mindfulness practice technique psychedelic practitioner

Everyone serious long term psychedelic practitioner should have something of a mindfulness practice. But beyond basic mindfulness, what types of meditation are most useful for the inner explorer? This post will look at three that are especially helpful for navigating inner journeys.

  • Conscious Relaxation
  • RAIN
  • Letting Go

Conscious Relaxation 

Relaxation is easing tension and softening ourselves consciously. Learning how to relax yourself is probably the first mindfulness technique I would recommend for anyone wishing to embark on a course of psychedelic exploration.

Anxiety is particularly common during the early onset phase whilst the effects are increasing and one is still on their way up. It can also come when things get hot and heavy in the peak of an experience. Anxiety can be not only disorienting, but also uncomfortable. It can also just waste valuable session time which would be better spent exploring. 

Learning to recognise anxiety will grow with a standard mindfulness practice. I will not cover that here, as it should be a basic foundation for any explorer. Once recognised, it can be relaxed. This can be done in a couple of ways. 

Slow Breathing

The first is taking long, slow and deep breaths. By controlling our breathing we can trigger a physiological response which relaxes us. It can be helpful to place one hand on your stomach and one on your heart to feel the rise and fall of the breath. The extra physical sensation and connection to your breath can help to maintain an awareness of it. It can help to keep us breathing long and deep,  and ensure that we are breathing from the belly.

“We regain our balance through the proper application of attention and awareness. This is the slowing down, which we can facilitate physically through relaxed, deep breathing which helps release any tension in our bodies. Once we’ve slowed ourselves down and replanted our psychic feet, it is easier to move our consciousness through the resistance or block.”
– Rick Strassman

 

Relax the Muscles

The second is to consciously relax all the muscles in our body. If you’ve done any yoga, you might know this as savasana or corpse pose, done at the end of a class.

Feel into your body and see if you can identify any sources of physical tension or tightness. As you breathe, relax them.

The jaw, shoulders and the stomach are areas that tension is commonly stored in and naturally tighten up when we are feeling uneasy. I find it very helpful to do a mental checklist of these three areas over three breaths: relaxing the muscles in my jaw with one in and out breath; relaxing the shoulders with the next, allowing them to fall and sink to the ground; and with the next breath, relaxing the muscles in the stomach.

You can also do a full body relaxation, letting your whole body loosen. You can systematically go through your entire body, scanning each and every part. This is like a vipassana body scan, but as you place your attention on each section, you consciously relax each part. You can do this systematically by relaxing one part per cycle of breath, before moving to the next part.

For example, on one in and out breath, relax all the muscles in your face; on the next cycle of breath, relaxing all the muscles in your neck; the next breath, relaxing your shoulders; and so on until you reach your feet. You can do this as many times as is useful to you.

Tip: A good way to train in this systematic relaxation of your body is with this guided relaxation for sleep. If you’re looking to establish a mindfulness practice but never seem to be able to find time, try using this guided meditation scan every night as you go to sleep. A few years ago I did this over a period of months, listening to it every night in bed as I drifted off. It has really helped to train that muscle of guiding relaxation which I now have internalized to some degree and find it much easier and automatic to do.

RAIN

Recognise, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. This is a mindfulness tool which I find is more useful on low to medium doses or towards the end of higher dose experiences. This is because, although RAIN is designed to be simple, trying to do something with multiple words and steps to remember can be too much on high doses. Something more straightforward like ‘breathe’ is more appropriate in those challenging moments. That said, I think it is a technique that should be in every psychonaut’s toolbox. You can read more about the RAIN technique in an article here.

Let Go

One of the ultimate tenets of psychedelic exploration.

Learning to let go is one of the most important skills to learn for psychedelic journeying. As with many psychedelic navigation tools, but perhaps more so than any others, it is also key to life.  On a journey of psychedelic exploration the ability to let go will be put to the test and it’s a great chance to practice.

Letting go means just totally dropping yourself into your experience without trying to direct it or control it in any way. The only type of direction you are giving to your awareness is to actually let go of any direction or attempt to place your attention anywhere. In this way, trying to let go can seem almost contradictory. It makes more sense when you think of letting go as an allowing, rather than a willing. Totally letting go is allowing your awareness to go wherever it wants to go. 

You can also imagine letting go physically, as if holding on to the edge of a cliff or a plane flying through the sky, and then just letting go, falling through the air.

One way to practice this is to lie down and feel the weight of your body against the ground. Then feel your body as you imagine you’re melting, as if you’re dissolving into the earth. Then just let yourself dissolve into the floor beneath you. If you’re feeling your sense of self dissolving, then let it happen. If you get the sense that you are dying or disappearing, let it happen. As Bill Richard has said in his Flight Instructions, rebirth can only come after a death, so allowing yourself to die is the only way to be reborn. 

