We drove through the desert, miles of fissured ground and small geometric shrubs, our way repeatedly blocked by barbed wire fences, which necessitated countless u-turns.
I don’t know how our friends managed to find the correct place, since the desert offers no defining markers, but find our way we did.
We parked the car and piled out. “I’m scared’, whispered Suzie, as we kicked our heels outside, waiting for the others. “Me too,” I replied.
My friend gave us nervous first-timers a few pieces of information about the cactus we would shortly ingest.
“Peyote is a natural drug – you won’t get the sweaty palms and beating heart of the artificial powder drugs. It’s not dangerous in that way, but if you do feel bad, don’t worry, just do exactly what will make you feel better.”
“Also, the flavour tastes very strong. Never in my life have I tried anything as strong as peyote – it’s like eating the heart of the earth. So, it might make you throw up, but that’s normal. Peyote is a cure, it’s a way to cleanse yourself.”
Into The Desert
We made our way into the desert. After a few steps we encountered the first peyote button.
It was hidden under the meager shade of one of the shrubs, impressed firmly into the ground – a few inches wide, with small clumps of hair scattered at regular intervals over a dark green surface.
“We can’t cut this one. This is our guide,” said my friend. “We’re going to separate and find our own peyote, and meet up by that tree over there. Don’t cut the peyote with a knife – use a sharp rock instead.”
We split up, and left alone I stopped and felt the silence of the desert, the type of silence you can’t find in the overstimulated urban lifestyle. And suddenly, I wasn’t scared anymore.
I found two buttons fairly quickly, and carried them across to the meeting point, ready to begin.
My friend was right. The buttons tasted disgusting. Our faces stretched into grimaces as we struggled to keep down the pulpy flesh, swallowing gulps of water and huge sugary slabs of Abuelita hot chocolate in an attempt to disguise the taste.
Afterwards, we sat under the shade of the tree, waiting, waiting. We had no idea how long it would take for the effects to take hold, or what would happen when they did.
The world begins to wobble…suddenly we’re pacing around in the desert, unable to keep still. Everything is suddenly hilarious and I become hugely enamoured with my tinted sunglasses. “The world’s so bright like this,” I say.
We accompany the boys to the car, and they start pumping atmospheric drum and bass into the silence of the desert. We dance like Egyptians. And then forget why exactly we went to the car.
It takes a long time to gather ourselves and return to our spot, complete with video camera and tent.
And as we’re walking along through the desert, Suzie and I, clumped together and giggling, the peyote really begins to hit us.
How do I begin to describe this? At the time I tried to write, my notebook ended up in a scrumpled heap on the desert floor as I occupied myself talking to the plants.
“Write about what?” I wrote. “The world as it shifts and changes before my eyes? The colours, the shapes…the sky pulsates like spider eyes, like milk in blue coffee…the horizon encircles us like chains of eyes.”
Eyes, I think, because every plant, every stone, everything had its own clearly visible, beautifully palpitating soul. We could see the beauty in everything. The cracks of the desert floor vibrated with intensity, and we could see how everything was connected to everything else by these physical vibrations.
Strangely enough, it was only us two girls that felt this. The boys struggled to put up the tent while Suzie and I lay in a loving heap of confused limbs on the floor and watched the sky.
“I can feel the pulse in this rock” Suzie breathed. “You’re lying on top of me”, I said. “Oh.”
We could see beautiful women beckoning to us and dancing among the clouds. Behind these beautiful, feminine shapes lay a faint grid of purple and green fractals, like the strange neon cacti that were scattered round the desert.
Afterwards, Suzie told me that she felt that Peyote (who does somehow, maintain a very tangible presence) had made love to every sense in her body. It was true.
We made different sounds for hours, ‘zzzzzz’, ‘ooooo’, and felt them vibrate in our mouths and echo across the desert. We ate grapes and slid the round globes round our mouths, gasping in awe as we crunched down and the juice ran down our throats – the most sensual eating experience I’ve ever had.
Peyote is like having a full-body orgasm, but one that isn’t connected to your sexual self, but to your spirit. It gave me the most heightened sensitivity I have ever experienced.
It got dark. The sun set and huge pulsating stars appeared in a clear black sky. Even without the peyote effect they would have looked beautiful, because there was no light pollution from nearby cities, no presence of people.
But the desert, however beautiful it is at night, gets very cold, and in the intensity of the day, we’d forgotten to gather firewood.
Various wood gathering expeditions (initiated by the boys) ensued, of varying success, as we danced around the desert replete with music from a mobile phone and our headlamps set on ‘flash’.
>Mostly, Suzie and I remained by the fire, trying to appease Calcifer, the greedy fire God with small sticks, watching this disco across the desert. We watched shooting stars and the blinking lights of airplanes, which looked like they were rolling themselves into globes of light and sneaking out of the sky towards us.
Gradually, the peyote wore off. We felt tired, and lost. And suddenly, sitting by the fire, we missed the boyfriends we’d left behind.
We both, without an indication to the other, stretched out our hands towards the fire, and watched the smoke curl round the dark silhouettes of our outstretched fingers. But there was nobody there to hold them. It was time for bed.
Post One-ness Experience
A one-ness experience is not the realization that ‘everything is connected’, but the concrete visualization of this – a true knowledge of what the “hippies” call the unified transformative energy field.
People access it through meditation, astronauts sometimes experience it in space when they see the Earth from far away, a huge curved globe in the sky. We found it through Peyote.
The trouble with one-ness experiences is that people can suffer afterwards, spending their whole lives trying to capture that fleeting glimpse of beauty, of order in the void.
Fot us, in the days following the peyote experience, the world seemed flat, washed out, cold.
Suzie said she felt that when Peyote left, her lover had left her cold in her bed – he introduced himself to us that night, flirted, and left.
And did we learn anything?
The Lesson Out Of Reach
At one point, after the sun had set in the desert, I walked off alone in the night and almost saw Peyote in the sky; cracks of brilliant light that had nothing to do with the stars.
“What are you trying to tell me? What is the answer” I screamed inside my head, almost crying in the intensity and the confusion. I didn’t find an answer that night, but I think what Peyote taught me is the strange incomprehensibility of everything.
You can’t measure quality of life by what you do every day, but by this shining brilliance beyond it, just out of reach.
And so, I am still flat broke, still carting around the same old backpack of burnt clothes (a different story), still have the same relationship worries.
But they don’t seem to matter anymore – these mad, wild, rare experiences are more important.
I know i’ll go back to the desert again. I think everyone does. But until then, I’m not going to let the memories of this experience leave me feel flat and cold, but use them constructively. Somehow.