A Phenomenological Inventory of Psychedelic Visuals on MDMA: A Personal Essay by Martin W. Ball, Ph.D.

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Introduction:

Entactogen, Psychedelic, Entheogen, or all of the Above?

You’ve probably heard that MDMA is an entactogen, meaning that it gives rise to feelings of oneness, openness, and empathy and connectedness, and that these are the dominant properties of the MDMA experience – so much so that some commentators feel that MDMA should not be classified as a psychedelic.

Because of these feeling-related effects, MDMA has been dubbed the “love drug,” and has found a place in PTSD therapy, helping individuals overcome traumatic and emotionally charged experiences.

While it’s certainly true that MDMA experiences are predominantly characterized by the feelings one encounters when under its influence, its curious psychedelic and visual effects have perhaps been overlooked or understated. In my own estimation, while MDMA can be categorized as an entactogen, this does not, in any way, mean that MDMA does not also have very interesting, and quite unique, psychedelic and visual effects. In what follows, I will list a number of visual effects of MDMA that I’ve experienced over the course of a year of personal investigation into the phenomenological properties of this delightful molecule. This is not meant to argue against the entactogen classification, but merely to point out that the psychedelic effects of MDMA are profound, significant, and should not be overlooked or dismissed.

My conclusion is that MDMA is most definitely a psychedelic (in the sense of producing complex and sophisticated visual imagery), and while having some similarities with other psychedelic compounds, also exhibits some curious and unique features that I personally have not experienced via other, more classical, psychedelics. In that MDMA also helps generates feelings and perceptions of unitary being and dissolves the structures of the ego and sense of separate individuality, it is also entheogenic, “giving rise to the experience of God within.” 

For this research, I’ve engaged in the most direct form of investigation: personal experience.

My History with MDMA:

My personal interest in MDMA is relatively recent, and the bulk of this investigation occurred over the past year, beginning in earnest in January of 2016. My first experience with MDMA in 2008 is recounted in detail in my memoir, Being Infinite, and was a pivotal event in my own process of personal awakening and liberation. It was my first experience of the phenomenon that I’ve termed “The Voice.” As “The Voice” is a unique and complex phenomenological subject, and largely outside the scope of the current essay, I don’t intend to get into details here, other than to say that my voice changes to match the energy of any psychedelic I consume, including MDMA.

Those who might be interested to learn more are encouraged to read Being Infinite.

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My second experience with MDMA came several years later, taken with my wife, Jessalynn. She had a difficult time with the energies that arose in the experience, so I spent most of the duration of the event coaching her through the experience, and the content that arose became the basis for a later podcast episode that I published on The Entheogenic Evolution called “The Process.”

My third MDMA experience came more recently, in the fall of 2015, when I was up in Vancouver for the annual Spirit Plant Medicine Conference in October. I was staying with a friend, and when I arrived at her house, she offered me some MDMA to welcome me to Vancouver. I gladly accepted her offer (we didn’t have any other plans for the day), took the medicine, lied down on the couch, covered with a soft blanket, and closed my eyes. Almost immediately my voice was affected and I could tell that I was about to go all the way into a completely immersive experience. It was five hours of pure, exquisite, velvetness. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and decided that I wanted to spend more time exploring MDMA and its effects.

After returning home from Vancouver, I urged my wife to give MDMA another try, thinking that she might find it more productive and enjoyable from her one previous experience. We set ourselves up in the living room with me on the floor and her on the couch, both lying down in a relaxed, open, symmetrical posture that I refer to as a “neutral” position (open symmetry is more conducive to energetically open and unitary experiences – ie, “entheogenic” experiences – than having crossed limbs or asymmetrical positions in the body). She was nervous, given her one previous experience, and only took a half dose, while I took a full dose. Eventually, she decided to take the rest, as the experience wasn’t really opening up for her. As before, when it started to come on, she became very agitated by the energetic expansion, and started tensing up, crying out for help. I was feeling pretty casual, so I just encouraged her to relax and reassured her in my now-deep and velvety voice that she was fine. Her tension finally came to a climax, and she broke through as we were listening to Kyrstyn Pixton. From that point on, she had a great experience. However, when it was all done, she stated quite clearly that she wasn’t interested in continuing with further MDMA experiences. The come-on was just too challenging for her, despite having broken through and eventually enjoying what MDMA had to offer.

Thus began my solo investigations. I still had quite a bit of pure MDMA, and decided that I would go solo upstairs in our bedroom in the evenings and see what MDMA was all about, starting in January of 2016. Something that I was soon able to confirm is that MDMA quickly diminishes in its effects as the body builds up an increasing tolerance, so in order to achieve similar effects, more and more of the compound needs to be used. Where I originally started with a single standard dose, I quickly moved on to multiple doses in my solo sessions, starting with a large dose, and then taking two or three more “booster” doses throughout the course of the evening, with entactogenic effects becoming less pronounced with each session, though a similar diminishing was not experienced regarding visual phenomena. In other words, while MDMA remained consistently psychedelic across multiple uses, the entactogenic and “feeling” aspects of MDMA were directly affected by issues of tolerance.

