Table of Contents
II. Develop a Cognitive Map of the Territory
III. Choose Your Medicine Carefully
• Some legal options for psychedelic experiences
IV. Get Geared Up for the Journey
• Find a Trustworthy Travel Buddy
• Establish Daily Habits for Long-term Integration
• Organize your Gear and Prep Yourself
• Cultivate a Clear Intention for Your Journey
• Purify the Mind and the Body
V. Stabilize a Higher State of Consciousness
• Meditation and Other Stabilizing Practices
Please note - I do not "guide" or serve as a "sitter" for any psychedelic experiences for anyone. I provide my clients with helpful preparation, medicine selection and integration of these potentially transformative experiences. The information below and elsewhere on this website is not intended as encouragement for anyone to take psychedelics - unless it is done in a legal location with competent guidance in a safe, supportive environment following in-depth preparation for the experience. This short article presents some of the possible risks involved in a psychedelic experience.
You can learn about how I support folks, by listening to this 35-min podcast by Zach Poitra (from Ayahuasca Family) where he shares his experience with my integration coaching. In this 1.5 hour interview, he and I explore some of the key elements of this transformational psychedelic-assisted healing work along with some info on the orientation I take in working with my clients.
If you've experienced or heard about the depth and power of Ayahuasca, you may feel drawn to it for the first experience or want to come back for a visit with Mother Ayahusaca. Or, you may feel drawn to a more gentle healing, transformational journey. I encourage you to listen for your inner/heart voice either way. You may want to check into the options for a psilocybin experience that may be available to you. These might include: (a) going solo from beginning to end without anyone being with you (only if you're had a good number of these experiences and are comfortable with them - still a bit on the dangerous side), (b) supported by a buddy or a sitter/therapist or (c) some combination of supportive friends in your trusted community. If you're able to access one, an FDA-approved clinical trial is an excellent option with trusted substances, careful preparation and follow-up. There are likely other safe, legal options (article on the legal status) especially with the decriminalization of psilocybin in several US cities, but at this point, none that I feel confident in referring anyone. Check out this 15-minute TED Talk "psilocybin, love and the meaning of life" which gives an overview of some of the elements that lead to a safe and effective journey. Hopefully I'll learn more as I continue to move along the paths I share with my clients as well as my personal path of healing and transformation - stay tuned... If you're caught in addictions or have already tried some of the popular plant medicines for your trauma issues, it may be wise to consider Ibogaine treatment.
From my perspective, it's also important that one feel internally "called or led" to take psychedelics and are not being overly influenced by peer pressure or media hype. And, some personal research is important to cultivate a basic understanding of psychedelic experiences and in establishing reasonable expectations. A 50-year accumulation of empirical research suggests that carefully-conducted psychedelic experiences can facilitate psychological and emotional healing. They can be transformative, truly life-changing. My brief article on re-parenting provides a glimpse of one of the ways these experiences can facilitate emotional and psychological healing and here are some guidelines for getting started on this healing path. Of course, there's also evidence of harm resulting from the reckless misuse of these powerful substances. So, it pays to be careful...
I trust this information will be helpful in making a wise decision regarding taking these substances or not, how much, when, where and with whom. For those who decide to take psychedelics for whatever reasons they have, my intention is to help reduce any chance of their having a "bad trip" while helping to make the most of the positive fruits these journeys often provide. Simply wanting to help minimize risk and maximize gain. So, please consider everything I present below and elsewhere on my site as loving encouragement, few hard and fast rules here. I know you'll find your own way and have your own experience and outcome. I suspect this is just as it should be.
Perhaps the best option for a first step in preparing for a psychedelic experience is to establish a trusting relationship with a qualified psychotherapist skilled in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Even in the common situation where they are unable to be with you during the actual experience due to legal reasons, the therapist can guide you through the preparation stage and support you throughout the integration and stabilization process. This is the kind of guidance and support I and some other therapists (see MAPS and/or Psychedelic Support) offer our clients. One of the primary goals of integration is to prevent of the pull of old habits from bringing the brain's activity back into the tight, limited pattern of our default mode network (photo A) from the open pattern of neural firing represented by photo B - to stabilize at the highest state of consciousness you've ever experienced.
After you've invested some significant time with the information I provide, you feel it would be helpful to have a free 20-minute phone chat with me. If so, drop me a note with times and days you are generally available and we'll set one up (learn about my services). Also, check out this page for some engaging reports from folks on the healing path of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and transformation.
