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Using rituals for psychedelic experiences can help to help bring a sense of presence, clarity, and feelings of safety to the experience. Ritual can also help connect to something bigger and help to mark the occasion out as something special, something that is beyond an everyday experience.

Before talking about how it can help with psychedelic practice, though, I’d like to give some examples of ritual and how it’s used by high performers as a means to help them in some way focus their attention, enter a specific state, and perform better.

Athletes’ Rituals

Many professional athletes use rituals. For example, a football player having very specific ways of doing things before either heading out onto the pitch or when setting up for a penalty.

One ritual I love is used by one of the greatest sport teams in the world: the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. At the beginning of every game the entire team performs the Haka.

The Haka is a traditional ancestral ritual from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a fierce dance and chanting ritual that connects the team to their ancestors, to their history, and to the lineage of their land.

This ritual in particular helps the players connect to something beyond themselves, to connect to something bigger. By doing so, they understand that they are part of a lineage that extends beyond the players on the pitch. With its fierce nature, I imagine the ritual also gets the players absolutely pumped up, blood pumping in their veins, ready to face anything when the first whistle blows.

Creatives’ Rituals

Another example is writer Stephen Pressfield, whose books have been a huge inspiration to me. Pressfield says a prayer to the muse every morning when he enters his office to write. For him, his office is a sacred space. The prayer is one part of a series of actions he does before starting to write that also includes putting on specific clothes.

Other examples that I love are from musicians who have backstage rituals before going out on stage for a show or performers who have some special sentence or prayer that is said before stepping out onto stage or heading out to film an especially intense scene.

Rituals Develop Focus

Rituals are normally performed in such a way that the person is highly focused on the task. The way they carry out the ritual is not in some absent-minded, haphazard way, but rather in a highly focused, very attentive, and precise manner. Doing actions in such a way helps to bring someone into the present moment and helps to focus the mind. Indeed, if someone does anything in a very meticulous manner it can seem as if they are performing some ritual. I am reminded of some of the Ramen chefs I saw in Japan, whose attention to detail made it fascinating to watch and their work an art and craft in itself.

Ritual helps to enter a different state of awareness and can therefore be used as part of a psychedelic session.

Using Rituals for a Psychedelic Experience

Following a Set Structure

Ritual can also mean something that is done every time in a certain order. This can be almost a kind of a muscle memory, in that knowing that one thing proceeds to the next can enable you to clearly move from one thing to the other, giving your whole attention to it without engaging the part of your mind that has to make decisions (asking yourself, “What should I do next?”). For example, having a morning ritual allows you to wake up and not think about whether you should have a coffee or take a shower. If you have a set morning ritual, perhaps you just wake up, get a glass of hot lemon water, stretch, meditate, and then take a cold shower. You did not need to think, you just move from one to the next. This can be helpful when taking psychedelics, as making decisions can be very difficult and it can be very helpful to have a structure in place that you simply follow, moving from one stage to the next.

Ritual as a container

Rituals can also help mark the beginning and end of events. Just like a frame around a picture or piece of art helps to bring more attention to the contents, a ritual can be used to frame a psychedelic experience, to focus your attention to what is going on inside, and function as a type of container for the experience. Having this clear delineation can be useful for psychedelic ceremonies because it helps in feeling safe during what can be a wild and crazy experience.

Using rituals to help contain psychedelic experiences can help to bring feelings of safety to the experience. Ritual can also help connect to something bigger and help to mark the occasion out as something special, something that is beyond an everyday experience.

Ideas for Rituals

There are many ways to ritualize the taking of psychedelic substances, so here are just a few examples. Maybe you already have a pre-session protocol, but here are some ideas:

Washing

Washing yourself and arriving to the session clean can help to feel more comfortable and relaxed. The sensations of water can also help bring you to your body, especially if it is in a natural body of water or a cold shower. A hot bath is also wonderfully relaxing.

Clothes

Wearing a certain or special set of clothes. Maybe you have a lucky top, a favourite or most comfortable t-shirt. Maybe you would like to dress up for ceremony as you would for any special occasion. If you put on a shirt for work, why not put on something specific for a session?

Prayer

Saying a prayer can help to humble yourself and to open yourself up to possibilities of experience. Saying a prayer, religious or not, is in some way acknowledging that there are things that are out of your control.

Giving thanks

This is, again, humbling and a good practice for that reason. I think it can be good to give thanks even just as a mental exercise before consuming a substance. You’re again acknowledging that you are part of something larger and also being thankful and appreciating what you do have. I also think it is a nice way to close the session and a great opportunity to develop gratitude.

If you are with friends or a group you can maybe just go once round the group with each person, saying one thing that you are all grateful for. This can help to bring up warm feelings at the beginning of the session and start out on a positive note.

Altar

Having an altar can be a nice addition to a session or ceremony and needn’t be a religious thing. It can be as simple as having a set place with items that are dear to you. These could be photos of people, like family/friends, an image of someone you have a great respect or admiration for, or precious memories that you have. These things can be comforting to have with you by your side when you journey. What they represent symbolically will be magnified and can be of great support. When you think of them you gain some type of strength or inspiration.

The items that you choose may also be carefully chosen based on the theme of the session. For example, if you are thinking about your family, add some items and pictures that remind you of your family members. Or, if you are considering creativity, perhaps you add some of your heroes or role models from music, art, or science to your makeshift altar.

Ritualise Your Psychedelic Sessions

Ritual needn’t be complicated and you can start very simple and small. A friend of mine once put on bombtrack while we were taking our first dose of MDMA, which I thought was a nice touch. Ritual needn’t follow any kind of preset idea, you can be creative and come up with your own, too.

My approach as a psychedelic facilitator really depends on the person I am working with and our relationship.

I don’t have any kind of preset formula in terms of what I will do or how I will interact with the journeyer. What each person needs is different and totally depends on their circumstance and where they are at on their journey. I try to meet everyone where they are, and in this way, every session or ceremony is a co-creation between myself and the person I am with.

At a tripsitting workshop I went to a few years ago, I got introduced to the concept of Maai from martial art aikido, which is maintaining the correct distance from your opponent, and also called the ‘engagement distance’. This is something which is very relevant when tripsitting; with some people I will be very close, and with others I will leave a lot of space. My actions are based on what I feel that person needs.

It may be that it is called for me to hold someone whilst they cry, hold their hand, or maintain their gaze for a time during the session. During one session, I held the journeyers’ hand throughout the entire journey (they even asked me to accompany them to the bathroom — I respectfully averted my eyes, of course).

In other situations, it may be that what is called for is simply a stable and steady presence in the room and to give the journeyer space. I have been a facilitator in group ceremonies where I’ve had basically zero interaction, not even looking at the group. In this situation I am there to hold space. During what can be at times a wild, crazy, and frightening experience, a strong, still presence can offer a sense of reassurance and, on a subtle level, an understanding that everything is under control. A still and grounded presence can be of great support and a lot can be said for a calm presence.

Of course, it is not one way or the other. Close, intimate interaction can change throughout the session and can give way to distance and space when needed. Sometimes I will simply sit beside someone. Sometimes I might place a hand on their shoulder to reassure them or to help bring them back to a somatic experience of their body.

At times, it may be that I speak with the journeyer for varying purposes. It may be to reassure them and help them feel safe, or it may be using the interaction as a means to explore their world with them. This could be by asking questions to help direct their attention in certain ways to help them go deeper into their experience, or to offer a different angle.

Though sessions can look very different, one thing that is consistent and that I do every time is to meditate on loving kindness. This helps me to stay connected to those feelings and for my actions to come from that place.

The session itself and the relationship between myself and the journeyer is a continually evolving and living thing. I will always speak with the journeyer beforehand about our interaction and the level of touch they are comfortable with, but I also make it clear that this is not fixed. In therapy, often the biggest part of the healing process is that of the relationship between the therapist and the patient, and likewise this can be said of that between the journeyer and the guide.

During the session, if someone then feels like they actually would like a hand to hold or a hug, then of course I am there. Conversely, they may feel like they would prefer to be left alone and would like some space. I will always honor them and their needs. This type of ongoing communication is a key aspect, and requires me to stay malleable and open to whatever may arise. Indeed, someone asking for help and receiving it, or setting a boundary and having it respected, can be a very empowering and healing thing itself within the session.

Intuition plays such a large role in tripsitting and effective facilitation is truly an art. Though certain knowledge is useful, it is not something that could be written up as a set of rules like: sit quietly and still, hold a hand if they start breathing heavily, hug them if they start crying.

