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.
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.
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 turbocharge the mental and emotional intensity and therefore the outcome of exercises that 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
cleaning the apartment
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
sending any other emails you’ve been meaning to get around to
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?
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/shaah-shahidh-2M2N6RjUQao-unsplash-720x480-1.jpg480720John Robertsonhttp://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2020-07-12 02:03:452020-12-11 11:07:37Clearing: A Key To Psychedelic Preparation
The headphones/eye-mask direct-your-attention–inwards whilst–listening–to–a–playlist–of–music method for psilocybin sessions is the standard in psychedelic research but becoming increasingly popular outside of clinical studies too.
Two key pieces of equipment for a standard therapeutic journey
Whilst this is certainly not the only way of having a fruitful psychedelic session, it is an excellent one and one that I myself use regularly. It is also the basis for how we conduct our psilocybin truffle ceremonies with New Moon Psychedelic Retreats in the Netherlands.
However, with COVID-19 bringing our retreats to a screeching halt, I’ve realised that if I’m to continue my mission of increasing access to psychedelic experiences, I need to get back to handing over the tools and techniques needed for them out to the world through that incredible medium whose potentialities and capabilities are now being rediscovered and ever expanded; the internet. So, expect a rekindling of this site and a growing database of resources coming your way whilst retreat work takes a back seat.
Today, I’ll share a simple checklist for things you’ll need to have ready for a psychedelic therapy session at home. I use this list myself every time I do a session, so you know it’s good to go 😉
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/IMG_9853.jpg13332000John Robertsonhttp://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2020-05-21 14:19:282022-07-22 14:47:15A Simple Checklist For Psychedelic Therapy Sessions At Home
What’s the best way to prepare for a psychedelic experience?
When I ask this question, what I mean is: how can one prepare in a way that will maximise the positive benefits of an inner journey; the insights, increased awareness, a greater sense of connection and wellbeing, and all those other magical things you’ve probably heard that psychedelics can do.
In this post, I will outline some practices and techniques that I believe constitute a preparation that, if undertaken, considerably improves the chances of these benefits.
Prepare well for the journey, there is a long road ahead.
Preparing the ‘Set’
When it comes to shaping a psychedelic experience, there are two key words: set and setting. Set refers to mindset and setting means the environment. This post is not complete in this regard and will focus on the set; the inner state of the individual. It will focus on preparing the mind.
The practices and techniques covered here are:
The Photo Trip
Forming An Intention
Familiarising yourself with mindfulness techniques and developing a meditation practice is always my number one recommendation for session prep.
The potential benefit of meditation is twofold.
The first is to relieve anxiety and approach the session from a more relaxed place. The second is to practice exploring your thoughts and feelings without avoidance, judgment, or resistance.
In this second way, meditation can get the psychedelic process going before taking any substances; exploring your inner world and cultivating introspective and reflective states. Getting comfortable facing your thoughts and feelings, including uncomfortable ones, will serve you well, and can be thought of as something of a psychedelic warm-up.
With all this in mind, meditation aids one in their ability to follow the ultimate tenet of psychedelic navigation: let go and surrender.
This basic rule of thumb follows the observation that difficulties occur in a session when one resists or fights the effects of the psychedelic. Thoughts like ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’ or ‘this isn’t what was supposed to happen, I don’t like this, get me out’, are more problematic than actually going into what we understand as negative feelings; sadness, grief etc. and prevent us from processing something that might’ve been stuffed down. Meditation gives one practice in being with these feelings, allowing them, and all the while, breathing.
Janis Phelps’ referencing Leary & co in her talk at the Breaking Convention conference
If you are new to meditation, you’ll need some basic instruction and guidance to begin. Try finding a group or class near to where you live as some in person guidance with the support of a group is an excellent way to begin.
If that’s not possible there are many resources available online. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Center is a good place to start. Headspace and Waking Up are apps that both have a free run of short guided sessions and are a great introduction. Insight is another that has many guided meditations.
If you have the time and are serious about learning, a silent course is probably the best way to become well versed with meditation quickly. You can find donation based ones with Vipassana all around the world at dhamma.org
If you’d like to read more about psychedelics and meditation, I have written about how they’ve influenced each other on my personal journey
If meditation is difficult for you, try keeping a journal.
Rather than recording what you’ve done each day as one might do in a diary, invite introspection. Focus on your inner world, writing about feelings and thoughts, and include more general reflections and ideas about life. As author and write-letters-to-yourself enthusiast Cal Newport has pointed out, composing thoughts in the structured form demanded by written prose can often help to gain clarity.
Journaling, like meditation, can help to increase awareness of your perceptions. However, it need not be one or the other, and journaling can be an excellent companion to a meditation practice. Though it’s not necessary to write on a regular schedule, some kind of minimum regularity, say once a week, will probably help to begin the practice.
Alternative Option: Audio Journaling You might try audio journaling, opening a voice memo app and speaking your mind, if thats easier for you.
The Picture Trip
The ‘picture trip’ is a technique that was employed by a pioneer of psychedelic therapy, Leo Zeff. This description of the method is adapted from the book about Leo and his methods, The Secret Chief Revealed.
