psychedelic service sheet altar ritual

Taking a high dose of a psychedelic still scares me. This is true even after having embarked upon many high dose sessions. One thing that I’ve found helps me to find a sense of calm is having some kind of structure to the session.

Sometimes for my trips I will have a very minimal structure. Usually, with low or medium doses, I’d be more on the recreational tip; more loose and informal. On the other hand, for higher dose formal sessions, what I might call ceremonies, I tend towards a more formal and structured approach. For these more ritualistic high-dose experiences, I create a service sheet.

Psychedelic Service Sheet

Much like you might find at a ceremony such as a wedding, funeral or other church service, a psychedelic service sheet contains the order of proceedings. It may also include the words of any prayers, songs or readings that are part of the service.

I usually only create a service sheet for inner journeys. As I’ll be lying down with my eyes closed for these sessions, my service sheet is mostly just an order for opening and closing the session.

I really like having a service sheet because it makes the occasion feel special. It is also very practical. It gives me a clear step-by-step run through. Having this clear to do list, or, order of service, helps me to go through specific steps in order to bring about a sense of ease, order, and structure. This helps to create something of a container for the experience. When I’m a little anxious or fidgety before a high dose session, having this clear and simple run through helps me to follow steps one by one and sets me up nicely for my session. It’s similar to some athletes or musicians’ pre-show rituals. 

Contents of a Service Sheet

My service sheet will typically contain the steps for my opening and closing rituals, and the prayer that I read aloud as part of my opening. There is also space for me to write my intention, as well as other key details like the location, style of the session, the people present, and the date. It may include some navigation reminders or guidelines, and/or a couple of lines to help me connect to my inner resources. It also has a section for me to fill in the dosage, substance, and start time. 

Helps Create the Desired Set

On my service sheet I include things which help to move me into a desired state: feeling safe, relaxed, humble, and open. Here is a quick summary of items that I include and what they help connect me to.

Resources: safety, strength
Meditation: calm, open
Prayer: humble, open
Gratitude: heart opening

They are all, in some form or another, centering practices.

How & What I Use for my Service Sheets

Sometimes I have the sheet printed off on a sheet of A4 paper. More often I will use the double page of a notepad, which I lie open on a flat surface in a designated place. Depending on the setup and space, it may be part of or next to an altar. The pad then remains open there for the duration of the session, and is only put away once the ceremony has been closed.

psychedelic service sheet altar ritual

I typically like to include a sound, such as ringing a bell or making an OM, to both open and close. I also like to light and then blow out a candle as bookends, with the flame symbolizing the journey. When I blow it out at the end I can make a wish and do a little candle magic. This is, by the way, for you cynics, performed every day across the country when children blow out little flames on their birthday cakes.

My Influences

I think the ayahuasca ceremonies I attended in the Amazon were a large influence on me adopting service sheets into my practice. They were easily the most formalized ceremonies that I’d attended. They had a very clear structure to them, with distinct stages, or rounds, of the service. They also included many preselected readings and prayers. I really appreciated that approach and how special it felt. It also added to a sense of containment and made the whole thing feel more safe. I also think using to-do lists and practicing productivity concepts like ‘masterpiece days‘ and deep work have influenced me in this way.

Record of Doses and Journeys

Service sheets also work as a handy record. They can be used to look back on previous trips. For practical considerations, having things like doses noted can be helpful for calibrating and titrating your dosage over time. So if you think like ‘oh yeah, that time we tripped at Lisa’s place, that was a good level, how much did we take?’. You’ve got it there in your written records.

It’s a large part of ritualizing use which has many benefits of its own, and is also kind of like Taking Drugs Like a Nerd.

Making Your Own Service Sheet

If this idea interests you, I would recommend trying to create your own service sheet. If you find it’s not for you, you can go ditch it and go back to your usual approach. Here I will include a few examples of orders that might be included. You can consider them a starting point and take this idea wherever you like. Your service sheet might look totally different to mine.