Over the course of the past year, I have now logged many hours of MDMA experience. The majority of what is listed in this inventory of visual effects was experienced during this time period, though I’d note that there were very interesting visual effects on my very first MDMA experience, as recounted in my memoir, Being Infinite

All of my experiences were with pure MDMA with no additives. It was all secured from reliable sources and came in the form of pure crystal, which needed to be broken up and then encapsulated. While doses were within the “normal” range to begin, as tolerance built up, larger doses were required. I’d estimate that most sessions were between 200 and 400 mg, taken in incremental intervals spanning several hours. Each session would start with me reclining in bed with relaxed, open symmetry in my body posture, focused directly ahead (even with eyes closed), listening to music with headphones, and eyes closed, only getting up to use the restroom, and then when my wife was ready to go to sleep, moving downstairs to our living room, riding out the rest of the experience and then falling asleep (which was most often fitful, given the numerous trips I’d have to take throughout the night to go urinate). Since I’ve emphasized the crucial importance of non-activity and resting in a neutral position physically elsewhere, I won’t expand on this here, other than to say that approaching any psychedelic/entheogenic/entactogenic experience in this manner is fundamental to really allowing the medicine to work to its full potential with minimal interference from the ego and individuated energy patterns. My suspicion is that since most people consume MDMA socially, they are largely missing the interesting visual phenomena that show up when carefully watching and observing with eyes closed and not engaged in dualistic forms of interaction and behavior.

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General Overview of the MDMA Experience:

Like other psychedelic compounds, MDMA comes on in waves of energy. These waves are most clearly distinct when MDMA is first encountered and there is no tolerance in the body. The come-on can vary. I found that at times, I wouldn’t really feel any effects for the first 30-50 minutes. At other times, I could feel the first flush of MDMA waves within 5-10 minutes of taking a dose. In general, by the 50-minute mark, MDMA waves start coming on strong. Each wave is characterized by a rushing onset with increased heart rate (this effect decreases over time and with tolerance), and might coincide with clammy hands, chills, body tremors, vibrations, and chattering teeth. The wave reaches a peak that can feel like a burst of energy, often located in the heart, and then a rush of pleasant after-effects as the wave washes away. Following each wave is a decrease in excitation, though without returning to baseline. These waves build up in strength and intensity until the MDMA reaches its peak, at which point, the experience starts to “roll” where it is fairly consistent without the sensation of oncoming waves, eventually trailing off after a period of several hours.

With the addition of “booster” doses, there is an initial “flush” that occurs immediately after taking more, and lasts for about the first 10-15 minutes. These are very pleasant, cuddly, and warm, and then around the 30 minute mark, the more typical energy wave experience begins again with somewhat tense onset, peak, and wash out, gradually building in intensity until the booster reaches its peak.

Energetically speaking, I find that MDMA is not really all that different from other psychedelics, other than the fact that MDMA is so distinctly enjoyable and pleasurable. For me, it feels like love and sex, especially in the absence of any tolerance. Like other psychedelics, it’s predominantly an experience of energy, but whereas other psychedelics can be very challenging energetically, MDMA mostly feels good (though of course, results vary, as is exhibited by my wife’s reactions, who finds MDMA to be largely unpleasant). Also, from my personal standpoint, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize MDMA as more amenable to relating to the energies and feelings of others than other psychedelics, as I find I routinely feel into others on psychedelics in general, and here I don’t personally find MDMA to be significantly different. Again, the main difference is that it feels good, but I wouldn’t characterize it as feeling more. Perhaps it is because other psychedelics can be more consistently visually pronounced that users tend to focus more on the visual content than the feelings that arise, and therefore the entactogenic quality of psychedelics have been overlooked by many when compared to the rather pronounced feeling qualities of MDMA.

A significant difference between MDMA and other psychedelics is that it is not consistently dominated by visual activity. In my experience, the most interesting visual phenomena showed up irregularly with MDMA, and some sessions hardly had any visual activity at all. And when visual phenomena were present, they did not last throughout the duration of the MDMA experience, and therefore were intermittent. As a point of contrast, I recently experienced a 14-hour session with mescaline via the San Pedro cactus where it was full-on visual activity for the full duration of the session, with abundant visual activity with eyes both open and closed.

Every psychedelic has its own unique presentation and energetic quality. All psychedelics alter and enhance our ability to perceive and experience energy in the forms of thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and perceptions, such as sound and vision. Because they interact with our brains and activate different neural receptors, they present themselves uniquely, though psychedelics that belong to same family, such as tryptamines, for example, tend to have somewhat similar presentations.

As for the visual uniqueness of MDMA, I’ve seen some pretty interesting stuff, and in general, it is quite different from the kinds of visual effects I’ve experienced from tryptamines, both organic and synthetic, and from other phenethylamines, such as mescaline.

The following is a collection of all the interesting things I’ve seen on MDMA. They aren’t presented in any particular order, other than separating closed-eye from open-eye phenomena. I’ve been adding to this list over the past year, and no doubt, future experiences will have interesting additions, but for now, this is a fairly complete inventory of visionary curiosities, as well as a few interesting auditory effects.

