healing relationship psychedelics

For today’s closing post of this year’s PSYJuly, I would like to share my thoughts on an aspect of long-term psychedelic integration. That is, how we relate to psychedelics.

I think improving our relationship with psychedelics is a key but mostly unrecognised piece of long-term integration. This piece is more relevant for the long term practitioner because you don’t need to have a good relationship with a one night stand partner. For something longer term, you do. 

If you are someone who has some kind of ongoing practice of working with psychedelics, how do you relate to them? What do you think about them? When you talk about them with others, how do you feel?

Healing and Understanding

Many users of psychedelics have feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment tied into their use. This is usually due to social stigma, cultural perceptions and drug laws, and many people remain closeted about their use.

Whilst opening up to friends and family members can be healing in some cases, it isn’t always the best option. Keeping the psychedelic part of ourselves hidden from others may often be the most pragmatic course of action. 

To enjoy a really healthy relationship with psychedelics, however, it’s important to resolve any feelings of embarrassment and shame that we have around them.

Exploring the roots of these feelings can be done by journaling. Writing answers to some simple questions, such as ‘Why am I embarrassed? What do I feel ashamed of? Why am I keeping this hidden?’ can begin to bring more clarity, understanding and healing to the relationship.

Trust

Did you ever come out of a session feeling disappointed? Maybe you felt like it was a little bit of a letdown? I certainly have many times, and trust is something I have had to learn over time.

Trusting in psychedelics, the experiences they provide, and the insights they reveal, will bring about a more fruitful journey with them. Can you let go of the seeds of doubt in your mind? 

‘You don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need”
– Psychedelics

This can also mean trusting in the process. Maybe you didn’t get what you were hoping for from a session. You still have the option to trust that on some level it was what you needed at this point, and that it will make sense within the larger context of your journey. Leaning into trust will ultimately benefit you and your relationship with psychedelics.

Patience

Through engaging with psychedelics continuously over a number of years, one of the most valuable but also hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that of patience. This is intertwined with trusting that I am being given what I need when I need it, and that ultimately, where I am is where I need to be, not at some point further along where I think I’m supposed to be. This means being patient in allowing the unfolding of my own journey, letting it unravel in its own perfect time, without trying to push it.

psychedelic integration journey progress graph

Patience helps us allow ourselves to be where we are

An example of practicing patience would be in the integration process. Rather than trying to fix everything at once and improve all areas of your life simultaneously, realise that you are a human and have limits. It’s wisest to choose one or two key areas to focus on. As for all the other things, be patient, they will come in time. 

Respect

Psychedelics are incredibly powerful. They can can sit us on our ass, reduce us to babbling babies, and they can propel us to the far reaches of the universe to spaces we never even knew could exist. They can transform ourselves and the realities that we exist in, both inside and outside sessions. Psychedelics deserve y/our respect.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do. I find it hard to express in words how much I love psychedelics. But beneath that, how grateful I am that they exist at all, and how incredibly fortunate I am to be in a position where I have access to them. Many people who would like to use them simply do not have the means, ability or access. There are people suffering from heavy depression, and others suffering with terminal cancer who are seeking access and are unable to receive it. I know because I’m contacted by these people and I do find the current reality around their access to be both upsetting and hard to accept. In those moments it’s again a chance to practice patience, and also gratitude for the privileged position that I find myself in.

Final thoughts

These are all overarching principles and lessons that I have received from psychedelics and I believe it’s a fitting response to reflect them back to the wonders which have bestowed these gifts upon me. 

I believe anyone wishing to work with psychedelics over the long term can benefit from establishing a relationship with psychedelics founded upon these core elements.

