The range of reasons why people use psychedelics is just as varied as the effects. That is to say, they’re quite different for every person. However, of the more than 32 million people who use psychedelics in the United States, many do so for self-actualization—or to optimize the mind and body.
Why is this? How can psychedelics be used for personal growth? And how does this work? We’ll take a look and let you know how your psychedelic journey and path of self-development can be supported by a psychedelic coach or mentor.
First of All, What is Self-Actualization?
Who remembers Abraham Maslow? Any Psych 101 class or dive into self-help books may have mentioned him. Maslow is most well known for his hierarchy of needs. The five motivational needs are typically presented in a hierarchical pyramid, which puts physiological needs first, followed by safety, social, esteem, and finally—self-actualization.
The self-actualization theory follows the belief that once your basic needs are met (shelter, safety, love, etc.), you can move on to higher growth needs and eventually reach the highest level, called self-actualization.
Many people don’t end up reaching self-actualization because our drive to reach personal potential or self-fulfillment is thwarted by our preoccupation for the needs lower down the base of the pyramid—like stability, sex, food, freedom from fear, and prestige. We get it, there’s a lot for our human mind to work on, and satisfying those social, esteem, safety, and physiological needs tends to take priority.
But what if it’s possible to have it all? There’s a primitive instinct to become a better person and meet our full human potential. That’s one of the biggest reasons behind the success of gym memberships, health foods, and self-help books. Unfortunately, however, a few months at the gym or a green smoothie every morning won’t solve all of your issues. Self-actualization is much easier said than done.
It’s a process, and like any process, the journey to self-actualization requires a kick start. While people turn to books or podcasts to discover What to do or How to achieve personal growth, it’s more important to realize the Why. And psychedelics can help with exactly that—and help you get over any ruts or feelings of being stuck in the process.
Psychedelics and Personal Growth
So, how exactly can an ayahuasca ceremony or session with psilocybin contribute to lifelong self-actualization and personal growth? This all has to do with the Default Mode Network (DMN), which has been described as the brain’s processing valve that allows us to make sense of our environment in ways that contribute to our immediate survival.
In the brain, psychedelics lead to new communication in areas that make up the DMN. In reality, these connectivity changes can manifest as new solutions to old problems and limiting beliefs and new insights about persisting unhealthy habits and thoughts.
The brain has a relatively high level of plasticity, meaning that it can adapt and change pretty easily based on new experiences. However, when you spend time with the same people and perform the same tasks day in and day out in your nine-to-five life, your brain becomes accustomed to using these existing pathways regardless of how healthy they are, and you become “stuck in concrete”, so to speak.
When your brain makes new connections when on psychedelics, it can help to undo the “programming” that’s taken place over years or decades—in just a single experience! The creation of new neural pathways can help you literally “rewire” their brain. Think of this as an interruption to your regularly scheduled programming.
Your default mode of living may help you get through the daily grind without much energetic input, but is it helping you become a better human? Shifting these connections helps you to reconsider your values and priorities in life and work through blocks that prevent growth and development.
An Ego Death and a New Lease on Life
Ego death is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the psychedelic community. And despite the terms ambiguity and misuse, it has a huge role in personal growth. An ego death or ego dissolution, as it’s sometimes called, is essentially a significant disruption to self-consciousness. It changes the neural processes that contribute to how we make sense of ourselves and the world at large.
Through this, you may realize the impermanence of life and how the opportunities to truly live are limited. This may play out as dissolution of fear or the realization that bold and brave action in any area of life—career, relationships, health—is necessary for true self-actualization.
For many people, this looks like a renewed or novel interest in consciousness, psychology, religion, or spirituality. It may also mean new practices like meditation or yoga or the end of a stagnant relationship or career.
Ultimately, this disruption actually corrects the brain’s “addiction” to emotional responses—fear, excitement, anger, and victimization—and the brain chemicals that get released with these emotions. Breaking the chain allows you to explore and experience alternative responses and reactions and do so in ways that last months—if not an entire lifetime.
The disruption of the ego and the Default Mode Network may be an uncomfortable process, but for many people, it allows the brain to operate in a more functional way that contributes to personal growth and the journey towards self-actualization.
