Sometimes in life, extraordinary things can happen that leave you breathless at the mystery of the universe. This was one of them for me. Ever since the experience, I’ve had a paradigm shift in how I look at our mortality. Maybe, just maybe, there is part of us that is permanent, eternal and survives death.
Now, the fact that the experience was facilitated by psilocybin mushrooms, does not diminish it in any way for me. I have come to learn that psychedelics when used as a sacrament, have the power to unlock our divine Spirit, which is everyone’s birthright.
However, to understand the time-bending part of my experience, I must first take you back twenty years to when I was a teenager:
A rebellious teenager under the tutelage of a wise old monk
As a teenager, I really struggled to relate to my conservative parents, who were too busy making ends meet to even notice. So, I started messing around with the wrong crowd and was on a negative trajectory. Then one day, I met a Buddhist monk, who took me under his wings and straightened me up. His name was Abhinyana. He was an Englishman and also a prolific traveller and writer1. Abhinyana became my mentor and friend. He called me his godson. During my teenage years, I saw him regularly, and when he was overseas, we wrote letters to each other almost every day.
When I was 19, Abhinyana took me on a three-month Buddhist pilgrimage through India. Midway through the trip, we had a falling out and I left him. Upon returning, I burnt his letters and decided to close that chapter in my life.
A decade passed without any contact. Then one day, I found out he was dying of cancer. I flew to visit him and although we did reconcile, our relationship was not the same. He passed away a week after. I did not cry.
Abhinyana and I in India, 1997. This photo was taken just before I left him to head back on my own.
The unsolved mystery
Subsequently, my life got busier with work and kids, and I seldom thought about him. However, there was one memory of a mysterious event that continued to haunt me.
One night, I was hanging out at the temple with Abhinyana, when suddenly he interrupted our conversation and asked me to step outside. He had something important to tell me. It was a clear night sky and the stars were brilliant. He pointed out one particular star and asked me to observe it.
“What do you want me to see?” I asked.
“Please, Phong, just keep looking at the star,” came the reply.
Minutes past and I was still perplexed.
“Come on, just tell me what it is?” I asked again.
“Please, just keep watching it,” he insisted.
Then in the next moment, the star completely disappeared from sight.
I looked back, and that bright star was gone. Vanished!
“Hmmm, Interesting. OK… So is there a lesson in all this?” I said.
I expected him to expound some Buddhist teaching on impermanence or something like that. But instead, his response completely caught me off guard:
“Yes, there is, but you will understand in 10 years…Actually, in around 20 years time!”
He left it at that and said nothing more.
Since then, I have tried to solve this strange riddle by watching stars on a clear night. Yet, no matter how long I observe, they don’t just disappear.
Twenty years later…
Fast forward to the present day. I am in Jamaica on a meditation retreat involving psilocybin mushrooms2. It is a balmy night and we decide to dose outside at dusk. I take 4 grams and lie down on the grass. After about an hour, it starts to come on. I open my eyes and realise that it is night and above me is a vast canopy of stars.
One bright orange star grabs my attention. Instantly, I feel the presence of my late teacher, who always wore an orange robe.
His presence becomes more and more palpable. I am certain that he is here with me, not in body, but in spirit. I feel embraced by his love. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Then for the first time ever, I grieve the loss of a great friend and begin to cry.
Presently, the orange star disappears and I recall that night when I was a teenager and he pointed out to me the vanishing star. Just as he predicted, 20 years on, it has come full circle. My ego collapses and I am sent into bliss. At last, the koan is resolved. How sublime! I burst into laughter – joyful laughter like I’ve never known before.
I think of the Yin Yang symbol, that my old mentor was so fond of. Somehow the ancient symbol exquisitely captures the paradoxical nature of my experience at that moment. That night, I write in my journal:
I finally understand what the sages say,
And what Abhinyana was trying to teach me all those years back.
Behind the veil,
There is no duality or separation.
Just as the Yin Yang indicates–
Black and white,
Male and female,
Life and death,
Nirvana and Samsara
Time is an illusion.
Among our infinite lives in eternity,
He was my teacher once and I, his student.
Now he is a vanishing star.
The Universe is a profound mystery,
- His many books are available free online at www.abhinyana.com
- For your information, psilocybin mushrooms are legal in Jamaica and MycoMeditations run regular retreats there throughout the year. Safety is paramount to founder, Eric Osborne, who is a highly experienced and compassionate facilitator. For more info visit: www.mycomeditations.com