“Oh, here I am again—Richard Alpert—what a drag!” -Ram Dass
If you’ve done heroic doses of psychedelics, you know exactly what this quote is referring to.
We often leaves these experiences with so much awe and revelation…a feeling that everything is going to be different from this point forward. That we will never forget what we just realized and now, finally now, everything will be different.
And then, to our dismay, the glow and the new person we were destined to become falls back into familiar thoughts and paradigms of reality.
My first exposure to psychedelics was an ayahuasca retreat when I was 30 years old. As I alluded to in becoming no one, I had a series of profound experiences during this ceremony that changed the direction of my life. Since this original exposure, I’ve explored other plant medicines as well as synthetic psychedelics such as ketamine in a therapeutic setting.
The goal of this post is to share my current perspective on the role of psychedelics and spirituality.
BTW let me just say that psychedelics are not for everyone. If you haven’t done them, I recommend doing them with a guide, in a safe, controlled setting. I don’t recommend doing them if you are at risk for psychosis and if you’re unsure whether you should try them, I recommend talking to a psychologist or experienced guide.
Why Do People Do Psychedelics?
If we cut to the core of the matter, people are engaging in the use of psychedelics because they want to change something about their experience (life).
This could be the presence of a mental, emotional, or behavioral condition like depression. It could be an attempt to improve a physical condition. Or even for people that are perfectly happy, they might desire to experience an altered state that brings them closer to the divine.
In all cases, people are seeking lasting change or perspective relative to their predominant experience of reality.
I like to think of psychedelics as non-specific amplifiers for things that already exist in our consciousness. These can be thought forms, beliefs, traumas, and all kinds of imprinting we may not be able to see in our day to day waking awareness. Many of these formless concepts are the core driver of our life experience and actions, yet most of the time we aren’t even aware of them due to primitive survival mechanisms in our consciousness which prioritize survival over all else.
There is unequivocally benefit to using these substances to aid with a host of emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical challenges. For this article, I am focusing on the use of these substances for spiritual ascent or what I call self-realization.
The Programming Around Psychedelics
Prior to doing ayahuasca for the first time, I thought that psychedelics were “bad.” This was mainly because they were lumped into the drug category which has a narrative in our culture of being dangerous, illegal, and detrimental to our health.
As detailed in many works such as How to Change Your Mind, many of these natural substances that come from the earth are far less dangerous than things we see as normal such as drinking alcohol or hitting a juul. However, there is an immense negative connotation with them due to how our main institutions like government has treated them. This prevents many people from ever experimenting with them.
After my initial experience and research, I got over this programming for a while.
And then as my spiritual journey progressed, I encountered another set of programming.
This was mainly from spiritual teachers who claimed that using exogenous substances for your spiritual growth was bad. They claimed that the more natural path which relied on modalities like meditation were a superior way to reach more permanent enlightened states.
The irony is that anyone who preaches polarity or good vs. bad, is not an enlightened being.
I now understand why a spiritual teacher might do this, but for a period of time, I bought into this dogma in the pursuit of my own self-realization. I though that psychedelics and spirituality could not work together.
My Personal Experience With Psychedelics and Spirituality
My first ayahuasca ceremony was the first time I had experienced what a direct connection to source consciousness felt like. Basically, it felt like I was having a conversation with God in my head. I could ask any question and I’d get amazing answers that seemed to come from a source beyond my thinking mind.
I also felt the love of the cosmic heart.
This feeling was probably the most potent amount of joy and bliss I’ve ever experienced in my life. The bliss lasted for entire month afterwards which made me feel like I was walking on a cloud.
To say this catalyzed a paradigm change would be an understatement.
I returned back to the normal world feeling uplifted, with renewed perspective. Everything was going to be different now!!!
But eventually a lot of the shimmer wore off and many of life’s disturbances settled back in. Ram Daas my friend, you’re so money you don’t even know it.
Naturally, I wanted to return to that special place I had touched inside myself as soon as I could again. So I jumped at the opportunity to do Ayahuasca again 3 months later.
The second time I sat with ayahuasca, I had a very intense kundalini awakening which was primarily a physical experience. It left me with an unfamiliar energy surging through my body throughout the day which is still present to this day. This weird new sensation compelled me to try and figure out what the hell was happening to me which I outlined in more detail here.
After having effectively felt like I screwed myself up and blew out my energy system, I decided to chill on the psychedelics for a while.
Reflecting on these early experiences, what psychedelics really did for me was set me on a devoted spiritual path. They were an exposure mechanism that had allowed me to touch a part of myself and reality that I never had been able to before. And in doing so it created a burning desire to seek truth and understanding.
