Maximizing Your Psychedelic Journey: 8 Insights from a Seasoned Psychonaut
I was 13 the first time I took acid. Since then, I’ve easily spent over a 2000 hours exploring psychedelic states.
Here are 8 hard-won insights for beginners from these thousands of hours of experience. (For deep-dive trippers, keep scrolling to Guidelines for Heroic Dosages and Expert Psychonauts)
The basic idea is this: be intentional when you use psychedelics.
8 Hard-Won Insights for Journeying with Psychedelics
- If you are mentally or emotionally unstable or have a history of mental illness, I do not recommend psychedelics. A rough translation from the Greek gives us psyche = mind, deloun = “to reveal” or “to manifest”. Psychedelics are mind manifesting. And while that is one of their revelatory promises, some degree of internal stability is a prerequisite. If you’re not, unless you have a trusted guide, leave them alone until you’ve gained stability.
- Be Intentional: Have an aim for your journey. Since psychedelics are mind manifesting, your intentions go a long way in setting the outcomes you’ll get. Whether that is improvement in your emotional, spiritual, mental or physical or problem resolution, you get to set the direction prior to the trip.
- Trip Guide: I’ve never had one, but unless you’re a dedicated psychonaut, they are a good idea for newbies. Here’s a caveat, and this is very personal so take it with a grain of salt, do it with someone you either know well and/or trust deeply. A newly minted shaman just back from his medicine journey in the Amazon offering group experiences in his tiny Brooklyn apartment is my idea of the worst possible way to do this. On the other hand, I have a dear, awakened friend who insists on beginning client’s with an easier on-ramp to the psychedelic experience. Their first session is always with MDMA, which is going to be a heart-opening experience. I love that approach. It doesn’t have to be hard.
- Dose Control: This wasn’t a thing when I was younger. But knowing how much you’re taking, a basic idea of what you can expect from that dosage is a smart approach, and that it’s chemistry / sourcing is impeccable is a definite prerequisite.
- Trust and Surrender: Once you’ve decided to do it. Go all in. Trust the process and surrender to the experience. Resistance is counterproductive and can lead to anxiety or negative experiences.
- Set: refers to your MINDSET going into a psychedelic experience. You want your mindset to be positive, open, and ready to explore.
- Setting: is all about your environment. Who are you with? What are your surroundings? You want these to be set up for safety, comfort and support.
- Integration: After the experience, spend some time integrating the insights gained by reflecting on the experience, its meaning, and how it could positively impact your personal growth.
The above guidelines are not just my tips, they’re my vetted endorsement of the “Game Rules” Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner developed in the 60’s, which grew out of Aldous Huxley’s earlier work and, before him, the tried and true methods of indigenous cultures and wisdom traditions using psychedelics spanning thousands of years. They are also largely in alignment with the suggestions of Dr. Rolland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins, brilliant author and seeker of knowledge, Michael Pollan, and the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Guidelines for Experienced Trippers, Heroic Doses and Deep-Dive Psychonauts
First a little background.
I’m a behavioral engineer, and developer of the Human Operating System. I am a lifelong psychonaut and run a neurotech company developing consumer facing neurotechnologies (to be released next year). I have worked professionally with humans optimizing their health, happiness and performance by way of deep ontological integration and optimization for over 20 years. I’ve worked with everyone from the deeply depressed and diagnosed as untreatable to the ultra high performing in art, business and war. I’m also a master hypnotist, a second degree blackbelt in a principles based (how to use your body and the bodies of others) martial art, and just whole-heartedly curious about how consciousness works.
The neurotechnologies I’ve deployed in the exploration of my brain, mind and consciousness include but are not limited to:
- Meditation (many styles and approaches)
- Psylocibin 🍄 mushrooms
- DMT (main psychoactive in Ayahuasca)
- A host of lesser known tryptamines and phenethylamines (in the spirit of Sasha Shulgin)
- TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) targeted magnetic bursts into the neocortex
- TDCS (Transcranial current direct stimulation)
- and a lot more…
Let’s take the deep dive.
First, a few of my core biases based on a lifetime of self experimentation, optimizing consciousness and working with humans. They are well-vetted.
- The fundamental function of consciousness is to limit. Those limitations help you specialize, excel in specific domains, and develop an identity. Those limits can be positive or negative. Psychedelics suspend the normal patterns of your consciousness allowing an update to those parameters.
- Underneath all the limits that have been developed is a bigger, fuller, perfect and essential you. No matter what other aims you have, always include accessing and stabilizing this deeper, essential you.
- The functional version of this is to establish the raw experience of your deepest self (which Buddhists inversely refer to as Emptiness and No-Self) as your primary operating position. And from this place, have every action, emotion, word, gesture, behavior, belief, thought, expression, etc. be a perfect expression of this way of being.
- The brain and most things about you are a lot more flexible and updatable than most people think. As John Lilly said, “In the province of mind, what is believed true is true, or becomes true within limits to be learned by experience and experiment.” So…open your mind to possibility and believe big!
- Your mind is holographic. This is one of the most profound and most practical aspects of consciousness, but it usually takes some tinkering to grok. Psychedelics (and good conversational hypnotic game play) are among the best ways to experience it directly. To say it in different words, your reality is a direct outpicturing of the entirety of your mind. What I mean: I once did a meditation to manifest the perfect ride while hitchhiking with a friend from NY to California. We were stuck on the Eastern foot of the Continental Divide in a dusty mining town nobody was stopping in. I sat down, did my manifestation process for “the perfect ride”. 20 minutes later two guys pulled off the highway at our exit.
They were checking to see if their tires were still on.
30 minutes later, screaming down the other side of the mountain in their Scooby Doo Mystery Van, they were explaining the reason for their bloodshot eyes and pasty dry mouths: an obscene amount of drugs and a prude helping of sleep. And just like that, I realized that these two fellas were real-life versions of the two characters from the book I was reading, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I had manifested what I wanted, but the background of my brain was full of other stuff and that showed up too. The more you “get” that this is always going on, the faster you can clean it up. You want your system is clean, clear and only aiming you for the results you want. What I don’t mean: (This is a caveat for people overly hypnotized by the “Law Of Attraction”)… If you’re starving in a country with no food and no clean water, I’m not suggesting you somehow unconsciously “manifested” that. The universe is weird place, and Mother Nature is as brutal in her games as she is magnificent in her grandeur.
Best Practices for Dilating Your I
Think of the journey as having three fundamental stages: Before, During and After.
Before can be as simple or epic as you want. I’ve had amazing, mind and heart opening, super insightful experiences with zero prep, but I would recommend engaging the Before with an air of sacredness and joyful intention.
I have friends who are from the lineages of Sasha Shulgin, Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner, as well as people I know who flow from Amazonian shamanic lines. All of them have time-tested preparatory phases. Before matters. Think of it as your the psychic preparation for everything that happens During and After.
As a teenager I read a lot of books about consciousness and behavior, and every weekend after a particularly fruitful trip, I would inevitably think of the latest chapter I had read and say something to the effect of, “yesterday I understood it, but today I Get It.”
Psychedelics are capable of imprinting ideas onto your nervous system in a way that turns knowledge into wisdom.
The single most profound experience I’ve ever had came from something markedly different from any of those styles. Here’s the semi-outline version of it:
The players were me and friend.
He was a 6'3", all-satin wearing, self-styled shaman, with curly orange hair, a summa cum laude graduate degree from Carnegie Melon, who was a masterful hypnotist, and an equally good chemist and botanist.
The setting was in and around my house. We spent five days in non-stop, everything-is-trance, conversational hypnosis. All language was considered as programming our minds with the non-stop suggestion that on the sixth day, we would take our journey and “download” all the information straight into our nervous systems. Most importantly, our attitudes were open, engaged, and completely down for the adventure.
Let me pull up the psychic kimono for a moment to help you “get” why conversational hypnotic storytelling is so profound:
- Your unconscious does not process negation. If I say, “don’t think of a red banana,” you immediately think of a red banana. That’s obvious and easy to understand because a red banana is tangible. But the same thing is true with more conceptual ideas. Don’t think of my friend on this journey as a wizard who was casting magic spells to open my heart and mind, but rather a human programmer who was engineering enlightenment into my nervous system with each sentence. Whatever judgment you may have about any of that, your mind was automatically populated with both ideas. The same thing is true when you’re engaging in conversational hypnosis. But here’s where it gets really interesting…
- 7 ± 2. This is the number of things a human can hold in their short-term memory. The game of conversational hypnosis allows us to overwhelm our short-term memory capacity by telling stories within stories within stories and violating the normal syntactical format of everyday language. Together, this kind of talk helps the mind loosen up… and open up… Since it can’t track all these stories at once, and the language is intentionally ambiguous…your mind begins to process every sentence…every word…as an in-time instruction. My friend was both a wizard and a behavioral engineer, setting the context for miraculous things.Here’s a longer example, to get you just a little more practiced in opening your mind to how you can open your mind: “Years ago, I flew down to see my mentor…he’s this amazing shaman…and the minute you walk into his presence…the rest of the world drops away…and you come home to yourself…completely…and he immediately has me sit down…all the way…inside…so you can start telling yourself this story…about what it’s like…when you’re young…and the eyes of your heart are completely open…Now…everyone remembers some part of being little…when you’re just starting to learn…and everything is new…which is how it’s going to be…when the mushrooms begin to Dilate your I…you’re learning…as though for the first time…and you can begin to wonder…just how amazing can life be? Now, imagine this as a game played back and forth between two people that gets bigger and deeper while always remaining generative and instructional. This plus the fact that your unconscious doesn’t process negation (and hundreds of other hypnotic feats and tricks of consciousness) means you can “install” pretty much anything you want, effectively. So, we’re getting the powerful effects of hypnotic suggestion constantly while also weaving a narrative and post-hypnotic suggestion about how on the day of the journey our nervous systems will integrate it all completely, and we will embody the ideas we’re “installing”.