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Thank you for reading, and have a wonderful day!

psychedelic surrender

Welcome to PSYJuly day 17!
Today we have a post from Kerrie O’ Reilly from A Whole New High, a psilocybin retreat in the Netherlands.
In today’s post, Kerrie looks at one of the ultimate tenets of psychedelic navigation: surrender…

Psychedelic Surrender

“You just need to surrender”
Have you heard this before? This is probably the most common piece of advice I hear truly well meaning psychedelic explorers offer friends and first timers as they prepare to embark on their next or first ever psychedelic experience. I too received this advice myself at the beginning of my own journey with medicines. 

Many of our clients who come to work with us have been told this. They are both confused and terrified by what “just surrendering” may entail. Why? Well because there isn’t always an explanation included about what surrendering actually means, and more importantly guidance on how to do it…. 

Surrendering to the medicine and to the experience can often be understood as letting absolutely everything go, your identity, your awareness of who you are, your body, your sense of control. And it’s true, letting go of some or all of these things is to surrender, and if that feels good to you, this can be an incredibly beautiful and life changing experience to have. However in order to drop into a psychedelic journey it is by no means a requirement to completely let go of yourself. Nor is it always helpful to “try” to achieve this. 

The expectation we can put on ourselves to fully let go can be terrifying. It can cause the parts of us who do not feel safe to release all control, for incredibly valid reasons of it being unsafe to do so in our past, to feel the need to hold on even tighter in order to protect us when we do enter the experience. This can cause more resistance and potentially even an inability to sink into the journey that awaits us. Developing inner trust is what makes letting go a natural and spontaneous process. This comes by creating inner safety through respecting and honouring what is best for us in any given moment, which can often be something entirely different to what the mind may want or think it should do. Tuning into ourselves and our needs and fulfilling these needs nurtures that trust and our relationship within.  

Surrendering can ask so much less of us than a complete release of self or control. How I like to explain surrender is to simply be with what is in any given moment without trying to change it. So what does that look like on a practical level?

Lets say I’ve just taken the medicine and my mind has realised there is no turning back. I’ve begun the process now and I’ve no idea what’s going to happen. Suddenly my excitement has turned to fear. To surrender to this moment using my explanation above is to simply notice I’m super scared right now and thats ok. It is to let the fear in me be there and for me to be there with it, without trying to change it, get rid of it or push it away and to recognise it’s validity. It’s human nature to feel fear when we have no knowing of what’s ahead. This can be scary to anyone, its incredibly natural to feel scared in such a circumstance. So honouring this, rather than trying to push it away or denying it, and allowing the fear to be there while validating yourself in it. This is the exhale into surrender. 

After doing this I may feel more relaxed, my body has just been trusted, recognised and validated and may have softened a little. Sinking into this feeling of relaxation, allowing myself to feel it, trusting it, being with it, inviting it to be there, I have once again surrendered, we can surrender to comfortable feelings too.  

As the journey progresses I may suddenly feel very cold, I may even shiver. I can lean into the feeling I am having of being cold without judgement, being with myself and recognising this feeling. Noticing what it feels like in my body, noticing the discomfort of it, inviting the emotion it is creating in me to be seen. I may ask for an extra blanket, not in an effort to get rid of the feeling but rather supporting and comforting myself through it – any or all of these reactions is being with what is while in acceptance of it, and this allows me to drop deeper into surrender. 

Next the person beside me may be coughing and shuffling from side to side around their mattress, they can’t seem to settle, it’s really annoying me. Ugggghhhhh, I may think…… “They’ve taken me out of my experience”. Resistance would sound like “I shouldn’t be so insensitive and self-involved, maybe they’re going through something really challenging, I should just be able to allow this to be, like a meditation practice”. 

To surrender, however, is to allow myself to be angry in this moment and to feel the anger in my body while detaching from the moment that triggered it. I can use such moments as leads to bring me towards what’s unresolved inside me as opposed to seeing these triggers as the source of the anger or the emotion itself. By dropping back into my body, into my feeling state, I am surrendering to what life is providing for me, I’m surrendering to myself and I’m surrendering to the medicine. 

