MISTAKING TOURISTS FOR LOCALS IN PSYCHEDELIC COUNTRY
There is a difference between shallow, intellectual knowledge and deep, embodied, empirical knowledge. Tourist knowledge is shallow. It seems to me that if someone has only been to Italy once, they would have no business writing a book about Italy – even if they visited several cities, have done a lot of research on Italy, and talked to a lot of people who have been to Italy. Only someone who has actually spent a lot of time in Italy can share with you its true intricacies. They can help tune you in to a deeper understanding of that place, because they have a deeper understanding of that place. They can share with you things about which short-term visitors can't even conceptualize - like the way you know your pet, your child, or your partner. You can see, understand and intuit things that someone who has only spent a little time with them couldn't grok. This is the difference between a tourist and a local.
When it comes to medicine work, expectations are everything. They can make or break a journey. Michael Pollan, for instance, is a tourist in the psychedelic space. His work is giving people false expectations, and it’s causing a lot of problems for my clients. Of course he is not the only one masquerading as a local here. Anyone with a keyboard or a microphone can masquerade as a local in any space, and it's incredibly confusing for people who are just looking for a way out.
Though I’m very glad the media is reaching people that might not have been reached before, it is also hurting their ability to make progress, which I’ve seen first-hand. The sensationalism that sells books to Random House and documentaries to Netflix is very different from the true-to-life reality of actual experience, which unfolds and blossoms over a long period of time, i.e., the span of a human life.
I have been doing medicine work now for 5 years. I have 75 client journeys under my belt. That number almost doubles when you add the times I have used medicine myself, for either learning or healing. It was only after three years of self-work and client work that I felt solid. I work with colleagues who have been around since the 60s - not to mention Indigenous tribes all over the world which have been utilizing medicine culturally for eons. These folks have served medicine hundreds of times, over decades. The number of times they have communed with the medicine themselves is countless. They have superhuman intuition and understanding in the field of psychedelic medicine. These elders aren’t writing books for Random House. Maybe they don’t have the connections, maybe they don’t have the time, maybe they don’t have the desire. Either way, this deep knowledge is getting lost to a twisted sensationalist fantasy, and it’s hurting all of us.
I had another client recently who was baffled by their journey, because they were expecting their life to be completely transformed after using a macro-dose of psilocybin one time. I explicitly counsel people before their journeys that this work is a process. But it gets lost, until people have no choice but to believe me, because they are so confused, and in so much pain. It is dangerous and unfair to give someone in that state the false hope of a silver bullet. Psychedelic medicine IS a beautiful tool for trauma, but it happens in fits and spurts over months and years, alongside a personal practice of working with oneself in all the day-to-day material that presents itself to us as fuel for liberation and healing.
When we’re dealing with the psyche, expectations are an incredibly slippery thing. A few months ago, I was working with an advanced client, a person who founded a thriving organization based on freedom of mind. I trust them to have way fewer blind spots than most of the population. All along in our prep they kept telling me, “I have no expectations, I’m just excited to go deeper.” I really believed them. It would have been totally plausible. But the morning of the journey, this client took the medicine and it became clear that they did have expectations – and that those expectations were getting in our way. Because I knew they were really practiced at getting out of their own way, I was able to say to them: “I am talking to the part of you that is holding on to something. I want you to drop the expectations you are putting on this space, and just let us be here together.” Reactively, they began to say, “I don’t have expectations…” but they stopped themselves, because at that moment, they could see what I saw. Some part of them heard me, and understood. They buckled, and began to cry. With the expectations gone, we had arrived at the work.
Even the most practiced of us come in with sneaky expectations - that's how embedded they are. It’s only when we can see them getting in our way, that we can let them go and relax into what is here for us. For people who are new in the space, and not very practiced, their expectations are going to be based entirely on fantasy. With tourists at the mic, and shaping the cultural imagery, what that fantasy consists of is fairly grandiose. This makes the work harder because then our first obstacle is to tame that fantasy. It inserts a hurdle where there wouldn’t otherwise be one. It makes the work take longer.
Psychedelic medicine is not about killing egos or blasting through trauma. It's not even about laying new tracks. It’s about relaxing into what is here for us. The work is always about you. It is never about someone else’s experience, regardless of where that idea comes from, or what statistics say. There are statistics and there is an individual. Every individual is having an individual experience. You are the point, you are the work, you are the thing that matters in psychedelic medicine. And in the great paradox of the human condition, it is only by turning our attention toward our unique and individual selves that we can finally break free of them… which is really what we all want, in the end: To be liberated, and free for a gracious amount of time from that monkey on our back who pummels us with doubt and self-loathing. This won’t happen by looking outward at a fantasy, and it won’t happen looking at someone else’s experience. It will only happen when we relax into what is here for us, today, right here, right now. You have something built-in that responds to your specific constitution – a psyche that is more intelligent than we can understand with our tiny human mind. When we soften the ego and the expectations, the psyche presents us with exactly the right thing for us, at exactly the right time. As we learn to honor the lesson that is here, whatever lesson is here, that is when the work starts to fast-track. And what everyone wants is to fast-track the work.
By the way, you can trust me with directions; I’m a local here.