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How to Approach the Psychedelic Experience

Psychedelic experiences can be radically different from those we are used to. What knowledge has history given us about approaching psychedelic experiences? And what can we learn from contemporary approaches towards the use of psychedelics?

My heart has grown capable of taking on all forms. It is a pasture for gazelles, an abbey for Christian monks. And a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ka‘ba and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Koran. I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take, that shall be the path of my faith.

Ibn Arabi

I would like to start this article by throwing out a question for you to answer for yourself. 

If it is true that any psychedelic drug should best be viewed as a guide, then what attitudes come to mind for you to adopt, so as to get the most out of your guided tour? 

I’m just going to leave that question out there for a bit for you to ponder and reflect upon, while I take you on a bit of an exploration about the ways in which psychedelic substances were used in the past. Doing so, perhaps we can discover ways to approach the psychedelic experience.

A Short History of the Use of Psychedelics

The Ancient Indians in their oldest text—the Rig Veda—talked about using a potion called soma, which connected them to the world of the sky gods, conferred immortality, and was used by the gods themselves. To the best of our current understanding, the soma potion was itself sometimes regarded as a deity. We don’t know much about the conditions under which this potion may have been consumed, about the attitudes that surrounded the ritual, nor in fact do we know for certain that this soma drink had attributes we would classify as psychedelic today.

The amanita muscaria mushroom appears to have been used for shamanic and celebratory purposes in by peoples in Siberia and Eastern and Northern Europe. Speculations that Vikings used this mushroom to “go berserk” have fallen out of favor, with most scholars now assuming that henbane (a plant with deleriant properties) was more likely involved.

The earliest clues to psychedelic use in Europe may be found in Spanish cave paintings dated to around 4000 BC, that appear to depict mushroom symbolism, spurring speculation regarding the age of the use of psilocybin-containing mushrooms. But are these splotches of colour on a cave wall really meant to depict mushrooms, and even if so, were they psychedelic ones?

There has been speculation that Ancient Greeks used a psychoactive potion, called the Kykeon, at the height of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which probably had a “beyond death” theme. This was a ten-day festival where initiates were led through various stages to an experiental understanding of the myth of immortal Greek goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone. 

Persephone was captured by death-god Hades—her uncle, but yeah—and made to live in the underworld while her despondent mother (the goddess of fertility and grain) would allow the earth to lie fallow for seven years, starving the human population. This could not go on, so another god, Hermes, was dispatched to the underworld to convince Hades to let Demeter see her daughter. They eventually reached an understanding where Persephone would be allowed to live with her mom for half the year, and with Hades for the other half, thus explaining the cyclicity of nature and the emergence of the seasons. 

Due to strict taboos on divulging any of its secrets there are no written records about the Mysteries, which apparently were in existence for around 1000 years, and so scholars can only speculate to what the Kykeon drink was made of. But then scholars do love to speculate.

The Americas can be considered central to the early use of psychedelics. As scientists have not found many written reports of such use, we can’t definitively say much about its age or purposes. As psychedelic fungi, plants and cacti such as psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, san pedro, salvia divinorum, morning glory, and the plants that make up the various ayahuasca, yage and yopo preparations, are native to the region, we can assume that the use we have seen within recorded history can be traced back significantly into pre-Westernized times. The use of these plants and fungi that history knows about has been mostly shamanic: for healing, divination (understanding the will of the gods, ancestors, or other spirits) and exploratory purposes.

These shamanic experiences are commonly had in group settings, led by experienced shamans, and are often conducted in darkness. Talking is kept to a strict minimum, while there is generally some sort of continuous musical accompaniment, often with some pace to help keep the shamanic experience moving along. Singing, dancing, and worship may also be a part of the ceremony.

The African continent also contains psychoactive plants, such as the roots of the tabernanthe iboga shrub, used ceremonially by followers of the Bwiti tradition in Gabon, Cameroon and the DRC. But no-one really knows how old this practice is. Currently, iboga is used in initiation ceremonies, where youngsters are subjected to “flood doses” to join the tradition. Apart from this, iboga is used as an aid to concentration, for recovery from illness, as well as other purposes. 

