Before you even think about it
Why am I doing this?
Before you consider working with visionary plants or other psychedelic medicines it is helpful to ask yourself why you want to do so. Your purpose for using a plant or substance is very important for the outcome and you will want to create an environment for your experience that matches your purpose.
I have identified four reasons for using substances, but there are certainly many more.
Many use plants or substances simply to have fun and explore. They take it at a party or for an adventure with friends. The altered states that psychedelics provide are often very pleasant and uplifting, and at the same time often feel very meaningful. Some plants and substances fit well in a social context, while others do not.
Visionary plants and psychedelics are powerful tools for healing emotionally and mentally, but sometimes also physically. They often bring clarity to the situation and give tools, which is a starting point for working with one’s self-healing. It is also common for them to lower mental barriers or defences you might have towards dealing with a situation. This makes them powerful tools for deep therapeutic work where breakthrough experiences are common, but working in that way takes courage, safety and it is advisable to have an experienced person by your side.
Visionary plants have been used in spiritual practice for many thousands of years and all over the globe. The plants themselves have spirits that communicate with us and are often respectfully referred to as teachers. Working from a spiritual understanding opens up possibilities to such things as being in contact with the spirit world, receiving messages from the other side or other entities, extracting intruding entities, working with past life issues, and so on. Here it is equally important to have courage, work in a safe environment and to have an experienced person by your side. For someone who works with visionary plants and psychedelics at this level there is often no strict division between medicinal use and spiritual use, since the spiritual work has healing effects.
Abuse is important to be aware about, but it is uncommon that people abuse visionary plants or certain psychedelics. They are well renowned for being anti-addictive and often break abusive cycles, which make them excellent for treating and even curing addiction.
Am I ready?
Why are you considering visionary plants or psychedelic medicines? Many who consciously seek such paths feel stuck in one way or another. They come looking for healing and insight and a way to get unstuck. In some cases people are so intrigued by the medicine that they forget to ask themselves if they actually need it. They can often do more good for themselves by simple means of working out, eating healthier, taking up a meditation practice, doing yoga, making other life style choices and such.
Visionary plants and psychedelics are very powerful tools for working with personal and spiritual development and should be treated with respect. They should not be confused with drugs. To work with visionary plants or psychedelics you need to be mentally prepared to meet whatever comes up. If you know that you are not prepared to see and work through that which you have stored away sub-consciously, you should definitely not use these tools.
If you on the other hand are committed to healing and growing and want to gain access to knowledge so that you can help yourself, then visionary plants and psychedelics might be the closest thing to a miracle that you can find.
There might be medical reasons for you not to use certain plants or substances. Check reliable sources for what might be relevant to you. Your shaman, guide or therapist should be able to help you out. In countries where such medicines are legal it might also be good also to ask your medical doctor.
It is not uncommon to be asked to hold a diet or do other lifestyle changes before or after working with visionary plants and psychedelics. If you do a one day fast before it is mainly to prepare your body and make the effect more powerful, but if you are asked to do a longer diet the diet is often also part of your healing.
It should be noted that the most popular visionary plants and psychedelic medicines are physically very safe to work with. Practically nobody dies from them. The potential risks are rather at the mental level, where people who are not willing to change can have very challenging and even terrifying experiences. The problem in that case is not the medicine, but the person’s unwillingness to work with what comes up. Such risks are greatly reduced when working under guidance with a therapeutic or spiritual intention.
There is a general caution when it comes to people who suffer from severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. The fear is that the plants or substances might trigger the person to become even more sick. There are however other ways of understanding those illnesses. If the illness for example actually is a parasitic energy attached to the person, then visionary plants can be ideal to work with under the guidance of a shaman or such.
The clearer your intention, the easier it will often be for you to find answers, simply because it will focus you in that direction. Some intentions are very precise, such as finding the answer to a specific question. Other intentions can be very broad, but still not vague. Saying “Give me what I need and the strength to handle it” for example.
The mere fact that you are setting a conscious intention sends out the signal that you are open for receiving and working with yourself, which will make it easier to receive and work with yourself. Not setting an intention sends out an unconscious garbled signal possibly inviting things that you are not ready to work with.
I do however have the feeling that the plants consciously don’t give me what I want, but what I need. If my intention is in line with what is best for me, then the answers will be very clear. If my intentions are off, then they won’t be answered. If that happens it is important to be open to listen for what is really best for me.
Promise to yourself
One part to the intention and mental preparation that I find most helpful is to consciously and solemnly promise yourself to deal with whatever comes up. However challenging, hard or nasty it is, you will be courageous, face it and work through it. Having promised yourself to do so, you will be less likely to try to avoid unpleasant challenges, and meeting them head on you will surely solve them.
Set & setting
The concept of set and setting is a great tool for understanding some of the basic steps that lead you to have a certain experience.