Examples

Example 1: Group Inner Journeys Style

Once everyone is ready:

  • Opening Circle (A stick goes round the circle, and everyone shares how they feel)
  • 3 minutes silent meditation
  • Pass doses round in circle and bless them
  • Music begins (Inwards, by Tommi)
  • Take doses
  • Journey
  • Playlist Ends
  • Closing circle

Example 2: Group Dynamic Session

Opening

  • Ring Bell
  • Opening Circle
  • Eye gazing in pairs
  • Take Dose

Session (modeled on Osho Dynamic Meditation)

Playlist begins

  • Section 1: Loosening
    Shaking
  • Section 2: Activation
    Free flowing movement & dance
  • Section 3: Calm
    Standing or seated meditation
  • Section 4: Stillness
    Seated or lying meditation

Playlist Ends

(When participants feel ready to re-engage, they may move to the reintegration room)

Closing

  • Closing Circle
  • Give Thanks
  • Ring Bell

Example 3: MVO (Minimum Viable Order of Service)

  • Cheers
  • Take dose

[Session]

  • Closing joint

Would you ever use a service sheet? Is it too formal for you? Would you prefer a more relaxed approach? For high-dose sessions where things can get a little more out of control, I find a service sheet helps to make myself feel more grounded and ready to embark upon a journey. I believe it might help you, too.

Safe travels and best wishes.

Food Suggestions for Before, During, and After Psychedelic Sessions

‘What should I eat before my trip?’

This is a common question I get asked by people planning their psychedelic sessions. In this post I will give my recommendations. As a bonus, I will also include suggestions for during and after the trip.

Pre-psychedelic session meal

I recommend eating a light, healthy breakfast about three hours before the start of a day time session. At least two hours. A green smoothie or a bowl of oats with seeds and fresh fruit are both good options. I think it’s good to be hungry by the time the session starts. That hunger will disappear during the trip for most people, and return later on. 

The aim is to not have any food digesting in your stomach. Firstly, it’s better if your body isn’t expending any energy on the digestive process during the onset. Secondly, the feelings of digestion can be heightened and this can be uncomfortable. It can also contribute to feelings of nausea.

The best pre-session food does vary for different people, but I’ve found the empty-stomach-but-not-starving approach to work well for most people. If doing a session later in the day, I recommend having the same period of two-three hours without food before dosing. 

Session food

For most people, hunger disappears entirely during the session. It may begin to return in the later stages after the peak, so it can be good to have some snacks ready. Hand food like fruit and nuts are good for this purpose. They are easy to handle and eat, ideal for grabbing a bite. I don’t really recommend eating much during an inner journey style session as it brings attention to the outer world. That said, it’s fine on a short break, or if the hunger is becoming distracting and actually a hindrance to the purpose of the session. 

After the session

After a long journey some people do not experience much hunger at all and can barely eat. Others return ravenous, and enjoy eating a substantial meal. Others still, like myself, do not feel hungry or find the thought of food particularly appealing, but as soon as they take a bite, they realise that they are actually really hungry and enjoy eating a good meal. Bear this in mind and if you don’t feel hungry, consider trying a small amount.

I recommend having something healthy, hearty and wholesome ready to eat afterwards. You can prepare something before the session day that can be easily heated up on the stove or in the microwave when you’re ready to eat. This ensures minimum fuss in the kitchen after your session when you might still be feeling some of the after effects. Good options include a vegetable stew or curry because they often taste better after having been left to sit for a day 🙂 Including potatoes or bread can help bring a grounding, comforting element to the meal.

I recommend vegetarian or plant based dishes because if you have any kind of conscience around animal products, this can be magnified under the influence of psychedelics. You might well find that food very unappealing.

Food in the run up to a trip

Leading up to the trip, and at least for the day directly before, I again recommend eating light and healthy. Avoid any particularly greasy or spicy food the day before. You want a settled stomach for the big day. A friend of mine once had a really spicy curry the evening before a session and had a few more ‘spicy’ trips to the bathroom during the day than he would’ve liked. For the same reason, and also to ensure a good night’s rest, I recommend avoiding alcohol the day before, ideally for a week leading up to the session.

Any difference for psilocybin or LSD?

My advice is the same for both LSD and psilocybin because most of the same still applies. Nausea is more commonly experienced on psilocybin so might be of greater importance, but it can also be experienced on LSD (and 2-CB), especially in the early stages of higher dose journeys. Like a flight, there can be turbulence on the way up. The best you can do is try to weather the storm, surrender, and remember that it will pass.

Ginger

It can be useful to have some raw ginger to chew on. The ginger is anti-nausea, and having something to chew on can also be comforting. If eating mushrooms, this can also help to cover the flavour which in itself makes some people gag. Another option is to drink a nice strong brew of ginger tea before hand so it’s already in your system when you take off. One thing to bear in mind is to not drink too much, as this can lead to multiple trips to the bathroom.

