In the West we have been conditioned for the quick fix: a pill to help us go to sleep, a tablet to make us happier, the cosmetic surgery to make us look younger, and now even the nootropic stack that will make us smarter. We dedicate so much energy to hacking ourselves to bits in the hopes that these tricks will somehow turn us into the people we want to be. We are fixated on eradicating the symptoms of our problems… and the result? Nothing fundamentally changes about us. It’s like spraying a can of air freshener over a sh*t-clogged toilet. You may cover up the foul smell for a minute or two but the reality is you still have a sh*t-filled toilet you haven’t dealt with. The only real way to progress is to do the work to clean it up. The truth is there are no “quick fixes” and at the end of the day each and every one of us must “do the work.”
This sounds simple enough, yet we tend to find ourselves in a repetitive cycle of both searching for and implementing various temporary quick fixes one after another. Instead of addressing and resolving the underlying sources of our “toilet clogs,” we choose different quick fixes. We switch horses on the same carousel ride and endlessly go round and round appearing to be in forward motion but, in reality, are stuck on an eternal ride to nowhere, ending in the same place we began.
Enter the latest, greatest, quick fix, and miracle cure being marketed to you… psychedelics.
Psychedelics are many things but quick fixes they are not and if you go into the experience expecting as much, prepare to be terribly disappointed.
Psychedelics are not a cure for your depression, your addiction, or for anything that ails you. Just like other supposed quick fixes, they won’t take away your pain or reverse your disease. Psychedelics won’t give meaning to your life. Neither will they repair your fractured relationship with a loved one and the natural world. At the end of any journey, you are the one who has to show up for you.
Choose your facilitator wisely
There is nothing– no guru, no shaman, no pill, no plant that can clean up your sh*t, no matter how much you’ve taken, no matter how long or how often you’ve been taking it. The expectation that someone or something will fix you is a trap and can make you very vulnerable to opportunistic players who may come in the form of gurus or shamans, therapists, or even doctors in white coats.
Yes, there are many people who have a lot of experience with psychedelics. Many of these individuals have done their own work and are committed to helping others reduce suffering and realize their potential. However, just because “experts” know the landscape of the psychedelic space doesn’t mean that they have done their own work. It doesn’t mean that they have deeply examined their own shadows and maintain an ongoing practice to consciously heal themselves.
The longer you’ve been in this field without doing the continual work of diffusing the landmines of your shadows, the easier it becomes to evade them altogether. These folks are dangerous because they possess a lot of knowledge and wisdom, they are very good at evading their own shadows, and are working with a highly vulnerable (sometimes desperate) clientele… this can be a recipe for neglect and mistreatment. At the worst end of the spectrum, there can be robbery, sexual abuse, asset redistribution schemes, and other personal disasters.
It is important to note that these individuals may often come with good intentions, but good intentions are not enough to keep one’s shadows from emerging. For instance, if a facilitator has a sexual shadow that has not yet been confronted, it is bound to come up, perhaps in unconscious ways, during the course of their facilitation with clients. It often takes a client that has a complementary shadow to bring that aspect out of the facilitator, perhaps the client experienced past sexual abuse and carries the identity of being a victim. This victim shadow of the client will call out to the sexual shadow of the facilitator which may play out as a case of sexual misconduct.
So, choose your facilitator wisely. It is not only important to do your research and seek trusted recommendations and reviews when seeking out a facilitator, but also to trust your gut feeling about someone. And by all means, ask questions of the man or woman you are thinking of sitting in ceremony with and if the answers don’t feel right, don’t sit with that person.
Self-development is the result of going through a process, it’s not about the outcome
The reality is, we come into this world alone. And although the luckiest of us have loving families, teachers, and communities to help guide us through life, the truth is that this is your life and your life alone. It is your responsibility to align yourself with the person you want to be and the life that you desire. That means taking responsibility for untangling the yarn ball of unhelpful patterns that have accumulated inside and are having a negative impact on you, your relationships, and your decisions. The process of untangling is the very process that helps to nurture and grow our awareness… a true human superpower.
Through engaging in the process of untangling we become more free, less encumbered by the idea of who we should be, and more empowered to be who we are… perfectly imperfect in our authenticity and our flaws. As we accept this, we free ourselves to let our gifts and abilities flow to our maximum potential because that’s who we are and how we contribute to the world, and it feels good to be and become who we truly are. Your life journey, your tangled ball, is designed for you to unravel. When you untie a knot and release a block, you will be able to see the task that is next needed in order to continue the unraveling process. But make sure you keep your eye on the pile of yarn you’ve just unraveled lest it becomes a new ball of tangles to work through once again. This is work that cannot be done by a facilitator or by psychedelics, but they can be used to support the process when called for.
