Psychedelics Out of the Closet
Thanks to Lex Fridman, Rick Doblin, Roland Griffiths, Matthew Johnson, Jordan Peterson, Brian Muraresku and et al.
Thanks for the great discussions. It is heartwarming folks are willing to pursue psychedelic research and give nod to the ontological (mysticism and the nature of being) perspectives. I burst out laughing about the memes, John Allegro and the Harvard Divinity project during the interviews (links at the end). It is fascinating; the breadth and depth of academic interest that has emerged.
Let me introduce myself. Back in the mid 70’s-early 80’s, I did 200+ lsd and mushroom adventures, often at significant doses. It has been 40 years since my last use and have moved on to other adventures. The past few weeks dove into the rabbit hole to catch up. I’ve been barely aware of the resurgence of psychedelics. I’m not a psychedelic enthusiast despite my experiences. There are two sides to the razor’s edge. Definitely life-changing adventures that 40 years later continue to provide glimpses of insight. Then it’s crazy to ended up with a 35+ year career in public mental health (MH). Experience in MH made me aware of the potential and real dangers, pit falls and tragic results of psychedelics.
The following are some thoughts written about 20 years ago.
About 60-70 years ago, there was a confluence of separate streams have formed a river. Buddhism came to the West and resulting in the practice of mindfulness becoming part of our accepted psychological mindscape. Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (REST) or flotation tanks were developed in 1950’s, became popular in the 1980’s (and have come back in the past 10 years). In the 1960-70’s there were a small group of folks tripping, meditating and exploring consciousness which morphed into new agers, transpersonal psychology and a cultural drive to push the boundaries of consciousness. Along the way, a descriptive topology of a spectrum of consciousness, re-discovery of the comparative study of mystic traditions (Ken Wilber). The body of anecdotal stories met with fear and fascination are being replaced with inquisitive interest. Currently, micro dosing is being used for creativity, performance enhancement, treatment for various stress malaise and as a general tonic for living well. There is academic and empirical research using psychedelics to treat anxiety of terminally ill, PTSD, depression and addictions. Research and therapy are trying to formulate an integrative protocol for investigation and its application of this confluence to meet the challenges of our world?
The wave of Buddhism, REST, transpersonal psychology and psychedelics met with fear, fascination and wtf. The current wave of interest suggests that given some cogent synthesis, there is the opportunity to formulate an application to mitigate suffering while also discovering a path to well-being, the betterment of the planet and while dancing amongst the diamonds in the buddha fields.
A Personal experience:
Retrospectively, I was an adolescent immersed in the “dazed and confused” 1970’s. There was a deep interest in consciousness with an undisciplined curiosity of psychology. My father, a rural pastor, encouraged exploration of religion, beliefs, prayer, meditation, hypnosis, psychic events and consciousness. Being a few years too young and in the middle of the Great Plains to catch the hippy, peace and anti-war movements. I was ripe for the “counter culture” of the Grateful Dead, Rainbow Gatherings, checking out various gurus, Sufi workshops, Lakota sweat lodges, Hinduism, Buddhism and meditation. During the mid-70’s to early 80’s I had conservatively 200+ psychedelic adventures. First, it was mostly LSD, a smattering of peyote and mescaline. Later, the majority was home-grown psilocybin mushrooms. These adventures became very familiar with their profile, ebb and flow patterns, fantastical psych-scape and ego dissolution and re-integration/re-constitution.
Around 1981, at age 22, I had my first experience of a flotation tank. Of course, had the bright idea to ingest about 14 grams of dried psilocybe cubensis mushrooms and jump in the tank for 3 hours. The first part of the experience was adjusting to the novel environment and getting physically relaxed. Next was noticing various emotional knots/tensions bubbling up to awareness; attending or focusing on these knots and then releasing. At the ego-body level, there was a calm detachment from the body. Being released from bodily constraints, it was easy to do cartwheels in space and zip around the universe by mere thought. It was child’s play to use vipassana meditation to visualize balls of light, go into the light and become light. There was the realization that beliefs, values and personality were merely layers of masks/personalities (onion metaphor) that are used relative to one’s embedded cultural existence. That underlying culture there is a perennial structure or the fractal archetype of experience. After I peeled the layers of the onion off, was naked consciousness; just being. At this level, consciousness is a transformer of energy. Energy/frequency is taken in; and then could be transformed or changed to a different energy/frequency pattern via conscious intent. Then this different energy/frequency could be directed or radiated out. This was very simple yet profound. At a subtle level (Ken Wilber), consciousness is the transcendent witness to our experiences. Subsequently, experience is merely a projection and reflection of consciousness (Buddhist mirror metaphor). These concepts and understandings were familiar because of my pedestrian study of Tibetan Buddhism it was not until later, that I could more articulate this experience. However, that’s not all.
Next was the investigation of Jungian archetypes, like father, son, warrior, androgyny, etc. When focusing on the mother archetype, I immediately found myself back in the womb. It was a warm, blissful, oceanic immersive loving existence. This experience was qualitatively different. It was a profoundly deep emotive quality. The experience was reconnecting with my birth mother. The experience of being in the womb led to an emergence of remembrance that “there was someone that loved me and I reconnect with the experience of being loved.” This deep reconnection was quite significant because I was orphaned twice according to my scant adoptive records. During the first adoption, something happened and returned to the orphanage in Korea. Then adopted a second time to rural Nebraska, all apparently within the first year of my life. My second adoptive parents noted and to my recollections of childhood; I was aloof, independent, self-contained and self-sufficient. I struggled against being held or helped and detached emotionally. Though apparently relatively happy, curious, always on the go and doing what I wanted. This core character and personality continued into my 20’s. And resulted in being quite impetuous with calculated recklessness and was quite full of myself; bordering on sociopathic.
This womb experience was quite unlike other trips where fantastical things occurred, such as sitting under a tree; understanding the spinal cord was the trunk, roots extending into the ground, sap was the kundalini and the brain’s hemispheres were like the canopy of the tree. Or experiencing the moment of conception and moving through the embryonic development via DNA type memory (Stanislav Grof). That reflected DNA/spinal development of ranging from stages of an embryo to fish, bird, mammal to a human; and this depended on how long of a tail we had. However, this womb experience was deep and life changing. Being very intrigued by this experience, I had to investigate what happened. I eventually stumbled across Stanislav Grof’s “Realms of the Human Unconscious.” Grof’s work seemed to fit well with Ken Wilber’s typology of consciousness as outlined in his articles I had found years earlier in the “Journals of Transpersonal Psychology” and his subsequent books. It took about two years of processing to come to a reasonable understanding of this 3-hour cruise on the high sees of the flotation tank. I became less detached and more involved in the world. Moving from narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies to developing empathy, willingness to relate with others and engaged for the benefit of others, instead of merely for myself.
Toward the end of two years of processing, I inadvertently stumbled across a job at the state mental hospital. Initially, as a psych tech; later a day treatment group leader and community case manager. Eventually, getting a master’s degree in counseling psychology that involved research in the effects of dry flotation REST and hypnotic susceptibility. Then followed by 35+ years in public mental health with 26 years specializing in crisis mental health, conducting involuntary evaluations, providing emergency department and family MH consultations and an occasional training presentation or workshop to other professionals.
