I wrote up my experience smoking the 5-MeO-DMT-containing Bufo alvarius venom for an anthology: The Toad in Me: Psychedelic Experiences with Bufo. It will be published October 1, 2022.
Special Note: due to ongoing conservation issues, it is now recommended that those seeking to sit with Bufo (an experience that itself is certainly not recommended for everyone) find a practitioner who uses synthetic 5-MeO-DMT.
To some degree, I sought out Bufo from sheer philosophical interest. I was looking to experience what, all my life, I had reasoned and intuited my way towards—namely, the knowing that exists above the mind’s knowing. The only knowing adequate to the infinite source of Being. I’d read Plotinus, Ibn Arabi, and other mystical texts. Now I wanted to see for myself.
But there was another way of putting this. Some weeks before I sat in ceremony, a friend asked me why I wanted to do it. Not knowing at the time George Mallory’s quip about why he’d climbed Mount Everest, I replied seriously: “Because it’s there.”
That was all.
If there was a limit, I had to touch it.
I wanted to put my hand on the ceiling of the universe.
I can’t recall precisely when I first heard of Bufo. I’d been using mushrooms for years and was curious about other psychedelics, and at some point it must have come onto my radar. Despite my best efforts, however, I was unable to find a connection.
Then, at twenty-nine years old, I moved to New York.
I came to attend grad school, which was an adventure in its own right. I mean, I was writing fiction and reading books all day, the two activities I loved most—and getting paid for it. My life was lonely, but stable and relatively fulfilling. In short, I didn’t need this. This was entirely extra.
But I was in New York! You could find anything in this city!
I went looking.
This part wasn’t exactly easy, but I’ll skip the details. It involved a lot of hanging out at meet-up groups and a kind of pre-ceremony initiation: before agreeing to connect me with a Bufo practitioner, my contact asked that I first undergo a “heart-opening” ceremony with him, using psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA. We did this at night in a hotel room on Long Island.
It was fantastic.
About a week before the ceremony, I found myself trying to explain to someone else, my roommate this time—a nurse practitioner with no psychedelic experience—what I was about to do. She was alarmed. I wanted to smoke toad venom? Because I was curious? She couldn’t understand it. “Your motives seem too pure,” she actually said to me. “I’m skeptical that there’s nothing else behind it.” I fudged some other reasons, including the intention to seek “healing,” and at this she was satisfied.
Only, now I wasn’t. The conversation had left me uneasy, and I went for a walk to be alone with my thoughts.
What were my intentions, really?
Was it really as simple as curiosity?
But why was I so curious? Why did I want to know so badly, and where did that come from?
I found an oak tree to lean against and looked out at all the people on Prospect Park’s north meadow enjoying the October warmth. The sun was perched just over the treetops. Close by, a young man was talking on his phone, but the wind was so strong that I couldn’t hear a word he said.
Then a strange thing happened. A moment later the wind died, and I heard him say loud and clear: “So my intention...”
Immediately the wind returned.
I stared at him. Leaning closer, I tried to pick up more of his words, but his voice was completely muffled.
Okay, I thought. So I’d gone to the park to think about my intention, and I’d heard this. Of course, the coincidence was rather low-level. But it stirred something in me. Suppose a genuine, full-fledged synchronicity was possible? At the time, I was working on a novel for my MFA thesis, and the plot turned on such an event: one of the characters comes across the phrase, It wants to happen, which he later learns several other characters had also independently come across, leading them into the deeps of a metaphysical mystery beneath the surface of New York City.
In short, synchronicities were on my mind.
I’d never really wanted to experience a synchronicity before; I didn’t need to feel that I was at the center of a cosmic attention. In fact, cultivating this desire seemed vaguely problematic, as though it was wanting too much, somehow egotistical, even straying into the territory of madness and schizophrenia—or worse, stupidity.
But why not? I said to myself. Why not set that intention?
So I did.
