On this episode transcript of the Psychedelic Passage podcast, our co-founders Nicholas Levich and Jimmy Nguyen discuss how psychedelics have the power to get you unstuck by dissolving inflexible perceptions instilled in us through social conditioning. They explain the importance of acknowledging our self judgment for releasing embodiments that are not true to our authentic expressions. Without further ado, let’s explore how psychedelics can shake up the typically rigid foundations of our day to day lives.
Episode 7: How Psychedelics Can Help You Get Unstuck
Nick Levich: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Nick Levich and I’m here with my partner and co-founder Jimmy Nguyen. Thanks for joining us today. This week we’re going to be talking about how psychedelics help you get unstuck.
And this is an important topic because I tend to find that the vast majority of the motivating reason that people want to engage with psychedelics is that in some way, shape or form they feel stuck in their life. Whether they’ve hit a wall with therapy, they’re not sure what their next major career transition is.
They feel like they can’t shake that depression or that anxiety. There’s some semblance of this general understanding of feeling stuck. So that’s where we’re going to start our session today. And Jim, I’m curious if you have any thoughts to kick us off here.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, well, I mean you bring up a really good point that people approach psychedelics from a lot of different angles, a lot of different categories, a lot of different ways of thinking. Some folks look at psychedelic use as purely mental health tools. Some folks look at psychedelics as religious sacrament, as a tool for personal growth, as a tool for spiritual growth. And how I describe psychedelics as it sits right in the middle of all of those things.
And what I find is that there’s a lot of commonality even with the person who looks at this from purely like a neuroscience standpoint and somebody who looks at this from, let’s say like a spiritual standpoint. Most of my clients walk in having a lot of commonality with each other regardless of what angle they look at it.
But you’re right, the majority of folks that we talk to are stuck in their lives in some way and I think that psychedelics become a really compelling alternative or opportunity to get unstuck and there’s a variety of ways to happen. So I think that there’s a lot of layers of what’s going on and likely there is some kind of neuroscience behind it and then there are also some layers that add on top of that.
So what do you tell folks when they are trying to understand how these psychedelics can become a tool?
Using Psychedelics as a Tool
Nick Levich: Yeah, so I kind of use this explanation where I talk about how it’s important for me to separate between these kinds of three levels, right? We’ve got our conscious mind up here, we’ve got our subconscious or unconscious that exists below that and then there’s our body and nervous system. And so the way that I explain this is, okay, so you’re depressed.
Well you don’t want to be depressed like consciously in your cognitive mind, that’s not something you desire and yet you’re still depressed. So why? What’s going on here? And basically my perspective is that the subconscious belief system and the nervous system don’t support what the cognitive mind desires.
And so essentially by engaging in an intentional psychedelic experience, we have an opportunity to create alignment between the subconscious belief system, the nervous system and what your cognitive desires are. Basically, in practical terms, if you don’t want to be depressed, right? That’s your conscious desire. But your subconscious mind believes that you’re not good enough and you’re not worthy of love.
They don’t really match up very well, right? And then you stack on some traumatic residue that’s stored in the nervous system and now you’ve got this major incongruence between what it is that you desire and what the rest of you is able to support. And so from my perspective, it’s about creating alignment between these three layers of our being.
Jimmy Nguyen: And that happens in people’s lives all the time, right. The feeling that ‘I know theoretically that if I do these things, these one to three things, that my life would be changed for the better or different in some way’. And yet there is that gap between that logical, theoretically knowing and then the doing. And so that kind of describes what you’re talking about a little bit.
And for this conversation, there are also some folks who just believe that there is just a conscious and unconscious. So that subconscious is just some form of the consciousness. But for this sake, what I’m hearing is that the body is somewhat disconnected from the mind, which kind of creates that gap in doing. Essentially one of the things I share with clients.
Like I was chatting with a client the other night and he was saying, well, I know these things and I’ve been trying these things for years. But for some reason, whether it’s my negative self-talk voice or whether I get in my own way or whether I distract myself for some reason, I don’t get to change because something is holding me back from doing that thing.
And so regardless of whether it’s self love or whether it’s processing a trauma or whether it is alleviating symptoms of like a mental health issue, I think for everybody, there exists that gap in knowing, like internally some of the things that could help and could benefit you and then the difference between actually getting yourself up and doing it.
Nick Levich: And so, you know, along those lines, the other thing that I like to share with people is that essentially it’s one thing to know something, it’s another thing to have direct experience of it. And so what happens when we step into these intentional experiences is we learn via direct experience. And that’s what actually shifts that lever in the subconscious mind, right?
