On December 17th, 2022...

I was in a taxi leaving a retreat center just outside Nosara, Costa Rica feeling like I took a limitless pill after a week long juice cleanse and mental reset.

I felt alive, vital, and healed from a recent complicated and dramatic relationship unfolding and was FaceTiming with one of my best friends on the way to the airport, expressing my rediscovered zest for life.

Mid-sentence I received a message from my brother’s fiancé that said:
“911 call Jack - please it’s your Dad.”
Seconds later I was on the phone with my Mom. Her voice was barely audible through heavy sobbing and shortness of breath trying to get her words out —
"Alli, Dad stopped breathing.”
I gripped my phone to my ear with both hands and burst into tears as my Mother’s voice came through the phone. Through broken sentences she told me my Dad was in an ambulance outside our home in Georgia and paramedics we’re trying to revive him but he hadn’t taken a breath in twenty minutes.

He had no health concerns that neither him nor any of our family members were privy to, and I had just spoken to him an hour earlier.

My body entered a state of shock and I writhed around in the back of my taxi as my non-english speaking driver looked at me through the rearview mirror, confused and unsure of how to react. But even through the language barrier I could tell he felt the immense grief in my energy.

I called my best friend Salim back in a panic and we spent the last half-hour stretch of the ride to the airport googling how long someone could go without oxygen, without promising answers.

My driver dropped me off at the curb and I sprinted inside.

The following minutes consisted of a full mental breakdown in front of hundreds of people inside the terminal at the Liberia airport, and chaos in attempting to book a flight to anywhere on the East coast to get to my parents’ home in Georgia as quickly as I could.

With my hands on the check-in counter to keep myself upright, I desperately tried to explain the urgency of me getting on this next flight to a very disengaged airport employee, but was refused because I had missed the window to buy a ticket by two minutes.

By this time, security was slowly starting to orbit me and monitor my panic attack.
I fell to my knees in the middle of the floor in front of the check-in counter while people walked around me to drop their bags, all of the vitality that had been pulsing through me less than an hour before feeling like it had been completely ripped out of my body.

About 30 minutes later after getting nowhere with a new flight, I decided to go through TSA using my original boarding pass.

As I was running through the tiny 8 gate terminal with my suitcase I looked up to see a flight that happened to be boarding the last group to Atlanta, a few hours away from where my parents lived in Statesboro, Georgia.

Out of breath, I stopped in front of the kiosk at the gate and found one man working at the airline that spoke English. Through tears and jumbled words I told him my Dad was dying, and if I wanted to be able to say bye to him getting on this flight was my best chance.

He got me on the plane within minutes as six security guards and their respective drug dogs circled around me from a distance with looks of concern, waiting to see what was going to happen.

Murmured Spanish words through their walkie-talkies faded slowly away as I looked back at them watching me through the glass as I walked down the runway and boarded the plane.
A flight attendant that had clearly been notified of my emotional state very kindly put my in my own row near the front of the plane.

As I fell into my seat, an older woman with the sweetest intentions walked by me and said “don’t worry sweetheart, we all have bad days.”

The first thing I did is put my headphones on proceeded to stare at my phone - waiting for it to tell me what to do.

In the next few minutes I made several panicked calls to my closest friends seeking consolation and to update them on what was happening.

As the wheels started to move, my Mom called me back.

"Alli." She was in complete shock. With a shaky voice she shared--
“The doctor just told me Dad didn’t make it”.
The plane left the runway and my cellular bars slowly drip down to zero. A wave of disbelief took over and tears poured down my face.
I then found myself on a 5 1/2 hour plane ride, alone, with no wifi, 30,000 feet in the air.
So here I am, planted in the sky, surrounded by strangers, completely immersed in my own shock and mind. 330 minutes ahead of me to to process that somehow, one of the people who brought me into the world—stopped breathing out of nowhere.

My eyes were swollen from crying so hard, and my body felt like it was slipping into a full panick attack. I put the song Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole on my headphones.

This was my Dad’s favorite song, and he always said he wanted me to play it at his funeral.

