DIARY OF AN EGO DEATH ON LSD

Facing a major life meltdown, Sam Lam was ready to turn herself inside out. Little did she know, her first LSD trip would lead to the experience of ego death …

Photo: Frida Aguilar Estrada

I’d majored in philosophy in college, studied metaphysics, epistemology, and even endured a stint in theology. But despite the multitude of theoretical expeditions I’ve taken into human consciousness, nothing could have prepared me  for the acid trip that led to me experiencing the much-documented “ego death.”

By age 30, I’d burnt out in my career as a Business Development Manager for a multi-national oil and gas company. So I did what any self-respecting women worthy of her prized Louboutins would do: I jacked in that job, packed my (many) bags and boarded a flight to ‘La La Land’ to pursue a career in fashion.

As if this identity crisis wasn’t enough, a couple of months prior I’d discovered that my now ex-husband of almost 10 years was having an affair. Needless to say, I was a total emotional-fucking-wreck. A 30-something divorcée with a fresh “Monroe” lip piercing, I soon found myself trying to heal my shattered heart by reliving my hard-partying youth.

Cut to me raging it up at a major music festival. I’d never taken LSD before that night, but in the sweltering heat of the desert, as the hot, orange sun began to dip, I decided to drop.

I felt very little at first. Twenty, maybe thirty minutes passed and by this point I was eager to rush to the front of the main stage and offer my metallic flash-tattooed body as a sacrifice to the music now engulfing me. I just wanted to dance. Dance all my life’s pain away.

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This was death, I felt certain of it … 
It’s not really possible to describe what happened next. Before I could even begin to move in the direction of the stage, I took one glance at the illuminated festival Ferris wheel swirling ahead and the acid hit my brain like a bolt of lightning.

In that instant all of my senses merged. I could taste sounds, smell the music, and literally see my feelings.

This was death, I felt certain of it. The world as I knew it disappeared, and while I could no longer feel my body, my mind got busy imagining my demise in vivid, graphic, Technicolor.

Gory, violent, blood curdling. Vicious ends that felt oh too real. At one point I was hit by a steam-train in the middle of the desert. The next I was being eaten alive by rattle snakes. Next, I was a victim to the desert sun as its rays pierced my skin and melted my flesh to the bone. I then tried to write an (imaginary) letter to my family to apologize for giving up and going out in such a shameful way, but I literally couldn’t find the words to express how deeply sorry I was.

Then came a silence. A complete and utter black quiet in my head. It was a peaceful moment where I was truly thinking “nothing” at all (if that’s possible). A temporary respite from that torment that followed.

Photo: Kelly Malloy

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I could feel the world weep … 
Nothing can prepare you for “Ego Death”—the term is used in various, intertwined contexts to describe a fundamental transformation in the psyche, where we lose the self entirely. The words “I,” “me,” “myself” lose all meaning whatsoever.

This is what I experienced next, and it altered my life forever.

I could feel the pain of the entire Universe. Immense and immeasurable, agonizing torture. Quite literally, I felt for both a split second and an eternity, the utter, agonizing grief of every single man, woman, child, animal, tree, the oceans, and the skies.

I felt the Universe inside of me and all of its desperate misery. I could feel the world weeping.

A the Universe sobbed, my sense of self had completely and utterly vanished into it. “I” no longer existed. “I” no longer related to anything. It was as if I had become “dark matter,” as theorized in quantum physics—”I” was empty space. Nothing.

I woke up the next morning on the floor of my hotel room, with my festival uniform intact (bikini top, denim shorts, misappropriated tribal feathers). The desert was still in my hair and I had no memory of how I’d gotten home.

As my eyes slowly opened and the speckles of light danced into my retinas, I realized I was still alive. “Samantha” had survived her first (and probably one and only) acid trip. But something fundamental had changed …

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Had I melted my brain? 
The trip had been so intense, I was left fearing the worst. For months I worried that I had in fact melted my brain. I was no longer draw to “partying” as a way to dance out my demons. What can I say, the world just isn’t the same after you’ve “died.” Nothing seemed to make sense anymore.

Four months after the trip, I was severely depressed and still trying to make sense of my marriage breakdown, my scattered career choices, and this extraordinary experience. One afternoon, I found myself all alone in my apartment.

I was lying on my bed ugly crying, with blood-shot puffy eyes and chapped lips, and the what felt like the weight of my woes making it difficult for me to breath. I was then gripped with an urge to step out onto the balcony of my pokey apartment to get some fresh air. As I stood out on that balcony staring at the cloudless blue expanse of sky, I could have sworn I heard a voice in my head:

“You have felt my pain, now let me take yours,” said what I can only sensibly identify as The Universe.

