• Coen de Koning

What is it like? Part two: The Trip

Psychedelic experiences are often called trips. And I like thinking of one as you would about a trip abroad.

Imagine spending your entire life in the city you grew up in. You get to know every little thing about it and to a great depth. You know who to talk to and how, not just the language to speak but also the body language, the level of emotional charge that is appropriate, how to start and end those conversations according to who you are talking with. You may recognise peoples roles by their wardrobe or maybe some merely by the way they walk. You can read in the facades of buildings and the gardens of houses which kind of people work or live there. You know where to get food, work, company and where to go for entertainment. You know the rhythms of day and night, of the seasons and your society, which things to eat and drink, how, when, where and how often. As you grow up in your society all these things will become ingrained into you and into your habits but you may find that there are certain problems which you just cannot seem to be able to solve or even understand properly. Maybe precisely because your society makes you take certain more or less subtle things for granted. Many of those problem may even be the result of the way your society functions ..but it is hard to tell.

Of course, as you grow up you will go on little excursions outside the city to the countryside, roam in the woods or lounge at the seaside, at the lakes or in the hills. You may visit a nearby larger city to shop for things that are not available in yours. You may enjoy these experiences for the way they tickle your excitement as they expand your sense of what is possible in the world. The gentle beauty of a meadow in bloom or the wild life force of waves crashing on a shore, the bustle of a vast and packed market, the magnificence of high-rise buildings or the opulence of luxury department stores.

Now imagine going to a completely different country for the first time in your life. Suddenly all the ordinary, every-day little things jump out at you; the unfamiliar width of the street, the type of cobbles, the size of the windows, street signs, the way shop windows are decorated, strange products, the glass they serve your drink in, the food, new and interesting or unsettling sounds, smells, maybe even the colours. The farther away you go the more profound the level of unfamiliarity. The clothes, the way people walk on the street and communicate and relate to each other, men to women, women to men, adults to children, people to animals, the way they relate to money, the way they express themselves, their religion, their status, their roles, their sexuality, their joy, their sorrow, their love, pain and their fear. They have different solutions to every day problems, a different sense of community, different values and a different relationship to the environment, to time and space..

If you travel intercontinentally even more profound levels of unfamiliarity creep in. Now not just the people, temperature and the weather but the very climate is different, the air, such fundamental things as the cycle of day and night changes, animals, plants, trees, even the grass is odd, new, unfamiliar.

If your visit was short and far away you may come back with your head spinning a bit, you may not be able to quite find the right words to express to your friends and family let alone people who you don't know so well what you experienced. Your language may just not have words for some of the things you have seen, tasted or felt. You may yourself not really be able to wrap your head around it very well. But you may see your all too familiar city with new eyes as the contrast with the foreign destination lingers in your system. Things you took for granted and that your brain may even have judged as irrelevant and had therefore removed from your experience may be reintroduced again into your life. Of course you remember them but now you may be able to appreciate the role they play in your life ..a bit more consciously. As you experience your world with refreshed senses you may also approach a small problem in a novel way, find a solution you could not have conceived of before even if this solution is simply a copy of something you saw on your brief trip.

The more you go back there and the more you get comfortable with the country and the culture you visit or maybe even with travelling and visiting different places in general.. the more you will be able to bring back coherent stories and meanings to your life and your society. The way you confront your life will expand with new concepts, ideas, strategies and sensitivities. As you become an experienced globe trotter you can start helping people who have just come back from their first trip to make sense of what they experienced. You can inspire and guide them to use their new perspectives to solve some of the problems they have been stuck in, just because they have come to take certain ways of approaching problems for granted. You can help people prepare for their trips, give them maps of where to go and where to be cautious, tips on how to behave and how not to, how to adjust to different social expectations, the climates, etc..

But expanding your perspectives on life may come at the cost of being looked at with suspicious eyes as people sense that you have somehow grown out of the deeply engrained patterns of the life of your city, your culture, your climate, your weather and the roles people intuitively feel familiar with if there are very few travellers in your society.

On the other hand, if there are a lot of travellers in your society it may be the people who have never left the country that will be experienced as a little.. small minded. You may have sympathy with them, it can be scary for them to go outside their comfort zone for the first time of their lives, book flights, trains, public transport, book places to stay, then learn to find places to eat without any knowledge of the language, the local cuisine, customs and values. What to do in that new and strange place, where to go, how and when? How can they tell if they are being ripped off, if they are walking into a tourist trap or into the hands of savvy thieves who will see thém coming a mile away.

Yet, I think we can agree that, with a little support from experienced travellers, they may benefit from learning a little of what it is like being a human being living in different conditions, experience first-hand different ways of relating to others, society, the world, spirituality, etc. Of tasting different foods, listening to different music, seeing different landscapes, smell different smells, move to different rhythms, listen to different thoughts, have people respond differently to them. Maybe it will help them to taste food differently, listen to music differently, see the landscape differently, smell differently, move differently, think differently, experience others differently. If only for a little bit.. and then come back to their normal lives enriched by the experience of that strange and unfamiliar place.


Such a trip is not meant for them to become less of a citizen of your city but it may help them become a little more.. human; a more well rounded person.


To bring this little comparison back to psychedelic experiences.. what is it like? As in the above example, it is hard explain if you only know ordinary, day-to-day consciousness. But it seems to give a direct experience of who we are as human beings when the reducing valve of our mind is opened up - when our human mind is allowed to expand, released from the limitations of ordinary consciousness. And, just like coming back from a trip to a completely different culture, the contrast helps you to observe your life, your habits, your environment and your values with new eyes.


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Photo by Diederik de Koning

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