Psychospiritual Integration of Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness

Non-ordinary states of consciousness hold psychological and spiritual contents that, when properly integrated, can offer tremendous life-affirming value. Aion Farvahar helps us explore these different states and the value they offer to seekers.


Non-ordinary states of consciousness, notably psychedelic or shamanic experiences, are usually complex, multidimensional, and psychospiritual in content. This complexity can be intimidating to our rational minds, thereby discouraging us from searching for the transcendental meaning of the contents. In this post, I aim to reduce this complexity by focusing more on psychospiritual contents and their integration. As the name implies, psychospiritual contents have “psychological” and/or “spiritual” relevance and offer the most life-promoting value. I experienced this value in my own spiritual development and now use psychospiritual approaches in my work as a life and integration mentor.

Psychospiritual contents emerging during psychedelic experience can have healing potentials, and with proper integration, lead to major personal and spiritual transformations. I argue that these healing potentials are mainly due to their transcendental quality, and direct access to the numinous during the experience. In other words, it is not the psychedelic nor altered state that can be healing, but rather what they facilitate, which is a deeper connection to spiritual essence of an individual.

A Broad Categorization of Psychedelic Experience

At a high level, we can split the contents of psychedelic experience into two broad categories of “psychospiritual” and “exotic”. As indicated, psychospiritual contents are psychological and/or spiritual in nature, and have personal or transpersonal relevance. Exotic contents, as defined here, are highly impersonal, non-organic, and alien.

As we can expect, the exotic contents can only offer intangible value that may not be as life-promoting in real world. This is due to their lack of any personal or spiritual relevance, which makes them virtually impractical for personal growth and integration into real life. At best, they provide us opportunities to indulge in philosophical or intellectual contemplation about their origins, e.g., Simulated Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Alien Theories, etc.

Ultimately, the true value of psychospiritual contents is only unlocked when individuals experiencing them can relate to their psychological and spiritual contents at a deeply personal and intimate level.

In contrast, we can find many practical insights in the psychospiritual contents of psychedelic experience. This is mainly due to their personal and spiritual relevance. For example, one can relive a traumatic life event for healing or closure, connect to spirits of departed loved ones for reconciliation, or experience “ego death” to come to terms with thanatophobia (death anxiety). The term “ego death” (or ego loss) has different interpretations in psychology, mythology, and mysticism, but we can describe it as a transformation from an ego consciousness, i.e., “who we think we are”, to a state of consciousness that transcends all personal and subjective identities. In mysticism, ego death is viewed as self-surrender which is necessary for spiritual growth and enlightenment.

Ultimately, the true value of psychospiritual contents is only unlocked when individuals experiencing them can relate to their psychological and spiritual contents at a deeply personal and intimate level. Focusing on one without the other rarely results in full integration or healing, especially if we underestimate the value of transcendental and spiritual contents. 

A Contemplative Journey to our Ancient Past

Imagine you and I are back to the time of our ancestors, way before the technological advances of today’s world. Life must have been simpler and more communal back then, filled with the spirit of sharing food and experience, and caring for children of the community. Aside from taking care of our daily basic needs, such as food and shelter, we must have been curious and contemplative about nature, the earth, and the sky. We were probably more enchanted by them, not only because our livelihood was dependent on them, but also because we felt their numinous presence in our lives, every day.

How could we have not been contemplative and spiritual in life, when watching the Milky Way’s mesmerizing motion every night, listening to myths and legends recited by our elders, or witnessing healing works of our shamans? Back then, we must have lived a more transcendental life, because we were fully aware of our vulnerabilities, and numinous presence of the unknown felt around us. Our spiritual essence grew organically within us to keep our psyche in harmony with numinous presence around us. This gave us courage and conviction, to live a more meaningful and holistic life.    

The Reality of our Lives Today

We now live in a technologically advanced world, with most of us no longer having direct access to nature, nor being able to witness the Milky Way’s mesmerizing motion and contemplate on our true place in the world. Numinous presence that once calmed our psyche is no longer in plain sight nor as accessible. Many of us have lost our personal connection to it, and are now left with a spirituality or a belief system that may not be as healing, or as near to us, as we wish. The psychological and spiritual dimensions of our being are no longer connected. Our psyche is now left on its own devices, trying to heal our traumas, and save us from nihilism in today’s material world.

Many of us have lost our personal connection to it, and are now left with a spirituality or a belief system that may not be as healing, or as near to us, as we wish. The psychological and spiritual dimensions of our being are no longer connected.

We now witness higher occurrences of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts in our society. A recent study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology [1] has reported a significant increase in psychological distress and suicidal thoughts, especially in teens and young adults in United States. What causes this alarming trend? Could it be the loss of connection to numinous and our spiritual essence that once kept our psyche in harmony? Maybe the psychospiritual contents of psychedelic experience are emerging to revive or renew this lost connection at a uniquely personal level.  

Healing Potential of Psychospiritual Content

Psychospiritual content emerging in psychedelic experience usually have a spiritual essence in their core. This spiritual essence can present itself as a higher “Self”, in numinous symbolic images (e.g. Mother Earth, Heavenly Father, Buddha, Christ, Archangels, etc.). It can also emerge as a connection to a formless energy (e.g. Pure Love, Pure Light, Godhead, Source, etc.). Honoring the connection to this spiritual essence is the key to unlock the healing and transformative potential of psychospiritual contents.  

