Robert Augustus Masters

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Psychoactive Psychotherapy?

  • September 20, 2015
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There’s been quite a revival of psychedelic intake over the last decade or so. The more fashionable noun for such substances is entheogen, with the prevailing adjectives being entheogenic and psychoactive. Some condemn these substances, some extol them — and I’m not going to step into that debate here — but there’s no doubt that they do generate altered states of consciousness, sometimes profoundly so, for better or for worse. They are psychoactive.


This alteration of consciousness — including awakening to a deeper or more foundational consciousness — is by no means limited to psychedelics, however. Such a shift can occur through even a minor change in breathing or thinking. The mind-blowing aspects of psychedelics may arise during deep meditation, extreme exertion, and some kinds of dreaming — and during core-level work with our wounds and psychoemotional impasses.


Exploring our conditioning in more-than-intellectual ways can blast open the proverbial gates of perception. Not that this is or should be the goal — but the very process of nakedly facing and feeling our deepest pain and loss can leave us wide open to more than our pain and loss.


I have seen many — near the end of their immersion in a piece of deep, body-including, emotionally raw psychotherapeutic work — spontaneously open to a wholehearted sense of their true nature. In such conditions, the “altered state” is the one they have taken to be their “normal” condition.


This is psychoactive in the most radical sense. It does not leave us lost in a psychedelic wonderland, but truly embodied. As such, we are not tripping, we are not unmoored, we are not not blown away, but rather are grounded, at ease, simultaneously extremely vulnerable and powerful, lit through and through by a simplicity of being that is effortlessly at home with paradox.


This is rarely achieved without deep psychoemotional work on ourselves, including a well-developed capacity to turn toward the difficult or distressing in ourselves. It is a far cry from popping a pill or inhaling some smoke or swallowing something. Anyone can ingest what’s before them, but not so many will engage in the actual labor of authentic awakening, healing, and integration.


Really deep psychotherapy — which is actually far more than psychotherapy — asks so much more of us than taking a psychedelic. This doesn’t mean, however, to never take psychedelics — for doing so may get us on a path of healing and awakening — but rather means NOT to use them in lieu of in-the-trenches psychological and emotional work. I have seen many who simply kept taking their favored entheogen over and over and over again, without giving themselves to any quality psychological/emotional work; they had insights galore, but were not making the changes needed in their life (relationship problems remained intact, for example).


There are many ways of opening Pandora’s box. But when the contents spill forth, and our shadow elements throng before us and through us, we would probably do best to enter ways of working with this that allow for real integration. Blowing open the gates over and over again is not helpful, not necessary, not a path to liberation, but a distraction from truly facing and working with what has emerged in us.


This, however, is not about holding psychotherapy in its conventional (meaning primarily cognocentric) forms as a superior path to entheogenic ingestion. I don’t recommend either, except perhaps as something to perhaps try out once or twice.


What I do recommend is to step with your whole being onto paths that include working in real depth with body, mind, psyche, emotion, and spirit, paths in which we learn to turn toward our pain, to meet and integrate our shadow elements, paths in which we cultivate an ever-deeper intimacy with the personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal.