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“Pablo, please don’t forget the weed lollies.”
“I won’t Mum, don’t worry.” She had texted me just minutes before boarding on the plane.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Schipol.” I say it to myself over and over again: Sgipol, Sgihpol, Shipohl… My Dutch flatmate taught me the right pronounciation but I’ve already forgotten.
I’m not an inexperienced traveler. I wouldn’t had imagined I would find a close-to-home airport so disorientating, lacking signposting and with weird turns. The halls, waiting rooms and corridors are surprisingly empty, which adds to my self-frustration, as even in an empty space I’m unable to find my way confidently. The language sounds incredibly familiar but I’m barely able to understand a single word.
Incoming call from Immy Woodenfish.
“Immy! I’m here already, where shall we meet?”
“Aw, Pablo! At last! We’re having dinner now, bringing back so many memories from our stay together in the monastery.”
“You haven’t seen anyone since China?” I ask, standing in the middle of the transport link section of the airport. Everyone seem be going somewhere, or at least knowing where to, except me.
“No, this is the first time.” A pause. “Anyway, you can take the 397 in the bus station. Direction Leidsplein, then get off at Bushalte eldandsgracht. From there it’s a 10-minute walk to Bellamylein 51, Foodhallen.”
“Sounds good! How will I be able to identify the stop? My data should be working but isn’t, I’ll try and download the map with the shitty airport wifi.”
Some minutes later I end up in a train reaching Amsterdam Centraal. I ask a uniformed, tough-looking railway officer if this is the right train. She tells me it’s not, but rectifies when the beeping sound for the closing doors goes off. In the station, after some calls and almost half an hour, we finally meet. We’re a group of five, a group of five who share a tight bond: the Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life Program, a group of five which lived together for a month only but have seen themselves in emotionally critical situations of all types, a group of five which despite oceans-long distance between their paths, they still take hands to help each other progress.
The battery of questions start, this time is Nicole:
“So, Pablo, how’s school? How’s work? How are you? Please tell us!”
I sigh, looking at the black and still water in the canals.
“To be honest, very few times I’ve been as demotivated with my life as I am in this moment,” I laugh. “My classes are going great, I got my first first in Creative Writing the other day and I’m absolutely loving Study of Religions. The thing is my activism has been halted for months and so far we have been unable to give birth to any new group. I don’t want to get into this, but,” Nicole looked into my eyes, “as you know my partner and I finished on the 8th of May and since then everything related to her has gone downhill and it’s horrible. Don’t ask me why, or how, because I simply don’t know – which doesn't help me at all.”
“I’m sorry, Pablo. However, you’re writing a lot, right? I see your posts on Facebook! Ugh, I’m going to be taking yet another year off. Recently I have realised that my life’s work, work, and work. I barely have the time and energy to nurture my web of friendships I have both at home and all over the world. You’re magnificent people and we learn a lot from each other, receive and send metta, give us a helping hand when needed.”
“I can totally understand that. That’s great. Yes, I’m writing a lot, but it’s just a distraction you know. It just keeps me going, as it cannot resolve the issues in a radical way. It contributes to, definitely, but that’s not good enough.”
“No, it will never be. A social revolution doesn’t only depend on my writing. I wish!”
I haven’t even mentioned work. I get back to tour-guiding for the second semester and our sign is broken. It’s really cold and I manage to get the astonishing figure of zero people for my morning tour. I wander around for two hours, then start leafleting again. Just five minutes before the PM tour is meant to start, two women decide to join me. They end up tipping me seven quid. Is that what I'm worth? I wasted 8 hours of my Saturday, of my life, for seven quid altogether. These past weeks I feel like a mere plank of wood from a shipwreck: indulged in total indolence, waiting for an island to get rest on. I would then pass my days lying on the warm sand, sun tanning me and waves refreshing my feet.
We go out for a drink, and reach Immy’s place, where we’re staying, after half an hour of bus ride and almost one walking, at 03:00.
