Preparing for the unknown elements of a psychedelic experience requires journeyers to address several layers of internal resistance. In this episode, our hosts will discuss how psychedelic journeys often catalyze the release of subconscious and unconscious inner events, thoughts, and beliefs.
They explain how repressed trauma can become exposed during the psychedelic experience, and how our relationship to control may determine the effect these surfacing emotions have on our wellbeing, specifically when journeyers aren’t prepared to uncover them.
Nicholas and Jimmy assess how proper therapeutic and community support can help journeyers navigate the unknown elements of psychedelic experiences. They divulge tangible ways for prospective journeyers to prepare for and move through unpredictability, including expectation management, mindfulness practices, and breathwork.
Our hosts use client examples to exemplify the resistance-dissolving effects of taking a personal inventory during preparation stages. What does it mean that psychedelics are “beyond the mind”, and how does this affect our ability to cope with uncertainty? What factors should be considered before deciding if you’re ready for a psychedelic journey?
Episode 25 – Preparing For The Unknown Elements of a Psychedelic Experience
Nick: Welcome to The Psychedelic Passage Podcast. My name is Nick Levich. I’m here with my co-host, Jimmy Nguyen. Thanks for joining us today. This week, what we are talking about is, are you prepared to sit with stuff that you didn’t know was there?
Jimmy: [laughs] I’m already laughing. [laughs]
Nick: Well, this happens a lot. I think that’s why I feel called to make an episode around this, is one of the things that we see a lot, especially with those who are suffering or in some state of distress, is there like, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to feel better.
I’m willing to get in there, I’m willing to look under the hood, I’m willing to clear whatever’s in the way so that I can feel better, which sounds great. Sometimes stuff comes up that we weren’t prepared for as a journeyer. A lot of times that can have this effect of making us feel like we’re blindsided.
Oftentimes what I’ve heard from clients firsthand when this process happens is, well, now I just wish I didn’t do that. I wish I didn’t find out that was there. I wish I didn’t know. I wish I could just rewind time and just continue on from a place of this ignorance is bliss mentality, and that doesn’t always last a lot of time.
I see folks come around once they’ve settled from the shock of the discovery, if you will. This is definitely something that every single journeyer has to be prepared for if they’re going to embark on an intentional ceremonial journey.
Jimmy: Yeah, the last part of what you’re talking about is resistance. The client has some resistance once they have that.
Nick: But it’s after the fact.
Jimmy: Right, that looks so interesting. Discovery, it’s already uncomfortable and they’re like, “Oh, f**k, I wish I would have went back.” But the cat’s out of the bag. [laughs]
Nick: The thing is, the only option once the cat’s out of the bag is to deal with it. Because once you have the awareness around it and you shove it down, that creates even more harm. It’s this thing where you really got to ask yourself, am I ready, willing, and able to accept whatever comes up even if I didn’t even know it was there?
Jimmy: Yeah, the reason why I was laughing at the beginning of this episode was that this has been coming up a lot with my clients and they’ve been discovering their own, almost like I’ve been calling it Hallmarky or like cliche types of phrases where they’re expecting the unexpected or knowing the unknown.
It creates a really interesting almost like a paradox, like how do you prepare for what you’re not aware of or what you don’t know, and how do you then navigate that if it does come up? I think what would be helpful today is to break it down, I think, into some of the philosophy framework behind this.
We’ll talk to you all about some tangible pieces, some actionable things in which you can start in the preparation process even before you get into ceremony.
Explaining How Psychedelics Are “Beyond The Mind”
Jimmy: I guess the first thing that I would share with folks is that for many folks that I work with moving into a psychedelic experience, I have to remind them that this is a process that I say is beyond the mind, that they’re not going to be able to think and analyze their way completely through the process.
That’s not to say that thinking and being critical and being strategic isn’t important in this process, but I feel like a lot of journeyers kind of rely on it as their only tool. Knowing that the mind is at least the active mind is only aware of to a degree what’s in front of it.
There’s a level of content that’s beyond mental thinking awareness. I think I’d first just acknowledge that any and all of that can come up in the psychedelic experience. That’s the first thing that I would share with folks is that it’s also about engaging with what’s beyond the mind.
I think about the body, I think about emotions, I think about just some things in folks as unconscious as well. It’s like, “Okay, how do I build some tools around that,” so that whatever comes up, I then have some framework around how to deal with it or how to navigate it.
And it’s also different for each person. I have a lot of folks who are like, yup, I’ve done all of the inventory, I’ve done all of the deep searching. I really feel like I got it all there. Undoubtedly those are also the folks in ceremony who are like, “I didn’t realize I was there and I’m having this release process and oh, thank goodness,” like that’s happening too.
Nick: I think part of what you’re describing to me is that if you’re using your conscious thinking mind to try and guess what’s going to come up, you’re never going to access it. Because what we’re talking about here is the subconscious stuff.
It’s the stuff that is fundamentally unavailable to your thinking mind. What happens is a journeyer like that in prep, all through prep is thinking of all the possible things that can come up with their cognitive thinking mind.
It’s not until they get into ceremony where the kind of default mode network is taken offline, you start to get access to the subconscious stuff, and then lo and behold, there it is, the childhood abuse or whatever it was that’s been kind of wreaking havoc beneath the surface.
This is the irony, is like the thinking mind is not going to have access to that in our normal default state. It’s not until we embark on a journey like this that, oh my goodness, look at what’s underneath the surface, all this stuff that we didn’t know it was there. And how could we? Because it was existing on a deeper level than our thinking mind.
How Psychedelics Unearth The Subconscious Mind
Nick: The stuff that people normally think about and events.
Jimmy: Yeah, but then there’s also small little residual pieces of trauma. Maybe you’ve built resentment in a relationship over years or maybe you’ve built beliefs about yourself that sit there unconsciously. It can also be the accumulation of all of this little micro, I think, traumas.
Nick: I use this one a lot. Not getting breastmilk when you needed it as a child can leave that mark. Being left alone when what you wanted was physical nourishment, like all those little things, especially in a young age and when we’re in a developmental phase, those can leave a mark that a lot of times we don’t think of as abuse. It has all the same characteristics.
Jimmy: Yeah. Something personal in my own life was I realized that food security was a huge thing when we were younger because we were on food stamps and welfare and all this stuff. My mom did her best to try to make sure that we were fed and all that.
In doing my own work, I’m like that actually impacts my whole relationship with nourishment and food and all of this stuff. Also, it doesn’t need to be trauma related. I also think that there’s a wide range of content that can be within somebody that gets unearthed or unlocked in psychedelic experiences as well that are not related to traumatic events. They can be beliefs, emotions, stories.
Again, the way that we talk about ourselves, things that come up in relationships. What I try to tell my clients is prepare for everything or as much as you can build some tools around what you can’t prepare for.
You have a little bit of something to fall back on, and then to a degree throw it all out the window because you don’t know what’s actually going to come up in the psychedelic experience or not. If somebody prepares. This is so classic for me.
I don’t know if this is the same for you and we might have mentioned this on past episodes, but the client who’s really ready to go to war with all of the parts of themselves and then they come into an experience and it’s much lighter and more graceful than that. They’re like, “Oh, I was ready to tear myself apart, and then now here I am having this type of experience.
Nick: I see that a lot too. It’s the irony of Murphy’s Law. It’s like when you’re prepared for cold weather you get warm and vice versa. I definitely see that a lot and I think that there’s something to be said for the willingness to go there.
Jimmy: Yeah. I also think that’s a part of the unknown as well, meaning that inherent in the preparation for the unknown components of a psychedelic experience, what you’re actually doing is you’re opening yourself up to all the different possibilities.
If you’re going in expecting challenging, troubling, really doing the deep and hard work, then your system is going to be looking for that, and then anything that doesn’t match up to that is there’s a dissonance there. Conversely, I also have folks who are like, “I want to commune with greater consciousness, and I want to have the spiritual experience and all of that.”
Again, that’s a pretty challenging bar to set if your experience doesn’t turn out that way. I think one of the most interesting dynamics that come up with clients is that they’re always not always, but for some clients, they’re trying to connect the dots in real time during an experience.
They’re like going through something and they’re like, “What’s this related to? Or what’s that? Or what’s the sign here?” I tell people to just slow up a little bit and just observe it because the dots don’t have to connect for whatever shift that’s happening to occur.
There’s also, like, a lot of folks who have a big release, emotional release, energetic release, purging release, and sometimes it’s helpful to name that or identify that or say, “Okay, what is this thing?” For some folks, they’re like, “I have no idea, but this is great. I feel much lighter having done whatever I just did there.”
Are Psychedelics Right For You?
Nick: Totally. I mean, if I had a dollar for every time someone said, after a journey, well, that’s not at all what I was expecting, I would be rich by now. [Jimmy laughs] These things never go as you’re expecting. I think that we talk about expectations a lot on this show, but it does play a role in this.
We often have an expectation of what’s going to come up during the journey, and very rarely does it actually happen. The question once again is, are you ready, willing, and able to sit with something that you can’t predict? You may not even know it’s there.
I think that’s where a lot of this courage comes in because it’s really easy to say yes, and then you maybe find out about this core wound that happened at a very young age that’s molded and shaped your whole trajectory of your life.
At that point, do you still feel the same way? Do you still feel like you want to know what’s there? I think the reason that I feel called to record this episode is to really highlight for people that you have a decision to make.
You have an internal decision that needs to be made about how ready and able you are to look at what’s underneath the hood. One of the things that you touched on wanting to talk about is like, well, what do we do when we find that material?
To me, a big piece of this comes down to support because if you’re wading through that material alone and unsupported, it becomes daunting, it becomes challenging and those feelings of, like, hopelessness can start to kick in.
To me, the antidote to this whole thing is having adequate support, knowing that what you may discover could totally shatter or rather illuminate different parts of your worldview in a way that just wasn’t there before.
Jimmy: Yeah, well, with the whole support piece, if you don’t have support, then you end up sitting within an echo chamber of yourself. Stuff gets rattled around; you start doubting yourself. You’re not sure what’s valid or not valid.
You’re not sure what emotions are constructive or not constructive. I obviously hold a world where all emotions and feelings and content that comes up are welcomed in that preparation container and ceremonial container.
Having a backboard or somebody to express to or to organize your thoughts with, even self-directed stuff like journaling or audio recordings are great ways to get the stuff out of your mind because it can really ricochet around in there a little.
What I also hear you saying is that when we started the intro here, we’re saying being prepared to sit and accept the things that we’re not aware of and with what you just said, I think there’s a step before that, which is a willingness, like a choice that exists before that.
You have to choose and step into the courageousness of being like, “Okay, I do acknowledge that there’s some unknown. I do acknowledge that there are some things that are beyond my cognition and I’m willing to go there.”
Nick: Right. And that’s scary. That to me is an essential part of this process for those who are earnest in their attempt to approach this work. I’ll put it to you this way. I don’t think it’s a good idea for folks that answer no to that question to move forward with the ceremony.
Jimmy: Yeah, I agree.
Nick: I don’t know, it’s almost like the “You must be this tall to ride the ride.” [Jimmy laughs]
Jimmy: In order for the harness to come down and actually hold you.
Nick: Right, because to me it’s almost like if you answer no to that question and then move forward with a journey, you’re almost asking for destabilization or basically what could be thought of as traditionally a bad trip or an adverse thing, because whatever it is that’s suppressed is coming up to the surface and you’re not ready, willing, or able to deal with it. That’s not a good scenario for much people.
Jimmy: Yeah, I’ll acknowledge for many folks, they do find a lot of growth and healing through, for lack of a better term, “traumatic psychedelic experiences” or “bad trips“. The issue is though, in our society you usually don’t have the right support system to help you through that.
Because if you have a really traumatic psychedelic experience, what we’re talking about in this context is a whole bunch of content and stuff gets brought up that you weren’t ready for, that you don’t have support and community with that you don’t have the honesty and transparency with yourself to navigate it, to acknowledge it and move through it.
Oftentimes those are the situations where you do need ongoing care and support groups, community groups, ongoing integration, maybe ongoing therapy work, maybe whatever you believe in. Our society is not built like that because usually you got to go back in and clock back in or get back to work or whatnot.