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Closed Eye Visuals:

The bulk of my time experiencing MDMA has been with eyes closed. While, unlike with many other psychedelics, visuals were not consistently present, and most sessions varied between blackness and content, I regularly experienced a wide rage of closed-eye visual phenomena that were often striking in their visual detail and overall resolution.

Super High Definition Rendering of Fully Realistic Scenes: My very first MDMA experience came with a very interesting visual experience a few hours after the effects of the MDMA had seemed to wear off. The MDMA session started in mid-afternoon, and when I was attempting to go to sleep later that night, I found myself observing fully rendered and extremely realistic scenes that quickly jumped from one to another with no apparent order. These were all with eyes closed. It started with what looked like light reflecting on water, which then quickly moved into a fully realized scene of a stream or creek with late afternoon or early morning light filtering through trees and reflecting off the surface of the water, with rippled reflections of the trees on the surface and clearly visible stones and rocks beneath the water on the creek bed. From here, the scenes cycled through numerous different iterations, all fully rendered, and fully realistic with no overt “psychedelic” qualities to what was seen. I saw cars on the street; people playing ball at a ball field; an old couple walking along side a stream; the interior of someone’s house and the art on their walls. The detail was perfect, and the impression was as clear and realistic as if I were actually standing in these places and seeing the events in ordinary circumstances. I found the clarity and exactness startling, and completely unlike anything I’d ever seen on other psychedelics. The parade of scenes ended with once again looking at light reflecting on water, which was the image of a cloudy sky. It all came to a conclusion when I could see a large grey dragon swooping down out of the sky above me (from my perspective as looking into the surface of the water) with wings and talons outstretched. After that, everything went black, and I was able to fall asleep. Similar experiences of fully rendered and strikingly realistic scenes has been fairly common in my experiences with MDMA, and this initial experience proved to be far from exceptional.

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Rolling Over a Close-up of Hair (?), with Distinct and Continuous Hum: With my third MDMA experience in Vancouver, I encountered a consistent visual phenomenon that lasted for the duration of the experience. As the waves began to build up (there were four build-up waves, in total, each one logarithmically larger than the one preceding it), I began to hear a very distinct humming sound that coincided with what looked like a close-up of hair that was presented as a continually rolling landscape, and never reaching the horizon. The experience was very 3D in nature, almost like the perspective of a flea where each hair follicle could be seen in close detail and the individual hairs left enough room for me to move through the “forest” without ever being blocked. All the while I felt like I was in a universe made out of pure velvet – soft, comfortable, and pleasantly tactile. I had been suffering from some severe lower back pain, and to my amazement, the back pain was completely absent, and in its place, I felt wonderfully great. This visual sensation of rolling hair lasted for several hours and essentially never changed, all the while with this distinct hum going along with it. Eventually, it all just faded away and I opened my eyes and started socializing. In all, it was probably 5 hours of this, and extremely pleasant and enjoyable.

Naked Women and Sexy Body Parts: As I already stated above, MDMA predominately feels erotic for me, and this feeling has often come along with vivid and highly realistic visions of naked women and visual close-ups of erogenous body parts. Interestingly, most often in these experiences, I don’t see any faces – just glistening, glowing, flushed bodies and close-ups, though when faces are seen, the women’s gazes are intense and penetrating and come with an aura of power and confidence. A curious aspect is that the bodies clearly belong to different ethnicities, and no particular ethnicity or skin color predominates. They also often present as being engaged in sexual activity with me, from my perspective. In other words, the experience is highly realistic of my actual sexual experiences, though no such visions were replications of actual experiences I’ve had with any real people. 

Close-Up Portraits: On several occasions, I’ve experienced close-ups of people’s faces. Generally, it starts with complete blackness, and then it’s like a spot light suddenly turns on, and in the light is a person. Oddly, these are all extreme close-ups, as though my perspective is only a few inches from the person. Contrary to real life, if I were actually looking at someone from such a close perspective, my middle-aged eyes would be out of focus and all detail would be lost. In contrast, in these MDMA “portraits,” I can see every pore, every hair, every wrinkle, and minute details on the people’s faces. Faces have been both male and female, aged from children to elders, various races and ethnicities, different hairstyles and eye color – a vast panoply of humanity. Each one is seen in turn with the spot light coming on, me inspecting the person’s face, then the light goes off, back to black, and when the light returns, there’s a new person there. My impression has also been that the people are all unclothed (as though they’re posing for sketch artists in a studio), though my careful attention to their faces and limited reach of the spotlight makes such a determination unclear. Such visions, unlike those listed above, do not coincide with any feelings of sexuality or sexual excitement – just detached, though interested, observation.

