What follows is a guest blog post from the psychedelic integration volunteer mentioned in the previous blog post.
As James said in his post, ingestion of psychedelics under supervision in a safe setting greatly increases the likelihood that the psychedelic experience is one of therapeutic benefit.
I completely agree, however the safe setting that I chose could be regarded by many as highly unsafe. The middle of the Peruvian jungle, in an off grid camp, next to a tributary of the Amazon river, a day's canoe ride from any medical help. It's tough to find somewhere to do it in the UK. I'm an adventurer so it wasn't too much of an issue for me. I was highly motivated by the desire to rid myself of the heavy darkness I was carrying inside me, I didn't want it but I couldn't seem to free myself from it. I'd made progress through counseling, meditation, yoga, NVC (non violent communication), spiritual teachers on youtube and various other weird and wonderful retreats I'd attended. But something was still there and I couldn't get to it. They name this plant medicine "The Mother" in the Amazon, and they say it calls you. When I learned about Ayahuasca, it called me.
In the jungle I worked with Peruvian shamans. They hold the ceremonial space, look after the safety of the experience and facilitate healing in a very ancient, skillful and magical way. Well I found it magical, it's bread and butter sense to them, they've been doing it for generations. They drew the darkness out of me, it was a bit like having my hard drive wiped.
On return to Edinburgh, what had made perfect sense in the Peruvian jungle with shamans, was much trickier to handle in the day to day operations of living in the western world. I felt much better, but also a bit lost and alone. How was I going to integrate this into my life, load all the right stuff onto my shiny new hard drive and not go backwards in confusion? Who could I talk to? Er...not the NHS that's for sure, I was scared I might get sectioned or at least black marked. I've worked for the NHS in mental health, I know how things operate.
Fortunately for me, I found the Scottish community of psychonauts and what I needed to help me learn from, and integrate my experience. I understand now that we do have shamans in the UK, and it seems we had many more of them in the distant past. Maybe they are not always called "shamans" today, but I can spot them now, and it doesn't take long for us to recognise each other.
For me, psychedelics have been a wonderful tool for healing and I realised very quickly that the wisdom and insights gained under their influence need to be integrated. It is absolutely essential and I have put a lot of effort into this. My trip to the Amazon took me 18 months to integrate. Unfortunately I have also seen people who are lost, distressed in fact, as to how to integrate their experiences and are left floundering. Integration is 80% of the work. Psychedelics can crack the door open and let us peek inside. Then we have to push the door open ourselves and learn to live on the other side of it. When I saw James's post on the Psychedelic Society of Edinburgh I felt moved to volunteer. How wonderful someone is offering this work, how groundbreaking.
So what happened in my three sessions with James?
In my first session and my first experience of Zero Balancing, I experienced that James was purposefully calm, balanced and neutral. He was like a calm still pond - I could look into the water and see myself reflected back. I could see that he was being a mirror and holding it up for me to see myself and what was going on in me. That's a useful learning tool for integration; realising what's happening inside me, and that was one of the first things I got out of it. During the session if there were any ripples I was seeing and feeling, then I could be sure that they were my own, caused by me. He wasn't adding anything into the mix. It's not often that I am with another, or get the focus of another human being, without their ripples meeting my ripples and causing a whole lot of action in the water. This rippled water is then too unclear to see through well, and to know what is mine and what's theirs. Zero Balancing allowed me to see some of my ripples with support, and then calm them so that the water cleared.
I have recently become interested in Scotland's own teacher plant medicines. They grow wild right on our doorstep at this time of the year. I understand how to hold my own ceremonial space now and so I came to the second session with a recent new experience to integrate. I had experienced quite a profound connection with the native teacher plants a few days before the session and I'd had the somewhat baffling experience that my ancestors worked with them and they had knowledge to pass to me. Knowledge that had been lost when my ancestors and others like them were wiped out by persecution. Wow! This was a lot for me to take in, even by my standards it was weird and wonderful. The session with James helped me to take this experience a step further, firstly he was just a calm, non judgemental witness to the information, and secondly with bodywork. I had a little more understanding by now that Zero Balancing allows energy to flow more freely in a person's body so that they can come home to their true spark and essence. I left feeling lighter and more aligned in my body with less aches and stiffness.
