While many people decide to try psychedelic drugs in order to “get high” or for a cheap thrill, there are more than a few life-changing lessons that profound psychedelic experiences can teach us. When approached prudently and maturely, they may gift us with meaningful visionary journeys into our own subconscious mind and the great mystical beyond.
These mysterious feats of consciousness can show us the one thing we need to break our mold and outgrow it—and that reality is far, far grander than the one we are confined to in our daily lives. The existential pressures they generate or release can be channeled through inner cycles of crisis and renewal to make us more resilient and wise.
Integrating insights from experiences with psychedelic drugs can then serve us in mitigating our own personal responses to difficult life events, such as the the COVID-19 crisis whose consequences we are all currently facing. In light of the harrowing wave of this pandemic which is taking a global toll on economy, well-being, and existence itself, we wanted to take a look at how we can invoke the lessons from our psychedelic journeys to fight the stress, fear, and suffering we are undergoing at this moment.
Here is my take on this.
How I Harnessed the Power of Psychedelics
After my first time taking psychedelic drugs—it was psilocybin mushrooms—I knew without a doubt that a giant inner shift had transpired in me. I realized that I would never be the same again; more precisely, that I could not look at life with the same naïveté and limitations I had been encapsulated in before. Mushrooms showed me that there is something else out there—some unmistakably powerful universal intelligence we seem to all come from and go back to after our corporeal husks cease to function.
They also allowed me to tap into an intelligence and attain sharper and more creative abilities of reasoning and reflection. Under the influence, my hyper-charged consciousness would be able to flip through all of my current confusions and insecurities and swiftly unearth novel, more beneficial, and grounded ways of looking at my life.
Acid showed me the most stunning transformations of the outside world, leading me to perceive with my own eyes how even the most solid objects actually ‘breathe’ and flow. It also revealed to me the most bizarre hidden parts of my subconscious in intensely vivid inner visions.
DMT launched me into completely different plains of existence, confirming once and for all that other, standalone realities are very much real and that they function in some sort of eternity that is governed by rules unlike those of our ordinary world.
And ayahuasca… Well, ayahuasca took my whole life, dissected it and told me very explicitly who I am, what my purpose is, and which aspects of my personality I need to improve in order to live more aligned with authenticity and sincerity.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Often I write about the science or culture of psychedelic drugs and ayahuasca, trying to explain their function and significance while remaining open to the mystery. But I feel it’s also important to share my personal experience, which is very much inflected by my outward, professional, or public sense of self. This is why I would like to share with you the single most important lesson that all these psychedelic and entheogenic experiences have ingrained in me. This is not some grandiose, abstract philosophy, but a surprisingly simple string of ideas that clearly reverberated through each moment of my psychedelic-altered states of mind. Here it is:
Life is bigger than you.
It changes and passes, and it doesn’t care how that makes you feel.
You are the only one who cares, and your reactions don’t change what happened.
They can only hurt or benefit YOU, the people who care about you, and your efforts to respond to reality.
I will try to elaborate why integrating this realization into my daily life was likely the most transformative positive change I’ve ever gone through. Finally, I’d like to discuss how this notion applies to dealing with stressful events such as crisis.
Before I had tried psychedelics, I was full of rather unsubstantiated and misguided ideas about life. Like most people, my personality was heavily modeled by my family, culture, friends, idols, education, politics, and other currents of influence. I wanted to be normal and do what others do because I had been defining myself through a paradigm created by the social worlds that I had belonged to.
I also had internalized certain societally accepted understandings of how things should go and thought that these notions, along with some effort to realize them, should be enough to make them go this way. When I would actually experience failure or loss, it would often devastate me. I would ruminate for days or even weeks on end about what had happened, trying to understand why it happened to me and how I could reverse it. I struggled to come to terms with the facts that life isn’t always fair and that most events cannot be reversed.
When I experienced psychedelics, I got the chance to see how backwards and immature this entire system of beliefs truly was. For the first time in my life, I could silence all that societal conditioning noise and hear my own inner voice. It wasn’t the voice of a sad, lonely, or insecure little boy, incomplete without all the elements I had defined myself through; on the contrary, it was the voice of reason and completeness.
This is when I understood that the societal influences I had deemed part of me weren’t making me whole—they were preventing me from claiming my wholeness.
Through hearing the voice of the true or more authentic me, I could understand that these other influences were extraneous and impermanent. I had realized that I was the only entity that was always there, while they were coming in and out; still, for some reason, they were being retained in my subconscious and consistently governed my behavior. Something of a default assumption most of us tend to make is that our family, friends, partners, idols, and culture are forever parts of our selves—all these can, do, and should change throughout life!
Holding on to people, things, and concepts can be an expression of a fearful yearning to define ourselves through them. Dependence in others is very much also a dependence to keep “me” or the ego defined in certain ways. However, it is exactly through the process of loss and letting go that we can actually see what we’re made of and successfully grow and redefine ourselves.
Meaningful social and emotional connections are, of course, beneficial, but remaining in a state of dependence on someone can rarely yield the kind of growth we are capable of. Still, it can feel comfortable because it’s familiar and seemingly explains to us and others a part of who we are as persons.
