RISKING THE SELF
On Philosophy, Tai Chi and Psychedelics.
Diego Agulló proposes an embodiment that puts the concept of the self at risk, emancipating us from the illusion of self-realization.
The Multilayered Body
Altering states of consciousness through drugs has been part of the western philosophical tradition since the beginning. Examples can be found throughout the history of philosophy, from the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, initiations for the cult of Demeter and Persephone, to philosophers such as Plato, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Walter Benjamin. For the 18th-century German mystic and philosopher Novalis, the effects of narcotics were a form of transmission from another cosmos, a transcendental dimension in which the truth resides and which is in fact humanity’s real home. For Michel Foucault, drugs were considered a “technology of the self,” a way of practicing self-transformation through chemical means.
Evidence of the use of medicinal fungi with psychedelic effects have been found in Chinese medicine and herbology to the extent that they even named the magic mushrooms the “laughing mushroom.” What remains largely unrecorded is the affinity between the practice of Qigong methods, more specifically Tai Chi, and magic mushrooms. Based on long-term research on these two practices, one could understand Tai Chi and magic mushrooms as body altering experiences that disjoin us from the accustomed experience of reality and the ordinary self. When combined, they provide access to other layers of the real, the unfamiliar regions of our existence, marginal centers of the body and impersonalized experiences beyond the self. In addition, these practices grant access to the primary control centers of the body, regulating frequencies of energy and consciousness and allowing the body to unfold in different dimensional spaces of experience. Through this process the multilayered energetic body is made perceivable. One’s isolated identity becomes suspended. No longer is identity considered in terms of the self or a single subjectivity, but rather as a collective whole: we are a nervous system, we are cells and a lymphatic system, we are a bone structure, we are blood running through veins, we are inhalation and exhalation of air, we are muscles and tendons and fascia.
The etymology of the term psychedelics means manifestation (delein) of the mind (psyche). If there are several minds, such as in the case of the three Dantians (according to Qigong there are at least three “minds” in the body, the three Dantians, loosely translated as “energy center”) the psychedelic substance may have multiple manifestations. A synthesia of the minds creates a bridge between the three Dantians. The skills provided by Qigong and Tai Chi facilitate an internal reorganization in the body and, as a technique to balance the body, channels the effects through the body’s different energy centers. Since each Dantian produces different consequences in the body, the effects of psilocybin enhance the power of the body’s energy centers.
Qigong and Tai Chi also enhance the levels of bioelectricity storage in the lower Dantian and strengthen the pathways of vibrant resonant frequencies. They train you to regulate breathing and to mobilize the energy upwards to the brain in order to energize the brain cells. With these skills one might be able to channel the effects of the mushroom through “other minds” of the body and begin to notice that a mutual amplification occurs. In one direction, Qigong helps to channel the psychedelic outburst equitably through the different minds of the body. In the other direction, the mushrooms are an amplifier of vital energy which help access the energy or Qi in the body and increase sensitivity to the invisible by making apparent the biomagnetic body and its surrounding energetic fields. In this way, the body channels the flow of Qi that permeates all things, so one becomes highly sensitive to this permeability. It travels through the body as if the body were a conductor of electricity and Tai Chi the gear while the mushrooms catalyze the stream of energy.
A Volume of Boiling Molecules
A fundamental principle for hosting the mushroom in the body is relaxation, which can be provided by any Qigong exercise. Letting go of tension and stress, the body begins to feel calm, loose and open so that the Qi can pass through without blockage. This prevents fears from taking over during the effects of the mushroom since fear is a source of blockage and generates negative emotions that could lead to a bad trip assaulted by stress, concerns, or worries. As long your body is relaxed, fear has no place.
The claim of “experimenting with one’s own body” implies a research conducted by the body towards itself.
Curiosity and courage to overcome the boundaries of normality are the prerequisites for this experience of initiation. It is about keeping oneself open to alterity and venturing into the unknown, far from the realm of common sense. The perception of time changes. Time circulates in a suspended present.
Usually, psychedelics are related to visual hallucinations, as their effects are mostly channelled through the brain. But how does the mushroom manifest when it is channeled through the other minds in the body? When a body trained and prepared by the practices of Qigong or Tai Chi consumes psychedelics, it allows the effect to be channeled through the peripheral nervous system, reaching the areas of the lower two ‘minds’ of the body (middle and lower Dantian). One of them is the so called ‘gut brain’ which Michael Gershon explains:
Your digestive system contains more than 30 neurotransmitters, including producing 95% of the body’s serotonin, with sheaths of approximately 100 million neurons embedded in the walls from your oesophagus down to the anus. This is also named the ‘enteric nervous system’ or the gut brain by scientists. The system has more neurons than in the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system. 
In the case of the gut brain, it is not about having hallucinations processed by the brain, but rather about amplifying what is already there, intensifying perception until you can feel your own blood running, your nervous system expanding, and your breath reaching every molecule of your body, witnessing how they are activated like boiling water. As soon as you heat them up, they begin to move in waves. The higher the temperature becomes, the higher the frequency of the vibration. A dance begins.
Dancing Out the Mushroom
When mixing Tai Chi with mushrooms, there is the possibility to channel the effects through dance and movement instead of going for an introspective journey in a static position. Circular motions in Qigong exercises generate Jin force, which is transmitted through tendons, ligaments and tissue movement. The effect of the mushrooms amplifies the sensation. If the body is properly aligned, with all parts functioning in full coordination, the energy that flows from the ground is also channeled through the body. The body produces movement by putting into motion the energetic flow, allowing energy to flow in a circuit. The mushroom amplifies the perception of the waves of Qi and opens up the channels.
When directing the effect of the mushroom into the lower Dantian and re-channelling it through the whole body, dance becomes a way to further channel this vital energy through movement and to access the flow of Qi in the body. The body becomes a host of diverse sources of influence. The flow of Qi is just one guest of the body. Movements are no longer the result of free will, deciding to move according to instructions from the brain. They are either a manifestation of the “will” of the different organs, no longer that of your consciousness, or the body is literally being moved by waves and streams of energy that belong to the space, whether cosmic energies or a magnetic field, for example. These moments invite us to develop a pre-linguistic consciousness that does not rely or depend exclusively on the “I” or the “self” of the language.
It is tempting to imagine movement as the body’s expression of the “will” of the invisible, as if a spirit manifested in a body and revealed itself through dance. Through dancing out the energetic cosmic forces, the body functions as a receiver channeling fields of invisible forces that are always around us and traversing us. Just because we cannot see them does not mean that they do not exist.
This text has been adapted from Risking the Self. Philosophy, Tai Chi and Psychedelics published by Circadian in 2019.