As the melody came through my ears, thoughts of him started pouring through my mind seemingly synchronizing with tears.

My Dad was brilliant, an accountant, and LOVED numbers. He worked harder than anyone I know, logging on average 75-80 hours a week for 5+ decades. He spent a lot of his weekends reviewing spreadsheets of financial projections, every dollar color coded and put into its place with the perfectionist intelligence that made him such a good CFO.
Every year when my siblings and I came home for holidays, one of his favorite things to do was show me his spreadsheets. We would sit in his office together and look at how his various different asset pools all culminated up to the day he was planning for his retirement.

Much of our relationship in my adult life was Facetime conversations bantering about my parents fixation on saving money for the future. He always reflected that he could fully relax & stop stressing after he retired. I would playfully tell him,

“Destination Happiness does not exist, Dad”.
God has a sense of humor, because he decided to end his time here on earth five days before his retirement.

In a lot of ways my Dad was waiting to live, just as so many of us are. Postponement of joy for an artificial future date that may or may not ever end up unfolding.

And now in a lot of ways, my Mom is left waiting to die because of the current stage of grief she’s in.

The striking part is that this was changing. The excitement of approaching retirement coincided with this deep sense of peace my Dad seemed to be finding.

Our family believed mushrooms were an undeniable influence in this calm and more easeful demeanor he had developed.

Thanks to my work in the psychedelic field, and dozens of conversations over many years, my parents slowly reconstructed societal stigmas, and opened to the idea that psychedelics could be more than the dangerous drugs of abuse they were taught about in schools.

My Mom and Dad are not old-school hippies and neither of them had ever tried any sort of psychedelic compound prior to their 60s. But when they did, meaningful things started to occur.

During one of the mushroom journeys my Dad went on, I remember walking back into the room he was laying in finding him with tears running down his face.

He heard me come in the room and I went to sit next to him on the bed. He lifted his eyemask as I held his hand, and told me was reliving his wedding day thirty-four years prior with my Mom. He smiled and told me it was the most beautiful thing, and how happy and blessed he was.
"Think of your mind as a snow covered hill and thoughts as sleds...After a while the grooves get so can't go down any other way... Think of the psychedelic experience as a fresh snowfall filling all the grooves and suddenly you can take any path you want down the hill”
- Michael Pollan, How To Change Your Mind (2018)
I got to witness first hand how psychedelics functioned like fresh snow powder for the psyche of my parents (and myself), enabling a softer approach to life, stronger bonds within our family, and deeper desire to live in the now.

These moments flashed through my mind within the first few minutes of being in the air as his favorite song pulsed through my eardrums.

And then, I took a ketamine lozenge on the plane.

An important element of my experience on the plane is that I had a low-dose Ketamine lozenge with me, and ingested it within 10 minutes of the phone call with my Mom.

I am legally prescribed ketamine and I as I sensed my panic attack growing I took the lozenge hoping it would calm my nervous system down - which it did.

But more profoundly - as its slightly dissociative effects started to kick in, I was able to dive into my own psyche and start to identify the meaning that my Dad's death had for my life.

I thought about how this scene could have been different - how I could have been anywhere else in the world for this moment.

I shook my head at my circumstances - not only that my father passed out of nowhere, but that I would learn as the plane left the runway - one that happened to have no WiFi, a steel cylinder full of strangers completely unaware of the tragedy that had unfolded in my life.

But rather than be sucked into an emotional spiral of input on how our society or my family would like me to process, I was able to be locked away from the world in a steel tube, completely able to make my own interpretation.

The lessons that I was able to tap into on the plane continued to evolve over the coming months and I firmly believe my processing of his death would have been much different if not for this gift in very strange wrapping paper.

Much of my experience of grief has been informed by all of the previous work I’ve done with psychedelics, but much of my understanding of my Dad's death and subsequent processing was informed by this plane ride.
**Click here for expanded thoughts on Ketamine**
Ketamine is a legal therapeutic dissociative anesthetic (that I am legally prescribed to) being used across the country for the treatment of depression and anxiety, and is often classified in the psychedelics family because of how it can impact brain chemistry.