In recent decades, iboga has come to the attention of people wishing to terminate their addiction to drugs, especially opiates. As with the ayahuasca brew, it has also been used for spiritual growth and personal development, making it similar in that respect, but still quite different, to the “classical psychedelics.” One way in which it differs is duration. Sessions can easily go for 24 hours, and longer, sometimes lasting up to three days, whereas with most classical psychedelics at regular dosages, experiences are generally confined to durations between 4 and 12 hours. 

One more thing is worth mentioning in the case of iboga, and that is that it appears to carry one of the highest risk profiles of all the psychedelics. There exists a risk of dehydration, and death resulting from it, and scientists have not been able to rule out neuro- and cardiotoxicity, finding indications of such toxicities in animal studies and in fatality reports among human users.

Not psychedelic per se, but nonetheless potentially mind-altering, the cannabis plant has been used for many different purposes for at least 2500 years. Native to Central Asia, the plant can now be found on all continents as it is not finicky about where it takes root. It’s not called weed for nothing.

Why did I take you down this particular rabbit hole? I wanted to understand what knowledge history has given us about how to approach this radically different experience. As you can probably tell, apart from relatively unspecific and general application in shamanic or initiatory frameworks, we really don’t know a lot about the development of psychedelic use before the modern era. What appears especially striking is that there seems to be no knowledge whatsoever of psychedelic use within any relatively advanced society, or within contexts that resemble our modern individualized world. 

With the discovery, and subsequent democratization of use, of the LSD molecule, people had to find out for themselves how to approach these chemicals and the powerful experiences they elicit. Therapists had a slight advantage, in that they had some decent frameworks about how the mind worked, coupled with a strong scientific tradition of knowledge sharing and professional discourse, but recreational users really started from square one.

And this is where we see the particular influence of culture. As Western culture tends to organize activities according to function, instead of some other variable like social status, divine displeasure, stage of life, or time of year, we are left with a certain diversity of internally congruent ways to approach the psychedelic experience. None of these ways is inherently better than another, as they serve different goals and desires on the part of the user. What must be stressed is that they all form strong departures from the aforementioned shamanic, divinatory, or initiatory uses of psychedelic substances.

So how do modern people approach the psychedelic experience? We can roughly divide into three main approaches: recreational, neo-shamanic, and therapeutic. There is definite scope for other categorizations, and feel free to comment on the one I have chosen here.

On the Recreational Use of Psychedelic Substances

Recreational users tend to approach psychedelics quite differently from those who would use the drug in a therapeutic setting. Also, recreational users differ among themselves when it comes to approaching the psychedelic experience, again according to function.

At one end of the recreational spectrum, there is the avid festival-goer who enjoys their psychedelics—among other drugs—and is not so picky about drug combinations and timing of intake. This drug user is looking for a good time, and will within certain bandwidths take anything, and combine it with anything else. As enjoyment, dancing, sexuality and not-wanting-it-to-end hedonism are the primary considerations, planning, preparation, set and setting really don’t factor into their decision. They are looking for longevity, energy, openness, flow, music and movement appreciation, and are able to counteract any unwanted excess in perceptual alteration by taking more of a different drug, such as stimulant, depressant, or dissociative agents. 

On the other end of the recreational spectrum, there is the inner voyager, who prefers intimate settings to large-scale gatherings, or who opts for a solitary sojourn in nature. For this tripper, setting is definitely important, and more planning and preparation generally goes into it. They are more deliberate about their (combination of) psychedelic substances, and they tend to chronicle their experience, taking time out from their experience to write things down or engaging in artistic creation, going over and elaborating on the notes when sober, attempting to retain as much of the psychedelic experience as they can. This recreational user usually finds out what works for them in their initial explorations, slightly improves on this structure whenever the mood strikes them, and more or less sticks with this way of doing things.

