Entheogens and Personal Transformation

CAUTION: working with entheogens for self-healing is highly technical.  If you are not experienced, you should only engage in it with proper guidance.  Even more so if you don’t have a lot of experience in exploring your inner world through psychotherapy or other forms of serious introspection.

DISCLAIMER: nothing on this page should be misconstrued as an encouragement to break any law of any country.  The banning of healing medicines under drug prohibition laws complicates this work considerably.  The work requires a serene environment.  Attempting it with even the slightest trace of fear of punishment or an impulse to hide from authority would make an already difficult task nearly impossible.

WHY ENTHEOGENS?

Actually, the word psychedelic (revealing, manifesting the soul or spirit) is etymologically more accurate than entheogenic (generating God, or a god, within).  It is more general and more neutral, but it carries unfortunate historical baggage.  Since we will not discuss fluorescent posters nor rock’n roll bands, this will be the page about entheogens.

Entheogens are substances — natural from plants or animals, semi-synthetic or synthetic — which modify a person’s experience by revealing what is usually hidden, the unconscious layers of our psyche.  What they show us is what is already within us, which makes the term hallucinogen particularly inaccurate with its strong suggestion of delusional states.

As we grow up and take our place in our family and community, we undergo a gradual shutting down of the spacious state of consciousness we enjoyed as infants and children.  We form a sense of self that is concentrated in one viewpoint.  We become identified with our position in our web of relationships.  We lose a lot in this process.  Regaining it, returning from point to space is the purpose of countless therapeutic methods and spiritual paths.  Entheogens play a privileged role is this restorative process.  With skillful use, they can hugely accelerate and amplify healing.  Many explorers talk about years of therapy in one session — it is not an exaggeration.

Some say: why do you have to take something?  Can’t you just do this work as a natural process?  They are often the people who pop a pill to suppress fever and congestion as soon as they ‘catch a cold’ (translate: go into a perfectly natural detoxifying crisis).  My answer is simply that it allows me to go much deeper, much faster, with less wandering in the desert.  The more I find out how much life has to offer, the more I learn to care about myself, the more irrelevant that question seems.

There could be an interesting study of the beliefs that underlie this purist attitude about personal development.  Here, it would be an unnecessary digression.

Beyond the obvious advantages of speed and depth, there is an even more compelling reason, linked to the peculiar nature of these energy patterns I call the heavy stuff.  A safety mechanism protects them from being directly observed and experienced.  Meditators can literally spend lifetimes polishing their practice and achieving ‘higher’ states without ever contacting the very material that holds the key to their genuine transformation.  We are wired that way.  In order to function in the ‘world,’ we isolate that crucial content in cysts or cocoons that make it inaccessible.

There are ways around this conundrum of healing, but they are unevenly effective.  By far the most powerful one is entheogens.  I spent many years circling around the original ‘supertrauma’ in my early life.  Without entheogens, in this case ayahuasca, I have no doubt I would have continued circling, conjecturing  and building theories about what troubled me — indefinitely.  It was so huge and evident that, for all practical purposes, it was perfectly hidden and would have remained so.

The mechanism which makes material unconscious must be understood and honored for its wisdom and survival value before we choose to bypass it.  Far from being an enemy, it is a key to our ability to make choices, including the choice to engage in this exploration.  By befriending it, we also learn to respect the dangerous power of the content it protects us from.

A CROSS-CULTURAL VIEW

In traditional cultures, entheogens are closely associated with learning.  They are viewed as teachers and interacting with them in a proper and beneficial way is the focus of elaborate training programs.

In contrast, their use in our culture is often framed as transgression, rebellion, accessing forbidden realms, breaking out of a restrictive and oppressive collective reality.  This perspective, prevalent in the counterculture of the 60s and 70s, is still expressed today, in a milder but still vaguely ‘alternative’ form, in the search for ‘experiences.’

In the approach to healing I propose here, the first goal for a novice explorer is to transition from having experiences to having a practice.

Closely related to this idea is the view, widespread in traditional cultures but still eccentric in ours, that plants, indeed all things, are beings with personalities and intentions.  In comparative religion, this is called animism and is considered a primitive version of religious life.

In the materialist-mechanist paradigm of modern science, molecules can affect our metabolic processes and cause an alteration of our consciousness — in ways that scientists will some day understand.  In other words, once the substance is part of our metabolism, there is nothing left to do but go through the experience.  The importance of set and setting may be acknowledged, but the relationship remains one-way.  This determinist assumption, if left unexamined, will get in the way of the work I recommend here.