Psychedelic insights won’t last forever unless you make them a part of your life
Yes, psychedelics may open your mind to new perspectives, insights, and possibilities. They can also help you connect to your core being in a way you have never felt before, but after a day or two, a week, or a month that feeling will fade away. Unfortunately, the experiences that we have with psychedelics don’t automatically translate into our lives. The clarity, the feelings of wholeness often experienced in expanded states do not last, so relying on repeating these expanded experiences as a badge or crutch to take the edge off of a life you’re not satisfied with won’t cut it in the long run. It’s just another ride on the quick-fix carousel.
Psychedelics are not a magical panacea or even a short-term solution. You can have many insightful experiences with psychedelics but what is it for if these insights don’t have a practical impact on your life? If you can’t translate the psychedelic experience into your living experience, it will fade away into a story fit for a late-night cocktail party, and you may be left in a worse place than where you started. A psychedelic experience may lead to newfound knowledge of the negative patterns that you need to work out, and perhaps even insights on how to do this, but the key to long-lasting change is cultivating the will and desire to change. Otherwise, it’s like being given the key to getting out of a prison cell, but instead of using it, it gets set aside and eventually falls through the cracks in the floor… the most perfectly uselessly useful thing.
When it is all said and done, externalizing your self-development process is not possible. We may look to gurus to get our bliss on, we may look to shamans to remove disembodied beings from our energy field, but if we aren’t working on cultivating the skills and practices necessary to find our own bliss within or protect our own energy from attacks then we will be again in the same place we started when the guru or shaman leaves or the influence of the psychedelic wanes. What is the point, if you aren’t willing to put in the work?
Know the direction you want to grow
The insights gained through psychedelics can point you in the right direction, and provide you with tools to help repair or reset troublesome ingrained patterns and habits. However, you need to not only be aware of the old programs but the new programs you want to create for yourself as well. It is best to explore this work before the psychedelic session or if not before then very shortly after or else you risk missing the opportunity for change that the session may bring.
Though psychedelics can make these deeply embedded grooves of behavior and thought structures more shallow for a time, allowing new ones to take hold, you need to know what new patterns you want to replace the old ones with. This is why preparation and integration are so important. If no new paths are being made, if you aren’t clear about the direction you want to go and the thoughts you need to give life to, your behaviors will default to the familiar patterns. Though the work to define the new desirable patterns can all be done on your own, having someone that can elicit these insights from you can be very helpful. Envisioning a new direction for yourself is the first step in developing a new pattern. This will help clear the path for your journey, and the work that comes after.
The work is never done, but it gets easier with practice
When the session or ceremony ends, the work is only just beginning. Integrating your experience takes a lifetime of work. As one program is reset, another program appears for untangling and so on. This is what you are signing up for when you engage with plant medicines and psychedelics for the purpose of self-development. It is work, it does not end. This work is made easier by the preparation you put into it before your session. And hopefully at some point along the way, you learn how to do the work of unraveling well. You share what you’ve learned with others so that they may have an easier time cleaning up their tangles, and you can help them avoid the traps you got caught up in along the way because sharing and helping others is a part of the unraveling process, an important aspect of our individual work.
In the end, we are all on the same ship… sink or sail, we do it together. And though using psychedelics for self-development and growth is not a clear path and not a quick fix, it does offer an opportunity for both personal and collective redemption of sorts. By embracing these special plants, fungi, and molecules we can learn how to hold ourselves and each other with greater patience, humility, responsibility, integrity, and trust. As we move into greater wholeness, our friends, families, and communities will do the same. There is a lot at stake for the work that you choose to do or not do, so get your sh*t kickers on, it’s time to get to work.
Suzanne Krance has a PhD in toxicology, and has experience working with non-profit organizations, both inside and outside of the plant medicine and psychedelic communities. She is currently a student of shamanic practices, and is interested in bridging earth-based wisdom and the modern world. Suzanne is passionate about safe and respectful use of entheogens, the role of reciprocity in the integration process, and developing and sharing awareness around the shadow aspects of altered state experiences. Suzanne enjoys working with plants to create herbal medicines and wellness products for the benefit of her family, friends, and community.