Psilocybin therapy: how to prepare for an optimal journey
As we look at the many traditions that include techniques for accessing expanded states of consciousness, one thing is abundantly clear: they are all about preparation. Indigenous people consider these altered states as times for healing and communion with spirit; entered into carefully with reverence in mind. In ceremonies facilitated by the indigenous shamans that I attended, there was always an emphasis on diet - specifically being sure not to overindulge in any type of food or use any type of stimulant in the week before entering into sacred space. Prayer also played a big role: asking others as well our ancestors' forgiveness and support are two common practices observed during these rituals.
In order to integrate these preparatory practices into my work as a therapist and guide, I emphasize two separate but related tracks. The first track focuses on "set" and "setting", which includes factors like mindset, environment etc. The second track emphasizes the wisdom of the Holistic Model.
The term "set and setting" was coined by Timothy Leary in 1961 during the initial wave of contemporary psychedelic exploration, and has now become mainstream. The first generation of pioneers studied consciousness-expanding substances like psilocybin or mescaline from a scientific perspective; however they found that every single trip is completely unique, depending on you as an individual as well as your specific surroundings - and because of this awareness they came up with the concept "Set & Setting."
As Timothy Leary wrote: "Of course, the drug dose does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key-it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. The nature of the experience depends almost entirely on set and setting. Set denotes the preparation of the individual, including his personality structure and his mood at the time. Setting is physical-the weather, the room's atmosphere; social-feelings of persons present towards one another; and cultural-prevailing views as to what is real. It is for this reason that manuals or guidebooks are necessary. Their purpose is to enable a person to understand the new realities of the expanded consciousness, to serve as road maps for new interior territories which modern science has made accessible."
The set includes the mindset and intention of a journeyer. Mindset can be defined as the emotional, psychological state before entering an experience that impacts how one approaches it in their mind or soul. For example, if someone has just taken some time for themselves, where they are able to relax outside, then this would create more serene feelings than if you had been fighting with your partner beforehand about something very serious all day long. Equally important to set is one's worldview. This includes one's religious or scientific beliefs, as well as their personal, social, and cultural perspectives of the world.
Intention is the second component of our set. An intention can be seen as a prayer for something that you want or need--but it's not just about us wanting something, any more than our motivation should come from outside forces (like other people). We must discern what we're really after: an inner clarity on how this will benefit ourselves in some way and also help others along their path too! The exercise determining one's intentions asks these question with regards to present-day living - where do I feel like things are heading right now? What does my future look like without making any changes here, at home and at work?
With an intention to reach your destination, you chart a course with confidence and purpose. Having an intention is like taking a compass aboard your sailboat. The waves may be high or low in your journey, but being rooted in one's intentions gives you the power over what happens next - giving yourself direction no matter how much is happening around you.
By using the Holistic Model, one can identify which areas of their life are out of balance. Depending on this inventory you will then decide on what type of intention you need towards that particular area: needing to heal from a physical illness; needing to explore further the lifelong effects from childhood abuse or seeking resolution from an ex who has left you heartbroken. A person might even have multiple intentions at once, such as enriching one's spiritual life while also working through emotional pain.
When someone's main challenge is being vulnerable, the intention could be to: "learn why I am so defensive in my intimate relationships." Or perhaps it's a fear of spirituality because that feels vast and unknown. In this situation an individual might have intentions like: "I want explore what God has offered us through psilocybin".
It's crucial to keep in mind the original intention(s) for your journey, when interpreting its content afterwards.
The setting of a journey is its external conditions, including location and time. It also includes the facilitator or therapist that will be guiding you on your journey as well any other participants
The environment is an essential part of our lives, influencing everything from how we speak to what colors attract us. The human fetus spends nine months in close contact with its mother's womb - which means that every sound and movement has a significant effect on the development during this period of time.
The process by which humans perceive the world around them through their five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell - can be greatly impacted by factors such as diet or health status. It's also important to not only consider external influences like those found within one's neighborhood, but ones felt at earlier stages, yet still affecting collective consciousness today. Whether we're exploring our inner selves or interacting with the outer world, there are many factors that affect what kind of experience we will have. If you would do a journey in the Amazon rainforest, and you would hear frogs croaking and crickets chirping while smelling flowers in bloom, then those sounds, smells and sights will bring living nature into your internalized space (i.e., thoughts and emotions). Different prayers/songs will evoke different psychological material for you to experience, depending upon their lyrics and sounds. "Amazing grace" for example can remind you of how profound life's simple joys can be.
Whether we are lying down outside feeling the cool earth below us or lying on a luxury bed in a retreat lodge impacts our journey. The smell of incense, fresh air and rose essential oil takes us to different places with just one inhale! Whether your guide is present or distracted will affect how you experience your journey. And if you choose for a group retreat, with fellow participants, then their emotional state can affect you in a variety of ways.
When we are in an indoor space, the presence of a temple focuses our attention toward that space. Any religious imagery or symbols can impact how you experience this sacred environment - especially if it is something meaningful to your faith.
Some indoor spaces give us a womb-like feeling of safety. However, at different times during a journey, the same space can make us feel tight and suffocated. Being outdoors is wonderful for some people while it can trigger overwhelm and anxiety for people who need containment and predictability.
If one is comfortable being outdoors in a state of heightened receptivity, elements of nature can be more strongly felt and offer their teachings. Whether we are near a river or a mountain will affect our state. Sitting near a tree can evoke a sense of solidity and rootedness. A creek can communicate a sense of flow. In an expanded state of consciousness, we can more readily perceive the simple majesty of earth, water, fire, and air.
A guide's experience and skill will create a certain energy-one of healing through love. As you receive the songs that come from your guides playlist, or the sounds from nature around you, you will experience insights into how to live life more fully, with more clarity, understanding and self-love. Your inner nature will awaken. Yet, while the setting greatly affects a journeyer's experience, expanded states of consciousness can also completely transcend the immediate environment. A safe environment is what allows transcendence to happen.
Preparation through 'The Holistic Model for a Balanced Life'
In the preparation process, clients should be given a holistic understanding of their individual needs and goals. In order for this to happen effectively it's important that all aspects including physical, emotional, spiritual and environmental factors are addressed during preparatory counseling. In this way the journeyers can feel confident that there will be improvement in every part of themselves after going through their journey and working with their guide/therapist. The therapist should acknowledge the strenghts and weaknesses of their client and communicate those in an honest, compassionate way.