Swipe Left: Unlike some of the visual effects which have been fairly consistent or shown up on various occasions, one night I had a very curious “swipe left” phenomenon. It was clearly related to using a touch-screen mobile device. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s fairly common for me to see fully rendered scenes on MDMA, but this one night, an extra element was introduced that was something of a reversal of a fairly common phenomenon. I’ve found that many scenes and visions start in 2D, and then quickly move into 3D, as I’ll explain in more detail below. In this experience, it went in reverse, where initially, I’m immersed in a 3D scene that then unexpectedly flattens out into 2D, appears as a touch-screen, and I can clearly see my hand move up, “swipe” the scene on the “screen” (which now appears as a rectangle floating in space I front of me) to the left, to be replaced by the next scene (which is totally unrelated to what was just there – no narrative continuity at all). My perspective then merges into the rectangle 2D screen and I’m back in a completely different 3D environment until the next “swipe left” event occurs.

Geometry, Solid Shapes, and Tessellations: I’ve found that MDMA has a very distinct way of presenting geometry and shapes to the inner eye that is largely very different from other psychedelics. Whereas tryptamines most often present to me as fractal geometry, with layered overlapping and constant movement, MDMA tends more towards basic, solid, geometric shapes. On many occasions, the visuals start with black that then transitions into a solid color, most often white, grey, or red, that appears as a flat surface. Then, waves of energy ripple across the surface of the flat plane, causing solid 3D geometric shapes to turn over in the wave’s wake, creating tessellating patterns of distinct geometries. So, what appears at first as a solid surface turns into undulating waves of pyramids, cubes, or geodesic polygons, with color variations and shading clearly showing the 3D structures of the geometry as they rise up and fall or turn over in place. At times, these tessellating environments have turned into what appears more like a landscape that my perspective is moving over, often becoming more “organic” in appearance with protruding tendrils of different structures, though each environment is characterized by predominate structure formations – in other words, if it’s triangles and pyramids, those are the only shapes present within one environment, gradually falling away to be replaced by other tessellating structures as my perspective moves across the landscape. 

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Enclosed Geometric Environments: At times, distinct from the visions of flying or moving over a rolling, tessellating landscape that is positioned below me, is the experience of being inside an environment made of repeating geometric structures. One such experience was particularly interesting. I was inside an enormously large structure/enclosed space that was made of solid geometric shapes with subtle gradients of color with yellow, orange, and red. I’m looking out into the space and can see that it appears to rise up infinitely – I cannot see the top. Then, much to my surprise, a collection of identical geometric shapes zoom down from the top of the space and come to a stop directly in front of me, spread out along a plane, and proceed to spin in place around their vertical axis, somewhat like a performer spinning plates on poles or fingers, though the shapes are floating in space and not being held up by anything. All the shapes are identical, flat, and white in color. Then, one by one, each one zooms off in a different direction, with them all eventually going away. As soon as they’re all gone, a new collection of different identical geometric shapes fall down and take their place, and the same thing proceeds just as with the previous collection in that they start to spin and then individually fly away. This happens several times before the scene changes to something else entirely. 

Fine line Kaleidoscopes/Mandalas of Shapes and Solid Colors: Moving kaleidoscopes with radial symmetry are a common feature of psychedelic visuals (and a common theme of visionary art). These too can be seen with MDMA, though the aesthetic is quite distinct. With tryptamines, kaleidoscopes tend to exhibit moving fractal geometry with great detail, segmentation, and vivid color spectrums and gradients. MDMA kaleidoscopes are different in that they tend to be comprised of solid geometric shapes and fine lines of solid color.  Most often, I’ve seen these superimposed on a black background, looking much like a drawing made of color pencils on black paper. Large geometric shapes such as triangles, circles, and polygons can easily be identified in the kaleidoscopes. Gold, red, and white seem to be common colors. There is also often a subtle hint of 3D in these formations in that the thinly beveled edges of shapes can clearly be seen, though the image is mostly flat, or 2D, in appearance. However, with a shift in perspective, such as looking at the kaleidoscope from the side rather than head-on, the entire structure then appears more as a 3D or spherical arrangement, rather than a single uniform plane of 2D structure.

3D Sex Scene: During one particularly erotically charged session, I found myself in a visionary scene of making love with my wife in our bed. The scene starts with us making love from my perspective. Then, suddenly my perspectives shifts to outside of what I now perceive as my body. I can see my wife and myself entwined with each other on our bed, which is clearly visible. My outside perspective then recedes, and I can see that our bed is located in the center of a mandala/kaleidoscope, along the lines of what’s mentioned above. I’m looking at the scene top-down and head-on. Next, my perspective moves more towards the side, and I can see that our bed is not placed in the center of a circular geometric image with radial symmetry, but rather in the center of a complex and expanding sphere of radial geometry. The individual components of the structure start spinning in place and it gets larger and larger with the image of us in the bed in the center getting smaller and smaller, with the whole thing eventually taking on cosmic dimensions. 

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Hillary and Trump: So, this one was a little weird, and definitely unexpected. I’m lying in bed, eyes closed, listening to music, just like other sessions, and I’m going through this very profound experience of dualistic expressions of the self. Presented to my inner vision are countless multitudes of people, all individually, so each person gets a turn standing in front of my disembodied perspective, and I find myself receiving each person with unconditional love and acceptance. As soon as each person receives that unconditional love, the next person takes his or her place.

This goes on for a long time. I do not personally recognize any of the people who appear before me. As with other situations, they are people of different genders, ages, and ethnicities, with no particular category of people standing out as being predominant. But look who’s here, next in line! It’s Hillary Clinton!