I almost left this detail out to avoid misinterpretation, but ultimately decided to include it as it was a vital tool in what unfolded to be a beautiful and spiritual experience of processing my Dad’s transition.

It is a remarkable healing tool that has also had a massive beneficial impact on my mental health and also has high potential for abuse and misuse.

“With most medications, like valium, the anti-anxiety effect you get only lasts when it is in your system. When the valium goes away, you can get rebound anxiety. When you take ketamine, it triggers reactions in your cortex that enable brain connections to regrow. It’s the reaction to ketamine, not the presence of ketamine in the body that constitutes its effects" - Dr. John Krystal (Yale Medicine)

While I’ve researched it pretty intensively over the past few years, I didn’t think much about the time duration post-traumatic-event element of my experience.

A friend recently shared with me that Ketamine and PTSD is actively being studied in the military in addition to pain management for soldiers on the battlefield that experience a traumatic event that day, and then go into a ketamine journey that night.

I'm eager to see more research on this, but the idea here is that before trauma has the ability to land in the nervous system and solidify, the psyche is able to interrupt and interpret a different meaning…with the hopes of preventing what would normally develop into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is so common with traumatizing events.

A few favorite podcasts on Ketamine:
  1. The Tim Ferriss Show with Dr. John Krystal
  2. Huberman Lab: Ketamine: Benefits and Risks for Depression, PTSD & Neuroplasticity
  3. Ketamine is Changing the Way We See Depression - with Dr. Zand & Derek | Into the Multiverse by SuperMush
I opened my eyes and looked out the window to see the horizon exploding with golden light--hues of orange and red weaving across the clouds.

Someone told me once to pay attention to sunsets on the day people you love pass, and this one was glorious. Somewhere Over The Rainbow looped on repeat for hours and I looked out at the most beautiful rainbow-colored sky as my Dad's soul transitioned.

I wrote him a letter before the wheels touched down.
9 hours after my plane took off I arrived to my parents home in Georgia and walked in the door to find my Mom sitting on the couch with her neighbor Don, looking like a part of her had died too.
I stayed up all night holding her, my sister and her boyfriend arrived a few hours later and my brother and his fiancè the next morning.

We all drove in silence to the funeral home the next day to see my Dad’s body.

As I sat next to the casket, I looked down at him and read him the letter I wrote him on the plane the night before, with the sounds of my siblings and Mom crying faded in the background.

It was a beautiful transcendent moment that is burned into my memory forever.
The funeral home director of Statesboro tried to upsell us on a casket and Urn with the words “gone fishing” on it, and then we left.

One wake, two funerals in two cities, and hundreds of “I’m sorry for your loss’s” later, my Dad’s body was cremated and he was gone from our physical world.

The paradox of my experiences between my spiritual AF plane ride and the 3D of how west processes death got me thinking about some things.

6 months later I was sitting with one of my teachers back at my home in Venice, talking to him about my Dad and he shared:
This stuck with me. For months afterwards, I reflected on how western culture breeds us with an incessant desire to extend life.
This is fueled by mainstream media that wants to scrub our memory from the surety of knowing our lives will end.
The perfect mind-numbing cocktail to sip on if you want to build an avoidant relationship with your departure from this planet.
And what about heaven? (click here for expanded thoughts)
My childhood taught me that heaven is above us, somewhere high up in the sky.
This has been reinforced in my psyche through a very mid-western Christian upbringing littered with cartoon drawings of God in a chair on a fluffy cloud with angels ruminating around singing Jesus songs.

Mushrooms have taught me differently.

Mushrooms have opened my visual cortex to the heaven that's all around me.

...on earth.

But, pre-psychedelics…I grew up in an American culture and built a relationship to death that is wildly disjointed.
I spent the first 4 weeks after he passed with my Mom in Georgia. On January 5th, we launched a new product for my company. In the moment we made the product page live on the website and did all the normal launch-hype things: posted on on instagram, sent around to all of our community to create buzz on the internet…

I sat in my Dad’s office chair and listened to my Mom cry on the phone with one of her sisters in the room behind me.