So, what’s missing in these stereotypes? That’s right, they are all individualized undertakings, and therefore appear to have no real need for a shaman, guide or even a passive trip sitter, to supervise the experience. The inner voyager may be more likely to call in a trip sitter, especially when the user feels inexperienced, or wants to probe unknown territory, such as higher doses or a different psychedelic drug. Nevertheless, the stereotypical inner traveler will do so alone, far more often than with a sitter. And there is a huge difference between a psychedelic experience guided and mediated by externally controlled rituals and guides, and one undertaken solely from the viewpoint of one’s personal self, even if the safety of the experience is being guarded by a trip sitter. 

In a certain sense, the role of the guide has been assumed by the user’s playlist. Music has great, almost transcendent, power to guide the flow and imagery of a psychedelic experience, which is logical since the psychedelic agent renders the user highly sensitive, and music is especially capable of bypassing the rational system, going straight to the more primordial emotional brain structures.

On Shamanic Rituals in Modern Times

There are a few “recreational” exceptions to this no-guide situation, but they essentially straddle the divide between psychedelic recreation and psychedelic therapy. I’m referring here both to continuations of the shamanic ways of old, such as iboga, peyote, or ayahuasca ceremonies—especially the ones designed for consumption by Westerners—and to the use of psychedelic substances by organizations that offer a combination of yoga, meditation, tantric, and breathwork techniques in order to allow participants to travel deep inside, often in retreat-like settings. These ceremonial conditions are frequently themed in the mold of healing journeys, and are therefore more like psychedelic therapy, and at the same time not quite. 

What divides them from unequivocally being regarded as (psychedelic) therapy is the absence of Western medical notions of accountability, registration, lineage (in terms of a therapist’s ongoing educational development), and peer review. In all this, we can glimpse a Western preoccupation with safety and quality control, features that are often not present in shamanic cultures, centered as they are around small communities where reputation fulfills many of the same requirements. Another big difference is that these ceremonial or retreat-like settings are meant for (sometimes large) groups of people, all engaging in the psychedelic experience together, whereas Western psychedelic therapy centers on the individual, and therefore typically only has one recipient.

Here also we can start to perceive potential dangers in favoring a “traditional shamanic” model of psychedelic therapy over the one that has organically grown up in Western contexts. Critique it as we may, we all grew up in the same cultural context that birthed the contemporary Western therapy paradigms, and consequently we are rather used to being treated as a valuable, potentially sensitive, and potentially litigious customer slash individual. 

While it’s tempting to think of oneself as a pioneer, traveling to Peru, Brazil or Ecuador to take psychedelic plant medicine with shamans in the jungle, the fact of the matter is that the practice has lodged itself firmly on the independent tourist itinerary, akin to visiting Hmong tribes in Northern Thailand, Toraja villages in Sulawesi, and Jarawa people on the Andaman Islands. 

The International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research, and Service has developed a Good Practices Guide for ayahuasca shamans, and organisations that conduct ayahuasca sessions. However, it’s unclear how effectively it is adhered to in the ayahuasca space alone, and even less can be said about other shamanic rituals involving psychedelic substances. 

What happens if a participant objectively is not in the right frame of mind to go through with the psychedelic ceremony? What happens if there are uncertainties about the quality of the psychedelic brew? What happens if, before the ceremony, the shaman or their associates become engaged in disagreements with one or more of the participants? What happens if during the ceremony the shaman becomes unfit for duty? What happens if during the ceremony a participant (or shaman…) goes postal? Violent? Murderous? Amorous? Psychotic? How about when a participant has a health crisis, such as a heart attack? How safe is the retreat space (usually located in remote areas) in case of a fire? Is there a procedure if, afterwards, a participant experiences difficulties? Or wants to clarify certain questions? Many other questions can obviously be posited here, and it bears thinking about the fundamental differences between shamanic cultural settings, and Western cultural sensitivities.

To be absolutely clear, I am not against participating in any shamanic ceremonies whatsoever. I happen to believe that doing so can be very therapeutic, or effective in showing you whatever it is that you want to discover. I do however think that it is useful to realize that you’re entering a different cultural paradigm, with its own attendant risk profile.

