In my humble opinion, the ‘magic’ mushroom – for that’s what it is – used in the right way, is one of the more remarkable tools for psychological wellbeing available to the human race. And yes I am well aware that to many people this statement will seem ridiculous, preposterous or even irresponsible. Indeed to some this is a radical proposition, but I would suggest it only appears like this because of the way the cultural paradigm of our time has led us to be ignorant of the value of non-ordinary states of awareness.
Allow me to explain. Ingesting psilocybin – the psychoactive compound found around the world in magic mushrooms – in the right settling, with the right people, with the right intention, offers a uniquely psychotherapeutic experience. It offers the chance to gain insight and understanding, to let go of the experience of suffering, to connect profoundly with nature, to psychologically cleanse and refresh ourselves, and to marvel at the wonderous universe we inhabit. This is not hyperbole by the way.
Of course some people in different parts of the world have known this for hundreds or even thousands of years, but it’s only now that through scientific research – currenty the only means by which anything useful can hope to be taken seriously by culture at large, institutions and policy makers – the therapeutic efficacy of the magic mushroom is starting to be demonstrated in a way that could eventually lead to a new era in treating depression and increasing wellbeing.
Thanks to a new wave of psychedelic research in recent years, the therapeutic potential of psilocybin is starting to be recognised. London based Prof. David Nutt and Robin Carhart-Harris have conducted studies that lead them to believe that psilocybin could be useful for the treatment of depression; studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have recorded an improvement in the mental wellbeing of research participants who ingested psilocybin; at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, Los Angeles, terminally ill patients who used psilocybin as part of their psychological treatment programme reported a decrease in their fear of death and were better able to come to terms with their situation.
Psilocybin is not the only psychedelic substance that offers such therapeutic benefits, but in comparison with it’s more forthright cousin, D.M.T. (being increasingly used around the world, particularly in the form of the amazonian brew ayahuasca), it offers a much more gentle and accessible experience. Psilocybin affords many of the increasingly well documented effects of the psychedelics, with less of the anxiety and physical symptoms, and a generally less challenging experience overall. For this reason it perhaps offers the most potential for use as a tool to improve wellbeing on a larger scale.
As well as this, use of psilocybin can invoke profound mystical states of awareness and can be used as a tool for deepening spiritual practice. In combination with a regular meditation practice the use of psilocybin can assist in prolonging elevated states of mind and may reinforce mindful ways of thinking. Users of psilocybin report discovering deeper layers of themselves, and often discover that life is more meaningful than before. Great value is experienced in connecting with a state that seems more ‘real’ than that of ordinary awareness. Wisdom teachings regarding how best to live one’s life may be received, or understood more profoundly.
It sounds almost too good to be true, but recent research is starting to provide the evidence to support such claims. Even mainstream news platforms reported a recent study by Johns Hopkins University that suggested that ingesting psilocybin just once resulted in profound positive changes in personality which could still be felt a year later. Of course in cultures such as ours that do not value elevated and profound states of grace and awareness, this mode of experiencing the world and enhancing our relationship with life may not catch on anytime soon. But a new appreciation of the therapeutic value of psilocybin could plant the seed for a change in the public and political perception of the value of non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Of course the issues of personal wellbeing and mental health are complex and interconnected with wider issues that need addressing within our societies. But I know from personal experience how valuable the use of psychedelics can be, both to those who suffer as well as those who wish to thrive. The types of insights and psychological change that psilocybin and other psychedelics bestow upon the user are such that there could hardly be a more appropriate or powerful tool for initiating the changes we’d all like to see, both in ourselves and consequently in our world. It’s sad that people who choose to utilise such effective and therapeutic tools for the betterment of themselves must commit a criminal act to do so, but with time I’m hopeful that further demonstration of the benefits of such activity will see a change in our attitudes towards it.
Now I’m certainly no luddite but I’ve got a nagging bad feeling about the technological rampage that defines our modern world. Mindfulness aspirants beware, for testing times lie in wait. Since I bought an iPad I swear I’ve noticed a subtle but definite change in my subjective experience of ‘right now’. It’s no longer enough to just sit down and do nothing, or to even read a book. A tiny part of my attention is not ‘right here’, but instead craving the gratification of interacting with a shiny interactive opium-like touchscreen device.
If I’m honest I often feel like a slave to the slinky and seductive shiny black mistress. I just want to look at it and touch it and caress it, holding it in my hands and never letting go, whispering sweet nothings to Siri and sometimes even taking her to bed. I really hate to admit it but I’ve a feeling I’m not the only one and this makes it a little easier. Everyone has some kind of tablet or smartphone these days and I sometimes ponder by how much attention spans all over the world are being truncated on a daily basis through the use of these evil devices.
