Plato Meets The Magic Mushroom

Things aren’t always what they seem, but they are usually pretty close. That’s my little variation on Occam’s Razor. As a student of human perception and awareness, early in my studies I noticed that awareness was a subjective thing and varied greatly not only from person to person but also in the same person depending on his mood, stress level or degree of intoxication, etc. We live in the virtual world that we create inside our heads. How closely this world resembles objective reality determines how successfully we function as people.

During the 1970’s it was my custom to spend the harshest part of the winters in Jamaica. The weather fit my clothes and the laid back culture fit my disposition. One morning as I was sitting on the porch of my little guest cottage in Negril trying to perfect the craft of spliff rolling, I was approached by a young Jamaican boy. “Aye, mon,” he said, “I ahm Plato. I’m gonna be your mushroom mon.” He was about ten years old and small by US standards. But he had an assured, entrepreneurial little style going for him.

The next morning, Plato appeared again with a single mushroom wrapped in cookie paper. The crown was no more than 2 inches in diameter. I had eaten my share of Texas cubensis mushrooms. They are golden-topped and larger and usually it takes three or four of them to produce the desired experience. This one was pale and smaller but when you wounded the flesh it turned purple which is the field-test for psilocybin. I thought it would be enough for a mild morning eye-opener and I didn’t want to make Plato feel bad, he was only ten, so I gave him a buck and made a purple omelette with the shroom.

After breakfast I strolled to my usual meditation place which was perched on an outcropping of coral cliff 15 feet above where the Caribbean waves crashed around me on three sides. I could feel the spray on my face and the sound of the sea was a gentle tympani punctuated by cymbals as the waves crashed on the gnarled razor-sharp coral and shot into the air. It was the perfect place to be when your head is opened by a cleaver of light and the universe empties its contents directly into your cerebral cortex. The little mushroom was bigger than I thought, obviously a different strain from the ones to which I was accustomed. I was suddenly and profoundly stoned. It was a Wagnerian, heroic, majestic sort of high. I saw chorus-lines of barracuda flashing silver in the surf and there was a string tighter than a violin connecting my heart to the universal ohm mantra symphony of life throbbing and dancing like laughter or prayer. God was in on the joke. Everything in the world around me was moving and yet I was content to be still while coming down my leg in a spiritual sense. I would quite happily have stayed there forever and then even forever dissolved and time itself and space all became one sound, the hum of energy who occasionally names himself god out of boredom or nirvana. I swear it was just a small mushroom.

But, back to things being as they appear. In the two hours that I spent sitting in absolute spiritual ecstasy lost between the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky I wrote several books in my head and composed a musical comedy. It took me several years to transcribe them but they were written and complete there and then. This may be true or it may be my illusion. Can books exist before they are written down? I don’t know. Can music be played that was never heard before? Where does it come from? Again, I don’t know.

While listening to the universe with radio telescopes, the science monkeys found that no matter where they pointed their arrays there was a faint background noise. No matter where they listened, in The Gamma Quadrant or beyond the Bullshit Belt or in the Fart Cloud Nebulae, the faint signal was there. At first they thought it was their instruments measuring themselves somehow but eventually they postulated that what they were hearing was the edge of the universe or that they were reading time backwards or the noise was like the ringing in our ears left after the Big Bang. Of course these were all metaphors that they manufactured to explain what their ultra-empirical instruments told them, that there was a hum and it was everywhere. This is why theoretical science is the closest art to poetry. The world we know is the virtual one we create in our minds. Before we add our stories it’s just the OM, the hum that is everywhere. It’s not music either, its just a sound, pure neutral energy. We are the ones who create the narrative and the score. We are the ones who turn the background noise into music just by listening to it.

