Learning how to prepare for and integrate a plant medicine experience is vital to receiving the most benefits from psychedelic healing. Are there more tools we could be using for grounding a psychedelic experience? Join Dr. Lincoln Stoller in exploring helpful psychological and physical tools for preparing and supporting oneself throughout the psychedelic healing process.
Understanding yourself and controlling your intentions.
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”― Michel de Montaigne
Inspiration and Change
To be inspired is to be guided by an idea that you feel is your own, but which seems to have come from somewhere beyond what you know. Significant change is change you do not otherwise know how to make. You need to be inspired in order to make significant change. Grounding a psychedelic experience can help you get there.
Not all circumstances require significant change, a small change is often the right kind of change to start with. These days, with disruption in the air, we can appreciate that significant changes are disruptive.
Significant change involves unknowns which may attract or repel you, depending on your motivation. Usually, greater attractions or repulsions arise as you get closer to the changes that are brewing. One expects disruptive change to require an investment and some risk.
We expect non-disruptive change to be low risk. To the extent you are risk averse, you will be disruption-averse and, as a consequence, less likely to engage, attract, accept, or involve yourself with significant change. We’d like change to be gradual, incremental, and controlled, but the kind of change that opens one’s eyes to new understanding is not incremental.
Groups are built on consensus and shared understanding. A group can’t be inspired and a group can’t be inspiring. Groups provide motivation and direction. What is it that you’re looking for? Maybe you don’t need inspiration; maybe you only need motivation. Think of change as a two-step process: first you find motivation, then you find inspiration.
There are psychedelic chemicals and there are psychedelic experiences. Ingesting the chemicals might trigger a transformative experience, but you can have these experiences without the chemicals. It is important to consider whether the chemicals create a new path for you, or just release you to a path that is already within your means.
As a therapist and psychonaut I am convinced that, for the most part, psychedelics permit you, but they do not enable you. They open doors, but they don’t build the stairs. The stairs are conceptual, physical, and spiritual experiences that your mind, body, and spirit are ready to undertake. Psychedelics give you access to a deeper perception, but your ability to see and understand what’s revealed depends on what you’re ready to know.
On the one hand, this sounds obvious. On the other hand, it’s a mystery. How do you learn to understand now, something that you could not understand before?
To some extent you may see a new logic, but this is not what we generally associate with a psychedelic experience, we expect a revelation. We expect to see something that we never saw before, or to conceive of things we never before imagined. We’re looking for something like divine revelation.
It is the history of saints and seers that revelation does not come unbidden. It does not come from nowhere. Revelation usually comes as the result of concentration, hard work, struggle, and hardship. Revelation involves some degree of release from what you know, and a breaking open into novelty. A pill may reveal new knowledge to you, but if you’re going to bring that back into your “normal” life, you’ll need a context in which to place it.
While the novelty may sound attractive, the abandoning what you thought you knew is an important step. What are you ready for? If a psychedelic experience is going to offer you a new truth, are you ready to abandon what you know in order to accept it?
Consider a psychedelic experience like a volcano. The day is bright, the sky is blue, you take the chemical and earth begins to shake. Above you, atop the hill on which you’ve lived all your life, blooms a roiling, black, and rapidly expanding cloud of flying rocks and lightning. You have five minutes to gather in your arms all that’s dear to you and flee. All that’s left behind will be destroyed. Are you ready for this? And if you are ready for this, then why should it take a volcano to get you started?
On Your Own
Perhaps I’m being overdramatic. Most of my psychedelic experiences have been inclusive and positive. The dark and difficult journeys I’ve had are generally those I’ve taken without drugs. These psychological explorations have been precipitated by brute force, through isolation, deprivation, and meditation. You certainly do not need a chemical to venture into the unknown.
Such experiences are definitely possible and they are life changing. The experience of trauma and sickness are the most common. We usually don’t see these experiences as opportunities, but we should. Trauma is like a bad trip, but “bad” is relative.
As a therapist, most of my clients are struggling to some extent. For them, their lives that have become a “bad trip,” and it is their experience of it that will provide them with the guidance to change. This is not what anyone is looking for, nor would I advise it. Nevertheless, how you will respond to what you experience will largely depend on what you’re ready for.
Transformations involve the same components regardless of their origins. They consist of the components of your mind, and they offer the opportunity to rebuild, rearrange, or reinvent yourself. Whatever their origin, transformations are disruptive.
Preparing for a psychedelic experience is preparing for disruption. This is quite different from how one prepares to execute a plan, engage in a project, or achieve a goal. You can have a plan, project, or goal, but achieving them cannot be your main objective. If you do have goals, then your objective will be to test them, not complete them.