As feelings arise and I allow them to be without judgement, I’m surrendering deeper and deeper into the experience, deeper and deeper into myself.  I have not tried to let go of myself or surrender completely, I have simply taken one small step after another to surrender to what each moment has brought me. I created inner safety and from this place, my mind surrendered to me. Like drifting off to sleep my mind becomes less and less present, less active, until the journey and I are one. I am in a state of being, a state of trust of myself, of my emotions, of the medicine, and from this place I can experience my higher self, the divine. I have accessed a portal into the wisdom of my being, of life and of the magic of the medicine.
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About Kerrie

Kerrie O’ Reilly is the co-founder of A Whole New High, a Trauma Integration Therapist working with clients both with and without psychedelics for 15 years, Artist and Writer. A Whole New High are a resource for Psychedelic Awareness and Therapy and have been at the forefront of the psychedelic movement offering private and group retreats where they combine therapeutic tools with the psychedelic experience. Integration, emotional and physical safety, and creating healthy behavioural patterns and relationships after the experience itself are some of their primary focuses.
respect psychedelics

Respect is a fundamental aspect of any healthy relationship.

The same goes for y/our relationship with psychedelics.

Many people don’t receive the full gifts of psychedelics and I would say that’s due to a lack of respect. Psychedelics are some of, if not the most powerful tools available to humanity. I’ve spoken enough times about what they’re capable of and Julian Vayne gave us a whole host of reasons on day one so I won’t go over all that again now. Just consider that they have the power to literally change lives.

Though psychedelics are now beginning to gain credence and credibility in the western world, they are not a new thing and they are not a passing trend. Psychedelics have been revered by humanity in various parts of the world and by various cultures for literally thousands of years. They’ve been used for healing, learning and growth. They’ve been named the flesh of the gods. They’ve been worshipped and used as a sacred sacrament. Them being a hot new medicalised trend in the west now belies their ancient history and humanity’s deep relationship with them.

Why Respect Psychedelics?

Having a baseline of respect towards psychedelics allows one to really learn as much as possible from their use. In some cultures they are called maestros, which means masters, or teachers. If you consider a psychedelic session to be a meeting with one of the ancient masters of mankind, then I would personally consider that appointment to be a pretty important date in my calendar and with someone I would have a lot of respect for.

“It is an insult to the potency of this inner work to not take the time to integrate what has been revealed.”
— Françoise Bourzat

I love this quote from Françoise which I came across a few days ago when she was on the Tim Ferriss podcast. For me this just sums up perfectly what it means to respect psychedelics and their full power and potential.

Imagine, for example, that you play tennis. Now imagine that you somehow you managed to get a lesson or a coaching session with Roger Federer. Now if you were serious about tennis you would want to make the most of that time with him and soak up as much of his expertise as you could. Before the session you would make sure to rest well, take care of your diet, and show up with the right equipment. You would also want to be mentally prepared to carefully listen to him and take in as many of his tips as you could. If you really wanted to make the most of it you would also make notes on the session afterwards, writing down tips that he gave you so that you could revisit them and really implement them into your game.

OK so maybe that was a bit of a strange example but I hope it illustrates a point. The difference with psychedelics is that they are far and beyond Roger Federer (No offence, RF, love you man). In a consciously oriented psychedelic session you can be shown things very deep and very personal to you that no one else is going to be able to show you. This is because they are from the unconscious depths of your own psyche. They are parts of you that no one else has access to, including your non psychedelic self.

Some of that stuff may shock and surprise you. Psychedelics can be very honest and no-nonsense teachers. If you can imagine someone who is able to push all your buttons, who knows all the different parts of you that you really don’t want to know about, then that’s someone you should probably respect.

