Music can play a huge role in psychedelic sessions and knowing how to use sound to shape and influence an experience is extremely valuable. If you’re looking for pre-made music playlists for a therapeutic psilocybin journey geared towards introspection and personal growth, welcome, you’re in the right place.
Two key pieces of equipment for a standard therapeutic journey
This post has links to six playlists that have been made specifically for use with psilocybin (magic truffles or magic mushrooms) with a little info on each of them and their creators.
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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.
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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.
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/IMG_9378.jpg8001200John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2019-10-30 16:19:052022-10-06 14:11:576 Music Playlists For Psilocybin Journeys
During my recent visit to Copenhagen I attended a tripsitting workshop as part of a psychedelic conference. I’d never been to anything like this before so I was pretty curious to see what it would be like. And no, we didn’t look after or watch people tripping their nuts off, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Here’s an overview.
The workshop was given in a seminar room at a building of Copenhagen’s Metropolitan University College – fittingly, a university of applied sciences. The workshop was full and there were 40 of us there, a mix of men and women from their 20s to their 60s. From appearances you’d never guess that this was a group of psychedelic enthusiasts.
I ended up sat next to the only other Brit in the room, who turned out to be Rosalind Watts – a clinical psychologist who’s part of the research team at Imperial College London and who worked on their groundbreaking psilocybin for depression study – she was also giving a presentation at the conference the next day. It’s good to know that those involved with research are topping up their knowledge and still seeking development – especially as it seems that the progress of the psychedelic movement will depend largely on the results of clinical trials in research settings.
Being in an atmosphere of like-minded people was great – the room was full of people who have an understanding of the potential of psychedelics and want to learn more. As it’s still a fringe movement I don’t often get these real-life interactions where I can freely talk about this kinda stuff so having that sense of community was the perfect backdrop for the workshop.
The workshop was led by Marc Aixalà, a Spanish engineer and psychologist who works as an integrative psychotherapist. Amongst his experience with psychedelics Marc has worked as a coordinator for Kosmicare – a company that provides emergency attention to people going through difficult drug-related experiences at large festivals. Throughout the workshop Marc told us some stories from his work to illustrate points and it was pretty clear that he has considerable experience in this area. I could totally see why he was asked to lead it.
Marc also presented at Psychedelic Science this year
The workshop was basically a presentation and while more interaction might’ve been good, a lot of ground was covered. To give you an idea, topics covered included: the effects of different psychedelic substances and the challenges of a sitter unique to each one; the differences between sitting roles- shaman, sitter, facilitator, guide and therapist; how to screen people for a psychedelic session and how to prepare for it; and how personality can affect reaction to the experience. And loads more, it was packed with useful information.
The small group size allowed for interaction amongst us and for Marc to stop for questions when people had them. Though there was definitely a level of professionalism from Marc and most attendees were clearly there to learn, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was room for some laughter.
It was the first time Marc had given this particular workshop and he’d prepared too much material to fit in to the allotted 4 hours so we ran over by about 40 minutes. I was actually really happy about this as I was learning a lot and had nowhere else to be that afternoon.
Overall it was excellent. It surpassed any expectations I had and I found the whole thing to be very mentally stimulating. It even answered a few questions I didn’t know I had. To finish, I’d like to share a few things that came through from the workshop.
1. Healing Happens Through Intensification
Psychedelics can facilitate healing by intensifying the emotions around whatever difficult issue is being – consciously or subconsciously – avoided. This intensification allows difficult and repressed emotions to be fully experienced and expressed, and in doing so to reach their natural conclusion. This can be understood in the processes by which psychological healing occurs – projection, transference, abreaction, and catharsis. In the context of a therapeutic trip, this means that someone experiencing difficult emotions or sensations should be encouraged to surrender to them, rather than resisting them.
2. People Heal Themselves
Noone can have an experience for anyone else. This is true of healing or perspective shifting experiences too. Each person must go through the process ultimately on their own and reach their own understanding, acceptance and resolution of any troubling issue. As such, a sitting role will usually be passive and supportive. Marc used a nice analogy for this: if you have a cut on your arm, you don’t actively go about healing it. You clean the wound, patch it up, and then allow the healing to take place. Likewise, a sitter’s job is to set and maintain the conditions conducive to the healing process – a safe environment that allows someone to heal themself.