Let me, I said to myself, receive a communication from something Other. Something that’s not me.
The ceremony was held in a little apartment in Chelsea. It was full urban fantasy: on my way to the secret sanctuary, I walked past outdoor patios where restaurant-goers finished their lunch, entirely unsuspecting that just above them existed a portal where twenty-first century shamans regularly sent journeyers off into the boundless deeps of cosmic consciousness. Was I really doing this?
Inside, the practitioner (who I’ll call Eva) greeted me with a warmth that put me at ease. The apartment had simple furniture and white curtains and varnished softwood flooring. She took me up one floor to the ceremonial space, which was surrounded by more white curtains, and talked me through how it would go.
I was nervous, of course. But it was more than the natural anxiety that precedes any psychedelic experience. The night before, a friend—the man who’d vetted me with a heart-opening ceremony—had called. In describing what I ought to prepare myself for, he’d said, “This is a very powerful medicine. Your ego may snap.”
That word had unnerved me.
Yeats has a story called “The Sorcerers” which always sends chills down my spine. In it, a group of underground sorcerers invite the author to observe the invocation of a spirit. During the ceremony, Yeats senses waves of darkness covering him. It’s all he can do to resist. At last, when the ordeal is over, he asks: “What would have happened if your spirit had overpowered me?”
“You would go out of this room,” the sorcerer replies, “with his character added to your own.”
I was afraid. Not of dying—I’d done my research, I knew this was physiologically safe—but of something scarier. I was afraid my personality, “who I was,” would be irrevocably damaged.
Curiously, I didn’t truly understand the nature of this fear until Eva gave me the introductory dose.
She called it the “kiss.” She offered it to all first-timers before the full dose, and I accepted gratefully. I watched her hold a light to the glass bowl, invoking those mysterious white vapors. Then, as she had instructed, I forced out all the air in my lungs.
In the last several weeks, I had done all I could to be ready for this moment. I had read Rick Strassman’s DMT research, I had browed online forums, I had met people who’d sat with Bufo and had heard their stories. But all that was a joke. The effect of this first hit was so unexpected that it was impossible to prepare for. Time just stopped, and there was this feeling of: “Oh.”
Oh. That’s what this is.
I was in a space infinitely removed from all that I had known—and it was trying to pull me deeper.
I fought back. I had, it was true, wanted a no-going-back moment, but not like this. I didn’t want to snap! I could feel it as a possibility, and I sensed it would break my ties to everyone I loved. My family, my friends, we’d no longer be on the same wavelength, I’d permanently lose whatever true and living connection I had with them. This feeling was concentrated especially on my father. For his sake alone it felt crucial not to go further lest I end up in an alien realm he couldn’t fathom.
And this was only a “kiss?”
When I came down, I was not at all sure that I wanted the full dose, and I asked for five minutes to decide. I couldn’t believe it. Had I really come here only to stop short of the real deal?
After a moment, I realized I needed to tell Eva what was going on. I was holding way too much in my head and the fear just keep churning around with nowhere to go.
After I explained, she smiled warmly.
“Snap? I don’t know why your friend told you that.”
Encouraged, I asked Eva for a different image, one less violent. She didn’t need to think.
“You’ll be embraced.”
This was what I needed. Holding that image, I agreed to the full dose.
As she prepared the pipe, I wrote a word on a piece of paper: Connection. I put it in my pocket. This word felt like an anchor: it would be there when I returned, reminding me of what I cared about most. Meanwhile, I could let go and just experience whatever it was I needed to experience.
When I took up the pipe again, Eva told me to hold the vapour longer this time. “Your body will take care of breathing when it needs to.” Easier said than done: as the effect intensified, time and matter became like a tide receding out from me in all directions. Still, I remained intellectually aware of a responsibility to make sure my body got oxygen, and that worry preoccupied me until I simply had to breath. I did.