The next day we get the tram to the centre, aiming to visit the Van Gogh Museum. It’s eighteen euros with no discounts for students, so we don’t even need to debate it. The buildings here look like people in a crammed subway, all squeezed so to be able to fit. The canals divide up the centre, hosting both uncared boats, freshly painted ones and overpriced touristic water tours. We eventually arrive at our destination: the Red district. The combination of the smell of roasted duck in the Chinese restaurants, with the weed cloud that permeates the streets and the Dutch cheese, confuses my nostrils.
“So, it’s this smartshop we’re getting the supplies from, right?” asks Áron.
“This is not the one, it doesn’t appear on the map,” Delia steps in.
“Isn’t it?” the name of the shop, Nature’s Beauties, sounds familiar to me. “Didn’t you mention it when we were looking at the map?”
No-one remembers it. I genuinely believe I didn’t imagine it. I must have heard it. Somewhere.
We’re welcomed by a man wearing a magic mushroom necklace. Only two of us are experienced, and two are complete beginners. They all get Dolphin Delight, the second weakest.
“It’s a very social one, so don’t worry about that. It should last about 4 hours.”
I get White Diamonds, its description reading: For experienced psychonauts. Very spaced out energy. Strong visuals/hallucinations. There’s a christal clear bright shining star in everyone of us. Break on through to the other side, and rediscover your inner Self. I didn’t choose the strongest, as I still wanted to be in tune with the rest.
“A handy stopper is sugar. Orange juice, you can drink orange juice,” the shopowner advises us, gulping it himself from a two-litre bottle.
When he's packed all of the truffles, along with the lollipops for my mum, he takes a step back and almost loses his balance.
“A nice thing about gifts like this from Mother Nature is that your body develops a natural tolerance to it which dies out after two weeks. Essentially this means you have to wait long to take it again.” He laughs, and hands the bag to us. “Have a nice social trip!”
I find pleasure in being able to express myself in a comfortable way in another language. I find pleasure in the fact none of us speak English natively but we’re able to communicate almost perfectly. I find pleasure in making noises with my vocal chords to express way more complex feelings, thoughts and ideas, and that someone's able to understand them just by mere sounds.
As I have learnt, psychedelics are like examining yourself in the mirror. For hours. There you are, with a beard that needs trimming, or the curly hair you really like, or the legs you wish were thicker and longer. You not only see but experience your perfections and imperfections, the ones you know and the ones you’re discovering. This is the reason I refuse to label trips as good or bad. Introspection's a rewarding yet painful exercise we should all commit ourselves to, and psychedelics offer an unconventional, but daunting, perspective. I'll see whatever's waiting for me in this trip, I trust the people and the atmosphere enough to be confident it won’t be torturing. In case it is, like last time, I’ll have a supportive atmosphere.
Immy has neatly arranged her living room. The only lights are a little lamp and a few candles. We open the small containers and start chewing on the truffles.
They taste like grainy walnuts with a tangy aftertaste. Delia, Immy and Nicole are having some peanuts and water too, to help with the taste.
“My wisdom teeth are coming out so I don’t want any bit to stick in between. I’m flushing all the truffles down,” says Nicole.
“The truffles don’t stick to your wisdom teeth, Nicole.” I let a pause develop. “They help them grow.”
I look at the time for the last time: 17:15. It has started to kick in for Nicole, who’s mentioning the walls have started to move, she feels her head heavier but emptier at the same time, and the books she’s staring at are changing colour. Little by little, we take our own personal space. I know it always takes time to kick in for me, so I decide to watch the others in the meantime. At one point, we stop talking, all of us fully focused on our own processes.
I lean down on a sitting cushion, my head turning round. It’s not making circles as when you’re dizzy, but making circles to examine above, below, right and left. Outside, and inside. Delia starts complaining that she feels unwell.
“This is not working, I’m just feeling bad. I don’t know if this is a headache, an upset stomach or absolute tiredness.”
“It’s your body reacting to it, Delia. Don’t worry, surrender to it,” says Immy, who’s lying down on the couch in phoetal position.
“Welcome it,” Áron adds.
I finish it off by saying:
“At first, you will welcome it. Then, you won’t be welcoming it: you will Be It.”