Great story, so what:
Conceptually, the cogent approach is as follows. The foundational context or back drop is to use Wilber’s topology of consciousness as a reference in which to classify the descriptions and progressions of experiences. Grof’s concept of “condensed experience” (COEX) is useful to view discrete experiences as pockets of experience that “collapse” instead of the usual linear progression of an experience. The COEX concept might be valuable in the treatment of PTSD, anxiety and depression. Lily’s design and use of the REST/flotation tank offers primarily an introspective laboratory environment to investigate the mind, body and consciousness. The tank environment attenuates outside influences; it allows improved focus and attention upon the self and the realization that there is only the core self and its experiences. It also, supports a mindfulness posture that enhances the potential for insight and to distinguish between what we have identified as our ego-centric self and its experiences. The laboratory technique for this investigation is vipassana meditation. Vipassana basically uses awareness (initially watching the breath) as a method for first developing the skill to focus or concentrate attention. Secondly, to maintain an equanimous observational posture of mindful non-judgment or non-attachment that leads to insight. This mindfulness results in the opportunity for attentional focus to observe the blossoming of insight. It is basically understanding or recognizing patterns of experience. Finally, psychedelics acts as a catalyst or “key” to unlock consciousness in order to go beyond the ego-centric/body-confined sense of self. This reveals a glimpse of the transcendent awareness of unity and inter-connectedness. Maybe an opportunity for an individual to recognize that life is but a brief opportunity for existential meaning and purpose of experience.
Forty years later: Did I become enlightened? Forty years ago, I thought so; but forty years later, nope, its just a step on the path. It was merely an expansion of consciousness. Moving from an identification with my body contained ego to knowing my self beyond both body and ego. Thus, the question becomes, “so what?” What are you going to do with this knowledge or experience? What are you going to do, when, where and how?
At a fundamental level, psychology is about pattern recognition. A toddler learns a dog is different than a cat via pattern recognition. For therapists, it is about helping and orienting a person toward the recognition of sticky patterns that are limiting them and to move on toward more life enhancing patterns. At another level it is recognizing there are perennial/fractal archetypical patterns of and for change, e.g., gardening metaphor.
Often people have very little idea of how to change. Seemingly there is an inability to articulate or formulate a change or growth process. Gardening is a readily accessible and intuitive metaphor that symbolizes the patterns of change. It is the idea that people change in cycles and seasons and that gardening is an elegant metaphor for growth. At the foundation, “we are the gardener of our soul.” We are the garden, the gardener and the tomato plant in the garden. Furthermore, each season requires a different task. The spring is about planning and preparation, summer is working and growing the garden, in the fall we harvest the fruit of our labor. However, the winter is the symbolic process of death and rebirth. Often in crisis, a person often feels lonely, depressed, confused, anxious and overwhelmed; it is winter. Reframing these feelings as a natural part of winter. Winter is about evaluation and lessons, letting go of the old, becoming renewed and discovering a seed that has germinated. It is an introspective process of evaluation, touching our soul, discovering, and imagining new growth. The re-orienting or reframing change as gardening acknowledges growth is a repeating process that has a spectrum of applications. Once a person experiences and understands change as gardening or cycles, it becomes a sustaining and perennial process/pattern. This can lead towards a co-creative ecological positive perennial psychology or perspective.
Giving a nod to the idea of ritual and society or culture. My experience is that in the 1970’s psychedelics became the sacrament of a relatively small and secretive group of people. My experience was primarily with the deadheads and the rainbow tribe. In a sense. Rainbow Gatherings and Grateful Dead shows were the contemporary rituals of Dionysus.
Perhaps Grateful Dead shows and Rainbow Gatherings were an intuitive search for Dionysian ritual. I remember seeing references to quote “God is dead or Eric Clapton is God.” For those interested, perhaps a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology; it might be interesting to use the lens of tent revivals and even church rituals and overlaying this on the Grateful Dead shows. From my experience of the attending 40+ Grateful Dead shows, many of them on LSD or mushrooms, and compare the flow of the shows were similar to my experiences of being a preacher’s kid and going to church. I saw folks fervent and acting much like enthusiastic parishioners of a church. Praying, singing, dancing and sharing food etc. (Side note: At Dead shows saw folks doing spontaneous yogic postures and tantric like dances. And in psychiatric units, I would occasionally witness an odd catatonic like yogic postures and mudras, but these were not intentioned nor fluid.) It would be interesting to look at the set-list of Grateful Dead shows and do a comparative analysis of the motif or patterns of church, gospel tent revivals, delta blues compared to the small (under 10k attendees) of the Dead shows of the 1970’s. It’s basically looking at ritual as if examining music appreciation or art history as reflection of culture/society.