Develop a Cognitive Map of the Territory
- A brief conversation with Andrew Huberman, MD from March 2023 where he shares his positive view of psychedelics
- TED talk by Roland Griffiths about current research into the use of psychedelics and their potential for transforming our culture through Spiritual Awakening. Jordan Peterson reviews this research in this 15-minute talk and in this 2-hour interview with Roland Griffiths.
- How to Change Your Mind - a 4 Part Series on Netflix (2022) with Michael Pollen
- A 60-min Presentation on Netflix about Ayahuasca (note: there have been a number of changes at Soul Quest since this video)
- MAPS: Lots of Information about Psychedelics
- New York Times article
- Michael Pollan’s 90-minute interview with Joe Rogan provides some info on the history and current research as well as his personal experiences with psychedelics.
- Some info on the neuropsychological works of psychedelics and trauma (begin at 1 hour 45 min through 2 hours 10 min)
- The Immortality Key - 14-min presentation with Brian C Muraresku
- TED talk provides a good overview of current research into clinical applications of psychedelics and their effectiveness.
- 13-minute segment of the TV news show 60-Minutes - October 13, 2019.
- 15-minute video from Rebel Wisdom provides a glimpse of what can occur during a psychedelic journey and why it's so important to prepare beforehand and commit to doing some personal work afterward.
- These three short videos offer a glimpse into some of the factors related to the re-setting of the "default mode network" - a common fruit of psychedelic experiences:
- A Stroke of Insight
- The Divided Brain with Iain McGilchrist and for more depth, watch this 40-minute interview with this researcher.
- The Hacking of the American Mind
- Does Having Past Psychedelic Experiences Prepare You for Ayahuasca
- The Risks of Psychedelic Experiences: Myths and Facts
- Some info on an uncommon issue - Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder and a resource for getting help
- What are the Dangers of Psychedelics? Things to consider before a psychedelic experience.
Choose Your Medicine Carefully
I encourage you to consider which substance(s) would be best given your situation and reasons for taking a journey with a psychedelic. After perusing the materials above, check out the following links for useful info on psychedelics: psilocybin - here's a comprehensive 2-hour presentation by Huberman Lab, here's a guide for psilocybin (see: proper dose & finding the best spores and guidance to grow your own). Ayahuasca (here's a powerful short video), LSD and a popular empathogen being used with good effects with PTSD and other serious emotional issues, is MDMA - here's an excellent guide for MDMA. There's also 5MeO-DMT which offers an intense psychedelic experience but is considered by some to be suitable only for those with previous exposure to psychedelics, and there are other views as well as studies of improvements of anxiety and depression. Ketamine is another substance worthy of consideration (see info below). Also under the psychedelic healing tent, is Ibogaine, a plant-based medicine that has established itself as an excellent option for breaking free of severe addiction and for some, a powerful way to work with trauma (see more info below). Enjoy this 2023 Joe Rogan interview where Rick Doblin describes his experiences with Ibogaine (1st 45 min).
Cannabis is getting a lot of attention these days in the medical community (e.g. can be excellent for dealing with chronic pain) as well as for emotional healing especially in states where it is legal (e.g., cannabis healing center). From my experience personal and from my knowledge from clients and others, I don't recommend the use of cannabis as a path to healing (here's an excellent podcast on the effects of Cannabis on mind and body). In my experience, cannabis (i.e. with high THC levels, not a quality CBD with nearly no THC) can take on an addictive quality. The postive effects of THC fade over time and can lead to mental and emotional issues that are tough to see within oneself - trying . At least for some folks (and I'm seeing more and more clients with this issue), it's hard to think clearly after daily THC use for some months or years. Whatever your choice of substance(s), it's wise to test whatever you plan to use so you'll know what you're taking.
By investing some time and effort in the research process, you'll come to appreciate some of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences among these substances and will be much better able to make a wise choice for your particular situation. Consider such things as: how solidly you are grounded (i.e., ego strength), your tolerance for discomfort, your attachment to a sense of safety, history of anxiety and fear issues, from what or whom you're hoping to get unstuck, how you hope to heal and to grow... For example, if you are someone who isn't well connected with their physical body, perhaps due to past trauma, MDMA may be a good option. If you're seeking a truly deep transformation and are willing and able to invest 7 to 10 days in the process, a well-supported ayahuasca experience may be a good choice. For a true mystical experience with a minimum of distress and excellent potential benefit, psilocybin may be a good option.