Why are we here? What is this reality experience? How come no one told me about this sooner?
Above all else, what I really wanted was to be able to embody the magnificent states I had experienced all the time. To become pure love and rest in divine wisdom. This seemed much more pleasurable and wondrous than dealing with life’s dramas.
This was the goal.
Though I integrated my ass off after these experiences meditating like a madman, journaling, doing qigong…just like Ram Daas, I still came back down to my reality albeit with some new ideas and intellectual understanding.
My Shaman Zach who I first worked with on my 2nd ceremony described working with ayahuasca as kind of like a fish under water that is able to rise up from the bottom of the ocean to the surface for the first time after taking the medicine. Eventually you go back down, but each time you’re a little closer to the surface then you were before.
Between the notion of this up and down hamster wheel and the intensity of my kundalini energy I was dealing with, it became clear doing psychedelics frequently was not going to provide the permanent peace and paradigm shift I desired.
A pattern emerged amongst the books and teachers I encountered that all pointed towards a spiritual path.
Going into all of this originally, I didn’t intend to become spiritual. I did Ayahuasca mostly because I just got out of a 3 year relationship and I thought it might provide me some creative unlocks in business 🤣
After my experience, I was then just trying to figure out what the hell was happening to me and return to the embodiment of love. It just so happened that life unfolded in such a way that the only obvious path to return back to that special place was to shift my allegiance towards a devoted spiritual life that contextualized all of life’s events for the purpose of awakening.
As I started to sow deeply into my spiritual exploration, I thought I might never do psychedelics for the purpose of spiritual growth again. They had come into my life to serve their purpose of lighting the spiritual fire under my ass and redirected me as needed. I never viewed them as a mechanism to arrive at permanent realization which was reinforced by my experience of going up and coming back down.
Many of the phenomena I had experienced on those early journeys like connecting to source or divine intelligence had just become a part of my everyday experience. So I no longer put psychedelics on a pedestal vs. just cultivating the skill to create any of these states at will.
I also was influenced by many spiritual teachers who in not so many words said “doing psychedelics will never get you what you want.” In fact, they said they were dangerous because they could cause someone to become attached to phenomena experienced in non-ordinary states setting you back.
Desperate Measures Needed
About a year ago, when I was really going through some health challenges I began to get a bit desperate. Maybe I should do plant medicine again? I meditated on it frequently and the answer I always would get was no. Then one day I got a yes which was consistent from that point on.
I decided to engage in some ceremonial style explorations with my partner in order to work on my health.
I had some amazing experiences and uncovered lots of residual imprints that needed to be addressed. For example, I relived a memory where I was left alone as a child and felt incredibly scared. I had no recollection of this ever happening, but I realized how this had made me feel unsafe in many scenarios in my life to this day! It’s amazing how the mind can file things away to protect us from pain.
Though I wasn’t having to routinely face this memory and others, the energetic residue behind them had been trapped in my body, weighing me down by making me feel threatened without me even knowing it. The issue is in the tissues!
Thank you plants for helping me see what I could not see on my own 🙏
For a while, I was pretty fired up about the ability to use the plants to help me uncover more troublesome patterns and imprints that I couldn’t easily see in my unconscious mind. Maybe these were the key to my health returning!?
My partner and I developed a ritual every few weeks to have a ceremony on Sundays. It kind of felt like church, but for spiritual people focused on removing patterns so the true self could emerge permanently.
I had a very deep and committed spiritual intent and practice so I wasn’t worried about developing any dependency. I more saw plant medicines as an adjacent tool that would accelerate my ascension. I was still trying to get closer to the divine…but faster!
One day I woke up and realized that I had unconsciously moved into doer and striver mode.
The motive behind my plant medicine ritual was that I was trying to get somewhere vs. BE. Paradoxically, my spiritual drivenness to uncover patterns and become enlightened was actually holding me back and I knew it in my bones.
All these were patterns around striving and being the do-er (life by me) that still existed and needed to be surrendered. Part of surrender meant realigning my actions to trusting the perfect timing of my evolution vs. trying to force it. This is what many wisdom traditions call grace.
This was the big lesson that re-engaging with psychedelics taught me and ironically it didn’t occur on psychedelics!
I now see this attachment for what it is and am open to future psychedelic experiences as they arise. I know that they will come into my life in perfect timing and don’t need to actively seek them out.
As they often say in discussing ayahuasca, the medicine will find you when you need it! And indeed, I had a funny experience with this a few months ago that ended up in surprise ayahuasca ceremony and me proposing to my now fiancé Zaharo after the 2nd night.
