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The picture trip is a technique that was employed by a pioneer of psychedelic therapy, Leo Zeff. It is done as part of the preparation and also during the psychedelic session itself.

This description of the method is from the book about Leo: The Secret Chief Revealed.

Preparation

To do this exercise you will need to gather some photos before the trip. These photos will form a history of your life. Go back home or get them wherever you are or write for them. Get all the pictures that you can and bring them to wherever you are.

Pictures to Gather:

  • Yourself, one at age two and one every two years thereafter through adolescence, up to adulthood.
  • Two pictures each of your mother, father and any siblings; one when they were young but you can still remember them, and a recent one.
  • Pictures of any other family members that are or were significant in your life.
  • A picture of your husband/wife, or any woman or man who has had great significance in your life. Lovers, current or past. If you’re married, wedding pictures.
  • A picture of a grandparent that was significant in your life.
  • If you have children, a picture of them when they were about two years old, and a recent one.
  • Any other significant pictures. Any pictures with an emotional charge.

As you collect the photos

“I ask them to select the pictures in this manner: Gather them all together—boxes, albums, however they are, and put them in front of you, and start with one. The top one or anything like that.

Pick it up and look at it. Just look at it to see what you experience in connection with that picture. Look at it a little while. You may not experience anything. It’s all right. Put it aside, pick up the next one, then look at it. If it provokes any memories, kinda sit with the memories a little bit, let them go where they want to go. Whatever feelings you have, allow them to be there. Whenever you come across a picture that’s on the list, set it aside in a separate pile. Go through all the pictures you’ve got, every single one of them, doing that. You may have to have two or three sittings to do it.

I ask them to do it no further away than a week before the trip, as close to the time of the trip as they can. I want to tell you something. That really turns them on. When they come they’re in the middle of their trip.”

During the session

A few hours into the trip, when you’re functional and can move around, get up and sit down at a table to do the picture trip.

Start out with pictures of yourself. Take the first one.

“Just look at it, just look at it and see what you experience. Look at it as long as you want to. When you’re through looking at it, hand it back. If you have anything to say, fine. Say it. If not, you don’t have to say anything.”

One at a time go through the pictures.

“The pictures, they don’t react much to the two- to four-year-old pictures. Some time around the age of six is a very significant picture for them. That’s the point in life where we lose our naturalness and we start taking on the acts of the world and behaving the way people tell us to and start squelching our own naturalness. Frequently they get to that picture and they start to cry. And cry and cry and cry.”

This can be really powerful exercise and help to stir things up or move things around in the emotional body. The beginning of these movements can help to shift something inside. The first time I used the photo trip remains one of my singular most powerful and releasing journeys of my life and as Leo says happens with most people, I cried and cried, and cried. It was beautiful. Try it out!

You can find the book about Leo as a pdf on the MAPS website: The Secret Chief Revealed. I can absolutely recommend it for both journeyers and tripsitters.

I first got introduced to the concept of clearing as a psychedelic preparation practice from DMT researcher Rick Strassman’s chapter Preparation For The Journey from the psychedelic compilation book, The Divine Spark. He outlined some basic and practical ways of clearing.

Then a couple of years ago, I saw this concept evolved when I went on on an experience Retreat with the UK psychedelic Society. As part of their preparation guidelines they included clearing and broadened the the idea to include emotional clearing; clearing space in the heart. This included, for example, having difficult conversations that you’ve been putting off, or if this was not possible, writing a letter to that person expressing your feelings (even if if you aren’t going to send it).

Clearing could also be known as creating space, tidying up loose ends, or getting around to doing those things that you have been meaning to do but have been putting off. It could also be known as closing open loops or clearing your mind.

Clearing practices can help to bring about a greater sense of peace by putting to bed nagging thoughts that may be at the back of one’s mind. Those oft subconscious unresolved things can take up space.

Clearing is so important because space is where new things can emerge. If we are hoping for an insight or a new idea to emerge in a psychedelic experience it’s best that we try to clear the way for them to grow and sprout. Nothing new can grow in a garden which is already full.

Clearing can be done on many levels, both big and small. A lot of it can be very mundane. Here are some examples:

  • selling or donating clothes/things you no longer use
  • household jobs you’ve been putting off
  • paying overdue bills
  • filing
  • cleaning the apartment

Digital Clearing

Computers and tech are such a big part of our lives these days and I think it’s very useful to also do digital clearing. Digital clearing may seem less obvious because you can close your laptop and lose sight of your mess, where as if you are in a dirty room, it’s hard to ignore. However, a cluttered digital life can take up a lot more mental space than we might imagine.