Week three was unexpectedly emotional. I arrived feeling like a lot of what I had experienced during my psychedelic experience the previous week was just crazy talk and impossible to integrate into my life in Edinburgh. The persecution of psychedelic knowledge continues to this day and how could I get involved in working with what is (unbelievably to me) a class A drug. James was skilled in helping me to identify what I DO want in more general terms, thereby giving us a focus for the session. During the body work he hit a few points in my right shoulder that were tender and sore, but the kind of pain that feels sooooo good. When he explained to me what they represented, a lot of emotion welled up in me and I could see the root of some self limiting beliefs that are blocking me. It was a powerful experience and I spent the rest of that day and evening contemplating and integrating this new insight. It involved a lot of sobbing. I'm good with that though, it's life flowing through me, it's me evolving. I've never had good experiences in intimate relationships before, but now (I think, as a result of all the healing I've done) I have a wonderful boyfriend and he made me a nest on his sofa and looked after me while I sobbed. I'm a work in progress, all of us are and always will be. Modern day shamans can help us evolve, it's what we are here for, and to my mind they are essential members of our community.
There is an emerging paradigm shift taking hold in the treatment of mental illness. It goes by the name of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy, and essentially involves the ingestion of psychedelics under supervision in a safe setting. Doing so greatly increases the likelihood that the psychedelic experience is one of therapeutic benefit.
Such benefits include the treatment of treatment-resistant depression, fear of death in terminal cancer patients and nicotine addiction. The results from research done so far is very compelling - some cases of which show that three doses can have lasting and sustained positive outcomes, such as an 80% success rate in the case of treating nicotine addiction. And, indeed, that one dose can make a beneficial and lasting impact on those suffering from depression. Such success rates are totally unheard of in the existing paradigm. Similarly impressive results are seen in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With two new research centres now established - one in Imperial College London and the other at John Hopkins University - many more studies are planned.
A quick search on Google or YouTube will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of personal accounts of the benefits individuals have received from using substances such as ayahuasca (DMT), magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and LSD. These are either microdosed (a small amount - too small to induce any change in lucidity or ability to interact with one's daily life - for enhanced mood, creativity and productivity) or in 'ego dissolution' quantities (a large amount, in a safe setting, with the aim of exploring one's inner landscape and come to terms with difficult areas in one's life, be it a relationship, past traumas, a lack of purpose and meaning, etc.).
Having had personal experience and lasting benefit from the ingestion of psilocybin when I was in my late teens, I have been following this shift in attitudes with great interest. I have enjoyed reading and watching many interviews and personal accounts of these intrepid explorers of consciousness and the nature of their own minds, lovingly referred to 'psychonauts'.
These are not the footloose and fancy-free, and at times irresponsible users of psychedelics that one may assume. These are business executives, parents with busy lives and those suffering with illnesses of all sorts. These are people who realise that there is something missing in their lives, or they simply have not been able to find relief or the cause of their turmoil and pain. These are people who realise that the modern lifestyle is, for many, void of meaning and purpose.
Done responsibly and with an appropriate therapeutic container (such as in the shamanistic rituals of the Andes, Africa and Asia or in the calm setting of any other purposely designed space), these substances can be a catalyst of personal meaning, insight and, above all, healing.
So why am I, a bodyworker, so interested in psychedelic therapy?
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is that the healing potential of psychedelics is so incredibly broad. This ties in strongly with my experience of bodywork, where not only physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing is amplified and past traumas shed. A state in which insights and learning can occur easily. Although the methods and approaches are different - touch vs ingestion - I believe that there is an underlying mechanism by which healing occurs which both approaches share. Intriguingly, both are also used not just for addressing diseases within the body-mind, but also for the betterment of well people - helping people to tap into the limitless potential that boosts wellbeing, creativity and delivers personal insight.
Secondly, as I have had personal experience of magic mushrooms lifting me out of long-term depression in my teenage years - opening my eyes for the first time to the beauty of nature and art - I know some of their potential. In those years I remember reading an article in the New Scientist about the use of Iboga (a psychedelic used in Africa) in the treatment of heroin addiction. With one dose, heroin users came off heroin without the arduous, painful and sometimes fatal journey of withdrawal that the body goes through otherwise. This deepened my respect for both herbal medicine and what we term traditional or primitive cultures. These people weren't stupid or primitive at all - they just lived differently to us. Indeed, I am now of the understanding that they were far more advanced than us in other aspects. And most, if not all, of which have been documented to use psychedelic substances for healing purposes or initiation rites.
And, lastly, this paradigm shift in the treatment of mental illnesses isn't the only paradigm shift taking place in the field. As I have written about before, the works of Peter Levine, Stephen Borges and Bessel van der Kolk are also coming to the fore. They demonstrate how the body plays a pivotal role in both the establishing and treatment of trauma, and how traumas greatly increase the likelihood of physical illnesses, such as autoimmune diseases and cancer, and mental conditions such as addiction and ADHD. I have a strong belief that these two paradigm shifts are necessary to help address the catastrophic rise in mental and physical illness across the world.
In particular, one theme that keeps coming up from my research on therapeutic and healing psychedelic use is the need for integration.