I’ve noticed that moderate to heavy use of social networking apps on things like the iPad stimulates the mind in a very particular way that has ramifications for those of us who meditate and value being fully here right now. There are two main activities that I feel are responsible for changing the way our minds work.
One of these is the way that receiving new email or Facebook notifications triggers a highly addictive reward response in the brain. That little red dot in the top left of your Facebook app – don’t deny it, I know it’s always the first thing you look for! – is doing more damage than you think. As well as being a simple behavioural response the gratification gained is partly because of what the red notifications symbolise – that someone wants to communicate with you; you are wanted; you are important; people like your stupid new shoes or how you look in your new profile picture or whatever it is. The red notifications alleviate the anxiety that comes with publicly displaying a photo or expressing yourself to several hundred people at once in writing. We may not tell each other but I bet we all feel this act makes us feel quite vulnerable, and this new technology might just have raised the bar for what it takes to feel validated.
The second activity is through the way we are now able to scan different types of information so quickly – for example on our Facebook news feeds and the infinite amount of websites at our finger tips. We have apps for this and apps for that and push notifications interrupt us constantly. We’ve never had so much sensory input available to us before and I honestly don’t think the affect of this on our brains can be understated. I’m not the only one to voice this worry and in fact many studies have raised the particular concern that the internet and social media is absolutely terrible for our attention spans.
Now where was I? Oh yes, but how does all this relate to meditation? Well when we meditate, depending on how we do it, we hope to achieve a highly relaxed and open or focused state of mind. The trouble is that since we all bought that new smartphone we can never put down, our brains are now often in a state of overstimulation. The default state of our minds is now more alert and searching for stimuli. As a result of bingeing on social media and the web there is a subtle but compelling desire to place our attention somewhere else. As if things weren’t hard enough already the aspiring meditator now has to deal with the background whirrings of a mind conditioned to constantly check how many ‘likes’ they’ve had, and which can’t focus on the same thing for more than a few seconds.
I’m not saying that these things consciously occupy us all the time, though to an extent I think they’re starting to. Perhaps worryingly though I do think that a mechanism we’re barely conscious of has been triggered through our engagement in this type of media. It keeps us from being able to sink into the present moment fully; it holds being at ease just slightly further away. For God’s sake I’ve seen people checking Facebook when they’re in conversation with someone else (shit or maybe that was me…). One thing to focus on is no longer enough!
Thanks to our iPads our attention risks becoming more scattered and our ability to reach deep meditative states could well be compromised. In a subtle way we are giving up power over how we think and behave, and in the future, as technology advances and doubtless becomes more immersive I think this will pose even more of a challenge.
Of course we can choose how to respond to the presence of new technology in our lives. I don’t think most people will make ths choice though and in any case most people won’t be aware of it or care about it either. Whatever. But some will, and for those of us who aspire to live mindfully I think it is important to be aware of the changes that could occur in our lived experience of the present through technological advances that demand our attention in the ways I’ve described.
I don’t think I’m stuck in the past. I freaking love browsing stupid pointless shit all day long and chatting to friends on the other side of the planet, and I’m enthusiastic about what the internet has done for us and the way it has opened up our world. Of course not everybody’s mind will work in the same way, but I am concerned about the impact of my iPad on my already addictive predisposition. From now on I’m going to try to limit time spent on devices like this. I will try and use my iPad only for specific tasks and not indulge the compulsive urge to binge on information. In fact the next blog post will be written on paper. Er, no hang on, that won’t work…
Sent from my iPad.
I love to travel. I really love to travel. I seem to do it a lot, for months on end. I might be addicted. I love seeking warm air, sand, sun, sea, jungle, mountains and desert. I love the feeling of freedom. I love exploration. I love the exhilaration of discovery and the feeling that I am truly alive. I love the fleeting friendships and romances that teach lessons of magic and impermanence. I love arriving. I love departing. I love being on the move and I love staying put. Nowhere is home. The whole world is my home. Home is inside.
No one has ever said to me that they think travelling is escapism. Yet I find myself asking the question often. I think the one really doing the asking is what Freud called the superego. I think it is the conditioning provided by the culture I’ve grown up in. The culture that worships accumulation of ‘stuff’, living according to convention, acquiring a good pension, and measures success by how far up the career ladder you can climb. I’ll admit I do like ‘stuff’ but I can do without a lot of it, and I’ve never cared much for a career. Maybe that’s because I’ve never found one that fits me but also because I’ve always treasured the value of subjective experience over external signs of wealth.
