create psychedelic setting space place station

Welcome to day 28, PSYJuly 🙂 Sorry today’s post comes late, this one took longer to edit than I anticipated. Today we’re talking psychedelic setting…

Set and setting, yada yada. You’ve heard it. But what to do about setting? How to craft it?

Beyond ambience, one thing is to make the space as practical as possible.

Careful preparation of the setting for a psychedelic session can help to make the experience more seamless and smooth. By removing friction before the start of a session, you can make the most of your trip and the time available. Setting up the space is a way of being a kind and considerate sitter for yourself ahead of time. It’s giving a gift to your future self and building a friendly relationship with your shamanic persona.  

To illustrate, I’d like to introduce three terms to the world of psychedelic setting. These are: stations, spaces, and places.

Stations

  1. A station is a designated and prepared place for doing a specific action that requires tools.

“I just got an idea! I’m heading to the writing station”
“Hey man, can you set up the dosing station whilst I prepare the food? Nice one.”

Some examples:

  • Dosing station
  • Writing station
  • Music station
  • Painting station
  • Tea station
  • Rolling station

A station, by its nature, has equipment. It should be practical and comfortable. All the tools needed for the task assigned to that station should be located there. It should suit the purpose of its existence.

Each station should be:

  • Sufficiently lit
  • Prepared for action
  • Laid out for optimised used (see places, below)
  • Considered (it suits the area)

The station should be sufficiently lit for the action that is to be performed there. For example, if you are writing, you need to be able to clearly see the pad or paper you are using. So, lamps or candles are set up or nearby. 

The station should be prepared for action. For example, at a tea station: mugs and a thermos of prepared tea. If it’s a music station, the guitar should be tuned, the picks laid out. If using digital equipment, all audio cables are connected, headphones readied and sound levels set. At a dosing station you should have all the tools needed to prepare and consume doses and boosters. If using ketamine for example, this would include: the substance, a set of scales, an item to crush the substance, a steady hard flat smooth surface to crush it on, a thin item to create lines, and straws for ingestion. It also makes sense for a dosing station to include a logging station. This would include: a log book, a pen, and a watch.

Each station should be laid out and optimised for use. This is covered in places, below.

The location of each station should be considered. What are the possible areas it could be? It should be considered within the entire space and the larger geography in mind. That includes what happens in each station, the implications of that, and its neighbouring stations and spaces.

When placing a station, ask: what’s the upshot of it being here?

If the action is a noisy one, such as singing, or loading up a gas, consider if it is adjacent to neighbours. On a recent weekend in an airbnb, I went to work on a music track where I would be recording vocals (loud ones!). I put the vocal station in the kitchen, as it was a room in the middle of the apartment and only neighboured the bathroom and the living room. It was distanced from neighbours so I could let rip.

If you might be dancing or walking around, consider if there are people on the floor below. You might make an extra padding on the floor by laying down an extra yoga mat or blanket. If you’re using paints, they might get messy. Consider where doors are and where people will be coming in and out of rooms. If you’re gonna be smoking joints, note the smell and smoke. Overall, aim for harmony with the surrounding environment. Take spaces into account.

Spaces

  1. A space is an area of a session setting.

Spaces are more about the ambience of a region, rather than its practicality for a specific action. Setting space can be thought of as set design. It takes into account the intended atmosphere. A space might be decorated or lit in a certain way.

The benefit of spaces beyond practicality is more opaque. It is more about eliciting certain feelings in certain spaces. Our brains make associations with certain areas. This is why it’s nice to have a room for work and a room for sleep as separate spaces. One is a work space, one is a sleep space, and we set them up to be conducive to their purpose.

In terms of psychedelic setting, examples might be a journey space, or a chill out space.

An example of this would be the quiet room, which when I’ve used it, acts as a chill out space. It would be prepared to be cosy and calm, setting the appropriate tone. If you’re wanting some level of sensory stimulation, you might have some fairy lights blinking, pieces of art hanging up, or engaging music playing.

I was once on a long weekend with friends in the Dutch countryside, where the hosts set up an insanity room for our session. There was a shrine to deity The Hord Lord, and some questions hung up on pieces of paper around the room to challenge visitors. If someone wanted a bit of madness, they just headed to the insanity room. It was pretty funny.

When setting up a space, take into account are the intended atmosphere of the space. What feelings do you want to promote in each space? Relaxation? Stimulation? Fun?

Places

“A place for everything, everything in its place.”

