Do psychedelic experiences really benefit us? What if they could spur on a healthy lifelong meditation practice?
In his book “Ayahuasca Test Pilots”, author and explorer “Medicine Hunter” Chris Kilham goes into detail about his own personal experiences with ayahuasca—the potent South American psychedelic plant brew—as well as the scientific factors responsible for the confounding introspective journey the plants offer.
What we know about ayahuasca’s effects can be broken down into its parts: chemicals in the plants combined to make the brew, trigger a rush of DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) into the brain that take us into other realms of consciousness, if not other planes of reality altogether, that we can’t normally experience without the assistance of the chemical. But it seems how the two plants that make up the mixture came to be used together will always be a mystery. Did ancient tribes experiment with thousands of plants, or like many shamans explain, did the plants “speak” to the people of the jungle and tell them of the benefits if brewed together? Either way, Kilham’s “test pilot” reference might be more accurate if described as “ayahuasca astronauts”—as journeyers of the medicine believe they’re not testing anything out, but rather exploring unchartered territories of the universe and the human mind.
Ayahuasa, Kilham writes in “Ayahuasca Test Pilots” can help us gain access to “multiple dimensions, and become suffused with absolute and complete love.”
For many Westerners, it may sound like little more than an excuse to “get high”–and while that’s flawed thinking, it’s also completely understandable. Since the Controlled Substances Act went into effect more than 40 years ago, we’ve been forced to transform our perception of plant medicines as little more than addictive, harmful products that can ruin your life, and possibly send you to jail for a long, long time. Nevermind the fact that “drugs” like ayahuasca can actually help people break their drug addiction (to substances like cocaine and heroin), or that MDMA—the active component in the popular party drug Ecstasy—is being used in clinical trials to help our soldiers recover from PTSD, or that psilocybin can be more effective than pharmaceutical anti-depressants.
The modern view of psychedelics is about as deranged and deluded as it gets—a somewhat ironic situation when we’re talking about plants that can make you think you’ve turned into a snake, or are being swallowed up by one. For the most part, our culture brushes off psychedelics as fodder for mental breakdowns, violence and hysteria, even though that’s not the case for most seekers.
Psychedelics, it turns out, may actually foster a deeply spiritual “awakening” that can encourage many positive life changes, including a healthy meditation practice, long after the hallucinogenic experience has subsided. And likewise, a strong meditation practice already in place, can help ground a seeker through the discomfort and challenges of a psychedelic journey, like an ayahuasca ceremony. “If a meditative practice can facilitate psychedelic exploration, it makes sense that the converse is also true,” Reset.Me reports on its website.
And why does this matter?
Because, if used properly, psychedelics like ayahuasca, San Pedro cactus, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA can provide deep insights and healing opportunities. And let’s be real; who among us is not in need of healing? A meditation practice can continue that work, bringing balance and presence to the seeker long after the effects of the medicine have worn off. This matters in handling ongoing grief, stress, anxiety, depression and scores of other woes of the human spirit. Life is already quite a psychedelic journey—one that can be too much for many of us to handle without daily crutches like illegal or prescription drugs, alcohol and other not-so-good-for-us tools. So is it really all that surprising that psychedelics and meditation can offer us some healthy perspective on it all?
“You can approach ayahuasca from any angle,” writes Kilham. “You can meet it open-minded, skeptical, assure of its value, doubtful or in any state.”
That’s not to say you need to take psychedelics in order to start or maintain a strong meditation practice (nor do you need one to journey with psychedelic medicines). But what is becoming ever more clear is the link between the two, and the long-term benefits. We no longer need to fear psychedelic medicines as sinister substances destined to lead us to a life of crime, nor do we need to brush off meditation as a woo-woo New Agey gimmick or question its efficacy. In fact, studies show there are significant benefits to meditation, from aiding in the recovery of physical injuries to improved concentration and performance in students.
“Ayahuasca, if you drink a working dose, will often drive you right to the edge of what you can endure in terms of energy, healing and stripping away those aspects of your psyche that do not serve you well,” writes Kilham. “Ayahuasca acts as a psychic blowtorch, with the capacity to cut through and reduce to cinders what does not work.”
It seems if we know one thing for certain about both psychedelics and meditation, it’s that we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface on the benefits and opportunities both can provide us in not only navigating our own life experiences, but in assisting others as well.
[Note: Psychedelics are illegal in the U.S. and we do not encourage their use without the guidance of an experienced counselor or therapist in an approved controlled environment.]
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger and Instagram @jill_ettinger
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Psychedelic image via Shutterstock