SKEPTICISM, WISE DISCERNMENT & PSYCHEDLIC MEDICINE
Working with entheogenic medicine can be a very big leap of faith for folks, seeing how different the methodology is from the way we generally treat the healing process. As is the case when we are heading into the unknown - everyone has questions about what the process is like. Many of us are terrified of letting go. We get concerned about what effect the work might have on the everyday lives we've crafted, if some of our armor were to be removed. This is a fear I too dealt with heavily in the beginning of my own exploration. For folks like me, hell bent on having control at all times, drugs were never fun or exciting. They were terrifying, and I stayed far away from them for a long time. Psychedelics were only accessible for me because they were wholeheartedly taken out of recreational realm. I want to be clear that this isn’t a moral stance, it's just what was within my range of comfort. Psychedelics weren't about tuning out, they were about tuning in. It wasn't about getting numb and dancing my face off. It was about special, sacred work. And it totally changed my life.
Psychedelics are one tool for the work of integrating our subconscious into the conscious realm, but the work is the same whether or not we use medicine to approach it. Psychedelics have the potential to speed up the work, but it can take a long time for folks to become comfortable with committing. This is because it is almost impossible to describe to someone else what it's like to be inside of a psychedelic experience. It's like trying to explain a dream you had - it really only makes sense to you and it's very hard to communicate any of the emotions around it… which is really why it matters to you in the first place. So even when we get a chance to talk about what it's like to go through psychedelic healing, chances are what is said will not actually be translated accurately by the other person’s mind, because for someone who has never had contact with medicine, they have no embodied experience to connect it to. They don’t have a concept box in their mind in which to store the data to construct reality. In their mind, they would only have fantasy. So no matter the amount of questions asked, there is nothing that will provide true understanding. This, in and of itself, is why I love medicine work - because I get to support people across a bridge I know will be transformational, and that may have been too hard to cross alone. Facing fear is one of the most important aspects of this work in general, and medicine can highlight that aspect, making it easier to see and understand. But it can be hard to look at our own monsters alone.
I love catching, and fostering, questions around medicine because psychedelics have granted me access to such gifts inside of myself - and not only to the gifts themselves, but to Truth, which sates me. The other thing I got from this work, which I wasn’t expecting, is Faith. For most of my life, I did not understand the meaning of that word, and I do now. It’s still hard for me, and there are days when doubt still wins. But even if doubt wins the smaller battles, Faith always wins the big ones. It just is inherently bigger. When I stop believing the doubt, faith comes back on its own. I don’t have to do anything to call it, or deserve it. All I have to do is let go of doubt.
In practical terms, when I say that I have to let go of doubt, this means that in the moments where I cannot feel the presence of faith, and instead I feel insecurity and doubt, that I have to practice turning toward faith anyway. The work of faith, is the work of neutralizing doubt. We will not always be able to feel good. We are human, and we have selves, and thinking minds. So We have wounds that get touched, and we just don’t get to feel peace all the time. That’s just not how it works. What we feel is whatever is coming up us in that moment. But when we have faith that there is a stable, unchanging foundation underneath, what is coming up in each moment becomes easier to hold and process. We can understand the feelings for what they are — the past or future trying to situate itself in the present. They are not me, but they can tell me what’s happening with my self. They are the language through which my psyche is trying to talk to me.
Miraculously, somewhere along the way, I started to understand that we don’t have to fear the loop of the self, or indulge it… though we will continue to do those things for a long time as that is the practice. Falling out and catching ourselves is how we get stronger, and that is how we deepen this groove. We have to get caught to learn how to get healthily out. This is not only unavoidable, but how it actually works. It’s just that through all of that being human-ness, we have to know that we are also God, we are Love, we are Order and Peace. Under the waves, the ocean is steady. We are the magnificence of the meeting of the Unconditioned and the conditioned. We have to know we are both, even when it’s stormy. When it’s stormy, we can get very lost, and mistrustful that the stillness is there. We doubt, and we start align with the what we call demons, and hate, and disorder. This is only a function of the thinking mind, not a function of Truth.
Psychedelics can help that Truth emerge, and can help us build a better relationship with it. Psychedelic medicine has supported me when I’m at my wits end, when I can’t find my bearings, when I’m deep in doubt, and certain I’ve lost the way forever. And the beauty of this kind of work is that we don’t have to do anything but go toward the confusion and discomfort with open arms, an open heart, and an open mind.
Medicine is a neutral teacher. It can’t be mad at you, it can’t praise you, it can’t punish you, it can’t favorite you. It just is, and when we can walk toward the medicine as a teacher, and see ourselves as humble students, willing to learn whatever lesson it presents us (which is really whatever lesson we are presenting ourselves) that’s when we really reap rewards.
Though this particular questions is regarding psychedelics, I also know that they are not the tool for everyone, and so I want to say too that I have seen incredible success with folks who either choose not to use them, or who can’t - for instance, anyone who is breastfeeding, on SSRIs or working through substance abuse.
