Are you serious about your development on the medicine path? Today I’d like to invite you to consider these quotes from experienced psychonauts.
“The longer I have worked with psychedelics, the more convinced I have become that a daily meditation practice is vital to harnessing the waves of energy and insight that sweep through us on a session day.
“My sessions have deepened my meditation practice and my meditation practice has helped ground my psychedelic practice. In my experience, these are complementary and mutually reinforcing undertakings that can be integrated well.”
— Christopher M. Bache, Ph.D. Author of LSD & the Mind of the Universe
“It is quite obvious that skills in meditation, the practice of being at peace within one’s body and mind, even in uncomfortable places, can be of great help in the course of a psychedelic session.”
— Vanja Palmers, Zen Priest, Psychedelics & Meditation
“The ability to, I think, objectify one’s experience, to see it as something which is just there and very natural, that is a powerful skill, and its a skill that can be developed through meditation, which is why I think actually that a nice long course of meditation is the perfect pre-requisite for psychedelics, because I think that people who have done that will have fewer problems dealing with psychedelic experiences.”
— Craig, participant on a John Hopkins study on the effects of psilocybin on long-term meditators
“The foundation laid by any previous inner work will hold us in good stead at such times by virtue of the attention skills we have developed. These skills make it easier to remain focused when confronted with the unexpected…
“We regain our balance through the proper application of attention and awareness. This is the slowing down, which we can facilitate physically through relaxed, deep breathing and helps release any tension in our bodies. Once we’ve slowed ourselves down and replanted our psychic feet, it is easier to move our consciousness through the resistance or block.”
— Rick Strassman, author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule and lead researcher on the DMT studies at the University of New Mexico
“Training in meditation is an excellent preparation for confronting the expanded states of consciousness which entheogens generate and, conversely, the intensity and forthrightness of these expanded states can provide a great impetus to apply the achievements attained during meditation in an emphatic way”
— Dokusho Villalba, The Spiritual Potential Of Entheogens – Dissolving The Roots Of Suffering – Zig Zag Zen
In terms of creating positive ripples in my community, starting a meditation circle has been one of the best things I’ve done since moving to Berlin 2 years ago. To this day, the group still meets regularly to meditate and has become a community of people that can support each other and offer a space for each of us to be heard. This is a great way of bringing people together and creating a friendship group, as well as providing support for my own practice.
Having experienced the positive effect it has had, I would love to see more of this and others doing similar. So here is a way, step by step, to start your meditation group:
Before starting, as an optional first step, if you have a friend or know someone who is interested, enlist their help. Getting started with something like this is always easier with someone else. I had a good support friend at the beginning and eventually got comfortable doing it alone. This step is optional and you can of course do it alone.
1. Find A Place
You can do it at your place, a friend’s apartment, a park… ideally a place where there is not much outside noise coming in and you won’t be disturbed by other people.
2. Set a Time and Date
Pick a day, maybe two weeks ahead. Consider whether you’d like to have regular meetups and whether this day will suit you going forward. You could also change the day every week, depending on your needs, but a consistent day helps establish a routine and helps people plan around it.
3. Spread The Word
Tell any friends who might be interested in joining about your event. Share it online. You could do this via Meetup or facebook, or, as I did, on Couchsurfing. In your post, include info such as: basic information about yourself and why you’d like to hold a meditation meetup, who it is suitable for, when it is and how long it will last, and what type of meditation and exercises it will include. You can use a simple name, we held ours on Wednesdays so called it Midweek Meditation Group.
If you have limited space, I’d suggest not including the address. Instead, put a contact number or email so people can contact you to tell you if they are coming. That way it will be easier to manage numbers. You can also add info like if it’s free or if you’ll accept donations. You can also ask people to bring tea or candles, snacks, and things that you’ll use for future meetups.
Now that you’ve organised it and have a date, you need to prepare!