3. Clearly Defined Boundaries Are Helpful
It is helpful to clearly define the ‘rules of the game’ ahead of a session: the level and type of interaction between the tripper and the sitter, who controls the choice and level of the music, what activities, if any, will be undertaken. Setting these boundaries in advance will encourage feelings of security and reassurance and help to create an emotionally safe space for the session.
4. The Approach Is More Important Than The Actions
A calm, centred, supportive approach is more important than what any guide or sitter can say or do. It’s not enough to remember certain actions or follow a set routine, care giving and support goes beyond this – effective sitting requires intuition, compassion and a level of self-awareness.
5. Qualities That Make A Good Sitter Aren’t Quantifiable
Trip-sitting isn’t a science – it’s a combination of an art and a science. Whilst a level of knowledge can be very helpful in some regards, the character and motivations of a sitter are more important. Marc made this point in a panel debate at the conference, explaining that he would much rather have a caring and honest carpenter looking after him than a fully-qualified psychologist who lacks these qualities.
This poses a predicament for the psychedelic movement. If we see these substances legalised for health care and therapy, there will be questions over who can, should, or is qualified to administer these substances and oversee sessions. Some professionals in the field have already stated their belief that psychedelics sessions should only be overseen by qualified medical professionals.
But if the most important qualities are unmeasurable, it would be very hard for any regulatory body to award suitable qualifications or grant licenses to administer psychedelics. In a society and culture that doesn’t like to believe in anything that it can’t touch, weigh, measure or quantify – this will be a tricky issue. This is something that should be considered moving forward.
Brain Scan Qualifications?
Final, crazy idea. Could licenses be awarded based on brain scans? There have been studies on monks using fMRI and EEG technology that show links between brain activity and these, as yet, unmeasurable qualities.
A qualification could be awarded based on the level of activity in your brain’s left pre-frontal cortex compared to the right – a high level means you have a reduced propensity to negativity. Or perhaps a ‘test’ could be that you are wired up and asked to meditate on compassion. Your level of gamma waves – linked to consciousness and attention – would determine your ‘score’. I expect monks would mostly be coming out with the top qualifications, but who wouldn’t want a wise buddhist sage as their psychedelic guide? I certainly wouldn’t mind.
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/personality.jpg7361200John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2017-09-29 11:03:482022-11-20 13:39:295 Things I Learnt From A Tripsitting Workshop
So, you’re taking a psychedelic trip? Great, I’m sure you’ll have a blast. Here are the basics to a successful flight and how to avoid a bad trip, whether it’s with LSD, magic mushrooms, or San Pedro. Follow these and you’re onto a winner.
Respect The Trip
Sorry to start with a boring one but it needs to be said. Know that psychedelics are powerful substances and be prepared for a strong experience. It can be tough finding yourself in a trip that is more intense than you expected but if you’re prepared for a big experience then you’ll be ready to handle it. Psychedelics are different to other types of drugs so if you think it’ll be like weed or MDMA, think again. Consider your dose carefully.
Clear Your Schedule
Free yourself of obligations and unwanted distractions. Let go of to-do lists. Nagging thoughts of jobs or chores won’t help. Give yourself the whole day free and ideally the next day too. Switch your phone off – I was once with a friend who got a call from an upset girlfriend right as we were coming up and it marred the start of the trip. It was nothing that couldn’t have waited until the next day.
Choose Your Company Carefully
Be with people you trust and like. You’ll feel good in their company and it’ll be reassuring if things start to go south. Avoid abrasive friends, large crowds and others who aren’t also tripping, with the exception of a sitter. If you’re planning to fly solo, do your homework – see links at the bottom of this page.
Psychedelics can be fun! Go in with a smile on your face and a positive frame of mind. See it as an exciting adventure and an opportunity to learn. Not to say that there won’t be any difficult moments but this will push you in the right direction. If you find yourself in a tough spot just remember that the experience is temporary. You also may have more control and ability to change the direction of the trip than you think. It normally just takes a deep breath and a smile to bring you back to a positive place.
Wear your most comfortable clothes, think loose, soft and warm. Being physically comfortable will help to relax you. If you’re going out, a blanket or something to lie on is nice. If you’re staying in, have a space where you can lie down and stretch out.
Don’t Fight It
You decided to take the substance, you took it, and now you’re having the experience. So don’t now decide that you don’t want it and try to resist, you’ll only struggle and make things worse. Open yourself to the experience and explore! As a wise man once said: Buy the ticket, take the ride.