Áron nods, who's leaning against the wall, eyes open. I close mine, laying on the wooden floor. I have been taken over by the Dao, which is trying to express itself through my physical body, eventually breaking my physical limits. I twist, I turn, stretch as much as I can. I smoothly flow into each posture, not needing to think what to do. Awareness is knowing without knowing you know. I have become a contortionist, with waves of urges to grasp really hard objects, to squeeze against them, to feel myself. Immy sometimes simply cannot hold it, and every now and again lets out an Oh my God, This is beautiful and words in Dutch I don’t know, but which I have become perfectly aware of the meaning.
“Your oregano smells so nice,” says Nicole.
I open my eyes, she's smelling Immy’s spices. This has officially been nominated as the best compliment of 2018. Could it even work as pickup line? She slowly reopens the oregano and smells once again, and she pulls a face which I can only compare -and the simile is not powerful enough- to the face you pull when reaching an orgasm. I feel the floor I’m resting on, but I also feel the small glass container Nicole’s holding. I even smell the oregano too, because what Nicole's doing isn't experiencing the oregano, but the sensual wholeness of the Universe condensed in a jar – which she just opened. She crawls back to the bed and starts scribbling.
I look around. Delia's sat on the corner of the mattress, back against the wall. She's staring, not to somewhere or something - Staring. She's been mute for a while. It's not that I feel a string of energy, of qi, connecting us. I feel I’m embodying Delia, her contemplation, and my body is twisting in an attempt to both host and express the Flow. Áron is still leaning against the wall, sitting down. He has not moved, he has not reacted to anything, he is the relisient being. I feel I’m embodying Áron, I feel embodied by Áron. Nicole's still scribbling, with watery eyes and a messed up hair. I feel her pain, and the floor becomes a bed of the tiniest nails, which I not only let through my body but fuse with. Nicole and me are embodying the Dao. Immy's on the couch, who, like me, is physically expressing the qi flow, and can’t hold back comments out of pure awe. Then, back to myself, I realise we're not embodying anything, simply because we don't exist. We are It. We have opened the flood gates, and the torrent of the Dao has torn up our chest, opening it like an unzipped hoodie, turning Itself into flying butterflies of all colours and sizes. These fly out in harmony, invading the room in such a way they are able to lift and carry us through Space.
I stand up and walk, as I can, to the bathroom. I take my time to stare myself in the mirror. So, this is what I am. It's crazy that I order my body, to move, and it does. I get closer to mirror: face-to-face not with myself, but the my conception of myself.
“Social my ass,” says Nicole. “He needs to market this in a different way. If this is for beginners, wow. I think I can see why Pablo has become a body artist. It's impressive!"
We all laugh. I propose we cook, and then we all laugh again.
I feel I collapse inside every time I look at Delia, Áron, Nicole, Immy. My insides twist in endless cosmic knots, untying themselves as easily as they tied themselves. My body shrinks into itself and then proceeds to expand, like a sponge. Every now and again, I do get thoughts about work, about my past relationship, about the political movement, but I'm able to battle them off, precisely by not facing them but letting them go.
Colours, infinite symmetrical circular shapes! Images of the Goddesses over and over again in all forms.
Little by little, we're coming down from the peak, and I feel as warm as ever. I feel the body of all my friends, from all over the world, close to mine. I feel their breath, their body heat, their smooth skin. I feel them wherever they are, because they're here, and I’m there with them too. Some of them I haven’t seen for ages, but I feel them as close as the ones I am with in this room right now.
We lay in silence, the trip almost done. We are metres away, but hugging each other at the same time. I feel energised, ready to face whatever comes and keep writing, working on pushing a defiant grass-roots antiauthoritarian movement, nurturing all my relationships. It's time to twist, adapt myself to everyone and everything without losing my worldly identity. We should try and make the best out of this. After all, we’re just delighted dolphins swimming together, jumping high, doing some acrobatics; guided by the white diamonds in the sky we call stars.
[This was written in a rush in a foreign laptop, I still need to revise it and polish it, sorry about the typos and grammatical mistakes.]