After seeing James W. Jesso's byline on several articles on the web and stumbling across his podcast Adventures Through The Mind (highly recommended, by the way!), I decided to check out his book Decomposing The Shadow: Lessons from the Psilocybin Mushroom. I went into my reading experience with little understanding about what the book is all about, but from Jesso's descriptions of the book in the early podcast episodes, I knew that he considers psilocybin mushrooms to be his primary plant teacher and that the book is an attempt to develop a conceptual framework that can be used to better put into language the psychedelic experience.
The first part of the book covers his personal experiences with psychedelics, including a strong focus on the relationship that he has developed with psilocybin mushrooms. Jesso then goes into an brief explanation of magic mushrooms and a concise history of psychedelics, covering topics like Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, the Good Friday Experiment, Ram Dass, and the psychedelic sixties. The middle section of the book is titled A Conceptual Framework, and it attempts to build a vocabulary of terms that can be used to define various aspects of the psychedelic experience. This section is definitely valuable, but it was a bit too academically-oriented for me and didn't hold my interest the same way a truly captivating piece of writing does. However, I did find it to be helpful for understanding various parts of a psychedelic experience and may incorporate some of the defined terms into my own psychedelic language. Ultimately, this particular section just felt a bit too textbook-like to me. The last few sections of the book focus on obtaining value from one's experiences and miscellaneous commentary about psychedelic-related topics, including an intriguing analogy between the psychedelic experience and the Dagobah scene from Empire Strikes Back that I quite enjoyed.
So—should you read this book? If you're interested in learning new terms to describe your psychedelic experiences, the history of psychedelics, spiritual work, or the formative psychedelic experiences that the author had, then the answer is yes. However, if you're not into any of those things then you may not get much out of this one. Ultimately, I found it to be a really well-written book and I'll definitely be checking out the rest of the author's works.
4/5 stars. 154 pages.