A Little Preparation Goes A Long Way
A little preparation can make the journey so much more seamless and stress free. If you think you might want to write, have a pad and pen ready. Draw? Paper and colours. If you’re planning to go out for a bit, leave a packed bag by the door. Have some snacks ready. The time on the trip should spent enjoying it, not looking around for things or packing bags. Set it up to be that way.
The same applies with music. Make playlists ahead of time so all you need to do is press play and enjoy – you won’t have to continually play DJ. Navigating spotify and the entire history of recorded music whilst tripping balls isn’t that fun. If you’re tripping with a friend, make a playlist together beforehand. Having a ‘chill’ playlist on hand is always good, you can listen to it at the start for a gentle glide in and you can put it on again…
If It Gets Too Much
If possible, first get your self to a quiet or secluded place.
Take a deep breath. Relax. Remember, you’ve taken a drug and the effects are temporary, they will wear off. Focus on your breathing and relax your body.
If that doesn’t help, change something. Change the music or switch it off. If you’re sitting, stand. If you’re watching a video, try drawing. Go to another room or outside. If you’re with others, try spending some time alone – just be sure to tell them where you’re going and not just disappear. You don’t need to struggle through whatever is happening, just make an alteration to your situation.
If it feels like what’s happening will last forever, write down the time, put on a chill track and listen to it, then look again. You’ll see that time is passing and can reassure yourself that this will end. Things will go back to normal. Until then, enjoy the rest of your trip!
If I decide to ingest a psychedelic substance, such as LSD or psilocybin, I am committing a criminal action and risk being punished by law: But why?
Are these substances actually dangerous?
Is their prohibition to protect the public?
Are these laws just?
And do they benefit society?
I believe the answer to all of these questions is no, and that current laws which deem psychedelics illegal to be a transgression of freedom. These might sound like big claims, but I’m going to back them up with some help from our trusty friends science and logic. So, I believe a good place to start is to ask…
Why Are Psychedelic Substances Illegal?
The official answer, from those who created and enforce the law, (the government), goes like this;
“Current drug laws are there to protect citizens. Harmful, dangerous, and highly addictive substances are restricted by law to protect the public. Certain substances are illegal to prevent people from harming themselves and others.”
Sounds pretty logical, right? But if drug laws really exist to protect the public then it would logically follow that the most harmful substances carry the harshest punishments – and the least harmful would be legal. An assessment of harm will be useful here.
Assessing Harm: How Dangerous Are Psychedelics?
Let’s take a look at this chart which shows the results of a 2010 study in which drug-harm experts ranked 20 illegal and legal drugs on 16 measures of harm to both the user and wider society.
Source: David Nutt, Leslie King, Lawrence Phillips, “Drug Harms in the UK: A Multicriteria Decision Analysis,” The Lancet, Nov. 1, 2010
A more detailed breakdown of the harm analysis can be seen here:
The two psychedelics in the list, mushrooms (which contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin) and LSD are two of the least harmful substances. This list may be surprising or even shocking, but just take a moment to consider how our perception of drugs is influenced by hearsay and cultural norms as opposed to actual experience or valid scientific data. An amusing article which illustrates this point can be read on Vox here – Imagine If The Media Covered Alcohol Like Other Drugs
Making The Distinction: Psychedelics Are Their Own Class
If you’ve grown up in the Western world like me then you’ve probably been led to instinctively lump most illegal drugs into the same category – ‘dangerous and to be avoided’. But the truth is that there is an enormous difference between the effects and potential dangers of different illegal drugs. I’m sure you’d agree that heroin is more dangerous than weed, for example.
Psychedelics – like LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, DMT, and ayahuasca – also known as hallucinogens, are their own class and shouldn’t be confused or lumped in with other categories of drugs. Making this distinction is crucial when considering their harms and understanding the argument for their legalization. Here’s a chart which shows potential for dependence and the active/lethal dose ratio (how close the active dose of a drug is to its lethal dose).
Source: Gable, R. S. (2006). Acute toxicity of drugs versus regulatory status.
Drug Law is Irrational
With all this in mind, it’s clear that the prohibition of psychedelic substances is not based on their potential for harm. The laws that prohibit them are not based on any scientific or logical analysis, and seen in this light can be considered irrational, contradictory, and massively biased towards users of legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.
