By now, most of us have had our fair share of late night, deep internet searches on the subject of psychedelic-assisted therapy. At least enough to understand the difference between a therapeutic and a recreational psychedelic experience. If not, that’s completely okay. In brief, there are three main components that differentiate a therapeutic psychedelic trip from a recreational one.
The first is the involvement of thorough preparation and integration procedures. The second regards the orientation of our attention. Therapeutic psychedelic experiences are often directed inwardly as means of exploring the contours of our personal, mental complexes and ego-incited rigities. The third constituent of a therapeutic journey is setting and intention, and it just so happens to be the motif of today’s article.
Today we’ll be uncovering the real reason why setting an intention is so vital for having a therapeutic psychedelic experience. We’ll be breaking down the intention-setting process into tangible steps that offer stimulating prompts for exploring and latching onto your deepest and most intuitive needs. Later, we’re going to address the most common questions that our clients raise about psychedelic intentions.
So if it’s available to you, steep some tea and take three mindful, perhaps even audible, deep breaths. When you’re ready, come back and let your heart become the reader of this article. Today’s piece is written with much attention and intention. I hope that you receive the clarity, relief, and energetic release that you seek.
What is an Intention & Why is it Important?
An intention for a psychedelic experience can take on many forms, but at its core, an intention is your motivation for communing with the psychedelic medicine. It’s an idea that encapsulates the most pressing matters in your life that you’re looking to connect with, transition into or out of, gain clarity on, transform, bridge, or perhaps create.
In some cases, journeyers embrace less narrow intentions. They might find themselves already fulfilled by the current circumstances of their life and decide to take on this experience with the intention to simply receive what the universe, God, source, or their subconscious, feels would be of value to them.
More often, our clients are looking to address specific obstacles in their life. Many seek psychedelic-assisted therapy to settle their lifelong battles with anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, etc. If you find yourself in this category, there’s a more productive way to illustrate your intentions as opposed to simply saying ‘I want to eliminate my anxiety’ or ‘I want to get to the root of my PTSD’, but more on that later.
An intention serves as an anchoring point for your journey. Throughout your ceremony, there may be instances where you feel stuck, scattered, or outright scared. In these moments, referring to our intention is a gentle reminder that there’s a meaningful purpose to this temporary experience. An intention grounds us and provides direction.
We will never be able to accurately predict the trajectory of our psychedelic trip. We should see that as a benefit because if we could, we’d likely steer the experience using the same counterproductive mental narratives and behavioral patterns that led us here in the first place.
An intention is a tool. Just as a flashlight would help us focus our vision in a dark cave, an intention helps focus our attention in the uncharted waters of a psychedelic experience.
Common Misconceptions About Intention Setting
1. You Don’t Always Have To Address The Root of The Problem
It’s not particularly comfortable to immerse ourselves in the deepest, most pervasive issues going on in our lives. Often, we go about our days intentionally avoiding such matters. After weeks, months, or years of repression, we tend to lose touch of the life circumstances that originally incited and progressively forged our psychological triggers, aversions, emotional numbness, or perhaps codependent behaviors.
Journeyers often believe that addressing the root of their anxiety or trauma is the most productive intention for a psychedelic experience. And while it’s very healthy to be aware of why we’ve developed into who we are today, it doesn’t always serve to teach us how we can develop into who we want to be, tomorrow. Here’s why.
We are a direct product of our social conditioning, shaped by varying shades of education, entertainment, employment, religion, nationalism, popular culture, and family life. Think of all of these components as jenga blocks, that over the course of your life, have founded your belief systems and coping mechanisms.
If we go into a psychedelic journey with the goal of deconstructing the jenga building of our lives- well first, that’s a very heavy expectation for an experience that lasts 6-12 hours, but second, it may be more damaging than helpful.
If for example, we know that one of the biggest sources of our current troubles is an event of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse that occured during childhood, revisiting those memories in such a vulnerable state of mind could potentially retraumatize you.
You also might know that, for example, you were raised by a high functioning alcoholic mother who masked her addiction by closely scrutinizing both hers and your physical appearance. You grew resentful of religion as your father compensated for his relentless infidelity to your mother by forcing you both to attend Sunday mass, with the sole purpose of maintaining a good social standing.
Bam! That’s why you have an eating disorder, are undergoing an identity crisis, or are suffering from depression and anxiety. But as we can see, delving into the ‘why’ doesn’t get us much closer to the solution because the past cannot be rewritten. However, we can go into the experience with the intention to release what doesn’t belong to us and is no longer serving our highest good.
For this example, your intention can be to release the masking defense mechanisms that were instilled in you through your parents, to see yourself authentically (not through your mother’s second-hand insecurities). You can intend to meet your spirituality/ God from a place of reverence and through the relinquishing of your conditioned resistance.
A psychedelic experience could cater very gracefully to the aforementioned intentions, but in order to create those, we have to have done enough inner work to identify the specifics of what we lack or where we overcompensate.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so beneficial to begin working with a therapist before you embark on a psychedelic experience. Talk therapy allows us to dig into the ‘why’ and psychedelic-assisted therapy can help us catalyze the change that we just can’t seem to jumpstart on our own.