In that instant I felt a warm calmness encircle me, as if I’d been injected with a large dose of MDMA. Yet this was an instant, drug-free Nirvana. The voice signaled that it was going to take away my suffering and pain, and transform it into something positive, pleasurable, maybe even beautiful.

In that moment, everything in my life just seemed to make total and absolutely succinct sense. I understood that I was designed to contain light and dark energy—to be the embodiment of Yin and Yang. I wanted to kiss my pain. Without it, I wouldn’t have embarked on this journey. I wouldn’t have had the courage to push my body beyond its physical and mental limits. I would have remained spiritually asleep.

The author

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The comedown … 
My life has since returned to “normal.” But my Ego Death experience has led to notable changes to my outlook.

I’ve drawn relationships into my life that are supportive and calm but also fun. I laugh more. My current partner lets me fully be myself. And I’ve found friendships circles with likeminded creatives and artists who are interested in alchemy and alternative modalities.

After these experiences, it’s been hard to return to the corporate world. Climbing the ladder no longer appeals to me. And though I haven’t quite found my niche, I’m figuring it out. I know somehow I’m supposed to be here in L.A … that something drew me here.

Most importantly, I’m more eco-conscious and aware of how my choices are impacting the future of the planet (after all, I had felt the whole world sobbing). I still love fashion, but I am no longer her slave, and have lost the desire to consume in the way I used to. And while organized religion is still not something I identify with, I’ve become intrigued by esoteric and alternative spiritual modalities.

What learned about a connected global consciousness is well documented elsewhere—an open-minded outlook that’s especially relevant in our current era of regressive, right-wing politicking.

After all, in the words of ethnobotanist and mystic Terence McKenna: “If the words life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the ‘Declaration of Independence’ isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”

I certainly don’t believe that drugs are the only path to experiences such as mine. But surely to muse and ask “why?”—or to protest “WTF?”—is an innate part of the human experience. How else can we pursue the kind of evolutionary advancements I may have accidentally stumbled on during my long, bizarre, and deadly dark night of ego death?

Born and raised in the North East of Scotland to an Irish/Scottish mother and Chinese father and having travelled the world in her previous career, Sam Lam is an L.A based creative who spends her time writing, consulting, styling, modeling and collaborating with brands to produce visual content.

TEMPLE OF VENUS: BEAUTY IMAGE BEAUTIFUL

In her latest Temple of Venus column, Elyssa Jakim discovers that even among spiritual circles, body image issues persist…Images: Karis Wakeling-Farren 

Beauty. Isn’t that a gorgeous word? Look at how it sits on the page: regal with all those vowels. I’ve always adored words with lots of vowels: elegant, exquisite, gorgeous, pleasing. Beauty is such an angel word.

Recently in a meditation, I heard the message: “You are more beautiful than you think you are.” This message struck me—it brought a sad little pang to my heart. When I thought more about it, I realized I’ve been experiencing one of those periods where I look in the mirror and think I look weird. Where I’m breaking out more than usual, where I don’t feel particularly connected to my sensual side, where, I don’t know, I just don’t “feel beautiful,” you know?

And I know what it’s about, really, this denial of beauty. I’ve been dancing with body image issues since I was thirteen. There was something wrong with my belly! Why did it stick out from my body like that? Why was I the only one with a strange belly like this? At 17, when other stresses kicked in, I acted on these thoughts and began dieting. I struggled from compulsive dieting for the next eight years.

I had grown up wanting to be an actress, famously a profession of body image perfectionism. When I was 19, I spent my summer as an apprentice at a theatre festival. I recall hanging out in a circle of about 10 women, and the conversation turned to food and dieting. It became clear to me that all these young women who wanted to be actresses had struggled with or were struggling with eating disorder.

All these gorgeous women who I knew as gorgeous because of their insides, their passionate outlook and fearlessness on stage, were folding themselves in one way or another in order to feel included in an exclusive industry: in order to feel included in their own dreams. It was the first time I realized how much I wasn’t alone in this “bad body image” compulsion. And, of course, it’s not just actresses who go through this. It’s all of us.

As years have passed, I feel better about me. A lot. I’m no longer dieting, and I feel I can accept whatever it is I have chosen to eat. However, I now find myself in many other women’s circles that mirror the above one. Healing circle. Meditation Circle. Brunch table. And to tell you the truth, even though these are circles of loving, empowered people, I’m often still worrying about the size of my belly.