I try to assess the needs of the session by feeling and intuiting on a moment-to-moment basis. Presence is important in this aspect and this is why a key part of my ongoing development as a facilitator is my meditation practice. As well as a training to develop my presence, another part of my meditation practice is to go into feelings. I find that this part helps to evolve how I tap into intuition. In other words, to get out of my own way and out of my head. There may be times when the voice of the ego or doubt comes up and this is where discernment is needed, to see what is needed to be done rather than what I want to do. This is certainly not something I have mastered by any means; I am a continuing student in this process. Indeed, the more that I learn, the more I realise there is to learn.

Working with people as a facilitator is an honour and of all the things that I do, it requires the most of me. A session or ceremony for me is like a cup final. I feel that I need to be as close as I can to my A game and in the best condition I can be. Nothing else I do requires the same level of care or presence. It is humbling to have such trust placed in me and of all my work, sitting is the thing I take most seriously. It is the moments that I have the most direct impact on people’s lives.

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“
Joseph Campbell

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.

Recognize

what is happening
This is the roots of understanding

 

Allow

life to be just as it is
This is the grounds of love

 

Investigate

with gentle attention
This deepens understanding

 

Nurture

with friendliness
This awakens love

 

From my notes

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.

R

Starting with R you recognize that you feel fear. You can do this by mentally naming that emotion “fear, fear“.

A

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.

I

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.

N

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.

Non-Identification

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.

The quiet room is something I picked up from friend and New Moon colleague Tuk a few years ago and is something I always try to arrange for group sessions whether it’s in a house or an apartment.

The Quiet Room

The quiet room is basically a designated room in which there is no talking and no music playing. It functions as a place anyone can go to for some quiet or solo time and is normally used as a secondary room to the main room where people will be together.

Quiet space is very useful when:

  • Being in a group or in a sociable setting is too much or becomes uncomfortable
  • If someone doesn’t want to or is finding it very difficult to talk
  • Anyone wants some time to themselves
  • Just want some peace

What I love about the quiet room is that you can still have a recreational style trip with friends and still have an opportunity to get introspective. At any time you can head to the quiet space and find some time in the session to do that.

For example, if you are taking truffles with friends then you could at some point head to the quiet room to spend half an hour journaling answers to some questions you have prepared for yourself. In this way you can still get some good introspective and reflective work done without having to devote a whole session to it and without having to choose between either a solo inner work style journey or a recreational style journey with friends.

Setting Up & Guidelines for a Quiet Room

To set up a quiet room all you need to do is suggest the idea to your friends and make sure everyone agrees on it beforehand. I would say its a good idea to agree that there is no talking in the quiet room and have this clear from the outset. This helps to prevent someone coming in and disturbing another while they are wanting some peace and quiet. This type of innocent mistake can happen for different reasons whilst tripping; it could be that someone is extremely excited and wants to share that with everyone, or that someone is worrying about another person who has been quiet for a while. Both scenarios can lead to someone unintentionally bothering another who is fine but just wants to be on their own for a while.

Having the quiet room clearly defined makes it clear that anyone who is in there will not be spoken to and it is fine for two or three people to be in there at the same time, each minding their own business and doing their own thing. It’s useful to remember to keep the door closed to stop noise from spilling in.

Creating Setting

Once you’ve decided which room you will use then the first thing you need is some comfortable places for people to lie down. Mattresses on the floor work perfectly, but otherwise any mats or even floor space for people to lie down and get comfortable. Cozify with blankets and pillows. Creating a cozy space with your fellow journeyers can be a fun activity in itself and building the set together is a great way to begin connecting before journey.

It’s also nice to leave a couple of music players and pairs of headphones in there. Load the music players up with a nice selection of music beforehand and if they are phones, make sure they are on airplane mode or even better, with SIM removed. It can also be nice to leave some pens, papers and art supplies in there for people to use for journaling or getting creative. Finally, equip with some basic supplies like water and snacks.

As with general setting space I would recommend a low lighting and cozy ambience. I would not recommend any open flames such as candles, but rather some nice lamps. With lamps, be careful not to use ones that heat up if they are left on a long time as these can also start flames if certain materials are left on them.