Casual Relationships

Now there are many people who have taken psychedelics and say “yeah well that’s no big deal, I took shrooms and saw some funny shapes and flashy colors”. If you see psychedelics merely as drugs which provide unusual experiences with no value beyond their novelty then you’re not gonna get much more from them. Any insights or truths that you may glean from your sessions can simply be brushed off as a weird drug experience or dressed down by way of “well yeah, I was really high when I thought that”. To that I’d say, you get out what you put in. If you’ve taken it to see squiggly lines and funny colors then maybe that’s all you’ll get.

On the other hand, maybe it was just a question of dose. Many people have taken psychedelics with a more casual or lax intention only to find themselves deep in an experience where they are being shown their traumas and some very uncomfortable things about themselves. When psychedelics are given that control by way of a big enough dose, they don’t ask for respect, they command it. So if you’re planning to take a big dose, just upfront respect it, and be prepared to be shown some uncomfortable truths.

Does this mean that you can’t have fun with psychedelics? I don’t think so. But just as a healthy relationship with a friend that you would have fun with would be based on respect, so should your relationship with psychedelics. I think it’s useful to not take fun as a given if that’s your intention and to be prepared for some bumps on the road.

If you have a casual relationship with psychedelics, consider the groundbreaking discoveries that have been made by people through careful use of psychedelics. A topical example is the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction, the technology behind the PCR tests used for the coronavirus. PCR is a method that allows scientists to take a very small sample of DNA and amplify it to a large enough amount to study in detail. PCR was invented in 1983 by the American biochemist Kary Mullis, who credited LSD for the inspiration, and went on to win a Nobel prize for this work. 

Respect the Origins

Respect can also be broadened to include where the psychedelic comes from. The origin of the substance, plant or fungi. This is a good way to deepen the connection and respect for your psychedelic of choice. 

If it’s LSD, consider the chemist working away with his instruments in his lab to prepare that substance for you. If it’s a plant, ask: where does this come from? Are you using it in a sustainable way which is going to allow that plant to continue its life force? Do you respect enough that you’re willing to allow that species to continue its survival, so that both yourself and other humans, potential future generations, can continue to have a relationship with it and receive its benefits? Or do you see it as a resource to be extracted and used for your own personal gain, with no care given to if you make this plant species extinct? Conservation is a relevant consideration now, especially in how psychedelics have come into the western materialist mindset that views nature as something to be taken advantage of and dominated, rather than living in harmony with. Many psychedelic plants are in danger now because of this type of relationship with nature, and there are conservation concerns around plants such as peyote, iboga, and the toads secreting 5-MeO-DMT.

Read more: An Urgent Plea to Users of Psychedelics: Let’s Consider a More Ethical Menu of Plants and Compounds

Growing Deeper

I’m currently working on creating a course for psychedelic explorers to deepen and broaden both their relationship and practice with psychedelics. In the early stages of thinking about who this course is for, the first thing I wrote down was people who respect the power of psychedelics. This is because I want to work with people who are serious about using these incredible tools. These are the kind of people I want to connect with and serve. I don’t want dabblers or people who are flippant or nonchalant about psychedelic use. I’m after serious explorers who value psychedelics for the power they behold. Those are the people I want to attract and align with and work alongside.

If you’re hoping to have a good relationship with psychedelics and to help manifest the gifts which they can bestow upon us and the world, then it starts with respect.

Do you respect psychedelics?

psychedelics process emotions

You might have heard the advice that it’s best to not take psychedelics when you’re not feeling good. General mainstream advice for DIY users is to ‘wait until you’re in a better place’.

If your aim is to feel good during the session itself, then I would agree: wait until you’re in a better place. But when taking psychedelics for reasons of personal growth or learning, this maxim may be trumped by deeper considerations. 

Trippers With Severe Depression & Anxiety

Two groundbreaking studies have helped bring credibility and prominence to mainstream psychedelics based on the psychedelic experiences of people who would not be considered to be feeling good. At Imperial College London, their landmark study explored using  psilocybin to help  those with treatment-resistant depression, in other words, a persistent depression that many treatments have failed to ameliorate. In another landmark study at Johns Hopkins, psilocybin was shown to alleviate end of life anxiety in terminally ill cancer patients. In both these cases, participants clearly faced challenges in their emotional state.