OK. That’s cool. I can love Hillary Clinton. I’m not a big fan or anything, but as an embodiment of God and an expression of the universal self, I have no difficulty extending unconditional love to Hillary. Then, after Hillary, it’s none other than the orange egomaniacal buffoon of Donald Trump standing there in front of me in an ill-fitting suit with that smug infantile look on his face (you know the one). Well, there’s nothing for me to do other than extend unconditional love to the Donald, just like everyone else. Perhaps fittingly, Donald is the end of the line for this particular visionary experience, and after him, it shifts to something else. I’ll note that this took place several months before the election.

JFK Assassination: Sometime after the account given above, I had another presidential experience. It was late in my session and Jessalynn had just come upstairs to trade places with me, go to bed, and send me downstairs to the living room to finish off the night’s adventure. When she arrived, she found me in the bathroom in the dark sitting there with my eyes closed. When she asked me what was going on, I surprised both of us, stating that I was “watching JFK be assassinated.” Until I said that, I hadn’t quite realized that I was sitting there looking out at the motorcade from a perspective on the infamous grassy knoll as we’ve all seen from film footage of the event, and I’m watching as JFK gets his brains blown out and everyone starts to run around and freak out. The resolution was much better than any film I’ve seen of the event. 

Guy Instructing Kids with Golden “Sacred Geometry” Disc: The scene opens up with the image of a bearded man with a large pirate-like hat sitting in front of a campfire. He’s sitting on a stump, and all around the fire is a collection of children, probably around kindergarten age. They’re all watching the man, who is holding out before him an ornate and intricate disc made of gold. Etched into the gold are different geometric shapes, and there are circles placed evenly about the large disc that can be rotated either along the central axis or about the circumference of the circles. In changing and rotating these sub-discs within the larger disc, he’s able to create these different geometric structures that distinctly resemble what is often referred to as “sacred geometry” (personally, I’m not fond of the term). Though the overall disc is flat, the circular parts that he’s changing clearly have more than two faces, as he’s able to move them numerous times and different configurations keep showing up, giving the whole thing a “magical” and multi-dimensional feel. When I look closer, I can see that the sub-discs within it have even smaller discs within them in a very fractal-like fashion, and they all can change in multiple ways via rotating or spinning. At one point, he hits on the “right” configuration” and the whole thing starts spinning in place, along with its component parts also spinning along their own axis, and the entire thing begins to glow in a brilliant golden light, much to the amazement and wonder of the children. The glow outshines the light from the fire they are sitting around, eventually swallowing the scene in golden radiance. The whole thing has a feeling of being vitally important, and it’s clearly a crucial educational event for the children who are witnessing this.

Geometric Cartoon Land with Playing Characters: One night I found myself in what I can only describe as geometric cartoon land. Everything in this land was made out of 3D geometric shapes, from the landscape to the plants, animals, and beings that inhabited it.

It was a pastoral scene with multiple geometrically embodied characters cavorting about and dancing and playing in a field with rolling hills, flowers, trees, and woodland creatures. They were made out of spheres, pyramids, cones, cylinders, and polygons/geodesic spheres, with each creature/being comprised of multiple different kinds of shapes.

For whatever reason, in this experience I was not able to look directly at anyone or anything in the vision, and had to rely on peripheral vision to take in the scene. Every time I tried to get a better and distinct look at anything, it would blur, while everything at the edges was crisp and distinct.

In all, it looked like everyone was having a grand time, and it appeared to be some kind of celebration or party.

The Solandarian Game, Part II, Scene Exploration: During the time that I was conducting this research, I finished and released my latest novel, The Solandarian Game.

I left the end of the novel with a cliffhanger without a clear idea of where I might take the story in a sequel.  One night, without specifically intending to, I got to visually explore plot possibilities with characters from the story in new situations that were related to what I had written in the novel, but not dependent on it, and reaching into unexpected environments and situations. I’m not going to provide any spoilers here, other than to say that I got some very interesting material to work with if and when I continue the story, and it was very personally satisfying to see characters I’d created in text in ultra-high definition 3D form presented before me visually. I’m convinced, more than ever, that the story would make a great movie. 

Overall, I spent most of my time in these MDMA sessions with eyes closed, feeling and watching what was taking place in the inner eye. However, I had to open my eyes when I needed to get up to go to the bathroom (and to occasionally confirm through sight that the physical world was still out there), and when I would transition from the bed to the living room, so there was plenty of time for me to get a look at what was going on “out there,” and there were many surprises.

Unreadable Text: At times, Jessalynn and I would send text messages back and forth during these sessions. In general, I found that text was largely unreadable at the visual level in that the letters were so busy constantly shifting and changing, it was impossible for me to tell what any particular letter was. Somehow, amazingly, I was always able to read her text messages, but it wasn’t because my eyes could recognize the letters or the words – they were far too jumbled and actively transforming for me to do so. I think I was just guessing what she was typing based on apparent word shape and length, and somehow I was able to text her back coherently, even though in looking at the touch-screen, I could not tell one letter from another and had to rely on memory for which button represented what letter.

