ELDER MUSIC: Classical Predilections 1

Magic Mushrooms, Cancer and the End of Life – Part 2

[Part 1, a backgrounder on psilocybin – aka magic mushrooms - is here. If you have not done so, I urge you to read that before this post.]

* * *

On the day before Christmas last month, I traveled to the home of a guide who would, the next day, be at my side during the five or six hours of a magic mushroom session.

In the years before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had followed reports of research into psilocybin therapy for terminally ill patients and determined that if I ever found myself in that predicament, I would seek to participate.

And so the predicament came to pass.

By December, I had been searching for a magic mushroom guide for a month or two – not an easy trick as psilocybin is illegal, designated a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin, LSD, ecstasy, etc.) by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

I had been anticipating having to muck about in the illicit drug market, of which I have no useful knowledge, but the universe smiled on me when out of the blue, an old friend with whom I had never discussed such matters asked if I was interested in end-of-life psychedelics.

How does something like that happen? And at just the right moment? It's a mystery to me but one of several things recently for which I have no explanation.

My friend put me in touch with a guide and after a long and interesting telephone conversation, the guide and I arranged the time and place for my session.

Over dinner, we spent the first evening discussing how the session would work the next day and the guide asked what my goal was, what I wanted to learn during my “trip.”

As I explained then, I was seeking relief from the fear and terrors that has been plaguing me since my terminal diagnosis in early October. I wanted to find acceptance of death as a normal part of life, gain some peace with the inevitable along with, if possible, some insight to the meaning of life and death.

The next morning, I ingested a measured amount of dried, crushed psilocybin mushrooms mixed with a small amount of ice cream and we moved into a large, beautiful, serene room overlooking a woods in which the background music the guide had selected seemed to me to be just right.

And here is where I get into trouble trying to tell you about what happened over the next five or six hours. It is impossible to do that without sounding like a hippie dippy doofus out of the 1960s.

Fortunately for me, I am not alone. The man who wrote How to Change Your Mind, last year's best-selling book on psychedelics, Michael Pollan, had the same difficulty, as he explained in an article in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago. Some excerpts:

”William James famously wrote that mystical experience — perhaps the closest analogue we have of a psychedelic trip — is 'ineffable': beyond the reach of language. I couldn’t count on a common frame of reference, since not all of my readers would be familiar with the exotic psychic terrain onto which I wanted to take them...”
“Taking notes during my journeys proved futile. I couldn’t summon the will, and the very effort seemed like a violation of my guides’ first commandment, which was to surrender to the experience.

“So instead I asked them to write down anything I might say. This yielded a handful of mostly useless notes, consisting of vague superlatives like 'Spectacular!' or gnomic utterances like 'I don’t want to be so stingy with my feelings.'”
”What do you do with an insight like 'love is everything'? I wondered aloud. 'Is a platitude so deeply felt still just a platitude?' No, I decided: 'A platitude is precisely what is left of a truth after it has been drained of all emotion. To resaturate that dried husk with feeling is to see it again for what it is: the loveliest and most deeply rooted of truths, hidden in plain sight.'”

I quoted all that so you won't think I am too much of a hippie dippy doofus – or, at least, not the only one. (There is an excellent interview with Michael Pollan about a lot of this at Fresh Air With Terry Gross.)

A portion of my trip – though I have no idea of the length of time, long or short - involved many doors into empty white rooms. It wasn't entirely that but I don't remember visuals so much as impressions and feelings and maybe some insights to my life.

There were moments of supreme beauty for which I have no words and a strong sense of wellbeing, of connectedness to all living beings and to the universe.

After passing through many doors, I came to one that seemed identical to the others but when I walked through it, a strong sense of peace and contentment enfolded me, and an understanding that dying and living are inseparable; that there is nothing to fear.

And that's the best I can do to tell you what happened.

The next morning, the guide took me through a period of integration guessing correctly that I, being who I am, would be prone to dismiss my experience as not real.

She brought me around to believing otherwise and I have been able to hang on not just to the sense of connection, but to the sense that dying is as normal as living – that they are the same.

So far, since returning home, I have not had any of the terror attacks I'd experienced before the magic mushroom session.

And none of that even begins to explain what happened to me with my guide that day.

