We plan a lot of trips during the year, well actually Aunty usually does most of the planning, ok all of the planning. We’ve gone to concerts, parties, waterparks, once we spent an afternoon being velociraptors in a city, but our favorite places are always closer to nature. For this trip, we wanted to go back to the forest. So Friday morning we packed up the car and drove up into the mountains. Aunty has written a great series on how we prepare for these events. Unfortunately a grueling hike made it impossible for one of us to partake, yet we still had a great experience.
One important fact about hiking in the mountains is that if you go down you will have to come back up. Hiking up at elevation is quite grueling if you are not accustomed to breathing the thinner air. This hike ended up being much more than we bargained for. Being in worse shape than Aunty we ended up having to rest a lot and in quite a bit of pain when we returned to our home in the early afternoon. Aunty was sore but generally recovered quickly.
For us, the recovery was not so quick. We were still icing our muscles when we should have been commencing the main event. Rather than ruining the weekend, we decided to try something different. Aunty, feeling generally ok, would dose as planned, and we, being a bit sore but otherwise capable would be the sitter.
We have not sat for someone’s full trip in a long time. Aunty will occasionally trip alone at home to work on some specific problem or idea, but she will do this mostly on her own. Our role is just to occasionally check on her and answer the door and phone. This would be different as we would be spending the entire duration of the experience at Aunty’s side, while also being totally sober ourselves.
Aunty is a very experienced psychonaught, she really does not need anyone’s help. And still, we felt that this was an opportunity to turn our inability to join her into a completely new way for us to grow closer together.
First, we wanted to share some of our thoughts on this side of the activity, what should you do, or not do, to help somebody have a positive experience? What is your role as the sitter?
Guidelines for the sitter
Confidence and Safety: The primary role of the trip sitter is to provide safety for the dreamers. You will answer the door, you will answer the phone, you will handle any situations that come up. You will do those things, but your job is to also make sure the dreamers with you know that you have this under control. You must never let them see your confidence slip. If the dreamer wants to explore their physical space, your role is to support that activity, while keeping everyone safe.
Non-Suggestion: This point depends a bit on who you are with and what they are trying to accomplish. In most cases you should never attempt to take over the trip or suggest a course of action unless this was previously agreed upon. Remember that your suggestions will take on completely different meaning to the other person. It is much better to observe them closely and try to react to their needs and desires without being prescriptive.
Validation: The dreamer may express ideas that sound incoherent, or even unkind to the sitter. It is important that you not react negatively to these statements. To the dreamer they may mean a completely different thing, the psychedelic world is a strange place. Your role is to validate their feelings, what they feel is ok. Failing to do this could lead to negative cycles or even a bad trip.
Kindness: Your words and your emotions will be amplified 100 times in the other persons mind. Any negativity can completely darken their entire world. It is critically important that you remain kind in both words and actions at all times. Not only to the dreamer but to everything around you. They feel one with the universe so you must show them that the universe is kindness.
Respect: This is also critically important, no matter how well you know the other person, even if you are normally intimate with them — things are not the same in the psychedelic mind state. As the sitter you will feel the same ego throughout the experience but you must resist acting on those egoic feelings. Respect the journey the other person is taking, this is about them not about you.
Documentation: If you are trying to grow and learn from these experiences then it is important to bring some documentation back out. If the dreamer expresses an idea, help them refine it and write it down. Sometimes we even record entire conversations to help us remember them later.
With those general guidelines in mind let’s go over how the day went.
Aunty dosed at 3 pm as planned, we were still icing our muscles. The idea at the start was to handle this like any of her personal trips, she would use headphones and our playlist to guide her own journey and we would watch nature documentaries until we were well enough to sit with her. Within a few minutes though Aunty decided she would rather be with us and the trip started to take a different turn. She stopped the playlist and tried watching Planet Earth with us.
Observation 1, the ghosts of trips past: Aunty has discussed this idea in her playlist series, the idea that by taking the same music with us from journey to journey we can begin to take control and get the exact experience we want. When Aunty stopped the playlist and started watching the documentary with us, her trip went a little off the rails.
I remember her first noting that she couldn’t understand where she was in the trip. Without the playlist to guide her she didn’t know how to feel! We tried figuring out where in the playlist she would have been and seeing if we could “re-sync” her but the wildlife documentary was also still playing, just silently.
Aunty started giggling uncontrollably during the song Fury, by Muse. We were both snuggled up in a new fuzzy blanket she had purchased. We were observing her but also watching the documentary. She was giggling at a group of otters trying to scare off an alligator, the alligator would occasionally eat one. There was nothing funny about that scene and certainly Matt did not intend Fury to be a comedic song. We both recognized something was wrong and we needed to switch gears so Aunty could shed her self and find her growth.
By trying to pay attention to what was happening in the documentary, Aunty was unintentionally also holding onto her ego. Without her ego, the documentary makes no sense, so she felt like she needed to hold onto it.
I stopped the documentaries and switched the music to the main stereo system in the home. Without the visual distractions of the tv, Aunty was better able to sink into the music and within a few songs we felt like things were on track again. These are all our favorite songs too, so we had no problem just listening with her on the couch.
Still, the lesson for us here was the importance of those ghosts. Those ghosts of previous trips are what we use to help us self-guide through the trip. Without them, the timing is off, we may start peaking while still retaining portions of the ego. This makes things uncomfortable as the ego generally wants to fight what the universe wants to teach.
Observation 2, A different self returns: This is an idea that we’ve been refining over a series of journeys. On the drive into the mountains we were listening to the audio book version of Michael Pollan’s excellent work How to Change Your Mind. The book is a wonderful walk through the history and modernity of psychedelics, deserving of its own full review. However the first few chapters we heard on the way up related to psychedelic studies from the late 50s and early 60s. In these studies, neither the administrators nor the volunteers really understood what was going on.
