I had a wonderful weekend up at a retreat center in Mendocino. Hot tub, outstanding friends, good food. And I rediscovered the fine frustration of connecting with and making a pass at a pretty girl who turns out to be gay. But that's all right.

And I'm pretty sure that one way or another I will be learning blacksmithing by the end of the year.

A friend wrote this after this weekend:

Don't worry about who you are or how people see you. We talk about "being yourself" and "finding yourself", but it's kind of misleading, because it sounds like there's something I need to discover, as though somewhere along the line I discover the self I'm supposed to be. But there isn't one: I am just me, and I feel and laugh and hurt and make choices, and my life is not a procession toward some giant goal, but a stream of moments where I decide what to do with myself. I feel lost sometimes, and I want an answer. Psychedelic substances can be tempting in that regard. There's such a culture of consciousness-expansion and spirituality surrounding them, not entirely without basis, that it's a logical place to turn for insight.

Used intelligently, psychedelics do stretch your mind. Your brain interprets images differently; the substance may actually alter the images being sent to your brain. Your thought processes change, you think along different lines, you connect disparate concepts--and because of this shakeup, this freedom, ideas and feelings can occur to you as never before, with a clarity and sudden obviousness. This can remind you of something you already know and perhaps have lost track of, or you can see things about yourself and your life that seem completely new.

I wanted answers this weekend. I wanted to know why I feel so sad sometimes, how to be happy, what's going to happen in my life. Here are the answers I got:

  1. Keep up the good work.

  2. I don't need to make myself feel small next to God or the Universe or anything else. It's a false humility that feeds the separation of myself from everything else.

  3. Real, deep change doesn't happen in the hours of a psychedelic experience, but in the weeks and months of daily practice and paying attention and developing my awareness of myself and the world around me.

For me, and for almost everyone else I know, the psychedelic experience is ultimately somewhat shallow, and this is why we do less and less of it as we get older. We've already opened the doors, and it's not so exciting any more; fun and familiar, rather than novel. We don't live in that fully altered state, we live in the world of growing older and holding jobs and having relationships and families. This is what matters.

Always keep learning--even if you're learning the same thing over and over again.

I also had an adventurous hike yesterday, with the aforementioned pretty girl and her two friends. It was...steep, I guess. It turns out that while I don't hike very often, I have a lot of experience simply tramping around woods and rocks, and climbing stuff, from summer vacations on Cape Cod, summer camp, going to the houses of friends who had woods nearby, and some rock climbing. So I know all sorts of useful but not-quite-playing-it-safe tricks for getting around; one of my favorites for descending steep hills is to try and do it a step at a time, but always pay attention for a small tree that looks like it will support me, so when the inevitable slip happens I can run downhill a little bit, keep my balance, and use the tree to keep myself from falling. It doesn't always work out well: yesterday we were going down a steep hill, and I tried going down a deep gully where some water was flowing. It's a good thing they didn't follow me, because there was suddenly a six-foot drop down to a narrow landing on slippery rocks. I did try to climb down, but soon found myself stuck and having a Hollywood moment, holding on to a very strong tree root, trying to get a foothold on a rock, and having the rock and surrounding dirt give way and leave me hanging. The aforementioned pretty girl was kind enough to give me a hand up and only make fun of me for it once afterward.

What's not to like about a weekend like that?