Set, as in mindset
Where are you mentally and emotionally right now? What is going on inside you? What is going on in your life? Your experience will in one way or another reflect what is going on with you and what you need in life right now. To be safe you should be in a mindset where you are prepared and capable to handle the challenges you face.
Someone who is unstable and unwilling to face themselves and make changes in their life should not take visionary plants or psychedelics. If one for example uncovers disturbing hidden memories and then tries to suppress them again, there is a risk of re-traumatizing oneself. The same mechanism that can make it a miracle plant or substance for some, can make it a hellish nightmare for others. When we use visionary plants and psychedelics we often delve into the subconscious and find new things to bring to the conscious level. From the conscious level we can then begin working with it in order to heal and grow. One needs to be ready to take that ride.
Is simply the surroundings. Who are you with? Where are you? Do you feel safe? My best experiences have been by myself, with one other person or with a small group of friends that I like and feel safe with. It has always been understood that we take care of each other if anything happens. And above all, they have taken place in nature.
In your mind, place yourself in different places and with different people and feel the vibe of them and how well that reflects what you want to accomplish. A garden. A national park. In a cabin by a lake. In an art studio. At a rave party. In a pub. In a hospital. In a car. On a boat. In a ceremony. With a shaman. With friends. With bullies. With drunks. With your parents. In a messy dorm room. On a tropical beach. In a hut in the rainforest.
There are so many variations and some of them are obviously bad. Make yours good. Reports of bad trips almost always begin with the person not knowing about or ignoring to create the right set and setting.
Navigating the psychedelic experience
Go with the flow
The very best way to meet that which is challenging or even frightening is by accepting and diving right into it. Meet your fears head on by accepting and working through that which scares you. When you do so you will eventually resolve whatever is bothering you and come out on the other side, wiser and free of it. As long as you try to avoid whatever it is you will still in some way be trapped by it. Distracting yourself won’t solve your problem, but only add stress to it.
Unfortunately many are so used to avoiding discomfort that it seems counter-intuitive to face what is troubling you. Instead of meeting the discomfort it is common now-a-days to put a lid on things, distract ourselves or even sedate ourselves. That attitude can be very harmful when we work with plants or psychedelics, since they work in the opposite direction by raising our awareness and pointing us to the real issue.
While there are those who warn people to get in contact with their subconscious, that is the whole point of the exercise with visionary plants and psychedelics. So when you are faced by something, however awful it might seem, your best response is to accept it and go with the flow. Work through it and come out on the other side.
Acceptance is an important step
The first step in working with change is to bring awareness to the situation. We need to become aware that change is needed, but to be able to change we also need to accept how things are right now. It doesn’t mean that we need to approve of how things are, be ok with them, or anything like it. It just means that you need to accept the current situation as it really is in order to change it. Otherwise your actions will at best be misdirected, and at worst harmful for your growth.
Being aware and having accepted what is leads you on to be able to work with your change. The actual change might be quick like turning on a switch, or it might take much hard work. When you have worked through it all it is important also to acknowledge it by being grateful. Those who forget to be grateful often forget what they have to be grateful for.
Although the emphasis here was on acceptance, these four steps together form a very simple, yet powerful method of personal development.
One major aspect of plant teachers and psychedelics is to help us in that process. They help us bring awareness and often also show us how we need to change, but for the healing and growing to take place we need to accept how things are and put in the necessary work to change ourselves.
Changing the variables of setting
When you feel bad during a journey it can be because you actually have something that you need to deal with. In that case, accept it and dive right in. There are however times when people feel bad without being able to locate why. When the discomfort isn’t caused by something internal, it is caused by something external. When it is external simple changes in your environment can very quickly make you feel better. You can for example try this:
- change your body position
- look at your bodily needs. Do you need to go to the bathroom, drink something or are you hot/cold?
- change the music, turn it off/on
- change the lighting
- change what you’re doing
- change rooms or go outside/inside
- change company
Any one of these variables and many more like them can affect your wellbeing without you even noticing it. By deliberately changing them you can figure out where the problem lies. The setting you have chosen has its own map of possibilities that can be changed to change the way you feel, for good and bad.
Change is the only constant
Nothing lasts forever. The effects of the plant or substance that you have taken will eventually fade away. Whatever you are experiencing right now will soon be no more than a memory. This can be comforting to remember when things are especially challenging. If someone is having a hard time and needs comforting, remind them that this too will pass.
You should plan your journey so that this information is never needed, but if you really need to land from the experience you should eat. We raise our vibration when we work with visionary plants and psychedelics, so by eating we lower ourselves again. Food is earth and helps you find roots, but it can be quite a challenge to eat in that state since even a watermelon might taste like soil. Eating to land is a safe and natural way of landing, but it takes time and you will still feel some effects. It is also possible to cut the energy of some plants with lemon or chilli. I would definitely not recommend alcohol or other drugs or medicines to come down.