So if I tell you, ‘hey, Jimmy, there’s nothing to fear’ and you’re like, ‘yeah, okay, cool. Conceptually I understand that, but I have a lot of fear’, right? And then you get into a journey and all of a sudden you have the feeling, the direct experience of there being nothing to fear that changes something in you.
And nobody can take it from you. And it exists in direct experience, which means it’s no longer unbelievable for you. It’s very tangible.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. Or that feeling of what some people report, that interconnectivity between all things and all people, or feelings of self love. A lot of folks are like, ‘well what’s that like? That sounds pretty good’. I was like, well I can’t explain it to you, but in the psychedelic experience you can for sure get a very visceral, real feeling of whatever that is. And that creates essentially new wiring in your brain, some new synapses, some new neural pathways.
And what we’ve seen emerging in some of the research is that especially with serotonergic psychedelics, but with psilocybin specifically, and probably for sure other psychedelic substances, is that there is this enhancing or increasing of neuroplasticity. And so the same way that while most folks talk about the brain like losing brain cells, right, I’m sure you and I have lost a couple of brain cells over the years, but the brain also has this ability to heal and wire itself and evolve itself into new ways of thinking.
And I think psychedelics, it’s a bummer that we’re so behind in research like the 50, 60 years of prohibition has really led us to rely on some more anecdotal, I think experiences and reports. But it’s going to be really interesting over the next ten years or so to really learn about all the mechanisms that are going into play.
But those two are the most prevalent in neuroplasticity. And then the other part that people talk about a lot is that default mode network. So for folks who maybe need a brief primer on that, how would you describe that for people?
Nick Levich: Yeah, so basically your default mode network is your default way of doing things. You can think about it kind of like your sense of self or your sense of identity. It’s kind of like your autopilot. It’s how you go through the average day when you’re not consciously aware or thinking about everything that you’re doing.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I describe it as like a filter. It’s filtering out the important information or the things for us to survive, go to work, do things because we’re constantly receiving information. And then the brain is like, okay, ‘how do I take the s*** that I need here so that I can exist?’.
Nick Levich: Right, so what ends up happening is when you take a psychedelic like psilocybin, that default mode network gets turned down or off completely. And this is what results in that concept of ego death that a lot of people talk about. But the reason this is important for our discussion today is because what this really does is take down your defense mechanisms.
And what it does is it opens up this capacity for different parts of the brain to be connected. What does that mean? Practically? It means we get different perspectives on things. It expands our awareness in a certain way. And so it’s amazing because very rarely in the course of an eight hour experience does your external world change.
But everything inside changes so that by the time you leave you feel like a brand new person but nothing changed externally. It’s still your same life. You’re just interacting and engaging with it in a totally different way. Because of this shift in perspective and an expansion in our awareness, we start to basically bring to the surface that which has been repressed or suppressed.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, it’s hard to explain to people what that process is like but I know that it’s very different for each person. I know that it is somewhat of an individual process and then also that effect is different based on the different psychedelic substances. I was thinking about what you’re saying and we could probably have a whole episode about ego death and ego dissolution and all of that, but for the sake of what we’re talking about here, we’ll just kind of keep it to this topic.
How Social Conditioning Can Get You Stuck
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, it’s a really amazing phenomenon. And I’ll also share that this doesn’t always happen in one ceremony or one session or one evening because we also have to combat a lot of social conditioning, social programming and all these stacks of beliefs. So when I share with folks about priming themselves to step into an intentional psychedelic experience in the best way possible, I end up talking a lot about social conditioning.
And it’s kind of like a Russian nesting doll. You have these world beliefs and then you have these societal beliefs and cultural beliefs and family beliefs and then how you were raised and all of those, all of that backdrop and then you have your own beliefs.
Nick Levich: Then you stack on some shock, shame and trauma.
Jimmy Nguyen: Then society is telling you how you’re supposed to show up as a man in this world. As a woman in this world. They’re telling you what jobs to get for you to be successful. And so what I find is that a lot of folks who feel that stuckness basically walk this path of social conditioning until they realize, well, I’m f****** miserable. I have this $200,000 job, I got a family, I got kids and I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to show up for them.
That also, I think, adds on to some of the, I think, internal kind of processes that we’re talking about. And ultimately what psychedelics do is it allows you to look at all this stuff in a different lens at a minimum. And then there you decide what you want to do with that information. And so I get people who come out of psycho experiences.
They’re like, ‘I’m quitting my job’ or ‘I’m breaking up with that person’ or ‘I’m going to move to Costa Rica’. And I’m like all those things are great, but just give yourself like 30 days for yourself to go through this integration process for you to kind of settle and move through the integration process. Because the integration side, as we’ve been probably saying every episode is actually probably more important than the ceremony itself.
