Friday, May 5, 2017

Joe Omundson

Appetite vs. hunger


I enjoy experiencing extremes so that I better understand the spectrum of what's possible and what my options are. For example, one time I hiked alone for 6 weeks and I realized how much I needed human interaction. As an introvert, it was the first time I ever felt desperate to talk to someone. Going to that opposite extreme allowed me see myself from another angle, and appreciate friendship more.

More recently I've been playing with extremes of food access. Most of my life I've had enough money to buy whatever food I want, whenever I want, with full ability to cook it and keep it fresh. When I was in Moab I chose not to have much money, and food acquisition was less certain. I got food from the food bank, fruit trees, or looked for great deals at the store.

To be clear, I've gone nowhere near the true extreme of food depravation. I've never been at risk of starvation, never felt forced to dumpster dive or go hungry for days at a time. Still, the lifestyle change was enough to shift my attitude: eating went from being a fun thing that I would do when I was bored, to something that I did out of necessity. My food reserves were now a resource that I needed to manage carefully.

There were weeks when I mostly ate rice, potatoes, and onions. I ate a reasonable amount to fuel myself for the day, but I didn't usually sit around and pack my stomach full of junk just for fun. I couldn't afford the kinds of food I typically overeat (buffets, pizza, ice cream), so maybe a bag of chips was my occasional treat. The exception to this was when I got a haul from the food bank. I couldn't resist indulging in the sudden excess.

Now that I'm back in Portland, surrounded by relatively cheap, delicious food, and since my dad gave me some money so I can afford more comforts while I'm undergoing treatment, it's been very interesting to notice how my approach to food changes. I go grocery shopping and I buy lots of produce so I can make stir-fries and other nutritious meals -- which is an amazing privilege. Then, even with my fridge full of these healthy goodies, I go out to eat. I'm getting pizza, burritos, spending as much money on one meal as I could spend on 3 days worth of food if I were careful. "Why not?", says my stomach. I can afford it today, it's easy, it's tasty, it's fun, it's variety.

Appetite is tied to mental and emotional states, and it's actually a very different sensation than hunger. This is a well known phenomenon but I hadn't fully understood it on a personal level. In my extreme-frugality months I generally waited until I was truly hungry to eat a meal, so my stomach shrank and I didn't need as much food to be satisfied. Hunger was a common experience and it didn't have a negative association. Now, I feel the effects of appetite again, and I notice how it's a different kind of craving. When I'm lounging around in the evening and I'm stoned and I already had dinner and I still crave a pizza, I know that's my appetite talking... I'm looking for food excitement. If I choose to eat, I'm packing more food into a full stomach. I'm not eating to relieve the ache of an empty stomach.

Two days ago was a food-craving day. I wanted to eat a lot and not care about money. First I went to an Asian buffet around lunchtime and ate as much as I could. By evening I was still completely full, but I went and got two huge slices of pizza and a beer. On the way home I got a pint of Ben & Jerry's and ate that too. I recognized what I was doing and decided to just go crazy that day and enjoy it. I wanted to experience the excess in order to get it out of my system. So I overate for fun and not because I was hungry. I notice the difference now.

Though I enjoyed gorging myself that day, I knew I'd be making a change the day after. Being overly full just doesn't feel as satisfying to me anymore. It's kind of fun, but I can't ignore how irrational it is, and how it makes me gain excess weight. It's not something I want to make a habit of. So I've been moving again toward relying on my hunger to tell me when to eat, and making sure I get through the perishable foods I already have instead of eating out too much.

Maybe tomorrow I'll want to eat an entire Little Caesar's pizza, and I'll probably do it. I'm less worried about having strict control over myself at all times, and more interested in general trends -- overall, is my overeating obsessive? Or is it something I can enjoy in moderation, as a contrast to a healthy baseline? As I wrestle with finding the right balance, can I see that overall I'm getting where I want to go? Yes? Good enough!
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Friday, April 28, 2017

Joe Omundson

Well, that didn't go as planned

I was recently hired by an acquaintance to drive a moving truck from New Mexico to Minnesota. The plan was to hitchhike from Moab to Farmington, drive the truck for 3 days, visit friends in Minneapolis for about a week, and hitchhike back to Utah.

The first half of the plan went relatively well. The first day I got a ride from a nice Moab couple going for a hike, from a wildland firefighter who lives in his truck half the year, and from a racist guy who used to do cabinets. When I was about 7 miles from the lady's house who I was helping move, I called her and she gave me a ride.


The next day we picked up her 24' moving truck, the biggest she could rent from Budget. I helped load it up and this was when I knew something was wrong. I was getting lightheaded with effort and felt feverish. At night, I was sweating in bed even though I wasn't hot. These symptoms had been coming and going for at least a couple weeks, and I'd been doing my best to treat them as though they were a normal cold or flu, as I tend to get paranoid that something worse is happening. But it was getting to the point that I couldn't ignore it any more, and I knew what the problem was.