So should our governments make alcohol and tobacco illegal, and put the punishment for their use in line with their potential for harm? I don’t think so, seeing as prohibition didn’t and still doesn’t work. Even if it did, this would be the stuff of a nanny state, interfering unduly with personal choice and treating its adult citizens like irresponsible children incapable of making such decisions for themselves.
The fair and logical way forward is to legalize psychedelics – in the interests of good sense and individual freedom. And this is what I believe is at the heart of this debate; freedom.
Psychedelic substances must be legalized in the name of freedom.
That may sound hyperbolic, but hear me out.
FREEDOM!! But Braveheart jokes aside, current drug policy boils down to this:
I am not free to put what I want in my own body.
That’s it. I do not enjoy freedom over my own body. Think about it. Current law dictates that I should be thrown into a cage for the choices that I make about what I put inside it. The laws that prohibit me from making these personal choices undermine the whole notion of freedom that is fundamental to our sense of what is right and just in the West. I mean, we call ourselves the free world! And this is about more than just the body. It’s also about something just as, if not more, sacrosanct to who I am, an area that I as a free citizen must surely enjoy full sovereignty over: my mind.
Images showing brain scans from a 2016 study
Psychedelics alter the activity and chemistry of the brain and in doing so they alter consciousness. In other words, they change how we perceive reality at the most basic level. Their outlaw effectively means that we are not free to explore other modes of awareness or perception – we are not permitted to explore the altered states which psychedelics facilitate; states that enable us to plumb the depths of our own minds.
How can it be that we are not allowed to explore a domain so personal to ourselves? And in doing so face persecution, financial penalty and physical restriction? To me this is a crazy situation. These laws fly in the face of any idea that we are truly free. If we are to enjoy genuine freedom then we must be able to make our own reasoned choice as to what we put into our own bodies and in doing so, how we may choose to alter our perception of the world. Without this freedom of choice, we are not in fact free. Fundamentally, if you support freedom, you support the legalization of psychedelic substances.
So where did these repressive laws come from? Surely they made sense at one time, at least when they were created…
The Origin Of The Law
The first country to outlaw psychedelics was the USA. Nixon signed the controlled substances act in 1970 which put most psychedelics on Schedule 1, prohibiting their use for any purpose. The decision to outlaw psychedelic substances was a move by the US government to stifle the anti-war and civil rights movements of the time, with the laws used to persecute, arrest, and make examples of leading figures of counter-cultural protest movements which growing use of LSD was linked with. It was a move the government made to ensure stability, or increase control – whichever way you choose to look at it.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. […] We could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” – John Ehrlichman, Former domestic policy chief and adviser to Nixon
Nixon launched the war on drugs and the appropriate government propaganda was spread to assure the public that these substances are dangerous and that it’s in society’s best interest that they be made illegal. Governments all around the world followed suit and psychedelics have been illegal and demonized in the Western world since. Nearly 50 years later we are still left with these laws, along with the fear and hysteria that surrounds them.
The Law Harms
As I said earlier, prohibition didn’t and doesn’t work, people continue to take drugs because it’s a natural human (and animal) urge to want to change our consciousness. By making psychedelics illegal we are actually making them more dangerous as there is no regulation or quality control of the substances and no designated establishments for safe or supervised use.
A pub – a licensed premises and designated space for enjoying a beer or other alcoholic drink
Bad experiences may also be influenced by a level of paranoia that might come when involved with a taboo and illegal activity. The creation of these black markets also means that all revenue from their sale is untaxed – money which could be going to drug education.
The Importance Of Education & Information
Education is a fundamental aspect of harm reduction when it comes to any potentially dangerous activity, not just drugs. This is why we have to get a driving license before we can take a car on the road, or have health and safety briefs or training for adventure activities like scuba diving, bungee jumping or skydiving. By and large, more education means safer. This is true of psychedelic experiences too.
Difficult or overwhelming experiences occur largely because someone is unprepared for what they experience or because they’ve taken it in an inappropriate setting. Rather than being a problem inherent to the substance, it’s because most people just don’t know any better.