That’s also pretty damaging as well when you have a deeply shifted experience that’s rooted in difficulty and you’re like, “Ah well, I got to put this all on the shelf so I can get back to work and pick up the kids and go do XYZ.” I think that’s a great word of caution. I think that you’re sharing with folks there.
Nick: The other thing that I see a lot when this kind of material surfaces is it’s really easy to step into a victim mentality. Why is this happening to me? I was young. This shouldn’t have happened. I don’t want to know about this. It’s like an interesting mix of denial and feeling helpless, like that kind of victimhood state. It can take some time to shift out of that. When something is brought into your awareness that you didn’t know was there.
Jimmy: Yeah. I want to get your opinion on something. I wonder what you think about folks who I’m going to use some coin terms here, who feel like they’re generally well adjusted, who feel like, okay, I can’t really identify any major traumas or any major things.
What we’re talking about has been on the lens of, okay, the psychedelic experience can likely uncover some stuff. Everyone goes through some range of trauma and some severity. I also do chat with a couple of folks who are like, “Yeah, I’m feeling okay. I don’t think that there are any issues here.
I haven’t identified any traumas. I feel like I’ve processed and released things.” What would you share with that person about this concept of preparing for the unknown or preparing for content that they might not be aware of?
Nick: I mean, from my perspective, we’re all still subject to the filter that the conscious mind gives us, and no one’s special in that they can access their subconscious material 24/7. I don’t know, what comes to mind for me is I took a consult with this guy, finance dude out of the Bay Area, and he’s like, I’m happy all the time, I’m a healthy, I’m a functioning human, I have no trauma.
I’m thinking to myself, you want to know how I know you have trauma? Because you’re telling me this and trying to jam it down my throat that you’re fine and everything’s okay with you. The fact of the matter is we’re human and we all go through life and have these experiences that shape and mold us.
You don’t have to think about it as trauma, but there’s certainly the possibility of memories of events, of very significant formative experiences being brought into your awareness that you likely wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
Jimmy: Yeah, at the end of the day, this is strategic going into a psychedelic experience because what I hear you saying is that the belief on whether you have trauma or not is at the end of the day, somewhat of a belief or a story.
If you come into a psychedelic experience being like, “No, I have no trauma and then the psychedelic experience uncovers something really challenging and difficult, [crosstalk] that’s a really hard fall. That’s a really really hard fall.
At best, or at least it’s a strategic tactical thing to walk in and being open to, being like, “Okay, I acknowledge that I might not know everything that’s stirring up within me so then you can prepare for it. I really like what you’re saying there.
Nick: That’s the key. That’s the key right there. What I want to spend a few minutes on is how do we help someone prepare for this?
Jimmy: Yeah, I want to get tangible here.
Ways to Prepare For Release of The Unconscious Self
Nick: In other words, what can you as a journeyer do in order to catalyze this process of starting to look under the hood, knowing you may not be able to get it all in prep but at least you’re starting to flex the proverbial muscle?
Jimmy: Yeah, I tell a lot of folks that preparation is really just a series of practice runs and dress rehearsals for what might come up or what might show itself in the psychedelic experience. Therefore, folks can utilize some tools and frameworks, the same ones that would help them to navigate.
I think the first one that I want to start with is this concept of getting into the seat of the observer, the awareness almost trying to cultivate a level of unattached awareness around whatever stuff comes up in prep.
We share with folks that ceremony starts the moment that you are committed to doing this type of work, which can be years for some people before they actually have a psychedelic experience.
Once ceremony starts, the pot gets stirred meaning the content is going to come up. Meaning you’re going to start to make connections between your body, your mind, your spirit, and all of that. You’re going to start to observe.
What I share with folks is that as we’re observing things, likely we come attached to them. Even the way that we talk about feelings. I am mad that’s you saying I am the existence of anger you know right now.
I think the first thing for folks is to almost have a neutral, curious, open stance around what they’re feeling, what’s going on in their body, what memories and things are coming up? I think that’s probably the core of all of the other tools and frameworks that I recommend to folks in doing this work.
Nick: Yeah. For me, what it comes down to in prep is starting to get access to the subconscious mind beforehand. There’s really only a couple of ways that I’ve discovered firsthand that gets access to that part of ourselves.