4. Get Ready
Get anything you may need, such as candles, cushions, tea, and maybe some snacks for after. All you will absolutely need are enough cushions for the amount of people attending. If you are short you can also ask people to bring their own cushion, like I did when first starting out. Then, the day of, go a bit early to prepare the space and make it nice and cosy. Clear away clutter and have some nice low lighting, either with lamps or some candles.
5. Hold the Circle
Ask people to arrive on time to prevent latecomers disturbing the sit. When people arrive, give them a warm welcome and take them through to a place where they can sit down and talk to others. Ask people to turn off their phones. You could even have a box where people can drop them for the time of the meet.
Once everyone has arrived, you can say hello and remind them of the basic plan for the session. A nice way to begin is a short sharing round. Before that, it might be useful to offer some sharing guidelines. In the first session, I think a nice thing to do is ask people why they came and are interested in meditation. In future and consecutive meetups, I think it’s nice to have a round where each person just takes a moment to check in with themselves and share how they’re feeling with the group. When you have a consistent group, each person can share a little more with what has been going on with them since last time.
You can guide the meditation yourself if you feel comfortable doing that. Otherwise, you can prepare a guided meditation and play it. You can also just decide a set time and do a silent meditation.
Then, you have successfully held your first meditation meetup. Here’s some further tips:
Be Open to Evolve and Mix It Up
It can be nice to offer a few different types of mindfulness activities to keep the practice fresh, and as different things will work for different people, it’s nice to expose people to different tools.
Some activities that we’ve done include:
Pranayama (breathing exercise)
Mindfulness of Breath
Loving Kindness Meditation
As you have more experience holding the circles and getting to know the group you will feel more comfortable mixing it up and can also include other things like authentic relating exercises.
Don’t Be Afraid to Start Small
Don’t worry about how many people show up. Keep going! More and more people will reach out and you will find your community. For my first one, which a friend and I hosted, we had one person show up. The next week we had 2, and the following week we were at capacity of 10 and had to turn people away. Over time a regular group settled and I stopped posting about the event online.
Keep It Regular
I think keeping some kind of regularity is great to help build connections between people and offer some consistency to people’s support and practice. If once a week is too much, consider every two weeks.
That’s it. I have seen how initiatives like this can really help people so if this idea calls to you I encourage you to take the first steps to hold your first circle today!
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/IMG_0136.jpg13332000John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2020-08-05 00:20:272021-06-19 20:12:46How to Start a Meditation Circle
RAIN is a meditation technique for dealing with difficult emotions and as such is an especially useful tool for psychedelic journeying. Difficult emotions often offer the greatest opportunity for learning or insight during a psychedelic journey and having this technique in your toolbox is especially handy. RAIN allows you to go towards those difficult emotions with the ultimate mindset for psychedelic exploration: that of an explorer.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek“
You will also find on Bill Richards’ flight instructions used on psilocybin studies that participants are advised to go towards difficult emotions and to investigate them. This is exactly what RAIN does in a systematic and easy to follow way.
So let’s have a look at RAIN, which if you hadn’t figured out yet, is an acronym. Let’s go step-by-step.
what is happening
This is the roots of understanding
life to be just as it is
This is the grounds of love
with gentle attention
This deepens understanding
This awakens love
After the RAIN, (what was previously the N before being recently updated) is non-identification. This is realizing freedom from a narrow sense of identity. For example, identifying ourselves with thoughts or feelings. The process of RAIN helps to bring spaciousness around these things and an expanded awareness of the scenes which we often mistake for ourselves.
So let’s go through it more deeply by way of example.
Let’s say for example you are on a psychedelic journey and you feel fear.
Starting with R you recognize that you feel fear. You can do this by mentally naming that emotion “fear, fear“.
Once recognized move onto the A. Allow it to be, give it permission to be there. You can mentally say “yes OK“. Doing this may mean that the feeling gets stronger, and this is OK. For example anxiety may develop into a fullness of fear. This is OK. Allow the fear to express it self fully.
When allowing, you may have a sense that it feels too much for you to take. If you’re naming it “fear, fear”, and its too strong, then surrender yourself to it. Say: “alright, take me, kill me, I’ll die of this feeling of fear.”
Another example of where complications may come in at the Allow stage. If your first emotion was for example sadness, and you find difficulty allowing it due to the feeling that it is too much then again go back to R and recognize what you are feeling. This would be fear. Feelings can morph when going through this process, so stay fluid. Whatever is on top, start there.
After the R&A we begin to deepen attention by investigating with kindness.
Approach that feeling of fear as a curious and friendly explorer. This feeling is there for a reason and has something to show you. So go towards it and try to see what it is that is this fear made of.
Nurture is the approach to the investigation. Use a sense of friendliness and gentleness to investigate the felt sense of what’s going on.
Treat this feeling as a friend that is asking for your attention that needs your love. Sit down with the fear and take time to get to know it.
What’s the quality of the sensations?
How do I know I’m feeling fear?
Explore your beliefs around the feeling. Ask:
What am I believing right now which is causing me to feel fear?
What am I thinking about?
Key in any investigating and with any core belief is that when you are doing it come into your body. Find out where this feeling lives in your body. Some practice in body scan or vipassana meditation will come in useful in this step.
Completing RAIN brings a quality of openness and presence. Anxiety can shift to a space of presence where you are no longer identified with that fear and you can rest in a kind awareness.
Practice RAIN with a guided meditation
Learning and practicing RAIN is something I would recommend to any aspiring psychedelic practitioner. It is something I learned from meditation teacher Tara Brach and you can find one of her guided RAIN meditations here. As with learning any type of meditation it can be useful to begin by doing a few guided meditations and then once you are familiar with the practice you do it alone.
2019, three quarters through and so far, what a year. This blog has been quiet, falling behind my average snail’s pace of one post a month, but I have good excuses. My year has been jam packed with a healthy blend of projects along with the usual and ongoing quest to simultaneously find and create myself in an ever changing world.
I’ll get to some of the other stuff in other posts as I take stock to digest and process in this final quarter but today I’m writing about the entity that has by far and away received the most of my time, energy and focus this year:
New Moon Psychedelic Retreats.
New Moon Retreats is the culmination of my journey over the last decade; a psychedelic retreat integrating meditation and mindfulness practices.
My first psychedelic experiences, almost a decade ago, made me more creative and curious, and encouraged me to adventure and explore the world. They also kickstarted my meditation practice. Because of how much I felt I’d benefitted, I was inspired to create this blog in an effort, amongst other things, to share information and make the experience more accessible to others.
I see New Moon as a natural extension of what I aimed to do with Maps Of The Mind; making psychedelic experiences accessible, but more than by means of information: by directly offering physical spaces and in person guidance.
Finding My Way
Two years ago I had an experience that was itself a culmination of my journey to that point – a fruit of my travels inner and outer, readings and writings, studies and practices; a peak experience that I felt profoundly grateful to have had. It gave my path a new direction and clearer purpose, and a vision crystallised.
That vision was a centre where people can go to learn meditation and have deep psychedelic experiences. A place where anyone can go and have the opportunity to dive deep within, to develop understanding of themselves and others. Not everyone has access (yet), but creating New Moon Retreats has been a significant step towards that vision.
The venue we host New Moon Retreats
With direction and fresh inspiration, I committed more fully to my path and began going to trainings, workshops and conferences. I began to facilitate privately in the therapeutic model of using headphones and eyeshades, and was fortunate enough to spend time and work on retreat with Myco Meditations in Jamaica, where I learnt a tremendous amount about psilocybin mushrooms and group retreats. After moving to Berlin, I completed a mindfulness coaching course and began a meditation meet up. Through it all, my personal practice has remained fundamental, and I’ve continued to write about my learnings to consolidate them, journal my thoughts to reflect on them, and continued to make an effort to develop and evolve my personal meditation practice.
Finding The Others
On my way I met the others who currently make up the rest of New Moon. During my year travelling through Latin America – when I documented my explorations with ayahusaca in the amazon, San Pedro in Peru, peyote and DMT in the Mexican desert, and mushrooms in the mountains of Oaxaca – I met Tuk whilst staying at a hostel Buenos Aires. He was in the continent to explore psychedelics too and our shared interest provided fertile ground for a budding friendship. After exploring the capital together we reconnected in Peru and remained in touch after our American travels.
Whilst visiting Tuk in Copenhagen, I met his mother Ulla at the Psychedelic Symposium, and then a couple months later volunteered alongside Maria at Altered Conference in Berlin. A year later, whilst at Beyond Psychedelics, I decided to move to Berlin, where, finding myself two weeks later, I reconnected with Maria and together we began to organise psychedelic integration events at her studio. When the seeds for New Moon began sprouting, the team was already connected.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls” Joseph Campbell
What Is Different About The Retreats?
Our retreats place the psilocybin sessions amidst meditation and mindfulness practice because I understand this to be the perfect container for deep and rewarding psychedelic sessions. I haven’t seen meditation as an integral part of the program on other psychedelic retreats and is something I wanted to offer. Our program includes an accessible course of meditation practice with guided meditations and mindfulness exercises.
Small groups & high ratio of facilitators to participants
We have 4 facilitators for each group of 8 participants. This is so that we can give each person due attention and care, allows us time for one to ones with everyone, and aims to enable a deeper level of connection and intimacy with each group.
Option of 1 or 2 psilocybin sessions
We currently have two retreat formats: a 3 night and a 5 night. The 3 night format is with one psilocybin session and the 5 night format is with two. The five night is for people who want to explore psilocybin more deeply and includes further integration activities and awareness practices. Having multiple sessions on a retreat is something I felt was excellent about Myco Meditations as it allows people to go deeper.
A New Moon Dawns
The garden at the retreat venue
On the New Moon of the 1st August, we commenced our first retreat, and over the next 11 days guided 11 participants through two retreats: a 4 day with 1 psilocybin session, and a 6 day with 2. We had two groups of people who came with honest and earnest intentions to learn and grow, and we were fortunate that everyone who came was understanding and accommodating in that it was our first retreats.
Working with people so intimately over these 11 days was humbling, heart opening, inspiring, and ultimately, meaningful. Spending time in a small community in nature surrounded by people who are making an honest effort to work on themselves, in an environment where everyone is encouraged to open up and share themselves, was hugely enriching.
Reviewing The First Retreats
So how did the retreats go? Overall, I’d say they went as well as we could’ve hoped for. Though I don’t believe psychedelics are a panacea or cure all, they certainly can facilitate potent and powerful experiences capable of triggering significant shifts. And our participants did have powerful experiences. From their end, the feedback we have received has been good and of the 8 people who’ve completed our anonymous feedback form, all have given us a final 5/5. That is something I wish to maintain.
Psychedelic truffles used on the retreats
Our initial aim was to do 2 retreats this year as pilots and then to assess if we’re doing a good thing and should continue. The first wave of feedback has been enough to affirm this and has supported my belief that this is the most impactful way I can have a positive influence on a world on which I feel significant and drastic change is needed.
Though the retreats have given me confidence and courage to go on creating these spaces and offering this experience, I feel now more than ever the importance of developing as a facilitator, a leader, and a person. The feeling has only become more certain and one of my favourite adages, that ‘there is always room for improvement’, remains as true as ever. In a new field that is directly involved with people’s mental wellbeing but that has no cultural container or tradition in the West, I feel a growing sense of responsibility and the requirement to live with integrity and be accountable for my actions. I realise too that the people I want to work and surround myself with are also those who won’t rest on their laurels or get caught up patting themselves on the back, but who seek continued growth.
With the encouragement from our first groups, New Moon will move forward and we have booked our next retreat for the end of November. Moving on, I would like to develop the mindfulness part of the program and, after being inspired by seeing Vanja Palmers talk recently, feel more drive than ever to make it happen. I have some exciting ideas to integrate these schools and look forward to implementing them.
The integration, follow up and aftercare is also an area I would like to develop. Specifically, I’d like a focus on community, empowering people to find and create communities where they can find support and accountability on their path. I’d also like to introduce aspects of habit formation psychology that I’ve found hugely beneficial, and some means of loosening the grip of digital addiction, something I want to continue working on myself and which I honestly see as a major epidemic contributing to much of the mental health problems in the world today.
As for a longer term vision, we would ultimately like to make the experience more financially accessible. As I’ve mentioned before, something like vipassana system where anyone can go for free and make an optional and anonymous donation at the end would be ideal. That is something we can only do once we are financially stable, but in the shorter term, having a free spot per retreat or a donation based retreat a year might be a good stepping stone.
Much to do and plenty to be getting on with then. But, one thing at a time, and as we go, let’s try to enjoy the ride.
Thanks for reading and hope to see you on retreat soon.
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/paraiso-venue.jpg9751300John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2019-09-30 12:26:132020-07-25 19:06:51The Next Step In My Evolving Purpose: Creating New Moon Psychedelic Retreats
Psychedelics and meditation have both had a strong influence on my life and are somehow inextricably intertwined. I first got interested in meditation in the aftermath of primary experiences with LSD, and now meditation, in some way or another, informs every psychedelic session I take.
There is dispute in the Buddhist community about the value of psychedelics ‘on the path’ and if you’re interested in the intersection of Buddhism and psychedelics, I highly recommend the book Zig Zag Zen. There are plenty of other articles on this topic, but today I’m just gonna share a bit of my story and how these two things have weaved their way into my life.
I first tried LSD as a curious guy keen for new experiences. As someone who enjoyed being creative, I was especially interested in new ways of thinking. I also wanted to have fun. I had little idea what I was in for when I put that little piece of paper in my mouth, but looking back, I now see those first experiences as pivotal in my life. Though they’ve affected me in many ways, one that stands out is how they lead me to meditation. At the time I had never tried meditating, nor had any real idea what it was, but if I had never tried LSD, I honestly doubt I’d have started meditating.
How Psychedelic Experience Lead Me To Meditation
On the tail end of my first LSD trips, I didn’t have any ‘comedown’. The post-trip chapter I experienced would more accurately be described as a serene, contemplative afterglow. After the ecstasy and madness of the peak, I descended to a more peaceful state which was in its own way, my favourite part of the whole experience. Though at the time I didn’t have any clear idea of what ‘meditation’ meant, I described the afterglow state to friends as meditative; my mind was sharp and clear and I was deeply reflective. I also noticed that my breathing naturally became long and slow. This tuning into the flow of my breath was a naturally induced meditation session.
When my friends and I didn’t naively first time candy flip on a Sunday and have to go to work the next day without getting a wink of sleep (see: my first time on acid – I started a new job that Monday – another story, another time), an ideal recovery day would be spent chilling with my fellow travellers. We’d order pizza, smoke joints and get comfortable on the sofas for a run of movies. After a long session, we were always physically exhausted, yet my mind was always energised. With this mental energy I’d wander philosophically through themes and ideas that came up in the films, conversation, music or anything else. As we watched movies I’d interpret them in all kinds of novel ways, see metaphors the writers and directors had put in, and understand concepts that I hadn’t considered before. I’d make notes in my journal about interesting ideas that came to mind and, of course, just generally enjoy hanging out. Relaxed but attentive, naturally contemplative, it was a taster for meditation.
In the wake of these experiences, my mind was clearer. I had a greater awareness and detachment of my thoughts. I felt wiser. I was looking at things from a greater perspective more often and more naturally, like that mental trick you do when something bad happens and you ask yourself “how much will this matter in 5, 10 or 20 years?”, or you zoom out on google maps to try and coerce the overview effect. I was thinking more creatively and seeing metaphors in almost everything, and my behaviour became less guided by fear and petty concerns. The effect was sudden and obvious, and lasted some months before beginning to fade and older mental habits and ways of being began to return.
