I am 64 years old with a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis (since 2018). My first diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma came in 2012. In the ensuing years I endured a lumpectomy, two double mastectomies, three different types of chemotherapies, aromatase inhibitors, partial hepatectomy, thoracenteses and countless alternative therapies. I have now transitioned to hospice. I am at peace with this decision, largely due to my recent psilocybin experience in Jamaica.
I have been working with my chaplain at UC Health for some time, and she asked me a few months ago if I might be interested in a psilocybin journey, as numerous studies have shown that it can be beneficial for end-of-life anxiety. I jumped at the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial through UC Health, but I came to understand that it might be a while before the study got off the ground. Also, one has to be selected for the study, and, in the end, I might get a placebo. Given my late-stage diagnosis, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hang on long enough to benefit from this opportunity, so I started to research psilocybin on my own.
What I learned is that, although it is legal to grow and buy psilocybin in Colorado, finding a trained facilitator with life experience and respect for the medicine was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There is currently a disconnect between purchasing/growing and finding people who are experienced and qualified to facilitate and integrate this powerful experience. I was particularly concerned about finding someone who had enough life experience (specifically around death and dying) to hold space for me and make me feel safe and held. I am grateful beyond words that I found a reputable, experienced group in Jamaica.
Finding a retreat
I searched the web and found several retreats outside the United States. One felt like the facilitators and energy conveyed on the web site were too young and party/kumbaya-ish for me. The other, which had received rave reviews, felt like a much better fit for my situation. This was the Beckley Retreats in Jamaica, a country where psilocybin is legal.
Among the facilitators at the retreat was a physician with training in oncology and palliative medicine, who heads a hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. Another facilitator there specialized in lymphedema therapy, and she ran a practice as a cancer coach and patient navigator. She has accompanied and guided many people, their families, and caregivers through all the stages of the journey with cancer. As I had expressed some reservations prior to the retreat, both ladies spent one-on-one time with me answering my questions and allaying my concerns.
In addition to the one-on-one meetings, there were two group preparation Zoom calls. These were facilitated and were an opportunity for the 11 participants to meet one another ahead of the retreat—to learn more about psilocybin, dosing, intention setting, support, rules, and a variety of other relevant topics. We joined a WhatsApp group, which kept us updated on logistics and day of travel updates. It also has become a powerful tool allowing us to stay connected (if we choose) post-retreat.
We uploaded another app that contained 4 weeks of preparation readings, guided journeys, breathwork, meditations, and other opportunities to learn, as well as Integration Resources. We have four post-retreat integration calls as well as a one-on-one integration call.
During the retreat, there were optional yoga and meditation sessions, walks, trips to the river or beach, preparation sessions, and integration meetings. The facilitators were well-trained, empathetic, and always attentive to whatever needs arose for the participants. The retreat site was beautiful, the meals were delicious, healthy, and fresh, and the staff friendly, caring, and welcoming. The whole experience still warms my heart to bursting.
My first journey
Some people say that their psilocybin journey is one of the most memorable experiences of their life. I agree. My two journeys were among the top five spiritual experiences of my life. I am not an artist and can best recreate my experience in my mind’s eye. I am also not a writer. I will do my best to tell my story, which is quite often beyond words.
I went into my journeys “eyes wide open,” and set my intention to ask for healing from cancer or whatever healing would be of most benefit to me before my stay on Earth ended. I held this intention lightly, as instructed, and was open to whatever medicine I needed to receive.
On the afternoon of the first journey, we are all on mattresses placed a few feet apart under a tent that is mostly open on the sides. Facilitators are seated or standing at intervals around the outskirts of the tent. There are three musicians/vocalists directly opposite me at the other side of the tent with the lead facilitator at their side. A fire keeper is just behind them. The male musician is a multi-instrumentalist as well as a breathwork and psychedelic facilitator specializing in ancient chanting techniques and sound therapy. He creates a vibrational field that supports states of grounding relaxation and calm. He has years of study and practice with traditional plant medicines and Indigenous masters. There are two females with voices of angels; together they weave a most fantastic journey.
I realize that we are all eternal beings.