The tendency toward self-blame is always there lingering in the background—and I’d like to posit that it is for many of us. It’s an elephant in our yoga studios and sound baths. We’ve had so much programming about how we’re supposed to look for our whole lives, that body anxiety just feels like a channel many of us have been set to. Especially if you live in a trendy city, and the street suggests fashion putting your body on show.

In groups and even just among friends, I’ve started paying attention to when my body image insecurity comes up. I get in touch with my inner knowing and I ask, “Is this mine?” Often, I hear “no.” It belongs to a peer. It belongs to a friend. Doing this has helped me understand, once again, that I am truly not alone in my insecurity. That it is SO MANY OF US who feel not right in ourselves.

Everyone, everyone has that something: “I’ve got a great body, but my skin sucks.” “I love my hips but my eyes kind of cross sometimes and I think I look messed up.” “My face is weird.” “I should look more masculine.” “I should look more feminine.” We compartmentalize ourselves and obsess over our “wrong” thing. So of course, even if the thought is usually not mine, it IS mine too. It’s all of ours. And we “empath” it back and forth to one another.

At this point, I’d like to bring up that this is the ego’s favorite myth, that: “There is something wrong with me.” Psychologist Tara Brach brilliantly describes this concept in her book Radical Acceptance:

[T]he universal sense that “something is wrong” easily solidifies into “something is wrong with me.” When I look into my own feelings of unworthiness, sometimes I can’t point to any significant way I’m actually falling short. Yet just this feeling of being a self, separate from others, brings up a fundamental assumption that I am not okay…Believing that we are separate, incomplete, and therefore at risk, is not some malfunction of nature. Rather, this perception is an intrinsic part of our human experience—indeed of all life.

Brach makes it clear: it’s our sense of alone-ness that makes us feel wrong. The great irony of course is that we’re all together in feeling separate. And there is nothing wrong with you or me or us. There may, however, be something wrong with the society we live in (“The universal sense that something is wrong…”). There may be something wrong with the messages that we ingest and unknowingly propagate.

The author today

But what is the gift of these insane societal standards? What is the gift of the insecurity?

Disagreeing with the ego’s unloving ideas strengthens the mind and soul. When you choose to say “no” to this habit of self-attack, when you choose love in favor of compulsion, you are growing. You are claiming your worth. You are getting stronger each time. Whenever we actively proclaim the Truth to the unloving self, we are paving the way for freedom.

Choose an affirmation today for your unloving habit and resolve to challenge it in order to gain freedom. Mine is: “I know that these fears about my body are untrue. I know I am so much more than this body. I surrender these fears to love.” This can, of course, be applied to any flavor of compulsion, not just body perfectionism. And of course, whenever we free ourselves, we free our sisters and brothers, too. The grip of group insecurity relaxes, we’re all getting spiritually lighter together. Which, in my humble opinion, is way more important than physical lightness. This is a spiritual workout!

These hurts also build empathy and compassion. How could I, Elyssa, help others love their bodies if I hadn’t run the whole gamut of fear and love in my own thinking? Thus our misfortunes become our miracles.

I told a friend about my meditation, the one in which I heard, “You are more beautiful than you think you are.”

“What do you mean by that?” He asked. “Physically?”

“Yes, physically.”

“Go to your heart,” he said. “Go to your heart. That’s where beauty lives. Focus on the feelings inside your heart and you will know you’re beautiful. Then your whole self responds.”

I love this. And, it is true. And when I talked to Venus, Venus told me: “You are all beautiful. You are all divine. You are all so much more radiant than you know.” Go to your heart. Find the beauty and resilience there. “Heart.” That’s got a nice vowel assortment too.

PS: This post marks my one-year anniversary of writing for the Numinous! From Spring to Spring, I am grateful for all of the gifts.

Need more Venus inspiration? Check out Elyssa’s last Temple of Venus column on the practice of receiving.

NAVARATRI: HOW TO WORK THE GODDESS ENERGY FOR FALL

The Indian festival of Navaratri begins today, and is a nine-day opportunity to work with the Goddess Energy of the Divine Feminine to amplify your personal power. Anita Kaushal explains how…

Autumn signals colder, darker nights and this can leave many of us feeling physically and emotionally fatigued. At times of weakness we need to summon strength and this can take many forms. So it’s fortunate that Tuesday 13th October signals the start of Navaratri – the nine-day Indian festival devoted to Durga – the Goddess of Shakti, or power and strength.

