Lessons in Self-Care From 2 Grams of Psilocybin
The clouded horizon grew vivid. My breathing deepened. The stream of thoughts faded until only awareness remained. I had come up.
45 minutes earlier, I’d eaten 2 grams of psilocybin mushrooms, commonly termed magic.
I’ve tripped before, but this time was different. No visuals. The sky, though bright and beautiful, refused to form its usual geometric patterns.
The world was crisp, and my mind felt unlike itself. It didn’t feel like anything at all. I was simply aware. More aware.
That’s weird. Awareness is supposed to be binary. It’s on or it’s off. Here, it was a matter of degree. My awareness had grown larger, somehow.
The transition was itself curious. I had just arrived but was always there. Like waking from a deep slumber.
In this state of aware awareness, I realized something. And it seemed obvious.
The brain in my head generated awareness. The interaction of its billions of neurons produced consciousness. A clear relation. No mysticism to speak of.
I felt this crisply. Yet I reasoned as much since, by ‘supercharging’ my brain with psilocybin, my awareness had become somehow more. I wouldn’t say it had enlarged. It was simply more of itself. My awareness was more aware.
This study shows that psilocybin reduces activity in the prefrontal cortex. To use the authors’ words, this enables a “state of unconstrained cognition”. My own experience was a sense that the ‘self’ in the mind had evaporated— there was no ‘thinker’ in there, thinking.
With this thinker silenced, my awareness could grasp what was important. I was keenly aware, not of what I wanted, but of what would be good for me.
Sam Harris often discusses the psychedelic experience. He views it as a window. A window through which you see the brain’s potential. You see that “there’s a there, there”. That well cared for, the brain generates a higher state of consciousness.
In that higher state, humans are their better selves — their compassionate, loving, powerful selves.
So we need to take care of our brains. Here’s how.
Sleep — longer
You’re sleep-deprived. So am I. So is a large chunk of American society.
But this has to be the exception, not the rule. A healthy brain depends on ample sleep. Without it, your brain loses function.
Matthew Walker, Ph.D., in Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, shows how sleeping for less than 6 hours for 10 successive nights impairs your functioning as much as would staying awake for 24 straight hours. And this study found that chronic sleep loss hamstrings learning and undercuts cognitive performance.
To contrast, another found that children who slept longer each night scored better in reasoning and overall IQ than their drowsy peers.
Maria Popova, the creator of Brain Pickings, says that skipping on sleep amounts to:
“A total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect.”
She’s right. In conversation with Tim Ferriss, Maria related that she isn’t rigid at bedtime and waking time. Her practice is to wake up 8 full hours after she’s gone to sleep. But she’s strict on those 8 hours.
Then she gets up, reads two books, and writes a few articles shortly read by millions.
Increasing sleep-time isn’t complicated. It takes discipline — and the resolve to adopt a new habit.
If you’re an early riser, this means getting to bed early. To do so, you must stop working on time.
You need to decompress after the day’s work. Connect with family, enjoy a meal, and unplug. This puts your body in a state fit for rest.
To stop working on time, be firm. I make a rule to stop at 17h00, come what may. It’s unconditional. This way, I must finish my work, or it’s punted to the next day.
When I’m strict like this, I’m actually more productive. Because I have to be. It’s a double win.
Commit to stop working on time. Commit to sleep. Remember that it’s adopting the new habit that takes the most discipline. Once learned, maintenance is easy.
And remember — great work is the product of great sleep:
“Work is the product of the capacities cultivated by sleep” — Maria Popova.
Exercise — but take it easy
Exercise, you already know, is good for your brain.
Science shows how training regularly increases your neurotrophin levels. Neurotrophins are proteins that support brain plasticity, meaning the brain’s ability to form new connections.
The upshot — exercise improves memory and learning. It also promotes neurogenesis — where nervous tissue is repaired and the brain heals. This is good news. It means you can undo the damage you did last Friday night.
But not all exercise is created equal. The study found that long-lasting, low-intensity exercise results in increased neurotrophin levels. Shorter, high-intensity training pumps the stress hormone, corticosterone. It’s a trade-off of priorities.
If your priority is brain health, stretch your training sessions. Jog for an hour at a pace where speaking is comfortable. Take your time on your next cycle. Go on a long hike with friends. Whatever you do, take it easy.
I often get it wrong. Work overflows past 17h00. I stay up longer than I mean to. I skip the training.
The goal is to persist. To make each week a little better than the last. The habit will form.
Enhancing awareness is a life-long project. Lengthen your sleep. Stretch your training. Commit to a healthy mind. Maybe you’ll achieve a state of unconstrained cognition.