Do you dread going to sleep at night, afraid of what might happen when falling asleep, or during the night? Do you regularly experience a sense of not being at ease in your body, or in your surroundings? Do you have a persistent feeling that your life is unreal, in some way?
AND, did this discomfort follow a psychedelic (ego death) experience?
Then this article may be for you. We will examine the symptoms, offer a potential way of working, and examine why these experiences happen in the first place.
Symptoms of Psychedelics-Induced Ungroundedness
We can think about ego death experiences as spiritual openings, rather than purely psychedelic phenomena that are limited to the duration of the psychedelic experience. There is a case to be made that they are both, but for now, let’s assume that, through your psychedelic experience, you have tapped into some previously unknown source of love and light, to which you now seem incapable of returning. And now something has awakened within you, and no matter how hard you try, it just won’t go back to sleep.
It might be that this newfound wakefulness expresses itself through feeling ungrounded. Feeling ungrounded here means a feeling of unsettledness, a loss of contact with the physicality of your existence, or with your surroundings, and it can easily lead to fear and anxiety.
The symptoms of ungroundedness do not only, or even primarily, manifest themselves within the psychedelic ego death experience itself, but rather afterwards. They may happen for a period of months or years after a psychedelic experience, oscillating in frequency and severity. They may appear to be gone for weeks, and then resurface again. They may be a near-daily occurrence, potentially triggered, amplified, or made worse when smoking cannabis, or taking psychedelics. They may issue from bad trips, ego death experiences, or spiritual practice, such as the unskillful manipulation of kundalini, prana, or chi, or through intensive meditation. Whatever the cause might be, the symptoms are similar, and the proper cure is likely the same as well.
So how does this ungroundedness manifest, specifically?
You might have the sense that energies are building up within you, without being able to calm those energies, or bring them to the surface in a controlled way. You might feel like there is danger in going to sleep, because that is when you are at risk for re-experiencing your ego death experience, or other nightmarish experiences. You might feel ungrounded, vulnerable, or even threatened, in urban environments, and you may yearn for the simplicity of nature. You might feel flighty and insecure in social situations, even those that formerly felt safe. Any combination of these symptoms is possible.
What is important is that the symptoms flow from a psychedelic ego death experience, and that they are somewhat new to you. In other words, this is not the exacerbation of some pre-existing psychological problem, but something that has started after your psychedelics-induced ego death experience.
There can be the sense, sometimes advanced in spiritual and psychedelic circles, that your “spiritual opening” was somehow incomplete, and that you need to get back on the psychedelic horse, so to speak, to finish the process. And this may be a way out, provided that a few variables are set just right.
These variables are the presence of a knowledgeable teacher, and preferably a supportive ecosystem, the total, loving, and undivided attention of that group of people, and your willingness to surrender to the process, to let yourself fall backward into their waiting arms.
If these variables are not set just right (for you), don’t even think about going for a fast resolution by taking more psychedelics, or by going on a meditation retreat somewhere, to somehow work through this stuff by yourself. Pushing through in this way may be right for some people, but it is a high risk strategy. Don’t do it. There is the potential of further destabilization, and you’re not helping anyone by trying to hotfix yourself from a position of severe existential imbalance.
How to Work with Psychedelics-Induced Ungroundedness
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important that you give the highest priority to dissolving this ungroundedness, by creating space in your life for the increased sensitivity you are developing. So how do you do this?
First off, start by clearing your schedule of potentially destabilizing events, and by taking the time to come home to yourself. Free up the time it takes to recover your old confidence, and stability. You will likely need a few weeks, at least. Your first priority should be with your own process of grounding, as without that, you are of little use to anyone, anyway. You are likely to require rest, a peaceful, clean environment, and plenty of time for boredom. Boredom may be good, because it signals that you may have found some measure of stability within yourself, and are now looking outward for stimulation. But boredom may also issue from a desire to run away from yourself, and dull your mind with outward stimulation. Only you can gauge which is which.
Second, ask for help, or at least accept it. Find a space that is made safe by the grace of friends or family.
Third, stop taking any psychoactive substances, and yes that includes the legal ones. No coffee for you, for a while, okay? Your psychedelic ego death experience has likely rendered you much more sensitive to everything, and your ungroundedness can be understood as an overwhelming of that heightened sensitivity. Stop exposing yourself to such overwhelm, and gradually discover a new sense of equilibrium, from which to once again expand outward, if you so desire. By extension, your exposure to anything that takes you into overwhelm should be much reduced, temporarily at least. If this includes the news, or this or that friend or family member, then so be it. You need to emphasize your own process here, and remain true to yourself.
Don’t take this to mean you should break with these things forever, or expect others to do so, as well. Understand that you are taking these steps for yourself, and for a limited time, just to get a handle on your ungroundedness.
Fourth, pay attention to your diet. Stop eating poorly, such as sugary, starchy, and low-quality supermarket fare. Instead, select whole, raw, and/or unprocessed foods. Don’t screw around too much with fasting, for the time being. Skipping a meal here or there is fine, but refrain from doing any serious (intermittent) fasting. Fasting can make your symptoms worse, whereas we are presently concerned with stabilizing them, in order to calm them down, and render them irrelevant.
With the attention to diet may come an attention to your biorhythms. If possible, incorporate the cycle of the sun in your daily rhythm, going to bed early, and rising with or before sunrise. Chart the other rhythms of your body: your eating and exercise habits, your waste cycles, your sexual desires, your cravings. Other rhythms may be relevant as well, such as your desire for company, your interest in the social world, and other interests, and perhaps the news. Does the appearance of your ungroundedness line up with any of these cycles?