During the psychedelic experience, one can receive insights about one's behaviour and how this adversely affects one's self and those in one's life. And, if you're willing to suspend your disbelief, these substances can teach us about the nature of what it means to be alive and our place in the world. Such insights are profound and often create a desire to change one's lifestyle and life direction. But I reportedly hear that grounding these insights isn't easy.
Changing one's behaviour, one's reactions, to establish a more compassionate and holistic way of operating in the world is where the rubber meets the road, so the speak. And this is where I believe bodywork can augment and amplify the healing potential of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy.
Speaking from my perspective as a Zero Balancer, in bodywork we work with the physical body to affect positive change within the client. The changes that occur are not limited to the physical body - far from it. However, because we start with contacting the physical body, there's always a grounded connection in the physical and lived experience of being in the human body.
It doesn't matter where the client goes during the experience. They may go out of body, re-visit memories or places, see visions, dreams or colours, experience emotions, or enjoy a deeply relaxing bodily experience that provides them with much needed rest. It is all induced through conscious, sensitive touch. No matter the experience, each session ends with a clear grounding, so that the experience is integrated into their physical existence.
My theory is that whilst psychedelic sessions can and do elicit profound insights, how they affect one's life varies from person to person depending on how well they can ground their experience in their daily lives. Through bodywork, I believe that it's possible to connect with the person's psychedelic experience - it's qualities, to be more exact - and help ground it into their literal and metaphoric bones, so that it can integrate with their every day embodied experience.
To be clear, the psychedelic experience is internal and whilst the resulting insights can bring changes in perspective, the changes in perspective don't necessarily change one's external behaviours. The inside out approach of psychedelics is reliant on how well connected one's inner life is with one's outer life. Bodywork, on the other hand, works from the outside in. It calls forth that which is internal and can bring it into the external. This is why I think bodywork can be hugely beneficial for those who are struggling to integrate their psychedelic experiences.
As a result, I put out a call on the Facebook page of the Psychedelic Society of Edinburgh (link) a few months ago asking for volunteers to write about their experience of integrating their psychedelic experiences through Zero Balancing. I offered three free Zero Balancing sessions to those willing to volunteer. And one person stepped forward and emailed me. At the time of writing, we have just finished our three sessions and I have no idea what she has written or will write. My hope, however, is that she will agree to my putting it up as a guest blog post on my website.
Even if my theory is not bolstered by the upcoming blog post, I remain hopeful that the emerging paradigms of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy and bodywork can support each other and work together to assist in healing this fractured world, and the fractured people who inhabit it.
Clients often come to me to release the imprints, the remnants, and the ever present impact of events from the past. Abuses of all kinds, childhood conditioning and psychological patterns that developed as a result of these are the most common. Every one has their story, their pain.
The common notion of the nature of time is that the past is just that, in the past - it's no longer present and no longer affects us - may be true in a mechanical sense. And it's along these lines that you may hear people say, "Get over it," or, "Why does that still bother you?" Other than lacking the obvious compassion, such statements are also factually incorrect. The past is not the past when it comes to the human psyche.
Both Bessel van der Kolk's best-selling book, The Body Keeps The Score, and Dr Gabor Mate's excellent books summarise how the central nervous system still behaves as if the threat of past experiences is ever present, and I would thoroughly recommend people read these books if they want to explore this topic further.
The affected central nervous system, in turn, affects the whole body - including hormone secretions and organ function - as well as our behaviour. Our accumulation of experiences has shaped us, and continues to do so.
Dr Gabor Mate goes on to state how this affects our physical health and leads to all kinds of illness in later life. So, for example, a child who has experienced sexual abuse has much higher chances of experiencing debilitating, chronic and terminal illness later in life due to an almost lifelong exposure to high levels of cortisol.
I would go further to suggest that it's not just past traumas - nor just more extreme cases of PTSD - that affect how the body reacts to life or, indeed, how we react to it. It's just that these cases are more easy to identify and diagnose. We don't need to be war veterans or abuse survivors to warrant the need for therapy.
How many of us have grown up with divorced parents? How many of us have lost friends when moving school? How many of us were rarely heard or acknowledged when we needed it most?
Such events can leave a mark on the psyche and, most importantly, how we choose to react to them becomes an inbuilt coping mechanism for similar events in future.
No two people experiencing the same event will react in the same way. Each will experience their own spectrum of emotions and thoughts. Just like how all our bodies are unique, so too are the range and levels of hormones that are secreted and central nervous system's activity in response to the experience.
These reactions are unique to us and our sense of self is related to how we react to these things.
So when a client comes to me for help with their past, it's my duty to establish as good a working relationship with them as a personality and, most importantly, their body. So we'll talk about the past in the consultation, but what can happen during the bodywork session can be a surprise to some of my clients.
Rather than relieving the imprint of the past, rather than trying to hone in on the 'stuck' emotion, behavioural pattern or memory in order to work with it, what ends up happening - and this is beyond my control - is that the session becomes about helping the client with what's coming up in their future.