As you might expect within a psychologist's practice, my clients are often seeking deep psychological and emotional healing from their psychedelic journeys. Most often, they work with either ayahuasca, psilocybin or MDMA. Some of the most amazing healing experiences I've been blessed to witness (pre and post, not during) have begun with an established meditation practice. This was followed by taking some of these substances over time. Some clients with a generally mindful and healthy lifestyle, have found their way into a classic clinical-like setting (see John Hopkins) or have set one up for themselves (see info below for the "do-it-yourself" route). They began with a high dose of psilocybin (5g) and in some cases, followed with a significant dose of MDMA some months later. Many of these clients have experienced impressive results and often report feeling remarkably free of old conditioned, self-destructive and self-limiting habits, distorted self-concepts and narrow perspectives on the world and their place in it. For most, these limitations have held them back, made them feel small and afraid of living their life fully, for decades - here are some of their remarkable stories.
Most of my clients who experience problems post-journey are those who took a dive into the psychedelic pool without skilled guidance, with little preparation, limited time for the journey itself or for follow-up integration. This may be a weekend adventure with friends, a too-short or under-staffed psychedelic "retreat" or with a romantic partner where old issues arose (e.g., sexual abuse) but healing space was not provided. In the worst case there is a re-traumatization - the person is driven further into shame and self-hate and body-centered distress and/or dissociation. These folks can come out of the psychedelic experience profoundly confused, disoriented and feeling abandoned and abused - a painful situation that can last for days or weeks.
"It may get worse before it gets better" Some of my clients come through a carefully-planned psychedelic experience only to find themselves facing a challenging side of "waking up". A psychedelic or mystical experience not only lifts the veils from our conditioning allowing us to see our True Self, it also lifts the denial, avoidance and minimization that have served as blinders to the reality of the world (e.g. climate change, politics, wars). Some folks are finding the "real world" so frightening and depressing that they turn to alcohol and other methods in attempts to get the blinders back on - rich material for the long-term integration process.
As you can see, I have my reasons to encourage you to invest the time needed to have a basic understanding of what you're likely to encounter and what preparations you'll need to make in order to have a beneficial and safe journey. As with every other aspect of this work, any use of these substances, which one(s), when, where and with whom will be your decision - just be careful...
Some legal options for psychedelic experiences
Psilocybin has been a wonderful healing plant medicine for me personally as well as for a large number of my clients. As a research-based psychologist, I find comfort in the growing amount of research into it's effectiveness and safety. I'm a fan of long-term micro-dosing (for some period of time), occasional low dose (1 to 2g) experiences as well as 5g+ journeys when the need arises (maybe every 3 to 6 months). While you may be able to find good mushrooms and a qualified "sitter" outside the legal boundary, some legal options are opening up. For example, this healing center in Washington State was very helpful for one of my cllients as were the folks at this center in Michigan.
I do not have any personal or client experience with the folks listed here or this group who are in a number of states. So, if this feels like the path you are being led to take at this phase of your journey, I would encourage you to spend some time researching the providers and then connecting with them to get a sense of how well you resonate with their energy and orientation before heading their way. If you know of any good legal options in the US, please drop me a note so I can share them.
Ketamine is a substance worthy of consideration - here's an excellent guide for ketamine that can help you evaluate the pros and cons of this option. Ketamine is legal and widely available within the medical community. A few of my clients who have received ketamine treatment obtained psychedelic openings and healings seemingly as powerful as other clients who took psilocybin. Some however, were disappointed by "the container" within which their experiences occurred. They point to a lack of attention to their need for preparation before, silence during, time to gently ease back into ordinary life and effective integration afterward. These shortcomings can limit the healing and transformative power of the experience so, it's wise to chose your provider carefully if ketamine seems the best fit for you and your situation. I can recommend this treatment center in Louisville Kentucky as some of my clients have received excellent results from this provider.
Ayahuasca has been a supportive plant medicine for my personal healing journey. Alonso del Rio is the shaman with whom I had my first Ayahuasca experiences some 15 years ago - here's my story about them. While I don't have a body of research to support this, from my experiences, it seems that whatever is needed, for example, connection with the body, an open heart, an ego death and re-birth, insights into family of origin and all sorts of trauma, can be found through full surrender to a number of Ayahuasca ceremonies spread over a reasonable period of time. Ayahuasca is challenging for sure but if done in a well-supported environment with preparation and well-trained leadership with effective integration along the way, the experiences can be richly rewarding. I've experienced 4 different Ayahuasca retreat centers in Peru and US and have experienced 14 ceremonies. I find there are clear differences among these centers including the skill level of leadership, staff and volunteers, number of participants, English language being spoken, an understanding of western psychology and of course, the overall energy of the people and the place.