Nava-ratri translates to ‘nav’ meaning nine, ‘ra’ meaning night and ‘tri’ meaning the three aspects of mind, body and soul. This festival happens twice a year – in spring to celebrate sowing seeds, and autumn, when we reap the harvest. The exact dates are determined by the lunar calendar and the celebrations pay homage to the three aspects of Goddess Durga – as Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Together the three aspects of Durga represent the Divine Feminine energy that creates all that is. Here we share with you how you can tap into the Divine at this sacred time, and in doing so supercharge your inner strength to bring you greater fulfillment and peace.

:: October 13-15 ::
For the first three nights of Navaratri, meditate on the destructive aspect of Durga as Kali – a symbol of change, power, creation, preservation and back to destruction. Here we see Kali as the destroyer of ego, the mind-made personality that cultivates fear based thinking, leading to anger, greed and hatred. However, this is not a time to deny these aspects of your personality, as to deny is to strengthen. Instead use this time to reach a greater understanding of when and where these mind-made habits took form and how they are triggered in the present.

Cultivate the understanding that you are not these labels, and allow the feelings to come and then go. Thank these feelings for bringing you closer to the aspects you wish to cultivate, which represent your true nature. Let Kali guide you to turn anger into patience, greed into trust and hatred into love. Above all this is a time to simply surrender, knowing that nothing is permanent. Kali is often depicted with her tongue hanging out and you may know this stance from yoga – you exhale the negative and let it go.

:: October 16-18 ::
Spend the next three nights meditating upon the Divine Mother as Lakshmi – the Goddess of Abundance. Depicted with four arms, sitting resplendent on a full-bloomed lotus with gold coins cascading from her hands, Lakshmi represents the beauty and bounty of nature. Her four arms represent the four ends of human life: “dharma” or righteousness, “kama” or desire, “artha” or wealth, and “moksha” or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This is the perfect time to connect to your heart space and get clear on what abundance means to you.

Trust that the abundance meant for you cannot be taken away, and is simply waiting until you are ready to receive the download and that can only happen when you get clear and free from free of fear. During these three days, give freely of all you would love to receive. Nurture yourself by creating sacred space for beautifying, balancing rituals, buy yourself something special and then wear it – special occasion or not! Savor good food, give compliments and be open to receiving them too – this is the time to feel abundant with all your being. And if you don’t do it already, now is the time to start a gratitude journal – fill it with all you already feel grateful for and watch it multiply.

:: October 19-21 ::
On the final three nights, meditate upon the Divine Feminine as the wisdom-bestowing aspect known as Saraswati. The Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and wisdom, Saraswati brings the joy of learning and of self-realisation. This is an excellent time to sign up for a course, read inspiring articles, read a translated version of the Gayatri Mantra to further deepen your knowledge and create a mediate practice.

Equally, it is a time to create a ‘to don’t list’! Learning should be fun and if you have a long list that is not getting done, ask yourself if you ever really wanted to do it in the first place? Why set yourself up to fail? Who are you proving things to and for? Use this time to truly connect to what you want and give up everything else. Think about all the lessons you have learnt and give thanks for growing wisdom.

Throughout the nine days of Navaratri, focus on breathing as an opportunity to inhale the qualities you wish to nurture and exhale the qualities that no longer serve you. Traditionally, the 10th day concludes by offering nine girls from the local neighbourhood treats of some kind, be it sweets and clothing – to symbolize an offering to the Divine Goddesses. We offer gratitude to the Divine Mother and celebrate in a state of sat-chit-ananda, or truth-consciousness-bliss, and conclude with Vijayadasami (Vijay – victory, and dasami – tenth day), symbolizing the victory of the Goddess over all demonic forces. Think about the small but significiant victories you have made as you have focused on Durga, and give thanks for how far you have come.

Anita Kaushal is the founder of Ayurveda-inspired natural beauty line Mauli Rituals. Find out more about her and her journey at the link, and follow her @mauli_rituals.

DRESSING FOR THE DECK: A TAROT FASHION SERIES

How to fully embody the lessons of the Tarot? Play tarot fashion dress up of course, says Gabriela Herstik…Photography: Mary Decrescenzio 

:: THE MAGICIAN ::

There’s a certain power that arises when you tap your own intuition, your spirit, and declare to the Universe that YOU are the one in charge of your own manifestations and actions. The Magician sings of this. She is inner strength, manifestation and power. And she uses all the elements at her disposal to create.