One is through meditation; one is through journaling and the other is through the actual psychedelic experience itself. Basically, we have to get ourselves into a state where we start to transcend that thinking mind and get access to the material that’s beneath the surface.
This is inherently challenging because if you’re not an experienced meditator or you don’t have a journaling practice, we’re talking about starting new habits that you don’t have the kind of muscle memory for during prep.
Jimmy: Yeah, I think one of the good guiding or I guess bridges to meditation is probably guided meditation to start. If you have no meditation background at all, there’re a lot of great resources.
The Waking Up app, which is Sam Harris’, there’s a whole bunch of stuff on YouTube. I’m pretty sure that that was how it started for me finding little 10, 15 minute-guided meditations that then opened the door for more introspective contemplation.
Nick: Exactly. For a lot of folks that’s like the slow lane to the subconscious whereas the psychedelic experience is like the fastlane rocket ship all the way in, but at least we’re starting that process of getting you access to what’s beneath the surface.
The same thing that happens journaling with stream of consciousness style writing is you’re bypassing that sensor, you’re bypassing that part of your cognitive mind that goes, “Oh, that’s stupid, why are you writing that? Oh, that’s spelled wrong.
Oh, put a period there. Oh, edit that. Oh, do you really want to say that?” If we can move past that and just allow the words to come through you and onto the page, it’s amazing the insights and material that starts to surface in a form of stream of consciousness journaling like that.
Jimmy: Yeah. I would probably encapsulate all of that into play around with your filters in your sober default state and meditation, yoga, breathwork, journaling, those are all methods of playing around with your state of consciousness which filters things through your cognitive mind.
Another thing that I share with folks is getting comfortable sitting in un-comfortability and I actually think that that can show up in a lot of different ways. There’re plenty of times in the day where we could be angry about something or uncomfortable about something.
Whether it’s a conversation or somebody cuts us off on the road or something doesn’t go right at work, which may not be related to the psychedelic experience. I share with folks like, use that period as a time where you’re, like, this is uncomfortable. These feelings are going to come up and I’m literally just going to sit here and watch it and feel how I’m feeling.
I think that over time folks can get some reps. That also helps with that like detached observer thing that I’m talking about. Also, another benefit of this is that you start to open your own emotional filters on what’s acceptable or not acceptable to feel, think and be like.
I have a lot of folks who are like, “Oh, I’m catching myself being angry and I know that I need to be more compassionate and more. Well, if anger is coming up for you pretty frequently, it probably means that there’s something there that needs to be looked at, addressed or [crosstalk]
Nick: Pretending it’s not there is bypassing. We have a word for that.
Jimmy: [laughs] Yeah, 100%. It’s like, “Okay, how do I find a healthy, constructive way to sit in my anger?”
Nick: Yeah. Or sadness or grief or whatever it is.
Jimmy: Totally. Maybe that’s like, I don’t want to be around my kids and my partner when I’m in the state of anger, so let me go and find myself another place where I can actually sit and feel this stuff.
Because for many folks, stuff comes up, we make a snap judgment about it, and then we’re already in action about it, whether we allow it to happen or not, I think is going back to this resistance conversation.
Jimmy: For folks, I share with people that you should have the right to express and feel every color of your rainbow including in the ceremony, of course, but it’s really, really helpful in prep, I think, to start to exercise those things in advance.
Assessing Your Support System
Nick: The final tangible piece for prep that I feel called to share is just make sure that you’ve thought through your support system before, but especially after the journey, when you’re raw, when you’re vulnerable, when things may have surfaced that you didn’t know were there.
Do you have someone to call on? Do you have someone to lean on? Do you have support outside of your facilitator that allows you to feel like you’re navigating this with the help of others, not just solely on your own?
Jimmy: Yeah, I think about support as far as concentric circles, in the middle there’s you and then the circle right around that are like, hopefully, you have those people that you can call 24/7 anytime.
A layer around that might be professional support, a coach, integration specialist, mental health professional teacher, something of that layer. You can even build concentric circles around that. Maybe it’s a community, maybe it’s a group that you’re in.
