“Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities — the political, the religious, the educational authorities — who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing — forming in our minds their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself.”
― Timothy Leary
I have recently experienced creativity in a different way. I felt a warm rush, from the top of my head travelling through my body, making my legs feel weak and numb. My eyes teared up. My hands were shaking and I was very emotional. I woke up one morning and before I had a chance to grab a cup of coffee, I felt this unfamiliar and overwhelming sensation, which lasted only a few seconds. This powerful experience happened three years ago, and it left me stunned.
With that rush, came the idea for a particular photography project. The weird thing was, the idea had been born ready. I did not need any brainstorming, I did not need reassurance or validation. It was mine, although it felt like it came from outside of myself. I had been trying for so long to develop ideas and for some reason I could not get any of my own personal projects completed. I had been on a search to find my place in the industry, shooting a lot of projects for everybody else but myself. Only now, after a lot of self exploring, I understand that the fears that were stopping me from creating, weren’t even recognised by me. But those fears were there. Imprinted in my unconscious mind, obscured by my repressed traumas. Catalysing the anxiety that I didn’t even know I suffered from.
I noticed that the more I tried to think of my problems, the more entangled in them I became. It was clear to me that I needed a change in the way I perceived the world and myself. I needed to accept my own past, my journey and my flaws. I needed to start building a new reality for myself. I wanted to minimise chaos or rather find peace in it.
I realised that if such creative experience happened once, I could try and make it happen again. I did not know how to start, how to make the conditions perfect for it to happen a second time. I craved that creative rush. I figured that it was there in my brain somewhere, it was part of me. I just needed to access it.
I was hoping for a re-wiring of my brain, and decided it was time to try something different. For many years I thought about experimenting Ayahuasca (or Santo Daime), which is originally an ancient medicine – but also a religious/ spiritual tradition, that consists in drinking a brew made from a plant and a root. I finally participated in a ritual back home in BraziI, and subsequently I felt ready to try Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT.
Before I tried it, I researched a lot because, well, I was terrified. I looked up all of the scientists and psychotherapists back in the sixties – some of them fairly prominent professors at Harvard – who were exploring the effects on the mind by experimenting with psilocybin, a substance found in mushrooms. Some of them are still alive and a couple of them have blogs. Although they were professors, scientists and doctors, some of them seem to be pretty spiritualised today – believing that our soul is an eternal, unlimited and powerful thing. They are just people after all, human beings before any master’s degrees. I have collected so many accounts of people’s experiences with DMT, all of them so intricate like dreams/ nightmares. Despite the complexity of those trips, the message seemed to be always the same to me: it felt like it was people’s unconscious minds talking to them. It made me scared to explore my own mind, but I was curious. I still am.
I am curious to know what our brains are really made of. Is it simply a major organ or is there a soul attached to it?
I feel like we will never fully understand this complex machine because, first of all, our rational thoughts come from around 5% of our brain mass, our frontal cortex. So up to 95% of our brain activity is beyond our conscious awareness. The brain possess a massive unknown area, containing up to 86 billion neurons, making up a trillion chemical connections. Really roughly compared to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor. Man, our brain is BUSY.
I can only write here from my own personal experience – this massive unknown area of the brain being a major drive to explore my own further.
I am interested in the unknown: I want to dive into my unconscious mind and unlock my ability to see things from a more instinctual perspective. I want to try and identify my pure desires and my raw emotions. Do my brain waves connect to other people’s brain waves? Do they make me love people? Do they make me hate them?
The more I thought about it, the more it fascinated me. The poetic yet unproven fact that we get a rush of DMT when we are born and another one when we die. The fact that, this molecule, is inside of nearly all animals and plants, including us. The substance is inside us but we can’t feel it, due to an enzyme we produce in our gut that suppresses its effects. Some researchers believe it is produced by the pineal gland, although there is no concrete proof of that either. There is no proof of so many things, this is what makes this substance so mysterious; perhaps because those early studies were shut down, those professors were censored and drugs became a problem around the globe. Perhaps because it is part of the mystery of life, the one guided by instinct. The mysterious forces that keeps us going when we reach our bottom.
