Welcome to 30 Days of Psychedelics!

I have recently gotten a bit obsessed / addicted to 30 day challenges. Since the start of Corona, I have completed the following:

  • 30 days of cold showers 
  • 3x 30 days of yoga (thanks Adrienne!)
  • 30 day digital detox
  • 30 days of speaking to a new person
  • 30 days of no alcohol
  • 30 days of no smoking weed
  • 30 days of both no alcohol & smoking weed

I love the 30 day challenge and have decided to go for my biggest and most daring yet. Writing and publishing an article on Maps Of The Mind for 30 days in a row.

From the 1st to the 30th July, I will publish a new article here each and every day, on the theme of psychedelics.

The prospect of this is quite scary to me and I know it will be a stretch experience. It feels edgy, and that is why I’d like to take it on. One of my personal growth heroes and mentors (if I can call someone that who I’ve never met?) Steve Pavlina introduced me to this idea that a good growth challenge should feel a little scary, like its almost out of reach, for it to be a real stretch goal. And I have to agree. It also makes life exciting.

So this is an orientation and introduction post to my 30 days of Psychedelics, what I’m calling PSYJuly.

psyjuly 30 days of psychedelics blog writing challenge

If you were hoping this was going to be a blog series about someone taking psychedelics for 30 days in a row, well sorry to disappoint, though I hope it will be as enlightening and mind expanding as that would be, whilst also being slightly more practical and more sanity prevailing and reality holding for myself.

Intentions

Upon embarking a new course of learning or growth, I like to set intentions. This is something that I’ve picked up from psychedelic work, the Power Of Awareness Mindfulness Course I am nearing completion of, and Steve’s Pavlina’s Character Sculpting course which I started in January this year. So I have decided to take the opportunity of this post to write out my intentions and to share them with you.

My intentions for PsyJuly are:

  • to cultivate and embrace the experimenter/explorer mindset and overcome debilitating perfectionism.
  • to be pushed to think differently about how I create
  • to evolve my relationship with and how I tap in to inspiration, channel it, and express it in the outer world as form that can be shared with others.
  • to develop a clearer flow from inception of an idea to expression of it

In the long term, this will enable me to publish more frequently and share more, thus creating more ripples and having a larger positive influence on the world.  If I am able to share more, this will enable me to do more of my original intention when creating Maps of the Mind:

to share my experiences, to pass on ideas and resources that I enjoy or have been useful to me, and to share my thoughts, some of which I hope can inspire others.

To that I’d like to now add:
and have a positive influence on the world.

To those intentions I’d like to add:

  • to explore my own thoughts on the topic of Psychedelics. After years in and around the psychedelic world/community and approaching a decade of personal practice, it will be a great chance for me to assess where I’m at on my journey.
  • to present myself and my thoughts without over-editing. To use the challenge and awkward feelings I encounter as a practice in openness and honesty.

The challenge won’t enable me to get in to my over editing ways. So, prepare to see a rawer, unedited version of John!

The rules of the game

To publish one post each and every day for 30 consecutive days,
on the theme of Psychedelics.

Day 1 : July 1st.
Day 30 : July 30th.

Click publish on each post by midnight CET time.

That’s it. The rules outside of this are loose. The post could be:
a text post, a video post, an audio post, a post linking to other resources, a list post etc. There is no lower word limit (generation of words is not something I need to work on); the key is clicking ‘publish’ each and every day. I am allowed to create more than one post per day and save them for other days so I can have a day off. I may also use previously written but as yet unpublished material that is knocking around on my computer. Guest posts are also fine, so long as I write some kind of intro or outro for it myself.

What to expect / What I’d Like to Cover

My Experience as:

  • a psychedelic practitioner
  • a guide/facilitator
  • a retreat organiser

Tips & Practical Info:

  • How to make the most of sessions
  • Mindset
  • Tools
  • Session/Protocol creation
  • DIY Resources
  • Preparation
  • Navigation
  • Integration
  • Supporting Practices
  • Magic in psychedelic practice (AKA psychology, consciousness hacking, self programming, de-conditioning and re-conditioning)
  • Ritual
  • Non-psychedelic consciousness enhancers

My Thoughts & Perspective on

  • How psychedelics play in to change on individual and collective level
  • Their role in our species development at this time; psycho / activism, problem solving (collectively we are facing some pretty huge problems at this time), community building.
  • The psychedelic movement and its shadow side

My Favourite & Recommended Psychedelic Things

  • Books
  • Films
  • Influencers/figures
  • Articles
  • Music
  • Websites
  • Resources

…and potential for many more. Let’s see how much of that I can cover!