Calling the police/ambulance
A few people get the knee-jerk reaction to call the police if things get scary. In most cases it is a really bad idea to ask help from the police, since they really have no idea what they are dealing with. Their training does not include how to take care of tripping people and that insensitivity can be quite disrupting or even traumatizing. But of course, if there is a real emergency where the police or ambulance is needed – call them.
A spiritual perspective
The traditions that have worked with these visionary plants for many millennia are spiritual. They take into account such things as other realities, spirits, intrusive energies and past lives. The plants themselves are entities that can be communicated with and they are often honourably referred to as teachers. The plant teachers are naturally occurring and among others include San Pedro, Peyote, psilocybin mushrooms and Ayahuasca. These all have powerful entities connected to them who often heal and teach us things.
Chemical substances such as LSD do not have entities attached to them. LSD can give many of the same effects by unleashing the persons own potential, but without the support of a plant entity, what comes out of it is left up to the person who has taken the substance.
These traditions also work with the understanding that people have an energetic body where blockages can lead to physical illness later on.
Respecting the substance and yourself
If one understands that the plants are actually powerful entities who help us work with ourselves, it goes without saying that one should meet them in a respectful manner. In traditional settings that is reflected in the ceremony, but respectful should not be confused with tradition or ceremony. Being respectful means being of good intention, willing to better yourself and treating the plant as the teacher and helper that it is. Respectful is making the effort to integrate the insights you have gained. Respect can be seen in how we prepare ourselves for meeting the plant, in what setting we choose, what clothes we wear and how we treat and help those we journey with.
There are certainly many ways of being disrespectful, but some of the more common are using the plant as a drug, using it with bad intentions and mixing it with other plants or substances. If you want to mix the plant with something else, then first ask its permission.
Navigating alternative realities
Visionary plants and psychedelics open doors to realities that are often hidden to us. To put it plainly – there are such things as spirits, angels and demons. Many sicknesses, especially mental ones, are actually caused by parasitic energies.
Some people have a natural instinct on to how to handle other realities, while others can feel very lost and vulnerable. If you have no knowledge of how to navigate such realities it is good to have a guide who does.
As so often it is really only fear itself that you have to worry about. If you feel that you need protection, then you should absolutely call it in. If you feel that you don’t need protection, then most likely you are fine without it.
Integrate the experience, live the insight
Plants and substances are tools that will show you what you are doing wrong and what you need to do in order to get un-stuck, heal and so on. They will usually not heal you, but will rather leave that work for you to do. What you do following the ceremony is therefore of utmost importance. To heal you need to properly integrate and live the insights that you have found. As long as you do so you are still on your way.
If you on the other hand go back home and don’t bother taking care of the insights you have gained, then you will quickly find yourself in the same misery again. It might even be worse, because you have become conscious about what you should do. In that case you stagnate and stand still. A person who comes back for the same answers over and over is probably not genuinely interested in evolving, but is rather seeking thrills. If you come back for the same answers you will soon find that the plants get fed up with you, in the same way that any therapist would if you kept coming back with the exact same issue. If they do get angry with you, your journeys will rapidly become increasingly uncomfortable.
Some people are very able to work with themselves after the experience, while others need the support of others. When doing such journeying with friends one has a support group in each other, but if one takes help of a shaman or therapist for the experience it isn’t always obvious where you can get the support you need afterwards.
To make positive changes in your life you need to focus on integration. If it is all about the experience and not about the integration, you will find yourself going nowhere.
How all of this applies to life in general
If you take a step back and exclude all plants and substances from this text you will notice that most of what I have written is applicable to life in general. Let me take a few examples.
Depressed people often unconsciously program themselves to be miserable. Everything around them is carefully rigged to keep their mood down. They are in a setting which is poison to them. If they applied the same technique of changing variables in their surroundings they could often solve their situation without medication. But instead of changing the music, changing clothes, relationships or jobs, many people medicate themselves. By doing so they are in many cases actually sedating themselves in order to continue functioning in an environment that is harmful to them.
Go with the flow
Our society is obsessed with avoiding the uncomfortable, at the cost of never actually solving it. Instead of facing the discomfort we sedate or distract ourselves from problems. If people in general were given the tools and courage to face their pain, sorrow, shame, anxiety and whatever else is bothering them, we would see far more healing at the mental and emotional level than doctors, therapist, shamans and medications can ever hope to give us.
Integration is the key
People are full of bright ideas and answers, but they are all quite pointless if you do not let them live. Insights that aren’t translated into action are only insights in theory. For them to have importance in your life you must do something with them.
A last note
Much of this text deals with the issue of challenging experiences with visionary plants and psychedelics, but I need to add that most of my experiences with psychedelic medicine have been joyful, marvellous, beautiful and eye-opening. There is so much love and wonder and I function so much better because of my experiences. So even if I believe in being prepared for challenges, leave the door wide open for your journey to be something totally other than challenging, because most of the time it will be.
Main picture: part of the painting Person Planet by Alex Greyby