I wanted to feel alive, regal, and (my version of) colorful in this outfit. I wanted to feel cloaked, and protected and magickal. I wore the dress I wore for my 20th birthday layered under a big, knit sweater, and I added layered necklaces and a scarf I cinched around my waist. I wore two different mala beads around my wrist, wrapped my pentacle necklace into a bracelet.

I grabbed my skeleton hand chalice and figured I would find a wand in the forest and use my eyes as daggers to round up all the suites of the Tarot. I wanted to feel strong and powerful. I wanted to feel like I was magick manifested.

:: TEMPERANCE ::

Temperance speaks of working with opposing elements and using them to find balance. Battle water with fire, earth with air. Temperance is a card of healing, of renewal, a flowing stream promising something better, something easier.

I wanted to interpret this card surrounded by water, with pieces in sweet blue and just a touch of red (lipstick always counts). I picked up this wonderful vintage teddy from the place I work, Hip Wa Zee, and paired it with this sweet little robe I got from my friend Ivory who runs an incredibly curated vintage shop called Forgotten Feather Vintage.

I was feeling very “Secret Garden,” and I believe Temperance reminds us to find our own secret garden, our own place of peace. A safe haven to remind us that once we find balance, everything else will fall into place.

:: THE HERMIT ::

The Hermit speaks of vulnerability, of shedding your layers and moving inward. In the Wild Unknown Deck, the Hermit is represented by the turtle, and the symbolism is both obvious and profound – that underneath your shell, you are your own home.

My spiked leather jacket is like this shell, a barrier between me and the world. It gives me the confidence and strength to own my s***. Pieces like this are  my protection as I move through this life, especially as someone who can be passed over as vulnerable or weak because of my small frame.

I wore a vintage nightgown from Forgotten Feather, something really delicate, to represent the journey inward. Embracing The Hermit means dealing with your own issues face on – finding them, learning from them and hopefully growing from them. It also means picking up your shell, and continuing along your own path as you explore what it means to tune into yourself.

:: THE HANGED MAN ::

The Hanged Man. This card reminds us to change our perspective, let go of ego, and embrace the sense of rebirth that’s available when we choose to see things in a new light. The Hanged Man is represented by a bat in the Wild Unknown deck, and just like the bat uses echolocation to see, we are reminded to use our intuition when our own sense of perspective is off.

I chose a floral shirt to represent growth and rebirth and a slick leather style skirt to represent how we must let judgments pass over us without resistance. The darker color pallet and oversize knit shawl were inspired by the aesthetic of the card, and the image of the bat itself. I was inspired by pieces that make me feel powerful, intuitive and strong.

You can check out Gariela’s full fashion tarot series at the link.

What card do you channel most often in your fashion choices? Comment below or tag us in your tarot fashion images on Instagram or Facebook!

13 WAYS TO HAVE A HIGH VIBE LONDON FASHION WEEK

Fashion Week is essentially ego central. Here are 13 ways to channel your inner Unicorn, and transcend the tantrums and the auric trauma…Words and illustrations: Erin Petson

Meditate in the toilets, while the other bloggers and writers star gaze for the nearest wifi, plug socket or mobile phone signal. A moment of solace.

Channel your inner guru when you actually should be taking notes or making scathingly hilarious remarks about the lack of celebs on the front row with some secret speed journaling.

Guzzle vast amounts of the highest vibrational green juice you can get your hands on. When it’s being given out for free at the showcases, 10 bottles in your handbag is, like, totally fine.

Take time to ground yourself with your standing only ticket. You’ve got plenty of time before the show starts to grow those roots.

Snort the must potent hormonal balancing essential oil you can find whenever possible. With oestrogen bombs exploding all around, it’s time to take cover.

Practise the art of being a lighthouse, we don’t want any shipwrecks.

Step out for a quick ‘smoke’ between shows – my preference is sage, and never at a bus stop.

Practice looking fabulously nonchalant while secretly watching Doreen Virtue on youtube (and naughtily using up that precious phone juice).

Actual tree hugging is obviously a big no-no. However, gravitating towards the nearest potted plant for a wee pet, totally fine.

Drape yourself with as many crystals as humanly and stylishly possible.

Dress witchy enough to get a good 6ft auric field clearance.

Make vast amounts of protein rich chia seed pudding and keep it in a coffee cup, as not to draw to attention to your secret attempt at at super-food stop-gap.

…And when your five days on the tundra are up, gong it all out with the mother of all sound baths.

How will you keep your aura clean and serene during London Fashion Week? Share your tips with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!