Eventually I stopped reading about DMT, because there are obviously a lot of idiots out there talking about it (I am confident that I am not one of them, I will let you be my judge). I tried to empty my head of all theories and let my mind create my own. And I did what any curious person would do: I finally tried it.
My unconscious blew my mind.
I have to say, the very short experience was beautiful. I saw hundreds of shapes and colours that I didn’t know existed – I just wanted to be able to photograph like that. I don’t think the pretty things I saw could be reproduced using the technology that we have now. The patterns seemed incredibly organic, much more evolved and complex: my rational understanding of what divine perfection must be like. It was the most insightful experience I could have hoped for. I suffer from 24/7 tinnitus and some hearing loss in both ears, but I could hear loud detail inside every sound. It would merge into music. Just the sounds alone were worth the experience to me. How is it possible for me to be able to hear all these intricate sounds when my hearing is so limited by dead cochlear cells? I would only assume that I have the capacity of hearing them, in my brain somewhere. The trip itself was insightful, yet the aftermath, what it did to me in the coming months and even a couple of years later, was incredible.
I felt astounding love for myself, for all creatures. Love for Nature. Way more than before. A better understanding of where I come from and why I behave in the way I do.
A calming feeling of familiarity and comfort in all of those places that I travelled to. Some other “energy sources” communicating with me, making me understand that I was one of them. There is no language, no race, we are all the same in this other dimension, if I can call it as such. Over there, we are all pure at our core. I am now a firm believer that at least another dimension exists, I respectfully apologise if that hurts your Religion.
Maybe I travelled to a dimension where everything is guided by the senses that we’ve lost; the ones that deal with our spirituality, our gut, our empathy. Maybe a dimension where we, every day people, could be learning from: where the brain-soul dynamics, inexplicable by doctors or religious preachers, is more accessible to us.
I think what stops us as a race is the fear we have of the mysteries of life. We try to study everything and we don’t use our instinct anymore. We crave bureaucracy and we forget to connect with our soul. We get entangled in the harsh reality of our day to day. We look for answers in religion or outside of ourselves. We find comfort in letting the authorities or “them”, as we call it, investigate the universe. We let Religion dictate where life comes from. We need something to believe in. Reassurance of our own twisted, extreme beliefs. Validation of our Human Ego. We forget that perhaps our most intimate moments, the ones that make us understand who we really are, are right there inside of us, in moments of solitude, just waiting for us to disconnect – to just open up our heads and strip ourselves of our judgements and our gadgets.
One thing is for sure: there is something else out there, something worth exploring, and it seems to be inside of us. Maybe you can achieve it with meditation, or maybe when you create something new; maybe practicing yoga or even tantric sex. Whatever you choose to pursue; I am confident that such insightful state of mind can be achieved without the help of any substance. I know there is a world inside of me, it feels like something in my brain was unlocked.
I do not want to sound like I know it all – three years later… I’m still working on that photo project and I am far from completing it. I still struggle with a lot of things, my anxiety included.. I am still the same flawed person but I am trying to put in practice the things that I have learned from listening to my unconscious. Taking life one challenge at a time, one day at a time. When everything feels too much, I still fall into a dark place. But then I photograph. My photography is as dark as the feelings I experience, and I love that about it.
Right now my creativity seems to be unleashed, or better, I am no longer scared of creating and speaking my mind through the images I make. I am insightful of my life and my past, but I am living my present, the only thing that I can truly experience. The only difference now is that I completely accept the Mystery into my life. I let the universe sort things out for me when I’m lost. I believe that the Mystery is is precisely what moves all art and science; without our dreams, our shifts of consciousness, our crazy insights that come from the depths of what we don’t understand, this is where true creativity and ground breaking ideas are born.
Diving into something unknown in other to create, it opens up your mind. When we create something, we are vulnerable and exposed. As if we were walking around naked from the waist down, but if you realize that it’s ok to walk around naked, that freedom without fear is incredibly powerful. I don’t know if it was the DMT that helped, perhaps that was just part of something bigger that I still don’t understand.
I hope the experience I share here will help others realise that we are powerful. The power of healing the soul is inside every one of us. As is the ability of solving our problems and handling the beautiful tragedy of life. It is about how we handle it. We are all going to die, and I hope that when I do, my body will feel the release of that incredible substance. I hope that for you too.