What should you do when under the influence of psilocybin to make the most of the session? What should you do if you encounter fear? What is the best way to navigate a psychedelic journey?

These are all questions you might ask if you are preparing to embark on a psychedelic journey and hoping for an insight or nugget to help you on your path forward in life.

Research setting for a psilocybin study

Bill Richards, one of the founders of the psychedelic research team at Johns Hopkins – one of the leading research institutes in the world of psychedelic research and responsible for those studies boasting the remarkable results that you’ve probably heard – is one of the most experienced figures in the psychedelic field today. Richards, who has overseen hundreds of experiences and had his own too, has put together a set of flight instructions that are read to all study participants who take psilocybin at Johns Hopkins.

These instructions are one of the best resources I’ve found when it comes to high dose psychedelic navigation they offer advice on what to do at certain encounters or points on your journey. They are the basis for an adapted form of flight instructions I put together for New Moon retreat participants.

You can read more of the study instructions at trippingly here, and find Richards’ music playlist for tripping here.

Flight Instructions by Bill Richards

Please relax.  You will never be left alone during your experience.  You need not worry about physical safety, [the name of the other sitter] and I will be here to help you and maintain your safety.

You may experience a deep and transcendental experience.  You may have feelings of the loss of one’s self, experience a sensation of rebirth or even death.  You may experience a feeling that you have ceased to exist as an individual and are connected with the world or the universe.  If you experience the sensation of dying, melting, dissolving, exploding, going crazy etc. — go ahead.  Experience the experience.  Remember that the death/transcendence of your ego or your everyday self is always followed by Rebirth/Return to the normative world of space & time.  Safest way to return to normal is to entrust self unconditionally to the emerging experiences.  

Instruction for Study Guides

Avoid attempting to guide the participant down any journey. However, we encourage you to help the participant enter a deeper experience by encouraging the participant with phrases such as:

“If you see a door, what will you do”?  (Encourage the participant to “walk through it”)

“Trust the trajectory, follow your path”

“Let Go, Be Open, Trust”

“If you see a window, what will you do?”  (Encourage the participant to “look through it” or “open it”)

“If you feel like you’re dying, melting, dissolving, exploding, going crazy etc.—go ahead, embrace it.”

“Climb staircases, open doors, explore paths, fly over landscapes”

If the participant is feeling fear, encourage the participant to confront the fear:

“Look the monster in the eye and move towards it… Dig in your heels; ask, ‘What are you doing in my mind?’ Or, ‘What can I learn from you?’ Look for the darkest corner in the basement, and shine your light there.”

“The same force that takes you deep within will, of its own impetus, return you safely to the everyday world.”

If the participant is mild physical pain encourage the participant to investigate the pain using the phrases below (if confronted with intense or acute pain, immediately notify the medical staff):

“Look into the pain you are experiencing, visualize it and see it as clearly as you can.  Where is the source of the pain?  Can you embrace the pain or make the pain leave you?”

“Can you visualize the pain?  Can you see it clearly for what it is?  Is this pain serving you or should the pain leave?”

If the participant encounters nausea or vommits remind the participant:

“Part of your being is discomfort, which shall pass.”

“Feel the nausea leaving you, and you will soon return to comfort”

“Nausea is temporary and it will pass, embrace it and then send it on its way.”

If the participant becomes sick, use the waste bin and towel provided in the room and alert the medical staff.  Follow the training you received regarding nausea until the medical staff arrives.

The picture trip is a technique that was employed by a pioneer of psychedelic therapy, Leo Zeff. It is done as part of the preparation and also during the psychedelic session itself.

This description of the method is from the book about Leo: The Secret Chief Revealed.

Preparation

To do this exercise you will need to gather some photos before the trip. These photos will form a history of your life. Go back home or get them wherever you are or write for them. Get all the pictures that you can and bring them to wherever you are.

Pictures to Gather:

  • Yourself, one at age two and one every two years thereafter through adolescence, up to adulthood.
  • Two pictures each of your mother, father and any siblings; one when they were young but you can still remember them, and a recent one.
  • Pictures of any other family members that are or were significant in your life.
  • A picture of your husband/wife, or any woman or man who has had great significance in your life. Lovers, current or past. If you’re married, wedding pictures.
  • A picture of a grandparent that was significant in your life.
  • If you have children, a picture of them when they were about two years old, and a recent one.
  • Any other significant pictures. Any pictures with an emotional charge.

As you collect the photos

“I ask them to select the pictures in this manner: Gather them all together—boxes, albums, however they are, and put them in front of you, and start with one. The top one or anything like that.