  1. A place is a designated location for a specific tool or instrument.

Having places for things brings systems thinking to the level of psychedelic setting. It makes tools easy to locate and actions easier to perform. 

Firstly, this saves confusion and avoids wasting time looking for things. 

You know the situation where you walk into a room to get something, then your mind goes blank and you think ‘what did I come in here for?’. Well when you’re high, this type of misdirection can be heightened and you might even forget that you were even looking for anything at all. This can turn into aimless wandering, which can lead to disorientation, feelings of ungroundedness, confusion and anxiety. You may even come round to the point of asking, ‘what am I doing?’. The answer to which, you may or may not remember.

Another benefit to having set places is that it streamlines actions. For example, imagine the scenario:

A great idea comes to you on that project you’ve been working on for a while. Naturally, you want to note it down. Because you were rushed, you haven’t set up, and because of your altered state, you can’t easily locate your pen. So you begin your search for it, wandering from room to room. You finally locate your pen, which was on the counter in the kitchen, but by then, ten long time-dilated minutes later, you’ve not only lost that precious session time, but even worse, you’ve forgotten the idea you had in the first place.

Let’s contrast that with a prepared station with items in their places:

A great idea comes to you. You walk over to the writing station. You pick up one of your pens from the pile laid beside your open pad of paper, and jot the idea down. Seeing it written down causes other ideas to begin sprouting from it and you see it beginning to grow. You want to see where this goes, so you pick up a larger piece of paper from the pile on the shelf beside you, and place it down to begin a brainstorm. As you get into it, you decide to add images and drawings. You reach over to your left, to the pot of coloured pens, and add some different colours to connect ideas by theme. You run with the ideas until the train loses steam, and then head to the chill space to smoke a joint and wind down.

When choosing places for tools, be like a surgeon laying out their tools on their tray. Consider how and when they will be used. If it’s part of a multi step process, what other tools will you need to use? In what order will you need to use them?

Final thoughts

How you set up and utilise stations, spaces and places will depend on the intention and type of the session. 

The concept of stations and places might seem more relevant for sessions where you will be actively doing things which require using tools or instruments, like a creative session, as opposed to a typical psychedelic therapy style session. However, being precise and mindful in preparation shows respect for the session and can help to focus the mind. It’s taking drugs like a nerd. The sense of ‘everything in its right place’, and being fully prepared can help to promote feelings of relaxation. It’s also useful when you come out of journey space to hydrate or go to the bathroom. 

This level of preparation is also especially useful for journeys without a sitter, be they solo or with others. It shows love, caring and consideration to your future tripping selves, and in some way it is pro-actively tripsitting for your future self. Your tripping self should appreciate that in your heightened state.

By utilising stations, spaces and places into your setting design, you set up to make the most of your session. You optimise your session and increase flow. You allow your mind to focus on what’s important, the content of your mind, rather than logistical considerations.

learn how why to use psychedelics

I honestly believe that learning how to use psychedelics is one of the most useful skills one can learn.

You may have heard psychedelics being called a technology or a tool. They are sometimes referred to as a technology for exploration and growth. Beyond those more abstract terms, they can also be very practical in terms of personal and lifestyle change. For me, at this point in my life, they have been the most useful tool for personal development that I have come across. For many other people too.

Why doesn’t everyone spend time learning how to utilise this magnificent technology?

To me, not learning how to best utilise psychedelics to leverage positive change and improvement, is like not learning how to use computers, or the internet. Why would anyone deprive themselves of such a skill?

The technology can open doors that were never open before, it can open up possibilities that simply weren’t there. When it comes to using such remarkable technology, I believe investing some time and energy is absolutely worthwhile. 

What does it mean to learn how to use psychedelics?

There are certain ways of using psychedelics which can make them more useful, ways of using them which can increase the likelihood of bringing about desired results. One could call this, as Bill Richards does in Sacred Knowledge, ‘skilled use’. 

Learning to use psychedelics can mean both going deeper and broader. 

Broader means learning how to use them for different applications. Perhaps you’ve learned a particular method of use, with a specific purpose in mind. The purpose might be healing, creativity, or connecting with nature. The method might be a specific way of using them, such as the psychedelic therapy style method. Broadening would mean learning different methods, for a wider range of purposes.

Going deeper means learning how to use them more effectively. This includes careful consideration and utilisation of things like: intention, dose, ritual, music, preparation, navigation, set, setting, and integration. These might include tips, tricks and best practices. This also includes developing personalised methods and approaches that best suit different individuals. 