On a sunny, psychedelically inviting day in early September, we packed up the car and headed out to the Mountains of Phoenicia in lightly upstate New York. Once there, we grabbed our camping gear and backpacks and hiked about a mile up and into the depths of its lush forested heights.
Once our tents were set up, my satin-clad shaman friend looked at me with due seriousness and asked, “Do you want to have a good time, make some real changes, or talk to God?”
“Talk to God,” I squeaked. At this point he pulled out a bag from which he plucked eight capsules of Syrian Rue and placed them in my palm. “Syrian Rue is a psychedelic analog,” he explained. Essentially, it inhibits the enzymes that normally break down a substance like psilocybin, resulting in the psychedelic being more bioavailable, potent and long lasting. Dutifully, and with a slightly less than a full stomach of hesitation, I swallowed them. Down the hatch, as they say.
Next, he pulled out what can only be described as a giant jar of mushrooms. 5 grams and up is what is now referred to as an Heroic Dose in the world of psilocybin mushrooms. Heroic doses often come with:
- Intense visuals
- Profound alterations in consciousness
- Ego dissolution
- Deeply spiritual experiences
He handed me a carefully weighed 16 grams.
✅ ✅ ✅ and ✅
I will share only one interesting moment of this 14-hour journey, and it’s the first.
If you ever saw The Little Mermaid, there’s a part where the Sea Witch is casting a spell and part of that spell is taking Ariel’s voice. As she’s doing this, she tells Ariel to, “sing!”. As Ariel does, you see the “singing” leave her body in the form of a little ball of light, and then, while still singing, travel over to the Sea Witch. That happened to me. But I wasn’t singing and there was no ball light. Instead, my internal voice (something that had up until that point just seemed “in my head”) dislodged from its then-normal position at the back right of my head and circle out about 12 feet in front of me, all while still talking.
“Whoa” I started to say to myself, only to begin the “wh” and then watch as the “oa……” left home and orbited my head like a distant moon to my planet.
In this case, the “message” was profound: a cornerstone of my identity — my internal voice — was not fixed in place. It was movable. And as it moved, who I was expanded, profoundly.
I was on my third journal before I realized I had had the same personal insight at least half a dozen times during the course of that year. That means I had the same insight six separate times and not implemented it in my life. 🤦🏼
Insights are most valuable when they become operational.
Other than the experience itself, the most important thing you can take from your journey is to integrate your deepest insights and experiences.
Insights are always structural.
To have an insight is to shift “how” you’re thinking about whatever it is you’re thinking about. That structural shift is the operational aspect of the insight. Don’t get overly caught up in the “ideas”. As they say in entrepreneurship, ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about execution.
Put your attention instead on the feeling you have while you’re having the insight, the changes in shape of your awareness (your Attentional Parameters), and the behaviors that flow from those insights, e.g. I’ll nurture myself. (Then, add specifics and contexts like, “Every Thursday night, I’ll take a warm bath, read a book and go to sleep by 9:30”). These things are trackable. And, as you implement them, they become the slow, worthy, breadcrumb path to stabilizing your own state of Awakening.
Pairing the feeling of the insight with an update in behavior and attaching it to a specific context allows you to begin stabilizing your newly dilated “I” into specific contexts. As you do, like Alexander the Great conquering new lands, you can bring the best you to each area of your life. Each new context and habit furthers the expression of your awakened state. You were awake when you came up with them, and as they move from insight to behavior and ultimately autopilot, they are habits that keep you awake.
Keep it simple. While all insights are structural, they are also all leading you home. That home is already within in you. In common speak, it’s you “at your best”. But those words are a small description of a state so deep and vast it might as well be infinite. But you are always coming back home. That’s the aim, and that’s the gift that psychedelics have to offer. They pull back back the curtain on the mundane magic of just Being Here Now. The world is already full-blown magical. Psychedelics simply allow you to be present to it again.
Deeper Here. Deeper Now.
That’s the promise and that’s the direction you’re always headed.
One Final Note: As my brother Gregory once said, “all the great philosophers came to one of two conclusions:
- There is no meaning
- Everything is love
Those are both great operational premises. Stay open to them. Integrate them in everything you do. Allow psychedelics to bring those insights home.
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