Caroline Dorsen, an assistant professor at NYU Rory Meyers School of Nursing, in an interview last June had this to say about her research into guided psychedelic sessions. There is, she says,

”...an underground — and understudied — community of people...helping others to use plant-based hallucinogenic drugs. In guided sessions or ceremonies, facilitators administer drugs like ayahuasca or psilocybin to people looking to alter their consciousness and improve their mental health...

“...plant medicine use is all about facing life’s difficulties in a safe and supportive environment. Used in the context of community and ritual, ingestion of plant medicines (like ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms) is seen as a powerful healing modality.

“Ingestion of these plants is taken very seriously and the ability to use them is seen as a privilege.”

Yes. I consider my psilocybin session to be an extraordinary privilege that has redirected my end-of-life journey onto paths I could not have found on my own or without my guide. I am deeply grateful to the universe for dropping this experience into my lap when I had no idea where to turn, and I am exploring a whole new set of assumptions now about living and dying.

There is more than a bit of the sacred about this.


You openly sought and found.

Love your life, Ronni.

Love you,

Yes, yes, more than a bit of the sacred indeed. I am so glad you found this path. I hated the thought of you suffering overwhelming fear.

And you have love from so many.

Thank you for continuing to educate me. I am grateful.

Thank you!

You are in 'Good Company' Ronni. Thank you for sharing this experience.

...And from Alber Camus....
...."In the midst of winter, I finally discovered within me an invincible summer."

Alber Camus.1913-1960 Died at 47 years old in a car accident, I believe. Nobel Prize for Liturature 1957 Second youngest after Kipling, and a loss for us all.

Camus' first significant contribution to philosophy was his idea of the absurd, the result of our desire for clarity and meaning within a world and condition that offers neither.

What still had meaning for Camus is that despite humans being subjects in an indifferent and "absurd" universe, in which meaning is challenged by the fact that we all die, meaning can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by our own decisions and interpretations.

My own thinking is...However we can achieve it has to be a good plan. !!

I am so happy for you! Meeting your son, now this! Yes indeed, the universe is smiling on you, as it will when one is open to it! Oh, yes, those plant people know a lot that we don't! Isn't it amazing how science (needs to) is proving so much of what the ancient spiritual masters knew to be true?

Once again your sharing of this part of your life experience is so valuable to so many. Humble thank you to be a part of it.

Excellent "trip" I would imagine, and so difficult to share in words with us...but thanks for the attempt. The emotional impact has made a difference in your life, I can assume, and salute you for your courage.

Fascinating. I'm wondering if your guide video-taped the session and if not, why not.

Thank you for sharing your feelings about this experience, Ronni. And thanks as well for being so candid about this amazing journey that you’re on. I am grateful to be able to follow along with you as far as it is possible. I know this also sounds kind of hokie and ‘60’s ish, but I wish you Peace.

I found myself nodding all through this post. It's exactly - minus the trip through the white rooms - what I experienced during the acid trips I went on way back in my 20s. The connectedness, the peace, the one-ness - all of the hippy dippy doofus stuff. One thing that I remember vividly is one moment where I burst out laughing because I "Got The Joke" of being. At the same time I experienced an explosion of white light.

I wish I could remember the punchline - but I trust that I still know it deep within me. Yes, it is sacred.

Thank you Ronni for sharing so much.

Thank you, Ronni. I'm so glad you had that experience and just as glad that you shared it with us. And @Mary Wise, you're well named! Love the "I got the joke of being."

Incedible! I am so excited for you. I wish you continued peace of mind and heart.

I appreciate this post. I am happy you had an experience which has helped you. Thank you for sharing it.

I am so envious! How I would love to be able to have access to this guided journey. I read Pollan's book when it came out, and was immediately convinced that my own dreads and terrors could be shifted under the tutelage of a guide.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I listened to an interview with Michael Pollan on NPR a week or so ago, wherein he discussed his book and his experiences.

I was about 19 years old back in the sixties when I took my first trip on LSD. Subsequent to that I used mescaline and psilocybin (possible, of course, they weren't really those drugs) a couple more times, before I ended my experimentation with hallucinogens after about a year. I never had a "bad trip," and I don't regret my experiences, although I can't say I came away with a lasting feeling of having discovered anything profound.

I wonder - were you anxious or frightened as you anticipated moving forward with this? I would like to consider this, but I feel a sense of fear that I never had when I was so many years younger.

