In the author's note at the very beginning of this book, James W. Jesso lets his readers know upfront that while The True Light of Darkness was written for the play of reading and storytelling, it should primarily be considered a serious cautionary tale. Although its true that psychedelics can be used as a tool for psychotherapy and alleviating depression, he writes,
"The cautionary elements of this book are to expose how dark, painful and potentially damaging these experiences can be when they lack certain support structures, such as a guide, a supportive community and an understanding of one's psychology."
Later on in the author's note, Jesso mentions that the deepest intention behind writing the book was "greater health, understanding and wisdom for all of us through sharing stories and welcoming conversation." The book is structured in three main parts, which explore the outcomes of three separate challenging experiences that Jesso had with psilocybin mushrooms.
The first chapter in the trip trilogy of chapters is titled 2 Friends, 5 Grams, and a Box from Cusco, Peru and it describes a high-dose mushroom experience that Jesso had with two other friends, during a period of his life when he had recently worked through the feeling of lacking a sense of general direction. That feeling left him confused and perplexed about the purpose of life, but he identified that his life purpose was to write a book about his experiences with psilocybin mushrooms, which eventually became his second book, Decomposing the Shadow: Lessons from the Psilocybin Mushroom. However, that book had not been finished when he embarked on this trip—in fact, he was still in the process of writing it. After making what Jesso considers to have been a "terrible breakfast decision" (consisting of "a toasted kamut grain bun with butter, jam, and hemp seeds, followed by a big bowl of oatmeal and a cup of black tea"), a wave of nervous anxiety washed over him, eventually leading to a series of challenging events that escalated quickly. These events included things like the development of paranoid feelings about a dirty box from Peru, the thought of being attacked by germs in an unhygienic bathroom, and the belief that the Internet was alive and under immediate threat. At one point in the trip, one of Jesso's friends asked him a question about the direction his life was going that sends him into an existential crisis of sorts. However, he ultimately ended up learning that he desperately needed to change the way he approached his writing project, which turned out to be beneficial for his wellbeing.
The next trip trilogy chapter is titled Discovering the True Light of Darkness. It takes place after a thirteen-month practice where Jesso worked with psilocybin mushrooms once per month, always during the full moon, and always solo. He noticed that after more than a year with this practice, he was a noticeably changed man—and for the better. So Jesso decided to break the model he had established and embark on a psychedelic journey outside of the full moon ceremony framework, with one of his close friends, and prior to the December 21, 2012 (a date that was predicted by many, including Jesso, to bring about great change). Both Jesso and his friend were experiencing feelings of anxiety and depression and wanted to work with the mushroom to learn how to alleviate those feelings. Jesso makes a point to describe the custom blend of tea that he consumed at the beginning of his trip, which I found to be an intriguing side note and something to research further on my own in the future. After working through several challenging thoughts during a meditation, a walk in nature, and a productive mind mapping session, Jesso was able to identify the source of his negative emotions and made plans to change his behavior so that he could live a less stressful and happier life.
The final chapter of the trip trilogy is titled Facing Forgiveness; Embracing the Shadow, and it takes place in a unique location: a float tank. Once again, Jesso found himself battling an especially rough round of depression and decided to combine the use of psilocybin with the distraction-free environment of a sensory isolation tank. Although I have not had any personal experiences with float tanks at the time that I write this review, I am aware that they are intense on their own, without the addition of any psychedelic compounds, so it seemed to me to be both extremely courageous and also somewhat foolish to work with the mushroom while floating. However, I also knew that Jesso is not a reckless psychonaut and would not embark on a journey of this caliber without ensuring that he would be in a safe, supportive environment that would minimize any potential physical risks that could occur during the experience. He describes the entire evening's events, including the humble beginnings of consuming a chocolate drink made with the mushrooms, a simple-yet-transformative walk to the float center, and the wild contents of his psychedelic trip inside the tank. Once again, Jesso ends up working through psychological material that was hidden within his unconscious and finds himself healed by his experience with the mushrooms in the tank.
I really enjoyed The True Light of Darkness and found it to be a brutally honest inside look at Jesso's more challenging psilocybin experiences. As someone who has had a fair share of challenging psychedelic experiences, I appreciated how forthcoming Jesso was when describing the things he had to work through (and the methods that he employed to do so) and how these psychedelic experiences positively impacted his life. If you're interested in psychedelics, and especially if you want to know how challenging they can be, you owe it to yourself to check out this book. At the very least, I encourage you to head over to jameswjesso.com and look at all of the work that he has produced, including three books, a collection of writings, a podcast called Adventures Through The Mind, and a series of videos. As a fellow writer and content creator, I definitely look up to Jesso and strive to create content that is similar in both quantity and quality. Perhaps one of these days I will write a book that is as honest and insightful as The True Light of Darkness, but for now the psychedelic community is blessed to have books like this one.
4/5 stars. 156 pages.