These thoughts were in my head as Plato led me down the beach into town, squiring me past the various shops and palm-frond bistros. He was my mushroom mon but I was his rich American tourist and he was protecting me because he, even at ten years old, was more experienced and empathetic than any drug-counselor I’ve ever met when it came to baby-sitting a tripster. He instinctively related to my child-like, vulnerable state of mind. Besides, he was an enterprising young man and I was his job. We sat in a little cabana and sipped a stimulant smoothie made from the custard-apple, a native fruit with touted aphrodisiac effects. He confided in me that he was going to the States to become a pop star. I told him I already was one and he believed me. We were both ten and painting pictures on the undersides of our skulls, creating that virtual world we all inhabit only now just a bit more fanciful than the OM, the hum of hum-drum reality.

About sundown, Plato released me from custody. I was making a graceful reentry and intended to eat a kingfish steak at Robinson’s little two-table restaurant where he barbecued the kingfish that he had caught that morning from his rowboat on Negril Bay. He could make fish taste and chew like aged beef. After a couple of Red Stripes to wash down the steak, when I was amply ready to retire to my cottage and watch my eyelids until I fell asleep, a rather nervous and swarthy guy sat down at my table. He produced six golden coins and made some palaver about how he had obtained them. I could have them all for 50 dollars. I examined them briefly because he was injecting the required professional urgency that usually accompanies such transactions. In my mind’s virtual world I saw the golden flute I had been lusting for in a music store in Oak Cliff. I gave him the fifty bucks. Where was Plato when I needed him?

The next morning, in the light of day, I brought the coins out to examine them more closely. I spent several years being a jeweler. I owned a jewelry store where I bought and sold gold every day. I can identify gold blindfolded. I can practically tell you what carat it is by tasting it. All I had to do was smell these coins to know that they were brass. In the virtual world inside my head, I turned into a big fruit-flavored all-day sucker. I blushed so deeply that I could hear the blood humming in my face, the OM of pure embarrassment and humiliation. They say you can’t con a con. This is a fairy tale started by con men. In fact there is nobody easier to con than a con. This is because con men, like poets and theoretical scientists have to be able to paint that virtual internal world to such perfection that they can fall in love with their own illusions and believe them like a naive teen-aged girl believes her first infatuation will last forever. OK, to be fair, I had spent the morning french-kissing eternity and I was a gullible, wide-open psychedelic child when I got hit on by the predator, but Jeesus, Lrod, when that virtual picture inside your mind doesn’t match up with the cold brass of reality, you see what happens, right? Slap. Slap.

I smuggled the worthless gold-clad contraband coins back into the country. One by one over the years I gave them away and with each one went the story of the ‘expert’ fooled by his own senses and desires and the care we must take when constructing the virtual reality inside our heads. By the time the last coin was gone, I think the lesson had finally sunk in. Go ahead and paint fantastic masterpieces in your head, make the underside of your skull the Sistine Chapel, but be sure to Bite the Coin.

But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.–Plato, The Myth of the Cave

3 Responses to Plato Meets The Magic Mushroom

  1. ken says:

    I had come to believe in that universal “hum”. As I grew older, I found myself sometimes drifting off, briefly, into that hum.

    I spent part of my years in growing up in a city favored by retirees. I’d see many of them sitting on their front porches, eyes glazed, slowly, rhythmically rocking to that hum.

    And that hum is accompanied by a very mild euphoria, like what you feel on a perfect day at the beach basking in the sun. You lie there, conscious of the sound of the gulls, breaking of the waves and the warmth of the sun, and little else.

    I thought I had, however briefly, tapped into that cosmic hum when I drifted off. But then, I had a shocking thought. What if I hadn’t tuned in to it, but rather manufactured it internally? What if I was no different than those who heard voices.

    And then I read this article and felt reassured. I’m not alone out there; there is a hum.


  2. Barbara says:

    So engaging, I read this two times in a row and will probably read again. I visited Negril in the seventies before it became over-run with tourists. Beautiful place. Very cool story with an important message.

  3. ormondotvos says:

    Lovely evocation of that smooth hum of the machinery when inside and outside lose their boundary.

    It can happen during storms and stress, though. We can’t summon it.

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