Though psychedelics can get us in touch with the Unconditioned more quickly, it is impossible to obscure it no matter what. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — committed to this work finds their way if they don’t give up. Everyone figures out what works for them if they keep trying. We find the tool that helps us unlock peace if that’s what we want. Some of us were never taught the skill of way-finding peace. Some people don’t believe peace exists for everyone, and others are deeply confused about where to find it. Some feel defeated, and don’t believe they have the strength to keep going. But from my vantage point, what I see is that it’s very hard to keep the human spirit down. Many of my clients have come to me after several dead ends - and yet here they are, willing to try again. Truly, this is the only thing that matters.
Many of us were never given an emotional education. Because of this, we have bad habits in relationship to our emotions. We are afraid of them, we are angry at them, or we indulge them and use them like a safety blanket. None of these things is practicing way-finding peace. And when we carry deep stories about who we are and what we can have, we are blind to the fact that way-finding is an internal skill we build, rather than something that comes from circumstance. Everyone can begin building the skill of way-finding peace from wherever they are at any moment. Obviously it is easier when your life is easy, but that’s why this skill is crucial for folks who lives are chronically hard. The skill of way-finding peace means you carry your touchstone with you. It isyou, so the world has a harder time knocking you off your axis. This makes all the hard things easier to bear - especially when the world will never give you the peace you deserve. This is why we have to do the work of way-finding peace for ourselves. Yes, it is hard work. No it is not fair, but none of that matters. What matters is that we deserve it, we deserve better, and we are the only ones who can truly give that to us.
Psychedelics, emotional education, self-soothing, and way-finding peace make up a type of unknown territory for some of us, and the work I do with folks is practicing for the exploration of that space to be pure. Rather than practicing control of our outsides, we are practicing trust of our insides.This is the very opposite of predicting, and controlling. This is a practice of responsiveness, and trust in the self that what needs to show up in the moment, will, because this is how the Unconditioned space evolved over eons to work. When we get out of our own way, we are so much more intelligent than we can understand from the lens of the thinking mind.
When we can trust ourselves to respond to what shows up, we have to do a lot less attempting to control the future, and also a lot less replaying the past. The mind begins to quiet, because it’s doing the job it evolved to do well: Responding to the moment. The mind is terrible at control and prediction, and so when we give it those jobs, it can never rest. This is not to say that we don’t have 5 and 10 year plans, we just also know that those plans may not come to pass, because we don’t control the world, and if something — like Covid — happens, we are have built the skill of responding to the environment, so we the upset isn’t so upsetting.
This leads into my subscriber’s question, which was around close-mindedness vs. skepticism. They read something that talked about how close-mindedness is the opposite of open-mindedness, and so that is “bad”. But skepticism on the other hand, is healthy. And they were curious about my thoughts on that. Here, I would say, the problem is in the question, which presents us with two options that are meant to be different but in fact are the same.
I don’t see much actual difference between skepticism and close-mindedness. In fact, it feels like skepticism is more dangerous, because it’s insidious, meaning it’s not as obvious, which is actually its whole game. It masquerades as something healthy, which confuses people.
Close-mindedness is the outright inability to listen, and skepticism is pretending that it’s listening. In our culture, skepticism is considered to be a healthy amount of doubt or critical thinking about what is being presented to us. But, as far as I can see it, skepticism’s only job is to puff up our chests, to confirm that we are good at protecting ourselves — or in other words, to inflate our egos. It doesn’t really protect us, because our egos don’t actually protect us.
We are not trying to reinforce our armor in this work, we are trying to gently remove it, layer by tender layer. The point isn’t to get better at keeping things out, the point is to get better at letting things in, digesting everything and finding the nuggets of truth.
Beyond skepticism and close-mindedness is what I would call Wise Discernment. Skepticism generally shows up from a place of fear and distrust. It wants to prevent anything we don’t like touching us. It’s about armoring well and patting ourselves on the back for doing so. Wise Discernment, on the other hand, is an ability to take in all the information, digest it, and allow it to move and change us should that be the truth of the matter. Skepticism has its weapons up before the information even has a chance to reach us. Wise Discernment doesn’t have weapons. It is curious, and open. It doesn’t care so much about ego; it cares about understanding and truth.
Skepticism often feels like, “I dunno, I just didn’t like that.” We can mislabel this “intuition”. While intuition is a real thing, it moves us in mystical ways. Intuition really does exist, but the thing is that Intuition is a sensing organ, and can only respond to your living environment. Intuition doesn’t understand modern status – in other words status separate from survival. If you’re wanting to protect your status, i.e., what you believe is your static identity, you’re feeling armor. You’re feeling ego. When we can use wise discernment, we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water— and this is what actually makes us smarter, sharper, and more clever, in the end. Being able to take in, and digest new knowledge, and skillfully separate what makes good sense from what doesn’t is more protective than keeping everything out that doesn’t “fit”.