In 2022, I had two Ayahuasca weekends with Soul Quest in Orlando. While my personal experiences were beneficial, for a number of reasons I can't recommend this center - there's no Shaman, no icaros (here are some icaros I recorded during an Aya ceremony in Peru), no strong, well-trained leadership and an over-reliance on minimally-trained volunteers to tend to a very large number of folks (can be 90). You'll have to follow you own leading on this one as despite these shortcomings, I did see a good number of folks who seemed to benefit from their experiences.
And, if you Google "Ayahuasca Peru and Ecuador", you'll see a growing list lot of options - some excellent, some not so good. While I haven't experienced NihueRao, I've hear good things about it from a trusted friend who spent a number of months there. Temple of the Way of Light is also worth considering. This short video is Gabor Mate describing his recent healing experience with them and details about their process. Taking a "pilgrimage into a foreign land" while a bit more work, is a classic part of these healing, transformative experiences for good reason - get out of our comfort zone, let go of whatever we're attached to or comforted by (including our self image) so you can more clearly work with "what's not you." I'm feeling led to make this kind of journey again as I know the value of being in a different culture for awhile.
Ibogaine is being used more frequently these days with very promising results (watch this short talk and/or this 1-hour presentation) and, you may find this Time article interesting. Results are quite impressive when Ibogaine is being properly used with those suffering from addictions to substances such as opioids, suboxone, etc and with those seeking to avoid the painful experience of withdrawal. Ibogaine also helps folks become free of alcohol, cannabis and SSRIs dependence and withdrawal (how ibogaine may work). Those experiencing life-limiting restrictions of PTSD, anxiety, depression, relationship issues, etc. are finding Ibogaine helpful in ways that are unique when compared to other psychedelic experiences they have had along their journey of healing and transformaion.
Beond is an Ibogaine treatment center in Cancun, Mexico where a couple of my clients received excellent support in becoming free of powerful addictions to opioids and alcohol. This 60-minute interview with one of the co-founders will give you some insights into the values and intentions of this organization. This 10-minute presentation will give you a good idea of how a well-managed Ibogaine experience unfolds and how transformative it can be. BTW, I was a guest of Beond in March of 2023 for 5 days during which I experienced Ibogaine and the loving attention of the staff. It was a very positive experience on all fronts - I was very well cared for, felt safe before, during and after the experience and had a bonus of a Bufo journey which was like a powerful icing on an amazing cake. I recommend Beond without reservation. If you feel inclined to experience Ibogaine as support in your on-going healing and Spiritual transformation journey or feel you need to break free of an addiction or two, check 'em out.
Here are more resources for filling in details of the map of your journey:
- An article on Seeking a Psychedelic Guide from Psychedelics Today
- The Nature of the MDMA Experience and it's Role in Healing, Psychotherapy and Spiritual Practice
- Info on Ketamine
- Can Magic Mushrooms Unlock Depression?
- Rick Doblin – follow up on the Good Friday Experiment
- Paul Stamet’s first Psilocybin experience
- Right Dosage for Psilocybin
- Psilocybin and Meditation
- Tricycle article July 2018 - Psychedelics' Buddhist Revival
- This link will take you to more books, videos, articles, etc.
Get Geared Up for the Journey
Find a trustworthy partner to share the dance with you
If you've read down this far, you know that I encourage folks to only consider taking a psychedelic in a legal way with trained facilitators in a supportive environment. However, I know that some folks are going to have these experiences on their own or with very limited support so I offer a few suggestions for making the best of such a less-than-ideal situation. Here's an article on why someone needs a guide for a psychedelic journey.
Whoever is going to accompany you, have them read one or more of these Manuals for Psychedelic Guides (my favorite is this one) and other information shared on the Tripsitter's website. A detailed clinical guide to preparation is offered by MAPS. Of course, you should invest a chunk of time with one or more of these manuals too! You want to make sure you both understand the supporter's role in the process clearly enough that they will truly be able to support you, not project their past journeys, needs, fascinations, agendas, fears, etc. onto your experience or ask you questions - not a good thing!