For more tips, read how to avoid nausea when taking psilocybin.

Food in the days and weeks afterwards 

After the journey, listen to your body.

‘Listen to my body? What does that even mean?!’.

I’ve thought the same thing myself before. If it sounds strange, I invite you to just try it. Before deciding on what to eat or buy from the supermarket, take a moment to tune in to how you feel in your body. See if anything comes up. You can even ask: ‘what food would you like to receive?’ or ‘what would you like to be nourished with?’. This tuning in to your body is a good integration practice in general and also useful for embodying emotions and feelings that surface in the days, weeks, and months afterwards. 

Try to follow a healthy diet but not to the point where it becomes stressful to maintain. It’s important to remember that happiness is important to health too, so treat yourself to nicer, and sometimes more celebratory meals too. Practicing mindful eating, to savour each mouthful, can make these types of indulgences more enjoyable, and the need for them less frequent too. Also, sometimes a heavier, more substantial meal might be helpful if you are feeling a bit ungrounded.

Improving your diet can be seen as a long game in the part of improving physical health, so take care and be mindful if making big changes that might shock your system or be hard to maintain.

Final Thoughts

Of course, as with anything, the best diet before, during and after your trip will depend on the person. If you haven’t yet found a personalised approach that works for you, I recommend starting a drug journal and collecting your own data. You can make a few simple notes after each session so you have them in one place for future reference. Until then, I believe this advice will serve you well as a solid starting point.

Thank you and safe journeys!

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journal psychedelic

When I first started using psychedelics, I used to always make sure that I had a pen and paper handy during my sessions. I did this so I could make notes during the experience, as there would nearly always be thoughts that popped up that seemed crucially important to write down and remember.

Since I started doing more formal, psychedelic therapy style sessions, however, I’ve made it something of a rule to not write anything down during the trip itselfI may take some notes after the peak, but generally the session day is for experience, not for journaling. That day is for me to be in the experience, not to analyse or take notes on it. In terms insights, I’ve found that the most important stuff sticks, and I’ll revisit and capture the next day.

Journaling on integration day

Thought I don’t write during the session day, I journal a lot after the experience.

The day after I will put on the playlist that I used and listen to it again from start to finish. Getting as close to the session format as possible, I will also wear my eye mask and headphones again, with the mask slid above my eyes. Listening to the music helps to bring back memories from the trip.  The other details also help to recreate the context of the experience which helps to retrieve the memories in as much detail as possible.

I will then sit or lie down with pen and paper. As I listen to the music, I journal freely about the experience. I follow a directive I found in one of the research studies on psilocybin done at Johns Hopkins, to write up an ‘open-ended narrative of the experience’. The write up might include feelings, thoughts, or realizations. Whatever comes back up, I journal about it.

Psychedelic explorer Christopher Bache has written about how he did this the day after each of his sessions too. His integration process was so meticulous that he would listen to each track on the playlist on repeat, until he felt he had captured the essence of what he experienced during that piece. Admittedly, I don’t quite go that far. Once through the entire playlist is already 5 hours journaling, and I spread this over the course of a day, breaking it up with walks outside and meals.

Whilst journaling, I also identify key themes from the experience. These keywords may look like: health, gratitude, listening, providing. Though those may look obvious or trite, each word will be infused with my own personal meaning from the session, and having them neatly identified in keywords can help to quickly touch base with the essence of the experience. I’ve found this is useful for longer term integration, or setting integration intentions.

Journaling as preparation

Journaling can also act as a useful preparation exercise. An empty page is a good and private place to dump thoughts and feelings and can be a good way to explore what’s on your mind. Writing thoughts and feelings can help to have some kind of detachment from them and having them on a piece of paper in front of you helps to externalize them. This can help to bring about new perspectives.

Journaling on lower doses 

This could be thought of as something like crossing journaling with a psycholytic approach. Here the pad acts as the therapist. This is something I use with the non classic psychedelics MDMA and ketamine. With these I always journal any personal things that come up, invariably at the beginning of the session. This might be about some tension or a problem I’m experiencing in a relationship. I will journal, going with the flow of what arises. This may take the form of simply writing thoughts or feelings down, or it may take the form of writing a letter to someone, writing down things that I would like to say to them. 

