psychedelic therapy style sessions

If I were forced to choose just one way of taking psychedelics for the rest of my life, I would think that was quite a cruel and torturous predicament to put a person in. However, after coming to terms with the fact, I would most likely choose a psychedelic therapy style session.

What is a Psychedelic Therapy Style Session?

What I call a psychedelic therapy style session basically borrows the session format from psychedelic therapy.

psychedelic therapy style sessions

The core components of a session are:

  • Medium to high dose
  • Comfortable and controlled indoor setting
  • Preselected playlist of music that lasts the duration of the drug effect
  • Headphones and eye mask worn by the journeyer to help direct attention to the inner experience

This is broadly the method used to conduct the sessions in pretty much all of the groundbreaking psychedelic studies that you’ve probably heard about. It originated in the 50s with the pioneers of psychedelic therapy and is shared in influential books such as The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide and The Secret Chief Revealed.

Differences Between Research Studies and Psychedelic Therapy Style Sessions

Taking psychedelics in this style is not the same as doing a course of psychedelic therapy. This is why I use the term psychedelic therapy style session to make the distinction. What differentiates a psychedelic therapy style session from psychedelic therapy is that the therapy-style session does not inherently include any type of therapy before or after the trip itself.

Though the actual session might look the same, the whole package it is not, because merely doing the session does not contain the reflective and introspective aspect of therapy. This includes exploring biographical content, much like traditional therapy, beforehand, and discussing the experience afterwards.

It also does not cover the extra preparation that is built into most of these studies. For example, the volunteers in them are given basic training in awareness through guided meditations in their lead-up to the session. They are also given some basic prep on the drug effects, including what to expect in terms of subjective effects, and guidelines for navigating the experience.

DIY Explorers

DIY psychonauts hoping to emulate the wonderful effects and benefits reported from the research may miss out on many of these extra aspects. They may simply create psychedelic therapy style sessions, but gloss over all the extra prep, integration, and interpersonal support that is included.

How can modern psychonauts build in these extra functions?

Preparation

I have written a post on how to prepare which includes awareness training and exploring biographical content which you can read here. What is not mentioned there is:

  • Researching the subjective effects of your chosen psychedelic
  • Beginning a course of therapy, ideally with a psychedelic-friendly therapist

Session

Psychedelic therapy sessions are always conducted with a trained guide or tripsitter, someone there to offer interpersonal support throughout for the journeyer. One can hire a tripsitter, or have a friend look after them. I would advise caution when tripsitting for friends though.

It is also possible to journey solo and without the support of a tripsitter. However, I would only recommend solo journeys to experienced explorers, and certainly not first timers. That said, I’ve had nearly all of my most transformational trips alone. You can read more about why in my recent post I am a psychonaut. If you are planning to go ahead alone, it can be beneficial to receive some coaching from an experienced explorer.

Integration

Having interpersonal support after a session can be especially important in navigating challenging emotions that may emerge, and implementing enduring positive changes. In lieu of a therapist, a counsellor, holistic practitioner, or integration coach can be helpful.

Having some kind of community or support group can be very beneficial in this process. This could be in the form of a psychedelic integration circle or other support group, it could also be a church; even just a good friend to talk to can make a big difference. What is important is to have this support in place before the session so they are there for you when you need them.

Final Thoughts

I organise and conduct psychedelic therapy style sessions for myself multiple times a year, and I would probably say it is the most useful resource in my toolbox for personal growth. Of course, they do not stand in isolation: they are deepened and enriched by others tools such as a regular meditation practice, participation in growth oriented courses, workshops, and retreats, and more recently, work with a holistic coach. That said, they are the turbo charger for other processes.

If like me, you are not going to sit around and wait for governments to base their policy on evidence and make rational drug laws, then do your homework, prep well, and journey in style!

three core components psychedelic trip

We all know how beneficial psychedelic experiences can be when we make the time for them. So why don’t we do them more often? Well, we all have our own reasons, but quite often it falls down to very 3 simple things. Recently, asking the psychedelic twitter crowd what their excuses were, I noticed these all too familiar things coming up.