Tripping As a Tool for Self-Actualization
Most scientists have put in countless hours into their research and most professional athletes work with some of the greatest fitness trainers. Working with psychedelics is no different. If you don’t put that same type of effort into psychedelics, you won’t get the same benefits—it’s that simple. Like with anything that’s worthwhile, you’ll only get out what you put in. And when it comes to psychedelics, there’s just as much “work” to do before and after the trip. Here are five of the most important considerations.
- Trip with intent.
Taking psychedelics without any consideration of intention is like throwing a plant seed at the ground and then neglecting to water or care for it in any way. If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you know what you want out of your experience with psychedelics.
Setting an intention is the first step of using tripping as a tool. Having a clear and well-thought intention will help you create a framework for your journey.
The experience may not end up as planned, but having stated goals about perceived insights or emotions will help you out in the long run. Your insight will help keep you grounded if/when the journey gets uncomfortable and serves as a reminder as to why you are there.
- Prepare the set and setting.
Studies show that the greatest chance for ego dissolution and subsequent positive changes happen for those who have experience with other mindfulness practices, like meditation and yoga. This is all to say that you should be mentally prepared for the journey you’re planning on embarking on.
It’s likely that your desired result of psychedelic use will require further effort and direct action on your part—and you should be prepared to do so. If it’s helpful, you can have a journal, musical instrument, or paint and canvas (to name just a few) prepared to accompany action to any key insights that might come through.
If you’re looking for more, we’re written an article that specifically addresses how to prepare for an intentional psychedelic experience.
- Be safe.
How can you even think about self-actualization if you’re concerned with the yelling you hear from the neighbors or whether your medication is compatible with your psychedelic substance of choice? Your safety is paramount, especially when it comes to long-term benefits from psychedelics.
Certain harm-reduction practices should be incorporated into your journey—you should avoid driving, seek the advice of a doctor if you have any pre-existing conditions, and create a physical space that is safe and conducive to your experience.
- Seek the help of a trip sitter or psychedelic guide.
Isn’t it important to have an advanced teacher in all that we do? Be it a respected boss, a trusted friend, or a thought leader in our field or industry. The bottom line is having someone with the skillset and experience that we desire is helpful in accomplishing any of our goals. Someone who has “been there and done that” can not only help you achieve the same but also help you avoid unnecessary mistakes.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t want the same in your psychedelic journey. Seeking someone who is psychedelically experienced and psychologically mature to be with you during your experience will not only ensure your safety but can also contribute to the aspects of your journey that may contribute most to your self-actualization.
We offer trip sitting services to help you feel safe and supported during your psychedelic experience. Our trip sitting framework combines traditional shamanic principles with proven harm reduction and safety protocols (like those used in the John’s Hopkins clinical trials). If you’re interested in learning more about how trip sitting works, we invite you to schedule a free consultation.
- Integrate, integrate, integrate:
Yes, you may have a four, six, even 12-hour experience with psychedelics that, for lack of better words, blows your mind. But it shouldn’t start and stop there.
The integration process will begin far before the actual experience, and like self-actualization, will likely be a lifetime endeavor. We can guide you through this entire process. Anyone can eat a handful of mushrooms and have a mystic experience, but that alone won’t result in a massive life change.
The psychedelic experience needs to be paired with adequate preparation, an intentional experience, and proper integration on the back end. It’s a lot to take on on your own, but with the help of our psychedelic trip sitters, you’ll have proper guidance, compassionate support, and someone to answer questions and alleviate concerns.
Self-Actualization is a Process
Congratulations! Your decision to read this and explore more about what self-actualization is and how to achieve it brings you one step closer to the growth you’ve been striving for.
Ultimately, we all have self-limiting beliefs, repressed emotions, and unhealthy behaviors that we’d like to address. While we can do things to make great strides towards this, it’s important to realize that this is a never-ending journey and self-actualization is a process—not an outcome.
Psychedelics can certainly kick start or support this process. They have immense healing potential—but they shouldn’t be viewed as a “magic bullet.” They will require effort on your part, and sometimes that means asking for help.
We’re here to support you on your journey and to help you step into the highest version of your being. Use this link to schedule a free discovery call with us today.