This is my "oh, shit" face

I'm surprised that they let people drive moving trucks with no training. It was essentially as wide and as tall as a semi truck, though not as long. The truck only had a couple thousand miles on it and it drove well. The lady I was helping move followed me in her car. I got to Denver the first night, Omaha the 2nd night, and finally Minneapolis on day 3, with no problems.

At least, I didn't have any problems with the truck. Myself, I felt horrible. I woke up in the middle of each night with my clothes soaked, the hotel bed wet like a puddle around my body. I felt highly febrile and had a hard time staying warm; I'd bundle up in the truck and turn up the heat, shivering uncontrollably when I went outside into 55 degree weather.  As I drove I gazed longingly at the hospitals I passed by, knowing I needed to visit one as soon as I could. I went through some kind of existential crisis and wondered if I should just let the disease kill me.

We arrived in the Minneapolis suburb that was our destination. After dinner, I helped unload a few things, then got a ride to my friend's house in St. Paul. He's one of my best friends who I've known online for nearly 15 years but this was only the 2nd time I'd met him. We spent some time catching up before I went to bed.

I took my time getting ready in the morning, but I knew what I needed to do that day. These symptoms I'd been having were the same as when I had endocarditis, a bacterial infection inside my heart, back in 2012. I am susceptible to this disease because I have a prosthetic valve in my heart and any bacteria that make it into my bloodstream have a chance to attach to it and take root. I looked up my options for emergency departments and found that the University of Minnesota hospital was only a mile and a half away. Really, all I wanted them to do was to take a culture of my blood so I could either confirm my suspicions or not worry about it so much. Urgent care would have worked for that, but my insurance only covers emergency department visits out of state. I walked there and checked myself in.

I was in a bed in the emergency department for a few hours. They took my blood, they did an echocardiogram, and the blood culture was going to take a while to process so they were about to send me home and call me with results. A nurse took one last set of vitals before sending me off, but when she checked my temperature it was 102.7. She called the doctor back in and he told me I wouldn't be leaving today. I was admitted to the cardiac unit.

I was in the hospital for 5 nights. The blood culture soon came back positive for streptococcus mitis, and I was started on IV antibiotics. My phone died and I hadn't thought to bring my charger, so I wasn't able to update my friends and family for a while, but my brilliant friends who I met 3 years ago on the PCT came and found me and brought me a charger and several other thoughtful items.

I had hoped to "see the city" and I guess technically I had a good view

Well, I wasn't going to be hitchhiking anywhere in this condition. In fact, I couldn't return to Moab at all. To continue my treatment (6 weeks of IV antibiotics), I needed to go back to Oregon where I had health insurance. A couple years before, I put my basic info into the healthcare.gov website like I was told to do, and was quite surprised to be automatically set up with good insurance through Oregon Health Plan that was completely free. I figured my coverage would have ended when I moved to Utah, but I guess my move was ambiguous enough that the Oregon plan automatically rolled over into 2017. And what a relief -- to my knowledge they have covered 100% of my costs so far.

I wasn't sure how I'd get to Portland, as I didn't have enough money for a flight. I'd just earned $400 from my moving gig but a plane ticket on short notice was going to cost more than that. It had to be carefully coordinated so that I wouldn't mess up my daily antibiotic schedule. I hoped I'd be able to borrow enough money from someone to get home, but in the end I didn't need to: I am lucky to have great family support and my Mom decided to fly to Minneapolis. She basically saved my ass. She spent a few days with me at the hospital, which was great because she's a counselor and knows how to help people who are going through a hard time. My PCT friends hosted her at night. Then when I was discharged we spent one more night at their house and flew back to Oregon together.

Strangely, I experienced a profound sadness when I left the U of M hospital. It had felt like we were a team there. I had good people working together to make sure I was OK. They were nice to me. It was my first time in Minnesota and they felt like my family. Even though being released to go home was obviously a positive thing, and even though my mom was right there with me, I almost felt abandoned into the wide world and I wasn't prepared for how much that shook me up.


So, now I'm in Portland, and have been here for nearly three weeks, faithfully taking my meds and making trips to the hospital for dressing changes and lab tests. I have a PICC line, which inserts near my lower biceps and travels in my body 43cm to the vena cava, just outside my heart. I inject myself with antibiotics every morning. Another friend who I also met on the PCT kindly offered for me stay in a camper in her family's backyard in SE Portland. It's a wonderful space and I'm so grateful to be able to stay here.


