Do you choose to use psychedelics to cultivate ‘ spiritual growth ’?
Here’s a perspective to consider:
Having the big experience means nothing compared to applying the small insights.
Psychedelic experiences, or one could say, “intentionally catalyzed mystical experiences”, are like large stone landmarks on the path to maturity. They offer a vantage point from which we can see in great distances across the vast topography of ourselves. But, we need to get back off that (philosopher’s) stone and keep walking the path of daily life to apply what was seen. If we don’t, there isn’t necessarily going to be a developmental progression in ourselves towards spiritual maturity, only a ‘getting on’ and ‘getting off’ of the stone.
Herein lies a sticky situation when applying psychedelics as tools for spiritual development: repeatedly using them for the ‘cerebral big-bang’ effect, can cultivate the ‘perception’ of development while only re-enforcing the need to continue taking psychedelics in order to maintain that (potentially) false perception.
Thus, simply taking psychedelics and having the big trip does not create spiritual maturity in a person (though it may lead one into believing that such maturity has been gained). Spiritual maturity requires a regular process or practice of some type to bring the essence of wisdom that a psychedelic experience offers into one’s life as a whole.
Before going any further let me make something clear: I am not claiming myself as ‘one who is the upmost spiritually mature’. In fact, I am far from the maturity I acknowledge and am inspired by in others. With that being said, I have come to better understand the processes (experiential algorithms, you could say) of spiritual maturation obtained through psychedelic experiences. This comes from having deeply explored what works for me, and what doesn’t, and discussing the ideas brought forth from this investigation with others. Ok, back on track…
If spiritual maturity is what one is seeking in psychedelic experiences, successful integration is key. This means taking time before hand and afterwards to allow the perspectives obtained within such an experience to sink in. This means that before telling everyone about what happened in the experience or taking more psychedelics, one allows what was unlocked within the psychedelic experience to be held in one’s mind until the time that it becomes a natural expression of one’s self. For some this may be a few days, for others it might be an entire lifetime.
It is possible to help the process of applying the insights of a psychedelic experience into one’s life as a whole. The most important factor in helping this along, as far as I have found, is cultivating a daily ‘spiritual’ practice of personal value.
“Spiritual practice” means anything that brings awareness into a sense of being connected with a deeper, more mindful expression of one’s self. “As a whole” means the insights obtained in a psychedelic experience are applied to help cultivate mental-emotional wellbeing, physical health, socio-economic stability, self-awareness, compassion, empathy, creativity, clarity, honesty, etc., in whatever way expresses the individual’s honest (as in unpostured or unguarded) self.
At this point, it seems pretty clear to me that unless the grand experiences of psychedelics are applied into life in a way that unlocks one’s ability to perceive the beauty and fullness of the ordinary, day-to-day moments (outside of the trip), their benefit as a tool for spiritual maturity is being wasted. Thus, coming back to the discussion of repeatedly getting on and off the stone, the effort to keep going back, over and over again, with the hopes getting the next big mystical experience, as if it will tell you something new, when the previous one hasn’t even been integrated, is escapism at best. And at worst, an unconscious ego pattern to self-justify illusions of spiritual maturity and grandeur.
Of course there are many other ways to use psychedelics and the framework I have presented here is not necessarily an absolute in anyway. It is simply a perspective on a specific type of use for these substance – Let’s explore the variety that this statement implies:
Somewhat contradictory to this article, psychedelics can offer fantastic recreational experiences and there is nothing wrong with using them in this way. Freedom of consciousness (so often toted as paramount by the new psychedelic spokespeople) should allow for one to define their own manner of exploring said consciousness, whether up the nose at a dance party or down the gullet at a ‘traditional ceremony’.
As support for the beneficial potentials of so-called recreational use (so that we can maybe stop high-nose judging people for using them in this way), this style of use possesses the potential of providing experiences of deep relaxation, explosive excitement, childlike enthusiasm, or a variety of different ecstatic-type experiences. All of which may offer constructive benefit to the user, if done responsibly. With that being said, recreational usage doesn’t necessarily offer progression in the human knowledge base or the betterment of humankind in general. (thanks to Ralph Metzner, in his interview on the Entheogenic Evolution for that point.)