I looked up at his ashes in a black plastic box the size of a brick on the kitchen counter a few strides in front of me. The box stared back at me, with a small white sticker on front that read his name and the day he died.

My immediate thought—this is life at its rawest.

Moments of celebration sandwiched perfectly between moments of tragedy. Joy and sorrow coexisting and synchronizing in a single moment.
That black box still sends sharp reality to the fact that none of us no when we’re going to stop breathing. Death is the only thing that connects us all, the only thing we truly have in common.

We are relational creatures and naturally build our universes around those we love. When someone passes unexpectedly and they don’t stick to “the plan”, grief can kill you right along with them.

But its a beautiful thing to zoom out and witness the collective attention and urgency to LIVE, the urgency that can only be catalyzed by the dramatics of death.

Cue, wisdom from mushrooms.

Mushrooms do this beautifully.
Mushrooms have been my greatest teacher and have taught my many lessons, but the most potent is:
Literally, and spiritually.

Literally speaking…
Mushrooms actually eat things that die.

Fungi get all their nutrients from dead materials that they break down with special enzymes, and turn death into nutrients to fuel new life through the microbiome of the soil.

They are the digestive system of the planet.

There are many beautiful examples of cultures around the world with elaborate relationships with dying, mourning, and the holistic cycle of death and rebirth like Hindu and Native American cultures, Tibet, Bali, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and so many more.
But, the way we process death in most western cultures is the opposite of what mushrooms teach us.

We freeze bodies, lock them up, and bury our loved ones in boxes so that mushrooms can’t eat them. We interrupt the natural cycles of fungi in how they process death and rebirth.

This doesn’t seem to be working.

The collective difficulty processing grief creates generational trauma that lives in our DNA, causes emotional suppression, and inflammation that manifests into disease.
Research is increasingly showing where exactly in our genomes our trauma is passed onto our children and grandchildren.
“Intergenerational trauma can stem from biology, learned behaviors and even the collective experiences of a group…research suggests that trauma can affect a person’s DNA and potentially influence the health of future generations far removed from the traumatic event.”
- How does trauma spill from one generation to the next? The Washington Post
Spiritually speaking...

Mushrooms teach us to die before we die. They have shown me that building a harmonious relationship with death is one of the most underrated biohacks in the world.

The inevitability of life ending is what actually makes us more alive.

So, is it possible that fear of dying is actually killing us quicker?
“We either deny death until it finally catches up with us or we allow it to consume us and in doing so we live in constant reaction to our fear.” - Richard Rudd, The Gene Keys.
Take a minute to visualize the impact on your nervous system if you were to relinquish this fear.

In the western world, over-consumption and an abundance of resources creates a state where we no longer fear our survival.
“Now we’re shifting to purposelessness. Now, instead of being afraid to die we’re afraid to live.” - Richard Rudd, The Gene Keys.

If you’re lucky you’ll experience #1 and #2 and emerge unscathed physically and transformed spiritually.
Yet it can be easy to slip back into old patterns.

But when #3 occurs and someone you love passes without warning or preparation, their physical absence from your 3D world creates an immediate void that shocks the system in a more permanent way.

December 17, 2022 was my experience with #3.
As I sat in my house in Georgia with this new reality, I spent a lot of time thinking about how most of the world is living currently: Complete autopilot.
The feeling of when you get in your car to drive home from work and arrive at your house but don’t remember your commute.
Rinse and repeat, all of a sudden you’re at the end of your human life on your deathbed did I wake up here?

I’ve had many many floating days in my life like this. But I felt a massive wake up call after my Dad’s transition.

For the last year, these days have been fewer and far between.

So, why are we experiencing autopilot?

My thought is that perhaps a lot of our experience of life and the humans we develop into is defined by what substances we ingest.

The things that alter our brain chemistry, our consciousness, thoughts, actions, relationships, senses of self worth, the way we process grief.

My journey has taken me from prescribed, legal, pharmaceutical drugs that have wrecked my health to compounds that have brought my brain and body back into balance, and more importantly in the context of this narrative - been a tool to process death in a healthy way.