Nick Levich: Well, it’s just where the rubbery meets the road. You can have this beautiful, profound thing over six to 8 hours but if you don’t do anything with it and it doesn’t change the way you show up in the world, what’s the point? And so this concept that you were just touching on for me, really I like the word of the phrase internal integrity.
And so what you’re describing is like when you’re not integrity with yourself because of this social conditioning, shock, trauma, whatever it is, we don’t feel that good. And what ends up happening is as we make these either micro or macro adjustments in our life, whether it’s something as simple as drawing a boundary or quitting our job, that’s simple.
Jimmy Nguyen: That can be super hard for people.
Nick Levich: Yeah, I meant a boundary as simple or as big a deal as quitting a job.
Jimmy Nguyen: I hear you.
Nick Levich: The goal here is to restore that internal integrity, right where you feel like you’re living your authentic truth. What you were just describing is the byproduct of someone who hasn’t actually stopped to consider what their truth is.
They’re engaged in this autopilot path, right? Like most of us as children and into adolescents have a path that’s basically laid out for us, whether it’s from our parents or society. Whatever the case is, we’ve got a track where we should be following, so to speak. And a lot of times that doesn’t line up with what it is that we truly want deep down inside even if we’re scared to admit it to ourselves.
And so through this process we’re able to see perhaps where we’re integrity or where we’re out of integrity. And that’s where we can start to make these adjustments that bring us closer and closer to living out what you could describe as your truth or your purpose or the way that you actually want to show up in the world.
Jimmy Nguyen: And that’s a major uphill battle. And for the sake of our listeners here, there are real mental health issues. There are real folks who go through a lot of stuff that is really hard to process in their lives. And there are folks who also feel the stuckness for social conditioning and programming and likely there are folks who have all of those things like going on with them.
What we’re talking about here is somewhat universal to folks of all different backgrounds, all different walks of life, all different intentions, all different ways of thinking about psychedelics. And this process is hard to do because the brain loves to be efficient. I was also telling a client the other day, I was like nature loves to be super efficient. Like if you go out into the forest, there’s no wasted energy.
The river runs the way that it runs, the little plant grows the way that it does to be the most efficient. The leaves turn the way that they turn to be the most efficient. So nature loves conserving energy and so our brain is the same way. And so when the brain has all of this capacity and all of this functionality, it generally runs itself along these grooves, along these patterns because that is the most energy efficient.
That’s like the autopilot thing that you’re talking about. And so for many folks, they’ll go through the psychedelic experience and they’re like, yeah, I’m feeling this self love, I’m feeling this self confidence, I’m feeling this resilience to go and make these changes in their life and then a couple of weeks go by, a couple of months go by and they’re not making that mindful choice.
I think it all starts in making these little micro choices, these little micro choices. And then as you make those choices, you get to build the alternative routes in your brain and then those alternative routes then can become those new grooves. But ultimately that takes a lot of work, I think, to recognize when those little opportunities for choices come up and then also the courage to make that change or take that action.
We like to think about this heroic kind of thing where there’s this event and then we’re like, oh, we’re different now. But really a lot of this is in the mundane of every day, in the judgment of every day, where we’re making these small choices in our highest and best sell for our truest form.
Nick Levich: And I want to be clear that something does shift. But the way that I think about it is it’s got to be nurtured. It’s like if you’ve got a garden and you pull out all the weeds and then you plant a rose. If you then have this beautiful rose, which is kind of symbolic of your ceremony, you just planted this seed, you’ve got this beautiful rose here, you weeded out all the garbage and if you don’t water it, you don’t give it the conditions it needs to thrive, it’s going to die.
And so part of this process is nurturing these changes. And so I think there’s this misconception. One of the questions we get a lot is how many of these ceremonies do I need to do? And I’m like, well, I don’t know. There’s no possible way to prescribe that it all comes down to you and how much, whether you choose to make the most of it and integrate it fully.
And so one of the things that I want to make clear to anyone who’s listening is that the goal here is not to be reliant on an external substance, even if it’s natural. Like mushrooms, right? Our goal is to be the person that we want to be without having to rely on anything external.
What’s really cool, and you touched on this earlier, but I want to make sure it’s super clear, is that the self love or the interconnectedness that you feel in a journey, that pathway has been established, which means you can get back there with or without the medicine on your own.
