DMT is the building block for most psychedelics. Ayahuasca, mushrooms, and LSD all take advantage of the properties of DMT, which is in the tryptamine family of amino acids that are naturally produced in mammal and plants alike. When isolated and stabilized in the system, it drives the psychedelic experience. It has been called “The Spirit Molecule“.
In Michael Pollan’s most recent book, “How To Change Your Mind“, some of the scientists suggest that, once DMT is activated in the brain, it shuts down what is called the ‘default mode network’. (Let me just say from the outset, while not a scientist, I read a lot of science and the more I read about brain research, it seems to me the less we know. So I always take these ideas about how the brain works with a grain of salt.) The DMN is, and forgive here my lack of poetic language to describe this, are the components and structures of the brain that create the ‘voice in my head’ that narrates your daily life. All that self-talk that goes on in our minds all day is the brain writing the code of our ‘self’ so we can remember a narrative from one moment to the next. That narrative is what allows us to go through the world with an identity that we call “I” or “me”. It is what helps build what we also call an ‘ego’, that place within ourselves that we assign as ‘who we are’, the ‘person’ who makes the decisions for this vast array of experience, feeling, bodily function, and spiritual encounter we live within.
DMT, supposedly, deactivates this process. At the very least, it is clear that the psychedelic experience can extend and expand the sense of self, or even obliterate that sense of “I” or “me”. It is a weird molecule to have as part of our internal makeup, isn’t it? Why would plants and mammals have DMT floating around in us?
Once we no longer have an ego presence to write the narrative of our lives, how do we tell the story of what happened in a psychedelic experience? What happens to language? What happens to story-telling?
I have been talking about psychedelics, but I think it is implicit that the ego expanding or exploding experience can come about from various other experiences as well. Traumatic events, spiritual moments, deep meditation, and those encounters which occupy the realm of the weird, bizarre, and unexplainable can all generate this deactivation of the DMN.
This is why it may be so hard to talk about these experiences. Or perhaps a better way to say it is, these experiences are also the experience of the limits of language. In my experiences at Johns Hopkins, there were many points where the thing I wanted to describe, I couldn’t, because there were no words or combination of words that even approximated what it was like.
The problem, of course, is that all we have to describe and communicate the mystical and fantastic and super natural are the words we use with one another. This is all the more true when we speak of God. At the point of encounter, though, at the point of the spiritual and noetic event, there are no words that come close. Metaphor, symbol, and simile are our best friends in the descriptions, and this is born forth in the words of the poets and mystics. But finally, we are left alone with the experience we have had, and only have the words we can share with one another to draw us close. This is the negative example of language relative to the psychedelic and spiritual experience.
Music, art, and dance are the other tools of communication we often resort to in order to communicate what has happened. These are also vehicles that create a bridge for how we describe what has happened to us in these experiences. In their truest forms, music, art, and dance all press us into an experience beyond language. Even so, your Default Mode Network will work hard to describe, define, and communicate the experience of music, art and dance to yourself and others.
At the same time, isn’t it interesting that words are all we have to communicate these things to one another? The positive spin here is that language is also the bridge, or the transport device, that allows us to connect with another person, or a group of people. Language, the words we use, allow us to build a bridge of knowing and understanding that also can expand, extend, or even explode our sense of ‘self’. In this positive view, words become things, a substance even, which allows symbols and metaphors to transform us and change us.
My psychedelic experience is expanded and altered by the retelling of it and how I use words to describe it. The language I use becomes a transport device that allows the experience I had to be absorbed and interpreted by your experience of hearing it.
Things get very weird very quickly in between the words and the interpretation and the experience. And it is in that weirdness that we learn more about one another and the universe.
Maybe that is why DMT is within us, a natural part of who we are – because we don’t know who we are or what we are becoming, and we need transport devices that will lead us to that understanding. And I believe that understanding will be far, far stranger than anything we can imagine right now.