The last year has brought special attention to my awareness with what substances we're using as tools for grief.
Some mind-altering substances keep us in a productivity-obsession rat race, numb us to emotions, and are a vehicle into our heads.
Some mind-altering substances are a vehicle to get us into our hearts and emotions and a harmonious relationship with death.
I started reflecting on how the stereotypical substance journey of the average American is leading us astray, and not setting us up to process our emotions (click here for a breakdown)
  • 0-5 years old: Baby is born, starts being introduced to toxic chemicals from microplastics, food dyes and preservatives via processed food. No bueno for early brain development years. Even if you’re healthy at home, likelihood of introduction to these compounds in public school system = very high.
  • 5-12 years old: By age 5ish, kid is in an outdated education system and taught rigid, uncreative skills. Sugar-heavy diets and chemical-laden foods disrupt focus, so parents turn to ADHD drugs (often one molecule off from street meth), to manage symptoms. These drugs boost dopamine and norepinephrine, improving focus and reducing impulsivity.
  • 13-18 years old: SSRIs and anti-anxiety meds introduced added to manage side effects. High likelihood of getting on acid-blockers like pantoprazole and hormone-disrupting birth control.
  • 19-16 years old: By this time, the brain is on quite the chemical cocktail. Maybe add an insomnia solvent like Xanax to calm the constant fight or flight state. In college, alcohol and caffeine are consumed in obscene amounts, leading to imbalanced energy levels and adrenal fatigue. Cannabis, the most socially acceptable illegal drug, might also be added to the mix.
  • 26+ years old: Discovering functional medicine after realizing Western medicine's limitations, you detoxify your body holistically. Swearing off substances, you embrace a natural high from life.
This may be where the substance journey stops for most people.
Which is completely okay and the optimal path for many.
BUT...there is a whole smorgasbord of things to alter your consciousness with that can in fact make you happier, healthier, and overall a remarkably better human when used responsibly as a part of a holistically healthy lifestyle.
Humans have been altering their consciousness since the beginning of time.

No, seriously. Every society that is documented in history has utilized some form of intoxicant or plant medicine both for healing and recreation.

So although we are taught what is legal is good...

An incredible book by Dr. Carl Hart if you want to learn more: Drug Use For Grown Ups.

A great podcast I did with Natalie Ginsberg (Global Impact Officer at MAPS) about the war on drugs here.
One of my mentors and friends Lauren Taus always says,
“You can use anything to dissociate or to connect.”
As I sat on the plane, I felt this immense sense of gratitude and relief that my Dad was able to experience "drugs" before he died. It's made this loss less confusing, and more beautiful than it otherwise would have been.

What we currently call our “medicine” has disconnected us from one of the the MOST important things that can help us feel alive…a good relationship with death.
One early morning in Georgia my Mom and I were outside sitting on our porch swings looking out at the glassy lake - this was my parents favorite spot. We started talking about my Dad, and about mushrooms.

My Mom shared with me that her understanding of his sudden passing and personal will to continue living would be radically different if it weren’t for a particularly transformational experience with psilocybin.

4 months after my Dad died, I recorded a podcast with my Mom about her journey with psychedelics and their influence on her life before and after his death here.

Since my Dad’s passing, our relationship has become stronger than ever. He’s visited me in psychedelic journeys, and even more so in my sober waking reality through rainbows and numbers. The number 66 in particular seems to follow me everywhere.

He’s visited my Mom through lights flickering (its extremely common for people to report electrical system abnormalities post death, especially lights turning on and off).
A week after he died...
I was inside our family home and heard my Mom yelling urgently from the garage for me to come here.
I sprinted outside to meet her and held her hand as she shakily stood next to his car

(a droptop black Mustang that he refused to drive with the top up, no matter the weather).

We watched in disbelief as the driver and passenger windows moved rapidly up and down and the front headlights flicker on and off.
We both felt a huge wave of energy pulse through the garage. No one had touched the car since he last drove it home the night before December 17th, and it had never had any electrical issues prior.
I called my friend Blu a few days after and she reminded me of Einstein's words that our energy can never be created nor destroyed, only transferred in form.