- If you have a close friend who has had rewarding psychedelic experiences aimed a personal growth and healing (not just entertainment), they may be a reasonable option to accompany you through your first psychedelic experience. It's important that you feel quite comfortable with them and know that you're not being pressured into taking a journey - it has to be your idea and it's critical that you're comfortable going into it - trust your gut and what you're learned from your research! Also, it's critically important to have a deep trust that this person will not be tempted to take advantage of you in any way. For example, even if it's you who approaches them sexually mid-point in the journey you need to trust them to lovingly re-direct you back to your own inner healing experience. Of course, if this is not the first psychedelic experience for either of you and the decision is made beforehand that sex will be part of your shared experience, then move slowly, carefully and mindfully into the process and be ready to stop should either of you have a negative reaction or feel threatened or anxious - not uncommon as unresolved issues (e.g., past trauma, sexual assault) often come to light during these experiences. This is how these experiences can be healing if approached carefully and how they can be re-traumatizing if they aren't. Again, it pays to go slow and be careful. Read about some of these experiences on both sides of the fence.
- If your significant other has had positive healing experiences with psychedelics (not just fun times), they may be a reasonable option, assuming the relationship is grounded in a commitment to personal and spiritual growth, relatively free of conflict and generally has a low-drama history. In these situations, sharing these transforming experiences may be strengthening to the relationship (see this article). However, psychedelic experiences can be quite detrimental if the foundation of the relationship isn't solid. This is especially true if control issues, passive-aggressive acting out, resentments, jealousy, underlying anger, sexual conflicts, etc. are active in the relationship or in its recent history. If this is the case, I encourage you to not have your partner in the environment when you journey. And, give yourself a few days apart following your experience to integrate as completely as you are able before coming back together. It's a wise move to work out your major relationship conflicts and issues prior to either of you taking a psychedelic journey. Also, if you're doing a solo journey, it's a good idea to let your partner know what you're up to and what to expect when you return - including any possibility of your ending the relationship (so if you do, they won't blame the journey or your guides for the break-up). No relationship will ever be perfect but pouring fuel on the fire of dysfunction isn't likely to be helpful to either party, just create more suffering for all concerned. Being Open, Honest and Vulnerable are key aspects to any growth-promoting and healing intimate relationship (here's some useful info). This is the position I encourage you to take at every step along your relationship path - it demonstrates that you deeply value yourself, your partner and your relationship and it provides a safe container for healing for both partners - a very good thing.
- Regardless of the relationship you have with your guide (friend, lover, therapist), it is critical they be naturally calm and able to sit with another's distress (screaming, shaking violently, etc.) without reacting from their own fear and discomfort. A confident, calm energy and still embodied presence is essential qualities of a trustworthy guide. This is especially important during the periods of ego dissolution, when one's developmental foundation upon which their sense of reality has been built, falls away leaving them with nothing familiar to hold onto - a frightening experience for sure. An anxious or even an overly-analytical (grounded in the left brain, lots of questions) person sitting with you can easily push you into a very bad trip. And if you tend toward anxiety and fear yourself, with this combination, you can easily come out of a psychedelic experience in far worse shape than you went in. This is where proper preparation for dealing with the discomfort of arising fear or waves of terror comes into play (see "anxiety and fear" below).
Establish daily habits that support long-term integration
- Cultivating a disciplined meditation practice can prepare you for dealing effectively with uncomfortable experiences - the classic "terror of ego death" for example. Being able to respond to such discomfort by dropping into a calm, mindful state where it all can be observed from a comfortable distance can be quite helpful in preventing a "bad trip" often caused by not surrendering to the experience and trying to run away or to stop it, which basically doesn't work. The most common "bad trips" my clients experience arise from lack of the developed capacity to manage their anxiety before jumping into a psychedelic experience which results in their having even more anxiety in their daily lives than before the experience - not a good thing.
- Develop a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a wellness-promoting diet, meaningful work, engaging social interactions and an intimate, loving partnership. I know this is a lot to ask, so just work from where you are and commit yourself to moving forward. Avoid comparing yourself or your life to anyone else, just to where you were a few months ago. Gradual progress tends to be more stable so take it one step at a time. Personal and spiritual growth is such a wonderful opportunity to develop patience! Check out this YouTube with Jordan Peterson.
Organize your gear and prepare yourself
- Music, especially carefully-selected music, is often recommended to enhance your psychedelic journey (watch this TED talk on the topic or check out this article). For one reason, calming music gives the left brain something to busy itself with as the right brain kicks into a higher gear. Music can also be helpful in the integration process as it can help guide you back to the higher state of consciousness experienced during your journey when you're engaged in other activities (e.g. yoga, float tank, some forms of meditation). This article offers a brief overview of how music can be helpful and provides samples of useful options. In clinical trials with psilocybin at John Hopkins University, 3 playlists (each is 5.5 hours) are typically used: Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 1 (my personal favorite) - Playlist 2 - Playlist 3. You can find these and other options on Spotify. Of course you'll need a paid Spotify account to avoid the interruptions of advertisements. A decent pair of headphones are recommended for the best quality sound but stereo speakers placed on each side of the head will do.