Substance

Of course it’s difficult because of drug laws. So this may take some initiative on your part. Here are some options are:

  • Grow your own. Possibly the best option for the serious psychonaut if you are able to. DoubleBlind offer an online course to grow your own.
  • Deep web. Admittedly I haven’t used this in about a decade and is fiddly to set up with all the crypto stuff. It does work though. Just go for domestic shipping and have your story straight.
  • Order a legal analog. AKA research chemicals, these are kinda new and a little unknown, so approach with caution. I myself have used 1P LSD and 1B LSD and I couldn’t tell the difference from standard LSD. PsychonautWiki is a good place to find out more info.
  • Order magic truffles. Psilocybin truffles are legal in the Netherlands Some vendors in the Netherlands ship outside their country.

It may also help to go to where psychonauts hang out (post COVID) to build connections and network. Public talks, workshops, integration circles, and conferences are all good places.

Private Space

Having a private space is key. If you live in a flatshare or otherwise shared space this can be a big obstacle.

Some options:

  • Ask friends who have their own place if you might be able to use it sometime. If you aren’t comfortable with telling them you’re going to trip you can tell them you’d just like some time to yourself. Perhaps a practice of silence, or some other kinda home practice, such as a meditation retreat.
  • If you live with your parents, maybe catch a time they are on holiday or away for a couple days.
  • Book an air bnb.

Time

Often the hardest one in our busy world.

A great quote I got from Psychedelic Experience founder Tim Cools:

‘Just plan it, and don’t cancel it’.

It really is as simple as that. Simple, not easy. Having a coach might be helpful, or planning to do a session with a friend. Organising with friends may take a bit more planning and coordination, but can help to stick to it as there’s social accountability. It’s also obviously a great way to deepen your connection.

I recommend taking 3 days. Day 1 to tie up loose ends (e.g. no urgent messages or emails hanging, all work and social commitments taken care of, letting anyone who needs to know that you’ll be offline). Day 2 to journey. Day 3 to integrate.

However, from my experience, a session squeezed in between work days is better than no session at all.

Set a date. Put it in the calendar.

That’s It!

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john robertson psychonaut

Hello. My name is John Robertson and I am a Psychonaut. 

john robertson psychonaut

A psychonaut is someone who uses psychedelic substances as tools of exploration. Exploration of the mind, of reality, of the universe. Like cosmonauts, psychonauts willingly enter into the unknown on a mission of discovery. We are explorers.

This year marks 10 years of being a psychonaut with my first psychedelic experience in late 2011. My use of psychedelics has evolved over time and so has my relationship with them. In the name of openness, today I’ll share what my current use looks like, including styles, intentions, substances, and frequency.

Psychedelic Therapy Style Method

I use psychedelics in many different ways but of the classic psychedelics my most common use is that of a psychedelic therapy style.

This means taking a medium to high dose in a comfortable and controlled indoor environment. I use headphones and an eye mask, while listening to a preselected playlist of music from start to finish. The headphones to immerse me in the experience, with the music acting as a type of guide, and the eye mask helps to keep my attention directed inwards.

I sometimes do this with friends but more often I do this alone. I find doing it alone really allows me to let go: I can express myself freely without worry of disturbing someone else. This might be sobbing, weeping, laughing, talking to myself out loud, groaning, grunting or making other animalistic or primal expressions. It may also be moving my body in some way like shaking, pacing around the room or even beating my chest. 

When working alone I have a set procedure that I follow and have built through practice. On the day, my ritual includes putting my phone on airplane mode, saying a prayer and giving thanks, and writing down my intention and saying it out loud before I consume the dose. I also close the ceremony by giving thanks and finally ringing a bell. It includes various preparation and integration practices, such as clearing in the days before, checking in with both of my parents, and journaling while listening to the playlist again on the day after the session.

I find this type of session to be the most useful thing I can do to gain access to the hidden realms of my psyche, to make the unconscious conscious, and to gain a better understanding and acceptance of myself. It helps to clarify things for me and I nearly always come out of a session with an extremely clear sense of where my heart wants to go and what I need to do next in my life.

