Learning How to Surrender in a Psychedelic Experience

In this episode transcript of the Psychedelic Passage podcast, our co-founders Jimmy and Nicholas explain the difference between giving up and surrendering in regards to a psychedelic experience. They’ll walk you through the process of actively relinquishing control as means for allowing the psychedelic experience to unfold organically and without internal resistance.

Our hosts will discuss the importance of recognizing our survival mechanisms in order to detach from the self-preserving habits that take us out of the present moment. They’ll also highlight how expectations and comparison can quickly become an obstacle in a psychedelic trip and how setting expectations differs from creating a therapeutic plan

Later they’ll consider the role of social conditioning in our human tendency to focus on outcomes rather than the process. Then they’ll explain how we can find the emotional space to embed surrender into our current belief systems. To close off, our hosts compare surrender to the act of radical acceptance by unraveling their inextricable link to trust and faith. 

Nicholas and Jimmy define what it means to view your psychedelic medicine as an ally, while providing tangible steps for mitigating fear and practicing the art of surrender in our daily lives. 

Episode 12 – Learning How to Surrender

Nick: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Nick Levich, and I’m here with my fellow host, Jimmy Nguyen. Thanks for joining us today. 

This week, we are talking all about the concept of surrender as it relates to navigating altered states of consciousness and psychedelic experiences in particular. And the reason that we wanted to have an episode on this topic is it’s a word that’s used a lot. 

When we talk about how to navigate psychedelic experiences, people throw around this concept of surrender. And what we find time and time again, is that journeyers or prospective journeyers don’t have a good frame of reference for what that means. 

And so, what we’d like to do in this episode today is help contextualize what it is that we mean by surrender and go over how to do that in practice. So, Jim, when someone comes to you and is like, “Okay, cool, what does surrender mean for a psychedelic journey?”, What do you tell them? How do you explain this concept to them?

What Does ‘Surrender’ Mean in a Psychedelic Experience?

Jimmy: Yeah, first, it’s important just to recognize that surrendering in the context of navigating a psychedelic experience is different than the dictionary definition of surrender. It’s not necessarily giving up or losing or giving in. Our society thinks about surrender as far as victory or surrender. And so, I just want to frame that first. And yeah, this is an interesting topic as well. 

Because when I have leads and clients and folks who are exploring medicine work, they hear the word and they know to say it, and they know that it’s a part of the process and experience, but I don’t know if people feel what it means, maybe people might know from a cognitive or like theoretical standpoint.

Nick: Well, this is important because what this means is that people don’t know what surrender means or feels like, because oftentimes, we don’t know what it’s like to let go until we’re forced to– or another way to explain it is, we don’t know how much we’re hanging on to until we let it all go.

Jimmy: Here’s the biggest thing that happens with me in clients, we talk through a lot about surrendering and allowing and witnessing the experience, which are a lot of the primary ways when I think about navigating psychedelic experience. 

But then when we get into practice, people’s mechanisms are trying to grip and hang on, and resist and a lot of clients are very aware of that they’re like, “Oh, there are these parts of me that are freely trying to hang on and really trying to provide some type of defense mechanism for this part of me to not fully relinquish into the experience.” 

So, that’s one primary thing that I want to highlight is that there’s a difference in understanding cognitively what the concept is, and there’s another and practicing and doing it.

And I know we’ll do a whole episode about just ego death or ego dissolution, I’m getting a little fired up about that one too. But surrendering is a couple of things. One is it’s an active process. Surrendering is not just a one-time, “Okay, I surrender,” and that’s it. 

And it’s the recognizing that we, as physiological beings, are here to survive in this reality. And we’re here to survive. So, our survival mechanisms can actually hinder the true and full immersive navigation of a psychedelic experience. 

And those things are very natural to our being. And so, when alarm bells start to ring and folks experience– they may experience something that’s very unusual, they’ve never experienced before, that’s where some of our natural mechanisms of homeostasis and the ability to survive–

Nick: Self-preservation.

Jimmy: Exactly, now, that is counterintuitive. Because many folks who walk through an intentional psychedelic experience or ceremonial experience or whatnot, there’s this inherent nature of wanting to explore what’s more than the status quo of their lives. So self-preservation becomes a potential obstacle to the real letting go and exploration of the self.