Sometimes what we really want is to liberate pent up and stifled emotions that we’ve been repressing for so long. Reliving our trauma or getting to the root of our problem seems like the only way to do that, but experiencing that energetic release in and of itself can be the intention for our psychedelic journey.
2. Your Intentions Don’t Have To Hit Every Issue In Your Life
Very often we meet clients who feel overwhelmed because there’s so many issues in their lives that they want to address with their intentions. It’s likely that you feel very similarly as you begin to plan for a psychedelic journey. Friends, take a breather because there is no reason to fret.
What we’ve found to be a helpful remedy for this concern is coming up with a list of 1-3 things, where if you were to address these 1-3 things, it’d have a ripple effect onto the other 8,9,10 things that are weighing down your present circumstances.
For example, your relationship with your partner is rocky, you haven’t talked to your sister since she got married and you fear this distance will see no end. On top of that, your 30-year-old brother who is perfectly capable of getting a job and financially supporting himself, is living in your basement.
You’re depressed, feeling stuck, going to work to support your family, but feeling less yourself and more robotic by the day. Your depression makes you feel worthless and you fear that your physical and mental unappeal is only further straining your marriage, so you compensate by doing everything you can to keep him around, even if it’s at the expense of your needs.
Your first thought for creating your intentions might be ‘to fix your marriage’ or ‘to once again be the person my partner married’. You also might intend ‘to understand why my sister won’t talk to me’ or maybe even to accept it, and ‘to get the guts to kick my brother out’ or ‘to find joy in my work’.
These all may be desires that we have for our future, but there are more fruitful ways to frame our intentions so that they can be more fluid and concise while eliciting more seismic change. At the base of each of these problems there may be some common themes.
Perhaps issues with communication, an unhealthy fear of change, or codependency that stems from a fear of being alone. Only you can recognize the underlying factors that resonate with you and permeate across the fabric of most of your problems. The intention to address those common themes in your life may be the best way to make the most out of your psychedelic journey.
Tangible Steps for Creating an Intention
- Taking Personal Inventory
The first step in creating an intention for a psychedelic experience is to take a personal inventory of the issues that are most pressing to us in our daily lives. Examine the emotions that you live in most often and in what places or around what people you feel those emotions the most. If those emotions feel heavy in a certain environment, alone or around certain people, ask yourself what about those situations makes you the most uncomfortable.
Remember that the problems we have with other people are direct reflections of the problems we experience within ourselves. For example, when you’re with your partner, you might feel like you’re on top of the world, but when you have to leave for work, you feel unmotivated and as though your partner only gives you the right amount of attention when you’re together.
Your partner may very well be emotionally distant when you’re apart, or your job may not provide you with sufficient mental stimulation. However, we should try to pry a little bit deeper. Perhaps you could explore the possibility that you have an anxious attachment to your partner which triggers feelings of insecurity and abandonment when you’re away from each other.
To address this realization, your intention could be to find more security within yourself and to experience how it would feel to redirect some of the love and attention that you give to others, unto yourself.
If it’s true that your partner only gives you attention when you’re together, ask yourself some more questions. Have I addressed this with my partner? If you have and this hasn’t changed, why haven’t you taken appropriate action? If you haven’t addressed it, ask yourself why.
This type of self inquisition can apply to many circumstances in life. Here’s a more broadly applicable question to ask yourself: Do your problems come from an external factor or from your unwillingness to respond to that external factor in a self-supportive way? When you come to a response, analyze how that problem has been a theme throughout other relationships and life events.
Sometimes the burden on our souls truly does come from an unchangeable external factor. Perhaps taking care of your ill parent or relative has taken a very heavy toll on your mind and body, or your ability to provide financial support for yourself has been limited by a physical disability.
In circumstances like these, an intention can involve finding acceptance, purpose, transmuting your relationship to, or coming to a more healthy way of perceiving the situation.
- Stimulate Your Emotions
After periods of prolonged emotional numbness, it can be difficult to assess what’s at the core of our dissatisfaction because it’s been a while since we’ve exercised the muscle of deep self reflection. Journal or think about the following prompts that resonate with you. Afterward, you might find a clearer objective for your psychedelic experience.
- Would you describe yourself as an independent person? How does your independence reflect onto the way you value yourself and your relationships? Has anyone ever commented on your independence? If so, in what context?
- How do you cope with conflict? Do your coping mechanisms consistently elicit regret, shame, or further conflict?
- Do your family members or peers have at least a rough idea of what your day-to-day routine looks like? Are they aware of the current events and emotional circumstances in your life? If not, why?
- When something bothers you, how long does it take for you to address it? If you usually address it immediately, what would you gain from taking some more time to reflect? If you address if after a long time, where do you feel your resistance to act comes from and how does it affect you?