There was a stutter, a moment of exhilarating terror—and then I was outside the fear. I was outside my mind, my body, my history. There was nothing I could hold on to. Nothing. Who was I? I genuinely didn’t know. At the same time, I did. I was this. An immense power had reached in, pulled me outside of the universe and shown me, plain as day: I was this. All along, I’d been this. Not Patrick, not really, not in the way I’d thought.
I felt eternal. But what do I mean by that? When I think back to the moment it happened, it wasn’t that I felt I’d “always existed;” rather, I was shown what it was like to exist in a dimension without change, a peculiarity quality of which is that even outside this dimension, while I lived my life, I existed here.
Time didn’t stir. There was an intense pressure all around me, and yet I felt intensely and perfectly open. I felt utterly decontextualized.
What was this?
I can give it many names now, but while I was in it, neck-deep, it was simply Openness.
This Openeness was the ground of Being capable of holding anything. It astonished me utterly, and yet it made perfect sense: of course there had to be a place like this. Of course. Otherwise, how could anything else be? How could there be matter or mind or time or selves? All the different religious ends, Hindu bhakti, Buddhist parinirvana, the Christian beatific vision, Taoist nonduality—they were all possible because of this place. I thought of my father’s idea of spirituality, which he calls the search for coherence—surely it ended here, surely this place was the answer. In the world of form there are such a vast multitude of compelling perspectives. But this was how it could all cohere.
An intense energy was coursing through me. The experience was so deeply strange that my body, which generally knows how to behave in any given context or state, simply didn’t know what to do. It was impossible to just sit there: I breathed heavily and swayed around and felt my hair and face. At times I laughed and grinned. Other times I moaned and cried. But these were merely bodily postures. I didn’t feel humor, I didn’t feel sorrow. I felt something far beyond these narrow emotions, something that was all these things, but in its raw, undifferentiated form. It was like I sat at the center of the power we experience only once it has been translated into feelings. In fact, this was what emotions were: they were a choice this power had made to become this or that. I could laugh or weep or snort or groan or just sway around and breath heavily, and all these things were merely specific incarnations of a greater, irreducible source. And all were good.
In the end, I came down laughing.
“I didn’t snap!”
Eva offered me the Bufo twice more, at slightly smaller doses. I just couldn’t get enough. It was incredible. Three and half hours later, having smoked it four times, we ended the ceremony. Eva had me read aloud a closing blessing. It concluded:
I will look inside and welcome what I see,
Opening ever deeper day after day,
With gentle effort,
With sweet effort,
Allowing the spiritual unfolding that wants to happen and is ready to occur.
And here was the last extraordinary event. As I came to this final line, I paused. Those words, “that wants to happen”—they were like the synchronicity I’d written about in my novel.
It wants to happen
Was I really seeing this? Yes. The words were right there. The universe was speaking to me. Oh! Oh!
This was my synchronicity.
I can’t describe the emotion I felt at this moment. I know that were I to rate this coincidence on an objective scale of likelihood, it wouldn’t rank that high. And yet there I was, coming down from the most extraordinary and sacred experience of my life, and here, as though I hadn’t already been given everything that anyone could want, was another gift. This little phrase. The communication I had asked for. It was too much.
It has now been a year and half since I was, you could say, baptized in Source. In the weeks following, I found myself pondering what had happened almost constantly. I even experienced that Source in my dreams.
Then one day, while sitting on the toilet and reading a post on Reddit about someone’s experience with Bufo (as one does), I had a spontaneous flashback. The words in the post triggered me, I closed my eyes—and I was back.
I was there.
Gooseflesh rose up and down my arms, but I barely felt it. There was only awe. I stayed in this state, nearly disembodied, for more than a minute. Then my roommate tested the bathroom door and I opened my eyes.
But here’s the thing. This occurred over a year since my Bufo ceremony, too distant to be considered a reactivation.
So what am I to think?
I’m left in wonder. How near to us is the Mystery. There is nowhere it can’t meet you. It’s here even now.