Maintaining the Spirit of
This is a breakdown of my considerations of the "Psychedelic Renaissance". This is a pivotal time for human consciousness as people expand their awareness through Spirit Medicine; how we relate to the medicines will shape the evolution of humanity.
The existence of psilocybin and other sacraments here on Earth is nothing short of divine. These entheogenic substances that are sprinkled throughout Nature just waiting to be discovered by the curiosity of humans is like Consciousness hedging bets on itself. To take the improbable one step further, these evolutionary substances likely weren’t stumbled upon, but rather called to be discovered through dreamtime or other forms of divination by the appropriate seers.
Indigenous Wisdom practices the reverence of Nature, knowing that the two-legged are not separate from, but rather a part of the Web of Life. The depth of intersubjectivity that can be found by opening to the energy of Nature is mostly lost in modern Western Society. This disconnection is widely demonstrated by capitalistic extraction of natural resources: there’s less than 3% of Old Growth Forest left in Canada, yet it’s still logged for profit.
The profound experience of merging with Nature that is often reported through the ingestion of psilocybin might be enough for us to remember how to honor the Natural World and create a more harmonious human experience. The question remains, are we honoring these entheogens in such a way that will support personal and collective evolution? The wide scale merit of the use of psilocybin will likely be dependent on “mode of ingestion”, which includes set, setting, dose, intention, facilitation and the less considered Worldview of the individual. The worldview consists of core beliefs, epistemology, ontology, futurology and other elements that shape our subjective reality and orientation in life.
The worldview is a critical component that influences the intention and application of all Spirit Medicines. A person’s worldview would influence whether mushrooms are classified as a supplement, medicine, psychedelic or a sacrament. That worldview then influences how psilocybin is used; the application can include, microdosing, recreational or self directed, clinical/therapeutic, and ceremonial. Ultimately it’s up to each individual who decides to work with psilocybin what type of relationship they want to develop with the mushrooms.
We are at an important inflection point in history, where global crises is escalating hand in hand with the “psychedelic renaissance”; we can practice surrender and trust as we watch in awe and wonder as it all unfolds... and we can also intentionally decide how to orient ourselves within evolution.
Through this series of articles I will describe my personal journey with psilocybin, discuss different applications, and attempt to approximate the true potential of Spirit Medicines. I do have my biases which I will try to be transparent about, and at the end of the day I do feel that the widespread use of psilocybin is net positive. The caveat I will include is that we will fall short of the potential of collective transformation if spirit medicines get whitewashed by our Western Medicine Model, are corrupted by commodification, or get reduced to just another addictive crutch.
Modes of Ingestion
I’ve run the full gamut on modes of ingestion, starting with classic recreational ingestion of psilocybin, typically washed down with a gulp of beer. These were unaware and naïve explorations. I was already socially awkward enough, with an unknown predisposition for introspection. On more than a few occasions in my adolescence I found myself lost in space in a social setting, and then shamefully excusing my behavior the next morning. These experiences I’d say were net negative, void of any framework for what I was experiencing. If only I had known of Terrance McKenna’s protocol of big doses in dark solitary spaces…
I would continue to court the mushroom throughout my life, slowly becoming aware of their revelatory potential. I finally found the courage to ingest mushrooms on my own, with only the company of a fire, at my favorite river spot in the Rocky Mountains. My worldview began to expand. I found true connection with Nature, sensing the life force from the surrounding trees and river, at times completely merging in flow with the ecofield. I now believe this to be closer to the truth than the normative experience of separation. Finding that depth of integration within Nature brought a new level of awe and wonder.
Eventually I was introduced to ingesting mushrooms in “ceremony”. A friend was an experienced group space holder and he curated the whole evening for us. We actually combined the psilocybin with MDMA, which is commonly known as a Hippy Flip; the general experience is that the MDMA helps to open the heart and lessens the intensity of the psilocybin. The ceremonial elements included an opening ritual and sharing our intentions out loud. The first half of the experience was directed inward, sitting or lying stationary with eye masks on, and specifically chosen music. Upon coming out to a more interactive space, I found myself in a group flow like nothing I had ever imagined. There was definitely a shared felt experience and something that resembled telepathy. I was able to open my heart like never before, uninhibitedly expressing love with other men. I was affectionate and sensual beyond gender for the first time, loving soul to soul. I would call my experience that evening which blended into a breathwork session the next morning, nothing short of an awakening.
