Blindfolded, I lie wrapped in a blanket, and wait. The silence slot gacor hari ini is deafening. All I can do is focus on my breathing to quell my rising anxiety and nausea. I can’t get comfortable.
Then the drumming starts. A slow, booming, tribal heartbeat. Next come the visions.
Yesterday, I had arrived at a wooden-clad building in the tranquil, woodland Venwoude estate, between Amsterdam and Utrecht. The grounds are scattered with hidden crystals, stone statues and zen gardens. But this is no ordinary new-age wellness getaway. Along with 12 others from different corners of the globe, I have arrived to take part in the world’s premier magic mushroom experience, the Beckley Retreat.
Co-founded by leading psychedelic researcher Amanda Feilding (dubbed the “Queen of Psychedelics” by Forbes) and combat veteran Neil Markey – and facilitated by psychotherapists, shamans, nurses and nuns – Beckley appears to cover every angle of care.
These retreats have been running since 2021, as an off-shoot of the Beckley Foundation, a UK-based non-profit organisation that has laid the groundwork for much of the revelatory research into psychedelic therapy over the last 30 years.
Unlike many other psilocybin retreats which now blooming in the Netherlands, Jamaica, Costa Rica and other regions of the world where these mushrooms are either legal or decriminalised, this one is rooted in scientific understanding. It also incorporates what many experts believe is the vital and respectful inclusion of shamanism and indigenous wisdom. Consequently it is not cheap to attend. (Other retreats with a less creditable background will still set you back thousands – on the legal scene, anyway.)
Despite this, in the weeks leading up to the retreat I was extremely anxious.
I yearned to put old trauma to bed, to rewire my brain and explore new depths of spirituality. Several studies have shown psilocybin (the key psychedelic component in truffles, which are legal in the Netherlands, and magic mushrooms, which are banned) can help to overcome these negative feelings. Clinical studies have suggested that by inducing brain plasticity, the mind is given the opportunity to find new perspective, and feel a profound sense of connection.
This was very appealing, but having to brave what was likely to be two very challenging trips while blindfolded in a room of strangers… not so much.
Weeks prior to the retreat, I’d been given access to Beckley’s “preparation app”’ to help me prepare. There were also video calls. The idea was to optimise my mind for the journey ahead.
Now, deep in my first trip, none of that matters. As the angelic voices of the facilitators rise in song over sage smoke and energy-cleansing Agua de Florida spirit water, I’m falling deeper into another world.
I’m a wolf. I can feel my own power and courage, giving me strength to face what’s coming. The next five hours feel like I’m in labour. I face fear. I wail and sob. I laugh. I’m silent. I see the light of God, the rushing blood of life and death, the bones of our ancestors and the interconnection of all beings. And throughout all of this, I am held. The facilitators guide my breathing, stroke me, take me to the toilet.
Each of the six days starts at 7am, sharp. Shuffling into the ceremony space, bleary-eyed and a little uncomfortable, we start with an hour of yoga, followed by meditation. There’s no lunch on ceremony days, just a smoothie.
After a couple of hours exploring the grounds, getting to know our fellow psychonauts, we head back to HQ for breath work. I’m crying already.
Lucyne, our lead facilitator, qualified psychotherapist, shamanic practitioner, breath worker and sound healer, is sitting alongside the other practitioners, wearing white, surrounded by shamanic tools: feathers, rattles, various bottles and dried herbs.
The day before she had gently brought us into the space with a poem – “All is Welcome Here”. She invited us to share why we were there, diving right into grief, the desire for more, to connect with ourselves and others, to confront death.
Today, she looks round at us, smiling. You can tell she’s excited. “Remember, the mushrooms love you, and nature loves courage,” she says.
With this, we’re handed a cup of well-steeped truffle tea. Down goes the earthy brew, slightly sweetened with honey, and then I grimly chomp down the quarter cup of truffles too.
