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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.]

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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.



ELDER MUSIC: Classical Predilections 1

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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According to my dictionary (the Macquarie – the official dictionary of Australian English), predilection means a predisposition of mind in favour of something; a partially. That’s how I feel about this music.

Here is a nice sprightly way to start your day, and with, what is generally considered an “unsung” concerto. We’ll rectify that by singing it. The composition was written by JOHANN MATTHIAS SPERGER.

Sperger

Jo was considered quite a virtuoso and he often played the lead instrument during performances of his own works. It didn’t matter which instrument, he’d play it. Not only that, his works require great technical skill yet they remain cheerful and jubilant in character and temperament.

So, up on your toes and dance around to his Horn Concerto in E flat major, the third movement.

♫ Sperger - Horn Concerto in E flat major (3)


Some days I like to put on Gregorian Chants and let the sublime music waft over me as I read a book. I did that today and thought I’d share it with you - well not the whole CD, but some of it.

The term Gregorian Chants is often used to cover a wide range of early music to which it often doesn’t apply. In this case the term is correct. The music is from an album called “L'Arbre De Jesse” (The tree of Jesse), purportedly showing the family tree of Jesus. The track I’ve chosen is Sequencia sancti evangelii secundum Lucam. Sit back and let it wash over you.

♫ Sequencia sancti evangelii secundum Lucam


Although ANTONIO BRUNI was born and died in Italy, he spent much of his life in France.

Bruni

This was around the time of the French Revolution where he was appointed a Commissioner of Arts. One of his duties was to make a catalogue of all the musical instruments found in various noble households.

Among them it was noted that there were six hurdy-gurdies. That has nothing to do with his music today, I just found it interesting.

Besides listing instruments Tony was a bit of a composer, which is why he’s present today. He must have been a bit of an obsessive, because apart from a couple of compositions, everything else was in sets of six. From the viola sonatas here is the third movement of his Viola Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 27 No. 4.

♫ Bruni - Viola Sonata in E-flat major Op. 27 No. 4 (3)


JOSEPHA AUERNHAMMER had a couple of music teachers before she became one of Mozart’s earliest pupils.

Josepha Auernhammer

Mozart was taken with her piano playing and he also dedicated a couple of his own compositions to her. Besides composing and playing music she also worked for a publishing company (which may be why we know so much of her music).

One of those is her 6 Variations on an Hungarian theme. These are short pieces so I’ve included two of them. First the theme.

♫ Auernhammer - Theme


...and Variation 1...

♫ Auernhammer - Variation 1


Not a great deal is known about JOSEPH AUFFMANN. We also don’t have a picture of him. We know that he was a German composer and organist and once held the post Kapellmeister to the Prince-Archbishop of Kempten-Allgäu for seven years. He ended his days in Switzerland.

Few of his compositions are known but one that is is the Sinfonia in D major. This is the second movement.

♫ Auffmann - Sinfonia in D major (2)


You can’t beat a J.S. BACH cantata.

Bach-JS

This one tells you to wake up. It’s known in English as “Sleepers Awake”, and it’s one of his best known. I suppose it’s wise to wake up or you’d miss it entirely.

This is the first movement Coro Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme – the famous bit.

♫ Bach JS - Cantata BWV 140 ~ Coro Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme


Keeping it in the family here is J.S.’s oldest son WILHELM FRIEDEMANN BACH.

Bach-WF

He was well trained in music, not just from his father but several other of the best musicians of the era. In spite of being acknowledged as one of the finest organists, composers and improvisers of his time he ended up in poverty, unable to secure a position.

Here is something from before things went awry for him, the third movement of his Symphony for Strings in F major.

♫ Bach WF - Sinfonia In F Major (3)


MARIE JAËLL was a French composer, pianist and teacher.

Marie Jaëll

She was born Marie Trautmann and married Alfred Jaëll, who was already an established concert pianist. It was through him that she met many musicians of the era, including Franz Liszt who described her as having “the brains of a philosopher and the fingers of an artist”.

Husband and wife often appeared together playing piano throughout Europe. Later, after tendonitis put paid to her performing career she took up writing about music and teaching. One of her pupils was Albert Schweitzer. This is the third movement of her Cello Concerto in F major.