Consider your own education of psychedelics, at school or otherwise. Now if you were to take LSD, how would you approach the experience? If you weren’t sure, would you feel comfortable asking a family member or work colleague for advice? How would you feel about searching online for advice if you were on a computer in a shared office or where someone might access your browser history? The stigma around the subject is a hindrance to the passing of information on the topic as it means that discussion is hidden and only talked about behind closed doors. You might even have friends or family members who have their own experiences and could offer advice – but as a taboo subject, you might not dare bring it up. The fact of their illegality only adds to the stigma and even those who take these substances will be afraid to share their experiences and knowledge.
Psychedelics’ illegality and stigma stifle honest and open discussion of them – an informal education that not only reduces harm but can help to maximize the potential benefits of these substances.
Positive Potential Of Psychedelics
Psychedelics show incredible medicinal potential and are currently being studied in research settings for a wide range of treatments including addiction, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and also as a tool for psychotherapy. Early results are very promising. For example, in studies with psilocybin on terminal cancer patients suffering from depression and anxiety, 83% of participants reported increases in well-being or life satisfaction.
Research setting for a study into the effects of psilocybin to treat depression and acute anxiety in cancer patients. John Hopkins University.
As well, psychedelics have served as inspiration for some of the greatest minds in history, be they writers, musicians, or nobel-prize winning scientists. The list of psychedelic users who have had a profoundly positive impact on society and the progress of humanity is extensive (link), and many have even credited their creativity and greatest discoveries to psychedelic use.
“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life.” Steve Jobs
“What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR? I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
Biochemist Kary Mullis on his nobel-prize
Read more about the positive applications of psychedelic use here
Considering all the possible applications of psychedelics and their potential to improve lives and benefit society, we might even go so far as to consider that their prohibition is a serious hindrance to the progress of humanity.
The Law On Psychedelics Is An Important Issue
I understand that this is a contentious issue but its something I think needs to be talked about. I sincerely believe that it is not only with the interests of harm reduction and justice that this class of substances be decriminalized, but that it is fundamentally an issue of freedom. If you have made it this far and still believe there is good reason for psychedelics to be illegal, please get in touch, letting me know your thoughts and the reasons for your opinion. I’m open to new information and would like to be made aware of any arguments or points of view that I might’ve missed. I genuinely welcome the discussion and would like to believe that I would be willing to reassess my stance if I see that I’ve made a mistake.
If you’re not convinced either way or feel some resistance to the ideas that I’ve presented here, I ask that you consider at least some of what I’ve said might be true, and to then make your own investigation into the matter. There is increasing amounts of information about these substances online, including recent scientific research, their medical applications, and also the wider discussion of drug policy and reform. I’m not going to feed you any more sources, I’m sure you know how to do a google search 🙂
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Camera_shy-_Hidden_wide.jpg7801200John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2017-07-14 11:27:232020-07-25 19:06:55The Outlaw Of Psychedelic Substances Is Irrational, Unjust, and a Violation of Freedom
It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the panorama of a bend in the Peruvian sacred valley of the Incas is majestic under the days early rays. From the patch of grass outside our mountainside room I can see Pisac off in the distance down below: a Peruvian village an hour or so from Cusco and situated on the Willkanuta river, now something of a draw for spiritual seekers due to the local plant medicine scene. The thick bitty lime green liquid I’m choking down for breakfast is bitter as hell, but then I’m not drinking it for the taste. The mixture has two ingredients; water, and powdered San Pedro – a hallucinogenic cactus native to the Andes and the chemical key to my adventure today.
I force down the mix in the company of two friends; Chris, an old school buddy with me for the Peru leg of my American tour, and our host, Vik, a Danish friend who I’d met in Buenos Aires a couple months earlier who’d introduced himself by telling me he was in the continent to drink ayahuasca- we subsequently hit it off and became good friends, exploring the cultured capital together amidst discussions of all things psychedelic.
My mix contains 33g of the mescaline containing cactus, one full dose, and I’ll take that again in an hour or so once I reach the eucalyptus trees down below. Vik seems to obtain a perverse pleasure from watching me struggle to get it down – he’s had his share in the weeks prior and despite being a fan of the cactus’ psychoactive effects and therapeutic qualities, knew just how bitter and stomach wrenching it was. So much is his aversion to the taste he’s actually trying to figure out a different way of ingesting the substance for future journeys.
Three bagged doses
My venture today is a solo one. After finally getting the mix down as fast as my gag reflex will allow- a good 15 minutes of interspersed gulps- I say adios to the boys, and head down the rugged mountainside on a jagged path to the base of the valley. I cross a small road, heading away from town and into nature. I pass through a field towards the river and the woods of eucalyptus trees.