Letting go also combines with relaxing, in that it is letting go of any tension and resistance to present moment experience.

As Tim Leary was quoted in Tomorrow Never Knows, The Beatles’ song about LSD: 

“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream” 

.

psychedelic path meditation

Are you serious about your development on the medicine path? Today I’d like to invite you to consider these quotes from experienced psychonauts.

 

“The longer I have worked with psychedelics, the more convinced I have become that a daily meditation practice is vital to harnessing the waves of energy and insight that sweep through us on a session day.

“My sessions have deepened my meditation practice and my meditation practice has helped ground my psychedelic practice. In my experience, these are complementary and mutually reinforcing undertakings that can be integrated well.”

— Christopher M. Bache, Ph.D. Author of LSD & the Mind of the Universe

 

“It is quite obvious that skills in meditation, the practice of being at peace within one’s body and mind, even in uncomfortable places, can be of great help in the course of a psychedelic session.”

— Vanja Palmers, Zen Priest, Psychedelics & Meditation

 

“The ability to, I think, objectify one’s experience, to see it as something which is just there and very natural, that is a powerful skill, and its a skill that can be developed through meditation, which is why I think actually that a nice long course of meditation is the perfect pre-requisite for psychedelics, because I think that people who have done that will have fewer problems dealing with psychedelic experiences.”

— Craig, participant on a John Hopkins study on the effects of psilocybin on long-term meditators

 

“The foundation laid by any previous inner work will hold us in good stead at such times by virtue of the attention skills we have developed. These skills make it easier to remain focused when confronted with the unexpected…

“We regain our balance through the proper application of attention and awareness. This is the slowing down, which we can facilitate physically through relaxed, deep breathing and helps release any tension in our bodies. Once we’ve slowed ourselves down and replanted our psychic feet, it is easier to move our consciousness through the resistance or block.”

— Rick Strassman, author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule and lead researcher on the DMT studies at the University of New Mexico

 

“Training in meditation is an excellent preparation for confronting the expanded states of consciousness which entheogens generate and, conversely, the intensity and forthrightness of these expanded states can provide a great impetus to apply the achievements attained during meditation in an emphatic way”

— Dokusho Villalba, The Spiritual Potential Of Entheogens – Dissolving The Roots Of Suffering – Zig Zag Zen

 

Read more:

LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven | Goodreads
Psychedelics & Meditation | MAPS website
DMT: The Spirit Molecule | Goodreads
The Divine Spark | Goodreads
Zig Zag Zen | Goodreads

Bonus:

Reset: How Meditation and Psychedelics Can Go Hand in Hand | MAPS website

meditation circle how to group

In terms of creating positive ripples in my community, starting a meditation circle has been one of the best things I’ve done since moving to Berlin 2 years ago. To this day, the group still meets regularly to meditate and has become a community of people that can support each other and offer a space for each of us to be heard. This is a great way of bringing people together and creating a friendship group, as well as providing support for my own practice.

Having experienced the positive effect it has had, I would love to see more of this and others doing similar. So here is a way, step by step, to start your meditation group:

Enlist Support

Before starting, as an optional first step, if you have a friend or know someone who is interested, enlist their help. Getting started with something like this is always easier with someone else. I had a good support friend at the beginning and eventually got comfortable doing it alone. This step is optional and you can of course do it alone.

1. Find A Place

You can do it at your place, a friend’s apartment, a park… ideally a place where there is not much outside noise coming in and you won’t be disturbed by other people.

2. Set a Time and Date

Pick a day, maybe two weeks ahead. Consider whether you’d like to have regular meetups and whether this day will suit you going forward. You could also change the day every week, depending on your needs, but a consistent day helps establish a routine and helps people plan around it.

3. Spread The Word

Tell any friends who might be interested in joining about your event. Share it online. You could do this via Meetup or facebook, or, as I did, on Couchsurfing. In your post, include info such as: basic information about yourself and why you’d like to hold a meditation meetup, who it is suitable for, when it is and how long it will last, and what type of meditation and exercises it will include. You can use a simple name, we held ours on Wednesdays so called it Midweek Meditation Group.

If you have limited space, I’d suggest not including the address. Instead, put a contact number or email so people can contact you to tell you if they are coming. That way it will be easier to manage numbers. You can also add info like if it’s free or if you’ll accept donations. You can also ask people to bring tea or candles, snacks, and things that you’ll use for future meetups.

