The place that the gods visit, or what psychedelic experiences are
Let's start with what psychedelics are: according to Wikipedia, they are a group of psychoactive substances that cause changes in perception, consciousness, way of thinking, and way of experiencing emotions. Psychedelics are becoming increasingly popular (both in the context of "ceremonial", recreational, and clinical use), which results in changes in their legal status, so far only in the United States. Clinical trials are being conducted with the use of psilocybin at universities, including in Poland. There are voices suggesting that psychedelics are a hope for psychiatry, a chance for those suffering from treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, eating disorders, or OCD, for whom traditional pharmacotherapy has little to offer beyond symptom control. We are witnessing a transition from demonization and stigmatization to almost idealization of psychedelic experiences.
Psychedelic literally means "revealing the soul" ("psyche" meaning "soul"; "delos" meaning "reveal" or "manifest"). This name refers to the basic property of these substances: according to Stanislav Grof, a Czech psychiatrist and LSD researcher, psychedelics are "non-specific amplifiers" of the human psyche - they enhance all existing content in the mind, whether conscious or unconscious. If we add to this the words of James Hillman, a Jungian analyst, describing the soul not only as an element, area or dimension, but rather as a perspective, a way of looking that involves deepening, perception and deep insight, we can see why psychedelics, like no other substances, have the potential to bring out what is hidden in the darkness of the psyche.
Why does this experience have therapeutic and transformative value for many people? We often hear about difficult experiences, bad trips - how can terrifying, incomprehensible, and overwhelming experiences have healing value? There are many ways to understand the therapeutic mechanisms of psychedelics, from neurobiological (through the serotonin system and regulation of neural networks), through cognitive (reducing cognitive rigidity), to psychodynamic (releasing suppressed affects, raising awareness of repressed psychic content, supporting insights). I would like to present another perspective based on Jungian psychoanalysis.
According to Jung, the cause of the suffering experienced by modern humans is the loss of contact with the sacred, understood as an experience of a dimension that evokes wonder, ecstasy, but also terror: it can be terrifying in its power and intensity. Unlike the everyday, "secular" dimension, the sacred is perceived in our culture as something different and alien. To describe the sacred, Jung used the term "numinosum," describing an experience of a change in consciousness independent of human will; a stimulating, overwhelming experience that directs us towards different dimensions. Both "sacred" and "numinosum" are words associated with the concept of the soul: the creative, sacred life force that saturates everything with energy and meaning. Forces without which we wither.
"Every form, by the mere fact of its existence as such, weakens and wears out; to regain its vigor, it must be absorbed again, if only for a moment, into what is formless; it must be reintegrated into the primordial unity from which it came; in other words, it must return to the 'chaos' (M. Eliade, The Myth of Eternal Return). For the first time in the history of the world, we live in a culture devoid of true rituals: rites that are not just a series of repeated actions, but a vehicle that introduces us to the sphere of the 'sacrum,' a door that opens in everyday life, a crack in existence through which both light and darkness flow. We live in a world that is cut off from the sacred, from that which transcends material everyday life, and on a psychological level - from the ego. Psychedelic substances increase entropy in neural networks (entropy is a measure of the disorderliness of a system). They dissolve rigid structures, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the waters of primordial chaos - in order for psychological rebirth to be possible.
When I read about the healing ceremonies of the Navajo Indians, about the creation of sand paintings called 'Place where gods come and go,' I thought that this beautiful description captures the essence of the psychedelic experience: creating a wonderful space in which 'gods' can appear - archetypal energies from the deeper layers of the psyche."
'Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror' - on psychedelic integration
This quote from Rilke's 'Love Poems to God' touches on the essence of integrating psychedelic experiences: the willingness to accept everything that arises. Acceptance that it is not the content or form of the experience that is important, but the fact of immersing oneself in sacred space that has healing potential.
I approach psychedelic experiences like all other 'soul-revealing' experiences that I work with in psychotherapy: dreams, fantasies, emerging images from the unconscious, physical symptoms. I try to deepen them, give them a place, find their meaning. I seek ways to embody and humanize them in a way that does not diminish their sacred nature. I deeply believe that the psychedelic experience is not an end in itself. Immersion in chaos can help us realize our potential, enhance creativity, and build deeper relationships with others. May touching the sacred help us be fully and consciously present here and now."
The purpose of this text is not to encourage anyone to use psychedelics, but only to present my point of view on the role that these experiences can play in the process of personal development and how they can be integrated in the psychotherapeutic process.
If you have had a difficult, intense experience after taking a substance or in other circumstances (meditation, body work, intense emotional experience) and you are in the process of psychotherapy, talk to your psychotherapist about it. You are also welcome to reach out to me: Jungian psychoanalysis is a wonderful tool for working with experiences originating from expanded states of consciousness.