Whether you do or do not have a plan or goal, the psychedelic experience will enlarge you, add new forces, and bring forward new voices from inside you. Your goal is to make room for a larger experience – to make these new energies welcome and to stabilize yourself so that you are not upset by their appearance. You want to find in yourself the kind of flexibility that will enable you to become a larger person who is able to incorporate in yourself some of these energies when the experience is over.
Points for Change
We can reduce our thinking to separate parts, separating things that are not really separate to better understand how each part works. We can work to improve each part: separate your thoughts, explore your thoughts, and put them back together again. Break things down in ways that are specific to you.
Here I suggest a general way to break things down that applies to everyone; a psychological map that precedes the division of our lives into issues, peoples, and personalities.
1 – Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is your identity, volition, and thoughts. This is often verbal and reasonable though it also experiences fear and emotion. It feels like your conscious mind has free will even though you don’t know where this free will is coming from.
2 – Unconscious Mind
The unconscious mind consists of your habits, preconceptions, and reflex actions. Your unconscious is reactive and these reactions are built into you. You can change the actions of your unconscious mind if you work on them ahead of time, but, in the moment, you are subject to them and react according to their direction.
3 – Subconscious Mind
The subconscious is the machinery that exists below your conscious mind. It consists of your memories and associations, your genetic predisposition, your heritage, and your lower and higher powers such as they are. Some people channel their subconscious through nonverbal expression. Others dissociate from their subconscious so that direction from their subconscious emerges take them over through attitudes, actions, and moods they can’t control. And still others—perhaps most of us, most of the time — are unaware of their subconscious and behave as if it didn’t exist.
4 – Assertive Body
Your assertive body is your active, physical body and its actions represent the things it needs and does: all the organs, the joints and muscles, and the skills you’ve built into them. This would include your ability to perform in art, music, or athletics, or, more modestly, how you do or don’t exercise.
Your mind is not separate from your body. In considering them separate, we accept that there are connections between the two. Your assertive body is your need for movement, action, food, and comfort, and there are mental aspects to these physical needs.
For the purpose of finding stability, we’re thinking of the active body as system that has certain needs and responds to certain forces. Accommodating the active body means improving the tone and comfort of these systems. It means being attentive to your physical needs and maintaining a mental connection with the pains and pleasures of your body.
5 – Receptive Body
The receptive body is the important and elusive middle ground between the cerebral and the physical. It is your resting state of focus, attention, frequency, and resonance. It contains the currents in your body and the pulse in each of your systems. I think our receptive body is our most pervasive, ever present, subtle, accessible, and overlooked aspect of ourselves.
Just as the atom is mostly empty space and our body is 60% water, similarly, most of our consciousness resides in our receptive body. It is the tension that holds every aspect of you together. It is your ready and relaxed awareness, the ground on which your consciousness is built.
Grounding a Psychedelic Experience
Grounding a psychedelic experience involves doing very little, but it requires that everything be in place. Being grounded is like running a well-tuned machine. If the machine is well-tuned, then there’s nothing required except to run it. If the machine is not well-tuned, then every out of tune component must be adjusted. In a highly interconnected system such as us, that could mean all the components.
The purpose of the five points for change is the proposal that each of these points must be applied for grounding a psychedelic experience. Any goal you have involves these five systems. They all must be prepared, and you must be aware of each; you must have some connection to these aspects of yourself. Those aspects to which you are poorly connected will make their presence known in a psychedelic experience.
Each point has its own integrity. There is a view of your whole self that will emerge from your subconscious and you will meet this in your dreams. There is a view of your whole self that exists in your body and you can meet it there.
Your conscious mind is the coordinator. Its primary task is managing stability and change. It isn’t especially insightful but, of all these systems, it is the most central. It is the most effective of the five in predicting the near-term future.
We are effectively doing a form of yoga that is designed for, or can be seen from, each of these points. Consider these five “yogas” as separate practices, each designed to increase flexibility, strength, and balance.
Mindfulness is balancing and attuning your conscious mind,
Regression is reviewing situations that led to your unconscious programming,
Dreaming is exploring and inviting your subconscious to participate,
Exercise enables you to increase your physical body’s flexibility and endurance,
Neural training enables you to improve, balance, and tune your receptive body.
Grounding yourself for a psychedelic experience involves preparing each of these five aspects for change. That means improving each individually and improving the connections between them. The psychedelic experience is a release of your conscious control, and a direct and simultaneous encounter with all of these systems.