In contrast, in the so-called animist paradigm, if the plant is a being, so am I, and the interaction is a two-way relationship instead of all cause at one end and all effect at the other.  Paradoxically, seeing the substance as an entity with its own agenda frees us from being helpless in our interactions with it.   Once the possibility of communication with the medicine is established and the awkwardness of that notion to a Western-trained mind is behind us, very good things can begin to happen, notably asking and listening for answers.

MICRODOSING

Large amounts and small amounts of entheogens provide different outcomes and should be taken with different purposes.

When you first use entheogenic substances, you have experiences – ecstatic, revelatory, hellish, transformative, maybe even pedestrian experiences.   But throughout all of these, the preeminent factor is the break, the interruption of the state we call living and that Buddhism and other systems call illusion.  Terms like trip, journey, enlightenment, illumination and revelation illustrate this emphasis.  The value of the experience is closely tied to the interruption, which often acts as a wake-up call, if not a full-fledged awakening.  Large doses are usually associated with this approach.

Some of our discoveries and insights may spur us to make changes or to engage in further study.  Many have noted that the best way to reap the benefits of such experiences is to combine them with some kind of ongoing practice.  However, the surprise element and the state of passivity are an integral part of them.  They come to us from outside precisely because we wouldn’t have known how to escape from ordinary life otherwise.

Those breakout experiences can have huge strategic value in a life journey.  Indeed they have saved countless lives.  But they are a part of this approach only to the extent that they can lead a person to begin a transformative practice.  Our topic here is working with entheogens in a focused, intentional way and, in that framework, I recommend small amounts — an approach called microdosing by some practitioners.

For this reason, the method I am describing on this site might not fit complete beginners who haven’t yet had the opportunity to step out of their everyday worldview.

Microdosing provides unique benefits.

It offers the possibility of learning this work incrementally, the way one learns a musical instrument: with regular practice, persistence, patience with oneself, cultivation of awareness, and a sense of enjoyment.

There are several skill areas to build:

–  the skills of relating to the medicine, listening to it, asking for its help or asking it specific questions

–  the skills of working on oneself, dealing with progressively more difficult content, using the medicine as ally

–  the skills of integrating this practice in one’s overall life, managing change, and perceiving the big picture

Since we are dealing with profound, instantaneous change — it does happen — the management skills should not be skimmed over.  As we go deeper into this work, we have to become stronger at handling our so-called lives.  Any lagging area — social graces, family, community, finances, romance, work — will hold up the whole process until attended to.

This model aims to put you in charge of your healing process as quickly as possible.  It is taught as a tutorial or apprenticeship.  Group ceremonies may be involved for logistical reasons, but the format is that of a self-study, with autonomy one of its main goals.

ATTITUDE

There are highly practical reasons why these medicines are traditionally used in a ceremonial context, reasons that can make sense to you even if your approach is wholly nonreligious.  Ceremonies do not take place in our ordinary space-time continuum.  They take place in sacred space and in sacred time, dimensions which need to be formally invoked through an opening and released through a closing.  Sacred space and sacred time allow us to connect with forces outside of life as we know it.  They allow ‘impossible’ events like instantaneous healing, belief change, the disappearance of patterns and symptoms, accelerated evolution and transformation.

In extreme healing, we always work with entheogens ceremonially.  This approach proclaims the possibility of liberation and miracles.  We honor and thank the plants, the earth that sustains us and gave them to us, the ceremonial space, our parents, our ancestors and those who have taught us this work, and any god, spirit, guide, helper or energy form that supports our work.  We acknowledge our limitations.  We acknowledge our interconnectedness with all things and pray for courage, wisdom, faith, and any other quality we will need.  This work is difficult.  Cockiness and superficial cool really don’t work.

Humility is much more than just proper behavior.  It could be called a technical skill in this context.  Plant intelligence is ego-free and impeccably neutral in its operation.  When you learn to align your intention with it, it is like working with an infallible, ruthlessly loving therapist.  Not learning it easily leads to unpleasant experiences.

In my view, the actual content of the ceremony matters less than the ceremonialness of it and the sincerity with which it is entered.  By temperament I tend to be eclectic and flexible.  Rigidity and humorlessness do not make this work any easier than a nonchalant attitude.  Exoticism, fascination with ‘shamans,’ feathers and rattles, is irrelevant to healing work and can only distract immature seekers from their very real life issues.

In the coaching that precedes the ceremony, we prepare ourselves for a dialogue with the medicine.  The medium for this communication is different from human language.  It is a higher frequency.  For lack of a more precise word, it is the frequency of love.  This too can be practiced and developed as a skill.