In my review after the session, I will decide if it’s actually something that I should send or say to them, or if its something that I need to look more into myself before taking any action. Sometimes getting clarity through writing is enough.

Audio journaling

Another way of doing journaling is audio journaling. You can open a voice memo app or use some other audio recording device and freely speak out loud. Here, the audio device is the therapist. This can also be a great way to give voice and expression to your inner world with tone and texture.

If you are experiencing frustration or anger with someone you might press record on the voice memo app and just dump all your stuff as if you were speaking to the person. This can help to really tap into your feelings and to allow them expression in a way where no one has to be on the receiving end. It can provide some relief and also help to clarify your truest feelings that you may have been afraid to actually express. 

If you would like written notes on your vocalisations, you can also get a digital tool to transcribe for you. I often talk directly into google docs and have the little google robot wizard type up what I’m saying as I go. I even wrote the first draft of this article by talking into my phone 😉 

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To sum up, journaling can be a great accomplice to psychedelic work, at all stages: before, during and after. For preparation, navigation, and integration. I encourage you to give it a go and find what works for you.

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tripping in nature tips

Psychedelic tripping in nature can be whole ‘nother level awesome.

The difficulty is that it’s an uncontrolled environment. Tripping safely and making the most of your time in the great outdoors can be helped hugely by some simple preparation.

Here are five tips to help you stay safe and enjoy the experience without getting bogged down in logistics. Some of these may seem obvious, but can be easily overlooked in a spur of the moment trip…

Take enough water and snacks with you

You do not want to get caught short out in nature and begin getting hungry or thirsty only to realize you’re either quite a long way from a shop or home, or that you don’t yet want to go to either. Keeping these supplies keeps you independent of the need to head to stock up.

Make sure you have the appropriate clothing for the weather

If it’s going to be hot you don’t want to be stuck in jeans, or forced to strip down to your undies, which will probably make you more self-conscious.

Conversely, you don’t wanna be left in shorts and a T-shirt if it’s cold and raining.

Check the weather forecast, prepare appropriately. You might need sunnies or a cap. Or you might want a pocket raincoat.

That said, don’t overpack because you don’t want to be lugging around a big heavy bag with you. Strike the balance and in cooler weather consider thin layered clothes rather than bulky winter jackets.

On the subject of weather, having some kind of base camp for your excursion can be helpful. Perhaps you have an airbnb which is in the countryside, from which you can go out and explore the vast expanse of nature. If needed, you can then stroll back to the comforts of home in what won’t be too much of an arduous journey.

Don’t get lost

You do not want to get lost in nature anytime. But especially when tripping.

This has happened to me before and I was pretty worried for a while there. I managed to find my way out of it due to a tip from a friend to stay in a certain area of woods. The woods ran alongside a stream which gave me a point of reference from which I could navigate back to town.

However you manage it, just make sure you know how you’ll find your way back.

If it’s maps on your phone, be careful that you’ll be able to get a signal if you need to. 

Or just pay attention to where you’re going and keep a lookout for points of reference.

I always take an old school compass with me. I have a rough idea of the direction I’m heading and the direction of my base camp, so in the worst case scenario I can always figure out how to make my way back to base. 

Depending on your substance, you may be sober enough to navigate with ease, so it might not be too much of a consideration. Judge accordingly.

Bring something that you can lie down on

Whether it’s a simple blanket or a sleeping mat, this can be very helpful. This can give you a little extra comfort if you want to lie down or just chill out. It might be that the ground is rough or has some kind of grass which is itchy or otherwise irritating.

As with any session setting, be it inside or outside: comfort is key.

Bonus: here is a Google Sheets copy of an outside trip checklist. Feel free to make a copy and make adjustments. You can then access it from your phone and do a quick run through before heading out. Copy of Outdoor Trip Checklist

Beware of interactions

Interacting with other people you might come across can be uncomfortable and a little weird. Just remember that you have no obligation to stop and talk with anyone. It’s fine for you to simply give a friendly smile and keep on walking.

If you are around people that are making you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, move on. If there’s something in your view that’s distracting or disturbing you, just changing your view and turning to face the other direction can be a simple and effective fix.

Get home safe

If you’re tripping in a park or nature area but heading back to your city home to sleep, you might consider treating yourself to a taxi to avoid the hassles or difficulty of navigating public areas and transport. You can consider this as a gift to your tripping self, and enjoy getting snuggly with a cuppa tea and some blankets once you arrive home. 