As I make my way upstream I pass an old gringo with a white whispy beard in full Bolivian patterned wear. He merely looks grumpy in response to my cheery greeting and it throws me off, his bad vibes make me feel a little uneasy. I second guess my decision and consider that it maybe not be the perfect situation and surrounding for me to be undertaking this journey. But then I also think that if you’re continually waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do something, it may never come. Sometimes you just have to take the chance and go for it. Today will be a good judge. Anyway, I’ve already choked down a full dose, so it’s a bit late for second guesses now.
After a few minutes of walking through the woods I veer off the path and settle down in what seems to be a good spot; a flat area just set back from where the river is noisily crashing over rocks in a mini-waterfall. I set down my stuff, unroll my sleeping mat, and pull out another 33g bagged dose of the powdered cactus, mixing it in a bottle of water and chugging it down.
Within ten minutes nausea starts setting in. I’m prepared for this and pull out the joint I’ve pre-rolled that morning. It works a treat and the nausea disappears as I slip into a more dazed feeling. I lie on my mat and begin writing in my pad which eases my nerves and soon I feel pretty good – I’m in the Sacred Valley! Feeling settled by writing, I set a timer for a 5 minute meditation, and lie back, closing my eyes.
The meditation relaxes me further and I roll onto my front, gazing up at the mountain across the river. The rocky surface is luminescent orange under the sun’s unchecked rays and as I’m gazing up the whole thing gently shimmers. It’s as if the image of the mountain is being projected onto a huge sheet and something has just shaken the top, making the whole thing and all of its details ripple. ‘It’s starting’ I excitedly think to myself as I lie back to enjoy the view.
About an hour and a half after the joint, nausea creeps back. I can’t believe I don’t have another J ready to go; by now I really should know to have a handful pre-rolled and ready for my convenience- but due to slack preparation I’ve failed to show up with anymore. I muster focus and steady hands, and I craft another. It works wonders and the nausea disappears again, this time for the remainder of the trip, giving me the all-clear to strap myself in for what’s to come.
The Spirit Arrives
Lying on my back, gazing up at the trees and sky, I slip into a more contemplative state and start questioning why I am actually there, drinking ground-up hallucinogenic cactus on my own in the woods of a third world country… what am I searching for?! Thoughts begin to build steam and I feel like a receiver rather than the originator of thoughts that appear in my mind.
The contemplation leads to thoughts of my life. I see it as if it were complete in that moment with nothing more to add. Thoughts of death come to me, about dying there that day, that very spot in the valley where I lie. The morbid thoughts become dark and intensify and I feel increasingly fearful. I sense this episode as a kind of game of thoughts; I perceive it as a playful action from somewhere outside me – as if some demonic spirit is messing with me and sending me these thoughts to spook me.I consider that perhaps this is what others have called the spirit of Wachuma and in that very moment, I see it in the top reaches of the tree growing up beside me, in the faintest but seemingly deliberate movements of the uppermost leaves and branches. They twinkle lightly, playfully, as they’re tickled delicately by the breeze. My sense of gravity has flipped and it’s as if I’m staring down rather than up, the trees and plants around me hanging by their roots, the top branches reaching as if out and down to a sky below. Loosened and open, I’m struck by the beauty of what I see before me, my attention is drawn to the top of the tree which has its roots closest to me.
The scene is rich in texture and colour, layer upon layer of detail is revealed in the magnificent tree and its surroundings. I observe in awe as the tree bobs and weaves with the breeze, gently making circles in my view. I become aware of the most utterly minuscule movements – of every pore of every leaf of every branch – of intense and unspeakable subtlety.
The movements of the tree are the epitome of effortless grace, the embodiment of the Taoist principle of wu-wei – what we admire in world-class performers, whether musicians, sportsmen, or dancers; in the zone with zero contrivance, totally tuned in, in the moment. Overcome by awesome beauty, euphoria sweeps over me.
A simple reflection comes to me; nature is incredible. When you simply watch it as it is, not just seeing, but actually watching – just pure simple nature is magic.
The scene subtly begins to transform, the details merging and forming intricate patterns within a vast multitude of colours above. I lie spellbound, I can hardly believe that I’m looking at a tree. Inside the patterns are small shifting movements that appear like alien insects crawling around a fluorescent ants nest. The subtle shifts in the scene are flowing and smooth, but – also like an ants nest – mechanical in some way. The colourful movements are slow and continuous. The whole thing appears otherworldly. The range of what I’ve seen within the tree is so ridiculous that I genuinely begin to wonder if its going to show me my life.