There is one more essential attitudinal factor: passion, rage, the intensity of gasping for your last breath of air, or, as in the Native American expression, crying for a vision.  In French it is called the energy of desperation.  Prayer without it can only achieve so much.  The medicine will work on your behalf anyway and it will help you, but if you bring that kind of drive to the collaboration, much more can be accomplished.

Of all the necessary skills of this method, this is perhaps the hardest one to teach.  I tend to think that only life itself can do it.

TRANSFORMATIONAL SYNERGIES

There are several practices outside the actual medicine work that have excellent synergies with it.  I will describe them briefly here and present them in greater detail in their own pages.

I have grouped them into four main areas.  Two of them have to do with making yourself and the content of your life as available as possible.  The other two are technologies to reach deeper and handle the material we encounter more skillfully.

making yourself available: completions

Quite simply, in extreme healing we need every little bit of presence and awareness we can muster.  In ordinary life, our attention is usually divided between sundry preoccupations.  Sometimes, in intensely positive or negative situations, we show up with heightened presence, but that quality rarely endures.  This work combines very intensely positive and very intensely negative experiences.  It requires a lot of that elusive quality I called presence.

A powerful way to enhance your availability to the work, and ultimately your success with it, is to complete things.  Incompletions big and small, from routine phone calls to your relationship with your mother, are what traps your attention away from present time.  Traumas, acute and chronic, are of course the biggest attention trappers.  The expression soul retrieval, used in connection to various shamanic healing practices, describes this well.  As you access heavy material and free up the awareness that was held in it, more of you becomes available to further the work.  This is the virtuous circle of healing.

incubation: knowing what you are working on

Entheogenic medicines have a natural understanding of the stratified structure of the human psyche.  They will always peel off the layers of the onion in correct order.

With large amounts, many layers may be exposed at the same time.  Chaotic and overwhelming experiences may ensue.  Sorting the material out and integrating the trip may take extensive work later.

With small amounts, it becomes possible to collaborate with the medicine on narrow, specific goals.  Many techniques can help us first identify and then incubate, that is, evoke and bring to the forefront, the material we wish to work on.  Intelligent investigative work away from the ceremony can multiply its benefits.

Some of these techniques will be familiar to you as the various tools of psychotherapy.  Others, like prayer, have to do with the immediate period leading up to the medicine session.

caring for your vehicle

Experienced journeyers learn how their physiological states correlate with their entheogenic experiences.  Those who are serious about this work tend to accumulate vast amounts of knowledge about diet, drugs, exercise and various physical health technologies.  Knowing how to cleanse and fine tune our body can help us avoid a lot of unnecessary wandering through unpleasant spaces.

There is much valuable knowledge around about nutrition, air, water, exercise systems and breathwork.   Rather than producing my own version based on my unavoidably limited knowIedge, I chose to concentrate on information about a powerful transformational technology called fasting.

The subject of fasting is widely misunderstood or not understood at all, even by people who have good reason to be intensely interested in it.  In addition, the fast could be called a meta-technique, one that can facilitate and potentiate the learning of other healing approaches, such as meditation, therapy, nutrition and the study of teacher plants.  In that page, you will basic information on its multidimensional benefits and tips for successful practice.

the willingness to feel: a learnable skill

A therapeutic session with an entheogen is a collaboration between two agents: the medicine and you.  The three sets of practices introduced above illustrate the considerable influence you can wield on the outcome of a session.  This fourth one is perhaps the most important to your ability to dissolve the imprints of overwhelming incidents and situations.

What happens when a person lightens up?  When a burden is lifted from a soul?  Frozen, static energy thaws and gets moving again.  Resistance, struggle, postures of holding on or pushing away are given up.  I gradually realized that the essence of this shift is the same regardless of the knowledge system in which it is described.  At the heart of this event, there is a yielding, an opening, the willingness to feel anything fully, without resistance.  I have found that this ability can be developed, exactly like musical or athletic skills.

In that section, I share a small number of techniques that build up this feeling ‘muscle.’  They are inner exercises, processes and meditations.  They work best in combination.  For best results, they should be practiced, a little at a time, patiently, persistently, with intense focus, but also humor and a sense of fun.

WHICH MEDICINES DO WE WORK WITH?

There are many entheogens and each one has its own quirks.  As in any relationship, getting really acquainted takes time, trial and error.  It may be theoretically possible to become an expert on every recorded substance that can help us learn and heal.  In practice, one can only get to know very few of them to the degree where an effective working relationship is established.  Rather than an encyclopedic knowledge that I do not possess, I have sought to isolate principles that apply to most of them.