My symptoms were under control for about a week after my discharge, but they started coming back after that. This was not a good sign. The antibiotic I'm on (ceftriaxone) was tested to be very effective against this specific strain of bacteria, yet I was still showing symptoms of infection, which indicates that the bacteria was hiding and growing in a place where the bloodstream cannot reach. If this is indeed the case, open heart surgery will likely be required to remove whatever is infected.

I started feeling better again a few days ago, and we're hoping the antibiotics will be able to get the job done so that I can go on for a while longer with this valve, delaying my need for another open heart surgery. But we won't know for sure for a while. I'm having some more ultrasound imaging done on May 8th to see if there's any obvious sign of an abscess or a growth. If that's inconclusive, I'll be on the antibiotics a while longer. Then they'll stop, and I'll either feel OK, or I won't.

And that is the story of how a driving/hitchhiking gig between NM and MN turned into a 5-day hospital stay, and a potential open heart surgery in Oregon.

To be honest, I'm not sure what my next move is going to be. A lot of it depends on whether I need this surgery or not. But it might not make a lot of sense to move back to Moab if I'm going to need ongoing checkups here in Oregon this summer. My car is down there, so I'll have to go get it at some point, but maybe it's time to be in Portland for a while? The summers can be pretty nice and I haven't been around for one in several years.

I haven't been posting anything on this blog and it's not because nothing is happening in my life, or because I'm not thinking about things I want to share, or because I've forgotten about the blog. I just don't seem to have much energy to focus on writing right now. I'll be back, with plenty to say, but for a while I think I simply need to focus on living and getting better, so I might be quiet for a time. I'm posting health updates on Facebook if you'd like to look me up there.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Joe Omundson

Lifestyle direction update


I've been working to align my lifestyle more with my values, even if it looks weird to other people. Putting energy inward to discover my true path and then following it regardless of my fears.

One of my core values is that the social mechanism of society ought to include sharing resources with all human beings. I detest living in a world where someone's standard of life is determined by their income, which is so often determined by their demographics and what their family has been like for generations before them. We have an exorbitant excess of resources around us and yet people live in poverty because our social and economic software is flawed.

Another of my values is empathy for people who have been through hard times. I encounter abuse within families in public on a regular basis and I am highly disturbed that more people do not recognize patterns of abuse and trauma. I also know that most people do not understand the hardships of what the homeless endure. Instead of encountering people who will help them lift the burden of being wronged so much in the past, these people mostly interact with people who see them as useless, weird, fucked up, and hopeless, further reinforcing the damage and making it harder to break the cycle.

My goal is to break away from the systems that reinforce these things that I detest, and start living a new paradigm which values people over money at every intersection.

A lot of people want to do that, and a lot of people feel OK working towards it in some way in their life, while also maintaining their job and their house and their car and everything else that makes them comfortable. But that's broken for me. That's not my path. I'm all or nothing. I find that 9 times out of 10, benefiting from any economic transaction reinforces the very social systems that perpetuate these problems. To my mind, using money to battle these problems is like fighting fire with fire.

What I'm doing right now is transitioning from sleeping in my car to stealth camping in a tent, like the rest of the homeless people. Last night was my first night.

For one thing, I find that the more I own and the more "comfortably" I live my life, the more miserable I become personally. I get trapped by these things. Maybe I just have bad self control, but even when I house-sit for short periods of time I lose track of the real world and I become an isolated, anxious, stagnant, internet-glued shadow of a person. So, minimizing is partly in my own self interest. Even in my car I can feel isolated and lazy. The times when I have lived day-to-day from my backpack have been the times I felt the most alive. Plus my registration is expired and I can't fix it until my replacement title arrives from Oregon, and I don't want to get a ticket for driving it around.

But the other reason is because I want a fuller sense of empathy for what the homeless go through. I feel like I need to become one of them in order to relate fully to them. Living in a car gives me some idea, but not a very full idea. It's pretty easy to park the car anywhere to sleep and not be noticed. I have rigid walls and doors that lock. I can go anywhere quickly, I can easily transport most things I want to transport, I can store a good deal of belongings. I don't have to worry that someone is going to notice me walking into the scrub with a backpack and call the cops to roust me.

So far I notice that a lot more consideration has to go into sleeping in a tent. It's technically illegal to camp in my car, too, but people do it in this town all the time and it feels like another level of seriousness if I were to be caught setting up a tent camp on public or private property. If there are people near the edge of the woods where I access my camp, I have to wonder if it would be smarter to wait for them to leave before I pass through. I can only take so much stuff with me at a time. When I hear dogs barking at night I wonder what would happen if an aggressive one found me. As the seasons progress I will be more vulnerable to bugs, flooding, hostile encounters, and the like.