- An eye-mask can be quite useful by allowing the psychedelic experience to be in darkness. Darkness reduces the interference of visual input which can lead to distraction and a coming out of the experience and back into ordinary life with all of it's everyday concerns. This may be an option you choose for your first experience, then open up to other options (e.g. being in nature, in a float tank).
- Consider Recording your Sessions as some folks find that listening to what they said and how they said it along with other sounds they made during their psychedelic experience to be both interesting and valuable to their transformation. It can help clarify and stabilize any insights that arose during the experience. This is an easy thing to do, just place a recorder (or your cell phone on "voice memo") nearby, start recording and let it run until the session has ended - some 5 or 6 hours later... In a few weeks, play it through when you have time to listen with minimum distraction. Maybe take a few notes...
- A safe quiet setting with a comfortable bed, cushions and pillows with a comfy chair(s) for your guide(s) will help make the most of the experience - relax and allow the music to carry you along in the darkness. This too may be something you play with after you get comfortable with your chosen substance(s) but generally for this type of work, too much volume of sound or light is unlikely to be helpful - there are exceptions of course, it's your journey after all... Here's some info on the importance of set and setting.
- Time in a Float Tank I have found that an effective test of one's natural ability to "ride the waves of a shifting reality" is to spend some serious time in a Float Tank (Weightless). This Podcast presents some of the benefits of Floating on Anxiety & Depression. Six or eight 90-minute float tank experiences spread over a few weeks can give you a taste of an alternate reality similar in some important ways to a psychedelic trip (see John Lilly). If the float tank experience goes well for you, you're more likely going to enjoy and benefit from your psychedelic experience. If not, consider working with whatever discomfort or fear that arises in the tank until you are comfortable in the tank before considering taking a high dose of any psychedelic substance.
- Intense Meditation Retreat While everyone is unique in what preparation may be most useful, one of my common recommendations is to sit an intensive meditation retreat such as a 10-day Goenka course (often referred to as "spiritual bootcamp"). For many, this can be an excellent preparation experience while establishing a foundation for daily meditation practice for when you're "on the other side" of your psychedelic experience.
Cultivate a clear intention for your journey
- Consider viewing any insights, images, understandings, revelations, etc. that may arise during your experience to be pieces of your psychological and emotional framework which developed from birth until today - some strong, healthy aspects, others no so much. From this broad perspective, these aspects of your development can become tools for deep self-healing. Such healing may be related to attachment issues grounded in early childhood with your family-of-origin as well as early interactions with peers and adults who played an important role in your early life (e.g., grandparents, teachers, coaches). They may be unhealthy habits you developed later in life in an attempt to avoid distressing feelings and thoughts that were raising up. It seems having a "map" of how psychedelic experiences can be used effectively for this level of healing would be useful. I'm working on sketching out just such a map - check back on this page from time-to-time for the details. For now, I'll offer these suggestions:
- Reflect on your life, family-of-origin, childhood, siblings, college days, friends, intimate relationships, work life, children, etc.
- If you haven't already, check out my article on Psychedelic-Assisted Re-Parenting
- Look through your “family albums” from as far back as you’re able – paying particular attention to the photos that touch or trigger, either in a positive or negative way.
- Journal about what comes up while and after working through your family albums as well as during the day, especially following a formal meditation practice period or anytime you feel strongly triggered by someone or something (here's an article about this practice).
- Clarify your intention for taking this journey - write it down and reflect on it over the weeks leading up to your trip making as many changes and additions as you want - let this be an organic, unhurried process.
At least seven to ten days before your experience, clean up your diet. The following suggestions are offered to help you be better prepared to deal with whatever discomfort arises during your psychedelic experience and make the most of your journey. A key to a productive journey is having a well-nurtured and rested body, a calm, clear mind and an open, curious heart. Engage in the process of making the old unhealthy, conditioned habits conscious and then replacing them with healthy intentional habits.
When we stop doing what we've been doing for years without mindful awareness, we come fact-to-face with the underlying discomfort that has led to and has been fueling these often self-destructive habits. It can be quite uncomfortable to deny ourselves our usual "fixes" but in the process of cleaning up our life, we begin to become comfortable with our discomfort. This is a great skill to have when the ego falls away and we know for sure and perhaps for the first time, that we're no longer the master of our universe. With this in mind, I offer the following suggestions. I encourage you to follow those you resonate with and put the rest in a toolbox for later. Take this preparation and the rest of your life at your pace. No rush. After all, the journey is the destination.
