The use of psychedelic plant medicines (or so- called ‘hallucinogens’) has been prevalent since the earliest of times from the drinking of Ayahuasca by the medicine peoples of the Amazon to the elaborate ceremonies centered around the peyote cactus by the indigenous Americans, to psilocybin mushrooms, Ibogain, and others throughout the world, working with potent plants to merge with the spirit realm and experience altered states of consciousness is nothing new.
What is new, however, is the way that these plants and ‘hallucinogens’ are being used and understood in our modern industrial society. For instance, to our ancestors and to modern day indigenous people and tribes, these plants were understood to be alive and to be very sacred and powerful and were used in specific applications such as ceremonies or healing rituals and were and still are overseen by experienced shamans and medicine men and women.
Conversely, it has become widespread from the 60’s, the 70’s and beyond in our modern culture for powerful plant and chemical substances to be ingested recreationally and often without a great depth of understanding or respect for that substance, generally without trained guidance, and in a variety of settings ranging from safe and intimate to random and public. These factors have a strong impact on the experience one will have with such substances.
Whether any given approach is right or wrong is truly relative to the individual having the experience. It could be argued, however, that in many ways there is much to be gained and learned from traditional practices and principles employed when working with these powerful allies and substances. By being mindful of how, where, why, and with whom you choose to partake of these substances, you can prepare yourself to have a much stronger and more full connection with the substance, and that your experience is safe, expansive, healing, or pleasurable, as opposed to scary, unhealthy, or less than satisfying. It must be understood, however, that in many ways experiences with hallucinogens cannot be 100% prescribed or predicted because they are powerful and have their own information and characteristics to impart.
As a quick users guide here are a few considerations to work with if you are thinking about trying a consciousness altering substance for the first time:
Respect: Have some respect for the power of the plant or substance you are about to work with in the same way you would might have respect for the power inherent in large bodies of water. The ocean is a very beautiful and captivating environment full of relaxation, pleasure, and life, but it can be extremely mysterious, dangerous, and unpredictable. For these reasons, it requires respect and psychedelics require respect in much the same way. Similar to the ocean, these substances can reveal great depths of ourselves to us that can be exhilarating, enlightening, and yes, very often scary if we are not well prepared. So step one is to have some respect.
Trust Your Gut: The important thing to know about learning to trust your gut instincts is that you first have to be aware of them before you can trust them. If you have a funny feeling about something, it’s for a valid reason, even if your logical mind can’t figure out what that reason is. Trust your intuition. If something feels not right about eating some mushrooms or taking LSD or whatever the substance may be, it is definitely best to wait until you feel in the flow with it.
The other nice thing about learning to trust your gut is that not only will you get in touch with your own wisdom and voice, you will line up with the voice of the plant you are eating (if it is a plant that is, synthetics may be a different story) All plants have consciousness and wisdom to impart and it can help to see it as working with that plant rather than using it. Be open to the consciousness itself of the plant.
Check Your Environment: Self and setting are everything. How you are feeling about yourself and your environment when you start your experience are literally the foundation and springboard from which your experience emanates. If you start out comfortable and secure and in a clean, organized, beautiful place, you’re pointing your ship in the right direction.
Speaking of beauty¸ ambiance is also important. Just like you would light candles, burn incense, have ambient feel-good music and beautiful fabrics present for an intimate or romantic encounter, you should treat your consciousness the same way prior to ingesting consciousness altering substances. Keep in mind that your scope of perception is about to be extremely expanded and you will be much more sensitive to sensation and visual stimulation. It might not be the sensory inspiration you are looking for if the trash needs taken out or there are heaps of mess and dirty laundry everywhere. A space that is somewhat orderly and peaceful can contribute to feeling grounded and well. Let your environment feel good and be secured.
Be People Smart: When you are eating something like mushrooms for instance, you are going to be exposed to very intimate and profound parts of yourself. It is not unusual to experience your emotions very intensely. Therefore, think twice about who you are having your experience with. If you do not feel emotionally safe with someone, they may not be the best person to be diving so deep with.
Then again, depending on how the substance is working in you and how you are working with it, you could utilize your expanded state to deal with issues hindering the well-being of a friendship or relationship. So it’s not to say that necessarily everything must be 100% peachy with whomever you are journeying with, but I would say that it is imperative that you feel you can trust that person at a core level, that you are comfortable experiencing emotional intimacy with them.
Beyond choosing a good partner or partners to journey with, you may want to think twice before eating mushrooms, taking acid, or experimenting with DMT- or any other consciousness altering substance, around people you don’t know in unpredictable settings like parties or in public places like concerts- although I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions where settings like this may be right for certain individuals.
Have an Experienced Presence: A good option if it is your first time partaking of such substances would be to just have a person present who is more experienced and can at the very least guide you if your course at all becomes rough or if fears or unexpected thoughts pop up. Having someone present who can assure you of your safety and can remind you that everything is well can be very comforting should your journey take a turn for the disturbing or overly intense.
Maybe this person chooses not to partake along with you so that they can be that safety net for you- like a designated driver, except with consciousness. They can also hold space for you if something surfaces from the depths of your consciousness that needs healing or that you decide to really investigate.
Plan for Awe and Pleasure: Journeys through your consciousness can go in a tremendous variety of directions. Truly these types of experiences go well beyond the scope of an article. The point here is to just open a discussion. It is true though, that when you are expanded from taking a substance like the ones being discussed here, you are like the dilated iris of an eye, and so much more stimuli is being perceived and experienced by you and in such an intense way. Therefore it makes sense to play to the pleasure and enjoyment that are possible during such journeys.
Possibly consider having fresh fruit on hand. If you feel like eating while you are journeying (Which many people do not), it can be extremely fascinating and amazing to eat beautiful foods and the same goes for things you can visually enjoy. Visionary art and music and COMPLETELY change the vibration and direction of your experience and similarly, if you start going down a path you don’t want to be on, a change in music can be just the thing you need to get to a happier place.
Physical touch can be extremely enhanced and beautiful as well and how you feel inside your body and in the presence of another is different. Depending on how your experience is flowing and what your relationships is to whoever you are journeying with, you may wish to experiment with physical touch such as making love or just simply massage.
Give Yourself Time: I have found that having ample time to experience my journey without restriction or tight scheduling has a lot to do with my ability to enjoy the experience and heal myself through it as well as receive knowledge and new understandings. It would be ideal to have a whole day set aside and maybe plan to be free the day after your journey as well so that you can rest, reflect, and get grounded back in your body and waking life.
Frame Your Journey with Intention: In conclusion, the point here is to just be intentional when you are working with powerful substances. Every human being has the right to experience and experiment with their own consciousness. But as stated, they are
powerful and deserve respect and consideration. There is perhaps no way to entirely avoid the experience of a ‘bad trip’ altogether because te depths of our consciousness are vast, however we can certainly set up a preferable frame through which to experience our journey and prepare ourselves a safe environment that will allow us a solid foundation to begin with.
Image Source: “Fear & Loathing” by Monique Munoz