I am glad you found it to be a positive addition in your life. As I read your blog, I am more and more taken with the grace and acceptance within, as you navigate this path we will all find ourselves traveling eventually.

The experience makes me think of the introduction to grass during the
mid sixties. It was not just another "drug", but a religious experience requiring
extensive training before even the first puff. Then, when the trainers felt the
acolyte was ready, the first puff occured. Maybe a residue of the LSD experience? I'm glad the experience worked for you and may it bring you
the peace and personal salvation you strive towards.

Once again you have managed to make me deeply depressed and amazingly hopeful at the same time.

I, for one, always thought that the "Hippy Dippy Doofuses" were brave explorers. I was much too "buttoned down" to join them; but, they had and you have my complete support. Good for you!

Thank you, Ronni for sharing another personal part of your life.

Thank you so much Ronni for sharing this amazing experience with us. It sounds out of this world, in all senses of the words.

Wonderful to read your insights from the mushroom experiment. I had the same marvelous experience when I was about 28 years old (in 1968) from smoking pot that my sister brought on a visit. I had only tried it once before that because I just never wanted to feel out-of-control, I guess. My sister lived in Berkeley and experimented with all the drugs of the era.

On this occasion I first experienced paranoia, and may have hyperventilated but can remember following this the most peaceful feeling overcame me. The mystery and meaning of life was revealed to me and I have never forgotten it. As you stated, Ronni, it is extremely difficult to put into words. but the image of a never ending circle overcame me and was as comforting as a warm blanket on a cold night.

Thank you, Ronni, for sharing your experience and I'm so happy that it has made all the difference for you at this juncture of your life.

Fear. Terror. Who wouldn't seek an escape from those? Hurray for whatever works for you.

Far out, Man! I am so joyful that your experience was one of spirituality, as I knew it all along.

Re meeting that old friend out of the Blue and your question -
“How does something like that happen? And at just the right moment? It's a mystery to me but one of several things recently for which I have no explanation.”
Due to “happenings” like this I am unable, or unwilling, to call myself an atheist. Now that I am old [supposedly!] they happen to me often in various ways or maybe I just notice and marvel at them now?
Thank you for relating your trip - I am in line for one [with my psychiatrist a my guide] once it is legal in Canada. Looking forward to your next chapter and hope it keeps you ‘accepting’.

I bumble through life believing (or perhaps hoping) that the sacred is available to us all. Sometimes it seems to take a kind of readiness on our part to experience it. And then we do. And sometimes it just is, whether we're ready or not. The former may be easier, or not.

Thanks for letting us in on your journey as far as you. can. Love you Ronni.

I am so tempted!

Personal note: part of my early sobriety was poring over Ram Dass' book Be Here Now. Made a big difference to me. And his description of his experience with psychedelics was riveting. I've never had the chutzpah to actually try it. But . . .

I am so tempted!

Yaaay, you!

You are amazing - and your blog eye-opening on so many levels. Thanks for sharing this, not a bit hippy dippy. I am utterly addicted to your blog, wish I had come across it years ago. You're honest and articulate, exploring all aspects of this aging (and now dying) business in such a unique fashion. Bravo, Ronni! Keep it coming. I find the notion of death as just another part of life very comforting & real. I did not know there were guides such as you describe, but I will certainly seek one out when I am in your position. thank you thank you.

As an ex-hippy dippy doofus, I did LSD many times during the late 1960s, with no regrets.

Now that I am in my 70s, with renal failure that will eventually lead to the need for dialysis, which I have already decided not to do, I have experienced the occasional panic about death.

Thank you for this beautiful description of a guided psilocybin experience. I hope the opportunity and information about a guide falls into my lap when I need it.

I’m so glad this was a success for you, and that you have shared it with us.

Dear Ronni

Thank you seems so inadequate for your generosity in sharing this journey with us. I am both awed and grateful.


Wow, that is really special! What an awesome experience. Thank you so much for sharing it, Ronni. Sending you a big hug.

I can only add Thank You!

Thanks to you and the comment from Mary Wise above, I can once again explore/share my feelings so similar to yours when I was in my 20s in the 1960s. I was one of the lucky ones who, very early in the 60s, was able to get some of the original, very pure LSD from the New York chemistry lab. It was, there is no other word for it, Amazing! One of the most pleasant "things", experience, whatever you want to call it, was seeing music actually turn into being and float across space. Of course, like Mary, I was way too young to fully appreciate what was happening, but at 82 years old the memories of a lot of it are still as fresh in my mind as the moment they happened.