I’ve also experimented with microdosing psilocybin, which I found to be beneficial. The general experience was one of increased openness, sensitivity and creativity. Openness is beneficial to experience subjective reality in a different way, perhaps creating more awe within our usual day to day experience. Openness can also create awareness of emotions or information that normally resides in the background. I found that when microdosing, sometimes challenging emotion came up in such a way that I’d be forced to sit with it. This is definitely a constructive practice, and could also interrupt the flow of my day.
Most recently I found my way to a true indigenous psilocybin ceremony, done in the Mexican, Mazatec Tradition; it was actually part of a retreat I curated which was inspired to help people deepen their connection to their Self, others and Nature. The ceremonialist was a second generation Medicine Carrier and had been sitting in ceremony since he was a child. He was given the rights to hold ceremony by the spirit of the medicine and somewhat reluctantly received the “bundle” and the responsibility that came with it. The ceremony contained a depth of ritual and prayer that I had never experienced with psilocybin. The Medicine Carrier had a deep connection and relationship with the mushroom and a broader “Map of Consciousness” than anyone I had sat with previously; with that he could guide us, balance our energies (healing), and provide non-local information that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. He also sang medicine songs, which I’m coming to recognize is a key component of any true ceremony.
I would say that the only mode of ingestion of psilocybin that I haven’t experienced is in a clinical, or therapeutic set and setting. As we know this is a newer application of the medicine that has demonstrated positive results and holds great promise as we search for solutions for the endemic mental health crisis. I think it’s incredible that people are finding relief in their wellbeing. I also have concerns about the sterilization and reduction of a sacrament to fit inside a Western Capitalistic model, and any involvement with Big Pharma.
The arc of my experience has brought me to a worldview that favors the more traditional ceremonial mode of ingestion. A worldview that acknowledges Earth Wisdom as found within Indigenous Culture, would teach us to honor the Spirit of the medicine. Earth Wisdom would also suggest that many of the crises we’re facing are due to not honoring the element of Spirit within the human experience; our being consists of Mind, Body, Heart and Soul. By no means am I well experienced or hold any authority in Indigenous Ways, though I do see the value and necessity of an ecocentric way of life. Through this series I will try to hold my biases loosely and honor other worldviews, and I ask that the reader do the same. Loosening our attachment to our model of reality is how we create a more compassionate, collaborative and sustainable way of life.
Application of Spirit Medicines
Spirit Medicine is a good umbrella term that broadens beyond plant medicines like psilocybin, and encompasses some of the non-organic substances like MDMA, LSD, and Ketamine that have proven to have medical benefits; the term also encourages the consideration of Spirit. Spirit can be seen as the animating force of any living being, including humans, animals, plants, and potentially even less obvious things like places and objects. The ontological inclusion of the Spirit can be seen in belief systems like Animism, which is often embraced by Indigenous worldviews. There is also the notion of Great Spirit, which is an icon more complex than a monotheistic being, perhaps more like an interconnecting field that is the driving evolutionary force of the Universe.
This spiritual and ontological consideration of Spirit might not be accessible to a Western conditioned mind that has been mostly influenced by materialism or physicalism; ie. someone who only considers material form as the fundamental aspect of reality. As science is catching up with mysticism, it’s becoming more accepted that we are all a part of an interconnected field of energy, with all parts having individual fields which influence one another. We might even consider that consciousness exists beyond matter, as purported by Cognitive Science Professor, Donald Hoffman. What’s more important than the nuances of these contemplations is that humans recognize that they are part of a greater whole, an element of nature, rather than separate from it. This understanding can lead us to be more responsible, perhaps thinking forward to future generations as we consider our ecological interactions and extractions. This awareness of Spirit and interconnectivity has a formative influence on any application of psilocybin.
The Mazatecs (as mentioned in part 1), view mushrooms as Sacred Beings or entities with whom reciprocal relationships should be established. The mushrooms are a part of the natural ecofield (energetic signature of the land), and open us up to the intrinsic sentience within all elements. During a mushroom ceremony, the medicine carrier can invoke ancestors and other supernatural beings to request their help. They can also view what’s out of balance in the individual and know what is needed to promote healing, often making energetic adjustments through song and various forms of cleansing. The restoration of energetic harmony within the individual might require lifestyle shifts, as intuited by the medicine carrier, and sometimes it requires actual offerings to different spirits of the land. The worldview of the Mazatecs demonstrates the depth of awareness that can be found in communing with mushrooms.