Allowing Space to Check in

The quiet room acts as a kind of designated safe space for group sessions. It can promote feelings of safety and relaxation for everyone involved, knowing that they can retreat if at any time they feel anxiety, social or otherwise. It can give you a chance to step out from the group dynamic, a chance to check in with yourself and really take a look at and see how you’re feeling. It can also be used to step out and actively investigate some things going on in your life that you don’t want to share with the group but would like some time to think about and reflect on. It can also be useful to maybe do some problem-solving by yourself.

A quiet room is definitely a key aspect to creating the setting and I would say it’s useful even if the group session is not a recreational or sociable one. For example, even if the main room is used as a formal ceremony room where journeyers are not speaking to each other, the quiet room can still be very useful because the energy of a group ceremony can be quite intense. Although a being in a group ceremony can be enlightening and a great way to learn about how we relate to others and our own social insecurities, it can still be quite a lot to take in and it can be nice to have the option of stepping away from that. It is something we arrange for retreats with New Moon and it was also nice to see a quiet room put in place when I worked on retreat with Truffles Therapy.

If you are unsure of whether you would like to do a group trip with friends I encourage you to suggest having a quiet room and ask them what they think about that.

Viel Glück!

Rather than do a best psychedelic books list, I thought it would be fun to explore my psychedelic story through books that I’ve read over the last 10 years.

When I was thinking about writing this piece, I thought: ‘is it strange to only count books since I started taking psychedelics? Shouldn’t I include important books from before I started my psychedelic journey?’. I thought about what books I would include from before and I remembered that there weren’t really many.

Though I’d read a few, I actually only really started to get into books after my first psychedelic experiences. The curiosity they fed me gave me an insatiable hunger for learning and knowledge, as well as the patience to read slower, more challenging books and those above my level. My renewed sense of childlike curiosity also made reading more inherently rewarding, worthwhile simply as a means of exploration even if there would be no take away lesson or practical benefit.

Now the idea of living without books seems like a deprived existence. Suffice to say reading remains one of my favourite and most rewarding hobbies.

For this piece I will just run through in a roughly chronological order books that I remember reading and that somehow seem significant or influential as part of my journey over the last decade. It won’t be thorough or complete, but will surely give you an idea of my course.

The form of this piece is going to be loose as I think this will just be a fun way to chart my journey via literature and continue to embrace using this month of blogging to cultivate the experimenter’s mindset. I’ll adjust text size to show significance and add comments by some of the books that I feel have been especially important.

Important Books In My Story

The Doors of Perception – Aldous Huxley

I read this in the aftermath of my first experiences and I fell for Huxley’s literal, almost scientific way of describing, while also diving into cultural commentary and philosophical and spiritual ideas. I even remember at one point standing up and punching the air whilst reading this. Huxley has since become my most read author. His mind and words just get me in some special way. I find the way he explores ideas both through novels and essays to be incredibly stimulating and energising.

The Psychedelic Experience – Tim Leary, Richard Alpert, Ralph Metzner

On The Road – Jack Kerouac

As cliché as it is this beat classic was a big fuel for me in my wild travel and wanderlust ways. It was a perfect companion on my first budget travel trip around Europe, and it also planted a seed of desire for me to visit Mexico; a journey I made around seven years later and ended up staying in the country for five months. My time in Mexico remains one of my all time favourite chapters and cherished memories.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Woolfe

A rollicking great story following Kesey and those crazy band of merry pranksters. Woolfe plays with form in a psychedelic style which fits perfectly.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest – Ken Kesey

May be my favorite novel that I’ve ever read. Rightly a classic, just brilliant.

The Path of Tibetan Buddhism – The Dalai Lama

 

Introduction to Zen Buddhism – D.T Suzuki

How to Meditate

The Zen Teaching of Huang Po: On the Transmission of Mind

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tze

Wisdom packed, almost mystical, fundamental Taoist text. I’ve read a few different translations and this is a book I expect I’ll be continuing to revisit for the rest of my life.

Be Here Now – Ram Dass

An incredible story and many great tools for aspiring spiritual practitioners. This book began my yoga practice, I used the core asanas it provided, and was very useful with the step-by-step instructions to both these and pranayama breathing exercises.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
1984 – George Orwell
Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Island – Aldous Huxley

This remains one of my favorite pieces of literature that I’ve ever read. The island of Pala that Huxley describes is in many ways the beautiful world our hearts know is possible. Incredible vision from Huxley of a spiritually and scientifically informed society where psychedelics integrated and used in a coming of age ritual.