More than this, it seems like there's a really humbling mental component to having to be sneaky about your existence. To know that you don't really have a right to exist, anywhere, and if you want to continue there are certain people who should not find out about you. It feels destabilizing, like it would promote insanity. When I caught myself in the mirror today I felt like I already had more of a wild look in my eyes. A look that doesn't take anything for granted or expect to see things happen any certain way. I still have so much social wealth that most homeless people lack, I'm still doing this by choice, and I know I can get through any difficulties I face. I'm not going to destroy my relationships or my mental or physical health to get the "full homeless experience", that would be illogical to me. But I want to embrace any difficulty that I come across so that I can better understand reality. Any hardship that I endure is invaluable to me in the long run.

I am repulsed that only moneyed people can afford the luxuries of comfortable shelter in our system, so I will exit that reality even if it's illegal and difficult. I want to vote this with my lifestyle: people deserve to live safely regardless of their privilege, and I'm not going to benefit until everyone benefits.

The other thing I've been doing is working toward an existence where the daily needs of my life do not require any money. Moving away from the car is part of this (no insurance or fuel costs). I want to live a completely free life in both senses of the word. I'm not a purist, I will make exceptions for certain things, and in fact I am going to be working this summer to save money; the only reason for this is because I want to hitchhike internationally, and even though I think I could do that for nearly free too, I haven't done it before and it seems wise to have a financial cushion in a foreign country if something goes wrong. Plus, I don't mind taking some money from wealthy America and distributing it to people in poorer countries. So I will still earn money, but it's completely on my terms, and only for the purpose of furthering my specific goals of gaining understanding of other cultures and having life changing experiences.

This has been a lot of talk about what I want to avoid, what I want to distance myself from. But what positive goals do I have? What do I want to see happen?

I want to provide services that are accessible to everyone and completely free. I want to assist others who are working on these services. Free can happen, it just takes effort. I want to be available for anyone who needs someone to talk to. I want to create a buffer of safety and empathy in public spaces.

One thing I have started recently is a daily meditation session in the park. I sit for 30 minutes at 9am. I haven't had anyone join me yet, but with patience and continued invites I am hoping to support people in finding some inner peace for a few minutes of their day.

Another thing which I'm excited to get more involved in is food collection and redistribution. Schools and restaurants throw out a lot of perfectly good food, which they would be happy to give away instead, but they don't have any consistent person who comes and picks it up. There used to be a guy who would do this and provide a free lunch for the town every day! It does still happen on a limited scale; there is a guy I know who picks up the leftovers after school lunch and gives it away, but I'm thinking about stepping up to fill the role of daily free lunch provider. This is exciting to me because it decreases our waste, and provides a free meal to those who want it, as well as an opportunity to gather socially.

Lastly, I'm looking into other volunteer opportunities that would allow me to connect with and support people who have suffered abuse. CASA is one option, volunteering at a domestic violence shelter is another. The animal shelter could be a third possibility. I'm still sorting through which of these things I want to pursue.

These changes in my life feel good to me; it seems like I'll have a lot of work to do every day for the next week or so, just to get myself reoriented to my goals and my new lifestyle. I have a lot of decisions to make about which possessions to keep and which ones I want to discard. I'm starting to care less about what other people think or if anyone will support me. I think I can do these things and it will be meaningful to me, so I will.

Is there something in your life that you've identified as "your path", something unconventional and crazy but you can't stop thinking about it? Tell me about it in the comments :)

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Joe Omundson

Be the pixel you wish to see


Many people have ideas about how society should be, but they don't always consider their own lives to be part of the equation.

Let's imagine that generally, most people wish that everyone in their community could have a happy life. Let's say it's a universal human goal for as many people to be as happy as possible.

Now imagine that we are all pixels on a computer screen. Our color indicates the experiential quality of our life: red is very unhappy, yellow is mediocre, green is very happy, and there are all shades in between. (Forgive my simplistic use of red = bad, green = good!)

Then our goal is for the light shining from the screen to be as green as possible.

I find that some people get so hung up on the other red pixels they see, that their own lives degrade into a red state. They see all the red and decide that their own life can't be green until there is more green around them. And yet, the only pixel you can directly control is your own; to get a fully green screen, every pixel has to decide to be green! We all make up the screen. A happy world means not only that everyone else be happy, but YOU, too. Your life is a part of this thing, we are all the universe. (It's along the lines of "be the change you wish to see".)

One question is: can a pixel create a net greenward trend while remaining red?

Is it possible to sacrifice your own life, your own well being, for the sake of the greater good around you? Or in neglecting your own happiness and living a miserable life, is that negative energy all you can radiate into the world?