Some examples of digital clearing practices:

  • cleaning up your computer; sorting download and document folders
  • responding to any unanswered emails or messages across all messaging platforms
  • inbox zero
  • sending any other emails you’ve been meaning to get around to

Emotional Clearing

If we want to experience some kind of deep rebirth or renewal from a psychedelic experience then we need to prepare to let go of old things and to say goodbye to things from our past. In this way a thorough clearing practice can be seen as preparing for death. Opening and clearing the heart can be a difficult, but ultimately, powerful preparation. Some examples:

  • Calling loved ones and touching base with them
  • Expressing a feeling to a friend or partner that you’ve been holding back
  • Having that difficult conversation with a flatmate or co worker
  • Reaching out to someone you wronged and apologising to them
  • Saying things that shouldn’t be left unsaid

If your time is going to be up, what needs to be cleared up before you can pass on in peace?

space universe man

What’s the best way to prepare for a psychedelic experience? When I ask this question, what I mean is: how can one prepare in a way that will maximise the positive benefits of an inner journey; the insights, increased awareness, greater sense of connection and wellbeing, and all those other magical things you’ve probably heard that psychedelics can do.

In this post I will outline some practices and techniques that I believe constitute a preparation that, if undertaken, considerably improves the chances of these benefits.

traveller journey night

Prepare well for the journey, there is a long road ahead.

Preparing the ‘Set’

When it comes to shaping a psychedelic experience, there are two key words: set and setting. Set refers to mindset and setting means the environment. This post is not complete in this regard and will focus on the set; the inner state of the individual. It will focus on preparing the mind.

The practices and techniques covered here are:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • The Photo Trip
  • Life Timeline
  • Forming An Intention
  • Clearing

Meditation

Familiarising yourself with mindfulness techniques and developing a meditation practice is always my number one recommendation for a session prep. 

The potential benefit of meditation is twofold. The first is to relieve anxiety and approach the session from a more relaxed place. The second is to practice exploring your thoughts and feelings without avoidance, judgement, or resistance.

meditation

In this second way, meditation can get the psychedelic process going before taking any substances; exploring your inner world and cultivating introspective and reflective states. Getting comfortable facing your thoughts and feelings, including uncomfortable ones, will serve you well, and can be thought of as something of a psychedelic warm up.

With all this in mind, meditation aids one in their ability to follow the ultimate tenet of psychedelic navigation: let go and surrender. This basic rule of thumb follows the observation that difficulties occur in a session when one resists or fights the effects of the psychedelic. Thoughts like ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’ or ‘this isn’t what was supposed to happen, I don’t like this, get me out’, are more problematic than actually going into what we understand as negative feelings; sadness, grief etc. and prevent us from processing something that might’ve been stuffed down. Meditation gives one practice in being with these feelings, allowing them, and all the while, breathing.

Leary Metzner Alpert meditation quote ram dass

Janis Phelps’ referencing Leary & co in her talk at the Breaking Convention conference

If you are new to meditation, you’ll need some basic instruction and guidance to begin. Try finding a group or class near to where you live as some in person guidance with the support of a group is an excellent way to begin.

If that’s not possible there are many resources available online. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Center is a good place to start. Headspace and Waking Up are apps that both have a free run of short guided sessions and are a great introduction. Insight is another that has many guided meditations.

If you have the time and are serious about learning, a silent course is probably the best way to become well versed with meditation quickly. You can find donation based ones with Vipassana all around the world at dhamma.org

dhamma dipa vipassana

If you’d like to read more about psychedelics and meditation, I have written about how they’ve influenced each other on my personal journey, and also on the mutual relationship of the two on the New Moon retreat website.

Journaling

If meditation is difficult for you, try keeping a journal.

Rather than recording what you’ve done each day as one might do in a diary, invite introspection. Focus on your inner world, writing about feelings and thoughts, and include more general reflections and ideas about life. As author and write-letters-to-yourself enthusiast Cal Newport has pointed out, composing thoughts in the structured form demanded by written prose can often help to gain clarity.

journal

Journaling, like meditation, can help to increase awareness of your perceptions. Though it need not be one or the other, and journaling can be an excellent companion to a meditation practice. Though it’s not necessary to write on a regular schedule, some kind of minimum regularity, say once a week, will probably help to begin the practice.

Alternative Option: Audio Journaling
You might try audio journaling, opening a voice memo app and speaking your mind, if thats easier for you.

The Picture Trip

The ‘picture trip’ is a technique that was employed by a pioneer of psychedelic therapy, Leo Zeff. This description of the method is adapted from the book about Leo and his methods, The Secret Chief Revealed.

To do this exercise you will need to gather some photos before the trip. These photos will form a history of your life.

photos collection

Pictures to Gather:

• Yourself, one at age two and one every two years thereafter through adolescence, up to adulthood.

• Two pictures each of your mother, father and any siblings; one when they were young but you can still remember them, and a recent one.

• Pictures of any other family members that are or were significant in your life.

• A picture of your husband/wife, or any woman or man who has had great significance in your life. Lovers, current or past. If you’re married, wedding pictures.

• If you have children, a picture of them when they were about two years old, and a recent one.

• Any other significant pictures. Any pictures with an emotional charge.

