[Psychedelics] Tripping the Water Park: Lessons in Empathy from the Floating Masses of Humanity


This trip had all the makings of either glory or disaster. The first because it feels amazing to be immersed in water while tripping, and the facility had everything on hand I could possibly need.

Mostly bathrooms and a cafe, importantly all of it designed for public use as I don’t want to make myself an unexpected burden on any unwitting third party when I trip. But then, there are the people. Those teeming, seething, swarming masses of other people that can be difficult to deal with when high.

For as long as I can remember there has been a part of me that withdraws from other people. It is cold, dull, pragmatic and doesn’t understand that life should be enjoyed. Only by becoming aware of it have I been able to counteract its influence as an adult and reach out to other people to make nourishing connections with them.

For example often when I see things like parades or theme parks, some small voice in me says they are frivolous. Unnecessary, a waste of materials and energy. But who am I to say that? Fuck you, little voice. You don’t get to decide what’s “necessary”.

Dwelling on that part of me occupied much of this trip. Surrounded by other people, floating languidly in the monkey soup, skin absorbing the various oils and other bodily residue from the countless other swimmers, I set about trying to dissect that part of my mind. Why is it like that? How did it get that way?

It would have me believe the facility was someplace I’d inexplicably come to be wet for no good reason before being dry again afterwards. It set about envisioning how the interior volume of the building could be most efficiently partitioned for housing.

It’s a constant struggle with this thing. That used to be all there was to me, which made making friends difficult as I was in a completely different headspace from any other kid in my grade. When I had friends it’s because they were stubborn about it. I never understood what they liked about me but I appreciated that they did.

On my way into the pool, there was this dude in the way, blocking the corridor while he stashed stuff in his bag which I guess wouldn’t fit in the locker.

But I didn’t say anything because, is he “in the way”? That reduces him to an obstacle. He is a mutually valid person who needs to inhabit a given amount of space to exist. Am I in the way, then?

No. It’s easy to fall into that mode of thinking, but I am a valid person too. I have the right to exist in this space. I just didn’t want to be a bother. I just stood there quietly waiting. He apologized when he noticed me, though there wasn’t any need to.

That voice is always trying to find fault with other people, even though other people undoubtedly give me leeway for transgressions I am usually not even aware of.

As I floated, peacefully as possible all things considered, I realized I could use an inner tube. The pool facility offers some amount of them for shared use. But as I looked around, there was a conundrum.

All of the tubes were in use by tiny bros. They were just floating, splashing and having a merry time as litel felowes are wont to. I could not bear the idea of putting a stop to that so my selfish grown ass could have a floaty thing I didn’t even need. If I had one right then, I thought, what would I most want to do with it? Give it to those tinybros.

The fun coefficient a grown ass man (G.A.M.) can get from a pool tube is negligible. Point one, maybe. Compare that to the fun coefficient a tinybro gets from a pool tube, at 8 or even higher if he has a squirt gun too (because then he is a battleship). The numbers don’t lie, so I floated contentedly and forgot about tubes.

Closed eye visuals were neon purple and green. Sometimes pink. Shaped like elements from a digital watch display. Propellers at one point? But then little robotic clippity claws, opening and closing.

Then later something like insects, with red pulsating cores swarming towards a central hive. It was red at the core but like all the “bees”, shrouded in a green membranous skin, with a gradient from red to green between the core and the skin.

Then it became some sort of grand apparatus. Like a spherical machine with cameras pointing outward from every point, as well as flood lights. Like an artificial sun, radiating rays outward which all led back to it.

“It’s fine to just enjoy being humans for a little while longer. It’s nice, isn’t it? There’s no need to be in a hurry.” I felt content just to be a guy in a bunch of water. Though as I grew more and more relaxed I felt like my brain was leaking, sending tender fleshy tentacles out into the water, picking up bioelectric signals from everybody else immersed in it with me.

Everything’s fine. There’s nothing I need to be on top of right now. There’s no danger. I think the voice is just the responsible adult in me. I think it’s born out of fear. That there won’t be enough to go around. That there’s something important I’ve forgotten. That any new person I meet will recoil in disgusted confusion the first time I don’t react to something the way I ought to, so there is no point getting invested.