We can also observe the healing potentials of this spiritual essence in individuals who had deeply meaningful transcendental experience, e.g. Near Death Experience (NDE). These individuals tend to become highly spiritual afterward, and make significant adjustments to their belief systems, world view, and guiding principles in life. All such transformations were originated from a single transcendental experience, and psychospiritual integration that followed it.

Psychospiritual content emerging in psychedelic experience usually have a spiritual essence in their core.

The healing potentials of psychospiritual content are also reported when using psychedelic and plant medicines, under supervision of health practitioners or a shaman elder. This is evident in both scientific and field reports. As an example, a study at John Hopkins University, and published by Journal of Psychopharmacology [2], reports substantial and sustainable decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.

Integration of Psychospiritual Content

So far, we highlighted two key points related to integration of psychedelic experience. The first point is the need for distinction and proper separation of exotic and psychospiritual contents. The psychospiritual contents offer higher integration value, due to their personal and spiritual relevance. The second point is the complementary nature of psychological and spiritual contents, and its importance in the integration process. Spiritual content has a transcendental quality and can mediate access to the spiritual essence of an individual. This access is essential in activation of the higher Self, and its healing and transformative energy needed during integration.

Now, it is a good time to focus on practical aspects of the psychospiritual integration. We can find a few examples from the practice of both psychology and shamanism, where psychological and spiritual dimensions are used as complements for healing and integration.

Accessing Higher Self in Practice of Psychology and Shamanism

Assuming we can all see the life-promoting value of access to numinous and higher Self, the next natural question would be how one practically does that? There are good news. One is that there are already several psychospiritual disciplines in psychology and coaching, where client’s connection to higher Self can be established under the guidance and support of the therapist or the practitioner. Other good news is that once the connection to higher Self is established, the clients can further deepen that solely on their own or with minimum ongoing support. In other words, once activated, client’s higher Self is the one leading the healing process and spiritual growth.   

Depth Psychology

A prime example of using transcendence and direct access to numinous was practiced by C.G. Jung. Aside from encouraging his patients to work with their dreams, Jung also helped them enter a dreamlike inner world to encounter and integrate parts of their unconscious. He called this process “Active Imagination”. Active Imagination is in many ways similar to dreaming, but we enter it through focused meditation and while we are awake. Jung was aware of autonomous complexes and traumas within the psyche and used Active Imagination as an effective way to engage and integrate them. He even used Active Imagination in accessing higher Self for his own individuation and spiritual development, as documented in his Red Book [3].

Internal Family Systems (IFS) Self-Leadership Practice

Using direct access to the numinous energy to facilitate healing and spiritual growth is also evident in the practice of Internal Family Systems (IFS) developed by Dr. Richard C. Schwartz [4]. At its core, IFS relies on personal access to a universal source of wisdom and healing energy called the “Self” (with capital S), which facilitates reconciliation and harmonization of other autonomous “parts” of the psyche. The main goal of IFS practice is for individuals to embody Self Energy, because once embodied, psychospiritual integration, healing, and personal growth evolve organically within the psyche. Further details related to IFS Model can be found in my blog post or IFS Institute.

Psychoshamanic Practice

Another practical example of using transcendence and direct access to the numinous to facilitate integration and healing can be observed in shamanic and psychoshamanic practices. These practices rely on a transformative ritual process, analogous to Active Imagination, to establish access to a central source of energy and wisdom, called Axis Mundi. The role of Axis Mundi in healing and integration can be compared to that of Self in Jung’s Depth Psychology, and Self Energy in IFS practice. It represents a metaphoric axis connecting various levels of consciousness, and once accessed through the ritual process, can facilitate integration and healing to other parts of psyche stuck in these levels due to trauma.

We note a common theme is all of these examples, which is the critical role of spiritual contents in activating higher Self. The activation of higher Self should be the first step and the central focus in psychospiritual integration.

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”
C.G. Jung (1916)

A Closing Remark on Psychedelic Harm Reduction

Despite their evident healing and transformative potentials, recreational and unsupervised use of psychedelics, especially in high doses, can open human psyche to overwhelming amount of impersonal and esoteric content. As indicated, these contents can be complex and have the potential to impair the normal function of the psyche, and even bring latent psychological or psychospiritual crisis into full realization.

Improper use of psychedelics can diminish their known healing and transformative potentials and undermine their sacred and life-promoting history and place in the world, which has been honored through indigenous shamanism and ancient wisdom traditions. As important as it is to honor one’s inner calling for transcendence and spiritual growth, so too is one’s psychological readiness, and supervision of a shaman elder or an experienced practitioner in the process. 


References:

[1] Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T.E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S.G. (2019). Age, Period, and Cohort Trends in Mood Disorder Indicators and Suicide-Related Outcomes in a Nationally Representative Dataset, 2005–2017. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 28(3), 185-199.

[2] Griffiths R. R., Johnson, M.W., Carducci, M.A., Umbricht, A., Richards, W.A., Richards, B. D., Cosimano, M. P., & Klinedinst, M. A. (2016). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. J Psychopharmacol, 30(12), 1181-1197.

[3] Jung, C.G., Shamdasani, S., Kyburz, M., Peck, J., & Hoerni, U. (2009). The red book – Liber Novus. W.W. Norton & Company.

[4] Schwartz, R.C. (2019). Evolution of The Internal Family Systems Model. Posted in https://selfleadership.org/about-internal-family-systems.html.