I’m compelled to roll over and write some notes in an attempt to document and bring some of this magic back with me. This proves to be fairly challenging as the act of holding the pen steady requires a serious effort of concentration and composure but, though a little tricky, I’m able to hold the experience at arm’s length sufficiently to get some words down. It’s like when trying to stay awake despite being so tired that you could fall asleep in a second- you can resist, but only for so long before the inevitable pulls you under. The inevitable here as altered and surreal as the land of dreams. I feel the action of mental resistance mirrored within my body, a tense tightness throughout, as if every cell is waiting and willing me to release myself back into the experience – the cactus gently tugging at me, pulling me back in. With some notes scribbled, I drop the pen with relief and roll back over onto my back.
Surrendering myself to the experience, my consciousness continues to shift and I fall deeper into an increasingly immersive trip, continually spellbound, rolling through ever-novel experience and widened perception.
From time to time I’m struck by the incredulity of what I’m experiencing and decide I must make more notes – it seems crucial that I document such an experience. Each time I do this the physical feeling of my body synchronises with my mental action; resistance – heavy and burdensome, or surrender – light and relaxed. Each time I roll over and pick up the pen, I feel like that same heaviness pulling me back, as if telling me that I’m not allowed to leave mescaline land for too long.
Time increasingly dilates and experience is intense throughout, even when I ‘pull myself out’ to make notes. Anticipating how much deeper I’m going to be pulled under, I wonder whether that double dose was a good idea – I might be in for more than I bargained for! I take it in good spirits and smile to myself, relishing the adventure that I’ve undertaken. I know the best thing to do is to relax, and again I consciously surrender, once more losing myself in the utter beauty of the trees and the clouds and the sky. I’m falling, falling, just floating in endless beauty.
Dropping Physical Worries
A high-pitched whistling sound pulls me out of my beatific awe, it’s some cheery trekker in the vicinity making a tune with their lips. It triggers a touch of paranoia and some niggling worries resurface. Who is it? What if they come over and start speaking to me? What will they think of me here sprawled on my back?
I catch myself worrying, made aware of it by the accompanying physical discomfort. This constant mirroring of the physical and mental is making a point – the two are inextricably intertwined. Science has proven this, but now I’m not reading about some research study, I’m comprehending the truth through direct experience. I see that expressions like ‘just drop it’ and ‘mental baggage’ aren’t simply metaphorical. Resistance, clinging, craving, worrying – all can be understood as physical sickness too.
I realize there is no use in me carrying the worry about the stranger and compose myself to willingly drop it. But even with the knowledge that it doesn’t serve me, I feel a reluctance to let go – a strange resistance to let go of resistance. I’m now aware of the usually subconscious urge to cling to what I know, feeling it as physical weight. If I can just stop worrying I can be totally light, but I hesitate. It’s like so many things in life – like ending an amicable but ultimately unsuitable relationship, or jumping into cool water on a hot day – the transition is what unnerves us even when we know the change needs to be made.
Telling myself to let go, it’s like I’m hanging on to the edge of a cliff, bracing myself to drop into the unknown. I forcefully peel my own fingers off the ridge, finally dropping myself off to fall…
Lightness… I’m falling, falling, falling, and then… still falling. There is no bottom – no crush, no death, no oblivion – the experience is just continuous falling. Ever-unfolding experience without grasping. I sense a wonderful liberation. I’ve dropped myself off only to find that I’m still there. That weight, those worries and stress – I carry it all in an unconscious effort to retain my sense of self, out of fear of losing myself – but it’s not who I am, and when it’s all dropped, the awareness continues, without the physical weight. Perpetual, changing, naked existence.
What I’ve released was a part of the sense of a separate self – ego, role, identity – all a great trick. Both science and Buddhism are right – it’s no more than illusion and hallucination. I am the universe. ‘I’ is consciousness. I think how strange a physical sense of self is, how bizarre bodies are! I feel as if I’m undergoing purification, floating weightless with all excess parts stripped away.