The ‘set’ of the psychedelic tenet of set and setting generally refers to the mindset of the tripper and is broadly understood as the psychonaut’s internal state. This can include their outlook, how they’re feeling, and their mood.

However, when it comes to having a beneficial session, I would say that mindset is a far broader concept than mood, feelings, or emotional state.

Mindset Beyond Emotional State

As well as feelings and emotions, mindset includes how the experience is framed. How we frame something shapes how we see it: it is our perspective on what we are doing. Is the session billed as a time to have fun? Or is it understood as a rare and precious opportunity for learning? These intentions determine how we approach the session. Is it approached with respect? Is it approached with trust in how the experience may unfold?

Those taking part in the studies I’ve mentioned were prepared accordingly in matters of mindset; you see the psilocybin flight instructions here. Their sessions were not approached as a fun time with friends, but with a formality more akin to that of a ceremony or sesshin. Accordingly, participants were directed to be open to whatever arises, to trust in the experience, and to let go of any preconceived ideas about how the session ‘should’ go.

If the mindset is right, the person adequately prepared, in a safe setting and sufficiently supported during the experience, and with support systems in place for afterwards, and  then I would say that tripping when you’re feeling low can be one of the most useful and dare I say obvious times to trip.

storm sunlight

My Experiences

I have personally taken psychedelics in a session format in some of the more rocky emotional patches of my life. 

One example is the time my parents were separating and I was coming to terms with the fact I would be seeing the home I’d always known being put up for sale. My mood and emotional state at the time was not what would be described as good; I was crying on the train up to do my session. However, I approached the occasion with great respect and formality. The resulting experience provided me with enormous relief and understanding, and I now see it as one of the landmark healing experiences of my life.

I have used psychedelics at various other times when going through bumpy patches and difficult chapters – at times when it might be considered ‘not the best time to trip’.

On these occasions, psychedelics have allowed me to see what was beneath, to really be in touch with my deeper, hidden, often repressed and unconscious thoughts and feelings, and given me a chance to process them.

I have seen shadow parts of myself, parts of myself that I was ashamed of. Some examples include a desire to earn more money, a desire to have more creative control on a project, and a sadness that was hidden. I avoided them because of various unconscious beliefs I held around them: that wanting more money means I’m greedy; that wanting more control means I’m power hungry; and that I shouldn’t feel sad about a certain event because I didn’t do anything wrong. 

The experiences I’m describing helped me to see all of these things and better understand myself. This was the first step towards acknowledging these hidden thoughts and as such, accepting them. Psychedelics have been such honest allies, revealing things inside me that I’ve found hard to accept. 

In every one of these sessions I had rough journeys and difficult experiences, and each time, I have felt so grateful for the opportunity.

These are tools which have helped me tremendously, through good times, but also especially through the bad times. 

 

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What is the ideal mindset for a psychedelic journey? I would say the best approach is that of the explorer.

So. what does it mean to be an explorer?

Openness

A good explorer is open to possibilities of experience. When an explorer goes into a new territory or land, they need to remain open minded, letting go of pre-judgments or expectations, if they really want to learn about the landscape, terrain, peoples or culture. Having a fixed idea of what something should be or look like limits the possibility and potential to see it in other ways. This limits the potential for what can be learned in an experience.

For example, if you have a very specific idea that you should feel love and joy and understanding but in fact you feel fear and sadness, then you may get caught in thoughts of “this isn’t what its supposed to be, its not what I signed up for“ and miss a great opportunity that the fear and sadness presented.

Upon encountering the unexpected in a new place, whether it may be shocking or disappointing, a good traveller doesn’t judge “that shouldn’t be there”, they openly accept.

Being at war with what is actually arising is not the way. Being open to and accepting what comes up allows you to work with what is there. This is where I trust comes in.