So why does this matter? As I mentioned above, skepticism helps us to feel like we have good armor, and it helps to keep that armor there. What we are doing in my work in general, and specifically with psychedelics, is gently removing that armor. We are training so that we no longer need the armor. We have evolved to be strong. The armor is keeping us from understanding how powerful we truly are. We have to be willing and courageous enough to peel that armor away so that we can let the wounds beneath it heal. The wounds cannot heal with the armor overtop of them. While we believe we are protecting them, the armor actually purposefully keeps the wounds open. We unconsciously believe that if we allow our wounds to heal we will be caught in the same situation, and that somehow it will be our fault.
It takes a long time to integrate that no one deserves abuse, no matter what. No one, ever deserves abuse. And it is never the fault of the person being hurt. Ever. Is that saying that we should not do our best to make good choices? Of course not. Life is precious, and we should cherish every bit of it, and be the least amount of frivolous we can. But even the best choices can not save us from harm; because we cannot control the world. Terrible things happen inside of it all the time - some at random, and some not. No matter what, no one actually deserves them.
In the same vein, not allowing those wounds to heal doesn't keep us safe. It just keeps us really focused of the wounds. It makes our lives small and sick. Bad things still happen, and the belief that we can protect ourselves from bad things happening due to our armor then keeps us in a misunderstanding that when bad things happen, it is somehow our fault for not having the right armor, or strong enough armor, or something awful like that. Armor doesn’t help anything. In fact, it most often hurts. We have to learn how to let feelings come all the way up, be there, get recognized, and then settle. This is the process of growing stronger. This is the process of healing.
When we know we can trust ourselves to handle what comes in, and up, armor is not only useless but ludicrous. It’s a terrible tool. As we start to transfer trust back to our true selves, it creates a feedback loop. Maybe not with fervor, but we want to get the rest armor off so the wounds can close. Life gets better when the wounds heal, and they cannot heal without removing the armor.
Sometimes we will look foolish. Sometimes we will believe things that aren't true. In fact, when we look back at ourselves and feel this cringey, crushing sensation, it is only because we have grown. Growing is a beautiful thing - in fact, I’d say it is one of the things for which many of us live. I hate the cringey feeling, with a passion. But it’s one of the things I would lump into the “being the role models we wish we had” category. I hate it becayse of the stories I have around it. That somehow I should have kown better, that it makes me look like fool, that in this society we don’t have license to integrate new information and change our minds, so that if I do people won’t trust me, or they’ll call me a fraud. Even though I dislike that feeling so much, I would still rather face that cringey feeling, than prevent myself from growing into a more awesome version of myself. If the ultimate goal is Truth then that cringey feeling is just par for the course. We can’t know everything, we just can’t. But we can keep learning. If the ultimate goal is to predict everything, and never be wrong then you will never be able to access truth. One of my favorite quotes reads: For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction. Some way shape or form, we have to be willing to fall completely apart to understand how we want to consciously put ourselves back together. Without that we are made of unconscious armor. We are made of reactivity rather than conscious choices. Truly clear, conscious choices will protect us far better than armor, or reactivity ever could.
Whether it’s around psychedelics, or any other unknowns, what we want to practice is ingesting information, digesting information, releasing what doesn’t make sense, and integrating the nuggets of truth. Skepticism wants to control a static version of a self, and aims to repudiate any info that doesn’t fit within that structure. This is not compatible with vertical growth.
Psychedelics are all about taking ourselves apart, re-examining what pieces we actually want to keep, and which are no longer serving us. This work requires us to humble ourselves to the fact that we know a lot less about a lot more than we thought. The work requires us to lay down our weapons, and learn to become strong in the real way. It requires us to feel emotions, to stretch and grow to hold them, to become steady even when our bodies are being rocked with incredible urges to DO SOMETHING.
Armor is, and will always be, posturing. It isn’t strength, it’s the illusion of strength. Our work is to remove the armor, and let the wounds heal to, to come into true strength and true power. I know it’s the hardest thing to do to just believe that, let alone act on it. I know because I go through it every day. And I teach people how to love themselves enough to go through it every day. And if they’re willing to trust me, and willing to listen, I can teach them the phases and stages of growth. I can’t teach them, or anyone, the specifics of how they will liberate. That we must learn on our own. But I can help us understand the difference between fortifying our armor, and peeling it away. I can help us stay in the uncomfortable, vulnerable, questioning space for long enough to build trust in the Unconditioned — for long enough to get an understanding of our deepest source of power. For long enough to see that this work really does work.
One of my greatest gifts is that I have faith in you, no matter who you are. What makes something capital-T-True is that it is True for everyone, across the board. If you find yourself thinking about all the ways in which you feel this is not true for you, or true in general, I’d love to catch those doubts and write about them. It’s so hard to change paradigms, because even when something makes sense in real time, we can lose sight of it when we get triggered — when fear, or doubt, or some other strong emotion takes over. We get confused. We need help way-finding, and remembering, until the grooves are deep enough that we can find the way ourselves. That… is at the heart of everything I do.