On the Therapeutic Use of Psychedelic Substances

So, what does the therapeutic model look like? In what has come to be regarded as the gold standard for psychedelic therapy, the emphasis lies strongly on preparation, and on controlling the set and the setting. Most iterations of psychedelic therapy feature a number of preliminary sessions with a male-female “dyad” of therapists, wherein clients are able to fully elucidate and explore what they wish to get out of the psychedelic experience. One of the aims of these preliminary sessions is to build rapport, and more crucially trust in the unconditional regard of the therapist dyad towards the recipient. 

Running up to the day of the psychedelic experience, participants are thoroughly briefed on what to expect, and are taught a number of interventions that can help them overcome potential difficulties during the session. The therapist dyad remains present while the participant voyages in psychedelic realms, reaffirming their commitment to guide the client through any difficulties by their bodily presence. They aim to be present mentally and emotionally as well, to form an optimally effective support system for the recipient, who is highly sensitive throughout the peak of the experience. 

The voyage is mediated by a carefully curated playlist that is tailored to the themes the participant wants to investigate, and to the ingested psychedelic substance. The recipient is presented with the drug—which has been carefully produced at great cost in order to make absolutely sure there are no adulterants present—taken through a small number of rituals, and then invited to lay down and don headphones and a sleeping mask for the duration of at least the peak of the psychedelic experience. While the recipient is “peaking,” they are discouraged from moving around or seeking contact, while the therapist dyad continuously monitors them in a relaxed way, sensitive to signs of escalating distress. When a recipient wants reassurance, they are there to offer it, either verbally or through holding the recipient’s hand. The whole session is captured on video, while the therapists take notes of their most important observations.

After the peak of the experience has properly passed, the recipient is free to take off their mask and headphones, wander around and explore the remainder of the psychedelic experience. If they want to share something about their experience, they are invited to do so. This does not “count” as integration, however. The experience needs the passage of some time – at least a few hours, but preferably a night or two – to become ripe for the first stages of integration. Understandably, the next two or three talk therapy sessions are themed around this psychedelic integration.

Dependent upon the specific therapeutic quest of the recipient, relevant psychometric measures—usually questionnaires on subjective experience—are taken beforehand and at specified intervals after the experience, making the entire therapeutic intervention as quantifiable as possible. Also, eligibility to even participate in psychedelic therapy is contingent on meeting certain qualifications. The recipient must not be unstable due to repeated psychoses, or such conditions as schizophrenia or a bipolar disorder. They may have to cease use of certain medications before starting their participation. Other preconditions may also apply.

You can see the difference in approach between the average recreational user or participant in a shamanic ceremony, and the average recipient of psychedelic therapy. 

Now let’s return to the question posed at the beginning of this article. Have you taken some time to reflect on the question: If we take the view of psychedelic substances essentially being guides taking us on a tour of our minds, what would be the best way to approach them?

Elements of a Proper Approach to Psychedelics

If your answer to the question was something along the lines of “respect,” I salute you. These are indeed substances worthy of respect. Not because of their purported plant teacher status in some cultures—although you might well resonate with such memes—but rather because they have the power to disintegrate your entire world and self-image, with you along for the ride. They can, and will if you let them, defragment your hard drive, while you’re using it. Microsoft always warned us against attempting such things. On the basis of their capabilities alone, these substances should be respected.

Also, why take a tour if you don’t respect the tour guide? I’m sure you have better things to do with your time than to troll a psychedelic—they have no feelings to hurt, so you’re basically playing with fire for the sake of playing with fire. Anyway, you do you.

So let’s take a look at some of the elements that many experienced psychonauts, and psychedelic therapists alike consider crucial to the showing of respect, crucial to approaching any psychedelic experience.