Trust

Trust that whatever comes up is part of the experience you are supposed to have. Psychedelics are amplifiers for consciousness meaning they bring up what is deep down inside you. They will pull up things from your subconscious to your conscious mind. So trust that whatever arises in the session is something that is deep within you and is an opportunity for you to know yourself more deeply.

Curiosity

Any good explorer is curious about the terrain they are exploring, their surroundings and the situations they find themselves in. Curiosity brings attention to detail and is the bedrock of a deep learning. Curiosity brings a wonder to things and a richer and deeper experience.

Curiosity comes in the I of the RAIN process

Anything that arises in a psychedelic session can be looked at with a curiosity. For example, say you start feeling annoyed. Perhaps there is some noise coming from your neighbors that you haven’t planned on being part of your experience. Curiosity can transmute this feeling of annoyance and irritation to an object for investigation. You can then ask:

OK, why do I feel annoyed about this sound? What am I believing that causes me to be annoyed? How do I know I feel annoyed? How does it feel in my body? What sensations arise in my body? What is this felt experience of being annoyed?

Maybe it could be a feeling of worry and perhaps thoughts come up like “oh no I took too much, this is too strong for me, I can’t handle this“. Again, after recognizing this you can investigate with a curiosity:

What is this feeling of worry? What is it I’m believing that makes me worry? How do I feel this in my body?

Dig in to those sensations. Really look at them. What is their substance? What is their tone or colour?

“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.”

From Bill Richards’ Flight Instructions,
given to participants of John Hopkins psilocybin studies

The ability to hold this curious approach to difficult feelings can require mindfulness and a lot of patience. Having a tripsitter there to be with you and if necessary, talk you through it, can be a huge help. In the long term, meditation is good practice to develop both patience and mindfulness.

Adventure

Another aspect of the explorer’s mindset is that of the sense of adventure. To head in to unknown territory can be scary and nerve-racking, but it can also be very exciting. Seeing your psychedelic journey as an adventure acknowledges all those feelings and makes space for them.

Jim Fadiman expressly called psychedelic journeyers explorers in his now classic and highly influential book

Experimenter

I also find approaching psychedelic sessions as exploration via experiments to be very beneficial. I find it helps to relieve pressure and let go of the feeling that it’s necessary to figure everything out and receive all the teachings that you ever wanted all in the one session. If you learn anything then the experiment was a success.  You have new data that you can use to move forward on your path of growth. This again ties in to not having too many expectations.

“Think progress, not perfection“
Ryan Holiday

Trying to push too hard, to get the absolute maximum best optimum psychedelic experience can actually have an adverse effect and lead to a less rewarding experience.

After all each psychedelic experience is only one of many experiences in your life, and trying to control the experience too much or confining it to certain ideas or expectations that you have about how it should turn out or make you feel will be counter productive.

A kind and gentle approach, acknowledging where you are and what you are capable of, at that time, whilst still making an honest and sincere effort, is the best way forward…

Kindness

Finally I think a very useful approach is that of kindness. Kindness to yourself and kindness to anything that arises within the session.

Relating back to openneness, any idea of what is supposed to happen in a session can lead to a clash between expectation and reality.

If thoughts such as “I’m not doing this right” or “I should have been paying more attention” or any kind of such negative self talk comes up, then remember that you cannot do it wrong. I find it very helpful to remember that I can always be kind to myself.

Cultivating The Explorer’s Mindset

The explorer’ mindset can be cultivated in your day-to-day life. The next time you go out for a walk, look around your neighbourhood as if it was for the first time that you saw everything, as if you were a tourist. Be curious about the color of the paint on the buildings, the style of the architecture, the textures, the smells in the air, the types of food, the people on the streets. Suspend your judgment and be open to and accepting of what is there. Cultivate this mindset and carry it with you into your next psychedelic journey. Have a great and curious day, and explore!