Our perception and understanding of anything is dependent on the conditioning we’re exposed to. The reverence that the Mazatecs hold for mushrooms can be juxtaposed with the popularity of microdosing. Microdosing has definitely proven to be effective in helping people with the alleviation of mental ailments and increasing wellbeing, even anecdotally resolving suicidal ideation. The potential risk that we collectively face is the reduction of sacrament, a gateway to the divine, to a supplement. At what point is microdosing psilocybin interchangeable with any other allopathic medicine, providing temporary relief for deeper ailments? Psilocybin should not be used as an antidepressant, but rather a natural medicine and ally that can help shift perception, expand awareness, and promote deeper connection. This shift can alter how the inner world interacts with the outer world, leading to greater harmony and wellness. Another possibility is that it enhances sensitivity to emotion, which isn’t always pleasant, but creates an entryway to an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
As we consider the reduction of plant medicines to suit western ontology, we can look at tobacco as a rich example. When we think of tobacco in Western Society we think of smokes, nicotine, addiction and cancer. Tobacco is actually a powerful plant medicine, considered in some cultures to be a master teacher, much like ayahuasca. Tobacco has a spirit that can be communed with, just like mushrooms. A Tabaquero, tobacco shaman, develops a relationship with the Spirit of the plant so that it can be used as a visionary aid, a purgative, and as a tool for cleansing and protection. The worldview of Western Society, one that’s founded on consumerism, capitalism and addiction has bastardized this powerful medicine. Similar arguments can be made about caffeine and certain types of alcohol; the mode of ingestion is void of awareness, intention and connection. Most recently we see another prominent example with the legalization of marijuana; very few people consider this as Spirit Medicine and honor it ceremonially. It would be a shame to continue this trend with mushrooms.
Psilocybin assisted therapy is showing amazing results in the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTST, and end of life care, specifically with cancer patients. These new breakthroughs are incredibly encouraging as people are able to move past the crippling effects of past and current trauma. Integration of the awareness gleaned through treatment is imperative; if the willingness and motivation isn’t found to create holistic life changes and a shift in worldview, then there is a chance of lingering symptoms or regression in the individual's state of being and wellness.
The experience of the patient in the therapeutic setting is going to be influenced by the worldview of the practitioner, which can be limiting if it is viewed as a medicine rather than a sacrament. There’s likely a large degree of variation, but generally speaking, there isn’t much incorporation of ceremony or talk of Spirit in these clinical settings. Each individual person consists of Mind, Body, Heart (emotions), and Soul (Spirit). All four components need to be nourished in order to obtain optimal health and a fulfilling life. When we think about the widespread illness of Western Society, we can see a consistent trend that is devoid of Spiritual consideration and connection. If the practitioner is just considering the “hardware” of the patient, and not exploring Spirituality, then we’re missing the mark.
There’s often a discussion as to whether the psychedelic experience is an “inward journey” or “outward journey”; it’s likely both or arguably one and the same. Many forms of Shamanism would suggest that there is an interaction with external energies. If the practitioner doesn’t have a framework that supports awareness of other energetic beings, or other spaces in consciousness, and everything is reduced to archetypal representations of the individual’s mind, then they might not be capable of fully supporting the individual. Simply put, a therapist has a map of the mind, a Shaman has a map of the Cosmos.
Enhancing the memetics of Spirit in the collective zeitgeist isn’t about enforcing a dogmatic worldview, but rather opening people to the true majesty of being human, through the full spectrum of our experience. There’s a vast amount of unseen information that we are immersed within and many layers to our own being; awareness and interaction with this expansive multi-dimensionality will dramatically enhance subjective reality, finding greater alignment to one’s True Self. The expansion and deepening of connection of the individual then influences the consensus “reality”. The consideration of Spirit doesn’t have to be overly grandiose or mystical, but rather can serve to encourage curiosity, wonder and awe of the marvels of Nature, a Great Mystery that we’re all a part of.
Sitting in Ceremony
Our points of reference for ceremony in Western Society are weddings and funerals, neither of which we do very well. Simple definitions in dictionaries describe ceremonies as being a “social gesture or act of courtesy”, or “a formal act without intrinsic purpose; an empty form.” These are limited perspectives that rob ceremony of its true potential. A World View that is informed by Earth Wisdom would recognize ceremonies as being essential anchor points of life. Some examples of ceremony include honoring important life transitions, like rights of passage (including death); honoring Natural Cycles like the change of seasons, moon cycles, solstices, etc; entering ceremony for healing, clarity and deepening connection to the Spiritual and Physical realms; processes for offering gratitude and thanks. Some indigenous perspectives suggest that the ceremony space is for making an offering, demonstrating reciprocity for the life we are blessed with, rather than entering for personal gain, and perhaps the reward is felt through the offering itself.
