This is the last in a series of guest blog posts about psychedelic integration. See here for an introduction to this project, here for the first case study and here for the second case study.
It's hard to know where to start in summarising my experience of psychedelic-assisted therapy and Zero Balancing as, in James' words, 'the healing potential of psychedelics is so incredibly broad'. The reality of the healing experience, for me, was also incredibly broad. So much to consider!
I was both honoured and excited to have James invite me as a volunteer to help him with his exploration into how Zero Balancing might benefit the integration of psychedelic, or any plant, entheogenic or psychotropic healing experience. It felt, to me, like together we were doing something for the greater good.
I had two entheogenic healing experiences last year, the first MDMA, and the second ayahuasca. Both were held in a therapeutic and safe ceremonial space with either a psychotherapist or a shamanic practitioner guiding.
I'd been on an energy healing journey for about a year when it was suggested to me that I might be interested in trying MDMA. MDMA isn't a psychedelic, nor is it a plant, but due to its make up, and when used with care, respect and consideration, it has considerable healing potential. In research studies it has been achieving significant and long-term healing results for war veterans, freeing them from PTSD in one, two or a maximum of three treatments.
My own experience with MDMA was profound. So deeply profound, so devoid of ego and judgement, so beautiful and accepting of everybody and everything, that I didn't want to return 'here', to this every day state of consciousness. I saw (sensed) so much of my life, like a story, and gained a deep inner knowing, a true understanding, about why some things had happened the way they did and the reason for some pretty negative life-long belief systems and thought patterns.
My first session with James was a few weeks after that ceremony. I was aware that James spent quite a lot of time asking me just a few questions, but really listening to my answers, and letting me relive what I needed to relive of the experience. He then does a really wonderful job of summarising your story, which is a true skill, particularly when your story comes out as a kind of mish-mash, and reflecting it back to you, allowing you to see it more clearly and any links or relevant connections you might have missed. He then asks you what your intent is for this particular healing session.
The treatment is very soothing, very relaxing, very calming, with maybe an occasional subtle feeling somewhere that James might just have hit on something, but no pain, no discomfort, just ease and surrender. As he goes about his work, I found I gradually felt very settled, my breathing slowed down significantly, and as is usual for me, I released and shifted energy blocks through very deep breaths and yawns. After my first session, I felt very light in weight, very slow, a bit low on energy, a bit spacey, but like a beacon of bright light walking through Edinburgh, and although I don't like cities, I was calm and unflappable, even in the chaos around the town. An important thing James had said at the end of the session was that 'it starts here'. I wasn't to make any preconceived notions or judgements about what I felt or didn't feel. I was just to allow and observe.
Between my first and second Zero Balancing session, I participated in an ayahuasca healing ceremony. It was a bit like the spirit of that ceremony, the 'mother', knew what had happened at my first ceremony and gave me 'part 2', or the next stage, of my healing journey. Everything was consistent and related to the experience I'd had with MDMA. James wasn't surprised there was consistency, he said that once you've opened up your energy to the extent that I had, the connections in spirit, in plants and across everything are finally able to properly reconnect and that's when you really start to reach the truth.
The session was the same structure, with a very fulfilling chat first. I noticed one of the other volunteers described James as a calm still pond, that he had no ripples converging with her ripples, there was no muddy pond of information or emotion, she knew everything was hers. And that's exactly what it's like with James. The benefit of that initial chat is absolutely significant. He creates true, personal, loving space, holding you in such a revered place of dignity and respect that that alone, I found to be incredibly healing. It's a rare and beautifully nurturing quality.
I felt more energised after the second session than I had after the first. When James finished the treatment, I was lying on the bed feeling like a vibration. Like I was just energy - which I am - but I had no feeling of a body mass or density, it felt like I was just aura, fractal patterns and frequency.
James offered that he felt I was much more present and grounded during this session than I had been at my first. At my first he'd felt I was a bit up in the clouds (these might be my words), and totally not grounded. This actually made sense to me, having really felt the integration experience subtly taking place in my life (with and without my assistance) and me stepping up and out into things I never would have before.
Again, James had asked me what my intention was for the session, and this time I surmised that it was to help me naturally adapt to the complete change of direction my life seemed to be taking as a result of my introduction to psychedelic therapy and Zero Balancing.
The day of my third and final session sadly arrived (each of my three sessions were ten days apart), and I described to James a seething anger I had experienced, and heavy flatness for a couple of days preceding the final session. We talked through that. My anger wasn't a rage and throw-things-around anger, it was a deep, emotional, raw pain that produced hard tears which, on hindsight, I think were a lot related to both clarity and confusion.
The psychedelics took me to my expanded consciousness, they took me to a place of deep truth that was profoundly and authentically me. By the time my angry day came, I'd spent weeks consciously integrating this 'loving authentic me' and these knew 'knowings' about myself, as best as I could into my life and the reality of our world. I'd been being aware, becoming enlightened and realising a new perspective, realising that my now broader, more conscious awareness could see the world, the system that we live in, even better than I used to be able to see it - and oh my goodness, it was scarier than ever. I also got angry because I'd seen my life, felt my life, been guided in my life from a place of absolute and pure acceptance and unconditional love, and here I was, these few weeks on, feeling as much in my ego as I'd ever been. I felt that even having been prepared for it, known the significance of it, I'd been naive about how the integration of my two experiences into everyday life would work. At first it had been so easy. Then it got harder, I had to be more conscious, I could feel the spirit, the beauty, the ease leaving me, but as it left me it didn't take with it the memory or the feeling of being in that place, being that person, and I got angry at how hard it was to naturally create - or even unnaturally, with a lot of effort, create - that authentic person and that truth in our thick and heavy third-dimensional existence. I got angry because I could and can now see the extent of the hideousness in the world and I find the enormity of that hideousness scarier than I ever did. Before, I couldn't really see it or understand it properly. I still don't, but I do know not to trust it and that I have to rise far above it, shine that beacon of light I felt after session one, and help others to do the same. Yet having experienced the truth of love at the highest frequency, it pains me to be able to use that experience only as my learning ground.