I use this style of session as a tool for personal growth and view it as a foundational part of my spiritual practice.

These days I almost exclusively use psilocybin, though I have used LSD in the past and had great results. 

Exploring for Fun

I also use psychedelics in more casual ways and often with the express intention of having fun with friends. This may be inside, it could also be outside. The one thing that is consistent is that I like to be well prepared in terms of equipment, such as basics like having some food, drinks or snacks ready, and comfortable spaces to lie down with blankets. I also, like in the psychedelic therapy style, always write down all the doses I take and the times I take them. If I’m out or at a friends’ place, I will do this in my pocket notebook which I take everywhere with me.

I also like to give some thought to the types of things we might want to do beforehand, and may prepare things to entertain or amuse myself or the group with. These may be things to look at, things to touch, ponder, or experience. For example, music videos, wikipedia articles, or pieces of visual art.

When exploring for fun it is usually with LSD or 2C-B and sometimes combined with MDMA. Nitrous oxide has also often been in the mix in the past, but that is less common and more reserved for special occasions these days. Still, hitting a gas on a candy flip is something that I think every psychonaut should try once in their lives 😉

Between Fun and Therapeutic

Though I place the highest value on the classic psychedelics, I also use non-classic psychedelics such as MDMA and ketamine for having a comfortable exploration at home. This is usually a mixture of growth oriented introspective style work and a fun exploration of ideas or themes. I sometimes also mix in 2C-B for this type of session and have enjoyed trying different combinations of these three substances. I also like to experiment with different types of ratios in terms of dose and timing of doses, and sometimes also blend in some marijuana to mix it up and increase entropy in my streams of thoughts and experience.

For introspective style work, I do journaling to explore my thoughts and feelings. Generally the content is often about my relationships with others, things I’d like to do such as lifestyle changes or experiments, and ideas around creative and professional projects.

For the fun exploration of ideas or themes I will also explore with certain materials like music or art and journal about them.

I also like to do things which are a little more creatively ambitious which may extend over the course of multiple sessions to create a deeper exploration and expression. For example, during lockdown this year I explored the theme of ‘the Loner’ and loneliness. This is something I identify with and, living with two couples and not being allowed contact with anyone else for 2 months, this came up strongly for me. I explored it by creating a playlist of songs on the theme, reading the wikipedia pages of loneliness and solitude, and gave myself expression by writing and recording a punk song: ‘Loner’. It was awesome.

On more casual sessions like this I will also often just have an open free association brainstorm kind of thing just using pen and paper to externalise thoughts and ideas so I can see them and more easily make new connections.

Normally sessions will not be either therapeutic or fun, but a mix of both, always with the therapeutic and more challenging content coming up at the start of the session before giving way to a more relaxed tone and sense of agency about where I want to put my attention.

Psycholytic Style

I also do this type of fun/therapy session occasionally with a good friend of mine. We use ketamine as it is his preferred substance. Likewise, the first section of the session we generally do more therapeutically oriented work, and we will go for a more psycholytic style approach, using our conversation and interaction as a means to to dig in to and look closely at perceptions and feelings, question beliefs, reach deeper levels of understanding, and ultimately find some resolution with current issues in our lives. We also sometimes do role plays, acting out interactions with different people in our lives who we currently have tension with, and look at quotes from our favourite philosophers.

Music

I am a huge fan of music in general and just love listening to music on all psychedelic substances. I also occasionally like going to concerts and taking something. For example, a couple years ago, I went with some friends to see one of my faves Kurt Vile at the Kulturastrahaus and for the whole show just danced my little heart out down front. 

One of my more recent all time favorite life experiences was taking 2C-B with MDMA and seeing the-man-the-myth-the-legend, Ty Segall. Front row I got absolutely pounded in a tornado of thumping guitars that swept through the core of my being and left me mixed parts obliterated and exhilarated. Yeah, just awesome.