I was apprehensive about going through what had the potential to be a very difficult experience in a roomful of strangers. Would their emotions impact me? If my neighbour throws up, will I? But what actually happens is a beautiful sense of interconnectedness, like we are all doing the work for each other, together.
Most experts in the field of psychedelics say to get the deepest therapeutic benefit, we need to face aspects of ourselves and concepts that are frightening, or emotionally painful.
Some may perceive these challenges as a “bad trip”, but often, in the right setting, if you lean in, this is where the gold is buried.
Day three: integration
On day three, the alarm clock rouses me for a day of “integrating” – working on practices to bring insights from the trip into the present. It’s time for a “shame release” circle.
“Think of something you’ve done in your life that you’re ashamed of.” Lucyne explains. “When you’re ready, step into the circle, and looking into everyone’s eyes, say it out loud.”
Getting this one going is like pulling teeth, but one brave soul steps forward, opening up the space for everyone else.
“I’m ashamed of treating my son with anger and impatience rather than love, when I know he’s struggling to regulate his behaviour,” I say, choking through tears, thinking of my neurodivergent six-year-old at home. “I’m ashamed there have been times when I chose to be uncaring because I couldn’t be bothered to deal with the suffering and grief.”
Saying this out loud is excruciating, but the acceptance and freedom I feel after is magical. Next, we’re eye-gazing. This is deeply uncomfortable. I’m self-conscious, desperate to look away. But the longer I gaze the more deeply I feel. I suddenly find myself really seeing this man in front of me.
Seeing him as a child, as my son, as my partner and my father. I feel myself soften and open in a way that’s new to me. We go on to delve into our vulnerabilities, sharing things about ourselves that we might never even share with our partners or closest friends.
I’m asked if I’d like to go for walk by a wonderful, warm, facilitator called Hannah, whose role in my first trip I can only describe as spiritual midwifery.
Day four: the second ceremony
To say I’m apprehensive after my first, overwhelming journey is an understatement. But I’m also determined and bolstered by the support. This time, most participants are having their high dose doubled. I, however, am only given a little more than the first time as the facilitators have noticed that I’m very sensitive.
My experience this time is wholly different. I feel held by the earth, I’m grounded in womanhood, I’m confronted by intense fear only to discover upon leaning in that what I’m so afraid of is joy. I morph into a playful kitten. I cry. I sing. I heal.
Looking around at dinner that evening, gone are the shielded performances. There’s no small talk, just powerful, open conversations. Real connection. I feel more “me” than I have in a long time. Speaking to some of my new friends, I know they do too.
Days five and six: expression and farewell
The last day is pure magic. Now, stepping into our “higher selves” we have our needs met, we spend time expressing ourselves through dance, words and touch. We openly share our feelings for each other.
The possibility of everything and everyone in this world has never been so clear, and it’s painful to say goodbye.
The next morning, at the airport, I can’t help smiling. Every single person I see has the most incredible potential.
Less than a week ago, I was preoccupied by my own thoughts, many of which were negative and self-deprecating. Now, my mind, heart and soul is wide open and aware of infinite possibility.
Post-retreat, we’ve been encouraged to continue the journey with a six-week integration programme, a vital part of psychedelic therapy that most retreats don’t include It’s to help us work through challenging thought processes and emotions too, which surface as we try to make sense of it all. Psilocybin just opens the door – the real work begins once you land.
A few weeks on from the retreat, my experiences feel more like vivid dreams, but the lessons I learned throughout my time continue to percolate and produce new revelations.
This experience is by no means recreational. It’s like 10 years of intensive therapy in five days. It opens up new ideas about yourself, your life and values and leaves you questioning everything you think you know. This, I learnt, is the magic of mushrooms.
Ruby Deevoy is a cannabis and psychedelics journalist
Beckley Retreats take place in the Netherlands and Jamaica. Six-day retreats start at $4,800pp (£3,910) excluding travel.