- Tightly limit screen time – no TV, movies, FaceBook… if you must engage with this media, limit it as much as possible, especially none 1 hour or longer before your bed time. Check out this book about the impact of these media.
- No meat, fish, chicken, dairy, milk, following a whole plant-based diet for a couple of weeks. It’s important to clean out the body and deal with the underlying urges. A number of light meals is ideal with the heaviest in the morning - avoid breads and processed foods – focus on veggies, fruit, a few nuts, light fresh juices, calming teas.
- No junk food - ideally for the 2-3 weeks before but certainly 3 - 7 days before.
- Stop eating by 6pm – ideally, eat all meals before 2pm.
- Little or no caffeine – reduce your use if you’re a heavy daily user - a good podcast on the good and bad of caffeine.
- Here's a pre- and post-diet guide
- No alcohol - check out this excellent Podcast about Alcohol and how it works and how it impacts the mind & body...
- No cannabis THC - CBD at reasonable doses should be ok
- No tobacco - wean off if you have to. This can be a challenging issue if the addiction is strong. However, successfully quitting brings many of rewards including greater self-confidence and sense of self-control.
- No sex, partnered or solo for at least 3 days prior, 10 days off would be even better...
- Spend time in nature – open your senses during a walk in the park and/or when sitting outside – one sense at a time, letting the others fall into the background. When the mind is deeply settled, let all the senses come together as a united field of experience with no borders in-between them. Consider participating in a Forest Bathing program.
- If you have problems sleeping avoid taking any meds. Get out of bed after being awake for 20 or 30 minutes and read or do restorative yoga practices – legs in a chair or up the wall. Lay on your back on a carpeted floor or pad (yoga mat). Roll up a towel and place it under your spine and relax into the floor - to open the chest and your heart (10 or 15 min). Then when you feel ready, go back to bed and watch your breath deepen as you relax your eyes and the rest of your body one step at a time.
- Meditation! As much as possible both formal sitting as well as informal practice – eating, walking, in conversation, being in nature… “meditate all day, every day” as they say. For support in getting started, check out the Body Scan meditations on this this page.
Cultivate hunger the morning you'll take your journey
- Begin your day with meditation practice - 20 or 30 minutes of "just listening" not trying to figure anything out or make plans.
- Take a warm shower, put on some of your favorite light, loose-fitting clothes.
- Eat very little if any breakfast, a piece of fruit or small protein shake (6 oz or less), stay with the healthy diet; no bread, no meat, no/little caffeine.
- Pay careful attention to the setting for your journey - quiet, peaceful, safe place (bed is ideal, sofa will do) with supportive music lined up and ready (such as this selection used by the researchers at John Hopkins). Have your supportive person(s) well-rested, calm, present and committed to staying with you throughout your experience and at least for a few hours afterwards.
- Have some easy-to-digest nutritious foods on hand for when you begin your re-entry. Perhaps some fresh fruit or a protein shake. If you're quiet and listen to your inner voice, you'll be led to the foods your body is calling for. It's generally better to skip the pizza and the hot and spicy - your belly with thank you for it!
- Make plans not to drive at least until the next day – Trust me! It's not a good idea. Driving shortly after a psychedelic experience not only puts you at unnecessary risk, it also puts your support person(s) at great risk as well. Please don't risk complicating their lives or yours by being careless - spend a couple of bucks on an Uber or a Lift.
Stabilize a Higher State of Consciousness
Much of what is laid out in the Purify Your Mind & Body section above can apply to the process of "stabilizing our vantage point (how we see the world and our place in it) at as high a state of consciousness as we've ever experienced" which for many, occurred during their psychedelic journey. Cleaning up our diet, regular exercise, relaxing habits, control of media input, limited use of alcohol, and other substances, healthy relationships and of course, some form of meditation practice are important aspects of lifestyle change to consider. And, consistent with the overall focus of this page, having a good cognitive understanding or "map" of what we're doing, why, how we're doing it and what "progress" will look like, are also important - continuing to strengthen the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. This article offers support for integration of an Ayahausca journey.