Psychedelics are something that I feel I could write and explore forever about, so the potential for ideas is not something I am worried about at all. Ideas are not something I am short of and writers block, in the sense of not knowing what to write, is never an issue. My block, or greatest Resistance, is my over-perfectionism, which can at times lead to an unhealthy obsessiveness. So this is the challenge and block that I am focused on overcoming.

I hope you will join me on this journey and hopefully in the process glean some insight, useful information… and enjoy the ride. I am excited! If you know of someone else who may enjoy, please share and I hope that this can spark some debate and continue to push the psychedelic movement forwards. I also invite you to speak about psychedelics a little more during the upcoming month, with whoever you like. I hope that this series will be able to provide some fuel for those conversations.

Perhaps you have one final question….

Why Psychedelics?

I’ll answer that tomorrow 😉 See you then!

2019, three quarters through and so far, what a year. This blog has been quiet, falling behind my average snail’s pace of one post a month, but I have good excuses. My year has been jam packed with a healthy blend of projects along with the usual and ongoing quest to simultaneously find and create myself in an ever changing world.

I’ll get to some of the other stuff in other posts as I take stock to digest and process in this final quarter but today I’m writing about the entity that has by far and away received the most of my time, energy and focus this year:
New Moon Psychedelic Retreats.

new moon psychedelic retreat

New Moon Retreats is the culmination of my journey over the last decade; a psychedelic retreat integrating meditation and mindfulness practices. 

My first psychedelic experiences, almost a decade ago, made me more creative and curious, and encouraged me to adventure and explore the world. They also kickstarted my meditation practice. Because of how much I felt I’d benefitted, I was inspired to create this blog in an effort, amongst other things, to share information and make the experience more accessible to others.

I see New Moon as a natural extension of what I aimed to do with Maps Of The Mind; making psychedelic experiences accessible, but more than by means of information: by directly offering physical spaces and in person guidance. 

Finding My Way

Two years ago I had an experience that was itself a culmination of my journey to that point – a fruit of my travels inner and outer, readings and writings, studies and practices; a peak experience that I felt profoundly grateful to have had. It gave my path a new direction and clearer purpose, and a vision crystallised.

That vision was a centre where people can go to learn meditation and have deep psychedelic experiences. A place where anyone can go and have the opportunity to dive deep within, to develop understanding of themselves and others. Not everyone has access (yet), but creating New Moon Retreats has been a significant step towards that vision.

The venue we host New Moon Retreats

With direction and fresh inspiration, I committed more fully to my path and began going to trainings, workshops and conferences. I began to facilitate privately in the therapeutic model of using headphones and eyeshades, and was fortunate enough to spend time and work on retreat with Myco Meditations in Jamaica, where I learnt a tremendous amount about psilocybin mushrooms and group retreats. After moving to Berlin, I completed a mindfulness coaching course and began a meditation meet up. Through it all, my personal practice has remained fundamental, and I’ve continued to write about my learnings to consolidate them, journal my thoughts to reflect on them, and continued to make an effort to develop and evolve my personal meditation practice.

Finding The Others

psychedelic psilocybin retreat

On my way I met the others who currently make up the rest of New Moon. During my year travelling through Latin America – when I documented my explorations with ayahusaca in the amazon, San Pedro in Peru, peyote and DMT in the Mexican desert, and mushrooms in the mountains of Oaxaca – I met Tuk whilst staying at a hostel Buenos Aires. He was in the continent to explore psychedelics too and our shared interest provided fertile ground for a budding friendship. After exploring the capital together we reconnected in Peru and remained in touch after our American travels.

