The Sacred Use of Plant Medicine
There was a time when the word “psychedelic” conjured images of strobe lights and wild parties, flashbacks and people jumping off buildings. Psychedelics were demonized and regarded as dangerous. Now they offer new possibilities for health and spiritual wellbeing. We’re in the midst of a psychedelic revolution.
The psychedelic experience, ultimately, is a spiritual journey. The impetus to enter into the world of psychedelics or “plant medicine” often comes in response to an inner call. Our response to the call is a decisive moment, a movement toward authenticity, self actualization, and healing. It’s the willingness to examine our beliefs and deeply ingrained behavior. To confront the insidious nature of our cultural conditioning and let nothing escape scrutiny. To question everything. Such radical honesty is a form of surrender and not for the faint of heart.
The choice to pull back the curtain on the collective reality can be precipitated by trauma, loss, or existential crisis accompanied by stress, anxiety, despair, and depression. Usually there is an intuitive sense that there is more to this life—something deeper and richer—beyond the material world.
For me the precipitating event was the loss of a close friend whose death set off a cascade of events in my life that was unexpected. I sought solitude by going into the woods and staying out night after night making fires and roaring at the moon. See Roar at the Moon in www.thedifference-book.com.
Everything I believed about who I thought I was, about life, and about death, was turned upside down. I was pitched into a spiritual crisis. Psychedelics helped me navigate unfamiliar terrain, which led to an accelerated process of transformation and deep personal change.
Psychedelics serve as a catalyst to open our ability to examine and embrace the most intimate of relationships—our connection with God or Spirit. It can be a joyful, expanded awareness of All That Is, or a confrontation fraught with confusion and conflicts about belief.
Aside from what we’ve been taught, told, or given, psychedelics awaken a deep desire to know the nature of this fundamental relationship. When we surrender and fully engage in the journey that the medicine takes us on, we rediscover our true spiritual nature. It’s not long before it becomes apparent that discipline and devotion are necessary aspects of the medicine path, but devotion to what?
That’s a great question, in fact, that is the question: To what do we give our devotion?
The largest psychedelic conference in history, Psychedelic Science 2023, recently took place in Denver, Colorado. The most surprising speaker at the conference was former Texas governor, Rick Perry, who stated that the potential of psychedelics is “stunningly positive” and remarked, “this medicine works.” It was clear that he’d made a commitment to educate himself and become well informed.
The leading neuroscientist and founding Director of the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic Consciousness Research, Dr. Roland Griffiths, who is also a cancer survivor, declared that the future of psychedelics is spiritual.
The beneficial outcomes of psychedelic research during the 50’s and 60’s was abruptly halted in the 70’s. Their legal use remained out of reach of medicine and academia until the 90’s.
During the intervening two decades a government driven media campaign fanned the flames of fear and hysteria in the public consciousness about the dangers of psychedelics and stigmatized their use.
Current, and more sophisticated, clinical research has again produced (stunningly) positive results that validate the therapeutic use of psychedelics for the treatment of a variety of medical conditions, including depression, addiction, PTSD, anxiety, and end-of-life anxiety for people with cancer.
Today the resurgence of psychedelics is supported by medical research, venture capital, big pharma, and policy changes in government. The movement is massive and occurring on several fronts.
Athletes and celebrities, rabbis and priests, authors and leading-edge thinkers speak volubly about their experiences with psychedelics.
The voices of podcast hosts Tim Ferris and Joe Rogan, author Michael Pollan (howtochangeyourmind.com), Buddhist Jack Kornfield, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Reverend Michael Beckwith, Deepak Chopra, and Brother David Steindl-Rast, just to name a few, represent a dramatic rise in mainstream acceptance.
The focus of psychedelics is shifting from the treatment of pathology to the psychological and spiritual benefits for healthy people. The effects of psychedelics most sought after are transpersonal—the exploration of states beyond the limits of personal identity.These include expanded states of consciousness, altered states of perception, spiritual insights, and transcending the ego.
Psychedelics and Religious Experiences
Indigenous cultures around the world, from Europe to Africa, Asia to South America, and from sea to shining sea, have a long history of using psychedelics as sacraments in religious and spiritual practices.
These substances, derived from plants or fungi, were believed to have the ability to facilitate communication with the divine and provide insights into the nature of reality. The rituals surrounding the use of psychedelics were a means to connect with the spiritual realm to seek guidance and wisdom. As part of ceremonial life, psychedelics were instrumental in the cosmology and theology of humans and the early formation of many world religions.
From a secular, materialistic perspective, psychedelics are a tool, a treatment, a recreational enjoyment. From a spiritual perspective, psychedelics are a sacrament that help us connect with something deeper within ourselves. They give us access to a state of mind which can perceive beyond ordinary “reality.” In reaching deeper levels of awareness, we transcend the barriers to our innermost world—not to discover a better version of ourselves, but to rediscover and allow a more authentic expression of who we are to emerge.