A ceremony is designed to bring presence and intention to a process, and consists of multiple rituals to enrich the experience. In one sense, anything can become a ceremony if done with intention, and the more energy that is put into the process, the more powerful it becomes. Some typical aspects of ceremony would include setting intentions or getting clear on the prayer; an offering or sacrifice like committing to a restricted diet or energetic fast; a defined opening ritual; honoring Natural Elements; calling in support of ancestors, guides or other beings and Spirits; an aspect of cleansing or letting go; offerings to the Spirits, land, elements, or deities; having an altar or sacred fire; medicine songs and dance; and a closing ritual.
In this modern day psychedelic movement many people are practicing the ceremonial application of psilocybin and other spirit medicines. This is a great way to bring intentionality to the experience and definitely a step in the right direction away from recreational modes of ingestion. In the process of ceremony, we need to consider the true functionality of rituals; is it simply an “empty form” or gesture? The impact of the ritual is going to be influenced by both the worldview of the facilitator and participant, and also the depth of connection, or energetic awareness that the facilitator has.
Rituals held within ceremonies that are part of an ancient tradition are going to be more potent than rituals within any new age ceremony. Consider the “meme” as the smallest unit of cultural information that is transferred through verbal teaching and demonstrated practice. The meme, which could be a particular ritual or any aspect of ceremony, might be seen as symbolic, but the more it is practiced, the more significance and energy it carries, and the greater effects it can create.
In intricate ceremonies as seen in the Native American traditions, every component of ceremony is significant. The direction people move, how things are placed, the positioning of entryways, altars or individuals in relation to the cardinal directions; nothing is without meaning. The details of the ceremony are part of an ancient formula that, when practiced correctly, can more predictably have the intended result. The energetic subtleties of any aspect of ceremony might be dismissed by the material reductionist, however there is infinite information that exists beyond our normal sensorial perception. Those with expanded energetic awareness, like a true Medicine Person, can recognize the impacts of each ceremonial element and curate the flow of energy accordingly.
A trained and initiated Medicine Carrier is going to have greater energetic awareness and influence than a person who took an online course on Shamanism. A Medicine Carrier is typically chosen by the Spirit of the Medicine, or his teachers, and there is sometimes a reluctance in receiving the “bundle”, as they recognize the level of sacrifice and the responsibility that it entails. The Medicine Carrier has put in the time to develop a relationship with the sacrament and specific beings, understands the energetics of the process, and holds a more complete “map of consciousness”.
Some of the facilitators entering the psychedelic arena are ego led and driven by financial incentive. There are situations where people are doing a weekend crash course on serving medicine, and then instantly turning around and offering some of the most potent sacraments that exist to others. There’s this revolving door model that’s emerging where the process seems to be, “Here, let me introduce you to God… and now carry on and return to your job and family.” This is dangerously close to Leary’s proposed strategy of putting LSD in the water, an exuberance that helped catalyze the War on Drugs.
There might be some semblance of ceremony built around these facilitator lead experiences, but does the conductor actually have the awareness of what’s transpiring? It’s kind of like hiring a mountain guide to help you summit a mountain and they don’t have a topo (map) of the mountain… or a rope to catch you if you fall. The human psyche is remarkably fragile and without the appropriate ontology before making contact with foreign aspects of consciousness, there’s a real risk, although typically small, of non-correctable damage.
As people are rushing to the space of psychedelics, it’s important that we consider the intention. If any person serving medicine is misguided by self-promotion or profit, which could be subconscious, and isn’t focused first and foremost on being of service, then we might be perpetuating problems rather than solutions. We have to orient ourselves to a first principle of “do no harm”. Not everyone is fit to experience psychedelics, and certainly not everyone is fit to serve them.
Conversely, as we look at the trends and trajectory of humanity, it might be an all hands on deck kind of situation: get as many people into Higher States of Spiritual Consciousness as possible so that we can collectively reorient ourselves. Having the bottleneck of a “Hierophant”, for people to have a mystical experience might not be serving the times. Arguably a New Age could call for a new approach, and all ceremonies start somewhere. Ideally inspired divination to serve in ceremony comes from some form of consciousness beyond the human ego.
As we all have autonomy to decide our approach in working with psilocybin and other Spirit Medicines, we’ll find our way through personal experience, knowing what serves our individual path best. What we’re trying to avoid is the quick fix mentality that just creates an anesthetic effect, allowing people to tolerate the dysfunction of life, rather than finding the discipline and commitment to do something about it. What we find in Indigenous traditions are ceremonies that are steeped in time and generally have a greater level of participation, which then results in a more potent and predictable experience. These traditions also demonstrate a life of devotion and service to something greater than the individual. Perhaps these words of a Haida Elder can help us determine how to interact with Spirit Medicines:
“Consider the depth of your prayer.”