Planning Your Psychedelic Experience

Without planning, it’s hard to do any of the other elements justice. Planning is the first and most crucial step to limiting your exposure to unwanted side effects from the use of psychedelics. You can plan in many ways, and perhaps all you need in the realm of planning is a potent trip killer on hand to abort the mission if things get too hectic. Perhaps for the average festival-goer, this is sufficient, but I imagine the serious introspective voyager would feel disappointed at such a binary approach. Other planning elements are: 

Reason. Why are you considering tripping? Thinking through this core motivation will enable you to tease out relevant considerations for timing, which drug to take, setting, with whom to have the experience if not alone, and which other preparations to envision.

Timing, such as when to do it. Do you want time to prepare beforehand? Time to recuperate and integrate after? How about the bigger picture of your life, is now the right time, stress-wise, relationship-wise, family-wise?

Procurement, not always so easy. Where do you obtain your drug, and have you thought about getting it tested? Testing your materials is clearly part of the safety protocol, especially when you’re dealing with an illegal chemical. Also, what drug are you interested in exploring, and where would you find out about others’ experiences? 

Safety, not unimportant. Have you considered the psychedelic’s safety profile? Are you contemplating combining it with (an)other drug(s), and are you aware of the potential hazards involved? Not just from your online browsing or from the experiences of others, but also from the point of view of your body and your specific mental and emotional condition at this point in time? Diet, stress, relationship statuses, other chemicals in your system, as well as bodily and seasonal rhythms may factor into the strength of the psychedelic experience. Consider having not just the material tested, but to then also perform an “allergy test” on yourself by taking the time to ingest a microdose—5 to 10% of the dose you intend to take on your eventual trip. 

Place, where will you trip? At home, at a music festival, in nature, on vacation? See also: setting.

Companionship, with whom will you trip? Or will you trip alone? Will you require a guide, or a sitter? Perhaps even a distant sitter, who is aware that you’ll be voyaging and can sound the alarm if and when you don’t check in by a certain time? 

Practices, toys and music. What do you suppose you will require? Will you take the time to curate a playlist specifically for this occasion? You might outsource this to someone knowledgeable about how music can act as a psychedelic guide for certain themes. Some people like to look at flowers when tripping, or at crystals, or lava lamps. Others want specific scents, lighting, or meditative cushions. Do you need to plan anything to make your wishes a reality? 

Preparing for Your Psychedelic Experience

Of course, if you’re not going to do much planning, you won’t have time to prepare much. But if you do want to prepare, you can think about the overarching themes of your life, and how the themes for this particular period in your life mesh with those. Think about your goals, your strong suits and your bad habits, your passions and your pet peeves. Then think about your life in a year, or three or five years, and how you would want it to have changed by that time. Perhaps think about your funeral waaayy in the future and what you would want others to remember you for. 

Then contemplate your current situation, the pressures and enthusiasms that keep you in motion, the things you would want to engage with that don’t quite work out the way you want, the parts of your life where you get stuck. Is there a theme there for you? From this gentle, lighthearted, yet serious exploration, see if a question (or part of one) bubbles up. Refine that question, if you feel drawn to refine it. Do some other practices, such as fasting, yoga, meditation, visualization, whatever feels right for you. Consider making it a multi-day self-retreat, or something along those lines. 

Preparing the space in which you will trip can also be a nice practice, to incrementally connect to an ever greater degree to that core wisdom that can be invited out fully on your voyage. You’re doing all this for yourself, to yourself, by yourself. But perhaps the act of giving yourself this experience is not at all selfish. In preparing the space, think about how the psychedelic voyage ahead can help you become happier, more contented, more insightful, more present with the people you love—less lost and locked into your own shell.

If you’re looking for a more playful vibe, or a nature vibe, or a social vibe, think about possible items you might want to have around that you can buy or borrow. Think about the people you’d want to see, and how their lives have developed in recent times. Basically, psychedelic preparation is about context, and making that context as tangible and as accessible as you can. 

These are all just examples. We, you and me, could probably write a whole book about this topic of psychedelic preparation, if we put our minds to it. It’s not rocket science, but it is necessary to emphasize the importance of preparation if you care about the outcome of your experience. The main idea here is to get creative with your plans, consider how to make this experience the most wonderful/healing/indulgent it could possibly be, and then use your enthusiasm to set the stage for it in the way that you envision.

