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Preparing for a Psychedelic Experience

If you’re looking to have a therapeutic psychedelic experience for yourself, but are unsure of how to mindfully prepare for the journey, you’ve come to the right place. On this episode transcript of the Psychedelic Passage podcast, co-founders Nicholas Levich and Jimmy Nguyen discuss the ins and outs of preparing a conscious, safe, productive, and intentional container within ourselves and within the physical space of our psychedelic experience.

Our hosts will explain why preparing for a psychedelic experience is crucial to not only your mental and emotional wellbeing as a journeyer, but to the broader scope of your personal healing. They’ll also be delineating when exactly the preparation process starts and ways to gauge if you’re in the right headspace to embark on a therapeutic psychedelic experience.

They’ll offer tangible steps to help you create fruitful intentions for your psychedelic experience, while translating the meaning of its equally important counterpart: surrendering expectations. Why can holding onto control be limiting and what questions can we ask ourselves to authentically reconnect with our deepest intentions?

Episode 5: Preparing For A Psychedelic Experience

Nick Levich: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Nick Levich, and I’m here with my co-host, Jimmy Nguyen. Thanks for joining us today. This week we’re talking all about psychedelic preparation and best practices around preparing for a psychedelic experience.

Now we could probably spend multiple whole episodes talking about this, but really what we want to do today is start by highlighting the importance of preparation, why we emphasize it, and really what this process entails. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, we’ll probably spend more episodes down the road focused on preparation and integration. There’s a lot of nuances that can be helpful to folks, but I think today what might be the most helpful is to talk about the role of preparation in an intentional setting and possibly some of the pitfalls that folks run into. 

So we’ll keep it fairly high level today. And I guess what I would start with is by saying that I think there’s a lot, if not all emphasis on ceremony or the actual psychedelic experience. And what actually tends to be just as important, if not more important, especially when it comes to integration, are the components around it. 

So today we’ll focus on preparation. But I want to clarify for folks that you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket and ceremony. This is a longer healing process that psychedelics can accentuate and catalyze. 

But the difference with, I think, achieving outcomes, any type of outcome, is the work that goes around it. And I’d say that this applies to both recreational and therapeutic experiences. There’s a certain level of preparation, but for this we’ll focus more on that intentional, and in our work, ceremonial practice. 

Nick Levich: Yeah. So I think it’s best if we contextualize by answering a couple of questions here. Right? So for starters, what is preparation? And what we’re really talking about here is this process of preparing for a plunge into the unknown. Because when we move into a psychedelic experience, even if you’ve journeyed before, there’s no way you can predict what’s going to come up. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, it doesn’t matter how many experiences you’ve had, there’s always some unknown component to it. 

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The Importance of Preparing for a Psychedelic Experience

Nick Levich: Right, and so basically there’s no possible way you can fully prepare for what you don’t know is coming. And so it’s an interesting process because you can never be fully fully prepared in the sense of ‘anticipatory’ prepared of what’s going to come up, but you can take these really tangible steps that allow you to move through whatever is shown to you with a lot more grace. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a conundrum. How do you prepare for something that you’ve never been through before? How do you prepare for something that has this deep sense of unknown? And one of the ways of thinking that I share with my clients is to develop some universal skills, some universal tools that can not only be applied to life in general, but can help you to navigate experiences no matter what comes up. 

So it’s almost as if you have a baseline of tools that can be applied in a lot of different formats, which then opens up the possibility for you to approach anything that might come up because there is that level of unpredictability. But I guess another question that comes up for folks is why prepare? What’s the point of it? 

Nick Levich: Yeah, I mean, this one is a bit more simple but very important, which is recognizing that the energy that you put into an experience, in the preparation, in the integration, in all parts of this process, directly correlate to the benefits and the durability of those benefits on the back end.

Jimmy Nguyen: What you put in is what you get out.

Nick Levich: 100%. There’s no shortcuts here. And I think that this is one of those things where a lot of people read the studies like things that are coming out of Johns Hopkins and some of these research institutions and they say ‘yes, these things can help’ because they read the headline of the abstract or the spark notes. But they don’t see how much work goes into the prep and the integration side of things. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, it’s way sexier to say ‘I had one ceremony and I came out of alcoholism, I’m all good’. Now, when in actuality psychedelics are not a replacement for that process, it can be quite a momentum shift, but the work still remains. 

And I describe it to folks that I work with like this: if you have a limited amount of time in that altered state of consciousness, the psychedelic trip itself, then you’ll want to make the best use of that time. And so the more that you can do in advance to take an internal inventory to explore what’s there that could possibly be. 

Things that come up to bring some of those feelings. Emotions. Sensations. Memories up to the surface. Then I describe a process where you just show up fully with all that stuff and then offer it to the plant medicine. Which can then be a much more conducive way. 

As opposed to spending the first, let’s say, 2 hours out of a four to six hour experience with the plant medicine, helping you dig through that. So there’s also a little bit of an effectiveness and efficiency kind of component here. And I want to be very careful to say that, because this is a deeply sacred process for folks to look at what’s going on with them, but it can be the difference of an experience that doesn’t catalyze your journey versus one that does. 

Nick Levich: Yeah, I mean, what I’m hearing you say is that a large part of what prep does is it starts this process of expanding our awareness. You start to take some of that internal inventory and go ‘huh, this thing’s been hanging out for a long time and I’ve been so distracted I didn’t even realize it’. 

And so one of the other analogies that we like to use is like peeling back the layers of the onion and sometimes you can get through those first couple of layers in prep and then you’ve already started this excavation before you even get to the journey itself. So for those who are listening and they’re wondering when do I start preparing, what would you tell them? 

When Does Preparation Begin?

Jimmy Nguyen: Well, a lot of folks that I work with report feeling some type of a relationship or communion or intuition or guidance before they even consume the substance. And so ultimately you’re already in a ceremony or in a ceremonial process at the moment that you commit to wanting to have any type of healing journey. 

And then for sure when you commit to a psychedelic experience, and that can be a long time for folks. There are folks who do the research and then they know that they’re ready somewhere in their heart or in their soul and then it could be years before they actually have a psychedelic experience. For some folks they are ready and feeling this deep calling and that can be a couple of weeks. 

So the moment that you make a true commitment, I would even back up and say, not to the psychedelic experience. The moment you make a true commitment to your own healing and take ownership of that, you are in ceremony, and then the preparation process can be really helpful towards all of that. 

Nick Levich: Yeah, so I want to talk about a phenomenon that happens here, we specifically we see this a lot with people who commit to a ceremony. They’ve paid, they’ve done their paperwork, the dates on the calendar, their deposit is in and all of a sudden they’re like oh s***, I’m more nervous than I thought. 

What happens is it stirs the pot and basically your ego recognizes that it’s taking this plunge into the unknown and it goes ‘alert, alert, you’re going towards the unknown, we don’t know what’s here. Our job is to keep you safe and comfortable and secure. Are you sure you want to do this?’. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. There’s varying levels of resistance to change in general and then you commit to an experience like this and a part of you just knows, like you’re describing. And so within each of us there are parts of us and things that we want to stay consistent, stay the same and hang on to. 

And there are parts of us that are crying out for change and those things can come into conflict or start to get a little bit louder once you do have a date in place. I have a lot of folks who start to get the willy, start to get cold feet. I’ll share with folks that it is totally normal and likely a good sign if you’re having some healthy levels of trepidation or nervousness or anticipation on what’s coming up. 

And then there’s a way where it’s out of balance, where you’re self sabotaging. And I’ll also say that everyone has a right on timing whether to move forward with stuff. There’s many folks that go through a preparation process and they’re like, actually I’m not ready because my life has got a lot of stuff going on and let me find a place in time. 

And so I want to empower folks to know that you do have that agency but it’s just important to ask yourself questions and say how much of this is self sabotage or how much of this is my internal old operating system trying to keep a lid on everything? And how much is this in actual life circumstance or something that keeps me from having an experience on the horizon?

Nick Levich: 100%. I mean, I see this all the time too. I think this highlights that for a lot of folks this actually is a rite of passage or an initiation and it’s the willingness to move forward in spite of that healthy set of nerves that actually is the act of courage. 

If you want to move forward in spite of the fact that you’ve got the nerves or the trepidation, that inherently is an act of courage because you can’t exhibit courage if you’re not coming face to face with your fears. And so I think that to me this is like a telltale sign that you’re embarking on this rite of passage. 

This is a modern form of initiation. We don’t have a lot of ways for boys to become men, girls to become women. 

Jimmy Nguyen: We allow elderly people to become elders. We talked about that the other day, correct? 

Nick Levich: Yes. So I just want to acknowledge that anyone that moves forward in spite of that healthy set of nerves or trepidation that even though you can identify as coming from the ego, it still is very real. That’s an act of courage. 

This is a big deal to be willing to move towards this and it’s not designed to be easy. Like no part of these journeys are particularly easy, especially not in ceremonial containers nor are they designed to be. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I mean in the deep history of healing with psychedelics in our human history I would venture to say that challenging, overwhelming, difficult parts of the experience are not only an integral part of it, but it’s welcome. It’s that part that people are actually wanting to work on. They’re wanting to work on the difficult parts of themselves. 

And so that’s why preparation is such an important piece of this because if you’re really looking at that hairy sludge, that stuff that’s been tucked away deep, deep within there for a little while, regardless of the context or life circumstance, having a little bit of preparation will be supportive to that process. 

What do you think about folks who maybe have different medical conditions, maybe mental health backgrounds are on medications, stuff like that? What would you say for those folks as they’re considering the best ways of preparation for them? 

Is a Psychedelic Experience Right for You?

Nick Levich: Yeah, so part of the preparation process is going to be determining whether you’re fit for a psychedelic experience or not. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Because psychedelics are not for everybody. It’s important to say that.

Nick Levich: They’re definitely not for everybody and this is part of prep. Like most people’s prep starts with research, right? 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. 

Nick Levich: Like, ‘is this helpful? Who uses it? What kind of conditions might it be helpful for? What about the SSRIs or antidepressants that I’m on? What about my mental health diagnoses?’. That kind of thing. 

We could probably do a whole episode on red flags or just contraindications of all types, physical, mental, medication wise, all of it. But basically for this episode, I just want to make sure that people understand that these aren’t for everyone. 

And there’s a couple of key factors that you want to consider from a mental, emotional, physical health perspective. If this is an avenue that you want to take as far as evolving as a human or healing from within. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, and I think about realms of care or rings of care or support systems of care for folks who are trying to determine, would this be helpful for me? Would this be beneficial for me? Would this pose any medical concern or anything like that? 

Which means that you have a realm of care where you have mental health professionals that you’re hopefully working with in therapy, because therapy is wonderful. We need more better qualified therapists and all that in the world. You also have your medical professionals. 

You have a psychedelic oriented professional who you can ask questions to and things like that, but we don’t give medical advice. So as folks come and chat with us about things, we just have to be very careful. ‘Hey, we’re approaching this in the psychedelic capacity’. 

And so as another part of preparation is we talk a little bit about the philosophy of preparation and why it matters. But I think you are spot on to say that a part of preparation is to make sure that you can proceed in a safe manner as well. So I love that. 

How To Prepare for a Psychedelic Experience

Setting An Intention

Nick Levich: Okay, so let’s say that you’ve kind of done the checklist and you’re like, okay, physically, mentally, and emotionally, I’m safe to move forward. I’m feeling a healthy set of nerves, but I do still want to move forward anyway. Where does someone go in the preparation process, right? 

What is your next step at that point? And I think a lot of people talk about ‘intentions’, that word is being used more and more frequently, but I think there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about what intentions are, how to set them, how those relate to expectations. So maybe we can touch on that a little bit. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I agree. Obviously, everybody has a motivating factor or a reason for wanting to approach a psychedelic experience, ranging from specific conditions, quality of life, all the way to folks who want some external thing to come in and heal them, which by the way, that’s not going to happen with psychedelics. 

So as a part of this intention setting, a lot of what I discuss with folks that I work with is obviously the intentions versus expectations. And you say this very well. It’s about not shoulding yourself to death, meaning ‘it should look like this, my healing should look like that. It should be on this timeline’.

And because when we frame an image of how it should look, we’re in this constant comparison mode of aligning. ‘Does what I’m experiencing right now look like how I framed it up in my mind?’. So that can be one of the pitfalls of preparation. 

And I also hear this with folks in preparation. They create this conditionality for themselves, saying, ‘I want to make sure I’m doing it right and am I doing it wrong? Should I journal more? Should I journal less? Should I move my body more? Should I move my body less in the experience? Should I keep my eyes open? Should I have them closed? Should I be sitting up? Should I be laying down?’. 

It’s all these ‘shoulds’. And so what we share is that we set the intention, which are the motivating factors, the reasons for being I like what you say, “it’s what you seek”, and then removing all expectation or conditionality on what it looks like and how it’s received and how those intentions are progressed towards. 

Nick Levich: Yeah, and so one of the things that we see a lot is people come in with like a laundry list of intentions, right? They’re like, Well, ‘I have twelve things’ like, okay, well, that’s kind of a lot to hold on to. I think it’s best if it’s distilled into kind of one to three core intentions. And the idea here is, if those one to three things are hit, does it cover everything else on the list? 

So sometimes it can be really helpful to go through this process with your facilitator, guide, tripsitter or whatever in the sense that they can mirror it back to you. It’s like, okay, ‘well, I’m hearing common themes among items two, three and four here. And really what this all comes back to is a need for self acceptance’ or whatever the case may be. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Mhm, having a reflection from a facilitator also helps you to stay accountable and helps you to better navigate as your intentions evolve. So everyone who gets professional services should- or everyone who provides professional services should have some type of modality framework and practice. So you can have a little bit of rubric or support in going through this. 

And I call it ‘the Russian nesting doll syndrome of intentions’, where you think there’s one and then you dig into another layer and you’re like, ‘oh, it’s actually that, or it’s actually that, or another way that I think about it…’ maybe they’re all equally important. But which ones are the ones that would create the most movement for you? Which ones are the ones that carry the most emotional signature or carry the most pain.

Nick Levich: And just do that one thing, everything else would fall into place. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Right. And furthermore, maybe you don’t fully address it, but what if you got 5% there or 10% there? ‘I know it’s limiting me putting a percentage on it’. What if you just started to scrape the surface and scratch at that point? Would that be the most pivotal to your growth at that time? 

A lot of it is this conditionality and it can be a part of that self sabotage. So the preparation process can be helpful there too, to identify what patterns and things get in your way of this, of your own self discovery. Having a facilitator there to be like ‘okay, well, I hear you’re saying this now, but I remember last week that felt a little different’ or whatnot. 

And so that can definitely help to organize because this process of looking through our baggage and all of our stuff can be messy sometimes. And I love the mirroring and accountability component to it as well. 

Nick Levich: Yeah, and I think that the other part of prep is (assuming you’re going through the prep process with some sort of professional), this is where you start to build your rapport. Your relationship with this person as your guide, as your facilitator, has already begun. So you’re in the process of creating your own container so that by the time you get to your in-person dosing session, you’ve already got this connection with them. 

Surrendering Expectations

Nick Levich: All right, so let’s say that you get your intentions distilled down to your kind of one to three things. What we haven’t touched on and what’s really important we have this discussion multiple times per day, is expectation setting. And specifically in the context of intentions, surrendering expectations. And for most people, this seems really counterintuitive. 

Like, ‘I just identified all these things that I’m seeking and now you’re going to tell me that I have to surrender all my expectations around it?’. And the answer is, yeah, you do have to surrender it because there is no way to predict what’s going to happen in these experiences. I mean, that’s how we started this whole discussion. 

What we see time and time again is that folks get what they need, not what they think they need. And what expectations really are, are our preconceived notions of how things should look. And it’s really important that to get the most out of our journey, we let those go. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, and I want to clarify that in this context of talking about expectations, we’re speaking about this differently than planning and having a plan. And what Nick is describing is that what these expectations do is it creates conditionality. And if the experience that’s actually happening doesn’t line up with the image that we have in our mind about it, then that can be somewhat detrimental to the entire process and use of psychedelics. 

In the healing journey, however, we are humans and we are walking prediction and expectation machines. So we’re talking about having a good balance of this, right? Your facilitator should talk to you about ground rules and expectations on the cadence of the day and expectations on logistics and travel and all of these things, right? 

So it’s okay to have a plan, but it’s about then also leaving space and room for the unexpected because it is actually in that unknown where a lot of the potential for healing lies. And so it’s about not being so regimented in the way that it should go again, that word ‘should’ comes up again. 

And so this is tricky for folks because once you’ve set yourself up in a safe manner and you have somebody who is going to have your back and look out for you in a professional setting and you’ve built enough rapport where you feel trusted and comfortable for them to hold the most vulnerable parts of your process and your soul. Then you’ve done mostly everything that you need to do. So then all that you need to do is show up to the experience fully. 

And in that regard, that’s what Nick is talking about releasing all the expectations beyond that, knowing that in preparation, the keyword for today, you’ve already taken care of a lot of those other things. And so I hope that clarifies this, it’s a nuance. It’s like a real delicate space to hold expectations in a way that enriches somebody’s process while also fully surrendering right to the experience, which is harder to do than to say.