As you go through your photos to find these, spend some time looking through your photo collection. Spend a few moments with each photo, looking at it and seeing what you feel with each one. If any memories or feelings come up, sit with them and see where they go. When you come across a picture for the picture trip, put it aside. Try to do this no further away than a week before the trip, as close to the time of the trip as you can.

secret chief revealed

Leo Zeff was a pioneer in the modern psychedelic therapy movement

As a teaser to convince you of the potential of this method, I’d like to share this quote from Leo found in the book:

‘People will come to me who have already tripped who want to have my particular kind of way of tripping. One of them had tripped at least five hundred times on acid, others who have tripped three, four hundred times, down through the early Sixties, clear up to recent times. You know, plenty of trips their own way […] We talk about it, and [..] so I’d say, “Sure.” They would have their trip on acid. Invariably these people have said, “I’ve never had an acid trip before in my life! This is the first time I’ve ever really had an acid trip.”

Personally, I can also tell you that my first acid trip using this method was the one of the most significant events of my life. So, I can recommend!

Life Timeline

If you aren’t able to collect the photos for the picture trip, you can do the life timeline. The aim is the same, to explore your life story. If you feel up to it, you can do both.

pen draw write

• Begin with a wide piece of paper, approximately 1 metre in width. At least A3. It’s fine for you to stick or tape together smaller pieces if you don’t have one this size.

• Draw a long horizontal line across the length,.

• Mark your birth on one end and your current age on the other.

• Divide the line into segments which mark every five years of your life.

• Fill the timeline with people, happenings, decisions, events and anything which was significant. Use pictures and symbols, and you can write words, quotes or sentences. Anything which helps you to reconnect with these chapters and what you went through during these times of your life.

As you go through your life, spend some time thinking about and exploring feelings around the significant events. When you’ve finished, spend a few moments with each mark on your timeline, seeing what you feel with each one. As memories or feelings come up, sit with them and see where they go. Try to do this no further away than a week or two before, again ideally as close to the time as you can.

Formulate An Intention

Understanding your intention helps to give clarity and direction for a journey, so its worthwhile to consider.

Set aside some time to yourself and sit down with a journal or pad. At a park or somewhere in nature might appeal to you but anywhere without potential disturbance or distraction is fine.

person nature contemplative

Here are some questions to think about and make notes on.

  • Why are you doing this? What are you seeking?
  • What would it mean for this psychedelic journey to be ‘successful’?
  • Where are you now and where do you want to get, related to your motivation
  • What is working in your life? What isn’t?
  • What are you curious about? What would you like to learn more about?

As the journey approaches, try to have something of a clear intention for your journey. If it is wide ranging and incorporates many areas, try to sum it up so that it can be stated as one precise sentence by the day of the journey.

Some examples of how this might work:

  • “I intend to have a healthy life’ could be a sum of ‘I intend to quit smoking, I want improve my relationship with food, and understand how I can get into a good exercise regime”.
  • “To explore past traumas and to gain insight into my potential’ might be summed up as “To learn about myself”.
  • “To get outside of my mind, to experience a higher dimension, and to go beyond my normal consciousness” might be put together as ‘to explore spirituality’.

lotus flower

The intention is formulated to plant seeds in your mind and the process of refining it helps to get to the essence of what you are searching for. Though formulating an intention can be powerful, the process of formulating it is as important as the final result. This is to say that it should not to be held on to too tightly during the session. You should be open and able to go with the experience as it unfolds. It is often said about psychedelic experiences that you don’t get what you want but that you get what you need. Clinging too tightly to a specific intention may mean that you miss something that offers insight in other areas, ones that actually are related to your intention, albeit in less obvious ways.

Having a clear intention can also help in that you have a clear motivation and it gives you an answer and some frame of reference for when you might think ‘Why am I doing this?”. This question can come up in difficult times and it can be very useful to have a clear answer ready, to aid you in letting go of resistance and moving in to the experience. In moments of your journey when you would like some direction, your intention can be called to mind.

Clearing

Clearing can be thought of as making space. Space for insight, space for discovery, space for expansion. If you like Chinese proverbs, another way to put this might be: “Empty Your Cup”.

Firstly the basics; clearing the day, the day after, and ideally day before of any obligations. Book them out so you can be offline and effectively disappear from the world.

clear schedule

Next, try to tidy up loose ends in your life to help clear some space in your mind and heart. Stuff that you might’ve been putting off, like difficult conversations and resolving any current difficulties in your relationships. If this isn’t possible, try journaling about it or writing a letter to the person even if you can’t send it to them.

This clearing process should also include physical and practical things, which can be done a little closer to the journey, like cleaning your room, paying overdue bills, sending certain emails and making phone calls you’ve been putting off. Even taking the trash out (a nice symbolic act).

Keep phone use and digital communication to an absolute minimum during the day of the journey, so take care of potential calls and emails in advance. If you think you might want to speak with someone like a close friend or family member soon after, its a good idea to notify them in advance so they will be available and ready for the conversation.

Prepare Well, and Journey Safely

The preparation one takes will significantly influence how a journey plays out and is the groundwork for a transformative experience. Put simply, the influence of a good preparation should not be underestimated. That said, it should not become a gruelling undertaking or huge burden. It should be done with enthusiasm and should help you, rather than stress you. So go, prepare well, and take care!

I wish you well with your preparations and on your journey.

path nature journey

Did I miss anything? What do you think are the best ways one can prepare for a deep and rewarding journey? Please share in the comments below!