How to learn

Like almost anything, the best way to learn how to use psychedelics is through a combination of knowledge and practice. You read a manual or guide, then you have a go at using the technology based on what you’ve read. You incorporate what you’ve learnt from your own experience and factor it in next time. You might go back to the guidebook, or read other ones, and eventually you might experiment with things that aren’t in any manuals. Through continued education and practice, you develop your skills and approach.

Final thoughts

Psychedelics have catalysed many positive shifts and changes in my life. They introduced me to meditation, gave me a firm helping hand in going vegan, aided me in quitting smoking, and gave me courage to start a pioneering business. They’ve helped me make sense of a confusing world, embark on worldwide travels, heal from personal traumas, and find meaning and purpose in my existence.

What I find so incredible is that after many years of taking psychedelics, their gifts show no sign of running out. They continue to give. And I continue to learn from them. At ten years of beautiful relationship with these magnificent wonders, I am committed to going deeper, and learning even more. I invite you to join me.

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music sky mdma playlist

MDMA has long been known as a party drug but it’s effects have shown it to be an ideal tool for use in therapy. If you are planning a therapeutically oriented MDMA session and looking for a ready made playlist to use, this post contains links to two music playlists.

mdma effects therapy tool music playlists

Ben Sessa, speaking at Beyond Psychedelics 2018, explaining why MDMA is such a useful tool for therapy

Playlists:

1. Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 3 – Mendel Kaelen
2. Heart Playlist – Shannon Clare

Timeline and Dose

Similar to the psilocybin playlists, these have been designed to follow the arc of the drug’s effects. The music is more gentle at the beginning, then intensifies and becomes more evocative as the drug’s effects reach their peak. The music then winds down in sync with the drug, gently bringing the session to a close.

You will notice that these sessions are both over 5 hours, which is longer than the effects of a single dose of MDMA. That is because these playlists have been created to cover a session which includes a supplemental ‘booster’ dose. In most research studies, a full 125 mg dose of MDMA is taken at the start of the session, and then a booster dose of half that, 62.5 mg, is offered 1.5 to 2 hours later.

When I am doing an MDMA session, I will typically weigh out both the initial and booster dose before the start of the session. I make a note of the time of the first dose in my journey log, and set an alarm for 70 minutes later for the booster dose (I have personally found this to be the best timing for me). When the alarm goes off, I take a moment to check in with myself and make a decision on the booster. This timing extends the duration of the session by around an hour, without increasing the intensity. Due to the short length of MDMA’s effects, you might consider doing something similar.

Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 3 – Mendel Kaelen

  • Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 3: Spotify

Here is another one from Mendel Kaelen, who designed two psilocybin playlists for use at Imperial and now Usona. If you are especially interested in the role of music in psychedelic therapy and would like to learn more, I recommend keeping an eye on Mendel’s current project, Wavepaths, who are providing adaptive music for psychedelic therapy.

This playlist was originally created for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy studies at Bristol University, Imperial College London, and MAPS. It is a similar vibe to his psilocybin playlists, and even contains a few of the same tracks. I have not personally used it, as I generally prefer other styles of music with MDMA. However, a good friend of mine has and highly recommends. Also, knowing it’s from Mendel Kaelen, I’m sure it’s excellent.

Heart Playlist – Shannon Clare

Shannon Clare has been working in key roles in some of the most important modern day research involving MDMA. After graduating with a masters in Integral Counseling Psychology at CIIS, one of the leading institutes in psychedelic education today, she has worked a co-therapist in MAPS-sponsored clinical trials, researching MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness. She has also served as the therapist training program coordinator at MAPS.

This playlist has a somewhat similar vibe to other modern therapy playlists, using similar styles of music, such as neo-classical, ambient, but also some more indigenous type music, including drumming and more traditional instruments such as flutes.

Shannon also has collections of music for various stages of a session in playlists on her spotify profile, such as Active, Returning, Inner Exploration, and Joy Peace. These can be very helpful if you’d like to make your own playlists. You can find more information about what role the music will play on the top of each’s spotify page. For example, the Active playlist contains ‘music that energizes or activates, may be evocative or stimulating, possibly triggering’.

As a bonus, Shannon also has a playlist called MDMA Mountain Magical Movement, which looks like a very fun one 🙂

I wish you wonderful journeys!

Music is such an integral part to the setting of an experience, so finding a good playlist is an important part of preparing. If you have any other playlists, please get in contact, I am always on the hunt for more!

