Could Psychedelics Change How we Die?
“Death is an undulation in consciousness” - Alan Watts.
We don’t die right. We suffer immensely. We financially burden our loved ones. We put ourselves & our families through unthinkable hardship. Many spend their final moments in a sterile hospital bed, hooked up to machines & IVs…until their breath becomes air.
I am hopeful that the Psychedelic Renaissance will catalyze a new perspective on what it means to die, and subsequently, how we die. But before diving into that - it’s important to dissect why we die the way that we do. I have isolated 4 primary reasons:
Religion - We are becoming an increasingly less religious society, but there are relics from the past still imbedded in how we live (and die). Euthanasia is illegal in all 50 states, and only 10 districts allow for assisted suicide. The idea that ‘only God can take a life away’ is still prevalent in our society. I challenge this assertion by arguing that God gave us free will for a reason…we have agency over how we live & ultimately, how we die.
Money - Hospitals make a lot of money keeping people ‘alive’ (technically - they make money keeping people dying for a prolonged period of time). Only 20% of Americans will die at home, providing hospitals with an opportunity for lucrative testing & procedures. As one Executive at a prominent Health System told me during my time at Healthcare Company - “we want people in our hospital from cradle to grave”. Dying at home, in a peaceful setting, surrounded by loved ones, isn’t good business.
Taboo - It is frowned upon to discuss death. Doing so results in being labeled a downer, or dark, or depressing. But preventing these conversations from happening has consequences. We sweep a necessary dialogue under the rug and people suffer because of it. One source of optimism here is the rise in popularity of Stoicism & one of their mantras - ‘Memento Mori’ - which is Latin for “Remember Death”. Reminding yourself of your own mortality increases your likelihood to live fully in this moment. And will contribute to a necessary conversation about how we should die.
Fear - We are programmed to fear death. This had evolutionary advantages when we were avoiding predation & environmental calamities on the African Savannah. But fast forward to the modern era, and a majority of us will have some level of agency over where and how we die. But fear of the unknown leads us to making poor decisions…like clinging to life at the expense of our dignity and our families financial & emotional well being. One solution here - psychedelics..
Psychedelics allow us to confront death without dying. In doing so - they teach us we have nothing to fear. By removing fear out of the equation, people will be more likely to have the tough conversations about their own mortality.
Like many people, I had a rational fear of death leading up to my first Bufo Ceremony in the Spring of 2019. But when smoking the secretion of the Sonoran Desert Toad catapults you into another dimension where you both experience the Big Bang & revisit your childhood self - the word ‘rational’ no longer possesses any legitimacy.
After someone’s first Bufo journey, it is customary for the entire ceremony to shout “Happy Birthday!!”. This is because essentially you ‘die’ while under the medicine, and therefore are reborn. Those that have done Bufo have two birthdays - one when they came out of this world, and one when they flew into the universal consciousness, only to come back a changed person. Experiencing an alternate reality where you are bathed in love, feel a profound connection with nature, understand that time is a fabrication of the human mind, and have an epiphany that cultivating meaningful relationships is the most important endeavor of the human condition changes everything.
In the aftermath of my Bufo journey it occurred to me that the philosopher Alan Watts was right - death isn’t some final destination, it’s merely an undulation in consciousness. The only reason we know we are awake is because we were asleep, and the only reason we know we are alive is because we were once dead. Life isn’t linear…its more analogous to waves hitting the shoreline. Understanding this unlocks the potential to no longer fear what happens at the ‘end’. Because there is no end. And to truly understand this, one must experience death before it happens. The Psychedelic Renaissance will result in more people having the experiences necessary to no longer fear death. Gone will be the days when people chose to suffer and burden their loved ones out of an irrational fear that ‘this is it’. And after coming to this realization - we can begin to truly live.
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