In a quiet beachside hotel in Bali Indonesia, I laid in bed having one of the most powerful psychedelic experiences of my life. Beautiful geometric patterns formed throughout the room, the sounds of a Fat Freddy’s Drop album visually came to life, and the boundaries of my ego melted away leaving me with a profound sense of love and unity with the world around me.
If this was a year earlier, I would have been sitting in an advertising office, pounding away at an Excel spreadsheet. But after a life changing ayahuasca retreat in Iquitos Peru, I decided to quit my job, and travel the world.
Since then I’ve been making my way throughout Asia – from the wild streets of Bangkok, to the lush hill country of Sri Lanka. Throughout this time I’ve been planning on creating my own psilocybin mushroom retreat – akin to my ayahuasca experience in Peru. This was night two of that retreat.
Why Magic Mushrooms?
So what’s all the fuss about magic mushrooms? Recent studies have shown psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) to be a powerful tool for personal growth. Studies have shown psilocybin to:
- Treat addiction and cancer anxiety
- Help the terminally ill face death
- Treat depression
- Create lasting personality changes
- Create new brain cells
Countless people throughout the world have pointed towards a single psilocybin session as one of the most important events of their lives. Research is now uncovering these same findings. In a double-blind study conducted by John Hopkins University, participants who never experienced a psychedelic were given psilocybin. Two thirds of the participants ranked the experience as the top 5 most spiritually significant event of their lives.
One of the main reasons I wanted to explore psilocybin was to understand non-dualism on a deeper level. In other words, the idea that everything and everyone is ultimately connected as one. Religion points to this fact. Science points to this fact. Some of history’s most important thinkers have all pointed towards this fact.
Most spiritual teachers have said a lack of understanding of this fundamental truth is the root cause of human suffering. When you think you are a separate entity from the world around you, feeling fear, anxiety, stress and isolation are all inevitable. Many believe that the key to happiness is breaking free of this illusion, and realizing your unity with the world.
The reason this is so difficult for most to grasp is the disjointed manner of the left and right sides of our brains. Bill Harris, the founder of Holosync, one of the most widely used Binaural Beat meditation programs, talks about this in his book Thresholds of the Mind:
The brain, divided into right and left hemispheres, mirrors the dual structure thought by mystics to be a central characteristic of the universe. This innate duality of the brain is made more acute by the fact that in virtually all people, the two hemispheres are unbalanced, a state called brain lateralization. Because the brain filters and interprets reality in a split-brained way, we tend to see things as separate and opposed, rather than as connected and part of the oneness spoken of by the great spiritual teachers (and, in the last few decades, by quantum mechanical physicists).
Thus, at a deep level, the dual structure of our brain, in conjunction with brain lateralization, predisposes us to see and experience ourselves as separate from, and often in opposition to, the rest of the world—instead of experiencing the elegant interconnectedness between us and everything else.
One of the more interesting effects of psilocybin is its ability to connect and create new neural pathways between different areas of the brain, specifically between the left and right hemispheres. As the two sides of the brain begin working in unison, you move beyond seeing the world in terms of dualities and begin experiencing it all as one. This was something I looked toward the mushroom to help me develop.
Why Bali, Indonesia?
With all the benefits stemming from psilocybin mushrooms, I knew I had to explore it throughout my travels. I’ve read accounts of magic mushroom shakes being openly sold in parts of Thailand, specifically on the island of Koh Phangan, where the famous full moon parties are held. In my experience, these mushroom shakes were overpriced, oftentimes mixed with alcohol, and terribly weak for any real effect to take place.
Also, proper set and setting are critical elements of a positive psychedelic experience. This can be hard to find amidst the bass thumping EDM fueled parties where these magic shakes are openly sold. After 3 months floating around Thailand, I moved onto Bali, which turned out to be the perfect location for my mushroom retreat. Why Bali?
- Magic mushrooms are openly sold throughout certain islands in Indonesia. Technically they are are illegal, however in many areas these laws aren’t enforced. Most people point towards the Gili Islands as the haven for mushrooms. However, you can find them in other islands such as Lombok or Bali.
- Bali, literally called “Island of The Gods”, is one of the most spiritually charged area of Southeast Asia. It’s filled with over 20,000 temples and shrines. You’ll find countless meditation, yoga and personal growth retreats here (the yoga-filled town Ubud is where the movie Eat, Pray, Love was based off of).
- There are growing number of hip cafes and restaurants throughout Bali all serving delicious yet uber healthy organic food. If you’re ever in Ubud, head to Kafe – one of the best healthy food restaurant I’ve been to.
- Bali is absolutely breathtaking – from its endless beaches, to its charming countryside rice paddies, to all the snorkeling and diving the island has to offer . One of the most unforgettable experiences you can have on mushrooms is sitting by the beach and watching the sunset.
- Bali is extremely affordable. Other than the cost of a plane ticket, you’ll be surprised how low your expenses will be on the island. My girlfriend and I averaged about $26 each per day – including comfortable accommodation, great food, transport, etc.
All this makes the island a perfect container to have a transformative experience with the mushrooms. I ended up staying in a town called Canggu – a quiet little surfer area outside the loud streets of Kuta, Seminyak or Denpasar. The people were friendly, the hotel was minutes from the beach, with a nice balance of cool restaurants, cafes and rice paddies; it gave off a small town vibe perfect for my retreat.