I saw a quote that said something along the lines of: "The only thing you ever have to offer someone else is your present state of being." I thought this was profound, because so much of the time we try to cover up our own feelings for the sake of someone else. I don't really feel like spending time with my friends tonight, but I told them I would, so for their sake I'll put on a happy mask and endure it. But does this ever fool anyone? If your own state of being is that you are feeling reclusive, and out of energy for other people, you're probably not really sharing something positive like you hope -- if you want to be alone, better to do that.

What about the stereotypical family with a dad who labors arduously to provide for his wife and kids? Some people do thrive on constant hard work, but others don't love it so much. If you're working 60+ hours a week, never home for your family, stressed out and exhausted whenever you're with them, and miserable with yourself, is this really better than cutting back on the hours and finding more frugal ways to live, so that you can be more relaxed and present with your loved ones? I think we have this idea that self-sacrifice is noble but I suspect it does more harm than good.

Personally I think that some people can manage to help others turn green even though their lives are red. Maybe a crazy inventor lives in lifelong isolation yet provides helpful technologies to the world. Maybe a workaholic earns a lot of money and donates 80% of it to really great causes. Maybe someone who is familiar with a destructive system can cripple that system at the cost of their own life or freedom.

But I suspect that this is overall a less effective route than the alternative: being as brightly green as you can, and letting that be contagious to those around you. A green life has more attentiveness to its own needs, and therefore provides itself a stronger foundation for reaching out and helping others. More fundamentally, it involves a recognition that a happy society means a happy YOU. Because your happiness is worth just as much as anyone else's.

So don't be afraid to be happy, or feel guilty about it.

A fair question might be -- "if turning your own life green means thoughtlessly enjoying every privilege that comes your way, and benefiting from economic and social systems that perpetuate poverty and disease for others, isn't your greenness at the expense of someone else's redness?" Yes! But I also think that seeking to find a happy life based on material possession, privilege over others, and perpetual injustice is a dead end. These lives are perceived as green but the people who live them don't tend to feel very good. Seeking a truly green life is more likely to involve minimizing, simplifying, gaining humility and compassion. (Says the houseless guy. Obvious bias here!)

So it's always important to think about how your choices are impacting others, whether you're happy or unhappy, but as far as your own choice to feel green or red inside your own head -- why not choose green?

Of course it isn't that simple for everyone, myself included, and those who suffer from depression will be laughing at me. I don't mean to minimize the difficulty of finding real peace, joy, and meaning. I just don't think we should arbitrarily choose to suffer when other options are easily within reach, thinking that choosing pain for ourselves will somehow be good for others.
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Joe Omundson

5g mushroom trip



At 10 AM I left town for the 25 mile drive into the desert. I traveled down gravel and dirt roads to a favorite campsite, one which doesn't see much traffic, on the edge of a beautiful canyon, dotted with scrubby juniper and big boulders, a playground for giants -- the same place I camped for my LSD trip. I spread crunchy peanut butter over a bagel and placed five grams of psilocybin mushrooms on top. I finished eating it by 11:15.


I did the usual things I do when I'm waiting for a trip to come on: organized my car camper, walked around, did some stretches and meditation. The most I'd taken before was 3.5 grams, and that was pretty intense, so I was prepared to get my world rocked. I had been preparing myself ever since I bought the mushrooms.

That purchase has an interesting story. It started by hitchhiking from Utah to Oregon and attending a music festival last summer. While I was there, at 3 in the morning I was resting in the "Snake Temple" and a young woman lay down next to me, and we held each other and talked for a while. That was pretty much our whole interaction, but we became Facebook friends, and 5 months later when I was traveling in California I visited her house which she shares with a community of ecstatic dancers. She and her partner sold me the mushrooms before I left, and I brought them back to Utah.

On a more abstract level, I arrived at this trip through the experiences of 20+ previous trips, my PCT hike, my move to Moab, and all the lessons I'd been learning in recent weeks. I probably felt a deeper level of self-acceptance and peace going into this trip than any other. I was mentally prepared, and I was in a beautiful place alone. I was confident that I would have a good experience even if things got intense.

The day was overcast, breezy, and a bit chilly, so I went into my car as the trip was starting and spent some time under my blankets. This was the period of self-calming through a maze of intense thoughts, some sad, some hilarious. I changed positions often, noticing discomforts and dwelling on them. I listened to music, halfway enjoying it. Eventually I slid onto my side and let go of what bothered me, melting into laughter and coziness. From there the trip got easier. I started addressing my needs and felt more positive, more able to venture out from my car and use my body.


Overall, I was a little surprised to find that my brain didn't melt any more than when I've taken 3 grams in the past. In fact, the most intense trip I'd had before was much crazier -- I'd thought I was living in a dream, that my body was somewhere else, and maybe that I had died and entered some kind of purgatory from which I would never escape. That was a difficult one, in a more chaotic setting. So although I was prepared to completely part with reality it never got to that point.

