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.