And that to me is a big part of integration, is continuing to cultivate that neural pathway, that connectivity. And this is that whole concept of myelin right, like when you start to fire a certain mechanism in the brain, it becomes easier to fire. It’s like going out and working in the gym, right? Like you do a bunch of bicep curls and now your bicep is stronger.
It’s the same thing with these connections. You establish a connection once and then you start to nurture it, foster it and repeat that firing and wiring of those synapses and then boom, all of a sudden that becomes your new normal and once again simple, not necessarily easy.
It does take effort, but it’s really important for people to understand that you can get back there. Those profound states of consciousness that you experienced in the journey are still accessible to you.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I like the analogy of the gym too, because it denotes that you also got to rest a little. Take note of what you’re talking about is coming up against a lot of the social conditioning that we’ve been discussing because it all comes down to the way that we view medications and communing with substances in the society. We tend to not make everything, but we tend to view the content of the heart and content of the soul and content of the mind.
From a pathology standpoint, our society loves to take substances and things to alleviate symptoms. Our society loves to really put the emphasis on the external, essentially. And so all of these factors come into play when folks come into their own relationship with psychedelics.
There’s many people who kind of look at it like, okay, well, if I take this and I’m going to be this, if I have the ceremony or do these mushrooms or go on the international retreat and do ayahuasca, all of a sudden I’m going to be cured. And what you’re saying is that actually it’s you who still has to do the work and psychedelics end up becoming this really sacred tool.
I think both you and I share with folks that psychedelics can be a catalyst to your journey, whether that’s healing or spiritual or mental health, but not a replacement for it, right?
Nick Levich: Right and so anecdotally, we work with a lot of people who have been in therapy for a long time and they hit a wall, right? And then they seek out an alternative to kind of break through that plateau or that wall. And psychedelics can be a really powerful tool there. And once again to me it is by no means a replacement for therapy because what therapy does is it develops awareness.
Therapy starts to develop this process, the awareness starts to bring words to what’s going on. And then once you’ve got this awareness, now you can leverage the tool of psychedelics to break through that plateau because you were able to access the subconscious and the nervous system and that’s where that kind of friction lies.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. Just to be really clear, we f****** love therapy. I think that therapy is a really important factor, but many of our therapist friends will tell you there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in therapy in the past 20 something years. I think EMDR was like the last thing and that came out a couple of decades ago.
And I find that in conjunction with therapy and psychedelics for folks, there are also folks who can approach psychedelics without therapy. There are also folks who find benefit in therapy alone. But I think one of the things that is a limitation of therapy is that it’s approaching it from the thinking mind. It’s approaching it from thought.
And so what I’m hearing you say is that there’s more layers to it than that of which if you’re only looking at it from the thinking mind, well the mind is really powerful and it can convince you of any type of direction in any type of way. And so I hear you.
There’s folks who have maybe been on medications for a long time and then they’re basically at a point where they’re just cycling through different medications and trying different combos and then they feel like they kind of hit a wall or maybe a rut in therapy or at a minimum they feel like. I feel like I’ve done as much as I can do in therapy and then where do they go?
I feel like psychedelics are a very compelling tool in the toolkit. And then there are also folks who don’t view this in a mental health capacity and mental health world and they still have to combat and work up against all the stuff that we’re talking about, the social conditioning, the internal control versus external, all of that stuff. And so much of it starts with the inside.
I mean, I tell folks two things. If you’re really looking for psychedelics to support you in your process and journey, you have to come about these two beliefs. One is if you feel like change is actually possible because if you don’t believe that your brain is going to dismiss anything that’s happening here.
And then secondly is if you feel like you actually already have all of the inherent tools within yourself to heal. I like what you say and I know you get this from one of your teachers, but it’s like this process of remembering, you need to tell people what that kind of concept is for you.
Nick Levich: To me, this is about remembering our inherent wholeness, right? So when you see a child in the world from ages zero to seven, roughly, they’re happy. They’re inquisitive about their imaginations, running wild. They are engaging with the world from a place of freedom, curiosity, and play that we get squashed out of us as we go through life, right?
And so this is about returning to that state. Like, deep down, we all want to feel inner peace. We all want to feel connected, we all want to feel playful and, like, we can have fun and express ourselves. Children can do that. And so a lot of times what I hear clients say is something along the lines of, like, well, I just want to find happiness. And I have to remind them that’s your true nature.
We’ve just got all these layers that are clouding your ability to connect with that part of yourself. And so when we engage in this intentional psychedelic use, it’s really about peeling back the layers that then reveal our true essence. It’s been there with us the whole time. It didn’t go anywhere. We’ve just got all of these walls and layers of these things: shock, shame, conditioning, trauma, whatever the case is.