This feeling of comfort and the self-definition that comes with attachment both lead down a slippery slope to the root of all suffering—the notion of permanence. Permanence is important to us because it helps us remain consistent in our own eyes. Where we’re from, who we know, where we go, what we do, what we use, what we like, and, very importantly, what we think about things—these are all concepts we employ to define ourselves to ourselves and present ourselves to others.
Feeling consistent allows us to go through life with confidence knowing that we’re on top of who we are. It also allows us to make confident predictions of how we will react to certain things and situations.
But… Is what we’re feeling really confidence?
What I realized with the help of psychedelic drugs is that this assuredness is superficial and frail—it can easily fall apart at even the mere thought of crossing the border of the comfort zone into the unknown and uncertain. Our notions and plans may well work within the context (or confines) of a practical, everyday life—they can keep things running smoothly, help us not err too frequently and suffer on account of that. But, they also lead to some heavy fallacies which are rarely scrutinized—that we are under control, and that we are free.
Psychedelics cut through these illusions like a hot knife through butter.
Life, on a scale grander than the everyday routine, a scale that psychedelic drugs so evocatively allow us to glean, is a complex, messy amalgam of elements consistently popping in and out of existence and adding their distinct flavors to the mix. It can be compared to a cauldron of the ayahuasca brew with its many potential ingredients, wherein each constituent is added to modulate the experience. Some, like toé, may make it more dangerous; others can catalyze more insight or healing; others yet can prolong your journey or make it more intense. What they all have in common is that we can, nay, we have to learn from their effects.
It is much more liberating to get comfortable with the idea of life as a, well, lifelong psychedelic trip with numerous multidimensional detours on the way to destination unknown than just a single-track journey with clearly designated, well-planned-out stops. Once we embrace this idea and stop imposing our personal expectations on how life should go, we can finally stop suffering from our own reactions to things not going how we wanted them to. This new perspective allows us to escape the shackles of the known and realize that there wasn’t really so much of a reason to fear the unknown all along.
However, we need to be mindful of the fact that psychedelic experiences can, if taken at face value and not properly integrated, also induce illusions and negative ideologies of their own. These can further be leveraged to justify outlandish and potentially dangerous thoughts and actions. We must approach psychedelic drugs-induced insight with as much care, sense, and scrutiny as possible in order to avoid jumping from one set of fallacies into another.
The Teachings of Psychedelic Drugs
If we manage to draw reasonable lessons from psychedelic drugs and integrate them well, unpredictable events and unwarranted meanderings can be embraced for their novelty and just the sheer possibility to experience them.
Confusion can be greeted with gratitude for its power to put us off balance and give us a chance to find our center.
Change, whether we wanted it to come or not, can be welcome for its potential to help us grow by teaching us more about who we are and what the world is about.
None of these are dreaded and avoided, because we understand that they are not only an integral part of life, but its founding and driving principle. Everything changes, everything passes. And none of it gives a dime about what you make of it. The only one who does… Is you. So, might as well try to look at it all with grace and gratitude.
This is a key message psychedelic drugs appear to have for us.
In profound psychedelic experiences, your soul can wander off so far from its fleshy home that it loses all connection to the person it gives life to. Death can seem like a natural and imminent subsequence of this separation, and you can see crystal clear that none of the things that seemed like a big deal during life matter anymore.
Psychedelic drugs can bring you to this point where you get to face your own mortality, and coming back from there can profoundly change your understanding of what matters and what you had been wasting yourself on. What I learned through my journeys is that I must let go of expectations because they are what fuels disappointment and self-victimization. I learned that the only way to live happily is to see all change as opportunity to learn and grow.
With these lessons integrated, even deeply shaking events such as tragedy or crisis can be experienced not as debilitating obstacles, but as chances to let go of fear, reconfigure yourself, overcome the difficulty with a new, loving approach, and emerge stronger on the flipside. Once you see your own death and make peace with it, nothing in the world can be taken as seriously as you had taken it before. Putting a stop to lamenting the circumstances and, instead, investing energy into figuring out a way to mitigate or circumvent the problem feels like a natural thing to do.
The conjectures I make here have been substantiated by scientific research, and even more widely by anecdotal reports. There is a plethora of studies and testimonies available for review on the rapid and sustained positive effects of psychedelic drugs like ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, MDMA, ibogaine, and psilocybin on debilitating and sometimes otherwise untreatable mental states such as depression, cancer-induced anxiety, addiction, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, and others.
Psychedelic drugs are assumed do this by presenting the individual with their own dysfunctional thought patterns, showing them that that these habits are not serving them, and presenting them with healthier paradigms, which are then adopted and integrated during re-construction of the juddered ego. Surely, if they can help treat such drastic conditions, they can help us navigate the uncertainties and challenges of the unpredictable mess that is life.
This is why, in times of crisis, whether it be an identity distortion or a global pandemic such as COVID-19, let our reaction not be that of panic. Let us instead invoke the teachings of psychedelics and extend our scope of thinking beyond our limited, self-revolving microcosm into the sage, graceful universal.
Remember: This, too, shall change; it, too, shall pass.
Header art by Danny Stanley Insta @avongarde