Psychedelics amplify our sense of connection with a creative intelligence, an animating force in the universe. No words can adequately describe what is indescribable. But awareness of something greater and vastly more intelligent than we are is sacred in itself. This aspect of the psychedelic experience represents a natural pull to the source of our being.
Psychedelics facilitate the expansion of consciousness beyond the artificial constructs of conventional culture—and its dogma. They move us to think outside the box, or dissolve the box altogether. Through ritual, deep listening, and self reflection, psychedelics help us connect with what lies beneath the surface of everyday reality, including, and especially, our own drama.
Deep undercurrents of a spiritual nature had been moving me toward some kind of a major shift for several years. A confluence of events had come together. The death of my friend swiftly brought me to the edge of an abyss, which led me deep into the mystical world of plant medicine.
I responded by going into the woods at night, working with plant medicine, and experienced a “rebirth.” A ceremony came through me, that became stronger and more elaborate, and a voice came to me, which grew more clear and distinctive. In the midst of this profound awakening, I was guided to a level of trust and surrender that was deeper than anything I had previously known.
My solo journeys were often raw and emotional. I’d stomp and rage and grieve for things I knew and didn’t know. In quiet moments I journaled in a rapid scribble-scrawl, a kind of inner dictation about what came into my mind and body. I learned to listen for what was mine to hear and became familiar with the sound of my voice, a voice that was preverbal, nonverbal and paradoxically without sound.
Delving into and exploring the labyrinthine twists and turns of my own drama was, and continues to be, deep personal work. There were ecstatic and often revelatory moments of insight, as well as darker encounters within my own psyche. I came to a deeper understanding of who I am and why I’m here, and recognized a pattern that would allow me to help others.
I came back from each journey with a new language of cosmic and spiritual authenticity. Words I wouldn’t normally use became the only words that could adequately describe the power of what I experienced. The irony for me was there was almost no one I could talk to about what I was experiencing.
And one word captured it all: sacred.
I have worked with plant medicine for more than 15 years, and for the first decade worked completely alone. At the time I didn’t know that I was following the path of early pioneers in psychedelic research by experimenting on myself. I was adamant that nothing would interfere with my direct experience of spirit moving through me.
Which meant I was resistant to listening to someone else’s experience, another culture’s practices, or the right way to do psychedelics. I wanted to discover my way and what I learned was life altering–it changed the way I saw myself, the way I saw others, and how I viewed the human condition. It opened me to a new reality.
Psychedelics and Consciousness
Psychedelics provide a sacred path that can open our mind and heart in ways beyond what we might experience in ordinary consciousness, or even consciousness-raising activities, such as meditation, chanting, yoga, or a sitting practice.
The psychedelic journey will often reveal what we most need to see about ourselves to help us transcend or move beyond the obstacles that block our path to clarity, peace, and joy. They can help us to reclaim what is sacred in our lives and aid us in responding whole heartedly to the deeper calling of our spiritual evolution.
The psychedelic experience is often difficult to put into words. The sacred journey into uncharted territory occurs as direct experience and generally defies explanation. It can be like recalling a dream, but with real aftereffects.
Psychedelics help us to gain a depth of clarity not ordinarily available in our mundane, everyday world. They give us a break from the daily grind and create a spaciousness that allows time for a reset.
Metaphorically, they allow us to stop the world for a little while. This gives us the chance to reorient ourselves to what we value most, to catch an extended glimpse of who we truly are and what we really want our lives to be about. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with what is sacred. We don’t have to go searching somewhere else—it’s already within us, waiting to be revealed, and calling for our attention. It’s a radical act of rebellion to unplug from the matrix, to disengage from the hypocrisy of our culture,
the distorted narratives, and the chronic state of conflict generated by mainstream media.
It takes courage to step back from our immersion in the warp of the conventional world and recognize we are self determined creations and we have a hand in creating our own reality.
The beginning of our awakening is to become acutely aware of our conditioned, reactive ways of being. To plainly see that they no longer serve us, or the people around us, and to be willing to change.
When we take a break from judging everyone and everything, and prepare a place for grace, we automatically reconnect with our inner guidance. Strengthening our relationship with the Source of Life, to know that we have direct communication, is deep, devoted work. It is a singular and fundamental act of will to recognize the bond is already there.
The greatest value of psychedelics is the spiritual transformation that becomes available while under the influence and after. The process is one of awakening to the truth that lives inside of us.The challenge is to integrate the experience in our daily lives, to make it real by translating the transformation into our reality in tangible ways. The spiritual journey is one of neverending integration.