Prayers for Psychedelic Sessions
Two weekends ago I took 5 tabs of acid. A few moments before that, I said a prayer.
Saying a prayer is one step of an opening ritual which I run through for more formal psychedelic ceremonies. This opening ritual also includes calling upon the support and help of my ancestors, bringing to mind internal resources, stating my intention out loud, and doing a short meditation.
This ritual, and the prayer, is designed to centre me and enter an open state of being.
The Spirit of Prayer
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
I like using prayer because of the spirit in which it is given. A prayer is a humble and sincere request. It is earnest, coming with cap in hand. It’s the opposite of being arrogant or egotistical. That is the state that I think is most helpful to enter a deep psychedelic session, when we may have to give up all control of what we are experiencing and simply surrender.
Psychedelic Spirituality and Efficacy of Prayer
The use of psychedelics in a religious context is not new. They have been used for centuries by different cultures for spiritual, therapeutic, and divinatory purposes. In some traditions, there are rituals where psychedelics are used as an aid to meditation and prayer. Indeed, the West’s introduction to psychedelics, via Sabina and Wasson, was in a ritual context with prayers and incantations.
This makes sense as prayer has been shown to alter perception and mood, reduce anxiety, and have pain relieving, and antidepressant properties. It has also been shown to make similar long-term changes in the brain to that of psychedelic users. In this sense, prayer can also be considered an effective technology, comparable to psychedelics and meditation, and all three may be used as complementary practices.
In this post, I’d like to share four prayers that I have used to open formal ceremonies for myself with a few comments on each.
Four Prayers I Have Used:
Universe, I know not what I ought to ask of you;
Only you what I need;
You love me better than I know how to love myself.
O universe, give to your child that which
he himself knows not how to ask.
I dare not ask for either crosses or for consolations;
I simply present myself before you,
I open my heart to you.
Behold my needs which I know not myself;
see and do according to your tender mercy.
Smite, or heal; depress me or raise me up;
I adore all your purposes without knowing them;
I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice;
I yield myself unto you: I would have no
other desire than to accomplish your will.
Teach me to pray. Pray yourself in me.
I’ve used this prayer for a few formal high-dose journeys now, and will continue to use it. Each of those trips has been significant, both at times challenging but beneficial.
I like using this prayer because it opens me up. It is me acknowledging that I don’t know everything and that I don’t have all the answers. That ultimately I am part of something larger and there is wisdom and intelligence far greater than my own.
In the context of a psychedelic session this brings me to a place of humility and that allows me to be open and receptive. I acknowledge that there may be hardships and that there may be reasons for them beyond my comprehension. This helps bring me to acceptance for potentially difficult things that come up.
This is a personal adaptation of a late 17th century prayer that psychedelic therapy pioneer Leo Zeff used to ask his clients to read (François de Salignac Fenelon Archbishop of Cambray, 1651–1715, AD.). For my adaptation, I replaced the words Lord and Father with the word Universe. This just felt right to me. This is an example of how prayers can also be used as a template and you may adjust and personalize them to your own preferences. The most important thing is that the chosen prayer should be effective in inducing a desired sense of being and state of mind to embark upon a journey. It should be personally meaningful. Much better that than parroting something which just doesn’t resonate with you.
From the blossoming lotus of devotion, at the center of my heart,
Rise up, O compassionate master, my only refuge!
I am plagued by past actions and turbulent emotions:
To protect me in my misfortune
Remain as the jewel-ornament on the crown of my head, the chakra of great bliss,
Arousing all my mindfulness and awareness, I pray!
– Jikmé Lingpa
I found this prayer in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It’s used in Tibet to invoke the presence of the master in our heart. Something about it just resonated with me and I immediately put it into a document that I keep to collect prayers I might use for ceremonies.
This one stood out to me because it calls upon the compassionate master. Compassion is central to the person I want to be and the attitude I want to engender in myself. I like to see this great master as being the highest version of myself, a deeper level of consciousness, a higher wisdom that is beyond small me. Welcoming a feeling of humility into my session is also strengthening. I like the closing line that calls for an awakening of mindfulness and awareness too.
