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.