- Do you feel misunderstood? If so, what misconceptions do people have of you? Do multiple people have the same misconceptions? What might be prompting their beliefs? Can you bring yourself to briefly assimilate their misconceptions? Why or why not?
- Can you be fully authentic and vulnerable with at least one other person in your life? If not, what are some causes of this resistance? Can you be fully authentic and vulnerable with yourself when you’re alone? If not, why? Do you often find yourself looking for distractions?
- Is there an emotion or emotions that you tend to avoid? If so, is there any memory that stands out to you where you or someone you know displayed that emotion and it had a severe impact on your life or the lives of others?
- Do you generally forgive yourself when you’ve made a mistake? If not, how does this impact you? Do you generally forgive others when they’ve hurt you or made a mistake? If not, why? If so, how quickly? How does your level of openness to forgiving impact you and your relationships?
- When you’re in love, are you able to keep a healthy routine? If not, why? If so, do your motivations for keeping a healthy routine change?
- Briefly Seperate Yourself From Your Diagnosis
Mental health diagnosis can be incredibly freeing and meaningful for validating the circumstances of our lives, but they can also be limiting to a certain degree. Often, a mental health diagnosis can become a crutch that we rely on to justify our unhealthy behaviors.
Though there’s certainly a massive correlation between the two, if our aim is to heal the symptoms of our disorders, we have to understand our personal role in propagating these behaviors. A healing journey involves taking personal accountability over the routines and patterns that perpetuate our unhealthy coping mechanisms.
You may have generalized anxiety disorder. It may be helpful to reframe our outlook on this by recognizing that for example, more generally, you’re a person who’s been affected by the overbearing nurturing of your parents. Later in life, this has led to hyper awareness as means for self-preservation.
Thus, in a scenario like this, your intention may not only be to address your anxiety, but more specifically, to foster a more passive relationship with control, or to learn how to move through judgment with acceptance.
Another example is of someone who may suffer from PTSD. In this example, our PTSD could stem from domestic violence, and it has come to impair our ability to open up to new partners. Our goal may be to overcome our PTSD. More specifically though, our intention for the psychedelic experience could be to nurture a more trusting relationship with ourselves or to learn how to connect with our intuition.
Often, at the root of our external fears is an underlying concern that we cannot trust our own judgements. Learning to trust our intuition allows us to move through the world with more certainty, inadvertently allowing us to place deeper trust in those we’ve intuitively deemed as ‘safe’.
- How To Word an Intention
Though it may seem trivial, the wording of our intentions can have a strong impact on our focus for the journey. For example, we may have a fear of intimacy. If our intention for the experience is to address our fear of intimacy, there’s a chance that our focus on fear will hinder our focus on recovery.
Thus, a helpful way to structure our intention is by focusing on the changes we want to see instead of the problems we currently have. To do so, it’s helpful to understand what’s at the root of our conflicts. That’s why we advocate for talk therapy as a way to prepare and lay the foundations for psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Using the fear of intimacy as an example, talk-therapy may have taught us that this fear in rooted in a dissatisfaction with our physical body or perhaps through a long-established process of coping with abandonment fears through casual sex.
We can productively cater to the conflict by setting an intention to connect with and experience loving awareness in our body. Often, fears of abandonment stem from feeling unsafe in our own presence. In this case, our intention can be to feel held and heard by our own presence.
Whenever possible, our intention should involve not what our conflicts are outwardly projected as, but how they’re inwardly experienced and developed. It’s helpful to frame our intention as what we do want to feel, rather than what we don’t.
It can also be helpful to frame our intention as an affirmation. Previously, we mentioned how in the psychedelic experience, our intentions serve as anchors or reminders of why we’re on this journey. In essence, an affirmation claims the context of our present moment.
Therefore, an affirming intention wouldn’t likely begin with phrases like “I want” or “I need”. Rather, they should confirm your current and ongoing efforts to heal. You can do this by opening your intention with “I’m in the process of”, “I am working on”, “I am developing”, or “I am (creating, connecting, rekindling)”.
Framing our intentions in this way allows us to notice the presence of our efforts as they’re occuring, and obstructs us from viewing our healing as something of the future, but rather something of the now.
An important part of journeying with psychedelic medicines is releasing expectations for how our intentions will unfold. Repeating an affirmative intention reminds us that we are in the process of healing regardless of how the journey is presenting itself.
Explore How It Feels To Be Connected
Now that you’re equipped with the tools to construct a productive intention for your psychedelic experience, you may be interested in taking the next step on your healing journey. If this reigns true for you, we empower you to book a consultation with us.
Here, at Psychedelic Passage, we’ve curated a network of experienced psychedelic facilitators that are eager and open to facilitate your therapeutic psychedelic experience. They’ll guide you through the process of preparation and integration, while holding a safe and conscious space during your psychedelic journey.
If you have any other lingering questions about psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted therapy, check out our resources page for more informative articles like this one. We hope this article offered the clarity and direction you were seeking. That’s all for now our fellow psychonauts, safe journeying!