To do this exercise you will need to gather some photos before the trip. These photos will form a history of your life.
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.
• 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 go through your photos to find these, spend some time looking through your photo collection. Spend a few moments with each photo, looking at it and seeing what you feel with each one. If any memories or feelings come up, sit with them and see where they go. When you come across a picture for the picture trip, put it aside. Try to do this no further away than a week before the trip, as close to the time of the trip as you can.
Leo Zeff was a pioneer in the modern psychedelic therapy movement
As a teaser to convince you of the potential of this method, I’d like to share this quote from Leo found in the book:
‘People will come to me who have already tripped who want to have my particular kind of way of tripping. One of them had tripped at least five hundred times on acid, others who have tripped three, four hundred times, down through the early Sixties, clear up to recent times. You know, plenty of trips their own way […] We talk about it, and [..] so I’d say, “Sure.” They would have their trip on acid. Invariably these people have said, “I’ve never had an acid trip before in my life! This is the first time I’ve ever really had an acid trip.”
Personally, I can also tell you that my first acid trip using this method was the one of the most significant events of my life. So, I can recommend!
If you aren’t able to collect the photos for the picture trip, you can do the life timeline. The aim is the same; to explore your life story. If you feel up to it, you can do both.
• Begin with a wide piece of paper, approximately 1 metre in width. At least A3. It’s fine for you to stick or tape together smaller pieces if you don’t have one this size.
• Draw a long horizontal line across the length,.
• Mark your birth on one end and your current age on the other.
• Divide the line into segments that mark every five years of your life.
• Fill the timeline with people, happenings, decisions, events and anything which was significant. Use pictures and symbols, and you can write words, quotes or sentences. Anything which helps you to reconnect with these chapters and what you went through during these times of your life.
As you go through your life, spend some time thinking about and exploring feelings around the significant events. When you’ve finished, spend a few moments with each mark on your timeline, seeing what you feel with each one. As memories or feelings come up, sit with them and see where they go. Try to do this no further away than a week or two before, again ideally as close to the time as you can.
Formulate An Intention
Understanding your intention helps to give clarity and direction for a journey, so it’s worthwhile to consider.
Set aside some time to yourself and sit down with a journal or pad. At a park or somewhere in nature might appeal to you but anywhere without potential disturbance or distraction is fine.
Here are some questions to think about and make notes on.
Why are you doing this? What are you seeking?
What would it mean for this psychedelic journey to be ‘successful’?
Where are you now and where do you want to get, related to your motivation
What is working in your life? What isn’t?
What are you curious about? What would you like to learn more about?
As the journey approaches, try to have something of a clear intention for your journey. If it is wide ranging and incorporates many areas, try to sum it up so that it can be stated as one precise sentence by the day of the journey.
Some examples of how this might work:
“I intend to have a healthy life’ could be a sum of ‘I intend to quit smoking, I want improve my relationship with food, and understand how I can get into a good exercise regime”.
“To explore past traumas and to gain insight into my potential’ might be summed up as “To learn about myself”.
“To get outside of my mind, to experience a higher dimension, and to go beyond my normal consciousness” might be put together as ‘to explore spirituality’.
The intention is formulated to plant seeds in your mind and the process of refining it helps to get to the essence of what you are searching for. Though formulating an intention can be powerful, the process of formulating it is as important as the final result.
This is to say that it should not to be held on to too tightly during the session. You should be open and able to go with the experience as it unfolds. It is often said about psychedelic experiences that you don’t get what you want but that you get what you need. Clinging too tightly to a specific intention may mean that you miss something that offers insight in other areas, ones that actually are related to your intention, albeit in less obvious ways.
Having a clear intention can also help in that you have a clear motivation and it gives you an answer and some frame of reference for when you might think ‘Why am I doing this?”. This question can come up in difficult times and it can be very useful to have a clear answer ready, to aid you in letting go of resistance and moving in to the experience. In moments of your journey when you would like some direction, your intention can be called to mind.
Clearing can be thought of as making space. Space for insight, space for discovery, space for expansion. If you like Chinese proverbs, another way to put this might be: “Empty Your Cup”.
Firstly the basics; clearing the day, the day after, and ideally day before of any obligations. Book them out so you can be offline and effectively disappear from the world.
Next, try to tidy up loose ends in your life to help clear some space in your mind and heart. Stuff that you might’ve been putting off, like difficult conversations and resolving any current difficulties in your relationships. If this isn’t possible, try journaling about it or writing a letter to the person even if you can’t send it to them.
This clearing process should also include physical and practical things, which can be done a little closer to the journey, like cleaning your room, paying overdue bills, sending certain emails and making phone calls you’ve been putting off. Even taking the trash out (a nice symbolic act).
Keep phone use and digital communication to an absolute minimum during the day of the journey, so take care of potential calls and emails in advance. If you think you might want to speak with someone like a close friend or family member soon after, its a good idea to notify them in advance so they will be available and ready for the conversation.