To be clear, this is something that can be sensed through touch. Working with the past can and does happen. But this article is about those time when it doesn't. When the client's future direction is what comes to the fore, despite the past being the main theme of the consultation.
The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, what's happening in their lives now and the direction their lives are taking is intricately related to the past. So whilst the conscious desire may be to work on a past issue, what ends up happening is that the session affirms their vision, their dream for their future. In doing so, they are encouraged in a direction that helps them to free themselves from the hangover of the past.
Secondly, it acts as a counterbalance and safety measure to the blaming that can develop. It's easy to end up blaming the past (and others) for who we are now. "My mother never showed me any love so I seek relationships where I am mothered, " or "It's his fault that I am so angry," or whatever it may be. Whilst resentment and blame in this context are usually easy to spot in others, and sometimes ourselves, what's less easy to spot is the distinction between healthy analysis of ourselves and less healthy versions thereof. Ruminating about our past experiences can stop us living the life that we have been gifted and can stop us moving forward toward new potentials.
Both of these are two sides of the same coin. They empower a client to become unstuck. To be freer and easier within themselves so they can take their lives forward in a direction that leads to greater satisfaction, happiness and inner growth.
And ultimately, past and future are two sides of the same coin. They are means by which we relate to the present moment. And it's only in the present moment that our imaginings of the future be made manifest, or that the past can be brought to the surface for healing. And it's only in the present moment that I can work with my clients. I can't travel back in time, nor can I show them their future. All I can do is to work with them, just as they are presented to me, and do my utmost to create the conditions where the best possible outcome arises.
This morning I re-read Jim McCormick's guest blog post and it strikes at the very heart of why I do Zero Balancing and why I continue to dedicate myself to it. Zero Balancing is not just for aches, pains and physical realignment. It's a tool that can deepen our personal development and our understanding of ourselves - helping us to strip away all that we are not, so we are left with a greater knowledge of who we are.
To let go of all physical tensions that are no longer of use or necessary is to let go of all psychological habits or tensions that are similarly no longer of use or necessary. We literally hold our way of being in the world in our body. In letting go of who we were, we are able to re-define ourselves and adapt to the changes of life. This in itself is useful as it makes us adaptable to whatever may arise in our lives in any given moment. And it goes deeper still, we can gain knowledge of why we behave the way we do, to understand what happened in our lives to make us just so and, ultimately, to root it out so we can be more fully ourselves.
How we are now is the sum total of what we have experienced and how we chose to react to those experiences. As we gain knowledge of those reactions and what lies at their core, we find that they were actually choices. Let me give an example.
I was at a Zero Balancing workshop earlier this month and, when I was on the receiving end of some ZB - and remarkable as it may sound - I found myself in the womb. I was conscious that this womb I was in had been occupied before. So I made a choice to fit into the family structure. Whilst this choice of fitting into the family structure was not unreasonable, it limited me nonetheless. I couldn't just be who I am. I had to restrict myself somehow to survive in the dynamics of the family home. With this insight and knowledge - one I was totally unaware of having ever made until that workshop - I was able to forgive myself for making the choice to fit in. Now that I am no longer in the same family home, and no longer dependent on fitting into the family dynamics for survival, it is no longer necessary for me to have that decision at the core of my sense of self.
The result of this insight and subsequent resolution is that I am less concerned about fitting in, in general terms. Fitting into society, fitting into other people's projections of who I am, fitting into any sort of social dynamic. I therefore am able to re-define how I relate to the world around me. And to do so for the first time since I made that initial decision all those years ago.
When we realise that our inner life is dictated by decisions made in the past - however fleeting they may have been - and how we lost some part of ourselves in the process, we begin to realise the potential for change. And that inner change creates an external change in how we relate to the world. Or, if you will, how the world relates to us.
So I am now simultaneously not who I was and more who I have always been. And it's this uncovering of who we really are that is the great work of a lifetime. This is the same self-actualisation that Jim McCormick mentioned in his post. To get there, we need to realise who we are and who we are not. What we are, and what we are not.
It's these what-we-are-nots that block us on our path to self-actualisation.
We are not our traumas. We are not our upbringing. We are not our conditioning. We are not our tensions. We are not our pain; our emotions. We are not our ideas, thoughts or beliefs.
They consume our energy and underpin much of our behaviour. It's through gaining self-knowledge that we can begin to be liberated from their erroneous ways.
And what we are is for us to discover.
To celebrate the new year, I'd like to offer everyone (existing clients included) three Zero Balancing sessions for the price of two! All you have to do is get in touch before 31st January to book your first session and state your intention to take advantage of this special offer by quoting JAN2019.
You can book the usual way - calling 0131 210 0131, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by messaging the facebook page.