Nick Levich: So maybe in order to really drill this home, we give an example, right? So let’s say somebody is struggling with addiction or alcoholism and they watch the 60 minutes where this gentleman cured his alcoholism in a single psilocybin session. What we mean by expectations is going, ‘oh well, this guy did it in one session, so I’m going to get the same result and I’m going to go in and do one session and be cured’. 

That is where you start to set yourself up for failure in the sense that it could be true. That may happen, but if it doesn’t, how devastated are you going to be? Like, what happens if it doesn’t shake out the same way it did for another person? And so we often pose this question to journeyers, which is, ‘what does success look like for you?’.

Is it getting 10% better, 50% better? Is it only going to be successful if you’re 100% better in one session? Like it’s important that you get really clear on what your expectations are for this experience. And the other way to frame it is, would you still undergo the experience if you didn’t “achieve your intention” or you “didn’t realize your intention”? And so I think there’s got to be this willingness to move forward regardless of what the outcomes are going to be.

Jimmy Nguyen: Or even ‘do you believe that change is possible?’. That’s a big question that we ask folks or ‘what’s your capacity to take ownership over your own healing process and your own change?’. And so all of these things can arise in the preparation process. 

Hopefully, maybe not everything, but the more that you can look under the hood with some of these things, not only the better you can frame an experience that is potentially more significant and meaningful, but then it also helps the facilitator do a better job the more that they’re aware of your internal landscape. 

And of course no facilitator, no person is going to know the depths of everything that’s going on with you internally. But all of those gradients can help to readily prepare you for an experience and then also increase the potential efficacy or benefit that you might get. And again, it’s not about outcomes. You (Nick) say this all the time, ‘it’s not about outcomes, it’s about motivating factors. It’s about why are you there?’. 

Nick Levich: I think I would sum up our discussion today with this general understanding that preparation is about expanding your awareness, starting to take internal inventory, seeing what is going on beneath the surface so that you are maybe just not as surprised when you get into that ceremonial container, right? 

Because what’s going to happen is all of your ego defenses are going to get turned off or down and you’re going to start to see things through this very objective third-party lens just as they are. And if we can start to do a little bit of that digging ahead of time, it goes a long way. 

And this is why I actually love working with people who have been in therapy because they’ve got this really great sense of self awareness. They’re clear on what some of these issues are underneath the surface. What they’re coming up against is that kind of wall or plateau or limitation that’s typically the subconscious and the nervous system. 

And so the more aware we can be about our mind, body, spirit, community and environment going into the journey, the more we’re going to get out of it. 

Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, and one thing that I want to share with folks, which we really didn’t talk about much here, but it’s worth sharing and possibly this might be our way of capping off our time, is that the preparation process and by extension, the ceremonial process, the psychedelic communion process, the integration process, it’s not just a thinking exercise, it is more than what’s going on in your thoughts. 

And as you had mentioned, there’s things going on in the body and the nervous system and the emotions that we’re feeling. A lot of my clients try to think their way through preparation as the only tool. And look, thinking is really important, but most of the time people do it so well, they do it to a fault where they’re overthinking and over analyzing. 

And so I just invite that there’s more layers to this, whether it’s mindfulness or journaling or moving your body or sitting with things, meditation. There’s so many different ways that people can implement what resonates with them into their own preparation process, ceremonial process, more than just thinking about stuff. 

Nick Levich: Yeah. So let’s make this really tangible for anyone that’s listening. At a certain point in your prep, if you really want to prepare for the plunge into the unknown and you’ve done all your research, now is the time to move from a state of doing to a state of being. Can you just sit with yourself for a little bit? 

Because what ends up happening in that journey is you’re sitting with yourself for six to 8 hours. So can you start to flex that muscle by doing it for 20 minutes a day, then 30 minutes a day, then 40 minutes a day? And so it doesn’t matter what your practice is for getting into your body and into your state of being, as long as you’re making that an effort. 

Because we have been conditioned to only value productivity and doing and being stimulated and busy. And what this process is really about is actually slowing down. It’s stepping into a state of being. Can you reconnect with your breath, reconnect with your body? Really start to feel what it is that’s beneath the surface? 

I think that’s a great place to end our episode for the day. Thank you to everyone who listened. You can download episodes of the Psychedelic Passage podcasts. You can also look for them on IHeartRadio, Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify and wherever else that you get your podcasts. 

If you love the show, we invite you to subscribe, rate us, leave a review, let us know ways that we can improve, feedback, topics that you’d like to hear more of. And we look forward to seeing you guys next week!

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