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Letters, Words, Sentences, and the Letter Ball: Something that I’ve never seen on any other psychedelic compound is English letters, words, and sentences, yet these are precisely what I’ve seen on numerous occasions with MDMA, and certainly never a 3 dimensional ball floating in space made out of letters. Despite the fact that I can’t properly read or identify written text on a touch-screen while on MDMA, there have been several occasions where I’ve seen text with eyes open, and though I can’t specifically recall what was written, it was clearly English, and often in the form of complete sentences. I’ve only seen this with eyes open – never closed. Mostly, such letters, words, and sentences have been confined to the surface of things, like when my sight gets caught by a blank wall that is suddenly covered with imagery and geometric shapes.

Much to my surprise, when I looked at these superimposed images, I found that there were clearly written words and distinct letters in there. I’ve also seen instances of scrolling text, like text scrolling across the bottom of the TV news, or via closed captioning, that were complete sentences. And one time, as I got up from the bed to use the restroom, I discovered that in the middle of the room was a large ball made up of a jumble of differently sized letters in a variety of fonts and typefaces.

I walked around it to go to the bathroom, and it was still there when I returned to the bed to lie back down, just floating in the middle of the room, a big 3 dimensional collection of letters (no complete words were visible). Another time, also while looking at walls, it was like the walls were separating and showing me that different facets of the structures of reality had instructions written on them for how everything was to be put together to hold reality together as a coherent system, such as “insert dimension A into slot X in dimension B for structural integrity,” or something like that.

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MDMA Bugs: On several occasions I’ve seen fully rendered MDMA bugs. They’re big, but not scary or threatening in any way. Some are moth-like or akin to dragonflies. Others are more like spiders or crabs. They’re generally around the size of dinner plates. Like many open-eye MDMA visuals, they tend to be translucent in look. I haven’t seen any of the winged ones flying around. They’ve always been sitting somewhere, casually flexing their wings. The big crab/spider ones crawl around and scuttle about. They’ve always appeared to me to just be doing their thing, so nothing to worry about. Like many open-eye visuals, they appear when I relax my sight and just absently gaze. They then come into focus, and I can watch them move about. If I shift my sight, they disappear.

2D to 3D, and Game of Thrones with the TV off: As I’ve mentioned a few times already, a common theme of MDMA visuals is a shift from 2D to 3D, and sometimes back again. There’s often the sensation of changing focus from surface to depth, with simultaneous awareness of both background and foreground, and the depth between them. One of the most dramatic manifestations of this phenomenon came one night after Jessalynn sent me down to the living room. I came into the room and sat on the couch in front of the TV. When I looked at the TV, I noticed that there was a very distinct image on it, despite the fact that the TV was off. I looked carefully, and could see a 2D image that was reminiscent of Game of Thrones. There was a rugged landscape, and two opposing armies in full battle gear. Interested, I decide to watch. Over the next hour, or possibly more, I “watched” an MDMA version of Game of Thrones where all the visual activity was confined to the TV screen. Each new scene started out flat and 2D, but once the action got started, it turned into a 3D experience. There were knights, horses, castles, sea armadas, battles, storms, and all kinds of dramatic action. 

Labyrinthine Structures: A common motif of open-eye visuals on flat surfaces with uniform colors is labyrinthine structures and block formations. These tend to be translucent in appearance and are seen by subtle shadings of black along outer edges, which, like other visual content, can at first look flat and 2D and then takes on a fuller 3D, though still relatively flat, appearance via beveling. The overall effect is strikingly similar to the art created by Keith Haring, particularly his black and white images. At times, there are even very similar cartoon-like characters moving about these labyrinths, but rather than moving through the labyrinth, they simply push the structures out of the way, leaving a blank trail in their wake. At other times, text and words may appear within the structures of the labyrinth.

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Moving Tattoos: I’ve never been able to get a good look at them, since they disappear when I try looking directly at them, but from my peripheral vision I’ve seen moving black “tattoo” like imagery on my arms.  For example, if I’m looking directly ahead and holding my arms out in front of me, there are very distinct black structures, similar to what I’ve seen on the walls, on my arms and hands, and they’re moving about and slowly changing. But if I look directly at my arms, all I see are my arms (and I don’t have any real tattoos). 

Dancing Tree People in the Living Room: One night, after moving down to the living room, I was lying on the floor next to the fireplace just zoning out and winding down when, much to my surprise, I noticed that there were several different species of tree people spinning and dancing around my living room. They were each about 3 feet tall, and were probably five different “species” in all, in that they all looked very different from each other (and overall were similar in appearance to the trees in my neighborhood after their leaves have fallen off). They pretty much looked like flat trees without any leaves, but were slightly different shades of brown and grey, and had different fractal-branch structures for limbs. They appeared to be in a garden with some kind of fountain in the center, and decorative features about the outer ring of the garden, with large, organic, plant-like structures and flowers about them. They were moving about in a clock-wise circle around their fountain and clearly dancing. I eventually got tired of watching them and closed my eyes, but when I opened my eyes a little later, they were still there, dancing away, doing their thing. I’ll note that on that night there was a rather severe windstorm and I could hear the trees outside creaking and groaning in the wind.