Just think about your support as far as layers, knowing that they are there. I also know that there’s a lot of folks who don’t feel like they have that. They feel like they’re kind of floating out there on their own. Maybe their only relationship is with their facilitator.
That’s where I think you need to just take this one step at a time as far as building trust in those relationships so that you can maybe lean on those folks if you go through a larger emergence process, through a psychedelic experience.
Jimmy: And that stuff takes time.
Nick: And a willingness to reach out for help.
Jimmy: Sure. Yeah. Really.
Nick: So, don’t be shy. Please reach out if you need it. I want to make sure that we end with words of encouragement here. Like, if you are one of those people that this does happen to, or you have had this happen where something gets unearthed during a journey that you didn’t even know was there and you maybe weren’t prepared for.
I acknowledge how jarring, how shocking, how surprising that can be. It can be almost traumatic in and of itself, but it’s always worth it to work through it. It seems hard, it seems challenging.
I’ve heard a lot of sentiments like, “Wish I just didn’t know this was there.” It is always worth it to work through that on your time, on your cadence, in the way that you need to, but pretending it’s not there is not the answer.
Jimmy: That does way more damage if anything. Because if you’ve unearthed something and then it comes into your conscious mind and then you’re trying to cram it back down into whatever crevice it was living in, that can be really, really damaging.
Even if you wake up every day and continue on, everything is all good because there are unconscious components of this. This is the crux of what we’re talking about.
Nick: Pandora doesn’t go back in the box.
Jimmy: Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking earlier, yeah.
Nick: Anything else that you want to share with listeners around this topic today, Jim?
The Power of The Breath
Jimmy: The only thing that comes up for me is to not underestimate the power of your breath as you are moving through some of these things. There have been many of my own psychedelic experiences where all that I could do was to return back to my breath and be aware of the breath, using the breath as an anchor, a lifeline, a tether, a support.
I found that to be probably the number one way of navigating unknown content as it comes up in prep and ceremony and even integration because it brings you back to presence. Again, it sounds silly, I know, but I’ve also seen it work for myself and like hundreds and hundreds of other people.
And so don’t underestimate the breath. I think I forget where I heard this, but somebody said that the breath is the only thing that stays with you from the moment that you’re born to the moment that you die.
If you do find yourself having stuff stir up unknown content, stuff that makes you real squirmy, stuff that makes you really uncomfortable, the stuff that you’re like, I don’t even know what’s there, but it’s freaking out my nervous system.
The best thing that you can do is observe, breathe, bring awareness to your breath, and then just kind of be easy on yourself a little bit, a little bit too because this is, like you said, a dynamic process.
Nick: Yeah. Thank you for adding that. That made me think of one thing that I feel called to just give a quick disclaimer on is that “Sometimes content comes up that may or may not be literal.”
Sometimes the way that these plants, specifically mushrooms, teach us is through direct experience through metaphor, through analogy, through allowing us to feel something as if we’re in someone else’s shoes. We need to use our own internal knowing, our own intuition to discern.
Like, okay, is this a verbatim memory that happened to me when I was younger, or is this just a point that I need to understand and feel in order to learn, grow and evolve? Not all topics that get surfaced are verbatim or factually 100% accurate. Just use some discernment as you navigate this.
That’s part of what integration is for. Jimmy spoke on this earlier is you don’t have to connect the dots in real time. You can experience it in real time and then in integration goes, “Ha, was that a factually accurate memory or was I just my subconscious feeding an example of what things may have looked like?”
Jimmy: Yeah, don’t take things too literal is my takeaway there because I’ve had folks who have moved through experiences and they’re like, “Yeah, I felt into the suffering of my ancestor during the Holocaust or I felt into a certain thing.” That doesn’t obviously mean that you are like Jesus Christ and that you are on the cross.
If you are feeling those things, it’s important not to invalidate them. I also hear you saying where there can be a basis of discovery and by not taking it super literal it actually opens up all the different avenues of lanes on which you can process, dissect, look at that thing.
Nick: Totally. That brings us to the end of today’s episode. Thank you all for listening. You can download and stream episodes of The Psychedelic Passage podcast on all major streaming platforms, including Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio, or wherever else you choose to digest your podcast content.
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