Best of luck in your sessions!

psychedelic experience five 5 level scale

The Graeme Carl Scale is a five level scale for measuring the effects of a psychedelic experience.

I first came across the scale whilst doing dosing research for the New Moon psychedelic retreat project. Myself and co-founder Tuk needed a way to collect data on the strength of people’s experiences with psilocybin truffles, and we found Graeme Carl’s on Erowid.

We were aware of the Shulgin Rating Scale too, and to be honest thought that would be really cool to use, but it just wasn’t as practical and useable as this one.

We adapted a version for ourselves, making some small changes and additions, and splitting up the effects described at each level into cognitive, physical, and visual effects. It’s not a flawless categorisation of effects, but it has proven to be very useable.

Here is the adapted Graeme Carl Psychedelic Experience Scale:

Level 1

Visual

  • Brighter or clearer colours
  • Environment becomes more tangible

Cognitive

  • Some short term memory anomalies
  • Music and sounds become ‘wider’
  • Mild ‘stoning’ effect

Physical

  • No notable physical effects

Level 2

Visual

  • Things start to move and breathe
  • Some 2 dimensional patterns become apparent upon shutting eyes
  • You can control OEVs i.e. they only appear if you look carefully for them

Cognitive

  • Increase in abstract, novel, or creative thought becomes apparent
  • Confused or reminiscent thoughts
  • Continual distractive thought patterns, alternated with periods of focus

Physical

  • Body can feel heavy making standing up more difficult
  • Movement at times more difficult and balance can be off

Level 3

Visual

  • Very obvious visuals, everything looking curved and/or warped patterns and kaleidoscopes seen on walls, faces etc.
  • Some mild hallucinations such as rivers flowing in wood grained or ‘mother of pearl’ surfaces
  • Closed eye hallucinations become 3 dimensional
  • OEVs appear everywhere without any effort

Cognitive

  • Losing track of time concerning how long you have been tripping
  • Time distortions and ‘moments of eternity’

Physical

  • Movement at times becomes extremely difficult

Level 4

Visual

  • Strong hallucinations, i.e. objects morphing into other objects

Cognitive

  • Some loss of reality
  • Destruction or multiple splitting of the ego. (Things start talking to you, or you find that you are feeling contradictory things simultaneously)
  • Time becomes meaningless
  • ESP type phenomena
  • Blending of the senses: synaesthesia

Physical

  • Out of body experiences

Level 5

Visual

  • Total loss of visual connection with reality

Cognitive

  • The senses cease to function in the normal way
  • Total loss of ego
  • The actual universe within which things are normally perceived, ceases to exist

Physical

  • Merging with space, other objects or the universe
psychedelic experience five 5 level scale

The levels of the psychedelic experience scale are non-linear compared to dose, illustrated on Erowid.

Using the scale

Writing up a report after your experience can help to track your level of experience at different doses. This can give you useful data for future explorations. These reports can be kept in a journey log, AKA a drug journal.

Bear in mind that being on one level for one domain does not mean that it will be the same on another. For example, an experience could show level 2 effects on the cognitive, and level 3 on the visual. You can rate each level a different score, and then an overall, and this allows you to get a snapshot of the intensity at a glance. For example:

Cognitive: 2
Visual: 3
Physical 2
Emotional: 2

Overall: 2.3

Emotional effects aren’t included in the scale, so you can just do that one just based on your feeling. 😉

It may be that effects of more than one level can be felt. If that’s the case, score the highest domain at which effects were felt. For example, if you felt an increase in abstract thoughts (level 2) and were losing track of time (level 3), then score the cognitive level a 3.

You can read more about Graeme Carl’s Scale on Erowid here.

lilly psychonautic center

The Lilly Psychonautic Centre was a remarkable place. There was a special atmosphere in the air. There was a feeling of comradeship, of brotherhood and sisterhood in our shared vision and passion. We were explorers on the far reaches of consciousness, pushing the boundaries of the known, and dedicated in our mission of contributing to the sum of human knowledge.

The centre was first established in 2033. I was one of the founding members and eventually, a lead explorer. When we started out some people compared the centre to early experimental hippie communes, like Millbrook. In reality, it was much closer to places like the Kennedy Space Centre, or Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center: the facilities where astronauts did their training. We journeyed under tightly controlled conditions. We were systematic in our approach. Aside from a few experimental missions, we conducted all explorations under precise controls. 