Reflections:

I’ll wrap up this essay with a few comments reflecting on some of the significant phenomenological themes of MDMA visions as I’ve encountered them. I’ll start by mentioning that since initiating this investigation, I’ve spoken with many people who are fans and users of MDMA, some of whom have many years of experience with this fascinating molecule, and not one person that I’ve ever spoken to about these visual phenomena has claimed to have seen anything even remotely like what I’ve described here.

This could be due to the fact that I was taking rather large doses that were well beyond what most would normally consume in a session (though the fact that I had extraordinary visuals upon my very first MDMA experience, which was within a “normal dose” range counteracts this hypothesis).

It could also be due to my methodology of taking it by myself, in a dark room, comfortably reclining with eyes closed and with my body in a neutral position, and watching for what would unfold and manifest, as opposed to taking MDMA and socializing, interacting with others, going out to a show, or visiting a club and dancing. Just based on anecdotal responses by others, my experiences were unusual and exceptional. With that said, some people I’ve spoken to have mentioned that they’ve heard of similar kinds of experiences by others, though they had not had such experiences themselves. I haven’t researched this issue beyond my own experiences, so I’ve made no attempt to compare my experiences to what may be elsewhere reported in the literature or on the internet.

Open-Eye Hallucinations: For me personally, the most interesting phenomena have been the open-eye full hallucinations, such as the dancing tree people, MDMA bugs, the word ball, and the droplets and water ripples. I have a great deal of experience with a wide variety of psychedelic substances, and while open-eye visuals are common and fairly par for the course, these full hallucinations are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on any other psychedelic. In most instances, I find that whatever is taking place visually with open eyes tends to be directly related to whatever I see before me (or the visuals completely overwhelm any impression I have of the visible/physical world, such as with 5-MeO-DMT where the world dissolves away into pure white light, even with eyes wide open). There is generally some relationship between the psychedelic overlay of imagery, patterns, colors, etc. and the objects and environments that surround me. Only with these MDMA experience have I ever seen, with eyes open, things that clearly were not actually there. There are no trees in my living room, or anything suggestive of trees, for example. There are no large dinner-plate-sized bugs crawling around my house. In all of these experiences, I was struck by the clarity and detail of the visions, and the fact that I could look away for a time and then look back and see the same imagery and activity as when I last looked. It was all very “real” looking. In general, in my psychedelic experiences, I’ve found that the most interesting visual action is going on behind closed eyes. These were surprising exceptions. Here, easily distinguished beings and environments were clearly visible with eyes open, presented as an overlay on top of “normal” reality, which was also clearly visible, as well, and the overlay fit into the physical space in terms of proportion and perspective. 

The Realism of Closed-Eye Visuals: Another phenomenon that I’ve only experienced with MDMA is these fully-rendered, completely “un-trippy” and “un-psychedelic” visions presented to the inner eye. I’ve seen plenty of crazy and far-out stuff behind my closed eyes on a wide variety of different psychedelics. It’s all been decidedly psychedelic – creatures with too many limbs and eyes that are continuously morphing and transforming, endless fractal faces, multi-dimensional environments, sophisticated technology and computer circuitry, cosmic spaces, unbelievable architecture, fantastical works of art, and much more. However, unique to my MDMA experiences are these completely realistic scenes that have no indication that they are the product of a psychedelic compound: people playing ball out in a field, cars on a busy street, a beautiful forest stream with sunlight filtering through the trees, close-ups of people’s faces, etc. I can’t overstate how radically, and surprisingly, realistic all this was. It was more like having very vivid dreams than psychedelic visions.

Surface to Depth and 2D to 3D Perspective Shifts: Many of the accounts given in the above mention this phenomenon of imagery beginning on the surface, or presented in 2D, which then quickly shifts into a full 3D image or environment, with a shift in focus from surface to depth. This too has largely been unique to my MDMA experiences and visions. I would describe most of my visions on other psychedelics as being inherently multi-dimensional, often with numerous interpenetrating planes with clear depth-of-field. This transformation from flat imagery to depth imagery is so common with MDMA visions that I experienced it in a variety of contexts and situations, both with eyes open and with eyes closed. At times, the shift is accomplished through a change of focus, such as with the visions of looking at water, and then suddenly becoming aware that I could also see into the depths of the water, and also see what was above the water by focusing on what was reflected in it. At other times, it’s accomplished through a change in perspective, such as looking at a mandala head-on, where it appears flat, to then seeing it more from the side, and becoming aware that it’s actually a three dimensional structure that only looked 2D from my original perspective. Then there was also the “swipe left” phenomenon where scenes were first presented as existing on a flat screen, which I was then able to “enter” into as a full 3D environment and even walk around and interact with the objects in the environment, such as walking through someone’s house and looking at the different pieces of art on their walls. And of course the Game of Thrones session with the TV off, where each new scene started as seeming to be flat on the TV screen, and then quickly transforming into a more 3D format with a sense of depth.