Nick: Alright, so I think it’s best if we kind of explain, because a lot of our listeners have never been on a journey, or they’re preparing for running or exploring. And so, the idea here is when you take a moderate to a high dose of any psychedelic, including psilocybin, you are basically consenting to getting on a roller coaster ride.

Jimmy: I was just thinking about a roller coaster ride, I was literally just thinking about this.

Nick: Yeah.

Jimmy: And you don’t get to choose where the ride goes, you don’t get to choose whether it has a corkscrew, or a backflip or a somersault like you’re getting on this roller coaster blind, it’s inherently a plunge into the unknown. And we’re conditioned to want to control our lives control how things go, we want to smooth things out and–

Nick: Show variables, show parameters, and show potential outcomes, best-case scenarios, that type of stuff.

Jimmy: Yeah. So, when you get on this ride, all that goes out the window. And the way that I explained surrender is whether it’s conscious or subconscious, or otherwise, we all have a template for what things are supposed to look like. 

And in this case, it’s going to be what your journey is supposed to look like. And so, people will read a trip report, and they’ll be like, “Oh, the experience of oneness. Someone went through that maybe I’ll have oneness.” 

Another trip report is, “I saw all these kaleidoscopic colors,” And so, maybe your subconscious goes, “Oh, maybe I’ll get colors in my journey.” And then you get on your roller coaster ride and it’s not like any of that. In fact, you don’t even know what’s happening to you.

You feel like you’re in a washing machine. Well, now your template of what you thought it was going to look like, and what’s happening, they’re not lining up, there’s a mismatch there. 

And then that creates this internal friction or conflict within your being, it’s like, “Okay, well, it’s not lining up, this isn’t what it’s supposed to look like, this isn’t what I expected it was going to be.” And that conflict is often more challenging, or more abrasive than just experiencing what it is, that’s happening.

Yeah, and for what it’s worth, that picture in your mind, it can be very well intentioned and very beneficial. I had a client who said, “I’m not really feeling like I’m getting any downloads and insights right now, so must not be working.” 

And meanwhile, they’re going through a deeply somatic experience, and moving and all this stuff, and all of these things. And when I think about the roller coaster, and when I think about surrendering, surrendering also doesn’t mean a straight up free for all. 

There’s a difference between plans and the difference between expectations, to your point, on what you’re talking about this picture in the mind of what a journey should look like. And so, in order to surrender, you have to have trust. 

And in that trust, there’s trust in yourself, whether you have the inner resourcing to navigate this experience, there’s trust in the psychedelic, there’s trust in the plant medicine, and trust in the container of the professional or the person that you choose to support you

And so, when you’re getting on the roller coaster, or if I’m getting on a roller coaster, I trust that that thing has been inspected. I trust that that harness that I put down on myself will actually be–

Nick: [crosstalk].

Jimmy: –will hold my big a** body in there. I trust that people have written on this thing. And then have gotten off and whatever. And so, there are two options. You can either go on that roller coaster– you’re choosing to go on the roller coaster, by the way, like nobody’s forcing you into the seat. 

You are taking yourself and putting yourself in the roller coaster and strapping in. Yeah, so you do two things. One is the clenching. You could be the person that really clenches and really [crosstalk].

Nick: Just kind of steer this way and the steer it that way.

Jimmy: Yeah. Or you can have the same ride, the same turns, the same safety harness, the same, all of those things and allow.

Nick: Put your hands in the air, baby.

Jimmy: Yep. And it’s your choice. It’s your choice. Because no matter what you thought about the outcome of that roller coaster, whether it was terrifying or push you to your limits, or it was exhilarating, or whatever, the roller coaster ran the same, it was all the same [crosstalk]

Nick: Same course, same track.

Jimmy: All of the same stuff. And so, I think that’s another part of– I really like what you’re saying about it’s a part of this is surrendering the image or expectation in your mind on what it was supposed to be like. That’s very, very important.

Nick: Yeah.

Jimmy: And I also think that is a continual process. Surrendering is an active process where you may be grounded and centered and allowing. And I think we also talk a lot about witnessing your experience for what it is in the moment. 