I opened the rear hatch and put on a really funky, dancy album by Opiuo, which sounded absolutely incredible, and I felt so happy walking around and dancing. I also listened to an ambient album by Secede which sounded magically intricate. I ventured farther from my car and entered a state of complete awe at my surroundings. In the hazy sunlight, the slickrock took on a pinkish hue, and was covered with colorful patches of lichen. I felt like I could stay there for a year and be happy. I wandered around slowly as though exploring a dream world, completely at peace, wondering at the beauty of all that my eyes took in.


The special thing about this trip was not a heightened intensity from taking a large dose, but the overwhelming sense of peace, wonder, and humility it provided. It was a highly spiritual experience, which was provided to me by another life form, a fungus, which has learned to create this chemical that has the ability to integrate my spirit with all of nature.

I began to consider the implications of this. I thought of how some fungi can infect ants and influence their actions so that they climb to a high point, where the fungus kills them and spreads its spores. I thought about how recent studies show that the microbiomes that permeate our bodies have direct links to neural inputs and play a large role in our health and happiness. I thought about how a network of mycelium permeates most of the soil on Earth, connecting plants, distributing nutrients; and how this is like a world-wide biological internet, a complex network, like a brain. In light of this I felt extremely humbled to be a mere human being.

Could it be that the greatest intelligence on Earth actually lies in the soil, in these vast networks of microbes? What if the mushrooms that create psilocybin are doing so intentionally with the knowledge that it will affect our thinking, much in the same way they can affect ants? The very fact that I was having these thoughts and developing a deep reverence for fungus after eating magic mushrooms seemed to validate the idea.

I don't necessarily believe the ideas that are about to follow, but I found them fascinating to consider. What if the development of human intelligence and spirituality has been an ongoing project of the fungus kingdom for thousands of years? What if they're intentionally raising us up from our meat-brained mammalian inferiority to be partners with them, so that one day we can build AI that is able to interface with them directly, or develop space travel that will allow all Earthly kingdoms of life to spread to other worlds? As a side effect, or perhaps as an integral part of the process, eating mushrooms helps us work through our personal anxiety, develop empathy for all living things, and live lives of greater connection, flexibility, and peace. As we come to respect and honor these creatures, it helps to ensure their survival and ours.

I also had a lot of thoughts about religion. I started to feel as though the consumption of psychedelic mushrooms might have been a contributing factor to the formation of most world religions. I thought of the story of the garden of Eden: God has created humans, and they are safe in the garden, but they don't know anything about good and evil, they only know they should obey without question. They are almost like robots or prisoners. Then here comes Satan, saying "don't you want to know for yourself? Here, eat this forbidden fruit and have your eyes opened." And maybe that fruit was mushrooms, expanding the minds of primitive creation.

And the funny thing is, I feel like Jesus has more in common with Satan than he does God. God so vehemently hated the rebellion and sinfulness of his creation, chose just one tribe to be "his" people and sent them to kill many others, destroyed the whole world in a flood, sent his people into slavery, allowed great suffering and set up rigid, barbaric rules for people to follow if they wanted to please him. The God of the Old Testament is just about the most misanthropic tyrant to exist in all of fiction. Then here comes Jesus, showing great compassion for the most sinful people, defying the traditions of the religious rulers, spreading ideas that made people question their previous beliefs, causing a major diversion from the Judaism that God had set up. Jesus seems more like an adversary of the Old Testament God rather than his son. Like Satan, he is not a "deceiver" but a revealer of truth to humankind, in protest of a vengeful and cruel God. They are both advocates of psychedelic thought.

Jesus's compassionate teachings seem to be in line with what mushrooms teach experientially. Eating this fungal "fruit of the Spirit" can help people grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. As a result of the times I've taken mushrooms in my life I feel much more empathetic, gentle, peaceful, and open-minded. Jesus lived an alternative lifestyle if ever there was one, going out into the desert for 40 days at a time, wandering around at the charity of other people, teaching his own beliefs in spite of the establishment and shaking up people's conceptions of the world. As I thought about these things I wondered if his story was inspired by eating mushrooms -- whether he existed as a historical figure or not.

All of this might seem like the talk of a crazy person, some real Terence McKenna shit that most people would reject as laughable. But that's exactly my point. By simply ingesting a certain biological entity, our minds can be made to see the world differently. Fungus is a powerful thing! This scares a lot of people and prevents them from trying it. "Sure Joe, you think mushrooms are so great because you took them and they messed with your mind, how can anyone trust what you're saying to be reliable? Maybe you're just crazy." That's a fair point because maybe a meth head thinks meth is great too. I guess you can only judge by the results you see in someone's life. What results do you see in the life of a meth user, in their spirit, versus mine? The result of taking psychedelics has encouraged me to find a place of greater peace and to pursue my individual goals. Even this may not be good evidence for the average person, since the trend in my life has been to distance myself from typical pursuits of career and security; but sometimes we need to let go of what society values in order to find what's healthy for us.


