This topic is as hard to write about as it is important. Explaining the mechanism of ego or having such explanation make sense are highly unlikely accomplishments since they have to be produced through this same ego mechanism. I will try, however, because this paradox is at the heart of extreme healing work.
The purpose of stalking the ego is to peel off my first line of defense and uncover what it is I need to work on. The entheogens will do that on their own but working consciously towards that goal will create a wonderful synergy, a multiplying effect. The medicine will naturally shine its light on the area where psychic energy has been activated. This could be called incubation.
Not working on it gives the ego a better chance to succeed at occulting the really sensitive parts of your psyche.
That avoidance mechanism can be incredibly resilient. A large part of my motivation to write this comes from watching fellow seekers attend healing ceremonies, sometimes for years, keeping their own heavy stuff carefully wrapped and put away in their little treasure box of horrors. For many people with a sincere interest in this subject, the prime directive seems to be: “Healing, oh yes, wonderful… but not this — too sensitive, too horrible, too painful, too shameful.”
The work to uncover that material is as awkward and unnatural as it is useful. Another name for it is psychotherapy. Therapy goes extremely well with entheogenic work. In a sense, this is almost the entire message of this site. I don’t have the arrogance of believing that these few words could replace the entire libraries that have been written on psychotherapy, but I do say that the multi-modal approach I propose here, implemented as a whole, can be a multiplier and make therapy more accurate, like a kind of laser surgery.
it is hard. It is like a detective story in which the detective’s tools are designed by the guilty party to avoid being found out. It is like hunting a wild animal with the ability to erase its tracks instantaneously.
The ego protects us from our pain. ‘I’ as a separate point of view is a result of shrinking, collapsing my innate all-enclosing spaciousness. If I have a sense of myself as an individual, it is only because I have withdrawn my awareness from experiences I deemed unbearable.
This could be just another pretty theory that anybody who has had psychedelic experiences could come up with, but I have a practical reason for presenting it. If you are interested in serious change, in blowing limitations to smithereens, you will have at some point to turn your attention to your own ego structure and its function as guardian of the mysteries — both the dragons and the treasures.
This self-protective mechanism is colored by painful events in ways that remain invisible to myself, just like the tinted glasses one wears all day long. For example, if I have been kidnapped and horribly abused by giant lizards from outer space, I might have no recollection of the events at all, but I am likely to have a ‘thing’ about lizards or a lizard-themed worldview in some way. And, importantly, that ‘thing’ or worldview will be part of a story about my life that will prevent my discovery of what happened. I may insist that lizards are harmless victims of slander, or I may become the leader of a movement to exterminate them, but in either case it will be all about commitment to the good cause, not about my considerable life difficulties.
The ways the ‘theme’ can be woven into the story are infinitely varied. In that detective work, the cards are stacked against us. Our only hope is to thoroughly understand the self-protective function of our everyday self.
Countless systems and teachers have sought ways to defeat this paradox. I do not claim to have found a new or more effective strategy. All I hope to accomplish here is to share a few principles, techniques and attitudes that I have found helpful.
CREATIVITY AND HEALING
Perhaps surprisingly, I have found useful parallels between this endeavor — spiritual healing — and the theory of creativity.
The most prominent author in that field is Edward de Bono. His influence has been so deep and wide that creativity coaching professionals classify their techniques into de Bono and non-de Bono exercises. His approach is based on an understanding of the mind as a pattern-making and pattern-maintaining system.
As input enters our perceptual system, it is made to fit into existing mental patterns, which we could call beliefs or versions of reality. At the same time, it reinforces these patterns, just like every raindrop falling on a mountain range ends up rolling down into a specific watershed and valley and contributes to deepening its features. The function of the mind is to maintain perceptual stability. For de Bono, therefore, creativity is by nature unnatural to the mind and any attempt to stimulate it must include a deliberate de-patterning, an interruption of its habitual operation.
De Bono doesn’t describe the mind the way a psychotherapist might, as a device to protect us from feeling the full intensity of our pain. But his perspective leads to interventions that are both refreshing and practical, and that are applicable to the adventure of deep healing.
The simplest and most influential example is known as the random word technique. After clearly stating the problem or situation that requires a fresh approach, a random word is picked from a dictionary or a prepared list. Then you force a metaphorical or analogical connection between the word and your issue. The more irrelevant or incongruous the word seems, the better. The idea is that it will generate a new way of looking that could never have appeared without it, because of the pattern-maintaining function of the mind.
De Bono observed that when we are confronted with a problem, we tend to all do the same thing. We look for a solution and when we find one, we implement it, pretty much always. His conclusion was that if we could train ourselves to make a mental pause every time before implementing the first solution and ask “is there another way to look at this?” we would instantly join the ranks of the highly creative.
Coming back now to the subject of trauma, this kind of alertness, this willingness to try another way to look at a situation, is exactly what we need at the detection stage of the work.
Moving towards our wound instead of away from it requires not only a very strong intent, but also an odd turn of mind, a sense of humor and a tolerance for paradox.
BEING WRONG: THE UNREACHABLE GOAL
Another way of stating de Bono’s basic insight is that the mind or ego is like a being-right machine. Whatever input it receives, it will instantly incorporate into a story of being right, not unlike those weighted dolls that always come back to a standing position. When the input indicates defeat for the organism, as in a physical injury, the story is a rationalization of limitation, an ‘excuse,’ and the frozen energy of the event turns the excuse into a permanent personality trait. We are wired in such a way that we would rather be right about things not working that have things work at the cost of being wrong.