 

Leave no trace

To borrow a Burning Man principle here, this is less of a tip and more of a plea.

Please tidy up after yourself when you head out into nature. Our natural habitats are suffering enough as it is, and we should do our best to be stewards for the incredible planet that we are blessed to inhabit. 

Also, to move the psychedelic movement forward, you as a psychedelic tripper out in nature are representing psychonauts around the world. If you go round leaving your garbage behind, then you’re giving a bad name to us all and contributing to a negative public perception of the drug user. If we’re going to make ground as a movement then we want to show ourselves to be responsible, thoughtful and considerate citizens of the Earth.

Pick up your trash and leave no trace.

Final Thoughts

Tripping in nature can be a wonderful, beautiful, life affirming experience. It is something I think every psychedelic explorer should try: to connect to the wondrous and deep beauty of the Natural World. This can deepen our connection and stir up further ripples for the environmental and ecological movement. 

If you’re an environmentalist, this is a great way to strengthen your bond with the Earth and the biosphere, to reconnect with this living organism which we could certainly work to improve our relationship with.

As always, safe and awesome journeys. Enjoy your time in nature.

And remember to hug some trees.

 

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summon your courage

Two weeks ago I published a piece subtitled The Only 3 Things You Need For Your Next Trip. I wanted to help explorers remove obstacles by identifying them, as I know how it is to be in the position of wanting to set up a session, but still somehow unable to make it happen.

I focused on the minimal logistics required, as those can often be the biggest barriers. I’ve since realised that I missed probably the most important thing. The thing without which nothing else matters:

Courage

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that it takes no small amount of courage to put that dose in your mouth and embark on that journey into the unknown.

On a journey of psychedelic exploration, sooner or later, your ideas about the foundations of reality will be shaken. You will also have to face your shadow; the unknown dark side of your personality, the hidden parts that are deemed ‘unacceptable’, that bring rise to feelings of shame.

In those difficult moments, you will be forced to call upon all of your resources as a human being. It is truly challenging, but it is also extremely rewarding.

Nature loves courage, psychedelic bard Terence McKenna famously proclaimed in reference to psychedelic journey work. We might also say:

Life loves courage. The Universe loves courage.

In other words, we are rewarded by the universe when we face our fears, when we step into trust. It takes courage to hand over control, to let go, to face what emerges from the dark depths inside.

Embarking on your healing journey is no small undertaking. It takes greatness of heart to leave the known in search of something greater, and to willingly go towards those parts of yourself that you are most afraid of.

We must be brave, not only to face ourselves in psychedelic states, to really, honestly, look ourselves in the eye, but also to show up in the real world after the session has ended, to do the work the medicine has shown us we need to do. This is the challenge of integration.

But the effects of this work are not to be underestimated. When you heal yourself you heal a part of the larger whole. As you heal, and step out into the world, expressing who you are, the effects of your personal work ripple out to create wider social change.

A sensitive and honest-minded man, if he’s concerned about evil and injustice in the world, will naturally begin his campaign against them by eliminating them at their nearest source: his own person.
Fernando Pessoa

If you have heard the psychedelic call, and it is not going away, the biggest obstacle between you and your experience could be the courage to take the plunge and commit to it. Once that commitment is made, there is no obstacle too great to overcome. 

Maybe you have glimpsed the potential of psychedelics. Maybe you’ve had a casual trip with friends and got a taster of the mysteries they behold. Maybe you’ve already had powerful, even life-changing experiences, but they are long ago, now distant dreamlike memories. Though they are distant, somehow, some way, you know they are calling for a return, a revisit, a reunion. Maybe you know very well that you need to journey again, and life has been conveniently serving you all the excuses you need to justify your dance of avoidance. Maybe your reasons have been totally valid and your obstacles were legitimate, or your way was another for a while. Maybe your path was to step away, explore other modalities, tend to other responsibilities, integrate past experiences through other work and engagement in the world. 

But if you are reading this, then I suspect something deep inside is calling you and telling you that the time is ripe.

If you are ready to step forward, be prepared to muster every ounce of courage you have. This path is not for the comfort seeker, it is not for the faint of heart. But if that call is there, persistently tugging at you, calling you again and again, you can only ignore it for so long. Sooner or later, you will have to answer it, and embark on the path you are here to take. I will be walking alongside you.

Summon your courage.

Step forward.

You are needed.

 

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