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An Essential Understanding of Psychedelics & Plant Medicine

Abstract: When psychedelic use is removed from its [shamanic] mythology and lore, and viewed as a biochemical process where the capacity for self deception is decreased, effective and material self-realization and healing can happen.

Article: I [author] speak from the personal experience of being a practicing shaman for most of my adult life, and as one who has consumed, prepared and served Ayahuasca and San Pedro plant sacraments over a number of years. I have guided many people through the psychic minefields littered with a dazzling number of convenient self-deceptions, lies, myths, and lore. I will not explore the many concepts of spirits and mysticism tied into shamanic plant medicine practices. Instead, I present a point of view that is far simpler, far more clinically relevant, and far less supernatural.

In day to day life, we tell ourselves lies and make unsubstantiated judgments in every moment. A moment of intense bliss and freedom experienced with a prospective partner often becomes the catalyst for self doubt. Every seemingly self-protecting fear engages instantly to ‘save’ you from that moment where all of the stories and fears of the past will become irrelevant. In our jobs, in our dreams, in our ambitions, it is the same. Could you really handle a lover who saw your soul, and refuses to even notice your mask? Many pray for this, but at its first presentation, they find themselves running faster than they thought possible, straight back into their prison cells. (Please stop and think on this next question for a moment…)

If you had all the money you could ever spend, how would you fill your day?

You see? If you thought about that question, you just ran through a heap of thoughts and feelings, each judged and categorized by your fears and limitations as soon as they popped up! Do it again. It will happen each time, until your fears and self limits create a loop that don’t even let you move from the answer they delivered to you after chipping away at what you really want.

The first thing to realize is that I can say this with such certainty (that you experienced that train of events) from my keyboard as I write this, because it’s how we are wired to learn to survive. To physically survive long enough to gain experience, nasty things need to be avoided. When learning how to survive in the world, negative motivation has far more important lessons to teach than positive. We need to learn to avoid the predators before we can have the party.

Enter shamanic and therapeutically taken psychedelics. When a serve of Ayahuasca or Huachuma (San Pedro cactus, but including Peyote) is consumed, one is consuming a powerful psychedelic agent. But what is happening? There are no external agencies that will tell you what you need to do. There are no external spirits that will guide you to your destiny. What these powerful plant sacraments do is remove your ability to hold onto your past; reducing your ability to remain bound by the fears and stories that your past repeats to you constantly.

Many people are sure, during these ceremonies, that they are physically dying, and they fight to hang on. The death that they fear is the death of the projecting ego. The instant response, still driven by fear, is to assign any realizations and insights found in the process to a supernatural origin. An external agency. A false story to avoid a reality of presence that is already screaming at them from the inside.

In this setting with psychedelics, this is you, as you are, bare and exposed fully to your own sight. The death you fear is the death of your fear. The very thing you are avoiding is the now opened door of the cage you built and locked yourself into, so many years ago. Those are the thoughts and patterns that help your world make sense and keep you safe and secure in the sameness of every day. The protective barriers you built to keep the bad things away are seen for what they are; self imposed prison bars preventing you from living free. Psychedelics open the door to that cage. Like many creatures offered a real freedom they’ve never known, most people opt for the comfort of the familiar pain, electing to stay in their cage.

Psychedelics are not magic cures to modern ills. They never have been. They are avenues for a person to find a personal mirror of truth. A mirror that shows us our reality, and contrasts it against all of our fears and stories. With psychedelics, we see the reality of our stories, and how fearfully and automatically we respond to their merest suggestions. All that terrifies in a psychedelic experience are the raw and unfiltered reflections of our revealed self deceptions and patterns. During the experience, a person has a chance to see beyond their cage, if they dare to look. They are presented with a choice, whether to venture a toe outside and sample a wider experience of reality free, of the fearful constraints and stories of their past; or retreat to the familiar and known pain that they know they can live with, even if only barely.

Most reject the idea of it being an internal process and opportunity. They invent complex mythologies and stories requiring external agencies, healers, spirits, angels, and demons. They delve into lore and find excuse; retreating in fear from the possibility that they saw and felt freedom beckoning for a fleeting moment before they ran back to their familiar cage. Do the plant sacraments of shamanic use have spirits? It does not matter. In the deepest and most authentic traditions of every culture using plant sacraments, there is an intrinsic understanding that the spirit is the combined wisdom and experiences of those who have come before; but that all that is shown to the drinker (participant) is just a true reflection of one’s own being.

When a person understands the process for what it is. When they understand that the scary things about to eat them in their vision, to consume and dismember them during their psychedelia is a reflection of their own fear and personal mythology hiding them from the world, they awake. A good shaman/practitioner/psychotherapist is always going to direct the person inwards, because that is the only place meaningful change can happen. Gurus and lecturers offering sound bites, slogans, and quotes are all very inspirational; but lead nowhere. Real teachers always guide the seeker inwards, into themselves, in a state as free of the fears and stories of the past as the person is willing to hold at that time.

This is also why many who have approached plant sacrament work in this way often cease to use them after a while, or they partake of them very irregularly. They have seen and found the state that they have searched for. They have opened the door to their cage, and watched the bars dissolve until no cage remains. They have recognized the sources of their discomfort, their fears, their stories; they have identified and understood the nature of their painful and self constructed prison. They have stepped through the door into the unknown, and choose to live life as it presents to them, not ‘protected’ by the bars of their cage, but in recognition of the self-imposed prison they once lived in.

Many seekers choose to ascribe their experiences to the supernatural. In this, they find a convenient excuse to not take those lessons into their daily life; to avoid the often hard work to dismantle their prison’s walls and free themselves. They often seek more and more ceremonies, simultaneously praying for the presence of the moment, while giving themselves the excuse to have it last just for that moment. They then return to their comfortably familiar non-psychedelic cages, setting the alarm system, and laying once more with the familiar pain on the rocky beds of their own illusions and fears.

The required state to see into the mirror of self-understanding does not require psychedelics. It may be reached in a moment of tantric merging, a moment of clarity in exertion, a moment where a meditative practice achieves a state of total presence. In that state and in every case, the person experiencing it has reached a simple point of decision. They face the choice between fear or freedom; to continue living in the stories of the past, or to experience the present. It really is that simple, and in that simplicity, it is profound at every level of being.

Many I have guided personally have felt disappointed that they did not experience what they expected. When they recognize that those very expectations were limitations of their experience, representing the bars to their cage, they get another chance. Each journey into psychedelia offers opportunity for change and growth, but it is up to every person to understand, and follow through on those understandings to achieve a meaningful change to their base state.

Plant sacraments and psychedelic ceremonies, properly guided, with clear intent and understanding, can be incredibly therapeutic and liberating. In my personal experience, I see a vast majority caught up in their own ‘expanded and re-badged’ fears; sheltering behind myth and sound-bites. I see them strive for objectives, rather than realizing and holding a state of presence. A person taking psychedelics with the understanding that they are entering a state as close to self honest as their minds will allow at that point, is likely to find the experience ultimately positive and healing in their long term outcome.