Nature Connection

Less often I take psychedelics out in nature so I guess I’m more of a city psychonaut. However, I think that is mostly due to the fact of psychedelics being illegal and my uncomfortable feelings of being outside and exposed in an uncontrolled environment. After all, psychedelics can and often do increase feelings of sensitivity and vulnerability. That is, however, something I would like to change because I would like to deepen my appreciation of the beauty of the natural world.

How often I take psychedelics

The frequency of my use really varies season-by-season and year-by-year. My practice and use, like life and myself, is a living, evolving thing. I do try to make time for psychedelic therapy style sessions at least a few times a year but there isn’t a set pattern that I stick to. Use of the non classics is more regular, even though I would say it is less beneficial. That is because my psychedelic therapy style sessions are a bigger deal, a 2-3 day affair, also with the added preparation time needed in the run up. They require more from me, in time and energy commitment, so it is harder to fit in. Still, I think I do a decent job.

For example, in 2019 I did around ten sessions with classic psychedelics, (about half in psychedelic therapy style), and ten-fifteen with non-classics. Last year, overall use increased with corona and I had around nine sessions with classics, and fifteen-twenty with non classics. So far in 2021, I have had two experiences with the classics, and a hearty handful of the non-classics to get me through a protracted lockdown.

I also sometimes microdose psilocybin or LSD but not often or with any kind of consistent frequency. 

My Name is John Robertson

Up until now I have written and worked under the name John Andrew. Andrew is my middle name and I first used this name before I was working in the psychedelic field.

At the time I had just finished a stint of three years as an English teacher and I was taking something of a sabbatical to travel. I was hoping to make it as a blogger but I wasn’t sure if at some point I would need to go back to teaching English or find some other kind of more conventional job to give myself another injection of cash that would enable to go on doing the types of projects that were closer to my heart.

I was worried about potential employers googling me and finding my blog writing about all my crazy and illegal psychedelic adventures and ultimately limiting my options and ability to work. It is kind of sad that I felt I had to hide such a huge part of what I see as a beautiful and core part of my identity but such was my predicament.

I used the name John Andrew for jobs such as workshops and public talks and continued to use it as I entered more deeply into the wider psychedelic network. When finally committing to full-time psychedelic work some years later I thought that it would be kind of fun to continue using what had become my pen and now psychedelic name. After all, having a pen name is kind of cool, and I also wanted to build on the name I’d started to establish.

By this point it was not that I was really hiding it from anyone that was important to me. I revealed my psychedelic side to both of my parents at the time of their separation. With everything that was going on I felt the need to reach a much deeper level of openness and honesty with both of them. I wanted them to really know their son. 

Initially my Dad was more accepting than my Mum and he was actually a huge support to me in the founding of the New Moon Psychedelic Retreat project which launched in 2019. He encouraged me to follow my heart and seeing that I had clarity on what I wanted to do, he pushed me to fully go for it. That is what I did and I committed myself to a project of a scope that I had never taken on before. I put a part of my heart and soul in to New Moon in a way that was a deeply meaningful and formative experience.

Since then it has then now come the point where people know me through my public psychedelic work and will actually call out to me as John Andrew. Or people closer to me know that my name is John Robertson, but they’ve also seen my name around as John Andrew and there is some kind of confusion. It’s not really that I was trying to keep those sides separate in recent years, it’s just that I had used that name for a while and just thought it would be more convenient to continue using it.

I now want to clear up this confusion and be called by my family name for my work. This is me taking one more step on my path of long term integration.

I am John Robertson.

And I fucking love psychedelics.

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platforms of psychedelic experience

It can be hard to make sense of the mysterious experiences and unfamiliar realities we are plunged into in deep psychedelic states. For this reason it can be useful to have some kind of map of the psychedelic terrain.

In his book LSD and the Mind of the Universe, Christopher Bache follows Stan Grof in using three categories to distinguish different states of consciousness that are accessed in psychedelic and holotropic breathwork sessions. Bache calls these “platforms of experience”. The book is a treasure trove of theory for psychedelic explorers, and this post will be the third in what has unwittingly turned out to be a series of blog posts based on concepts drawn from it. 