Whilst visiting Tuk in Copenhagen, I met his mother Ulla at the Psychedelic Symposium, and then a couple months later volunteered alongside Maria at Altered Conference in Berlin. A year later, whilst at Beyond Psychedelics, I decided to move to Berlin, where, finding myself two weeks later, I reconnected with Maria and together we began to organise psychedelic integration events at her studio. When the seeds for New Moon began sprouting, the team was already connected.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls”
Joseph Campbell

What Is Different About The Retreats?

Meditation
Our retreats place the psilocybin sessions amidst meditation and mindfulness practice because I understand this to be the perfect container for deep and rewarding psychedelic sessions. I haven’t seen meditation as an integral part of the program on other psychedelic retreats and is something I wanted to offer. Our program includes an accessible course of meditation practice with guided meditations and mindfulness exercises.

Small groups & high ratio of facilitators to participants
We have 4 facilitators for each group of 8 participants. This is so that we can give each person due attention and care, allows us time for one to ones with everyone, and aims to enable a deeper level of connection and intimacy with each group.

Option of 1 or 2 psilocybin sessions
We currently have two retreat formats: a 3 night and a 5 night. The 3 night format is with one psilocybin session and the 5 night format is with two. The five night is for people who want to explore psilocybin more deeply and includes further integration activities and awareness practices. Having multiple sessions on a retreat is something I felt was excellent about Myco Meditations as it allows people to go deeper.

A New Moon Dawns

new moon psychedelic retreats

The garden at the retreat venue

On the New Moon of the 1st August, we commenced our first retreat, and over the next 11 days guided 11 participants through two retreats: a 4 day with 1 psilocybin session, and a 6 day with 2. We had two groups of people who came with honest and earnest intentions to learn and grow, and we were fortunate that everyone who came was understanding and accommodating in that it was our first retreats.

Working with people so intimately over these 11 days was humbling, heart opening, inspiring, and ultimately, meaningful. Spending time in a small community in nature surrounded by people who are making an honest effort to work on themselves, in an environment where everyone is encouraged to open up and share themselves, was hugely enriching.

Reviewing The First Retreats

So how did the retreats go? Overall, I’d say they went as well as we could’ve hoped for. Though I don’t believe psychedelics are a panacea or cure all, they certainly can facilitate potent and powerful experiences capable of triggering significant shifts. And our participants did have powerful experiences. From their end, the feedback we have received has been good and of the 8 people who’ve completed our anonymous feedback form, all have given us a final 5/5. That is something I wish to maintain.

psilocybin psychedelic truffles

Psychedelic truffles used on the retreats

Our initial aim was to do 2 retreats this year as pilots and then to assess if we’re doing a good thing and should continue. The first wave of feedback has been enough to affirm this and has supported my belief that this is the most impactful way I can have a positive influence on a world on which I feel significant and drastic change is needed.

Though the retreats have given me confidence and courage to go on creating these spaces and offering this experience, I feel now more than ever the importance of developing as a facilitator, a leader, and a person. The feeling has only become more certain and one of my favourite adages, that ‘there is always room for improvement’, remains as true as ever. In a new field that is directly involved with people’s mental wellbeing but that has no cultural container or tradition in the West, I feel a growing sense of responsibility and the requirement to live with integrity and be accountable for my actions. I realise too that the people I want to work and surround myself with are also those who won’t rest on their laurels or get caught up patting themselves on the back, but who seek continued growth.

Moving Forward

With the encouragement from our first groups, New Moon will move forward and we have booked our next retreat for the end of November. Moving on, I would like to develop the mindfulness part of the program and, after being inspired by seeing Vanja Palmers talk recently, feel more drive than ever to make it happen. I have some exciting ideas to integrate these schools and look forward to implementing them.

community hands group

The integration, follow up and aftercare is also an area I would like to develop. Specifically, I’d like a focus on community, empowering people to find and create communities where they can find support and accountability on their path. I’d also like to introduce aspects of habit formation psychology that I’ve found hugely beneficial, and some means of loosening the grip of digital addiction, something I want to continue working on myself and which I honestly see as a major epidemic contributing to much of the mental health problems in the world today.