Feelings of humility arrive to fill the void I’ve opened up, and I lie awed and humbled to my very core. I see myself from above, my body lying there on the ground, and then I float up and away from myself, up over the valley. As I go up into the clouds I lose sight of myself beneath the trees. My vision of myself shrinks, I see myself and my place as the trees and river. It’s a visual representation to what I’m feeling – my ego and self-importance shrinking away as I see the bigger picture and my place in the universe. I understand that the significance of my existence is nothing, and with that I experience a deep and unstirring peace.
Waves Of Gratitude
The calm humility morphs, and I feel sweeping waves of energy flowing and crashing through me, rinsing my insides with an essence of gratitude. I see detailed kaleidoscopic close-eyed visuals, but they are only a symptom and sideshow of the experience; the significance is in the sense of total and utter gratitude, in the deep and resonant waves reverberating throughout my being. The waves are blissful and euphoric, the antithesis to every feeling of heaviness or worry. I am truly, profoundly, and utterly grateful.
There’s nothing in particular that I feel grateful for; I don’t think about family, friends, my health, or anything else. It’s a bizarre sense of gratitude, gratitude with no object, just for it’s own sake. I am not a receiver of it; simply, I am gratitude.
Be grateful. This is the teaching of today, learnt from experience, direct from the source. I’m again reminded why psychedelic experiences are so esoteric. Words could never explain this.
I lie, bathing in feelings of gratitude, euphoria and bliss, coated and entirely submerged in them, soaking them in.
Return To Reality
Sometime later, my alarm rings. It’s signifying that I should be making my return trip out of the woods. I’ve set the alarm for roughly an hour before sunset to give myself a decent amount of time to make it back in daylight and avoid a tricky and likely very confusing walk back through the woods in darkness. The problem is that I’m still exceptionally high and hardly feel in my body. Of course, euphoria and beauty wouldn’t typically be considered a problem, but I’m conscious of the real world responsibility to look after myself and get back to town, and this is hardly the ideal frame of mind to be organising my stuff and figuring out the route. I know I’m inappropriately high to be making the journey, but compose myself; one step at a time, I tell myself. Easily, gently, one step at a time.
Rising to my feet, I stagger around as I gather my things, pack my bag, and roll up my sleeping mat. Everything stuffed inside and ready, the zip decides to break in that moment. Perfect. I laugh to myself at the timing of this. I sling it round to my front and hold it closed with my hand, looking up to assess my surroundings and figure my way back out of the woods. As I look around, every direction looks exactly the same. Of course it does – it’s the woods. My flights through consciousness have done nothing for my sense of direction, I don’t recognize anything. A few steps in any direction makes me worry I’m going the wrong way and that I’ll only have to backtrack later, losing what are now precious minutes of daylight.
I remember something Vik said to me on the mountainside that morning: ‘Stay by the river’. Now I know exactly why. Following the sound of running water, I find my way back to the mini-waterfall and regain my sense of direction. I can’t walk alongside the river as there is no path and the terrain is clustered rocks and trees, so I head away, but with an idea of the direction I should be going and aim to stay as close as I can whilst still heading downstream.
Nothing looks familiar, of course, even though I must’ve come this way in the morning. ‘Trust your gut’ – a nice expression, but right now my gut doesn’t trust anything. In every direction, it tells me ‘this doesn’t seem familiar, it can’t be the right way’. I stick to logic, a trusty friend that’s gotten me out of a few tight spots in altered states, and cling to the knowledge of where I’ve just seen the river, and steadily push on on the basis of that. I come upon some houses, half expecting some local to come out yelling something to the tune of ‘get out of my garden’ in Quechua, and walk quickly on, heading back towards where I calculate the river should be.
Sure enough, I see running water and recognize where I am from my walk in the morning – I’m less than five minutes from the road. I have just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief before I hear a faint call just about audible over the gushing water. I turn around and recognize Vik and his friend Kelsey a way back up the path. It’s a welcome and charming surprise, and they head over, having been meditating in the woods. ‘I am really high’ I confess, and they take me under their wing and back into town where we spend the remainder of the evening. Though lingering effects from the cactus are with me late into the evening – experiencing Pisac lit by night as a world of wonder – the real trip and adventure ended as I left the woods, and no more stark revelations or powerful sensations will come. At least until the next time.
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/tree.png894901John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2017-02-19 19:56:552022-10-10 18:36:55My Awesome San Pedro Experience: Mystical Cactus In The Sacred Valley Of The Incas
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