“Leaping into the beautiful sunrise sky,
I am overwhelmed with feeling,
and awaken with tears of joy.”
— Steven LaBerge
|Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2020. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
This subject is big. One’s experience of one’s mind was already big before mind-expanding it. Psychedelic experiences are as unlimited as dreams. Let me cut it down in size.
From my point of view, preparing the mind for psychedelics is like preparing for the food before dinner. Preparation of that sort is not about the food, it’s about your mental attitude and physical condition. That’s the approach I’m taking here: preparing for psychedelics is about your attitude and condition with the object of making as large as possible what you’re able to accomplish.
There are many reasons to take psychedelics, and they’re mostly good—as long as what you’re doing isn’t harmful. But there are more and less serious reasons, and I’m interested in the more serious ones.
Those taking psychedelics for less serious reasons, such as to be entertained, are probably interested in nothing more than safety, and that’s fine. Be sure that you’re interested in at least that, because if you don’t manage your safety, your experience could be life-threatening. All drugs are toxic, after all, and anything that has the power to create can also destroy. Be reasonable and be safe. Consider it to be an exploration. There is always another time.
If you’re taking visionary drugs for fun, remember that whatever the high to which you aspire, there will always be an opposite low. You may think you’re clear and clean enough to be blessed with happy visions, but what you’re shown may well have more to do with lives and needs other than your own. The psychedelic experience taps into the collective unconscious, and in that realm resides a lot of negative energy that needs to be cleared.
When you take a psychedelic, you are enlisting in a struggle that’s much larger than you can imagine. Depending on who you are and what you take, you may find yourself well beyond anything you expect. Christopher Bache is an upstanding, pious, untainted professor of religion whose repetitive LSD journeys to transcendental hell should not be dismissed. He didn’t plan to go there and he had no debts to pay, but he was called because there are things that need to be seen and spoken of.
You may be responding to an advertisement that says you’ll visit paradise but, once the ship leaves shore, where it goes is not up to you. You will be sent where you are needed. Wanting to have fun is a poor reason for taking psychedelics. It’s too shallow, and there is no guarantee.
That being said, the difference between recreation and re-creation is mostly one of attitude. Quite a few people who engage in a drug experience without any expectation have a deeply transformative experience. Those people were probably prepared by their life’s situation, even if they didn’t know it.
There are also quite a few people who have been disabled by their experience, and some of them felt they were prepared for and guided to their experience. It is possible that what we experience as disabling is part of a positive, transformative process. There is the possibility that a bad experience will generate a positive outcome, but it is by no means certain.
There are questions about preparation before and integration afterwards. There is the obvious but unspoken question as to how much one’s better preparation will facilitate a better outcome or a more effective integration afterwards. We will not be dealing with the aftermath, here, but we will proceed with the assumption that the experience and its aftermath will be more empowering, better for your health, and more easily integrated if you are well prepared.
Integration of an Experience
This is not a book on the integration of the psychedelic experience. At first, I thought preparation and integration should be combined, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more different I recognized these to be. Even if both involve the same territory—in the way that one both takes off and lands on the same runway—one’s state of mind in these two situations is radically different.
When preparing for an experience, your hidden issues are behind you and you’re sailing forward. This remains true even when you’re engaging the experience for purposes of healing. In that case, you’ve got a health issue and you’re hoping the experience will connect you deeply with it.
When integrating—”returning” might be a better word since it presumes less—your issues are in front of you. Rather than taking off and landing an airplane, the psychedelic experience might be better compared to being shot out of a cannon. The going up and the coming down are quite different. On the descent, one needs some kind of parachute.
This book focuses on the ascent—or rather, on the preparation for it. This entails knowing what you’re getting into and having all your things in order. This includes packing your parachute, which is to say having some idea of where you’ll land.
So much for generalities; let’s get specific. Psychedelic experiences take energy, so you’d better have energy to spare. They can stress your body, even if you spend the time lying down, so you should be fit.
It should be obvious, but it probably isn’t to most newcomers, that you should not take mind-expanding substances if your metabolism is compromised. These substances can change your reality into other realities that you have known, so you had best be able to handle now, or at least recognize, anything you’ve handled before. That’s not to say you can do what you’ve done before, but that you know what it will take out of you and, in that way, not try what you can’t do even in an altered state.
If you’re taking medications, don’t add a psychedelic without learning the consequences. Pharmaceuticals do not combine in the way that numbers add, rather they multiple, subtract, and invert. They can also make other substances toxic, or become toxic themselves, through interactions with other chemicals. Don’t rely on hearsay; consult someone who knows.
Psychedelics can bend your mind, so you had best be sane, or at least think you are. In truth, no one is entirely sane; and most people interested in the psychedelic experience hope to visit the boundary of normality. The experience will likely test your balance in the way that running a trail tests your ankles. You’d best have some sense of balance, be able to sense when you’re going out of balance, and have some confidence in your ability to regain your balance.
The thing that you really don’t want is fear. Psychedelics distort things, and the distortions we most remember are the bad ones. Don’t worry about amplifying the good things; you’ll have no trouble with those.
Your mind is like a muscle, and you can injure it. Preparing for psychedelics is a training of sorts, but different from physical training. You don’t do repetitions and you don’t set goals. In fact, preparing for psychedelics has more to do with finding a new state of mind than it does with strengthening an old one.
You’re working to create a wider base of reality, one that is less invested in what you are now. Where physical training fortifies your existing reality and focuses your awareness more narrowly, psychedelic training fortifies alternative realities and broadens your awareness. The two are almost opposites.
Physical training involves doing a lot of something for the purpose of accumulating more: more speed, strength, or stamina. The kind of psychological training that psychedelics require is meditative. It involves doing a lot of nothing and the divesting of more, so you’re burdened with fewer conceptions, attachments, and triggers. In spite of the differences, both trainings are disciplines that take thought, planning, and effort.
Preparing for psychedelics involves strengthening mind and character. I’ve written a list of aspects of mind and character that can be approached as separate issues. These are piers on which we build our character. Like a foundation, each pier bears a separate weight. A weakness in one will strain the others and cannot be rebalanced by them.
Each of these aspects can play a role in the psychedelic experience. Each of them should be under your control. You can strengthen each of them through focus and exploration. Consider them as questions and spread the answers out in front of you like a hand of cards.
Intention: What do you expect to encounter?
Aspirations: What are your goals?
Awareness: How broad is your awareness, how careful is your attention?
Identity: What identities do you carry, and are they all yours?
Experience: Have you been here before?
Intellect: What do you know of this territory and what sense can you make of it?
Emotion: Are you allied with your emotions, or in service to them?
Trauma: What of your unreconciled past, what legacy do you carry?
Illness: How do you relate to health and wellness, and what role does illness play?
Spirit: Are you familiar with the world beyond the reasonable and the practical?
Guidance: How will you go forward when you become totally lost?
Strengthening these aspects is a process that can benefit anyone; and because we all have these aspects, it’s possible to make a program out of them.
I object to psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy as being too small. Psychotherapy is defect-obsessed to begin with, focusing, as it does, on defects. Assisting it does not make it less defect-oriented. Rather than using psychedelics as a putty to fill in the bullet holes of a sick society—as psychotherapy was originally designed to do—let’s set a higher goal.
If the above aspects are the affects of character, then let’s use psychedelics to make them more effective in supporting our sanity as individuals and as a species. Let them drain the swamps of psychopathology and provide a character foundation that can follow greater guidance to a higher spirit.
This is too important to be left to psychotherapy; it’s got to be done by you. That’s what this book will be about. That is my intention.
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