Life After Ceremony
In the previous segments we’ve covered Modes of Ingestion, Worldview, Application and Considerations of Ceremony. Regardless of how people choose to interact with psilocybin and other entheogens, they should remain a life enhancing technology, rather than a life escaping technology. They’re not a magic bullet, they’re not a panacea, and the amelioration of individual and collective life on Earth is going to take some real boots on the ground work. It doesn’t matter what interdimensional beings we contact-dance with, what we’re looking for is insight, guidance, and transformation that can be grounded and applied to life in the material world;
as the wise Elder asks, Does it grow corn?
The original intention for the application of plant medicine in many cultures was strictly for healing. This was the case with psilocybin as used in the Mazatec tradition. It was thought preposterous to use the sacrament for ontological, theological and mystical exploration. The mushrooms were eventually discovered and exploited by Western Culture for their transcendental affects. In some traditions it was only the Shaman that ingested the medicine while everyone else would sit patiently for the wisdom to be relayed, or perhaps have energetic shifts by proxy. More recently it is said that medicine carriers have received instruction from the Spirits to promote the ingestion of the medicine, perhaps because humanity has reached an appropriate level of consciousness… or perhaps because desperate times call for desperate measures.
If people are engaging with psilocybin for wellness, it should be considered what additional lifestyle changes are needed to maintain wellness. There is often a residual high after any substantial dose of psilocybin; life is suddenly shiny and magical once again. This state of being tends to fade after a few weeks or months and the instinct might be to return for another round. The proper integration of an entheogenic experience would be to turn states into traits: what are the habits that can be ingrained into a way of life in order to predictably maintain a certain state of being? From the right vantage point, life is always shiny.
Significant contributors to a person’s state of being can include their job, their home environment, their nutrition, their daily routine and the people in their life. A deep entheogenic experience can provide insight into what needs to change but they still need the discipline to do it. This is where working with an Integration Coach can be helpful. Another possibility is that the plant medicine experience provides a certain level of healing for a particular trauma or wound, which generally comes from greater acceptance of the past, transmuting or externalizing any trapped energy and ultimately leading to greater inner peace. This doesn’t mean that the individual won’t be faced with similar triggering situations, rather that they now have the awareness of the trigger or pattern that has been inhibiting their evolution and wellness. Efficacy will require continued mindfulness and self regulating practices, or even counseling to maintain a balanced state.
Sustainable wellbeing requires an Ecology of Practice. This can be weekly, monthly or annual practices that are built into a person’s lifestyle. When considering the design of an ecology of practice we should honor the four components of being: Mind, Body, Heart and Soul. Mind practices include things like an area of study, skill development or contemplation. Body practices are any type of movement or exercise, trying to incorporate a balanced approach. Heart practices would be anything that honors the emotional experience, like journalling, mens/womens circles, vulnerable conversations, or counseling. Soul practices could be anything that deepens connection to Self, intuition, energetic awareness, or something that allows for radical authentic expression, like through the arts, including song and dance. Some practices tick multiple boxes, like martial arts, time in Nature and artistic expression.
An ecology of practice can be the anchor that supports wellbeing through all of life’s challenges, and it can also create sustainability for the connection that is experienced through Spirit Medicine. Connection is threefold: connection to Self, Others and Nature, and it could be argued that disconnection is the root of all problems. Connection to Self allows for identity beyond the ego, arriving at authentic expression, true knowledge of values and proper orientation to life. Connection to others comes from authentic and vulnerable expression, encouraging them to do the same, and creates a sense of belonging; a shared ecology of practice could create strong bonds. Connection to Nature is the entryway to the divine, telling of a greater intelligence which can inspire faith.
Connection to something greater than ourselves is what creates meaning in life. This could be a particular faith, life mission, family, community or any form of being of service. This sense of purpose can also support us through the hard times. As Nietzsche taught us, “He who has a Why can endure any How.” Our greatest offering might be in service to the Evolution of Consciousness itself…
Spirit is an inherent aspect of human life, and Spirituality can be simply described as radical responsibility for one’s experience, and the practice of actively deepening connection. Through connection we recognize the impact we have on everyone and everything around us; through responsibility we develop the mindfulness to tend to our garden, and bring harmonious energy into the world. In the process we realize that we’re both the Creation and the Creator. This transcendent awareness allows for non-attachment to the human condition, opening to the Infinite Game that we’re all a part of, and finding appreciation for all aspects of life. With the appropriate reverence and communion with Spirit Medicines, we support the mass awakening of humanity so that we can live with greater compassion, humility, grace, joy and love. When this happens, we’ll recognize Heaven on Earth.