Am I making myself crazy? I don't think so, but I'm not very afraid of that anymore. Drugs aren't the only things that affect our brains. Before I tried mushrooms I expressed my fear of having my mind altered permanently to a friend; he said, "everything alters your mind. Even the words I am saying now." And it was true, because I never forgot those words.

Everything we encounter has a permanent effect on us, and we all live with neuroses and believe in some kind of insanity. Even if you try to keep everything in your life sterile and predictable and sane, you might develop dementia from having your brain locked into a routine! So, choose your poison. For my life, the benefits seem to far outweigh the risks. The emotional healing, fascinating insights, and vivid experiences are exactly what I'm passionate about in life, so for my goals it absolutely makes sense to take psychedelics. I will always be careful to treat them respectfully and not go too far overboard. So far, I feel like it has actually reduced my neuroses in lasting ways, rather than increased them.

I had two items which I kept outside of my car: a camp chair, and a gallon of water. My interaction with these things taught me a lesson. It was windy, so at first I set the gallon of water on the chair to keep it from falling over. But then a big gust came and blew it over anyway, knocking the chair into a puddle, sending the gallon crashing to the ground. Later, as I was sitting on the chair with the gallon on the ground next to me, I realized that keeping the water on the chair was symbolic: sometimes in life we perceive certain things to be valuable and stable, so we use them to hold down what we're afraid might topple. Yet this top-heavy arrangement can end in disaster when the unstable thing propping up the important thing succumbs to natural laws and collapses. And it's based in fear, in some assumption about the future that isn't necessarily true: I need to keep my chair and my water out here in the wind because I'm going to want to sit in it, so I better make sure it will be stable.

If I instead make the arrangement based on the present moment, when I am actually sitting in the chair, it leads to a more stable arrangement. The chair can't be prevented from falling over once I leave it, so I might as well leave the gallon of water on the ground and allow the chair to blow over. It will fall over harmlessly and my valuable water will be safe on the ground. Maybe an analogy of this is relationships: sometimes we are afraid to be alone, we love someone and we hope that in the future they will love us back and provide what we need. So we arrange our lives around that fear and that hope for the future, keeping ourselves available for them, trying to make plans that will lead to closeness. Yet by doing this we miss out on the organic energy that flows around the present day when we are not trying to push toward a future result, and this in fact prevents that desired future result from coming to pass, as we find that we are sacrificing self-care and pursuit of personal interests and this makes us less happy and attractive.

Toward evening, the sky cleared up partially, enough to allow a beautiful sunset. Though movement was nice, I chose to sit by a pothole full of water and meditate, letting action dissolve into rest. I looked into the water and saw a .22 shell casing, reached in and picked it up. I saw several more and thought to gather them, but wondered whether my hand's contact with the fragile ecosystem had more potential to cause harm than the empty casings remaining there. So I held the single casing in my open palm as I sat restfully, acknowledging it, making it an offering. What has been done cannot be undone, and to fixate anxiously on it only makes it worse. The direction is peace and acceptance, humility and love.


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Friday, February 10, 2017

Joe Omundson

Love by itself


So often for me, the experience of love has been tied to other people and other emotions. I feel love when I think of a person I feel affectionately toward, and maybe it's connected to happiness because they love me the same way, or maybe longing because my desire isn't mutual. Love tends to be accompanied by other thoughts and feelings like that.

Today in yoga class I was in a child's pose position and I thought of someone, felt love, and immediately felt my face tighten as I connected it with longing. And I wondered, what would the experience of love feel like if it weren't tied to those other things, if I could let go and feel it as an independent emotion? So I dropped what I was doing with my face and just paid attention to the feeling of love. This is something I'm just beginning to explore. Right now, the way I experience it is as a comfortable warmth in my chest. It requires gentle relaxation, which isn't always easy because it can feel scary to let go of the tension I hold and let love be present. It requires acceptance and fondness of self, which are hard to conjure in the presence of fear, guilt, and self-blame. I learned that you have to have compassion even for the part of yourself that feels afraid and guilty before the fear and guilt will start to recede.

I'm playing with the idea that self-love feels just like interpersonal love, but with practice it can be felt at any time regardless of circumstance. This is somewhat of a novel idea because I've always assumed that I have to be in contact with another to feel that kind of love. Or, I can feel it while I daydream about being in a relationship, but then it comes with that sense of lack and envy. How much more stable will I be if I can meet my own need for feeling loved? If I nurture that into a strong constant force, how will it change my ability to pour into other people without a need to get something out of them? How will it change my habits and coping mechanisms? I can imagine it affecting my life in numerous ways.