Psychonauts were sent off in mission rooms; padded, soundproofed, insulated, zero gravity containers. We’d essentially removed all variables from the physical plane. We were linked up by intercom to talk to ground control, when relaying information or needing guidance.

Explorations began at precise times. Doses were administered into the bloodstream on the second. Before taking off, we had checklists we ran through that were spoken out loud, like the old airplane pilots.

Around the camp you could feel a deep sense of belonging. Though each of us journeyed alone, we were all part the same team. Everyone there was supportive and encouraging of each other. Sure, there were some rivalries, especially at the top level, between those who wanted assignments for the missions furthest and deepest into the verse, but mostly it was healthy and playful competition. We pushed each other on in ways that were conducive to our shared goals.

At the camp all of the psychonauts were on training regimes. We focused on all the aspects that were fundamental to being explorers. Physical conditioning was key. We underwent specific physical regimes and consulted with the best nutrition experts in the world. This kept our bodies primed to handle the vibrational changes and recalibration that deep journeying required.

Mindset training was core to our programme. We conducted various training sessions in pods and VR simulations. The simulations were useful, but they never compared to the actual journeys. The best preparatory work was actually done in the test runs that were run on lower doses. If not in sensory intensity, they were closer to the real missions in terms of headspace. The VR states could never quite capture that sense of expanded consciousness.

We had flotation pods around the camp for recovery. The type of sensory deprivation tanks that Lilly, our namesake and one of our forerunners, had invented. Upon returning from missions, it was obligatory to spend time in the pods to aid our bodies in recovery and to mentally decompress. Some of those conditions in the deeper spaces were bewildering, and psychonauts often came back confused and shellshocked. We tried to incrementally increase doses and account for safety, but when you are pushing on the furthest reaches of awareness, you can’t account for the unknowns you’ll encounter. The undiscovered terrain was precisely what we were intent on exploring.

To assuage the the worst of it, we had reorientation processes in place, and teams of therapists to help crews’ mental health. Everyone felt supported, and that was important. That sense of support emboldened some of our bravest explorers to keep going further, no matter how crazy it seemed.

We had teams of psyche-cartographers, who would aid in the creation of the reports once psychonauts got back. And we also had dedicated teams whose work it was to bridge the gap between individuals’ experiences. At first it was difficult, because we psychonauts were from all around the world, and the difference in our native languages made it almost impossible to translate into a single unified theory and map of the terrains we were uncovering. So we experimented with various forms of relaying and mapping the information once explorers returned.

In time, we developed our own vocabulary, our own terms, and eventually our own language. Looking back, some of those early terms were so primitive that they are laughable now, like the ‘quasi-quantum loop jumps’, ‘arche-psyche-spirals’, or the ‘nothing-beyond-nothingness field’. Early on we often borrowed words from old spiritual traditions and wove them in, where states of being seemed to overlap. But in time we found that we had to create new methods based on our own base vocabulary. In that way we even made advances in linguistics.

We had our skeptics early on. We started out before psychedelics had been uncovered as the next great tools for discovery, able to unravel key information that would help us to understand spiritual matters that science hadn’t yet been able to touch. At the time psychedelics were mostly used for personal therapy, there was a mental health epidemic and it was through that lens that they were rediscovered.

But when the findings that we brought back continued to hold up, it came harder and harder for people to deny the value of our work. We made significant contributions to breakthroughs in multiple other fields. We unlocked problems in quantum physics and mathematics. Some of our protocols were even adopted by NASA, as our funding overtook theirs.

By the very nature of our field, we were obliged to incorporate epistemology, and eventually we created a whole new field of knowledge. We had discovered our next great frontier as a species, and in doing so, we made the largest strides in the evolution of consciousness that life had undergone in millennia.

It was as much a scientific endeavour as it was spiritual. They were so deeply intertwined that it was impossible to say one was more important than the other. In time it became known that they were one and the same.

It was the most incredible time. We had some of the most curious minds and courageous souls in the world in that centre, and we all knew it. For all of us on site, there was nowhere else we wanted to be. We woke up every day with a sense of inspiration, adventure, and belonging. It was the time of our lives.

Looking back, I feel truly blessed to have been part of such an incredible, pioneering and revolutionary venture of our species, which ultimately lead us beyond our previous conceptions of what we thought it was to be human.

How little we knew.

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This retrospective report was transformed into old perception and translated into the English of 2021 to be sent back there as a vision of the future.

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Inspired by all the great explorers. Especially John C. Lilly, Kilindi Iyi and Christopher Bache.

Featured for day 24 PSYJuly 2021.