This has been observed and described before. The most difficult experience is that of being wrong, unless you are already liberated from the bonds of ego. You can actually try it as a thought experiment: feel what it feels like to be wrong about something. It doesn’t have to be a life-defining issue. It could be just being wrong about who would win the game last Sunday. If you look closely within, you will probably notice that the closest you can get is being right about having made an incorrect prediction — not the same thing. When you get near the actual experience of being wrong, it gets quite uncomfortable.
That’s just the way we are. Pigs don’t fly. Water doesn’t run upstream. The mind has to be right.
For more on how to train yourself to feel inherently uncomfortable experiences, fully, without resistance, see the page on the willingness to feel.
For all these reasons, the stalking metaphor makes sense to me. We need to look for tracks and work back from them to the beast that left them. So then, what are the tracks?
To begin with, anything that persists or recurs against your preferences: events, situations, characters and outcomes; persistent symptoms, habits, automatic mental or emotional responses. A good way to set up this investigation would be to write a list of anything that continues or repeats itself in your life that you would prefer it did not.
For each item, there could be a valuable meditation, either assisted by an entheogen or not, on the how and the why of the pattern. The operating law here is that if something recurs, but not by choice, there is a resisted experience under it. And there is also a rationalization, an explaining away, a coverup job by the ego.
The resisted experience is usually resisted for a good reason: it contains some form of overwhelm, either physical pain, despair, grief, helplessness, terror or unconsciousness. The good news is — good only if you have the guts to do this job thoroughly — that the key to freedom is not in the recording we keep of the event: it is in the decision, postulate or conclusion about life that you made at the time in order to continue being right in the face of overwhelm.
Here are a few good tracking questions:
What keeps happening in my life?
What kind of people set me off or piss me off without compelling reason?
What role do I seem to get stuck in repeatedly in situations with other people?
What persisting physical symptoms and body sensations do I have? (The detective work with illnesses and symptoms is a larger topic that would deserve a much more extensive treatment.)
What unwanted mental habits and parasitic circuits do I have?
What inappropriate and recurring emotional reactions?
What unwanted outcomes can I observe in my life? (“You shall know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:16)
These are good questions to incubate (‘chew on’) before the ceremony and ask the medicine for help on.
I am betting that underneath any of these and at the root of it you will find two things: an overwhelming experience and a decision about life or about yourself prompted by that experience.
To know what to do then, see the willingness to feel.
Ultimately, all this detective work boils down to learning to sense our own resistance to feeling. A precise perception of that resistance would make it redundant. I find this ability so valuable that I devised a drill to develop it directly, without intermediate steps. You will find it on that same page.
Another way to describe this paradoxical work is through the concept of the Shadow. The Shadow is made of all the parts of myself that I don’t acknowledge as being parts of myself. In Jungian psychology, the purpose of therapy is to make it conscious and integrate it into a more complete and harmonious personality. For years, you chip away at this hidden monolith, by looking at the content of your dreams and reflecting on your life.
Healing work with entheogens is faster and more intense. You train yourself to summon these powerful energies and experience them without recoiling or being overwhelmed, with a kind, open heart. This can be done quite directly. In a few hours, you can accomplish the equivalent of years of therapy, as many have noticed.
The present method breaks it down into: making yourself available, finding out what you are working on (this page), tuning your vehicle, building up your tolerance for feeling, training yourself to collaborate with the medicine, learning to live through intense transformation. Each step is described in greater detail in its own page.
The concept of integration, borrowed from humanistic psychology, is useful to demystify the word ‘healing’ and correct some common, naive interpretations of it. In true spiritual healing, our wounds are not enemies we try to erase. Maybe we begin by perceiving them that way, but we turn them into allies that teach us and enrich us. We value the time we spend dancing with their energy as a truly higher education. We do not fantasize about wiping the slate clean. Rather, we stay curious about our own evolution and open about new possibilities.
The difficulty and unnaturalness of this work explain the emphasis in many spiritual traditions on having a teacher or a guide. The more we understand what we are up against, the more it makes sense. Without a teacher, I would have lost my way a million times.
In extreme healing that role is played by the medicine. On one hand, having a vegetal or chemical guru protects us from the complications of transference, countertransference and other resonance effects between our personality and that of a human guru. It also bypasses potential problems with flaws and egoic tendencies in human teachers. On the other hand, relating to the medicine in that way has to be learned as a new skill, especially by Western-educated practitioners who can be distracted by the exoticism of this framework.
MISCELLANEOUS KOANS AND APHORISMS
Don’t believe everything you think.
Whatever you’re unhappy about, the solution lies in your unhappiness. The answer is inside the question.
The world is a reflection of me.
Who is the one person who was around every time things didn’t turn out in your life? That should be your prime suspect.
Nothing is personal.
What am I unwilling to feel?
Finally, this awkward practice which is so hard to describe and even harder to live requires shifting into a kind of overdrive: a deep dissatisfaction, a rage, an energy of desperation. This is the least teachable aspect of this strategy, but it is the fuel that enables us to behave so ‘unnaturally.’ Without it, our old friend ego will win pretty much every time. The only remedies I know are meditation and certain life lessons.
Another word that has its place here is faith. Faith is a kind of super-intent, an overdrive of the choice function. When you set out to encounter the heavy stuff in your life, you can hardly have too much of it.
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