♫ Jaëll - Cello Concerto in F major (3)


I’ll end with a shimmeringly gorgeous piece of music, and it will be no surprise to learn it was written by WOLFGANG MOZART.

Mozart

It’s the second movement of the Sonata for Piano Four Hands in D Major, K381. That means that two people sit at the one piano and try not to get tangled up.

The twenty fingers plinking away at the ivories belong to about the best in the business, DANIEL BARENBOIM and LANG LANG.

DanielBarenboim&LangLang1

Mozart - Sonata for Piano Four Hands in D Major (2)



INTERESTING STUFF – 5 January 2019

THIS IS SO SWEET

The Daily Show host, Trevor Noah, talks about his 90-year-old grandmother who lives in South Africa. It is lovely.

ONE MORE CHRISTMAS THING

Because I might not be here next year to include it, let's do this one more Christmas video - it's too good to miss. Posted to YouTube in 2015, it was

”A special holiday musical presentation from Union Station in Washington, DC celebrating the service and sacrifices of our nation's World War II veterans and commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

“Featuring The USAF Band, Washington DC, an extraordinary dance troup from NYC (choreographed by Jessica Hartman), and a cameo appearance by Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.”

Thank Darlene Costner for sending it.

A RIDE IN A WW2 FLYING FORTRESS

Speaking of World War II, reader Mage Bailey sent this video of a ride in a Flying Fortress. Yes, I know it looks like a long video but actual take-off doesn't occur until about nine minutes in so you can scroll ahead if you want to skip the leadup.

50 TIMES CATS CRACKED US UP

...or made us say “awww.” Fifty photographs of cats doing the funny and cute things they do. Here is a taste:

LiquidCat

GangstaKitten

These are from Bored Panda where there are 48 more kitty photo to entertain you.

FOR ALL THE WONDERFUL OLD MEN I KNOW

TGB reader Joared who blogs at Along The Way, sent this song by the inimitable Nancy Wilson: An Older Man is Like an Elegant Wine. Lyric is the below the video:

Some things are worth waiting for
Some things improve with age
Like a vintage wine, growing mellow and fine
As you let it reach the proper stage
Well, wine is not alone in getting better with the years
A man is at his greatest when he's graying 'round the ears

Chorus:
Yes, an older man is like an elegant wine
He's had the time to mellow and refine
A youth, I'd say, is a Beaujolais
Attractive but light
While a man who's mature has the powerful allure
Of a robust Bordeaux, with a sumptuous glow

That's why the man whom I would like to call mine
Will be an older man, who's like an elegant wine
He'll be strong but sweet, just right to soothe my troubles away
And he'll warm like the glow that you feel head to toe
When you savor the sock of a grand Armagnac

That's why the man with whom I'd like to combine
Will be an older man who's like an elegant wine
And when I need him, I'll enchant him
Hug him, kiss him and decant him

Every night when we're home
And it's time for us to dine
There'll be that beautiful older man
Who's like an elegant wine

FACING FINITUDE

TGB reader Sulima sent this quotation from Maria Popova's miraculously wonderful Brain Pickings blog quoting her friend, Emily Levine:

”More than a century after James, Rilke, and Dickinson, a different Emily — the pathbreaking comedian, philosopher, steward of poetry, and my beloved friend — offers a brilliant, funny, bittersweet, largehearted meditation on the existential art of befriending our finitude as she faces her own terminal illness:

“'We don’t live in Newton’s clockwork universe anymore — we live in a banana peel universe, and we won’t ever be able to know everything, or control everything, or predict everything...

“'I love being in sync with the cyclical rhythms of the universe. That’s what’s so extraordinary about life — it’s a cycle of generation, degeneration, regeneration.

“'I am just a collection of particles that is arranged into this pattern, then will decompose and be available, all of its constituent parts, to nature, to reorganize into another pattern. To me, that is so exciting, and it makes me even more grateful to be part of that process.'”

POLAR BEARS AND THE BLIZZARD CAM

Can Blizzard Cam save itself from the curiosity of three teenage polar bears?