When most of your friends at ‘home’ are slugging away at their jobs it’s hard not to think that you’ve ‘gone wrong’ somewhere. Subtle guilt. I am irresponsible and will reap the consequences later. Not that it’s on my mind a lot but it seeps in from time to time, particularly in between trips. An older ex-colleague of mine from my pre-travel life used to say that those who travel screw up their lives. Maybe it’s just too risky… Mind you as soon as you leave your home country you realise the apparent folly of this way of thinking. The question turns on it’s head, becoming not ‘is it too risky to travel?’ but ‘is it too risky not to travel?!’.
Admittedly, many of the people you meet when you travel are indeed escaping in some way; many are there because something has gone wrong. People often go away to get over relationships that have ended, or because they’re dissatisfied with life back home in some way. People travel because they’re looking for answers, a better way to live, to get away from the shitty weather back home, or because they have a nagging feeling that the story we’ve been sold since school days about how to live our lives just doesn’t add up. Hell, I’ve travelled for all of these reasons and more. And there’s another reason why people travel – it’s just so much fucking fun! But does all this make it escapism and is it irresponsible?
It’s difficult to argue that travel is not escapism when clearly we travel to get away from certain things, but I don’t believe this necessarily makes it irresponsible or ‘bad’. Very often the trip itself is just the remedy. Humanity has a long history of retreat, of withdrawal from ‘normal’ life in order to spend time away, gain something precious and then return. In fact this – what Joseph Campbell calls ‘the hero’s journey’ – is the primary mythological story of the human race. I’m not saying that everyone who travels is on a glorious path of redemption and salvation, but for many their time away can facilitate important shifts inside (no I’m not referring to Bali belly), a widening of perspective and a furthering of psychological evolution. At the very least it will break the monotony of home living and blowout the cobwebs. It could even lead to a new more satisfying life miles away from where they grew up. Sound grandiose? Seriously, this happens. In more simple terms:
When people travel they tend to be happy.
Yes, happy. Travellers really are a happy bunch once they are on the road. So who’s to say that jacking everything in and going away is not actually just an intelligent thing to do? Sure, you might not be able to rise through the ranks of KPMG or PricewaterhouseCoopers like they tried to sell you at university, but you never truly wanted that anyway did you? Or maybe you did and that is fine too.
Of course travel, like drinking ayahuasca in the amazon jungle or jumping out of a plane, is not for everyone. Naturally, those with families or other commitments will feel a greater pull to remain at home. Many gain value and satisfaction from the lives they lead at home and feel no compulsion to throw caution to the wind and up sticks. I have a lot of respect for such folk and a part of me regrets I’ve never found a similar path that works for me.
Regular travellers choose to forgo stability and the pimped-out pension in favour of things they see as having more value – subjective experience and freedom. Yes, instead of a certain future travel has bestowed upon my life timeless moments of magic. It’s provided countless meetings with people and teachings I’ll never forget. It’s expanded my conception of what life is and means. It’s increased my wonder of and reverence for the natural world and enabled me to see life through a kaleidascope of different perspectives.
In a world that implicitly tells us to wait until we’re set in our ways and averse to novelty before we take time out to do something fulfilling, I’m following my gut and doing that something now.
All the wisdom you need lies within. When we create the right conditions we connect with a higher knowledge that furnishes us with all the teachings we need to be whole.
For me, tools for creating the right conditions have included meditation, ayahuasca, talking honestly and authentically with people I trust, magic mushrooms, travel, being in nature and more. There are many ways in which we can make contact with Truth – find ones which work for you. It may not always feel like it, but you already know everything you need to know.
There may be many great teachers who can help us immeasurably on the path, but all the wisdom you need lies within.
How I yearn to be just one person. I’m tired of censoring myself. I’m fed up with thinking about how to present myself to one person or another. I’ve had enough of being a different person to everyone I meet. I wish to speak freely, to be myself, to not have to hide aspects of myself and things I’m interested in just because they do not conform to what I perceive to be the conventional reality consensus or what I think someone is comfortable hearing.
Oh how I wish to be one person. I feel like I live in seperate worlds at once. I’m not impressed by my tendency to try and guess what values someone I’m talking to holds and to mould my conversation and presentation of myself to fit. It is not the action of a self assured person. It is not the way of the superior man.
Yet I find myself doing this all the time. I guess we all do it to certain degrees. And of course different circumstances do call for adjustments in behaviour, language and presentation; we’re obviously not going to act in the same way around everyone because society has established roles and expectations and to a certain extent it makes sense to adhere to these – be respectful to a policeman if you don’t want to get arrested, or quiet in a library if you don’t want to piss everyone off, for example.