I currently work with two: ayahuasca and iboga.  To implement the method described here, iboga seems to offer a gentler learning curve.  Ayahuasca is more unwieldy, but without it I would not be doing this work today.  When we start to compare the specific qualities of each, it quickly gets complicated.

This list may expand in the future, but that is not a priority.  There is plenty to learn with these two — plenty.

At some point, there may be separate pages about specific medicines.

HANDY MANTRAS

During entheogenic sessions, things can become unpleasant — no news there.  I may find myself in fear, confusion, grief, pain and other challenging states.  Even with preparation and as part of an integrated and artfully designed therapeutic system, there will be unexpected and temporarily overwhelming experiences.  In a sense, this is why we take them — for their ability to surprise us.

Here are a few time-tested mantras.  May they help you steady yourself as they have helped me and the elders who passed them on to me.

Breathe.  (Really.  It may sound silly, but many of us stop breathing under stress, just when we would need it most.)

Keep it flowing.  (Meaning: practice witnessing what is happening without grasping or pushing away.  Basically, this is mindfulness meditation and it has an excellent synergy with this work.)

Open the heart.  (A very powerful escape hatch from tough spaces.)

Listen to the medicine.  (In other words, remember that you are in a two-way relationship with another being.)

Love yourself.  Or: be kind to yourself.  (The lack of this is often the source of the difficulty but, to be honest, it is not that easy to implement as a command if you haven’t practiced it before.)

This too shall pass.  (For heavy experiences.)

Not a mantra, but a useful technique for difficult moments: go outside and physically touch some live trees and plants.  Or touch water.

And of course, if you have a relationship to God, you’ll know what to do.

© contrast10 2014.  All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Entheogens and Personal Transformation

  1. Hi,

    What a *great* site – thank you so much for putting your truths out there! Everything on here really speaks to me, and I’m ready to devote myself to finding the core imprints that have affected (and continue to repeat themselves) in my life.

    I have a question, if you have the time – in 3.5 weeks, I’ll be taking my 1st flood with Ibogaine. In 2014, I spent 5 weeks at an Ayahuasca center in Peru, and found a lot of questions but not a lot of answers. To be totally honest, I had trouble letting go in front of others, and probably wasn’t ready to let go and feel the intense pain from early childhood experiences.

    I’m ready now, and have the intention of meeting and knowing the origins all my pains, however tough they may be to experience. Do you have any advice about the next month – 1) What I can do leading up to the Ibogaine flood in order to be as open as possible, and 2) Specific intentions and mindsets that can be helpful during the flood?

    Thanks for everything you’re working on, and for the great info on your site 🙂

    Justin

    Like

    • Thanks for the encouraging words.

      “To be totally honest, I had trouble letting go in front of others, and probably wasn’t ready to let go and feel the intense pain from early childhood experiences.”

      This I attribute directly to one of my pet peeves, the lack of preparation and orientation in the ayahuasca ‘industry’ of Peru.

      “1) What I can do leading up to the Ibogaine flood in order to be as open as possible”

      Everything that has to do with healing, self-knowledge, meditation or introspection will be intensified and deepened by the plant. The more your attention is in those areas at the time of the ceremony, the more it will reveal to you. So journaling, inner-directed art or music, psychotherapy, breathwork, energy healing, dreamwork — it’s all good.

      Regarding this plant’s power to amplify the effects of all drugs, you have surely been given security warnings. In addition to and beyond those precautions, I recommend a short fast or other cleansing regimen such as a fresh juice diet just before the ceremony. There is a page on this site with practical info on fasting. That will open up subtle channels and allow the plant to reach deeper into your stuff with less obstruction. The work will be less of a struggle and you will be more likely to experience the magnificence of that plant. Make sure to break the fast with nice, fresh food before ingesting it. Never take any drug, even iboga, while fasting.

      “2) Specific intentions and mindsets that can be helpful during the flood?”

      I am not qualified to give advice about the flood. This whole site, however, is kind of about that. Ask yourself what it is you are really seeking. Use gut feelings to guide you. The questions that matter to you will energize you when you bring them to mind. Know and trust that you can ask. Pray with feeling, even with the desperation of a drowning man. Pray with love and humility towards the teaching plant. Be willing to listen and receive. Ask for the benefit of all sentient beings, not just your own. You can’t help being interconnected with all of it anyway, but we are trained not to be aware of that.

      Have fun!

      Like

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