Om sahana vavatu
ॐ सह नाववतु
Om, may God protect both teacher and student
Saha nau bhunaktu
सह नौ भुनक्तु
May He nourish us together
Saha viiryam karavaavahai
सह वीर्यं करवावहै
May we work together with great energy
May our studies be enlightening.
May there be no hate among us
Om shanti, shanti, shanti
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः
Om peace, peace, peace
I first came across this classic Sanskrit prayer at a yoga class when I was living in Spain. I had to learn it as we would recite it together as a group at the beginning of every class. After leaving Spain, I continued to say it aloud at the beginning of every meditation session.
What I like about this is the use of the concepts of teacher and student. I like that it’s kind of open to interpretation. How I perceive and receive this prayer isn’t static, it changes over time, making it flexible depending on my mental state at the time. What I see as the teacher may be a more expansive consciousness or even the universe as a whole. It may be life, it may be the psychedelic experience, or it can be the psychedelic substance I’m working with.
I also like the three shantis at the end, which in other translations I’ve read to mean removing impurities from my body, mind, and spirit.
All Things Pass
All things pass
A sunrise does not last all morning
All things pass
A cloudburst does not last all day
All things pass
Nor a sunset all night
All things pass
What always changes?
Earth…Sky…thunder… Mountain…water… wind…fire lake…
And if these do not last
Do man’s vision’s last?
Do man’s illusions?
During the session
Take things as they come
All things pass
This is one from Tim Leary’s Psychedelic Prayers; a selection of prayers, poems and meditations that are adaptations of book one of the Tao Te Ching. Leaving aside comment’s on Leary as a person, I think this book, mostly written while Leary was visiting India in 1965, is a really cool contribution to psychedelic literature. The collection as a whole is a mixed bag, but there are a few gems in there, including this one, which served as inspiration for the famous George Harrison song.
I find this reminder of the impermanence of all phenomena to be especially comforting when heading into a trip in a difficult moment in life. It is helpful to keep in mind that some of my difficulties may be blown up and I’ll have to face them more intensely. It is this engagement with them, ultimately, that helps me find some resolution. The magnification of problems means having to face them head on, and knowing that they will pass helps to ‘take them as they come’.
Formality and Religious Connotations
Depending on the type of session a prayer may or may not be suitable. Clearly, a prayer suggests a certain level of formality to a session. Personally, I use psychedelics in a different variety of sessions but I will use prayer as part of my opening ritual for high dose inner journeys, AKA psychedelic therapy style sessions.
I know prayers have religious and spiritual links which can be very off-putting for some people. If you are one of those people, you may prefer to do something else or say words with different types of associations. It may just be words to oneself. It may be words of well-wishing. It may be simply reading a quote. The idea is that it helps to bring something to mind and shift our internal state. It’s a type of orientation.
Quotes or Poems Instead of Prayers
If prayers and overt spirituality is a bit much for you then I suggest choosing a meaningful quote or poem. Here are a couple of examples of quotes that I like:
“One cannot discover new oceans, unless one has courage to lose sight of the shore”
– Andre Gide
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek”
– Joseph Campbell
These quotes help to stir feelings of courage in me which can be very helpful when embarking on a journey. They also remind me that I’m an explorer, that I am traveling into unknown and possibly uncomfortable territory.
Making a Selection
In the run-up to formal sessions, I will select which prayer or quote I will use. I will open the file on my computer and just choose one intuitively. There might be something about the theme that seems relevant to me at the time in my life, or for whatever reason, it just seems to fit.
If in a group, it’s useful to consider the worldviews of everyone involved. Spiritual, religious, or ‘woo’ language can be somewhat triggering for some people, having the opposite of the desired effect of centering and calming. Or it might be something else that doesn’t sit well.
“Gate Gate Pāragate Pārasamgate Bodhi Svāhā”
“Gone gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, Enlightenment hail!“
– Heart Sutra
Before myself and a friend used these final lines of the Heart Sutra to open a ketamine session. I suggested the line as it evokes the idea of deep long journeys, and we settled on an English translation.
Saying a prayer at the opening of a psychedelic session can help enter into a centred, open and humble state. This can be beneficial before embarking on your journey. What quotes inspire courage in you? What poems bring you to your heart centre? What phrases remind you of the explorer you’d like to be? Put those in a collection, and try reading one at the start of your next session.