But I’m not talking so much about these kinds of expectations, although they are related. What I’ve started to become more conscious of is how I often find myself not disclosing things I’m really interested in because of a fear that people will find me unacceptable. It’s a fear of judgement and I believe it comes from a fear of not being good enough, and a desire to win approval from others.
Leaving aside the psychodynamic origins of my fear, a bulk of the discomfort is a result of the fragmented universe I inhabit, and in this I know I’m not alone. I have one foot in an extremely conventional world. The world of nine to five, of office uniforms, of colleagues with Louis Vuitton bags and music ‘talent’ shows on TV, the world of pop culture, of gadgets and fashion. This is where I earn a majority of my income and a few aspects of this I embrace, like my weakness for skinny jeans and a good haircut.
My other foot rests firmly in an alien landscape of psychedelic ceremonies, regular meditation practice, chlorella in my green smoothies, abstention from alcohol, a constant search for existential meaning, no television at home and a conviction that the universe is alive and wants us to realise our own true nature as some kind of divine cosmic creative expression.
You might notice the discord between these seemingly irreconcilable realities.
Now in the workplace I do think it is perfectly acceptable to present a façade to a certain extent. People often like to keep their work lives and personal lives separate, and many just like to turn up, do their stuff and go again. I can understand this attitude. I think it’s boring and a waste of an opportunity to share experience with other human beings but I understand. Similarly, I think that hurling my guts up on ayahuasca in the amazon jungle is a topic I can safely leave out of discussion at the weekly team meeting without castigating myself for being inauthentic. The professional world, for good or for bad, has certain expectations and not adhering to them could make you extremely unemployable. I’m not saying I agree with this culture, just that if I want to get and stay hired I should probably not disclose the aforementioned psychedelic ceremonies. Ultimately of course our workplace should reflect our values but that’s another story and not everyone is able to achieve this.
Where I have noticed myself not being so authentic is for example when I am out with certain friends, talking with colleagues or meeting new people and I don’t discuss my daily meditation practice, my interest in self development or my disdain for the values of the predominating worldview of our time, when I have the opportunity to do so. I believe I have interesting and important views on such matters yet I turn away from articulating them to many people because of fear of how someone will respond and what they might think of me. It’s a fear of not being accepted and I’m guessing if I think like this there must be a fair few others who do the same. At work I present a ‘safe’ version of myself that I know falls within expected norms. I think I’m worried people will think I’m strange or deluded. I’m sure many people have similar fears about being authentic or acting as themselves, which stem from a range of reasons.
It strikes me though that the man I want to be, the strong steadfast man I’m striving to make reality, would not censor himself out of fear. His imperative would be to express himself truly, boldly even, having confidence in his values, in what he believes to be true, and in what he knows to be the right way to live.
The man I aspire to be is fearless in his independence from what others think of him. Not in an aloof, arrogant way, but because he knows himself, he has established what he values and the reasons for that, and has developed the strength of character to not fear rejection. It is the hallmark of someone who has grown out of insecure ways of thinking and of someone ready to make a mark on the world.
In addition, being courageous enough to be honest and authentic give others permission to do the same. It creates a space in which it is safe to speak from the heart and without fear of judgement. Imagine how much richer our conversations would be if we all spoke our truths! Imagine what we could learn from one another. Also imagine how it would be to not have to constantly worry about whether the person you are talking to will judge you based on your words.
Now I’m not advocating spilling your life story to the person sat next to you on the bus, but imagine how much deeper our friendships would be if we refused to sell ourselves short with superficial conversation and instead revealed the things we care about, are concerned about, hope for and dream of. Maybe as a result we would stop feeling so isolated from each other, we’d realise more of the humanity in others, and we’d realise we’re not so weird after all. Maybe we would come to realise that neglect of the inner landscape of the human condition in favour of superficiality and sales by our society’s mainstream culture is a grave misrepresentation of what it means to be alive.
I know I can’t be the only one who thinks like this. This is something everybody deals with in varying amounts – the invention of our many personas and their presentation to the external world; deciding how we define ourselves to others. Being authentic, being truly one person, seems to me to embody a powerful way of living. It promotes harmony in our inner lives and states our belief in what we hold to be important.
I think it is a necessary and empowering stage on the journey of our conscious evolution, and might enable a much more profound and richer engagement with life. Fear based patterns of thinking that inhibit authenticity are undoubtedly strong, but we can chip away at them each and every time we refuse to be quiet, each time we say what we really think, and whenever we go against conditioned instinct and boldly display our authentic selves.