Pick it up and look at it. Just look at it to see what you experience in connection with that picture. Look at it a little while. You may not experience anything. It’s all right. Put it aside, pick up the next one, then look at it. If it provokes any memories, kinda sit with the memories a little bit, let them go where they want to go. Whatever feelings you have, allow them to be there. Whenever you come across a picture that’s on the list, set it aside in a separate pile. Go through all the pictures you’ve got, every single one of them, doing that. You may have to have two or three sittings to do it.

I ask them to do it no further away than a week before the trip, as close to the time of the trip as they can. I want to tell you something. That really turns them on. When they come they’re in the middle of their trip.”

During the session

A few hours into the trip, when you’re functional and can move around, get up and sit down at a table to do the picture trip.

Start out with pictures of yourself. Take the first one.

“Just look at it, just look at it and see what you experience. Look at it as long as you want to. When you’re through looking at it, hand it back. If you have anything to say, fine. Say it. If not, you don’t have to say anything.”

One at a time go through the pictures.

“The pictures, they don’t react much to the two- to four-year-old pictures. Some time around the age of six is a very significant picture for them. That’s the point in life where we lose our naturalness and we start taking on the acts of the world and behaving the way people tell us to and start squelching our own naturalness. Frequently they get to that picture and they start to cry. And cry and cry and cry.”

This can be really powerful exercise and help to stir things up or move things around in the emotional body. The beginning of these movements can help to shift something inside. The first time I used the photo trip remains one of my singular most powerful and releasing journeys of my life and as Leo says happens with most people, I cried and cried, and cried. It was beautiful. Try it out!

You can find the book about Leo as a pdf on the MAPS website: The Secret Chief Revealed. I can absolutely recommend it for both journeyers and tripsitters.

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

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

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

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

Recognize

what is happening
This is the roots of understanding

 

Allow

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

 

Investigate

with gentle attention
This deepens understanding

 

Nurture

with friendliness
This awakens love

 

From my notes

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

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

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

R

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

A

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

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

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

I

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

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

N

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

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

What’s the quality of the sensations?

How do I know I’m feeling fear?

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

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

Non-Identification

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

Practice RAIN with a guided meditation

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

There is a link between death and psychedelics. At high-doses, people’s reports are very similar to peoples reports of near death experiences, and it is not uncommon for people to sense or feel like they are dying.

As per the John Hopkins flight instructions, if a participant senses they are dying, they should go ahead and allow themselves to die. Every experience of dying is followed by an experience of rebirth and this is where one gets a chance to start afresh. This is where they get a chance to have that renewal or rebirth many people report from the psychedelic experiences.

A psychedelic rebirth might come in the form of a significant shift in perspective, a new awareness of certain things in life, or a new way of dealing with things.

‘If we are spiritually committed, we must face our fears of death while we are alive. In Buddhist meditation it is “learning to die before death”. Since death will take us anyway, why live our life in fear?’

Jack Kornfield – After The Ecstacy, The Laundry

Death rituals are used in many ancient cultures as a means of re-birth and this is also an aspect of coming of age rituals; part of saying goodbye to something old and transitioning to a new phase.

The perspective of death or the thought of dying can bring us to a new clarity about our life. People who have a severe accident or other close shave with death suddenly get a clear perspective. One thing I read many years ago but which has left a lasting impact on me was the article Top five regrets of the dying. Death can help us to live more fully.

Call me crazy, but I keep this on my door and mark it at the end of every day. From the excellent Tim Urban

Contemplating death as a practice

Last year myself and New Moon colleague Mazzie Lolo held a workshop at Ōsmos studio exploring psychedelics and death.

It was a two-part workshop with the first half being a theoretical part and the second half was an experiential part where we tried to give participants a glimpse of what insights can be gained from confronting death.

My Experience

During research for the workshop I compiled a series of death contemplations and worked through them one afternoon on a mini dose of LSD.

The exercise helped me to reflect on what is missing from my life – a woman who I can share my journey with, and helped me to start devising a roadmap to help me towards fulfilling that area of my life.

The contemplations also helped me again touch base with basic gratitude for life and the love I have for my family. Indeed the next day I ordered some surprise flowers to be sent to my mum.

So I would like to share the set of contemplations and also suggest that, like most introspective exercises, they can be a great preparation for a psychedelic experience. I once read on a Reddit thread about psychedelic preparation someone saying that the best way to prepare for a psychedelic experience is to prepare to die. I thought this was an excellent way to frame a preparation.