Anyway, James helped me to validate and accept these feelings as a huge part of the integration process, also suggesting that they were showing me something about myself that I either no longer needed, or that was giving me a message in some way. This third session was, for me, the most significant. Perhaps by this time there was something soothing in the familiarity. In the third session, as James released some dense energy in my chest, my right hand felt like it went numb and I got the sense of a black splot of tar moving out of the front of my body. James then gave my right arm and hand some attention, the numbness changed to pins and needles and then as the session continued my hand was very cold. James told me after the session that he felt we'd reconnected my head and my heart, and he also gave me a message about my expectations of love which, later on when I had the chance to process the message, made so much sense and which I went on to discuss with my partner. This was a new understanding, something that hadn't come up anywhere in my life until now, and it explained to me a lot about how my emotions had been recently, and perhaps for quite some time. I felt very tired after this session, but so very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet James and become a little bit more whole from these sessions.
Yet where does integration end? Does it end? As I continue into a new year, the onslaught of new ideas, awareness, recognition of myself and wow moments continue as a conscious unfolding into the every day. My summary, I feel, would be portrayed well in a graph where we started on, say, 5, travelling along in life at 5. Then after psychedelic medicine we go up, wow, maybe to 8 or 9, yes, life is good, life is different, wow. Then take a nose-dive down to 2 or 3, where life's a bit hard again, harder than it was 'before', these were my angry, down days, and then eventually you settle into something that's around 6 or 7. I really do believe that if you focus on the integration, your level of consciousness is going to expand, and your energy 'constancy' is going to rise. Zero balancing doesn't do it for you, you must be the leader, but it most definitely helps in a number of ways.
Initially I expected that Zero Balancing was just a hands-on energy-healing treatment (maybe it is with other practitioners, I don't know) but with James it's so much more. It wasn't till after I'd finished the series of three sessions that I realised the significance of that initial focussed chat. It's like you get 2-for-1, a mentor as well as an energy healer. For me now, I see the session as being a conglomeration of two parts: part one the coaching, part two the treatment. First of all James listens, asks and validates, summarises and then doesn't so much link this information to the treatment but uses his absorption of this knowledge to allow a better 'whole', a 'wholer whole', as he invites back the flow of energy through the energies and joints.
I enjoyed the trio of sessions too. It was like you were involved in something, committed to something, like you had something to check back on and follow through on, to check progress on, at each session. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for the honour and opportunity to participate James. You've not seen the last of me!
PS: I mentioned above that I'd ventured into new and unknown territory as a result of taking psychedelics. This new and unknown is related to something that happened in both my MDMA and my ayahuasca ceremonies. It was the resounding call for me to get my mask off and share my truth. To cut a long story short, I was drawn by the spirit of consciousness to sign up with and volunteer with an exciting new global movement called #ThankYouPlantMedicine so that I can share truth to a world that is in badly need of the truth. ThankYouPlantMedicine is a gratitude campaign that's calling for 100,000+ people to tell their healing or transformation story on 20 February 2020, the intent being that the stigma and discrimination behind the use of these healing medicines can be dissolved. If you're interested in finding out more or joining in, there's more information here. Thank you James, for allowing me to share that here:
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.
Guest blog post by Jim McCormick, Zero Balancing Faculty.
Part of my passion has been to let more people know of the possibilities of Zero Balancing as a personal growth and transformational tool.
One term for this process is self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is a term originally introduced by Kurt Goldstein in the 1930s and 40s, and followed up later by many others, particularly in humanistic psychology by Abraham Maslow. In Goldstein’s view self-actualisation is the “tendency to actualise one’s self as fully as possible, and is the basic human drive.”
Maslow said there are a hierarchy of needs in life and that self-actualisation represents the growth of an individual toward fulfilling the highest needs in that hierarchy: “creative self-growth, finding meaning in life and being.” His belief was that “finding your core-nature that is unique to you is one of the main goals of life.”
The fruits of self-actualisation include knowing and understanding one’s self, being able to be in the moment, a feeling of joy and peace and a sense of well-being that doesn’t depend on what happens in the outer world. A self-actualised person is often involved in the quest for spiritual enlightenment, the pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to and/or positively transform society are other examples of goals of self-actualisation.
To me, self-actualisation is the best route to a successful, satisfying, and rich life. The deep meaning in life comes from being able to listen your core self, “letting the spirits lead the parade” where you feel you are in harmony with both your true inner nature and with the surrounding world.
There are many paths to self-actualisation including meditation, psychotherapy, self-reflection and prayer to name a few. If people have heard of Zero Balancing (ZB) at all they tend to think of it as beneficial for relaxation and certain physical complaints. This would put ZB in the category of massage, chiropractic or physical therapy. What is much less widely known to the general public is that Zero Balancing is one of those tools which is also beneficial for self-actualisation.
Zero Balancing has several advantages over other means of getting to self-actualisation:
All of this is to say that Zero Balancing is a wonderful therapy that deserves to be more known and more used. It feels wonderful; it helps a myriad of problems; and it frees and unifies the body/mind and spirit in a way that permits and encourages self-actualisation.
Jim McCormick practices Zero Balancing and Five Element Acupuncture at Cambridge Health Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts.