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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!