In this post, I will give a little background on these terms and then outline the three levels based on Bache’s explanation. Bache distinguishes between three “platforms”, which he terms  psychic, subtle and causal.

The terms

ken wilber atman project

The terms psychic, subtle, and causal were first coined by Ken Wilber in his 1980 book, The Atman Project. Wilber drew from Hindu and Buddhist sources and used them to label the evolutionary stepping stones on the psycho-spiritual journey. Wilber’s model, which also included non-duality, had four stages and culminated in non-dual spiritual enlightenment. In his outline, Bache does not include non-dual as a separate state as he found it to be an inherent feature of causal consciousness. 

Stan Grof’s description was phenomenological rather than hierarchical. He didn’t use the terms to describe an ordered sequence of  levels on a path as Wilber did, but rather to distinguish coexisting dimensions of consciousness, each with its own characteristics. 

Consciousness = Reality

These different levels of consciousness allow one to experience the corresponding aspects of reality. For example, a psychic level of consciousness allows one to explore psychic levels of reality; subtle level consciousness grants one access to subtle levels of reality; and causal, likewise. The value of entering these states is that they allow us to explore different levels of non-physical reality. As the late great Boston psychonaut Kilindi Iyi said of psilocybin, ‘it is, in its first and foremost principle, a tool of exploration’. 

Before beginning, it should be noted that Bache’s explanations accept the premise of reincarnation. I am not presenting this as truth, but write here to share ideas. 

Psychic level

At the psychic level one leaves physical reality and enters a spiritual realm. There remains, however, the sense of a separate self, as one’s conditioning from space time carries over. The experience is therefore that of being a separate spiritual entity amongst other discarnate entities. Our experience is still that of ourselves, but without our body. I would still be me, John, but disembodied, my ‘discarnate self’. Psychic level experience has a soul-centric quality to it, meaning that one will experience the soul, or ‘psyche’ of their current life.

Subtle level

At the subtle level one perceives the larger realities and more fundamental building blocks that make up life. One still has an experience of separateness, but the separate parts are larger and more basic than at the psychic level. If our separate selves are the individual rooms of a skyscraper, the parts we experience in subtle consciousness are like the steel girders of the building. We can begin to see the deeper architecture of what we call existence.

One may experience the collective consciousness of our species, or even of other species, and the archetypical forces that make up space time. Going deeper than the individual self, one may open to an experience of the spiritual self that reincarnates as many different forms through different lifetimes.

Here is a line from Bache that made me laugh:

“I’ve always thought that “subtle” was a strange name for this level of consciousness because there is really nothing subtle about it at all. Quite the opposite, in fact”.

Causal level

The first signature of causal consciousness is Oneness. Though Oneness may show up in one way or another at the other levels, as it is a fundamental truth of existence, oneness takes on another quality at the causal level. There is an experience of the universe moving as a single entity. There is no way of perceiving this Oneness from outside of it as it is the whole thing. Experience of Oneness at this level is the totality of existence perceiving itself, so any sense of separation is gone. Light, as with Oneness, may also show up in other levels, but is more refined at the casual level. 

Maps of experience

These platforms of experience form just one cosmological map and there may be many other ways of mapping spiritual (non-physical) experience. The Psychedelic Experience, a manual by Leary et al. based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead was another map of consciousness, and I I have also heard that the Bhagavad Gita can be used.

Ultimately though, the map is not the territory. I believe Bache said it perfectly:

“In the end, all these categories are only labels of approximation and convenience. One may divide the spectrum of spiritual reality in many ways […] it would be foolish to think we could do justice to the vast expanse of spiritual reality by using just three or six categories”.

Final Thoughts

Without any kind of frame for understanding, the new and at times intensely unfamiliar and alien realities we can visit in sessions can be disorienting, even once we have returned to normal consciousness. We may not know what to do with these experiences, and without sufficient context or points of reference and this can lead to feelings of bemusement or confusion.

This was certainly the case for me after my first DMT experience, and to a degree, my first LSD experiences. With no real place for these types of spiritual experiences in a culture where reductive materialism is a prevailing worldview, I found solace in Buddhist texts, which helped me to integrate these non-ordinary experiences and offered instructions on how to navigate them.