Now that you’ve organised it and have a date, you need to prepare!

4. Get Ready

Get anything you may need, such as candles, cushions, tea, and maybe some snacks for after. All you will absolutely need are enough cushions for the amount of people attending. If you are short you can also ask people to bring their own cushion, like I did when first starting out. Then, the day of, go a bit early to prepare the space and make it nice and cosy. Clear away clutter and have some nice low lighting, either with lamps or some candles.

5. Hold the Circle

Ask people to arrive on time to prevent latecomers disturbing the sit. When people arrive, give them a warm welcome and take them through to a place where they can sit down and talk to others. Ask people to turn off their phones. You could even have a box where people can drop them for the time of the meet.

Once everyone has arrived, you can say hello and remind them of the basic plan for the session. A nice way to begin is a short sharing round. Before that, it might be useful to offer some sharing guidelines. In the first session, I think a nice thing to do is ask people why they came and are interested in meditation. In future and consecutive meetups, I think it’s nice to have a round where each person just takes a moment to check in with themselves and share how they’re feeling with the group. When you have a consistent group, each person can share a little more with what has been going on with them since last time.

You can guide the meditation yourself if you feel comfortable doing that. Otherwise, you can prepare a guided meditation and play it. You can also just decide a set time and do a silent meditation.

Then, you have successfully held your first meditation meetup. Here’s some further tips:

Be Open to Evolve and Mix It Up

It can be nice to offer a few different types of mindfulness activities to keep the practice fresh, and as different things will work for different people, it’s nice to expose people to different tools.

Some activities that we’ve done include:

  • Pranayama (breathing exercise)
  • Mindful eating
  • Sound Meditation
  • Body Scan
  • Mindfulness of Breath
  • Open Awareness
  • Eye Gazing
  • Loving Kindness Meditation

As you have more experience holding the circles and getting to know the group you will feel more comfortable mixing it up and can also include other things like authentic relating exercises.

Don’t Be Afraid to Start Small

Don’t worry about how many people show up. Keep going! More and more people will reach out and you will find your community. For my first one, which a friend and I hosted, we had one person show up. The next week we had 2, and the following week we were at capacity of 10 and had to turn people away. Over time a regular group settled and I stopped posting about the event online.

Keep It Regular

I think keeping some kind of regularity is great to help build connections between people and offer some consistency to people’s support and practice. If once a week is too much, consider every two weeks.

That’s it. I have seen how initiatives like this can really help people so if this idea calls to you I encourage you to take the first steps to hold your first circle today!

RAIN is a meditation technique for dealing with difficult emotions and as such is an especially useful tool for psychedelic journeying. Difficult emotions often offer the greatest opportunity for learning or insight during a psychedelic journey and having this technique in your toolbox is especially handy. RAIN allows you to go towards those difficult emotions with the ultimate mindset for psychedelic exploration: that of an explorer.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek“
Joseph Campbell

You will also find on Bill Richards’ flight instructions used on psilocybin studies that participants are advised to go towards difficult emotions and to investigate them. This is exactly what RAIN does in a systematic and easy to follow way.

So let’s have a look at RAIN, which if you hadn’t figured out yet, is an acronym. Let’s go step-by-step.

Recognize

what is happening
This is the roots of understanding

 

Allow

life to be just as it is
This is the grounds of love

 

Investigate

with gentle attention
This deepens understanding

 

Nurture

with friendliness
This awakens love

 

From my notes

After the RAIN, (what was previously the N before being recently updated) is non-identification. This is realizing freedom from a narrow sense of identity. For example, identifying ourselves with thoughts or feelings. The process of RAIN helps to bring spaciousness around these things and an expanded awareness of the scenes which we often mistake for ourselves.

So let’s go through it more deeply by way of example.

Let’s say for example you are on a psychedelic journey and you feel fear.

R

Starting with R you recognize that you feel fear. You can do this by mentally naming that emotion “fear, fear“.

A

Once recognized move onto the A. Allow it to be, give it permission to be there. You can mentally say “yes OK“. Doing this may mean that the feeling gets stronger, and this is OK. For example anxiety may develop into a fullness of fear. This is OK. Allow the fear to express it self fully.

When allowing, you may have a sense that it feels too much for you to take. If you’re naming it “fear, fear”, and its too strong, then surrender yourself to it. Say: “alright, take me, kill me, I’ll die of this feeling of fear.”

Another example of where complications may come in at the Allow stage. If your first emotion was for example sadness, and you find difficulty allowing it due to the feeling that it is too much then again go back to R and recognize what you are feeling. This would be fear. Feelings can morph when going through this process, so stay fluid. Whatever is on top, start there.