Peace Is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh

I bought this book in Bangkok train station on my way heading south to find a peaceful beach where I could unpack after my 14 month stint in China. I lived in a hut by the beach for a couple weeks, reading in hammocks, relaxing, and practicing meditation ahead of my first silent retreat which was coming up a few weeks later.

Reading this book really helped evolve my meditation practice from a mostly seated stillness practice into a daily life mindfulness practice. Though a simple and very readable format and style, it has depth and gave me ideas for many ways to return to a mindful state throughout the day.

Savor – Thich Nhat Hanh
Shamanic Trance and Modern Kabbalah – Jonathan Garb
The Perennial Philosophy – Aldous Huxley
Against Nature – Joris-Karl Huysmans

The Book – Alan Watts
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
The Way of Zen – Alan Watts

War God – Graham Hancock

An incredible semi-historical flight of fancy from one of my favourite authors in the psychedelic space. An absolute page turner, couldn’t put this one down and had me staying up late reading and waking up for work tired.

Vagabonding – Rolf Potts

True travel classic. Certainly one of the most influential books on my path and somehow practical in a philosophical way. Potts saved money for his travels whilst working as an English teacher in the South Korean coastal city of Busan. I read this book whilst saving money for travel whilst working a an English teacher in Busan. That was not planned, but surely another reason why it resonated so strongly with me. Potts was also an inspiration for me as an aspiring adventure and travel blogger.

The 4-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss

 

The Sunhitcher – Tomi Astikainen

The Book of Tea – Kakuzō Okakura

 

Thousand Cranes – Yasunari Kawabata
The Old Capital – Yasunari Kawabata
Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata

The Joyous Cosmology – Alan Watts

The Teachings of Don Juan – Carlos Castaneda

After having been out in the Mexican desert picking peyote and smoking DMT with a band of travellers, I picked up this book upon heading back to the city of San Luis Potosi, where I was based. Reading Castaneda I became so inspired and re-invigorated with that adventurelust I once again packed up and headed back out to the desert town for what turned out to be another incredible chapter which began with bailing a friend out of a local prison for possession, had consecutive days of peyote sessions in the desert, a Mexican country village fair, and lead to me being invited to The Dance Of The Sun – a native American shamanic ritual that includes fasting and blood sacrifices.

The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday

Can’t recommend this book highly enough. Ryan holiday has become one of my favourite authors.

Waking Up – Sam Harris
The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide – James Fadiman

The Secret Chief Revealed – Myron Stolaroff

Western psychedelic therapy has been huge in informing my approach and I still use methods from this book both as a practitioner and as a guide.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – Chögyam Trungpa

The Book Of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa

The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday

The War Of Art – Steven Pressfield

This book has been absolutely hugely influential and inspiring for me. Recommended to anyone looking for inspiration for creative endeavour they’d like to embark upon.
Getting Higher – Julian Vayne

Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

Atomic Habits – James Clear

I followed blogger and habits expert Clear for a few years before he released this book, being so interested in the subject of habit formation. Atomic Habits is the ultimate compilation of his works and I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone interested in habit change.

Zig Zag Zen – Alan Badiner

Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn

I read this book over the time I was doing mindfulness coach certification and found it to contains so much in so little. Each chapter is 1 to 2 pages, so it’s one of those books where you can read a page a day and slowly digest all the wisdom and depth that is packed in.

Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins

Psychedelic Psychotherapy – R. Coleman

Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss – Dennis McKenna

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport

This is a book for our times. It has changed my digital life (mainly, getting me off whatsapp and telegram) and continues to inform it. I love the way Newport thinks I found it especially satisfying that the practical system he proposes in this book is almost structurally identical to a practical system I have devised for psychedelic integration. Great minds!

The Pocket I Ching – Richard Wilhelm
Ego Is The Enemy – Ryan Holiday

Currently reading:
Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse

That bring us up to date!

I’m not sure how interesting this post may have been to read but it was really fun to write! Reflecting on how much these books have contributed to my life has me really excited to read a bunch more. If you enjoy reading, try exploring your story through books, its a fun activity 🙂

I think I’d like to return to this post sometime to add photos but for now, I’m off to finish Steppenwolf.

Tschüs!