Coen de Koning
Looking forward to a blissful psychedelic experience.
Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Though psychedelic substances are notorious for their impressively wide range of effects, it seems the mystical or blissful ones attract most attention in the popular media and reports online. Different scientific research papers point toward the correlation between lasting positive outcomes and participant's reports of mystical experiences. Many of the people that come to us explicitly or implicitly expect that this is the way they will be healed and occasionally we get outright request from people for support reaching mystical states with high doses of psilocybin truffles.
This poses an interesting challenge for us because we rarely find that the people that come to us have easy, blissful mystical experiences that simply heal their issue. Don’t get me wrong, some do.. in their unique ways. And it is wonderful to be there with them as they experience this.
But more often than not it is not so easy. Even though almost all the people that want to work with us tell us that they realise there is no magic bullet and that they know they will have to do the work to improve their lives, still often their experiences are not at all what they had expected. And we need to help them deal with that (this is one of the reasons we have a second psilocybin sessions in our 6-day program; to learn from the first and adjust).
There are many reasons that I can think of why people have more challenging experiences than they expected. Though as I write this I want to remind you that we really don’t know how these substances and their associated experiences heal us. The scientific research is still very much in its infancy and though I deeply respect it's value I find people often overestimate what it means for their specific future experiences. And even past experiences, mostly in more recreational settings, are often very different than what they experience with us. So one reason may be that the easy experiences are overemphasised in the popular media and in the scientific reports
Another reason may be related to the Set and Setting. As is well known, the two most influential elements of psychedelic experiences are the ’Set’ and ’Setting’. This points to the environment that you are in, and it is mainly the emotional experience of the environment. How safe you feel for instance, can completely change the psychedelic experience you may have. The second element is the mind-'Set' that you enter the experience with, will also completely change your experience. So; are you curious, coming to explore the fascinating realms of psychedelic experience and maybe have some fun or are you coming because you desperately need help with your depression or anxiety that you have been struggling with for decades, having had a number of different therapists and medications without any of them really helping you? As we focus on providing professional therapeutic support, based on Patrycja’s training from MAPS we tend to focus on the latter. This may be one factor why people don't often have those easy Blissful experiences with us. Because our focus is on helping you deal with your emotional problems.
But this approach is based on years of experience and on our training. When we started out we prepared people less and spent less time showing people how to deal with possible challenging emotional experiences, trusting that we would be able to help them work through that if and as it arose. This worked, but we did have a few cases where people just got overwhelmed by their experience, suffered for a long time until the psychedelics effects wore off and they left us not only disappointed but also not empowered. We learned that we needed to prepare people more carefully, not only because it helped them take responsibility in their psychedelic experience but it also helped them feel more safe to relax into the experience and allow the difficult emotions to arise without resisting them. We had explained that everything was ok, they were safe and we recommended they relax into what was happening but they just ..couldn't. This takes time and skill. This is one of the reasons we like using IFS (Internal Family Systems). IFS allows us to teach people simple techniques and approaches to working with the emotions that can arise and how to relate to them. And these techniques are equally valuable in daily life, so they get some practical life skills as a bonus.
Preparing in this way may be a factor that contributes to our clients facing tough emotions but when they do they are at least more or less prepared. Rosalind Watts mentions in one of the Adventures Through the Mind podcasts how many of the participants in one of the psilocybin studies she had worked on really struggled after their experience which, due to the limitations of the research, had
minimal preparation and integration. The participants, as in many studies, were recommended to turn towards demons when they encountered them in stead of turning away. This in itself is solid advice but I fear they may never have really taught them how to do that. I don’t blame the scientists, they really are doing great work and I deeply respect Rosalind Watts for her wonderful work. But we may learn that taking time for proper preparation is key. At least that is what we learned.
One of the main effects of psilocybin and psychedelics in general are that you become more sensitive. Of all the things I have read and heard about psychedelics there are very very few descriptions that I have not seen falsified by people who experienced something (often completely) different. Only Stanislav Grof's description of psychedelics as ’non-specific amplifiers’ seems truly reliable. So the way we work is not to hope for healing by experiencing a deep blissful relief from the feelings and emotions that people struggle with in their issue (depression or anxiety for instance)
(though we gratefully welcome them when they do!). But we help them connect to these feelings and emotions and then try to learn how to take care of them. In daily life it can be hard to find the time and space and the support to really deeply connect in this way so they lack the understanding of their inner system, of what is really alive inside of them to make the changes that will really help them. IFS in itself is aimed at this and is a wonderful support but add the power of connection that the psychedelics bring and we can really make some wonderful leaps towards health. But this means allowing those feelings that have been carefully suppressed, often since childhood, to emerge and to feel them. We don't do this by manning-up, gritting our teeth and suffering through - there is no healing in that. No, we approach slowly and carefully, maybe waiting at a safe distance, listening to and working together with gatekeepers and protectors until we are granted access to those deeply exiled parts of us that carry our core wounds. Then with kindness and gentle compassion we may be able to help those release the terrible burdens they carry for us.
As I describe this it sounds like a relatively clear process and, though this is the goal we may aim for I promise you that your process will be different in unique ways that we will discover and follow together.
So we take our time. We talk with everyone that is interested in our 6-day retreat before we decide anything. Then we send them some material so that they can get a bit of understanding of what IFS is and how it works as this will be a large part of the work we do together. If they do not feel comfortable with this model then we can either adjust the way we work or maybe we can just agree that we may not be the best partners for them. The next step is to have at least a couple of online (IFS) sessions with us to get a feel for how we work, how the model feels in practice and how it feels to connect to your subconscious and the emotions there. But also to start exploring where the resistances and challenges are so that we can learn how to take care of them and they may feel less inclined to sabotage the psychedelic work. Only then when both they and we feel that we are ready we start booking our 6-day retreat.
When you are ready to feel what you couldn't allow yourself to feel. The rest is up to the psilocybin and your subconscious body-mind, but we will be there to support you to experience whatever comes.