I missed my newly found but now fading clarity and wisdom, but I’d experienced another way of being that I wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Following a wikipedia trail, I was lead from psychedelic drugs to non-ordinary forms of consciousness to meditation; a method of changing awareness, without substances. Though my access to psychedelic substances was gone, my newly whetted appetite for discovery remained, and I moved to Asia with a job teaching English.
From the UK to China
In my new home city of Shanghai, I started going to classes on meditation and reading books on the topic. Reading books about Buddhism felt like I was reading books about psychedelic experience, and in retrospect, they were some kind of integration texts. I began a daily meditation practice, and soon after went on my first silent retreat in 2012.
Temple stay in Korea
In the 6 years that have passed since, meditation practice has become a key foundation in my life. I’ve been back on other retreats and temple stays, was part of a Zen sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh in Spain, and last year started a weekly meditation group in Berlin. Meditation is what a friend of mine would call a fundamental – others include exercise, diet, community and creative projects – and mindfulness is a skill I find applicable in so many situations of life.
Like many others, my practice started with psychedelics. And while my first psychedelic journeys lead me to meditation, meditation has boomeranged back around and played its role in my psychedelic sessions. Today I’ll share one example.
How Meditation Helped On A Deep Journey
On a grey Saturday a couple years ago, alone in a friend’s house whilst he was away for the weekend, I took 250 micrograms of LSD. In the months before, I’d been reading various psychedelic-therapeutic protocols and had prepared accordingly for the session. I managed the anxiety of a turbulent come up by relaxing myself many times as I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and directing my attention to my breathing. Around an hour in, as the lysergic waves really began to come on strong, I was lying down, looking up at the ceiling.
In one moment, a monster appeared above me. It was hovering over me, looking down at me from the ceiling. I was looking directly at its face, and it was looking right back at me, right into my eyes.
I was instinctively gripped by fear. My shoulders and rest of my body tightened up instantly as I stared in shock. The beast was of course not physically there, it was a manifestation of my fears, a representation of what scares me and had been avoided.
I held the monster’s gaze, took a deep breath in, and with a long exhale, relaxed my body, letting tension go. As I did this, the monster dissolved into harmless patterns right before my eyes. The visual information was in fact the same – the rich ceiling patterns that made up the monsters face were still there – but they no longer appeared scary or even as a being to me. What changed wasn’t the sensory information I was receiving, it was my perception of it. What made up the ‘monster’ was still there, I just saw it differently. I had a new perspective.
There were a few other moments leading up to this confrontation where I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and I consciously relaxed my body. I see these as like smaller hurdles that once passed, allowed me to get to the point of this confrontation. The dissolution was like a jumping off point, and after this I dropped deep into ineffable experience.
The journey was deep and had many chapters: there were visions of a past life, alternate realities, and repressed emotions burst up and were released though uncontrollable bouts of sobbing. In the most profound chapter, it was a transpersonal experience; ‘I’ disappeared, along with time, and experience just happened.
I’ll share this story in more detail another time but for now I think its enough to say it was a significant experience that shifted something deep inside of me. The next day I felt lighter and clearer. I had more understanding and compassion. And my meditation practice was revived with a spark. I hadn’t been this affected since those very first journeys – the ones that spurred me on to meditation. I didn’t become a holy and all-understanding being overnight, but I inched in that direction.
Reflecting on the session afterwards, I saw how techniques that I’d learnt in meditation helped me to relax, to let my guard down and open to the experience with lessened resistance. And this is why I recommend meditation to anyone considering a first psychedelic experience. Including you.
https://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/andy-holmes-706436-unsplash-e1549561694454.jpg560840John Robertsonhttps://mapsofthemind.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MAPS-MIND-LOGO-29.pngJohn Robertson2019-01-25 11:24:192021-06-19 20:22:30Psychedelics and Meditation – How They’ve Informed Each Other On My Path
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