The one big thing I, like you, drew from that was the lessening of the fear of dying. Not a total loss of the fear but the ability to support it and live with it in a peaceful way. And I've had that ability tested in real life experience a couple of times ... and it worked. Trust it, it will be there when you need it.

I wish this was available to anyone in need all over the US, but that will be a long time coming. You are fortunate. I would love the experience now and in the future as my times comes along.

Thanks for sharing Ronnie. What you're doing in your life and on this blog rivals -- and perhaps even exceeds -- the accomplishment of any great explorer.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am indeed envious!

So happy you did this and that it brought you so much.

I have these incredible fears around the fact that my mother will die. Do you think it may help with that? I live in Amsterdam, so there should be possibilities, but indeed, how di you find a trusted guide... If your guide happens to know someone in Holland, maybe you would pass on the name?

These fears are crippling me and I so much want to be available for my mom as she is on the last bit of her journey. And to survive her death myself.

Ronni, I’m so glad you experienced that wonderful journey. The feelings and insights from it sound very, very similar/identical to the NDE’s experienced by the people who appeared on Phil Donohue back in the 80s (that I mentioned a few months back). The hallmark of both your journey and the NDE’ers journeys was the feeling of being surrounded in complete love and peace, release from fear, and an expanding/opening of consciousness to an indescribably wonderful state of being beyond what is apparent through our physical eyes.

I’m an avid and appreciative reader of your blog and am sending good thoughts and love.

SO glad this worked out well for you! My one (and only) experience with a strong hallucinogen was back in the days of the "Beat Generation". It was disorienting and frightening so I don't know if I'd be up for trying it again. Still, I can see where the benefits might outweigh the risk. It would depend on the situation and perhaps on the substance.

I am grateful you were able to have such a beautiful and meaningful experience. Thank you so much for this journey into the unknown.


I was always too mistrustful of my own emotional balance to take a hallucinogen - still am. But I'm so happy for you.

I hope your freedom from fear and serene understanding of the connectedness of life lasts forever. Years ago, during a very stressful period, I woke up from a dream with that same sense of peace and understanding. It lasted about 24 hours, and then slowly drifted away. But just the knowledge that I had experienced such joy and serenity has given me comfort in the years that followed.

What a year, indeed, it has been for you!

Adie, look up Synthesis in Amsterdam.

Wow! That last post was by Nana Royer, not Naomi--she died 4 months ago!

Glad you came to the realization that life and death are part of a continuum I think of as circular. Certainly would wish you relief from fear and anxiety about death. Thanks for your continued sharing of your experiences as I like to be aware of options, since we never truly know which ones we might want to exercise in our unknown futures whatever we might think now.

Thank you for doing a great job of explaining the un-explainable "trip". Having experience in the past with mushrooms I know how difficult that is.
I'm wondering if you're considering doing it again, or was this trip sufficient?
What are your thoughts about your guide?
Did I read where one of our shipmates stated that Washington is in the process of legalizing psychedelics?

Thank you again. Our intrepid pathfinder leading the way. You are so good to all of us.

Ronni, thank you for this post. I am currently declared NED (no evidence of disease), but my chance of a recurrence is higher than 60% for ovarian cancer.

I'm filing this idea of a guided hallucinogenic experience away in case I need it. I was such a 'good' girl in my youth, never tried anything in the days of Haight/Ashbury, but now I eat a 10mg cannabis gummy before bed so I can sleep better.

The thing I like best about being older is the ease with which I can dismiss those things that don't serve me, and the willingness to try what might.

Do it again. I am sure you have read about Timothy Leary's experience with dying from cancer. I think there is actually a youtube about it. I do remember the last words he uttered were, "Why not.?"

So glad for anything that lessens your fear, dear Ronni. I had one happy experience with mushrooms back in the day (some 35+ years ago); I don't remember the details but do still recall the general sense of well-being it engendered. But, guides??? Man, Oregon sounds like a pretty cool place!

Oh thank you Ronni; you are so brave and brilliant! I appreciate your educating us as we travel with you! love, Mary

Thanks for sharing. This was obviously a fabulous experience for you. I am so pleased that you got to experience what you sought.