Prepare Well, and Journey Safely
The preparation one takes will significantly influence how a journey plays out and is the groundwork for a transformative experience. Put simply, the influence of a good preparation should not be underestimated. That said, it should not become a gruelling undertaking or huge burden. It should be done with enthusiasm and should help you, rather than stress you. So go, prepare well, and take care!
I wish you well with your preparations and on your journey.
Did I miss anything? What do you think are the best ways one can prepare for a deep and rewarding journey? Please share in the comments below!
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/greg-rakozy-0LU4vO5iFpM-unsplash-scaled.jpg13252560John Robertsonhttp://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2020-02-17 18:04:402023-04-19 12:43:03How To Best Prepare Yourself For A Psychedelic Journey
These playlists are specially designed so that the lengths are matched to that of a psilocybin journey and take into account the various stages of a trip such as: onset, ascent, peak, return. There are variations on this depending on the creator of the playlist.
The phases of a psychedelic trip according to Bonny & Pahnke, the length of LSD is compressed 33% for psilocybin
Playlists are extremely useful in that you can press play after eating/drinking/ingesting your magical fungi and then not have to think about selecting music for the rest of the session – you just let it play out and ride the journey.
Although exploring different types of music intuitively and in the moment can be great on psychedelics, having to get up and try to find suitable music can be very difficult on higher doses and detract from the experience.
These playlists all contain music without words in English (bar a couple of reasoned exceptions); this is the general standard in psychedelic therapeutic work to avoid ‘hermeneutic contamination’, to use Matthew Baldwin’s phrase; ‘to discourage the rational mind from following the content of the words’, as Bill Richards puts it.
There seems to be a general consensus in the field that understandable lyrics can be distracting and limit the experience.
Mendel Kaelen is probably the biggest name in the world when it comes to created playlists for psychedelic work (admittedly not the largest field, but still). A neuroscientist and music nerd, Kaelen created these playlists, which contain ambient and neo-classical music, for the groundbreaking psilocybin for depression study at Imperial College London.
Kaelen presented at Psychedelic Science
Though they were created for the depression study, they can also work magic for non-depressed people too; I and many I know have journeyed to these amazing playlists, powerful stuff. The second one is an excellent playlist and would be my first recommendation.
You can read more about how he created these playlists in an article on Vice here.
Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 1 – Mendel Kaelen
Psychedelic Therapy Playlist 2 – Mendel Kaelen
Mendel is now working on Wavepaths, a person-centered music solution for psychedelic therapy. As a member of their community, I’ve attended a number of their deep listening sessions and find them to be a useful tool to go inside and develop a mindful listening practice.
Bill Richards is a founding member of the Johns Hopkins psychedelic research team in the US and one of the most prominent names in the world when it comes to psilocybin research. His psychedelic psychotherapy research is wide ranging, from treating addiction to inducing mystical experiences, and Richards values music as a way to support a person’s experience.
“I make the best musical choices I can, trying to separate the ‘very good’ and the ‘excellent’ on the basis of years of experience with many different people”
Richards on compiling the playlist
There’s a lot of classical music in this playlist (Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Brahms) and a few tracks that I have to say are just inspired choices towards the end.
You can read more about Richard’s choices and how he compiled the playlist here.
A Playlist For Psilocybin : Spotify | Youtube (make sure there are no ads if listening through youtube)
I first heard of Kelan Thomas in an article about his first playlist and was excited to see Mogwai (awesome Scottish post rock) and Dirty Three (violin, guitar and drums together in rumbling, flowing rock) on there – familiar names I didn’t expect to see, as well as some other stuff that falls somewhere between ambient and post rock; one of my all time favourite genres that I’ve long wanted to make a psychedelic playlist to, feeling its epic and instrumental style would lend itself perfectly to cosmic journeys.
I tried the first playlist to a classic therapeutic style journey (setting intention beforehand, using eye mask and headphones, with a sitter) and had a beautiful journey, finding peace, contentment and joy on the journey and in the musical choices. I was moved in that I wanted to thank all the musicians who made the music on that playlist, and to Kelan himself for creating the playlist.
As it happened, a couple months later, whilst setting up a room at Insight conference in Berlin, I noticed the name tag on an early comer in the room – it was Kelan Thomas! I told him I’d used his playlist and was able to thank him personally for putting it together before chatting a little about it and his choices; interestingly he described it as a ‘decolonising’ playlist in the world of psychedelic therapy.
He also told me he had made a second playlist which I could find on his spotify. I tried it recently and had one of my most beautifully expressive journeys to date.
Myself and co-retreat maker Tuk tried this playlist out during research for our retreats with New Moon and I was very surprised by a lot of the choices, this is certainly the most divergent of the playlist here on this list. This playlist emphasizes organic (instead of sequenced electronic) types of music.
Safe And Wondrous Journeys!
The relationship between music and how it affects consciousness and mood is something I find super interesting and consider creating playlists to be an art. Do you have any tips? Personal preferences? Favourite music to use for a session? Would love to hear others thoughts on this. If you know of any playlists I’ve missed or have your own to contribute, leave a comment below.
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