Setting for Your Psychedelic Experience

The physical locale where your psychedelic journey will take place, including the social situation, possible support structures for when things become challenging, and ways to potentially abort the process, if that makes you feel more secure. It has to be said that, just like with the other abortion, the thinking around this topic is diverse, with some people arguing that “planning for failure” in these kinds of endeavours will heighten the chances of actual failure, or might lead to you not fully letting go into the experience, thereby hindering the natural flow of the experience. Personally, I’m more sanguine about this possibility, although I never actually have had benzos on hand to abort a trip, and have never felt that I’ve needed them.

You know yourself best. Do you mind a little uncertainty, or some unpredictability? And to what degree will you tolerate it? At what point do you normally begin to feel destabilized, threatened, or insecure? If it depends, ask yourself on what and why. As you will be (much) more sensitive to outside stimuli, and to your internal reactions to them, err on the side of caution when envisioning your ideal setting. Where should it be? What other people and objects are allowed into your space? Will you lay down with earphones and an eye mask, or will you be up and about?

Planning and preparing for all of these things will certainly help you get the most important aspect of a proper approach—your mindset—onto the right path.

It’s alright to feel apprehension at the thought of taking the psychedelic drug, in fact that is quite normal. It would surprise me if you go through all of these steps without at least some anxiety about what comes next. You’re just going to have to live with it. On the other hand, you should not be afraid to decide to abort the whole thing if the setting is somehow threatening to you before you ingest the psychedelic. If it “just doesn’t feel right,” that’s usually a sign that your mind says “not now!” A sign that is generally best heeded. Whatever you do, don’t give in to social pressure to trip! It should be a sovereign decision on your part, and not one that you feel roped into.

Mindset

The most important of these categories has to be the mindset that you take into the psychedelic journey, because it will determine 99% of what you encounter. It has been said many times, and deserves to be repeated here; the word psychedelic is Greek for “mind made manifest.” On psychedelics, your mind makes real what it conjures up, much more so than in daily life.

It stands to reason then that optimizing your mindset is of paramount importance for an optimal outcome of the psychedelic experience. Let’s together think a little bit about what the most helpful mental and emotional attitudes would be for a trip. Would it be helpful to go into a trip mentally or emotionally distraught in some way? Not if you can help it, right? How about when you’re tired, preoccupied, conflicted, indifferent, judgmental, hubristic, anxious, spiteful, annoyed, or ill-at-ease? 

What say you then about these qualities: curiosity, mindfulness, gratitude, surrender, humility, wonder, awe, playfulness, love, compassion, joy, equanimity, generosity, appreciation of beauty? Remember that the drug you’re about to take is a guide, who is going to take you on a tour of your mind. With these sacred attitudes, does that sound like a plan?

Then the question becomes, how to get yourself in any of those more open states of mind. Turns out there are quite effective ways to influence your mind and get you to recognize these qualities within yourself. All of these ways are pretty powerful in their own right, especially if you practice them often, and can dramatically reduce your chances of having a difficult experience that detrimentally influences your life afterwards. I’ll mention one of these practices here, as it is the most relevant one for approaching the psychedelic experience.

Surrender is a virtue that can be found through practicing the art of… surrender. Find something you can surrender to, and then just do it: physically, mentally and emotionally surrender to that thing. It’s not something entirely new. We surrender to stuff all the time; it’s called living in a civilization, or with a bloody roommate. We surrender to the idea that we need others’ approval, to the idea of money and its implicit connotations of value, to the subtle cues of meaning that are lodged in the messages we let ourselves be bombarded by—which in itself is a kind of surrender, too. 

What I’m suggesting you do, is to become more deliberate about it. Think about what you say yes to in your life, to what degree you do so, and what you decline to surrender to—what you say no to. This involves looking slightly differently at your life, as if through another lens, or from another angle. And it is a gradual process of becoming more and more aware of the ways in which surrender has been taking place implicitly in your life.