For explorers heading into new territories, having some kind of map or frame can be of great use. With this in mind, I encourage psychonauts to mentally try ideas like these on for size when embarking on a path of deep exploration

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the shamanic persona

The shamanic persona is a concept introduced by psychedelic explorer and author Christopher Bache.

The term was included in the appendix at the back of his 2019 book LSD And The Mind Of The Universe as he attempts to explain what exactly is dying and being reborn in our psychedelic sessions. He proposes four such things, and the shamanic persona is the third. This post will concentrate on the shamanic persona, the one that stood out and most interested me, and will not cover the other three: the ego, the species ego, a dimension of the cosmos.

LSD mind of the universe bache book

This book is a treasure trove of psychedelic theory

I would like to add my own interpretation to Bache’s, and this post is a mix of his outline and some thoughts that came to mind.

What is the shamanic persona?

The shamanic persona is a type of living identity that is both born, and develops within our psychedelic sessions. It is our tripping self. It is that part of us which arises within our sessions. 

It could also be known as a:

  • Psychedelic alter ego
  • Shamanic self
  • Psychedelic identity

In Bache’s words, it is: 

“a semiautonomous, state-specific consciousness that retains and integrates all our psychedelic experiences”

The shamanic persona is a distinct identity, its own self-aware entity. It has a specific character, and could be considered one of our ‘parts’, using the term in the sense of the psychological theory of parts. It is made up of both personal and transpersonal experiences that we accumulate in our sessions.

The shamanic persona retains invisible knowledge

The shamanic persona, though hidden whilst we go about our lives, retains all the knowledge, abilities and lessons that have been acquired in our sessions. Even though our typical day to day egoic self can’t remember or access all our psychedelic experience, when we re-enter the psychedelic state, these are all once again available to us. 

If you have ever had the feeling of remembering or returning when re-entering the psychedelic state, this might sound familiar.

“Oh yes! Of course! How could I forget?!” 

This is returning to our shamanic persona. This might refer to certain knowledge, insights or capacities you have had or developed in previous sessions. It may also be familiar by means of feelings, what we might call ‘psychedelic sensations’.

Just as our normal self is composed of all our life experience and what we have learnt up to this moment in time – an aggregate of our lives – our shamanic persona is the sum of all our psychedelic experience and skills up to the present. In a similar way to how we grow, learn and develop abilities, capacities and skills as we get older through accumulated life experience, our shamanic persona deepens and grows in tandem with our psychedelic understanding, abilities and experience.

Developing a shamanic persona

The more carefully considered sessions one undertakes, the stronger the shamanic persona will be. This parallel here with our non-psychedelic selves is that the more experiences one has in ways that are framed as opportunities to learn and grow, the more developed and mature one’s character becomes.

A weaker character may result from haphazard or sloppily carried out sessions. This is due to less well-considered methods and processes, that is, lower levels of conscious approach. 

At deeper levels of awareness, which equate to deeper levels of reality, there is a wider gate for information to flow in. This can result in increased intensity of experience, and more difficulty in navigating a journey. It’s perhaps like the gap in difficulty between driving a car on an old computer game, where there are only so many variables the driver needs to track, as compared to driving in the real world, where there is much more going on and much more attention is required to navigate successfully. You may even, if you are unfamiliar with the territory, need another person beside you, holding a map, to help direct you.

With increased exposure to different planes of experience, shamanic personas can develop stability and coherence at these other levels. This results in a greater ability to navigate. As with anything else, if we are unstable, we are more prone to fall down, get lost, stop making progress, or even end up going backwards. The more stable we are, the more capable we are of standing on our feet and choosing how external influences affect us, without being blown around by outside forces. 

Learning and abilities of the persona

the shamanic persona

We retain also abilities that we have developed in our psychedelic state. With the ability to maintain a coherent awareness at different levels of experience, we acquire the ability to navigate, via means of directing or holding our attention. This means we can decide to take a certain direction, such as deciding to let go and surrender, or deciding to bring particular ideas or themes to our mind, keep them in awareness, and to ‘play’ with them; to consider them for sustained periods of time to observe and see how our view of them might develop or change as we move them around in front of us.