”In a fascinating clip from the BBC show Spy in the Snow, a trio of teenage polar bears kick a snowball shaped camera around in between playful bouts of fighting. The snowball cam was purposely left behind by the larger and much faster blizzard cam as a decoy.”

FAST TALKING GUY

The YouTube page tells us:

”If you were a kid in the ‘80s, you might recognize this man, or, at least, you’ll recognize his velocity of speech. John Moschitta Jr.’s motormouth dominated the airwaves with stints as the fast-talking FedEx guy, Mr. Testaverde on Saved by the Bell and the infamous Micro Machines Man.

“With the ability to say up to 11 words per second, Moschitta broke the world record and made a career out of his dizzying cadence. The Guinness-certified speed talker sat down to give us the whole scoop on his life in fast lane. Now, try to keep up. “

TWO DOGS AND AN OTTER AT PLAY

I'm pretty sure I've posted this video in the past but I had just as much fun with it the second time around. Too bad the dogs' owner didn't shut up and let them have fun playing tag and getting to know the otter.

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Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.



Magic Mushrooms, Cancer and the End of Life – Part 1

As you might imagine, a diagnosis of terminal cancer can and does produce high levels of depression and/or anxiety in a large number of patients. Not to mention freaking, mind-bending fear.

I have, over the past two months or so, had debilitating attacks of dread that seem to rattle every cell in my body and leave me terrified.

Such responses are so well-known that for some time now there have been research scientists who are working to find ways to relieve these fears and anxieties.

A few years before this cancer predicament presented itself in my life in 2017, I began tracking reports of these studies. Most of them involve a person's ingestion of psilocybin, known colloquially as magic mushrooms.

You might recall that psilocybin, along with marijuana, mescalin and a few other hallucinogens, are among the substances many of our generation who were interested in altering our consciousnesses experimented with in the druggie 1960s.

Besides smoking pot regularly, I took three acid (LSD) trips back in those days. They were fascinating.

One of the most well-known, recent psilocybin studies took place at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. From the medical journal report's introduction (emphasis mine throughout this post):

”Cancer patients often develop a chronic, clinically significant syndrome of psychosocial distress having depressed mood, anxiety, and reduced quality of life as core features...In cancer patients, depression and anxiety have been associated with decreased treatment adherence...prolonged hospitalization...decreased quality of life...and increased suicidality...

And from the conclusion:

”The data show that psilocybin produced large and significant decreases in clinician-rated and self-rated measures of depression, anxiety or mood disturbance, and increases in measures of quality of life, life meaning, death acceptance, and optimism.

“These effects were sustained at 6 months. For the clinician-rated measures of depression and anxiety, respectively, the overall rate of clinical response at 6 months was 78% and 83% and the overall rate of symptom remission was 65% and 57%.

“Participants attributed to the high-dose experience positive changes in attitudes about life, self, mood, relationships and spirituality, with over 80% endorsing moderately or higher increased well-being or life satisfaction.

“These positive effects were reflected in significant corresponding changes in ratings by community observers (friends, family, work colleagues) of participant attitudes and behavior.”

If you have a tolerance for charts, statistics and scientific jargon, you can read the entire report here.

Another cancer-psilocybin study at New York University (NYU) concluded that a

”...single moderate-dose psilocybin (in conjunction with psychotherapy) was safely administered to a cohort of patients with cancer-related psychological distress (e.g. anxiety, depression).

“It produced rapid and sustained anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects (for at least 7 weeks but potentially as long as 8 months), decreased cancer-related existential distress, increased spiritual wellbeing and quality of life, and was associated with improved attitudes towards death.

You can read this entire report here (with similar statistics, charts and jargon as the Hopkins study). There have been and are ongoing other studies producing remarkably similar results.

Something big is going on with psilocybin. You may have heard of or even read Michael Pollan's 2018 book, How to Change Your Mind, about what he calls the “new science of psychedelics.” I don't want to bury you in long quotations, but here is part of his response to his psilocybin research, having also tripped on it himself:

In a follow-up to the NYU study, Pollan reports,

”A few key themes emerged. All of the patients interviewed described powerful feelings of connection to loved ones...and, more generally, a shift 'from feelings of separateness to interconnectedness.'