That’s another part of surrender. And then, you may slowly feel your survival mechanism start to kick in. And then, you got to get yourself back to center and then surrender again. And then, you may then feel like, “Oh, no. It’s not lining up to what I think.” 

And then, you got to get back to center. So, it’s almost these continual choices of surrendering into the experience. And sometimes that’s all you got. Sometimes you’re in an experience when you’re deeply in it. The only thing that I could do was breathe and just repeat. I surrender. I surrender, I allow, I’m here for it. I surrender. I surrender.

Nick: Yep.

The Difference Between Giving up & Surrendering

Jimmy: So yeah, there’s a range. And so, let’s highlight the difference between giving up and surrendering. Very, very different. Giving up is where there’s no hope, there’s no faith, you’ve thrown in the towel. Surrender is all faith. And so, they’re very different approaches. 

One of the conversations that I often have is like, “Okay, well, if you’re going to surrender, who are you handing over the keys to?” We’re so used to feeling like we’re in full control. It’s like, “Okay, well, if you’re going to hand over the keys to your kingdom, to your castle, to your psyche, to whatever it is, however you want to think about yourself, who are you handing it over to?” 

Is it the mushroom medicine? Is it spirit? Is it the container you’ve set? In your own belief system where can you put this temporarily?

Nick: Mm-hmm.

Jimmy: Yeah, it’s both the inner resourcing and relying on yourself and then also trusting, I think that word comes up a lot for me, that you will be supported and held through this experience and what you said about giving up versus surrendering. It’s really remarkable. 

I have some clients who maybe whether their experience is challenging from the get-go, or maybe whether they have a blissful state, and then something turns for them where their defense mechanisms really kick up, the resistance really kicks up. 

And I often hear this thing, they’re like, “I’m ready for this to be over and I want this to be over and I want this to be done.” And so, there’s a version where that is giving up, meaning that this experience is too overwhelming. There’s no utility in it, this doesn’t serve me. So, let’s just stop it.

Nick: Throw in the towel.

Jimmy: That is different than acknowledging that the experience is difficult. And acknowledging that it’s really uncomfortable, like soulfully you want to crawl out of your skin. Yep, exactly. And, but then you have to make some choices. You have to choose whether you view this as a part of your healing if there’s some potential here if you have the ability to navigate this.

And so for many of my clients who midway or some point through the experience, they’re saying, “This needs to stop. I need this to be done. I want to throw in the towel,” they’re at the same time, probably saying at the end of the road, or at some point, they’re like, “Well, maybe this is the experience that I need to happen.” 

Or when they report back later, they’re like, “Wow, I am actually so glad I had that challenging and difficult experience because that’s what I needed to really–“

Nick: Not what you wanted?

Jimmy: Yeah. I had a client the other day say, “If I didn’t get hit over the head, I wouldn’t have heard and I wouldn’t have listened to all these things that were so overwhelming and so challenging for me.” And so, it’s also surrendering into that process. You and I’ve said this in episodes before, but the worst thing is to stop midway through a process that’s so damaging and confusing and all of that. 

And so, another part of surrendering is just seeing it through and just trusting that there is the opportunity for healing and the opportunity for growth just on the other side of whatever that is.

Nick: Well, I mean, one thing we’ve made really clear is that surrender and trust or surrender and faith are inextricably linked. Trust and faith are the prerequisites to being able to surrender. Otherwise, we can’t let go.

Jimmy: Yeah, you say the antidote to fear is trust, which I really appreciate whenever I hear that from– Yeah.

Nick: Yeah. And the other thing, as you were speaking, that is worth highlighting is the importance of acceptance. The process of surrendering, perhaps the most analogous word is acceptance. You’re just constantly accepting whatever it is that’s occurring in the journey. 

Even if you don’t like it, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if you can’t make sense around it, there’s just this radical acceptance of the experience as it is without trying to control it, judge it, change it. And that is a hard place to hang out in because it goes against all of our conditioning.

Jimmy: And also, just recognizing that there are layers to this. So, it’s not just what you’re witnessing, and if it’s overwhelming or not, but the stories associated to that, emotions that we feel associated to that. 