How it differs from and relates to our non-psychedelic self

As an alter ego, our shamanic persona may well have different characteristics and tastes to our normal self: it may prefer different types of food, music, or even have a different sense of humour. Our psychedelic self may even prefer different ways of being physically: I have a friend who has a way of lying that is her ‘tripping posture’, one that she doesn’t use at any other times of her life.  

Personally, I have noticed various differences between my psychedelic and non-psychedelic parts. I adopted a plant-based diet whilst tripping years before recognising the horror at factory farming outside of sessions and integrating it. I almost never listen to ceremony music outside of sessions – it’s too ‘spiritual’ for my non-shamanic tastes. My psychedelic persona is also capable of laughing longer, deeper and harder than my usual self.

The less integrated we are, the larger the gap will be between our tripping and our normal self. The better the work one has done to integrate the material of their sessions, the smaller the gap will be.

The closer the parts are, the more familiar the shamanic persona will feel to our normal selves. Entering the state will be easier, and the psychedelic persona will be a more comfortable ‘fit’. 

This may explain why psychedelic experiences can be so difficult at certain times in our lives, bringing up such uncomfortable feelings and emotions; they are revealing a discord within ourselves. My most uncomfortable experiences have been at junctures in my life where I was not seeing clearly and didn’t have my priorities in order. This has included: overwork to the brink of burnout, staying in a toxic relationship, and generally taking on too much and moving through life at an unsustainable speed. My sessions at these points have been the most uncomfortable, but also perhaps the most crucial. They have shown me the consequences of my actions, and revealed what will happen if I remain on my current track. In the roughest sessions I have been broken down, and in doing so, I have been forced to stop, step back, and redirect my course.

Persona reincarnation

Just as there is a cycle of dying and rebirth of our egoic self in serial psychedelic journeys, shamanic personas die and are reborn on the psychedelic path.

With the egoic self, it can be understood as parts of ourselves dying, whilst new parts come into being. The parts might include ways of seeing the world, others and ourselves,and may result in behavioural changes such as fresh habits and patterns of thought and action. Essentially, it is a change in our ‘self’: how we relate to and interact with all aspects of reality. 

In the same way, shamanic identity enters the cycle of death and rebirth in an ongoing series of sessions. Aspects of the shamanic self die when one enters a deeper level of spiritual reality, and a new identity emerges. 

The new identity will not be totally novel, or unrecognisable. Change is evolutionary, and is a gradual process.The new shamanic self that emerges maintains all the experience and abilities of the previous persona, and incorporates them into this new sense of self. Nonetheless, many of these previous parts may be recontextualised to take the new identity into account.

We can see how this process happens on the material plane by considering our physical bodies. As a consequence of exposure to existence in space and time, cells die, and are replaced in turn with new ones. This is an example of gradual rebecoming that could be considered a type of reincarnation.  

Likewise, this process of reincarnation of the shamanic self is a consequence of exposure to psychedelic experiences. In this way, this process of gradual transformation can be thought of as a type of psychic reincarnation, or perhaps better put, psychic or spiritual renaissance.

Final Thoughts

I find the concept of the shamanic persona to be a fascinating one that matches my experience on the psychedelic path. I was drawn to it as it is a familiar concept and one that I touched upon in my post “What is psychedelic integration?”,  when I used the terms “the psychedelic and non-psychedelic sides of someone”, so it is satisfying to hear this from another psychonaut and to see it expanded upon so well.

I would be very interested to hear other psychonauts’ thoughts on this, so I’ll leave off with a few questions to ponder. Share your reflections with me on twitter.

  • Is the shamanic persona a more important, authentic, or truer expression of ourselves than our sober identity?
  • How can we learn how to learn in psychedelic states?
  • What exercises might we use to ‘train’ our shamanic personas to develop abilities and reveal new levels of insight?

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