When tripping, being able to fully surrender can be inestimably helpful. None of the things you’re going to encounter is going to be “real.” After a few hours, you’re going to come all the way back down to your normal state of being, and the mirage—of heaven, hell, or Finland—you’ve been experiencing will have thoroughly dissipated. Being able to surrender to the flow of the psychedelic experience makes you that much more sensitive to any insight that may arise, either during or after.

In order to apply the art of surrender to your mindset for your trip, it can be useful to imagine something that is currently difficult in your life. Perhaps you’re torn between two seemingly equal options, or ways of looking at something, subtly looking for “the right one.” Letting go of needing to be right, or needing to understand, or even needing to choose, can be a wonderful act of surrender, and can be especially appropriate when this uncertainty is the exact reason you’re contemplating tripping.

You can take it to the ultimate level, as is expected for example of a devout Muslim, who feels drawn to surrender their life to Allah. You don’t have to choose Allah, obviously. It could be another person (mostly a recipe for disaster—just a heads up…), an idea, a symbol, or a mystery. Personally, I have a daily practice of surrendering to the mystery of life and death. I happen to think it’s this mystery that is at the heart of every culture, every religion, every -ism, and that the iteration I’ve stumbled upon, to simply surrender to it, cuts right to the heart of my humanity. This is my personal brand of spirituality. It is what works best for me, at the moment.

Surrender leads quite naturally to many of the other sacred attitudes becoming more available in your life. It’s a natural loosening of the ego’s need to understand, which is a thinking person’s token for the need to control. In fact, that is a great way to look at the ego: as the desireneed for control. Find out for yourself, in your day to day life, how and why those desires fluctuate. How they become needs. How and when they abate in a natural way. How you can deliberately let go of the desire for control, when it arises. From this description, it may be obvious that one way to look at the “ego phenomenon” is as a process. Ego is rarely static, but rather changeable, sometimes fluidly, like an undulating cloud, and sometimes sharp! like a lightning bolt. 

If the above paragraph reads like I’m describing mindful attention, that is because I am. Mindfulness is a core virtue, for which you need curiosity, patience, attention, and an attitude of non-preference. In fact, all four of those are virtues in themselves, which aren’t separate from each other. They support and feed off of each other. When there is preference, curiosity becomes harder to practice, and curiosity implies the presence of patient, effortless, steady attention. A mind with strong mindfulness is capable of knowing the fluctuations of ego, even when they are very strong, or very sudden. There are lots of books about the ways you can practice mindfulness, and although I am a mindfulness teacher and could go on at length about the topic, I’ll keep that particular discussion to a minimum.

Allow me just a word of caution when it comes to surrendering yourself to another individual. I realize that devotional surrender to spiritual teachers has been the norm for much of human history, and is still abundantly practiced today. It has benefits and drawbacks. A major benefit is that you can grow quite fast in terms of insight and open-heartedness, as long as your trust isn’t violated. And that possibility of violation is a peculiar achilles’ heel of surrendering to another flawed human being. 

For all the belief in the guru’s divinity, buddha nature, or christ consciousness, they are ultimately just as fragile and fallible as everyone else. Sensitive to praise and blame, to the trappings of fame, and to the politics of “being special,” teachers and gurus are unmasked at a breakneck pace these days. Do us all a favor and keep away from this particular trap. 

Instead, put your faith in the vicissitudes of your own life, and trust that whatever you encounter on your travels through it will teach you everything you need to grow more free, more connected, and more of whatever you think is lacking right now. Surrendering to the river of experience in your own life, without throwing up dams or attempting to build canals, will give you exactly the attitude you will need to encounter the psychedelic experience.

Respect

Well prepared and armed with some of these mental characteristics, you are truly ready to approach a psychedelic experience. You can be forgiven for thinking that this whole process is rather involved. To be sure, all of these are just suggestions, that have proven to be effective in preparing the ground for insights that arise to be integrated into your life. And that is of course why you are reading this article, to understand something about the nature of the psychedelic experience and the powerful insights that may arise from it. 

The whole of this article can indeed be summarized by the phrase: the best way to approach a psychedelic experience is with a healthy amount of respect.

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