Another interesting avenue of academic research based on experiential antidotes is investigating and comparing group trips. An example, at Rainbow Gatherings on 4th of July most everyone would gather in a large circle, have an hour of silence. During that hour of silence, rainbows would appear without fail. Now with NASA research in to Schumann resonance frequencies, new conceptions of an electro-magnetic plasma universe and the stuff that like Gregg Braden, HeartMath, epigenetics and other folks. It seems we are researching the individual, sociological, cultural aspects and the applications of consciousness. Roland Griffiths alludes to getting some religious leaders dosed in a Harvard Divinity study. Other avenues are Rory Duff and his fascinating work of planetary energy lines and of Lynne McTaggart of working with and for others. Brian Muraresku has done a deep dive in to ancient cultural texts. Brian brilliantly noted a reference to Joseph Campbell’s quote something about the meaning of life is really the experience of life. That the experience life gives meaning and in that experience we discover the purpose of our existence. In short, during the 1950’s to the 70’s was a convergence that led to opening our minds beyond the experience of the individual self. And now there is the 2nd convergence. We are recognizing the pattern, that we are in the soup of God (universe/source). We are part of God and God is within us. If we abide in this premise, then I believe we can readily change our planetary reality by using conscious intention and entanglement.
So ends a brief introduction that forms my basis in which to further jump in to a series of “conscious entanglement.” I’m considering doing this series mainly in video format with brief blog posts as introductions.
Warning/disclaimer: Do not use psychedelics on your own and without guidance from a professional or well-seasoned guide/shaman. I merely note my experience, in which I was young, dumb and very fortunate because it could have been horrific. There were times of sheer terror and thus a not a path to be taken lightly nor without significant preparation and guidance. It was in a different time, a different cultural space and perhaps a different yuga. There is absolutely no reasonable assurance of positive results without ardent preparation, seasoned guidance and a deep desire to know one’s self. The tools of introspection involves learning to face, accept and work with your shadow or dark side of the self.
In my professional career, I have witnessed tragic and horrific cases involving the mis-use and recreational use of psychedelic drugs that have led to psychotic episodes, first break schizophrenia, making bipolar conditions worse, incarceration and such. I am not a psychedelic enthusiast and my last use was over 40 years ago. There are safer and effective alternatives, such as meditation, hypnosis, flotation and breath work. Retrospectively, it is fascinating that 40, 50, 60 years ago there was the wanderlust of the paisley kaleidoscope. Psychedelics were just dawning upon the consciousness of a tiny number of individuals. And now the psychedelic micro dosing is being touted as a general tonic, enhancing creativity, increasing performance and to treat malaise for those that dare venture. We are in a different time and space; a new yuga ushered in by Aquarius? Perhaps we are ready to step into a logical and consistent investigation that goes beyond our Dionysian initiation. I wonder if we can step into coherent application of conscious entanglement? I wonder if psychedelics with intentioned group meditation/consciousness will enable us to work with and to go beyond time and space? Perhaps we can turn-on and tune-in a peaceful planet. I wonder if “Conscious Entanglement” is the new convergence? The perennial challenge is “so what.” What is our part in this ocean of light? Waves of light are crashing on to the planet…surfs up!
Peace, love and light!
Below are a few rabbit holes if you want to dive in.
Lex Fridman and Rick Doblin
Rick Doblin: Psychedelics | Lex Fridman Podcast #202 – YouTube
Jordan Peterson and Roland Griffiths
The Psychology of Psychedelics | Roland Griffiths – Jordan B Peterson Podcast – S4 E20 – YouTube
Heather Ensworth and Rory Duff
Interview with Rory Duff: Earth’s Energy Lines, Universal Consciousness and Moving into a New World – YouTube
Lee Carroll and Lynne McTaggart