I

After the R&A we begin to deepen attention by investigating with kindness.

Approach that feeling of fear as a curious and friendly explorer. This feeling is there for a reason and has something to show you. So go towards it and try to see what it is that is this fear made of.

N

Nurture is the approach to the investigation. Use a sense of friendliness and gentleness to investigate the felt sense of what’s going on.

Treat this feeling as a friend that is asking for your attention that needs your love. Sit down with the fear and take time to get to know it.

What’s the quality of the sensations?

How do I know I’m feeling fear?

Explore your beliefs around the feeling. Ask:
What am I believing right now which is causing me to feel fear?
What am I thinking about?

Key in any investigating and with any core belief is that when you are doing it come into your body. Find out where this feeling lives in your body. Some practice in body scan or vipassana meditation will come in useful in this step.

Non-Identification

Completing RAIN brings a quality of openness and presence. Anxiety can shift to a space of presence where you are no longer identified with that fear and you can rest in a kind awareness.

Practice RAIN with a guided meditation

Learning and practicing RAIN is something I would recommend to any aspiring psychedelic practitioner. It is something I learned from meditation teacher Tara Brach and you can find one of her guided RAIN meditations here. As with learning any type of meditation it can be useful to begin by doing a few guided meditations and then once you are familiar with the practice you do it alone.

woman breathing air

Here’s an easy and effective way to get more mindfulness, patience and peace in your life. With this technique you’ll open up lots of opportunities for mindful moments. Even better, those moments will replace time that would normally be filled with impatience, boredom, or mindless distraction. It’s like the six point swing of mindfulness practices.

Here it is:

Waiting Is Meditating

Or, waiting is mindfulness.

That’s it. You remove waiting from your life, and replace it with awareness.

Anytime you find yourself in a state of ‘waiting’ for something, use this as a reminder to be present and practice mindfulness. Take 3 long deep breaths, relaxing yourself, then bringing your attention to your body. (Or, whatever other mindfulness practice you like).

woman peaceful

Sounds easy, and in principle it is, but it takes some practice and mental reprogramming to get there consistently. I won’t pretend I practice this everywhere, but I do it often and find it to be a great tool to have in the mindful kit, and certainly most worthy of a share.

How To Practice

An example to demonstrate….

supermarket

You enter the supermarket to do some grocery shopping. You’re in a hurry and just want to buy your stuff and get on with your day. You whip round and with your basket full you join the queue for the checkout. It’s a little longer than you’d like.

Now, instead of entering a state of ‘waiting’ and whatever that might normally bring up, (maybe a feeling of hurried restlessness and/or a compulsive urge to get your phone out and check some feed), you check yourself. You stop for a moment.

and breathe

You take 3 deep breaths.
You bring your attention to the sensations in your body.
You observe them patiently until you reach the front of the line.

When you reach the cashier you’re more relaxed and focused, and go on with your day, happy to have taken the opportunity for a mindful moment.

Opportunity Is Everywhere

queue line

If you consider how many times you find yourself waiting, you’ll see how many opportunities there are for mindfulness:

  • Any queue or line: shops, airports, banks, post offices etc.
  • Stopping at a red light
  • Something is downloading, buffering, loading, converting
  • Coffee is brewing/tea steeping/water boiling
  • Bus stop/tram station/train station platform

I’m sure you can think of many more.

Try to think of one now. What is something you often have to wait for? Think of how it would affect you if you slowed down every time.

Mental Reprogramming

To frequently and effectively use this in your life, it helps to mentally program yourself to associate waiting with this practice, so you catch those opportunities rather than missing them in a blur of hurried and unconscious thoughts (hey, we all do it).

To do this, first find a short phrase that is catchy for you. Some examples:
‘Waiting is breathing’
‘Waiting is slowing down’
‘Waiting is mindfulness’

breathe sign

Then once you have your phrase, drill it in. As if you were learning a new word or other behaviour; repetition repetition repetition.

Sit down for 5 minutes and meditate on it, repeating it like a mantra. Saying, over and over again, ‘waiting is breathing, waiting is breathing, waiting is breathing…’.

You can also write your phrase down and leave it somewhere you’ll see it a lot, like your desk or mirror (post its work!), whilst you train yourself to associate waiting with your practice.

mindfulness sign

Implement this in to your life and over time you’ll naturally become more patient in times when you’ve found yourself mentally (or loudly) saying ‘hurry up!’ Or ‘come oooon’. You know what I’m talking about 😉

As with anything, it takes practice, so keep it up!