Sam Ripples
by on July 2, 2019

I am watching a single drop of water.

Lights bounce and dance off of dark corners while the musicians onstage pour their heart into their strings, their keys, their drums. The crowd moves as one, sinuous and fluid-like, to the beat of the music pouring from the speakers. I am standing too close to the speakers, as usual, pressed up against the raised platform that forms the stage, my spirit moving in time, a cell in rhythm with its whole, an organism formed of many twisting limbs like some ancient goddess embodied. But I am not listening to the music.

I am watching a single drop of water.

A row of water bottles lines the stage, a convenient place to set a drink down where it won’t be disturbed. Someone has spilled one and a droplet sits on the edge of the stage, a bead of moisture encapsulating a raised bump of black paint. It, too, is caught up in the movement of the music — the bass from the speaker is thumping so loud that the droplet vibrates along. I am fascinated, mind bent from both LSD and MDMA, and that dancing drop of water is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. There is no separation, it tells me. All is connected, even down to the smallest droplet of water, all of us wiggling along in to the music that is life.

My soul opens up, not for the first or the last time. I’ve always been a very closed-off sort of individual, afraid that the smallest thing I say or do will cause the meltdown of my entire life, and that same fear prevented me from experiencing the world in its most simple and divine state. To open myself up was to approach fear head-on. It wasn’t until psychedelics entered my life that I was able to even look that fear in the face, let alone confront it and move past it into the oneness of everything.

I experienced ego death that night, dancing along with that droplet of water. “Death” might be a misnomer, because ego death is not a true death — it is a rebirth of the mind and soul into a new phase of being, a recognition of your true nature as a part of the cosmic whole. But ego death is not just the purview of psychedelics, though they make the path to it a little more direct. If you’ve ever read a particularly thrilling book, you know that the death of the ego isn’t always a terrifying thing — it can instead bring you to other worlds, put you into the shoes of others.

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell is one of my all-time favorite people — “The Hero’s Journey” was his seminal work, a book about the single story that is told throughout recorded history. That story is simple: Something upsets the balance of a person’s life and they must go on a journey to right that balance, along the way confronting their deepest and darkest fears and growing into a new iteration of themselves — hence, “hero”.

Ever seen The Matrix or Lord of the Rings or Star Wars? All of these ring true with the echoes of the hero’s journey.

The first time I ever heard of this concept was in a high school Creative Writing class, taught by a teacher I will forever thank. We studied the phases of the journey and then watched The Matrix, writing down each phase as it happened to Neo. But the journey is not just a set of steps, a few plot points to create a well-told story. The journey is had in confronting your fears, in slaying your own metaphorical dragons and becoming something greater than just yourself— a true “hero”, if you will.

When I was a teenager, this idea didn’t really resonate with me. I was a socially-anxious, overly-emotional, egotistical, and a people-pleaser. My entire life was wrapped up in simultaneously trying to appease the wishes of others while remaining at heart a rebellious, angry individual who knew none of this made her happy. But the idea of confronting my fears didn’t seem particularly desirable at that time in my life — I was just trying to make it to the next day without killing myself.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to realize how much my own life had common with Joseph Campbell’s ideas. My biggest challenge, the treasure that lies at the heart of my fear, has always been overcoming my traumatic past, and as I began to confront the most hated parts of myself, I experienced growth like no other. LSD helped quite a bit — it enabled me to realize how much I truly detested myself and begin to make changes in my life — but as I became more focused on my own “hero’s journey” I realized that psychedelics were only a small part of it. It is more about attitude and taking what comes at you than pushing yourself towards huge epiphanies.

So I began my work.

By “my work” I mean my work on myself, my work on my own fragmented and broken heart. The work of waking up every single day, meditating, saying my affirmations, writing my gratitude journal, reading personal development books, and pouring my extra energy out into exercise (mostly my hula hoop).

I’ve done this work for years. Not consistently, not every single day, but over time, discipline developed. Over time, my monsters seemed less scary, less intelligent, and more like big stupid dinosaurs than some kind of Lovecraftian horror. Whereas before entering the “cave you fear to enter” (as Campbell puts it) was an intense, terrifying thing — now that cave is my haven, my place to relax my mind and allow my creativity to flow.

My Continuing Journey

For so many years, I’ve put off starting my career as a writer because of my mental health. I’ve pushed back my goal of being published in favor of taking care of my mind — which I do not regret one iota. However, I’m now twenty-seven years old with no real future ahead of me and I’m tired of working the daily grind to achieve what I could do with a cup of coffee and a few hours behind a laptop every day.

The “cave” that I fear to enter will become my haven. These monsters I fight will become my hard-won words of wisdom that I pass onto you all, letter by letter. The thousands of books I’ve read will become my army, generals passing on strategies in whispers as I write.

My hero’s journey is continuing. That is the biggest thing that Joseph Campbell taught me — in this long saga of life, we all have many phases to pass between to become our true selves. It is only through struggle and suffering that we learn who we are at our most deepest level. Once we learn who we are, we can then portray that to the world more accurately and use that to further ourselves as both humans and working cogs in this ever-moving machinery of society.

I intend to honor the lessons taught to me by both Campbell’s work and my own inward journey with psychedelics. There’s an oft-quoted aphorism in the psychedelic community — “When you’ve heard the message, hang up the phone.” It means that once you’ve absorbed what you need to learn, psychedelics become a tool like any other to enact change in those areas of your life. Use the ideas and all of the wisdom you have gained over your years of existence to push yourself to the next level of your soul. Don’t lose yourself so much in the beauty that you become blind to the work you need to do on yourself.

Honor this wisdom, and you will become a hero, too.

I have been meaning to read Joseph Campbell for years. I have him on my "to-read" list. I keep seeing references to him and quotes by him on the internet...I guess that is a sign I should check out his books!
July 6, 2019