It's extra challenging for me because of my heart surgery. I have long held tension in my chest and shoulders, perhaps in an effort to protect my seemingly fragile heart area. The physical and emotional are always related so it is no easy task to let that part of my body melt into warm openness. It's only through many hours of meditation that I have started to be able to feel sensation there again and consider the possibility of filling it with warmth.

Maybe the best thing about falling in love with other people is when it teaches us how to love ourselves. If we realize that the people we love most share a lot of our own qualities, and we know that we perceive them as fully adequate, maybe we can start to see that we deserve to feel fully adequate as well. The nice thing about this attitude is that we can fall in love with all kinds of people and enjoy that experience regardless of whether or not a relationship is feasible. It turns "unrequited love" into a meaningless phrase because the love for that other person is a reflection of the love you've found for yourself, and there's nothing to be sad about if they don't act a certain way. You can simply feel warm thinking about them and be happy about that feeling.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Joe Omundson

Reflections on the PCT


Every 10 weeks or so I have the opportunity to submit a guest column to the Moab Sun. Here's my submission this time around.



I quit my job in April 2014 to hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. At 26, I'd spent three years in the engineering career I went to school for. I traded my salary for a backpack, the roof over my head for two hundred nights in the wilderness. I went alone. After a six-year marriage I was eager to explore life on my own terms for the first time.

My experiences were strung along a 2,650-mile ribbon of trail along with hundreds of like-minded souls. When we met each other slogging 20 miles through scorching heat to find the next water, we knew we were in it together. We hid from the sun like reptiles during the heat of the day and fully embraced our strategic laziness.

Crusted with dirt and sweat, we'd hitch into that chaos of order called town to find food, rest, and supplies; but town was never quite comfortable. We had places to go. Home was what we felt when we got far enough down the trail again to be out of sight and sound of civilization. Home was sprawling out in the sand, making our beds in the open air and trusting the weather to hold, laughing like kids at a slumber party.

We were artists, scientists, drag queens, musicians, doctors, rangers, photographers, lumberjacks, entrepreneurs, professional hobos, and retirees. Some of us were in our 80s, some as young as six. We were straight, gay, trans, rich and poor, urban and rural. We hiked with knee replacements, with kidney failures, with AIDS. We came from the USA, Germany, Israel, Japan, Australia. There was one attribute we shared: Of all the people who dreamt of hiking a long trail, we were the ones crazy enough to make it happen.

We met each other unexpectedly and broke apart just as abruptly. Sometimes our paths would cross again in a few hours, a few days, or a few months. We learned to say goodbye in ways that were appropriate for any length of separation. Reunions were cause for great celebration.

Halfway through my hike I met a woman at a music festival, and we dove into a whirlwind of a relationship which set me on a different kind of journey. We lived in cars and drove around the country for four months that winter. Our love was as confusing as it was mesmerizing. I resumed my hike the following May.

Sometimes I felt hungry, cold, exhausted, bored. I spent miserable weeks hiking alone when I started the second half, agonized by the mess of emotions I felt for the gal I'd roadtripped with. I hiked through thunderstorms, sunburns, and dehydration. My Achilles tendons were constantly inflamed. I saw cougar eyes reflecting in my headlamp and walked right through where I'd seen them. Often I was alone without cell service 40 miles from the nearest town, out of reach of help should something happen to me.

In the end, these hardships were more than outweighed by joys. I met people who showed me that age is meaningless. I befriended people with dissimilar personalities and recognized their value. I hiked with someone who made me realize I might want to have kids someday. Strangers surprised us with trailside hamburgers and coolers of beer, stashed water jugs for us in dry sections, and hosted us at their homes when we needed rest. In our community excesses were given freely to those in need, and I learned that resource distribution doesn't always have to depend on money.

Plants and animals were teachers too. I saw how fantastically diverse the strategies of life can be -- no two species make their living the same way, yet all survive, and all depend on each other. Wild creatures accept the world as it is instead of inventing fictions. They don't waste time complaining, accumulating possessions, or fearing death. They understand that life only happens in the present moment.

My hike lasted a lifetime. These days it's hard to immerse myself in the memories of those months; not because they are difficult to access, but because once remembered they are too sacred to put down without tearing out some piece of my heart. It's a longing that feels like regret because what was once cannot be again.

It is said that thru-hiking will ruin your life in the best possible way. Having thrived living from a backpack, I cannot be convinced to sacrifice the hours of my life working to pay rent and buy junk. After surviving the tests of hundreds of crazy situations, I don't strive for the illusion of security. Now that I've lived this dream as my waking life and discovered that my future has no limits, I'm dissatisfied with mundane ambitions. I am glad for this kind of ruination. I wouldn't have it any other way.




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