And it’s about witnessing all of it because the real act of surrender is not having any input to where the experience should go. I think another part of surrendering is removing just the “should” from any of this.

Nick: Yeah, don’t should all over yourself.

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, you got a lot of time, folks in the integration process to connect dots and analyze and make sense of and all that and I share with folks navigating the experience is using your breathing as, an anchor. 

So, just returning back to your breath, and just watching. And it’s not just watching the visuals and watching, it’s watching, “Oh, my defense mechanisms really are creeping up right now.” 

Nick: Yep.

Jimmy: Or, “Oh, this is really some changed sensation in my body where I just honestly just really need to move.” Or, “Oh, there’s some fear coming up.” Or, “Oh, there is the story that I’m telling myself that this isn’t working.” And watching all of that, too. 

I had clients who explained to me that one of their biggest fears is being stuck in the experience never coming out of it. Well, if that’s where your focus is, and you’re attached to whether you’re stuck in the experience or not, then your mind may very well try to convince you that you’re stuck in the experience. 

And so, those folks have to really trust in what I was telling them that, “Look, time is continuing on. You took some psychedelic substances or psychedelic medicine. You communed with the medicine. And over a period of time, you will land and you will come back down to Earth.” 

And it’s this interesting play from fear comes up, I think, a lot for people’s ability to surrender because if you are very fearful of the experience or how it’s going to go or the outcome, whether it’s going to work, whether it’s not going to work, that can build up a lot of resistance in your body

Because again, you’re focusing on the outcome, you’re focusing on what’s happening afterward instead of just being there in the moment for the experience, before that whatever thing is going on for you.

Nick: Yeah, I mean, one thing that I see time and time again, is people say, “Oh, no, yeah, I don’t really have a whole lot of expectations. I’ve checked my expectations at the door.” And then, they [crosstalk].

Jimmy: They’re the ones who are like, “I expected this to be like this. And it’s not happening.”

Nick: Yeah, and so we spend so much time in preparation talking about expectations, and how to strip those as much as possible from this experience. And people like, “Yeah, okay, got it, got it, got it. Did the expectation thing, I’m good there.” 

And then, after the journey, first thing we hear, “Well, that didn’t go like I expected.” Yeah, there were definitely expectations that you didn’t even realize you had. 

And so, part of what we’re describing here in this surrender process is, we don’t know that we need to let go of it until it’s reflected back to us. And oftentimes, the way the mushroom does that is by reflecting our sh** right back in our face.

Tangible Ways to Practice Surrender

Jimmy: Yeah, we tell ourselves and convince ourselves that we have no expectations and I’m coming into this completely open-minded and all of that, but actually deep under some layers, those things are hard there. That then creates a pretty challenging paradigm to work through.

All right, so I feel like we’ve chatted quite a bit about this concept, why it’s important, how it plays out. What are some tangible things that we can tell folks on the practice of surrender? 

And what we’re identifying here is that there’s this theoretical understanding that sometimes gets thrown out the window when you’re in the midst of your experience. And you do have to actually practice surrender. So, what are some tangible ways, folks?

I’ll start with one, the best way to have the ability to surrender into your experience is to work on it beforehand. There are opportunities to surrender in our everyday life, surrender a belief about a certain thing surrender, of a judgment about a certain thing. 

Surrendering to an outcome when you’re in traffic, or a guy cuts you off, and you’re surrendering whatever feeling that you have about that. So, there are little opportunities to practice the art of surrender. That’s pretty good. practice that. And I share with folks that the more that you can do that, I think also the more that folks can get into, like the witness standpoint. 

Like, “I’m just going to watch what my body’s doing when I get triggered. I’m just going to watch when emotions come up, I’m just going to watch what type of defense mechanisms I have.” I think those two things are really, really helpful for folks to get some reps in before the experience.

Nick: Super helpful to start practicing ahead of time, always recommend flexing that muscle before you actually commune with the medicine. One tip that I always have is the acknowledgment and recognition that medicine is an ally. 

It’s really hard to surrender to something that’s your enemy. It’s much easier when there’s this recognition of the medicine being an ally. And the flow-through effect of that is, is this happening to me or is this happening for me? 