Setting Up To Contemplate

All you need is a pad and paper and some free and undistracted time. I would recommend to give yourself an hour or so or two to do this exercise and treat it as a type of psychedelic experience in itself. Switch off your phone, remove distractions… the usual deep work stuff.

There contemplations work on two levels. The first is considering that you will die soon. The second is, with a second chance at life, thinking about what you will do with that.

If you’re feeling it, you could do a guided meditation on impermanence or death beforehand.

7 Death Contemplations

Write down answers without much thought. No need to spend more than a few minutes per question.

1. What dreams or goals would be lost if I died today?

What have you been planning to do at some later date, when conditions were right?

If life for you wasn’t ending now, how could you begin these things now?

2. Who have I not forgiven?

What resentments or grudges are taking up space inside you?
Are there traumas or heart breaks from an earlier time in your life that have been influencing the way you are living now?

Do you want to hold onto them until your last moments on earth?
If you’re not comfortable with not having forgiven someone, what small steps can you take to begin rectifying that?

3. If my life ends in one hour, what will I miss the most?
4. How did I block love from coming into my life?

When has life been offering you love — in any form —and you’ve turned away?
Why do you turn away?
On your deathbed, are you at peace with these decisions?

If the answer is no, you can take steps to begin to remedy it by reaching out, or challenging yourself to receive love the next time it’s offered to you.

5. What do I want to be remembered for?

What have you done in life to create those memories in the people around you?

6. What is undone in my life?
7. Who do I want with me as I’m dying?

Whose presence would add to your peace in your final hours?

What needs to be said before you die, and to whom?

 

Using psychedelics as a boost

Using low to mid doses of psychedelics can really turbo charge the mental and emotional intensity and therefore outcome of exercises which promote introspection or well-being in some way; for example camping in nature, or doing a brainstorming or journaling session.

I found this to be a very useful exercise and added it to my bank of exercises to be done in the style of psycholytic therapy. More of these another time, but for now, try these contemplations.

I first got introduced to the concept of clearing as a psychedelic preparation practice from DMT researcher Rick Strassman’s chapter Preparation For The Journey from the psychedelic compilation book, The Divine Spark. He outlined some basic and practical ways of clearing.

Then a couple of years ago, I saw this concept evolved when I went on on an experience Retreat with the UK psychedelic Society. As part of their preparation guidelines they included clearing and broadened the the idea to include emotional clearing; clearing space in the heart. This included, for example, having difficult conversations that you’ve been putting off, or if this was not possible, writing a letter to that person expressing your feelings (even if if you aren’t going to send it).

Clearing could also be known as creating space, tidying up loose ends, or getting around to doing those things that you have been meaning to do but have been putting off. It could also be known as closing open loops or clearing your mind.

Clearing practices can help to bring about a greater sense of peace by putting to bed nagging thoughts that may be at the back of one’s mind. Those oft subconscious unresolved things can take up space.

Clearing is so important because space is where new things can emerge. If we are hoping for an insight or a new idea to emerge in a psychedelic experience it’s best that we try to clear the way for them to grow and sprout. Nothing new can grow in a garden which is already full.

Clearing can be done on many levels, both big and small. A lot of it can be very mundane. Here are some examples:

  • selling or donating clothes/things you no longer use
  • household jobs you’ve been putting off
  • paying overdue bills
  • filing
  • cleaning the apartment

Digital Clearing

Computers and tech are such a big part of our lives these days and I think it’s very useful to also do digital clearing. Digital clearing may seem less obvious because you can close your laptop and lose sight of your mess, where as if you are in a dirty room, it’s hard to ignore. However, a cluttered digital life can take up a lot more mental space than we might imagine.

Some examples of digital clearing practices:

  • cleaning up your computer; sorting download and document folders
  • responding to any unanswered emails or messages across all messaging platforms
  • inbox zero
  • sending any other emails you’ve been meaning to get around to

Emotional Clearing

If we want to experience some kind of deep rebirth or renewal from a psychedelic experience then we need to prepare to let go of old things and to say goodbye to things from our past. In this way a thorough clearing practice can be seen as preparing for death. Opening and clearing the heart can be a difficult, but ultimately, powerful preparation. Some examples:

  • Calling loved ones and touching base with them
  • Expressing a feeling to a friend or partner that you’ve been holding back
  • Having that difficult conversation with a flatmate or co worker
  • Reaching out to someone you wronged and apologising to them
  • Saying things that shouldn’t be left unsaid

If your time is going to be up, what needs to be cleared up before you can pass on in peace?