We’re electrical beings, just made up of sound vibration.

So, it makes sense to me that when a life comes to a halt so suddenly, energy would be expelled outwards and speaking through the surrounding electrical grid.
Although heartbreaking and unexpected, my Dad had a peaceful death in a lot of ways. If we can’t make peaceful conclusions about a peaceful deaths, how do the even more tragic ones don’t stand a chance?

Safe to say, departure from life has been on my mind a lot.

I don’t want to live in constant fear of death, rather in constant awareness. There’s freedom in the steady awareness, and that freedom creates a sense of urgency to live fully.

This ran through my brain as I sat on that plane and looked out at my Dad’s sunset.

The words of one of my teachers David Shemesh echoed in my mind -

"Every time you take a breath, say thank you.”
Is it possible to understand death as a beautiful part of the process and stay attached enough to its lessons throughout life to alchemize it into impact and love?
...yet detached enough from it to respect its normality in the circle of life?
Mushrooms have given me a reference point that mystical, deeply spiritual experiences and connection with a divine force greater than ourselves is accessible at any moment.

In everyday life we’re blinded to it due to the duties of being plugged into the matrix, but as many friends have shared with me—death makes “the veil” thin.

The place between the seen and the unseen, our 3D world and the spiritual world.

Mushrooms welcome death with open arms and don’t subscribe to “destination happiness”.
I turned 30 this year, and for my birthday a group of my friends surprised me by working for months with my Mom to take pieces of my Dad's old jeans and dress shirts and turn them into a jacket and kimono.

It's the most beautiful and thoughtful gift I've ever received and has inspired me to love the people in my life more creatively.

They documented the journey, and you can watch the video here.
As I type this I’m inspired to never breed the type of contentedness that creates stagnation or apathy.

Quite the opposite, the type of contentedness that induces my nervous system to relax into the beauty of life so that I can train my mind and body to open to the heaven that is all around me.
The last time my sister was in person with my Dad two months before he passed, she told me they were walking in the park and he pulled out a microdose of mushrooms out of his pocket and offered her what he liked to call “a happy pill” and they laughed.
My cheat sheet to keep these lessons front of mind:
  • Humans should be more like mushrooms, mushrooms have a really comfortable relationship with dying.
  • American society is disconnected from death. This isn’t necessarily our fault, the substances we consume are numbing our minds.
  • Once we can free our minds from chemical imbalances and move back into harmony with nature, we can start to connect to death to feel more alive.
  • We call our medicine drugs, and our drugs medicine.
  • 3 ways to connect to death: near death experience, die before you die, processing grief from a sudden loss of someone you love.

  • We can alchemize death into momentum.

  • Mushrooms eat death for breakfast, what we’re currently eating for breakfast is a wildly toxic chemical cocktail keeping us in our heads and away from our hearts, and away from a harmonious relationship with dying.

  • Thinking about the reality of your own mortality and getting as close to death as possible is one of the greatest biohacks.

So when I wake up tomorrow I’m going to try being like mushrooms and eating death for breakfast…
January 1st, 2022 New Year's Day
My Mom & Dad in 1994
My parents decided to spend the first day of the year doing a small dose of psilocybin mushrooms together.
My Mom told me the next day on the phone she had walked into one of the bedrooms to find my Dad with an eye mask and headphones on.

He had both of his arms in the air with closed fists, dancing in what she described as “full celebration and peak joy of his life”.
I found a voicemail from my parents from that day that I didn’t realize I had and pressed play to hear my Dad’s voice:

"Hey Alli it’s Dad and Mom, we just had a great experience today and we wish we would have done it while you guys were here. You’re such a big big part of our lives. It was very peaceful and very cathartic, it was awesome. Okay love you honey goodbye.”
Closing this stream of consciousness out with my favorite thing to say to my Dad when either of us would be stressed about anything:

The END.

or is it...?
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Thank you to David Alder & his course Parables of Change that inspired me and guided me through the process of writing this story.
Learn more here.
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