There were a lot of people with disabilities enjoying the pool, and you’d better believe that part of me doesn’t know what to make of disability. It’s the same problem I always had with girlfriends, they would tell me about a problem and instead of empathizing, I’d suggest ways to fix it. I can’t see a problem without wanting to fix it and don’t really see the point to discussing the problem unless it’s about how to fix it.

If I had the money to set up a charitable foundation, it would be to buy prosthetics from guys like Hugh Herr and Dean Kamen to fit disabled people with. I don’t really understand how to solve human emotional problems or I’d solve my own.

I understand engineering problems though. I give out a lot of blankets as gifts for this reason. I won’t be able to guess what box set they want or what ironic sweater is hot that Christmas or whatever, but I know human beings are endotherms who like to be warm.

I felt frustrated that the technological solutions to physical disability largely exist now but remain out of reach for all but the super wealthy. I know veterans who have lost limbs to IEDs sometimes get myoelectric prosthetics that Uncle Sam pays for.

But then I was like, how do you know they want prosthetics? How do you know they aren’t perfectly happy the way they are and don’t need some sick weirdo coming after them with a scalpel and a wrench. They probably just come here for water therapy and because movement is easier in the water, as well as to cool down.

Every time I would think this, the voice would say “but there is a problem that needs to be fixed”. It was a full time job to stuff it back down into my mind. “You don’t know how to define problem, or what each specific person will regard as an agreeable solution” I thought.

What’s a problem for me isn’t necessarily a problem for someone else, and as most elderly Russians will tell you, it’s the easiest thing in the world to cause terrible harm in the course of trying to help people.

That just left me feeling frustrated and powerless. I don’t know why I can’t just enjoy something and forget myself while I do it. Do I want control? Is that it? The voice is a relentless little micro-manager.

It’s also a gate keeper though. “That person cut in line. That person took a shampoo that wasn’t his. That person went down the water slide before they were supposed to. They shouldn’t be here.”

“Ssshhhuuuuuttttt uuuuuuuuppppppppp” I thought. Oh my god, shut up, I hate you. Who am I to set myself up as a gate keeper? If there is some objective test of the quality of a person I would surely fail it, so I could only lose in that scenario.

But if nobody is willing to set themselves up as the gate keeper, then the gate is unobstructed. Everybody can pursue the good things of life. It just requires that we are as forgiving of other people’s irregularities as we are of our own.

I am in charge of precisely dick, and the world is better off because of it. I don’t know what’s best for other people. It’s a good day when I can get some dim sense of what’s best for myself. What I have is the illusion that I know what’s best, when I forget that everybody around me is exactly as real as I am.

That they have their own totally different inner life, their own past and formative experiences, their own perspective and have the same inherent right to exist that I do. Maybe it’s the fear that there is something tainted or unworthy about me that’s behind it?

But that got me thinking about whether I can really isolate and extricate this part of myself like a tumor. Many people don’t know that Satan means “the accuser” in Hebrew, which was a title for what we would today call a prosecuting attourney.

His job wasn’t originally to cause sin, but to point it out to Yahweh for judgement. To argue the case against us, point out every little flaw and shortcoming.

The concept of the devil has for too long been a way to externalize evil. To take parts of ourselves we don’t like and deny they are really part of who we are. To isolate and exclude those parts of ourselves, when in many cases isolation and exclusion are how it got that way to begin with, and more of the same will only make it worse.

I don’t know if it’s the right answer for everybody, probably not. But I don’t know of any better idea than to heap love on that part of me until it relaxes, and disengages emergency survival mode.

As ever, tripping has moved me closer to self acceptance. That’s not contrary to self improvement, it’s the difference between a harsh self-abusive approach vs. being nuruturing, encouraging and cultivating positive change.

More importantly it’s helped to shine a light on my often wildly presumptuous attitudes about other people who in reality I know nothing about, and produced piercing moments of clarity during which I can conceive of everybody else as autonomous conscious beings with their own unique needs that I want to see fulfilled just as much as my own.

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