Integral Theory is the most comprehensive map that considers the largest number of variables of how one sees the world and their place in it of any such map I've stumbled upon. This article by Ken Wilber about Integral Theory is a good place to start exploring this map. In it, he lays out the stages of states of consciousness and stages of psychological development and many other aspects of our experience that can be helpful in understanding the challenging process of Staying Awake as well as Cleaning Up and Growing Up. It will also help explain why having this map in your head is important before you enter your psychedelic experience and as you come back into your normal life. Regarding the cleaning up and growing up aspects of this transformation, there are maps of healing our developmental trauma that lay out the process of re-parenting as well as overall understanding of how we come to see ourselves as we do and how psychedelic and mystical experiences can support this healing work.
This understanding of the possibilities for growth and healing is a critical element of your cognitive map for the effective use of psychedelics if your intention is lasting self-transformation not simply entertainment. As Huston Smith says in his classic text, Cleansing the Doors of Perception, "(psychedelics) appear to be able to induce (mystical) experiences; it is less evident that they can produce (mystical) lives" (my modifications). This is where a disciplined, intentional daily practice and an intentional lifestyle that is supportive of staying awake, cleaning up and growing up comes in. Of course, having these experiences for entertainment is fine too. No worries, just clearly not the greatest potential gain that these substances can bring into your life.
Following your experience make sure you have some time (a day or two if possible) when you don't have to Do anything, meet anyone’s expectations or anyone else's needs. Carve out some time to simply Be. Make room for some contemplative time: meditation (here's some support), gentle walks in nature, relaxed exchanges with someone who understands where you have been and what you need - someone who is able to match your energy, depth of experience and broadened perspective.
I hope you can see that it's natural and healthy to want to stabilize at the higher state of consciousness that you experienced during your journey. So well before you begin your journey, commit to regularly engaging in the integrative practices that resonate strongly with you: meditation, yoga, QiGong, journaling, supportive friendships, engage with a psychotherapist and/or a body worker, etc. Arrange a meeting with a supportive person within the first couple of days following your journey to help process your experience and your insights - especially how you are coming to see the world and your place in it.
Meditation is considered by many in the psychedelic community to be the Gold Standard of long-term stabilization practices. Joining a meditation group and sitting regularly with them in combination with a daily practice and multi-day retreats is perhaps the most reliable path to the stabilization at a higher state of consciousness. You can find some useful resources here for getting your meditation practice going.
You might also consider microdosing with Psilocybin - see Paul Stamet's "stack." Check out this 30-min interview with Paul Stamets and Joe Rogan. As you consider microdosing as a part of your long-term stabilization and general wellness program (recommended doses - an interesting article and an article with some warnings). Some folks are finding that Cannabis, when an adequate dose (of a carefully selected strain) is taken, can result in a brief journey similar to their experience with psychedelics (e.g. life-review, powerful insights, understanding/forgiving, physical sensations). The power of these experiences seem to increase if attention is given to the mind set, setting and music. My sense is that attention to the details can make a "visitation" to this state of consciousness more predictable and more useful in the stabilization at this higher state. Some folks report using cannabis for healing their traumas - here's a story about this (#F). Microdosing with MDMA has some negative aspects - read this short article.
Consider regularly spending time in a Float Tank (Weightless). Playing the music you listened to during your journey may also help bring you back to that higher state of consciousness you experienced during your journey. Many folks, myself included, find that floats are a valuable support in their effort to stabilize a mystical world view. My personal favorite is combining a 90-minute float with a 40-minute dry sauna. I find this combination to be an amazingly relaxing and stabilizing experience! Check out this 40-minute video about the powerful and consistent results of floating on the body and mind.
Many who have made a psychedelic journey seek reliable guidance either with me or another person qualified to help them integrate effectively (see MAPS or Psychedelic Support for a couple of lists of providers). Ideally, establish this supportive relationship months before a psychedelic experience but certainly afterwards and especially if there is any on-going experience of confusion, anxiety, depression, lowered motivation, relationship issues, etc. Remember it can take some time to heal whatever wounds that may have been opened by this experience and time to integrate insights and deeper understandings into your everyday life. In addition to engaging an integration professional, you may also consider joining an on-line support group - here's an excellent example of this kind of support. Remember, the psychedelic experience itself can't be expected to do all the work.
Be patient with yourself, play with the many options you have for support with an open and curious heart. Trust that ultimately if you stay committed to this transformational work and refuse to turn away from the discomfort that is part of any significant life transition, you will transform in a number of positive ways. I'm confident that the next step on your path will present itself at the moment you're ready to surrender more fully to the Unfolding Mystery...
Wishing you the best on all of your healing and transformational journeys! If you'd like to explore how I can support you with Life Coaching or Psychotherapy, drop me a note and we'll explore some options! Take good care, John