Another potential benefit psychedelics may offer, to which I don’t necessarily subscribe to, is that they can provide people a sense of purpose or meaning in their lives by the catalyzing an experiential reality wherein they are given a mission, goal or mystery to succeed in. This sense of purpose, though engaged through a mythical symbolic set of experiences, offers the psyche a perceivable foundation of purpose, which may address existential despair in a person. (Similar to the role Carl Jung claimed Mythology played in the lives of the people of more mythos-oriented cultures.)
This catalyzed reality also offers a substrate for the development of a psychedelic ego, or avatar, that can mature in a similar way as to one’s waking life avatar/ego. We can see this in the cosmology’s surrounding the repeated usage of ayahuasca, ketamine and nn-DMT.
This type of use often requires a constant a return in order to obtain a resolution or to maintain the general sense of meaning it offers. I personally feel this may be detrimental as it can cultivate a false sense of grandeur over other people, a disconnect for the roles and responsibilities of normal waking reality, the identification with doing “work” with psychedelics as necessary, and, often, a religious idolism of the personified characteristics of the psychedelic experience. (A great article exploring this last point can be found here,) while at the same time, this very same process of identification with psychedelic mythos may have socially beneficial effects, such as within the context of ayahuasca cultures. The group identification with the mythical experience creates cultural belief systems that allow for the creation of guides, or shamans. These guides can then offer navigation of psychedelic experiences to the result of personal healing and catalyzed mystical experiences in the less invested user, which may be of great benefit.
Although I see this path as potentially a slippery slope towards the aforementioned detrimental consequences, I would be arrogant to deny the beneficial experiences that the cosmologies surrounding it may offer people, such as what is found on the research of ayahuasca’s therapeutic potentials.
Finally, one concept I have been exploring is psychedelic use as biohacking tools for cognitive enhancement through consciousness expansion. Through using these substances to increase informational input and lateral connectivity between conceptual categories in the mind, we may be able to neurologically increase the potential for intelligence, creativity, neuroplasticity, and a general capacity to render the vast dynamic of reality as a perceivable whole. I recently wrote a book on this topic, you can check it out here.
Does any of this really matter?
Honestly, I don’t think it really matters how psychedelics are used. I know that is a controversial statement, so let me explain.
They offer us all sorts of potentials and there is no empirical systems saying that one way is better than the other. There is evidence to show that certain contexts of usage can create certain results that vary in applicability to the person. So it makes sense that as a culture, we would progress towards accentuating what is commonly recognized as the ‘most beneficial’ results according to the prevailing cultural value system or zeitgeist. For example, there is a cultural movement to earn respect for psychedelics in the larger social eye once again, and thus it stands strong in representing their mature use to accentuate reason as a necessary social imperative.
But, if freedom of mind means freedom to explore consciousness as one chooses, then what does it matter if one chooses academic psychotheraputic use or lines of ketamine at a music festival?
Personally, as a culture, I believe moving the general perspective on drug usage towards people being generally informed on what, why and how they are using it and doing so with as much regard to causing no harm to others as possible would be great. As to whether one is causing harm on themselves, well, on a grander social philosophy, that is their right. On a personal, familial or tribal level, doing our best to help the ones we love when they are hurting themselves is a choice to be left up to those tribes or families; wherein socially established support structures for those who make that choice would be nice.
I stand confidently in my paradigms for the safe use of psychedelics within a mature context, towards personal betterment as a human being and a human species integrated into a planetary ecology; as the frameworks of their use as tools for developing spiritual maturity and self-awareness; and occasionally as tools to activate amazing dance experiences. Yet, to the extent in which I am able to mitigate my own autonomic judgmentalism, I also stand by the right for someone to make a conscious choice for themselves as to what they want to do with their mind, especially when it isn’t generating serious harm.
It is clear to me that from a broader vantage point on the potential benefit of psychedelics, the mitigation of harm is an important focus. As is the progression of research into understanding the potential implications of the psychedelic experience within the intent of using them to the advancement of humankind and the planet that nourishes us. However, my spectrums of value are just as egoic as that of the priest, the president and the shaman. And so are yours.