Whatever brings you peace and love, it's all good.

Thank you for bringing us along with your journey.

You rock!


Oh my dear friend, I’m so happy that you’ve had the “mushroom experience “ and it went well. I hope that when the time comes i’ll be able to follow your lead. New Mexico may be my portal, peace and love Ronni (the words mean so much more than they did fifty something years ago

Would take this trip in a minute if I had the chance.

Many thanks for sharing your experience with us. I was deeply touched. Many years ago I was privileged to imbibe mushrooms. My first reaction to the beautiful experience was "take these to the nursing homes!". I've learned since the setting is very important and well, nursing homes might not be right. But I was wise in knowing how elders could benefit.

Nana, thank you so much! (and maybe Naomi chimed in for a reason, so thank you Naomi too). Love from Amsterdam

Native American cultures have used these plants for thousands of years. Youngsters were chosen at ages six or seven to undergo years of intensive training under Elders who knew how and when to use each plant. Modern medicine can do much, but it can't begin to integrate soul and spirit with treatment, or to help patients come to terms that death is imminent.

Ronnie, I am so deeply grateful that the psilocybin mushrooms were such a great help to you. If you, even briefly, see how everything we experience as separate is really one huge interconnected organism, you lose the fear. I've had this experience, and it changed me.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Your courage continues to inspire.

Hmmm, am I the only one who found psilocybin really scary?
That was one thing I knew I’d never try again.

I am 67 whose wife passed away from metastatic breast cancer several years ago.,. I used psychedelic drugs years ago (psylacibin, mescaline, LSD, peyote, et all) and found them most enlightening, but with problems that made me stop using them. 1. Without a guide with you,it can be a most frightening experience as your trail changes rapidly and without form, 2. They only expanded reach so far before returning you back and kept you in a circle. For me, their use kinda froze me in time as I still feel as ignorant as I was at 16.

I participated in one of the year long psilocybin trials at Bellevue. I'm a 2nd year cancer survivor and the Cancer Anxiety trial had closed so I enrolled in the alcohol moderation/cessation study. The combination of face-to-face therapy and 3 medication sessions (of the 3, 2 may have been placebos - 3rd one was guaranteed psilocybin). It truly helped me embrace a profound inner peace with self and the universe, re-booted my brain and shake off a lot of negative thought patterns, and awakened an interest in space exploration. (First Man, film, blew my mind and I'm currently working on the Naples Space Festival.) So long as it's taken along with a therapist or guide I'd recommend it wholeheartedly. Comforting to know Ronni how much it helped you.

Thank you again Ronni. So happy for your experience. I've dabbled over the years, including a 3 day/3 night 'vision quest'. Actually I called it a woman's quest as I'm not Native American and wanted to be respectful of their spiritual heritage. I experienced several soul expanding, mind changing moments over the years, that I've never been able to speak about. As I work my way deeper into my 70s, whenever anxiety sneaks up on me, there's a small voice deep inside that reminds me that I "know" and that all will be well. I've come to believe? Accept? Death as we know and fear it, is about ego death. Dying into Spirit is about birth, into we don't know what...

Currently and coincidentally reading Pollan's book so thank you for this important field research.

The best news is that your anxiety has disappeared. I am so happy for you.


I decided when I was a young woman, if I knew death was headed my way, I wanted to go out with the aid of shrooms or peyote. Aldus Huxley did it with LSD, back in the legal days.

I feel that most of what I learned in my life, I learned with the aid of psychedelics. I used to guide others as well. If I had the resources,I couldn't find a psychedelic now if my life depended on it, I could start a new career.

So glad you shared your experience with us. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your Journey with us all.

Thank you Ronni,
I am in awe of you. You deal with life and now approach death in the most straightforward manner. Uncluttered .You have been an invaluable "guide" to all of us who have long followed you.
many many thanks.

I'm glad you had this experience, Ronni, and I'm grateful that you shared it with us.

thank you ronnie for sharing your experience

i will need to have one soon

best regards



Where do I sign up? I would love this experience, and perhaps would ease the anxiety I have lived with most of my life. (Ya here that, universe? I'm ready.) Thank you for sharing, Ronnie..love.

How in the world do you find this kind of experience quides? I wouldn’t know where to begin...

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