I spent tens of thousands of dollars training to become a psychotherapist and the past year is undoing it all. Why? My own therapy ended poorly – a fairly common story, sadly – and the inconsistency of trying to work within a modality that could not ‘heal’ me nagged at me for months.
I knew I needed a change.
In February 2020, just before the pandemic, I left my group practice job – a good gig for someone right out of graduate school – and packed my bags for Costa Rica to set off on a journey of healing and self-discovery. While I chose Costa Rica for a number of reasons, including good surf and papayas, when I arrived it became readily apparent how accessible psychedelics would be with retreat centers largely left alone by the authorities under the auspices of ‘religious practices’ and the culture of ex-pats being extremely drug-friendly.
Psychedelics, drugs, sacred medicines – whatever you wish to call them – each offer a unique perspective on reality and share one common mechanism: They get you out of your mind and into the present moment. The rise in popularity of these medicines, I believe, has much to do with the sudden downloads or insights one can have about oneself and the nature of reality, and they’re just plain ol’ fun! It would be silly to deny the fact that they also make you feel fantastic.
Beyond feeling great, however, people can often discover a profound sense of peace that they are not their thoughts, nor as limited as they once believed they were. This complete and radical shift in identity can often spark the necessary motivation needed for people to heal and to change. It really is a no-brainer as to why interest and research funding into psychedelics has skyrocketed in the past decade.
Since arriving in Costa Rica (going on nine months as of this writing), I have taken many different medicines in a variety of contexts including micro dosing, at parties, and during jungle retreats. With every trip I took, I learned much about myself, my past and my relationships to the point where I try and take these lessons with me everywhere I go. I learned that self-acceptance is truly possible in every moment.
And while it might seem tempting to say that drugs are the answer, I am here to say they are not.
Well-known spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, in his book “Polishing the Mirror,” spoke about his struggles after ‘coming down’ from thousands of trips. He described how over time, his trips made things worse for him, not better. After each trip, he found himself more agitated and despairing at his inability to not feel free despite having touched bliss many times.
After many trips, I found myself in a similar predicament and decided to look into the potential reasons for this.
Here is what I discovered:
1. Psychedelics make you incredibly sensitive.
Psychedelics open your senses and purge you of stuck energies you have been carrying from past traumas to the stress of everyday life. One ‘purges’ in Ayahuasca because the medicine is helping clear your system from old harmful energies. The incredibly ‘clean’ feeling you may have afterwards, while wonderful, also heightens the contrast between feeling clean and light versus heavy.
Since Costa Rica, I have begun to see, taste and hear better, move more fluidly and feel my sensory body much more acutely. With this, however, it has become necessary for me to change the way I eat (now mostly plant-based), to how I breathe, to carefully choosing the company I keep, to even unplugging all electronics while I sleep. Because of my newfound sensitivity (which feels amazing!), it also means I have to devote a lot more time in my day meditating, grounding, and learning how to manage energies around me. At this point, however, integration of my trips has become second nature. When you taste bliss, your body simply wants to get you back to this place — your new and improved home.
2. They show you the multi-dimensional possibilities of life — the good and the bad.
No matter how many beautiful trips you have, you still must return to the day-to-day goings on of your mind, your family, your traumas, your job, your friends, and the general chaos of the social world. There is no escape. And, psychedelics teach you how to alchemize any experience into something beautiful, positive and worthwhile.
I have learned to adopt a certain ease and acceptance of both the serendipity and hardships of life. It is all part of the same fabric of our living and breathing universe and universal experience of life on this planet. When you begin to take every experience as perfect or divine even, life takes on a whole different timbre, color and scope. Every trial and triumph adds to a sense of deeper meaning and purpose to your life. This ineffable quality of what some psychedelic journeys may offer you helps to keep the magic of everyday living alive and well.
3. They bring you to another reality but with no language on how to communicate with it or to others about it.
I would argue that we are still learning how to put into language the world psychedelics bring us to and that this need is the frontier for their future use. There is a lot in this world that simply goes beyond words and sometimes goes beyond what we would even like to put into words for fear of flattening out its dynamic expression. While I have experienced many mystical and profound moments on these drugs, I also believe my training as a psychotherapist and practices in meditation and breathwork have helped me learn how to navigate these psychic depths. For many others, however, having a transcendental experience and coming back to the same life and environment from which you began and not knowing how to integrate what you’ve just experienced, can be deeply discouraging. Psychedelics shortcut the road to bliss, but without knowing how to bring your conscious awareness through the stages of the come up, the ‘peak,’ the come down and then post-trip integration, one can grow dependent on these drugs, hindering the progress of one’s own self-reflective abilities.
Without a language to describe this new reality or how to communicate this with others, you may find yourself in a bit of a bind. And I think this is what Ram Dass was referring to about his trips making life more difficult. Drugs bring you to an ecstatic state of unconditional love only to send you back to a topsy-turvy world whose values seem to go against that of love and connection and more towards greed, fear, and scarcity. I am fortunate to have found a solid network of friends on a similar journey so I feel supported, but I also recommend if you are to take this path, be prepared. There will be shifts in your friend circles and your lifestyle. You simply cannot go back to the way you were, and if you do, the stakes become greater because of your ‘higher self’ that now knows better.
For me, the gifts of psychedelics have been manifold. It has shown me another world that I wish to bring others to. It has shown me how our social world needs a lot of work in making it a safer place for our souls rather than our egos, and how we are still in desperate need for new ways to speak about energy, ego, and what sits behind it.
As the Divine energies of Shiva/Shakti and Yin/Yang dictate, there exist polarities in this world. While psychedelics teach us that we can have heaven on earth, they also teach us we have to work for it and how much work there is still left to be done in making this world a better, kinder, and more supportive place for all beings. I am grateful to have found this path and am hopeful to bring others along for the ride. As psychologist and spiritual teacher Bobby Klein, PhD likes to quote the wisdom of the Aztecs with his own twist, “In laK’esh a lakim. I am the other you and I like it that way!”
Photo Credit: “15 Minds – One Body” by Madeline Lynch. Acrylic on Canvas