If the medicine is an ally, then everything you’re experiencing is happening for you. There is a very specific reason that’s showing up. There’s a reason you’re being pushed to your edge. There’s a reason you conceptually cannot understand what’s happening right now. 

If medicine is an enemy, it’s all the reverse. Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? This doesn’t make any sense. I can’t figure out why this is happening to me. And so, it’s really important.

Jimmy: Being honest.

Nick: That type of stuff. Yeah.

Jimmy: When we look at the medicine, as an ally, it pulls us out of that victim mentality and into this scenario, where “Oh, maybe we actually don’t know what’s best for us. In fact, maybe the medicine knows exactly what we need.” 

And that’s what I’m reminded of time and time again, on the facilitation side of things is we see these people have these visceral, somatic, challenging journeys. And at the end, there’s the same sentiment, “Oh, that’s exactly what I needed.” 

And what it continues to reflect is that this medicine is not dumb. It knows exactly what you need, and it’s going to serve it to you in a way where you have a direct experience of it, and you just cannot ignore it.

Nick: Yeah, this may get a little hippie-dippie for folks. But I also feel like medicines and sacraments, even synthetic substances have some type of frequency energetic component to it. 

And it’s in the communion between your consciousness and then the intelligence or the sentience of those medicines, that creates a level of consciousness that allows us to explore some of these things, or personal growth, or our deepest and darkest demons, and some of that stuff. 

And I also want to share that, “Oh, this is exactly what I needed” sentiment that you’re talking about, it doesn’t always come right after the sentiment.

Jimmy: Definitely not.

Nick: It’s not always in the afterglow period. It’s not always like, “Oh, well, that was great.” Some folks need a lot of integration and a lot of support.

Jimmy: Time, time, time.

Nick: A lot of time. And people around you who can witness and acknowledge and be there for you, in your experience, whether that’s a professional, whether that’s a family member, or friend, sibling support group, any and all. That doing this stuff where your witness is really important because it takes time.

Jimmy: In fact, it’s normal for things to get slightly worse or messier before they get better.

Nick: For sure.

Jimmy: And for whatever reason, there’s very little acknowledgment of that in mainstream media. And so, people are reading these studies, “Oh, look at how beneficial this is.” And what they don’t realize is they’re taking that check-in 8, 16 weeks after the journey with extensive integration and what they’re not telling you is the spiritual emergence or emergency that preceded that.

Nick: Right, yeah.

Jimmy: We talked about this a lot in one of the integration episodes where people put themselves on this timeline, they’re like, “Oh, well, I got 72 hours, I’ve got to make the most out of this,” and what not. And so, the other thing that I want to bring to light with what you were saying about considering the plant medicine as an ally, is also whether you consider yourself an ally in areas. 

Because if you view yourself or parts of you as in odds against your true self, or maybe you’re like, “I’m just broken,” maybe some of these mechanisms– 

“Maybe it’s just all broken, so maybe none of it’s in service to me,” or maybe there are parts of you that are really challenging and difficult to explore the shadow or the deep demons that I would guess to say exists in all of us. It then really relies on your trust with yourself. 

Because again, this is all trust, you’re talking about trust in the plant medicine, “Oh, all of this is for me.” Well, also, I would consider you to know that your body knows what it’s doing. 

There’s some physiological mechanism that has allowed humans to commune with these medicines in an altered state of consciousness. There’s some evolutionary thing that got us there. And that you, maybe are in service to yourself as well. 

That’s cool when it’s all blissful, and joyful and like, “Oh, everything’s great.” That’s much harder to do when your systems are firing off, red flag, red flag, red flag, and your nervous system is going off, and you’re and you’re having a lot of fear, and you’re having a lot of doubt in the experience, and you’re having a lot of all that, while you’re on that roller coaster.

And so, one of the best things that I share with folks is to also cultivate that ally-ship with themselves as they move into a psychedelic experience. And that’s way harder to do in beyond just medicine ceremony. 

That is something that I think can help people endure through a lot of just challenging things in life anyways. Do you really believe that you have the inner resourcing and all the tools and capabilities to allow you to navigate this process, I think, is really what it comes down to. 