While you are doing all this, setting aside time for living cleanly and charting all these metrics, you start paying attention to your body. Not because any spiritual practice says you should, but for your own good. Engage in this primarily from a place of curiosity, and a gradual awakening to what you have always implicitly known you are: just this body. Start actually feeling this body of yours, particularly the lower portions of it: your feet touching the ground, your legs supporting your weight, the parts of your body that are in contact with the sofa or chair. Feel the heaviness, the inherent groundedness in those sensations. Practice coming home to this grounded, heavy, earthy embodiment, many, many times throughout your day.
Don’t make it into anything mystical or spiritual. It’s just your body, nothing more, nothing less. Don’t feel like you need to get anywhere, or learn anything, all these things are irrelevant right now. The only thing that is relevant is the fact that you have a body, and that that body can be felt, experienced, from moment to moment. This means that the one thing anchoring you to this particular moment in time can also be experienced, anytime you want. This isn’t about some transcendent dimension of being human, or of your body. This isn’t about Being Here Now, or about some luminous insight into time, space, or existence. This isn’t anything but coming home.
Just feeling your feet touching the floor, or the insoles of your shoes, can help you to come home, even in the midst of the wildest storm. Thing is, you need to be practiced enough with this, to know in the moment of your deepest despair that you can indeed come home. To know, viscerally, that coming home is always possible. That the option to come home remains on the table, wherever you are, whatever is happening to you.
This means that you need to practice coming home to your body, over and over again, perhaps to the point where you make it your default state of consciousness to be absorbed into the body. Instead of coming home to it, to actually BE home, at all times. If you can do that, the ungroundedness produced by your ego death experience won’t be as overwhelming, because you are able to come back home to your body whenever it is happening. Simply having the option to return instantly to groundedness, can also give you the courage to start investigating what it is that is happening when you are feeling ungrounded.
It is important to realize that this is not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. Loss of grounding can happen at different stages in your spiritual journey, should you choose to pursue it further. Walking on this path may not even be much of a choice, as it might come back to paw at you, as it may already have done. Knowing how to ground yourself, and being able to monitor how you are doing, then becomes a vital skill for managing your adjustment to regular life, and your atunement to yourself.
The Purpose of Feeling Ungrounded in the Context of Ego Death Experiences
There is nothing wrong with you. It’s not like you are now damaged beyond repair, or will never come back to normal. These experiences of feeling ungrounded have clear causes and conditions, and those causes and conditions can be emphasized and made more solid, or they can be seen through and taken away.
By allowing yourself to become flustered or anxious by the occurrence of symptoms of ungroundedness, you’re subtly emphasizing them, making them bigger than they need to be. By attempting to run away from them, or resist their manifestations, you are making them even bigger. You need much of the same attitude that you needed in your psychedelic experience: the willingness to trust and let go. By accepting the presence of whatever symptoms of ungroundedness are manifesting, and by flowing with your life as it appears to you right now, you are helping to work through whatever causes and conditions are responsible for creating them.
It is an acknowledged fact that experiences of ungroundedness are part of spiritual development. In a sense, this is understandable, as these processes often involve a reorientation away from the world, and towards spirit—however “spirit” is being defined. Now, you may not have agreed to this spiritual development fine print, when taking those mushrooms. Who knew there were 42 pages of AppleGoogleFacebook legalese to get through, before clambering aboard the acid express?
In essence, then, there is nothing wrong with feeling ungrounded, and by extension, nothing wrong with you. You are simply going through a phase of increased sensitivity, as a result of wading too deep into what amounts to a brief train ride past some of the fruits of spiritual practice. Some spiritual seekers would give an arm and a leg to be in your position, to be able to dedicate themselves to the mystery at the center of their worship, by having that mystery show up so readily in their lives. Their training has furnished them with the tools they need to use these experiences to develop themselves further.
And so, you could reframe your experience of ungroundedness as a recurring opportunity to approach the mystery that is at the heart of your existence, and to live knowingly, willingly, in its countenance.
The trouble with our times of distributed wisdom—wisdom that used to be locked up into closed, hierarchical, and supportive communities—is that the support system that was until recently implicit, now is harder to find. You may be in the possession of deep experiential knowledge, but if you’re not connected to any particular tradition, you can’t bank on their implicit support. And even if you somehow found a community of practice, they might not right away know what to do with you, because they do not know you, nor really understand what you are going through. You see, if you had been brought up in traditional frameworks, you would likely have been very familiar with ways of grounding yourself, before even being allowed to launch on an ego death experience, psychedelic or otherwise.
And this throws up a larger question. Are we comfortable, as a society, to have people undergo these identity-shattering experiences, without any consideration for their mental health or emotional preparedness? In a perfect world—a world it seems that was far more common in earlier times—people would at least have some understanding of how to ground themselves, before opening themselves up to such life-changing experiences. And even then, they wouldn’t be doing so for the heck of it, on a random Friday night. And they wouldn’t be alone with the consequences.
Then again, do we want to limit everyone’s cognitive freedom, just because not everyone is able to cope? Having these experiences come out into the open more, may lead to a grass-roots movement of de facto support, and a use of psychedelics that is more embedded in grounding practices. I for one would be most pleased if such a groundswell were to occur. I am seeing some tentative signs in the budding Tripsit movement.
Do you have any grounding practices that were not mentioned? Feel free to comment and tell your story!