Aunty specifically reacted to the way the early volunteers always talked about their experiences afterwards as if they were the same person, or trying to be. For example an energy healer would come out of a psylocibin experience talking about how much this will improve their existing practices, as if they learned nothing about self. To Aunty this way of thinking is antithetical to what should be going on. Neither of us could put the idea into words on the drive up. Mid trip however Aunty finally articulated this in a pure form:
“The people who come back from these songs are the people we’re choosing to be”Aunty Lucy
Articulating a concept like that while in a psychedelic state of mind is incredibly difficult, Aunty is an experienced dreamer however and was able to refine and express this idea, so we wrote it down.
To us, these journeys are not about improving the people we are. We subscribe to a concept of being that is far too ephemeral to support a constant self. Our selves are always in flux, both through mental growth but also the physical changes. There will be no part of the hair you have today in 10 years, even if looks the same every single atom is different. We are more like a Ship of Theseus than a constant self.
Now we understood what bothered us so much about those early reports. The volunteers were not seeking to find a new self but rather to refine the one they had. If we instead go into each journey, and each song, with the goal of ego destruction and recreation, then we are in fact completely different selves by the end. We choose the songs on our playlist for exactly this reason, to shape the self we want to bring back.
Observation 3, Nobody wants to trip alone: This idea feels simple, but it became thematic of the 2nd half of Aunty’s trip. She would disappear for a few songs and then come back with ideas like “We don’t know how we could do this if you weren’t here”. At first we took this as her just being kind to us, but after a few instances it became clear that Aunty was expressing something deeper, something sad.
This idea also goes back to the audio book. We want to really stress the suggestibility of the psychedelic state. A seemingly simple choice like what to listen to the day before can end up dominating an entire journey. Aunty was saying these things as another reaction to those early trip reports from the book. In each of those instances the volunteers were alone. They had a sitter, sometimes that sitter was purely clinical, sometimes not, but that sitter was never an intimate friend of the volunteer with shared life experience.
Aunty was expressing the uniqueness of our situation, almost 30 years spent together with regular shared trips marking that entire time. We’ve lived the ups and downs of any married couple, and just life in general, but always punctuated by intentional attempts to use psychedelic events to improve and grow. This shared experience and growth feels unique, and is a major reason we started this site.
She was also expressing a sadness, or maybe a fear. We’re at an age now where death is more present than it is when you are young. Aunty was expressing her sadness and fear at someday losing us and having to trip alone. This really challenged us as we needed to validate what she was saying but not deepen those negative feelings. If we don’t validate these feelings, she would just stop saying them, but she would still be thinking them.
We tried to remind her of the song Lonely Town, by Puggy. The song is about finding another person again and again, nobody wants to face the universe alone. Much later in the evening we watched the movie Everything, Everywhere all at Once and we talked about this idea again in how Michelle Yeoh keeps finding her husband in every universe but they are not always married.
None of these efforts really worked though as this idea that she may lose us someday seemed to stay with her throughout the night, at least it wasn’t always her primary thought.
Observation 4, shop for art in the Psychedelic state: Aunty has a preternatural knack for locating rental homes owned by fellow dreamers. What we mean is that while we are renting seemingly normal homes that anybody else could. The homes she finds always have the most interesting artwork, artwork that shifts or changes in color or meaning while in the psychedelic state.
We’re never sure if the owners of these homes understand what is on their walls or not, its unfortunately difficult to be open about these things still. However in each case there are obvious pieces that simply cannot be there for any other reason.
This home had an artwork that we cannot find anywhere so we have to describe it. The piece was made of string, meaning the colors and shapes were formed by string wrapped around nails — not by paint. The image was generally that of a kabuki style mask with a third eye on the forehead. The strings were arranged to give the piece a kind of outward radiance. It was a great piece to look at, even while sober.
Aunty would describe this piece as a technicolor rainbow moving and shifting around the central mask, colors that are simply not in the piece at all, or even suggested by it. The string is only red, white and black. There are no blues, no greens, yet Aunty clearly saw the rainbow and was amazed that we could not.
Now we’re considering the idea of a shopping trip to a large department store or vintage mall while one of us in the psychedelic state. Maybe this would allow us to find and purchase pieces like that for our home.
Observation 5, Aunty can cook on Psychedelics: We had packed ingredients to make a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch but the hike had upset our stomach so we didn’t eat. About 6 hours into her journey Aunty started to worry that we hadn’t eaten, she didn’t need to eat herself, the psychedelics make that difficult.
She decided to cook us that grilled cheese sandwich, and she did! From melting the butter in the warm upstairs room, to turning on and using the gas stove, she was able to cook us the most perfect grilled cheese we’ve ever seen. With no injuries to herself or anything in the kitchen, she wasn’t even familiar with this kitchen as we rented this home.
We loved it and were kind of amazed Aunty could do that in this state. She responded by saying that actually it is easier, the psychedelic state makes complete awareness, or mindfulness, almost automatic. Without chemical help achieving this awareness so effortlessly can take decades of meditative practice.
Even though few parts of this journey went as planned, and we were in quite a bit of pain for a few hours, we would not have traded it for anything.
We think the recency of our last shared trip, being only a month earlier, heavily contributed to our ability to be a good sitter for Aunty. We still remembered enough of how the playlist really sounds to share the experience with her. We hadn’t fully developed the armor yet, if we had it is likely we could not have sat with her as comfortably.
The best part is that Aunty owes us a trip now, and we really hope she will write her own report when that happens. Reading and understanding your experience from the sitters point of view can be a powerful way to learn.