensitivity of my inner awareness, I went to a world music festival. Up until that day, I thought dancing was a social activity with some inscrutable rules to follow for some unknown reasons: I was clueless how to do it, or why. After Vipassana I found a way of dancing that has nothing to do with rules or other people's expectations. Music wants me to dance, it shows me how, directly, like the stream calls the deer forward to drink, the music tugs on me. I don't need to push, I don't need to think, I don't need to be self-conscious about getting it right, or do anything according to any rules, for any "because" reasons. When the setting is right, and the music is right, I just need to relax and to trust, and it will inevitably pull me forward, out of my seat and onto the dancefloor.
There's a non-cognitive way to perceive music. It's a feeling directly experienced in my skin and tissues, waves of oscillating pressure interacting with tiny hairs on the surface of my body and in the organs deep in my guts. I move parts of my body in response to those sensations, synchronising, syncopating, harmonising, anticipating, resonating. The sensations generated inside me meet the sensations from outside, and the intersection of the two makes a fascinating kaleidoscope of infinite variety. I become all curiosity, all play, no objective, no destination. It's a limitlessly rich scene with no plot.
I feel good about how I dance. People have told me that there's something in the way that I move that reminds them how to do it. At first, it's completely solitary, just me and the music. But when I am settled in the groove, then I can come out of my solitude, open up to others in the space. They can respond to my calls, and I can respond to theirs.
So this is the lesson I'm taking home from the trip. I didn't magically resolve all my sexual insecurities. I've not cracked the code of how to be a sensuous lover. But here's what's different now: before the trip, I thought sensuality was completely mysterious, potentially unattainable, uncharted territory. I wanted to be a sensuous lover but I didn't know if it was possible. After the trip, I realised sensuality is completely familiar, it's my background state, it's my evolutionary inheritance. I've already learned how to play with sensuosity in music, so translating that into the sexual domain feels much less mysterious now. Everything I've written here about music and movement, now I can re-read it as an instruction manual and see what I have to teach myself, about a different way of having sex.