The Role of Psychedelics and Spirituality Together
The role of psychedelics in my spiritual ascent has been really two-fold.
The first and primary role was to catalyze my intent towards spiritual growth above all else. This was achieved both by experiencing a divine ecstasy unlike anything I’d ever encountered and positioning me physically with the kundalini awakening to find answers. Both phenomena ultimately resulted in a devoted spiritual practice and pursuit. Once the intent was in place, nature (consciousness) has taken care of the rest in perfect timing.
The secondary role was to act as an aid at very specific times for help on patterns that were in the way of my evolution to higher levels of consciousness and a complete opening of the heart.
In talking to and learning about many people who’ve embarked on similar journeys, there seems to be a similar pattern.
Someone encounters psychedelics which inspire an initial spiritual interest alongside the desire to do more psychedelics. Eventually, they experience diminishing returns on the use of these substances so they satiate this desire to grow by cultivating a practice, finding a teacher, and soaking up whatever wisdom they can to permanently awaken to their own inner love and greatness which has always been there.
The first place people stumble is when they believe that all they need to do is take psychedelics to grow spiritually and permanently expand their consciousness. You are responsible for your growth and without dedicated practice, you’ll likely just be on a consciousness roller coaster like Ram Daas talked about where one minute you think you’re god and the next you’re Richard Alpert.
This is why people talk so much about integration, which in my opinion really just comes down to developing a spiritual intent and practice. I will discuss the state (or mistate) of psychedelics integration in a future post.
The second place people stumble is they become obsessed with altered states. They put them on a pedestal and put emphasis on chasing them vs. removing the impediments to understand the truth of who they really are (self-realization) which is an every moment of everyday practice often referred to as Karma yoga.
So do all people who take psychedelics eventually become spiritually oriented? Is that really their purpose?
The answer is definitively no. There’s all kinds of people who take psychedelics and never take much of an interest in becoming enlightened. They chalk it up as a cool Thursday night and move on with their life.
Taking the view of Karma, some people just seem to be “ripe” to make working on their consciousness the most important part of their life in a particular incarnation. I suppose in this view, psychedelics can be seen as a particularly powerful catalyst to the re-continuation of a path that one has always been on, just never knew it.
What About Spiritual Judgment
One thing I once grappled with was why all these spiritual beings warned against the use of these substances relative to other practices that aid your ascension. They made it seem like psychedelics and spirituality could no coexist.
What I now realize is that there is nothing inherently bad about using psychedelics if you live a spiritual life. However, what one must closely examine is the relationship with the substance. This is true of all exogenous substances and spiritual practices. Michael Singer talks about this in The Surrender Experiment when he had to let go of the rope.
A spiritual teacher might say using them is bad because they can cause you to force your evolution or you may get addicted to the phenomena. This same spiritual teacher might then advise that you meditate daily to awaken. So you follow this advice and then become addicted to mediating and the bliss you experience in that state. You develop a mindset that one’s awakening depends on the daily practice!
This is the same exact relationship of attachment as one might have with psychedelics.
It’s less about the content and more about the context of the relationship when we consider psychedelics and spirituality.
I think the reason spiritual teachers likely shy away from recommending psychedelics specifically, comes down to:
- Unfamiliarity with them
- Belief that the average spiritual seeker cannot face internal realities or paradigm shifts so abruptly without negative consequences (spiritual emergency). This is often true and causes an unnecessary crisis
- Belief that the potential addictive properties of altered states results in attachment to the wrong things, resulting in an actual slower path to awakening
- Belief that energetically, these substances could open you to outside energies or distort your existing energy in a way that impedes your progress
Thus as a devoted spiritual seeker, my viewpoint is that one may use these tools as needed, but you must be keenly aware of your relationship with them. They are not the answer, you are!
It’s kind of like a condiment that you may entertain if it gets passed your way at the table…it can taste great, but it isn’t a meal that’s going to fill your belly…you can’t live off of chipotle aioli and if it’s the main fixture of your diet, you’re actually probably hurting yourself!
If you feel like you need them, don’t feel bad or judge yourself. Just be aware of the relationship and realize that something may serve you, until it does not. The ultimate goal is to no longer need the tools and we will all get there in perfect timing.
Moreover, there is no better or worse way of awakening, and psychedelics too are just an expression of consciousness which is YOU!
So, should you go do psychedelics?! Can psychedelics and spirituality exist in harmony in my life?
I don’t know. Only you can answer that.
Whenever I notice an appetite, I just meditate and ask for guidance: “is this experience in alignment with my highest calling right now?”
The answers I get are clear and I trust them.
What is your experience on psychedelics and spirituality?