The lead facilitator opens the ceremonial space. We are each given a cup of psilocybin tea, warm and delicious. We can then either sit for a few minutes until the medicine begins to do its work or put on our masks and lie back. I choose the latter. It is quiet for a bit, the sound of trees in the breeze and birds chattering, and then… a creaking, grinding visual of a carousel adorned by garish nursery cradle toys turning slowly around begins. The carousel is compressed vertically, like layers one atop another. I am inside of it. I recognize it. How many times have I seen this before? A hundred? A million? I hate it. I am trying to climb up through the layers, each image I encounter as repulsive to me as the next. Oh, shit! I am having a bad trip. I prepare to raise my hand for help, but I realize that there is no antidote. I must get through it. And then I emerge from the top.
I believe this may have been the “peak experience” when the dissolution of ego occurs, because I can now see the layers of the carousel in their entirety—like observing samsara from far away. I feel that I am now getting to see everything as an unending story that is unfolding—weaving the threads of DNA in an eternal spiral. I realize that we are all eternal beings. This human form that we currently inhabit will decay and die, but our spirit goes on forever. There is nothing to fear. Everyone in the tent—the musicians, facilitators, journeyers, and everything that comes into my mindsight—has taken on the form of something I can best describe as the iconic symbols for Día de los Muertos (the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebration).
A new beginning
Whoosh, I am taken to my birth in this lifetime. I am pulled from my mother with forceps. I imagine those big metal tweezers squeezing on my tiny head must have hurt. I probably came out screaming. My mother could never tolerate noise, and the next image I see is me being stuffed into a closet with a mattress and other sundry household items and left there alone. There follows a period when I feel as if I am in hell or jail. Oppressive. Dark. I finally say to myself, “This is untenable; I must escape.”
I escape out the top of the carousel and hear the enchanting music and voices of the musicians. I see a vertical spiral of DNA extending into eternity—the interweaving of the sacred feminine with the sacred masculine. A dance of energies extending into forever both below and above. I stay, watching the spiraling red and blue threads of the sacred masculine and feminine intertwining with a new and profound understanding of their importance. At some point I come to wonder if there is more, and I climb out to the top of this vastness.
I can no longer hear the music as I come up through a ceiling. All is silent. I emerge into a gray space, like an attic, with a couple pieces of trash and dust on the floor, as if this area has not been cleaned. I realize that I do not want to journey on here alone, and I return through the ceiling into the space below. The music can now be heard again.
I come to appreciate, understand, and embody the importance of the sacred feminine and its natural dance with the sacred masculine. I spend time dancing among the beautiful women and learning to embrace and feel their embrace, to touch and stretch the boundaries of this organic energy, always returning to where I am safely held. Exploring this space of being intertwined within the divine feminine is joyous and expansive. I find my true north, which recognizes and orients towards the feminine.
Now I am shown why I developed cancer in this life. I grew up in American society as a white girl. In my family (and much of the culture of the planet at this time in history), the male is dominant. Men are treated better, get the better opportunities, and have more power. I can acknowledge that, in this lifetime, I wanted to be a boy. I aspired as a kid to be a tomboy. So did the women in my ancestral lineage. We all denied our femininity, subdued it.
There are many who say that the type of cancer you get is related to your emotional/mental dis-ease. Breast cancer can be associated with a denial of one’s femininity—which manifests on the left side of the body. My original cancer was found in my left breast. During my journey, I can now see myself with the left side of my body compressed, confined, wrapped tightly in some kind of bandaging. At one point I am trying so hard to conform to the steady oppression that I see a distorted image of myself with blood coming out of my eyes and mouth.
And then I find my true north again. I hear the voices of the female angels who are facilitating the journey, and I embrace that energy. In this energy, by dancing and orienting toward the sacred feminine, I can metaphorically heal from my cancer.
At some point I hear a female voice behind me singing, “You are all that you need. Stop searching.”
I also am shown a new perspective on death and why such a big deal is made at the time of a person’s passing. It matters to those we are leaving behind. It is a chance for them to grieve our passing. If only they understood that we are all light beings dancing and traveling into eternity. Death can also be a time of joy, if one looks at it from this perspective.
It feels as if this part of the trip may be about my funeral. I see as if I am partly above ground, partly below. I am not sure if I am dead or alive as a human being.