And so we’ve talked a lot about the mind, both the conscious and the subconscious. But perhaps we spend the last couple of minutes here just talking about the nervous system a little bit, because basically the nervous system impacts everything we do. And some of you may have heard the phrase the body keeps the score, but we really believe that.
And so one of the things that we share with our clients is this framework of understanding trauma. That comes from Peter Levine, who’s one of the foremost therapists in the traumatic therapy world. And essentially what he talks about is how every event that’s traumatic. Whether it’s traditional traumatic events like war or something that people don’t typically associate with trauma.
Like surgery or not getting fed when you wanted to as a kid. All those little things leave a traumatic residue in your nervous system that unless we take an effort and set aside conscious time to discharge, they start to compile and weigh us down. And this is kind of that weight that a lot of us feel like we’re carrying, even if we can’t articulate what it is.
Jimmy Nguyen: It’s like all in the mind. And then that also will frame how you move through your psychedelic experience because there is this psychosomatic process that happens and so the body knows how to do this naturally, but our mind and our social conditioning and all that stuff tells us the story that doing whatever we need to do to release that nervous system blockage is inappropriate or is not acceptable in society.
And so things like tremors, crying, vocalizations, obviously the visual and hallucinogenic aspects of psychedelics, that’s all part of this psychosomatic process of releasing stuff and so your system naturally knows how to do that. And I think psychedelics give you a really strong avenue of having those releases, essentially.
Nick Levich: Yeah. And so we’ll always encourage our clients to let your body shake, feel the hot temperature, cold fluctuations, yawn, cry, spit, do whatever you need to do to just get it out because it’s an instinctual thing. But we as humans have these big prefrontal cortexes that can pretty much override anything.
And you can see how if we weren’t in a sacred container this wouldn’t be very conducive to your day to day activities. If you’re working an office job and all of a sudden you start convulsing, people are going to reach out and call 911. So that’s not exactly helpful. But if we can create a safe space where all of that is welcome, we can discharge years, decades of this traumatic energy from your system in a pretty short amount of time.
And the beauty of it is you don’t always have to relive the experience. Which is very different from what’s taught in talk therapy. And I always caveat this with you also have to accept that it could come up, but it’s not a guarantee.
And that’s pretty cool for a lot of people because you may not even know what you’re releasing, but it’s coming out on its own, what this creates, and I’m sure you’ve heard some of your own clients describe it this way, but they’re like, it feels like this backpack full of 50 years of s*** that I’ve been carrying around.
I just got to take it off and I don’t have to put it back on anymore. And a lot of times I can see the shift in people’s faces, you can see the lightness. It’s like we carry our tension and our grief and our stress in our face.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I’ve had a client describe a couple of different ways. They’re like, man, it’s like I put on this armor when I was twelve to protect myself from this thing and then I just got to a point where I just never took it off. I’m just. Walking around with this weight, or I had another client saying, like, there’s this shield of invulnerability that I had, and then now I get to lower that shield and forget the external for a moment.
I also think that a big milestone for folks is giving themselves the permission for this to happen. A part of that is that, like, surrendering the kind of conversation that we have, which is like a whole other content and episode in itself. But when I find folks in the psychedelic experience and they’re doing their thing and they’re self soothing or they’re shaking, they’re convulsing, so many times they’ll look at me and they’re like, Is this okay?
They’re like, Is this okay for me to do? Because there is that part where they’re like, oh, this is not okay. Or there’s shame and guilt. Or they’re like, this is weird, or self judged. And I’m like, It’s totally okay if you feel like this is the best thing that you need to do to navigate through the experience. And they’re like, okay, and then they keep doing their thing and then that part reinforces.
So a part of this is becoming your own internal ally to a degree, and then all this other stuff stacks on top of it. But ultimately, if I was telling a client anything, it rests in this internal permission, this internal space to give yourself the chance to potentially move through a psychedelic experience in a meaningful way like this.
Nick Levich: Totally. Well, that brings us to the end of our episode for today. Thank you all of us, for joining us. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio, or wherever else you may get your podcast. Once again, thanks for joining us and we’ll see you guys next week. Bye!
We hope you enjoyed today’s conversation on the role that psychedelics can play in helping us get unstuck, to approach our inner and outer worlds with a less rigid perspective. If you’re interested in pursuing a therapeutic psychedelic experience for yourself or a loved one, we encourage you to book a consultation with us.
Psychedelic Passage is here to be a resource to you. If you have any other psychedelic curiosities, we suggest taking a peek at our blog page for more informative articles like this one. That’s all for now, friends. Safe journeying!