As for a longer term vision, we would ultimately like to make the experience more financially accessible. As I’ve mentioned before, something like vipassana system where anyone can go for free and make an optional and anonymous donation at the end would be ideal. That is something we can only do once we are financially stable, but in the shorter term, having a free spot per retreat or a donation based retreat a year might be a good stepping stone.

Much to do and plenty to be getting on with then. But, one thing at a time, and as we go, let’s try to enjoy the ride.

sunrise mountains

Thanks for reading and hope to see you on retreat soon.

universe cosmos colours beautiful

Psychedelics and meditation have both had a strong influence on my life and are somehow inextricably intertwined. I first got interested in meditation in the aftermath of primary experiences with LSD, and now meditation, in some way or another, informs every psychedelic session I take.

There is dispute in the Buddhist community about the value of psychedelics ‘on the path’ and if you’re interested in the intersection of Buddhism and psychedelics, I highly recommend the book Zig Zag Zen. There are plenty of other articles on this topic, but today I’m just gonna share a bit of my story and how these two things have weaved their way into my life.

Discovering LSD

lsd acid tabs psychedelic

I first tried LSD as a curious guy keen for new experiences. As someone who enjoyed being creative, I was especially interested in new ways of thinking. I also wanted to have fun. I had little idea what I was in for when I put that little piece of paper in my mouth, but looking back, I now see those first experiences as pivotal in my life. Though they’ve affected me in many ways, one that stands out is how they lead me to meditation. At the time I had never tried meditating, nor had any real idea what it was, but if I had never tried LSD, I honestly doubt I’d have started meditating.

How Psychedelic Experience Lead Me To Meditation

On the tail end of my first LSD trips, I didn’t have any ‘comedown’. The post-trip chapter I experienced would more accurately be described as a serene, contemplative afterglow. After the ecstasy and madness of the peak, I descended to a more peaceful state which was in its own way, my favourite part of the whole experience. Though at the time I didn’t have any clear idea of what ‘meditation’ meant, I described the afterglow state to friends as meditative; my mind was sharp and clear and I was deeply reflective. I also noticed that my breathing naturally became long and slow. This tuning into the flow of my breath was a naturally induced meditation session.

When my friends and I didn’t naively first time candy flip on a Sunday and have to go to work the next day without getting a wink of sleep (see: my first time on acid – I started a new job that Monday – another story, another time), an ideal recovery day would be spent chilling with my fellow travellers. We’d order pizza, smoke joints and get comfortable on the sofas for a run of movies. After a long session, we were always physically exhausted, yet my mind was always energised. With this mental energy I’d wander philosophically through themes and ideas that came up in the films, conversation, music or anything else. As we watched movies I’d interpret them in all kinds of novel ways, see metaphors the writers and directors had put in, and understand concepts that I hadn’t considered before. I’d make notes in my journal about interesting ideas that came to mind and, of course, just generally enjoy hanging out. Relaxed but attentive, naturally contemplative, it was a taster for meditation.

lsd acid psychedelic trippy meaning

In the wake of these experiences, my mind was clearer. I had a greater awareness and detachment of my thoughts. I felt wiser. I was looking at things from a greater perspective more often and more naturally, like that mental trick you do when something bad happens and you ask yourself “how much will this matter in 5, 10 or 20 years?”, or you zoom out on google maps to try and coerce the overview effect. I was thinking more creatively and seeing metaphors in almost everything, and my behaviour became less guided by fear and petty concerns. The effect was sudden and obvious, and lasted some months before beginning to fade and older mental habits and ways of being began to return.

I missed my newly found but now fading clarity and wisdom, but I’d experienced another way of being that I wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Following a wikipedia trail, I was lead from psychedelic drugs to non-ordinary forms of consciousness to meditation; a method of changing awareness, without substances. Though my access to psychedelic substances was gone, my newly whetted appetite for discovery remained, and I moved to Asia with a job teaching English.

London England Shanghai Pudong

From the UK to China

In my new home city of Shanghai, I started going to classes on meditation and reading books on the topic. Reading books about Buddhism felt like I was reading books about psychedelic experience, and in retrospect, they were some kind of integration texts. I began a daily meditation practice, and soon after went on my first silent retreat in 2012.

temple stay meditation korea

Temple stay in Korea

In the 6 years that have passed since, meditation practice has become a key foundation in my life. I’ve been back on other retreats and temple stays, was part of a Zen sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh in Spain, and last year started a weekly meditation group in Berlin. Meditation is what a friend of mine would call a fundamental – others include exercise, diet, community and creative projects – and mindfulness is a skill I find applicable in so many situations of life. 

Like many others, my practice started with psychedelics. And while my first psychedelic journeys lead me to meditation, meditation has boomeranged back around and played its role in my psychedelic sessions. Today I’ll share one example.

How Meditation Helped On A Deep Journey

On a grey Saturday a couple years ago, alone in a friend’s house whilst he was away for the weekend, I took 250 micrograms of LSD. In the months before, I’d been reading various psychedelic-therapeutic protocols and had prepared accordingly for the session. I managed the anxiety of a turbulent come up by relaxing myself many times as I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and directing my attention to my breathing. Around an hour in, as the lysergic waves really began to come on strong, I was lying down, looking up at the ceiling.

In one moment, a monster appeared above me. It was hovering over me, looking down at me from the ceiling. I was looking directly at its face, and it was looking right back at me, right into my eyes.

monster beast

I was instinctively gripped by fear. My shoulders and rest of my body tightened up instantly as I stared in shock. The beast was of course not physically there, it was a manifestation of my fears, a representation of what scares me and had been avoided.

I held the monster’s gaze, took a deep breath in, and with a long exhale, relaxed my body, letting tension go. As I did this, the monster dissolved into harmless patterns right before my eyes. The visual information was in fact the same – the rich ceiling patterns that made up the monsters face were still there – but they no longer appeared scary or even as a being to me. What changed wasn’t the sensory information I was receiving, it was my perception of it. What made up the ‘monster’ was still there, I just saw it differently. I had a new perspective.

There were a few other moments leading up to this confrontation where I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and I consciously relaxed my body. I see these as like smaller hurdles that once passed, allowed me to get to the point of this confrontation. The dissolution was like a jumping off point, and after this I dropped deep into ineffable experience.

universe cosmos colours beautiful

The journey was deep and had many chapters: there were visions of a past life, alternate realities, and repressed emotions burst up and were released though uncontrollable bouts of sobbing. In the most profound chapter, it was a transpersonal experience; ‘I’ disappeared, along with time, and experience just happened.

I’ll share this story in more detail another time but for now I think its enough to say it was a significant experience that shifted something deep inside of me. The next day I felt lighter and clearer. I had more understanding and compassion. And my meditation practice was revived with a spark. I hadn’t been this affected since those very first journeys – the ones that spurred me on to meditation. I didn’t become a holy and all-understanding being overnight, but I inched in that direction. 

Reflecting on the session afterwards, I saw how techniques that I’d learnt in meditation helped me to relax, to let my guard down and open to the experience with lessened resistance. And this is why I recommend meditation to anyone considering a first psychedelic experience. Including you.

Thanks for reading.

me drinking mushroom tea psychedelic retreat

At the end of September last year, I went on a psychedelic experience retreat that was filmed for a documentary:

The Mind Explorers follows ordinary people on an extraordinary journey. The documentary centres around a 4-day psychedelic retreat in the Netherlands run by the UK Psychedelic Society, where psilocybin-containing ‘magic truffles’ are legal.

Following participants before, during and after the experience, the film explores the radical potential of psychedelics to transform people’s lives when taken in a therapeutic environment.”

The 30-minute documentary, directed by British filmmaker Rebecca Coxon, can now be seen via youtube: 

If you’ve just watched the film, you already know that I’m not in it much. My interview remains somewhere on the cutting room floor and to be honest, I’m more than OK with that – I prefer being the other side of the camera and I’m sure my interview footage would’ve made me cringe. Anyways, if you didn’t already, check out the documentary – there’s a really cool trip scene….

For more information on the retreats (which I totally recommend):
Psychedelic Experience Retreats: The Psychedelic Society

Director Rebecca Coxon’s account of her own retreat experience in the Huffington Post:
I Took Psychedelic Drugs On A Self-Help Retreat And This Is What I Learned

“Only three things go fast in Jamaica: the cars, the runners, and your money”

Having just spent the last 10 weeks based in Treasure Beach, a rural area on the south coast of Jamaica, I can definitely agree with the above expression. I was working there in a number of roles with a magic mushroom retreat operator and though there was plenty to do, the pace of life was slow. The high heat and humidity was probably at least partly responsible for this, but even when pushing past that, any top speed was always kept down by frequently occurring periods of enforced waiting and delay. A few examples;

During the retreats – which warrant posts and memoirs of their own – the ‘schedule’ was loose and changing. When people asked each other what time a meet up would be for a meal, meeting, or departure; the scheduled time would be given, usually semi-jokingly followed by ‘Jamaican time’ – i.e. allow for tardiness.

meeting jamaica treasure beach

Morning meeting with the team – think this one actually ran on time

Between retreats, when trying to set up video interviews with the locals on the retreat team, I suggested a time and day, and got at most a tentative confirmation. When that time came the interviewee was either elsewhere or doing something else. When I caught up with them later…
‘OK, so can we get the video tomorrow?’
‘Yeah man we got plenty of time.’

I did finally get those interviews, the following week. Getting them online was impossible though, because of the – you guessed it – slow internet on site. Even just getting a few photos online wasn’t easy, a batch of 20 onto dropbox could take over 10 hours, when the internet was working.

Uploading…

Expectation Versus Reality

As someone who is high in conscientiousness, I like and expect things to run on time and to a schedule, especially when its work-related. Suffice to say, the time in Jamaica was at times difficult and frustrating. This is an example of a clash between expectation and reality – I expected things to run to my schedule and at my speed, and the reality was that they simply wouldn’t.

Trying to resist the inclination to get frustrated when things weren’t ‘how I liked them’, I tried to remain like any good traveller in a new place – flexible, adaptable, and open – and in my attempts to adjust to a new pace of life, I found some guidance from the locals and their language.

Switching To Jamaican Time

jamaica jamaican flag

“Soon come”

Guidebook wisdom

‘Soon come’ is one of the first Jamaican expressions you’ll learn after arriving on the island and is really all I needed to remind myself when I was becoming impatient. A perfect mantra for when things aren’t going as fast as you’d like, on or off a Caribbean island.

Considering Jamaica’s history from early slave rebellions through the anti-slavery movement – which was only able to make progress in its goals over a number of generations – its not surprising that ‘soon come’ is one of many Jamaican proverbs that counsel patience and forbearance…

One one coco full basket

This means that you’ll get a full basket by adding one coconut at a time, so take it easy and you’ll get there. For me, perhaps ‘one one photo full dropbox’ may have been more appropriate, but I got the message.

jamaica rasta dreads dreadlocks

Konga, patriarch of the house. Photo by Jason Anderson

Every mickle mek a muckle

One evening sat out on the veranda with Konga,  I asked him about the meaning of this expression. He pointed to the rolling paper I’d laid down in front of me and the weed in my hand that I’d slowly been tearing into small pieces. He told me it was like how I was making my spliff; little by little, slowly and steadily, we get there. Obviously I enjoyed learning about the meaning of a Jamaican expression through making a joint, and I think smoking it helped too.

I like this expression because it also applies to thriftiness, something worth cultivating when you consider that money translates to time and freedom. And especially when you’re in a place where cash goes as fast as the cars and runners.

Changed Man… ?

So did a couple months in Jamaica transform me into a slower and more laid-back guy? Not exactly. My inclination towards schedule and punctuality remains. I believe schedules are the most efficient way to get things done and my conscientiousness is a trait that I like in myself. However, this isn’t how everyone operates and, though I expect fewer outside of Jamaica, there will always be unforeseen delays popping up in life. But having now spent this time on the island, I hope that when I’m forced to wait or proceed with anything at a speed slower than desired, I’ll be able to tap into that Jamaican spirit, let go of that urge, and patiently tell myself ‘soon come’.