And then by extension, this is a facilitation podcast. It’s also the allyship that you build with your facilitator and your space holder. And if you feel like you can surrender and move through your experience in a way that’s not judged where they’re not trying to come in and fix and resolve and some of those things. 

I talked about that triangle quite a bit, where primarily it’s the community between you and the plant medicine, but then also you and yourself, and then that facilitator, space holder should be there to really anchor in that whole process.

How Feeling Safe Contributes to Surrender

Nick: Yep, and one other thing that’s tangible that’s important to share is, it is impossible to surrender. mentally, emotionally, spiritually if physically, you don’t feel safe.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Nick: And so, this goes to the importance of setting. Your physical body needs to be in a place where you feel comfortable and supported, or that little– that one last finger that’s hanging on, or whatever it is, is never going to release because you’re tethered to preserving your physical safety, and that doesn’t allow for that full exploration of your being.

Jimmy: And that is a process that’s beyond the thinking mind, by the way. We all have these mechanisms where if we see a rope on the ground, and it resembles a snake, some of us might jump. That’s a part of what’s been passed down to us to have these nervous system responses on that fight or flight or that self-preservation response. And you’re so right. 

To give yourself permission to be in a vulnerable state, to give yourself permission to allow the experience to float through however it needs to, to give yourself permission to be an allyship and be in with yourself, and then with the plant medicine, all of that needs for you to have this real this real deep sense of safety.

Nick: The other piece that I want to end with that’s helpful to share is that your body knows what it’s doing.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Nick: And it’s such an interesting phenomenon that I see time and time again with journeyers and I’ve experienced it myself personally when I’ve journeyed is, if I’m not actively focused on breathing, am I breathing or your body knows what to do? 

There’s an innate intelligence in your body and even if your entire mental capacity is taken offline temporarily for the journey, your body’s still doing stuff. This is where somatic releases take place. This is where all this kind of nervous system reregulation takes place. And the reason it’s happening is because your thinking mind is offline, and it’s not overriding it.

Jimmy: Yeah, and so I think boiling down to this is that, from a fundamental standpoint, surrendering is rooted in trust, I think it’s rooted in safety.

Nick: Acceptance.

Jimmy: Acceptance, and also, there are layers on how to build that into your experience, relationship with yourself, relationship with the plant medicine, relationship with the facilitator. And then, there are also some practices and things that you can really deploy that are surrendering in action. 

We talk a lot about breathing through things and we talk a lot about grounding exercises mentally when we talk about recognizing that the nervous system is doing some wild shit, probably.

So, yeah, I’m really grateful that we had this conversation. It’s hard until the line because this is a very lofty topic, and it’s hard then to bring it down into tangible. And at the end of the day, it’s a strategic tactic. 

If there are listeners who are like not getting down with what we’re sharing about the philosophy or around surrendering, well, if anything, just know that it’s a really useful way strategically and tactfully to navigate the experience, to just breathe and watch. Just breathe and watch.

Nick: You take nothing else. 

[laughter]

Jimmy: Yeah. Just take that.

Nick: Yeah, for sure.

Jimmy: All right. Well, that brings us to the end of today’s episode of the Psychedelic Passage podcast. 

You can look for all of our episodes by going to CannabisRadio.com or subscribing to the show on Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio or wherever else you stream your podcasts. If you liked the show, please leave us a rating, subscribe, and review. It makes a big difference. And we’ll see you guys next week.

Explore How it Feels to Accept & Surrender

If you enjoyed today’s podcast transcript, head on over to our resources page for more informative articles like this one. To connect with our carefully pre-vetted network of psychedelic facilitators, we empower you to book a consultation with us.

Well friends, that’s all we have for today. Until next time, remember that surrendering is an art, it requires nothing, yet connects us to everything. Safe and mindful travels, fellow psychonauts!

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About Us

We (Nick & Jimmy) are spiritually oriented psychedelic guides who facilitate in-person ceremonial psychedelic experiences with an emphasis on harm reduction all across the U.S. We foster transformational journeys through the exploration of consciousness, which we believe to be a fundamental human right.

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