How To Hold a Mushroom Retreat
An added bonus for attending an Ayahuasca retreat is you’re given the framework for how to properly run a retreat yourself. From the facilitators, to the Shaman, to the Amazon setting – the experience trains you how to explore these plants safely, responsibly, and for maximum personal growth. Here are some pointers I’ve taken from my time in the jungle that I’ve applied to my own mushroom retreat:
Eat light meals the day of the session – One thing that our ayahuasca facilitators were adamant on was making sure we ate light healthy meals during the retreat. Reason being, what you put inside your body directly affects the psychedelic experience. We had breakfast and lunch, and skipped dinner to have a nice clean canvass for the plant to do its work. Treat mushrooms the same. If you eat a massive burger right before you ingest the mushroom, it won’t be as potent and the session will suffer. If you eat light meals (and even skip a meal before the session), the session will be much more intense and it effects more profound.
Create a safe space – To have a positive psychedelic experience, you need to create a safe, warm environment in which the experience is held. In Bali, sessions were in my hotel room, Nag Champa incense was lit, light music was played, plenty of water was nearby, and my laptop was hooked up to the television playing nature videos using calm.com. I was with my girlfriend who I trusted with my life, and I spent the majority of the night in bed with my eye mask on. All this allowed me to be as comfortable as possible for the journey ahead.
Have a sitter – You are being blasted to the outer edges of space with these plants, so it’s important to have a ‘sitter’ during the experience. They’ll be able to assist you if you need help heading to the bathroom, need water, help keep you grounded if need be, or support you throughout the wildness of the night. There are many horror stories of people dying trying to fly out of windows, or stabbing themselves thinking a tiger is attacking them. You’ll prevent a host of potential problems by having a lucid friend sit with you during the session.
Get in the right mindset – In Peru, before each ceremony we had sacred plant baths – which could be looked at almost as cleansing our energetic palettes for the ceremony. Whether that was true or not, it definitely allowed us to empty our minds and get in the right mindset. I try to do the same with mushrooms. Before each session, I take a shower, relax, and mentally prepare for the session. By the time the mushroom’s are in my hands, I’m ready to go. Before your own sessions, find ways to get yourself in a positive mindset – this could be working out, reading a book, listening to music, or taking a warm shower like me.
Treat the mushroom with respect – In Oaxaca, Mexico (where magic mushrooms are deeply integrated into the religion of the culture), mushrooms are called Los Diosesitos – meaning “The Little Gods”. These Little Gods have the power to change your life so be respectful when handling them. During the John Hopkins study, before each session the psilocybin was first placed in a sacred chalice, then handed to the participant to consume (video). Even in a scientific environment, they framed the session in a ritualistic context and treated the mushroom with care. Do the same.
Set an intention for the session – In order to frame your experience, set a clear intention before you ingest the mushroom. In a way, this gives the mushroom guidance on what to work on when it enters you. I typically close my eyes, hold hands with those in the room, and focus in on my intention for a few seconds. Once the intention is set, I let go of it and let the chips fall as they will. Forcing the night to go one way or another is outside your direct control and always leads to trouble. Let go of needing to control anything and enjoy the journey.
Hold a grounding object – The night could get extremely intense – hallucinations occur, fear can set in, your reality could be flipped upside down. With that said, it’s important to keep an object with you at all times as reminder that what you are experiencing is simply temporary phenomenon due to the mushroom. You’ll be able to look at the object and realize that everything is okay, and you’ll be back down to reality soon enough. It could be a stone, a bracelet, a ring. For me, I use my phone and set a timer. As crazy as the night gets, the timer allows me to realize what stage of the experience I’m in, and that it will all eventually pass once I hit X amount of hours.
Reflect the next morning – Don’t try to make sense of what’s happening during the night. Let things unfold as they will. The next morning is when you should reflect and attempt to make sense of what happened. Share your experience with your sitter or others that participated in the session. Be sure to carve out some alone time to process what happened. Journaling is a great way to do so. Sometimes you don’t have the words to articulate how you’re feeling, so art could be the best outlet. During a Holotropic Breathwork retreat, we were giving paper and coloring pencils to visually draw the experience, which was really beneficial.
Go slow the next day – More than likely you had an intense night with the mushroom. Give yourself enough space for the dust to settle. Don’t put pressure on yourself to dive right back into the real world. Make sure you don’t have any important meetings or many responsibilities to take care of the next day. You might have had massive takeaways from the session – whether with your career, with relationships, with yourself. Don’t act on it right away. Let the insight solidify in your mind for a few days or weeks before you decide to put the wheels in motion. Just focus on relaxing, taking it slow, and reflecting on the session.
Following the pointers above, the mushroom retreat I had in Bali was one the most transformative experiences throughout my travels. The mushrooms were a teacher, a healer, a loving friend, a stern mother – sometimes all in one night. I grew tremendously working with the plant, and still continue to learn from that retreat. When used in the right way, safely and respectfully, mushrooms have the power to transform; they certainly did for me, and maybe can for you too.
Have you ever held a mushroom retreat? Share your experiences in the comments below!