Spinning: As readers may have noticed, a theme that has come up in a number of different visionary phenomena listed here is that of spinning objects. This, too, is something that I’ve only experienced on MDMA. My suspicion is that it is related to the full 3D rendering of many visionary objects, particularly geometric shapes, which makes visual rotation and spinning easily recognizable and discernible. Though why they spin . . . ?

Overall Geometry and Colors: As a general feature, MDMA visions are far less classically fractal in nature than other psychedelics I’ve experienced. Solid shapes tend to dominate, rather than complex fractal structures that feature segmentation and gradients of color. Tryptamine visions, and the phenethylamine visions of mescaline, tend to be highly complex with minute repeating details (fractals), whereas MDMA is much more uniform and “solid” in appearance. While geometry is common to virtually all psychedelic visions, the presentation of MDMA is clearly unique. Also, in most cases, the MDMA visions are far less colorful, and not anywhere near as “busy” as tryptamines, for example. They have the appearance of being “clean” and “sharp” with easily identifiable shapes and formations. Uniform colors are also very common, where the entire visual field is dominated by a single color that may move and transform, revealing more fundamental geometric structures via subtle shading, such as with white and shades of gray.

Final Thoughts:

In my view, all psychedelic visions and experiences are reflections of the self – both the individuated and universal expressions of the self – and this is what makes them entheogens: they are tools that help us to directly perceive and experience the unitary nature of being and recognize that everything and everyone is God.

Even if “otherness” is perceived and experienced, it is still all the self, as experienced through the dualistic divide of self and other, ego and “not self.”

The real trick of psychedelic experiences (and everyday experiences, as well) is to learn how to see yourself – the real you that is unitary and universal – in it all. Reality itself is a complex, interactive mirror, and psychedelics are just enhancements and amplifications of this truth.

When we get right down to it, there’s no one else here. All of reality is one universal being and intelligence interacting with itself in the guise of self and other. This is accomplished through geometric and fractal formations of energy, which allow for “reality” to take place in both the inner and outer landscapes of our perception. Our true nature is simply energy, and via psychedelics, were able to more directly, and imaginatively, see and experience the fundamental structures of energy that make reality possible as an ongoing and consequential experience. One universal consciousness is performing and acting through all us apparent individuated nodes of experience and expression, but all of it is the universal self. In the end, and the beginning, and everything in between, there’s really only one, despite appearances. 

So psychedelic experiences and visions, MDMA-generated or otherwise, all are experiences of the self. At times in the above, I’ve made brief notes about the context in which these visions were seen, or what was occurring internally in terms of mental and emotional state on my part as the individual having the experience. In many cases, it’s not terribly difficult to see how the visionary phenomenon was a reflection of myself as an individual in a particular context. In others, it can be a bit more challenging, but when we understand that the universal intelligence is inherently creative, playful, expressive, and exploratory, we can again recognize the visions as the expression of the self. 

The value of MDMA, or any other psychedelic, for therapeutic purposes, is that they allow for energetic realignment between different aspects of the self that are normally divided along the lines of self and other. Despite claims that MDMA, as an entactogen, helps one relate to “others” via empathy and sympathy, in the ultimate analysis, this isn’t entirely correct, for everyone and everything is, in truth, one universal self. There simply are no “others,” though there are “other versions” of the one universal self. Via attachment to illusory identity, we create all kinds of energetic problems for ourselves, and might even create an image of ourselves as a victim, or someone in need of “healing,” or as someone who is unworthy of love and compassion. The healing power of MDMA is in its capacity to help individuals move beyond these illusory egoic constructs and enter into more realistic energetic formations of the endless manifestations of the universal self this is more whole, balanced, and centered. The greatest “healing” comes from overcoming the attachment to the illusion of separate, isolated self. 

MDMA, as an energetic tool, is quite good. It tends to be less challenging than other psychedelics, largely because it is characterized as feeling good. It is still an energetic expression, however, and as such has the capacity to help buried and unresolved energetic issues rise to the surface and release, allowing new pathways of expression and relationship to form. It is not, in my estimation, fundamentally different from other psychedelics in this capacity. It does, however, as I’ve outlined in this essay, have some rather unique features in terms of its visual presentation, that are often quite different from how other psychedelic compounds function. While the visual aspects may be less pronounced, and less consistent, than with other psychedelics, they’re certainly there, beyond any doubt, and they provide a novel form of access of the universal mind and energy that is ourselves and the reality we find ourselves in.

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About the Author:

Martin W. Ball, Ph.D. is an independent entheogenic researcher, author (both fiction and non-fiction), nondual guide and teacher, visionary artist, musician, professor of religious studies, host of The Entheogenic Evolution podcast, co-founder and organizer of the annual Exploring Psychedelics conference in Ashland, Oregon, husband, father, and an individuated human embodiment of the ONE UNIVERSAL BEING.

More of his work can be found at www.martinball.net

A Note About the Art:

My artwork that I’ve included here is meant to be suggestive of some of the features of MDMA visuals, though the fit is ultimately more accurate for more traditional psychedelic visuals such as with tryptamines. More of my original visionary art can be viewed at www.fractalimagination.com 

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