“In most cases, this shift was accompanied by a repertoire of powerful emotions including 'exalted feelings of joy, bliss, and love.' Difficult passages during the journey were typically followed by positive feelings of surrender and acceptance (even of their cancers) as people's fears fell away.

With evidence of such positive results piling up, you wonder why psilocybin is not made available to terminally ill cancer and other patients. The reason is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) lists it as a Schedule 1 drug: no prescriptions may be written and limited use is allowed for study.

That may be changing. Efforts are underway in Oregon and Denver to decriminalize magic mushrooms:

”Advocates with the Oregon Psilocybin Society received formal approval last week to move ahead with their language for a 2020 state ballot initiative that would reduce criminal penalties on psilocybin and allow for its use during 'guided sessions' at state-licensed facilities,” reports Vice News.

“Decriminalization efforts have moved a little further in Denver, where advocates have already started gathering signatures to put an initiative of their own on the municipal ballot in May 2019 that would decriminalize personal use, possession, and growth at the local level.”

Okay. Now you've got some background on magic mushrooms. Part 2 is here.



A TGB EXTRA: The Alex and Ronni Show

Yesterday, my former husband, Alex Bennett, and I sat down for our first Skype chat of the new year. Just two old friends who've known one another for about 60 years catching up with what's going on in our lives.

If you would like to see Alex's entire two-hour show with other guests following our chat, you can do that at Facebook or Gabnet on Facebook or on YouTube.



A TGB READER STORY: Market Dynamics

By Jack Handley - Diplomate, Curmudgeonology

I live in a small town facing a big river. Until the middle of the last century it had been a busy river port for timber schooners and barges carrying hay, grain, fruit and produce downriver from Sacramento to the big cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

It has escaped total dereliction only by also being the county seat. It's a fine, old American small town with alleys, vacant lots, an operating train station and barking backyard dogs.

It is also graced with a farmers' market held on blocked-off Main Street every Sunday (year-round, this being the West Coast).

I walk the town nearly every day and one Sunday several weeks ago while zigzagging between the double rows of market booths, I witnessed this interaction at a fruit stand. I suppose it was an exchange, of sorts. But not nearly a transaction, of sorts:

Old man: “I'd like a pound of the sweet peaches, please.”

Booth lady: “You choose them.” She points to the tray, and ducks down below the market scale to attend to something beneath it.

Old man stares at where she'd been standing. Looks at market scale. Looks at peaches, then walks off.

The booth lady rises into view, looks after retreating old man, then turns to her booth partner and mouthed, “Crazy old geezer.”

Me: “I suppose he wanted to buy some peaches.”

Booth lady: “Well, why didn't he, then?”

Me: “I mean, I suppose he wanted you to sell him some peaches.”

She stares at me. “Say what?”

Me: “Sell, sell. He was expecting you to sell him a pound of peaches. Like weigh out a pound of peaches and exchange them for his money.”

Booth lady: “This is a booth. You pick what you want — it's your choice, that's the idea — and put them in a plastic bag. I weigh the bag to find out how much, you pay, I hand you the bag, done, yes?” (pause) “I guess he was confused.”

Me: “I think he was just trying to simplify things. He wanted a pound of peaches, perhaps he only had two dollars, anyway the scale's on your side, so he can't weigh out a pound, he doesn't know how many peaches to a pound. So he thinks that, rather than put a bunch of peaches in a bag and hand them to you, and you weigh it and take out some, and then hand him the bag and take his two dollars, he'll just give you the bills and ask you to put two dollars-worth in the bag. Done.”

Booth lady: “Are you pulling my chain?”

Me: “No. Look. You go to France. You visit a local market square. You see a pile of nice peaches in a stall and decide to get a few to taste, not too many. You don't know French, you don't know a Euro from a franc, so you point to the peaches and hand the seller a one Euro note.

“He weighs out a Euro's worth, puts them in a plastic bag and hands it to you. See? Easy. No hassle.”

She rolls her eyes and makes a face to her partner. She turns back to me. “This ain't France.”

I walk away. I feel foolish. I sense her mouthing, “Crazy old geezer!”

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EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.