As the first journey winds down, I am blissful, and our entire group has now bonded through the experience in a most remarkable way. It is the magic of mycelium. Despite a diversity of backgrounds, ages, and cultures, we have become a community that cares and supports one another. Magical.
We all enjoy a delicious dinner outdoors together afterwards and then head to bed. The next day we have several group integration sessions to share our individual experiences. Support is available for those desiring more personal attention. We spend a lovely afternoon at the beach. More delightful food. And then to bed to get ready for the second journey the following day.
The second journey
Journey number two takes place on 5/5/23. There is a full moon in Scorpio and a lunar eclipse during our journey—it is said to possibly be a time of enormous change, death and rebirth. I happen to be a Scorpio, and there is palpable excitement among facilitators and staff about the timing of all this. I feel as if my participation in this retreat is more than a coincidence. There have been signs all week that tell me that things are happening that reflect synchronicity.
The second journey begins just like the first journey. I start at the bottom of a creaking, grinding visual of a grotesque carousel of nursery cradle toys turning slowly around. I force my way slowly up through the repulsive, oppressive layers of samsara. The carousel again is compressed vertically, like layers one atop another. As the “peak experience” fades, I get a clear view of the samsara from afar.
This is so much bigger than I am. It is universal.
What follows seems like a sacred ceremony with Scorpio as the guest of honor. It is a possibility that I am being egotistical about this, but everything else during my psilocybin journey has been on such a cosmic level that I don’t believe it. I am transformed into a giant scorpion. I cannot really explain it, because it all seems crazy and incomprehensible to me, but I feel that I am being held, loved, appeased, sung to, and cherished by those attending the ceremony. This is so much bigger than I am. It is universal.
A bit later, the ceremony fades, and I want to keep exploring beyond that ceremonial space. I continue to climb upward, shedding my skin repeatedly as I ascend through layers of space. Eventually, I come to celestial space where I can see all the signs of the zodiac in lights. I am told to take my seat up there. I am puzzled and hesitant. Then I realize that maybe I am being told that my time has come to cross over. I am unsure as to whether I am alive or dead. Has the human being that I have embodied for 64 years died? The human in me calls for support, and a most wonderful facilitator escorts me out of the tent. I say that I think maybe I am being told my time has come to pass. A light being that has embodied within her tells me that this is so. I look into her eyes and see the most brilliantly colored lights shining out to me. These are not human eyes. They are magnificent! I tell her that I have not put all my affairs in order or bid farewell to my loved ones. I ask if I can have a little more time on Earth. She says it can be so. I ask how much time I have, and she asks how much time do I need? She then tells me to look up at the stars. Among the constellations we see there are extraordinarily bright multi-colored lights. I am jolted backward in awe. Overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.
Several weeks later, I am now back at home in Colorado and have put my affairs in order and shared what I know with loved ones. Some of them have understood and accepted my story. Several others have shaken their heads in disbelief. For my part, I feel tremendous relief and peace knowing where I am. Everyone tells me there is something “different” about me.
Insights continue to arise and some to evolve. What I thought to be a viable interpretation just after the retreat may have morphed or expanded over time. Not becoming attached to a particular meaning, but allowing it to unfold organically, to migrate or evolve, continues to deepen my experience.
If I choose to journey again someday, the following will be things that I will look for:
- Having facilitators experienced in the kind of work or support that I believe I need. In my case, this looks like facilitators with end-of-life care training and life experience that can hold space for me or support me psychologically, no matter what comes up.
- A lot of feminine energy around me. Not necessarily all, but a substantial amount.
- Setting: a beautiful retreat setting, outdoors, with nature all around. Having access to whatever natural elements I find nurturing or healing is a huge plus.
- Indigenous music is incredibly powerful for me. I have no experience with the type of music that one hears in a more clinical setting, but the weaving of sound, the instruments played, and the singing by shamans or trained ceremonial leaders compounds the synesthesia of the experience. I cannot think of a more powerful way to experience the medicine of psilocybin.
I feel increasing appreciation for psilocybin as a sacred plant medicine. One thing in particular that seems essential for me is journeying in a way that is ceremonial, medicinal, and honors the Indigenous peoples and their traditions.