Visions of a psychedelic future require seeing through our denial and loving sacrifice. Part four of four.
Listen to this on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, and most podcast feeds.
In my open letter, “To the Field,” I expressed some concerns around the psychedelic movement in the name of offering dynamic tension. I was surprised at the amount of positive feedback I received, and I thank everyone who reached out, shared it, or just simply thought about it. I even thank those who resented it, because I think such tension proves to be creative.
If parts one, two, and three were something of a deconstruction of my prior psychedelic beliefs, for the final essay of this opening four-part series I want to offer pieces of what I think is a grounded vision for the future, and what I think will be constructive towards it. But it will require some further demolition. Finally, I will close by sharing what I believe about psychedelics as part of a spiritual path.
This is not my final psychedelic will and testament. But it is my “good enough” will and testament for today.
Who the Hell Do I Think I Am?
For those new to the newsletter, I must provide some context as to who I am and why I dare to share strong opinions rather than keep pretending I don’t have them.
I am a Presbyterian. That is not an adherent of a fish-based diet, but one type of follower of Christ. More specifically, I was born the son of a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina. Over the course of my twenties in California, psychedelics played a notable role in the total deconstruction of my Christian beliefs.
After a decade of rigorous tearing down and criticizing my lineage, I did a lot of work both with and without psychedelics to heal my relationship with Christianity. There were moments in Ayahuasca circles that made me hear the sheer musicality of Christianity anew, especially as I began offering up old hymns as prayer songs, trying them on like old shirts of a favorite high school band. Except I found that many of these old Christian clothes were no longer tattered and stretched, but had become new clothes.But I had no idea I would actually become a Christian again until the very minute I heard the words “child of God” enter my mind during an Ayahuasca ceremony.
I no longer credit Ayahuasca for bringing me back to God, because I now appreciate that God was always seeking me out the whole time. But I will always have a piece of gratitude for God choosing this medium to find me.
The situation is this: I am deeply skeptical of practically every piece of conventional psychedelic wisdom, and I feel called not to take psychedelics anymore. But I suspect I will come to have a better understanding of what the hell I think psychedelics are actually good for, rebuilt on top of a foundation of my Christianity first and foremost.
None of this makes me an expert on anything other than my own experience. I’m here to give my perspective of the past and present and a different vision of the future.
So who the hell do I think I am? A Christian is who I try to be. But however poor a Christian I may be, a child of God is who I know I am.
Where’s the Grace?
Before we go any further in constructing reasonable hope for a psychedelic future, there remains much more justice to be done for the abuses committed during MAPS’ clinical trials and perpetuated in their response. And sometimes, I’ve heard a version of the following question asked in private conversations: “I hear all this harsh criticism, but where’s the grace?”
I know from my own historical discomfort in the face of injustice that this question signaled my desire for this conversation to just go away in a cloud of both-sidesing. It is more convenient to believe that the problems aren’t that bad, as if we could draw an anti-Tarot card to un-manifest a reality we don’t want to address or to make the mundane observation that nobody’s perfect. But the reality of abuse remains real, and sideline shrugging only adds to the weight of abuse’s aftermath. It is a burden that those who suffered should not have to carry alone, nor only by those who have been fighting on their behalf for years now.
So, where’s the grace? I might ask where the grace is in inaction. I know it wasn’t there in mine.
So that you may learn from my many trials and more errors, allow me to share what I’ve come to believe about the spiritual interplay of grace and justice.
Note: I know many of the folks reading this don’t believe in God, but I’m going to speak in God-grammar for a minute and trust you can translate.
Like a teenager’s interior landscape, God’s Grace is more mysterious than our concepts, including our idea of Grace itself. I know that one piece of Grace is love and unfathomable mercy for all creation. But I also know that Grace never negates the demands of human justice: accountability, consequences, reparations, sacrifice by those who perpetuated injustice, and more.
When we’re in the nuts and bolts conversations of justice, it’s often harmful to bring Grace into the conversation. Grace might be an unspoken backdrop reminding us of the shared human spirit, but I have come to learn just how often human, lowercase “grace” for abusers is weaponized against seeking meaningful justice for victims.
God's Grace is not our grace. It is an undercurrent, a tenor, a sacred milieu, an utter mystery. Walking in memory of its presence can help ward off possession by the forces which impede true Justice. But anger, even entrenched anger, is not at odds with Grace. In fact, anger is so often wedded with Grace because anger is so often Justice's compass.
The pursuit of human justice requires righteous consequences, thoughtful reparations, contrite atonement, and new social systems to prevent past harm from being reproduced. But human injustice is such the norm that I can only have faith in God's Justice instead of ours.
Where Grace is mysterious but a balm, God's Justice is imminently more frustrating and further beyond my comprehension. But my belief in it is something like a belief in eternal, untouchable, and universal rectitude; a balance at the end of time, if not in our own; perpetual karma; choosing to trust that human wrong will be rectified into divine Righteousness in the very, very end.
It might be tempting to avoid seeking human justice or to avoid affirming any anger because we think it costs us Grace. But so often we simply want to do this because we want to avoid sacrifices and consequences. Instead of costing us Grace, we end up with a “grace” without cost. As described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor executed for conspiring against Hitler, grace without cost is the definition of “cheap grace.”
And thus cheap human grace is afraid of conflict, even at the expense of victims. Cheap human grace spiritually bypasses by justifying the path of least social resistance. This vapid grace excuses our participation in evil, and human justice is often so incomplete because our grace is so convenient for an unjust status quo.
It's our cheap grace that demands victims act in some perfectly loving equipoise while those who perpetrated, excused, justified, and ignored abuse get off without consequences, accountability, or any sacrifice. It’s our cheap grace that fears consequences for others because we know we, ourselves, have done wrongs that cannot be righted. It's not just cheap grace, it's the silent function of evil.
Deep Grace respects, honors, and pursues the demands of human justice even if Deep Justice will never happen by human hands. Deep Grace does not negate our anger—it is the very thing that allows us to consistently point our compass of anger towards what is good.
Deep Grace tells us that there never was, is, or can be “love and light” without radically bearing each other’s burdens.
What About Solutions?
There is another critique I often hear whispered at all forms of critics: “They never have any solutions.” It seems to imply that critiquing is not, itself, part of the constructive process.
The way I see it—and judging by my conversations, the way many others see it—clearing through a brush of psychedelic bullshit is, actually, the most constructive idea that makes sense to me in this moment of time. As I learned in my faith journey, healthy construction must go through deconstruction. And so I can think of nothing more pressing than to barbecue some sacred cows. This barbecuing must be done with humility that we all have blind spots and sanctified bovines, but it must be done.
The gift of psychedelic criticism is the gift of not enabling addictions to our shadows. The job of the field, the place where critics, skeptics, and other independent thinkers roam, is to relentlessly point a flashlight into the dark of a movement that it cannot see for itself.
Because while psychedelics may not be physically addictive, and often even help people treat nastier addictions, it seems they do little to treat us of the human addiction to the three D’s: denial, delusion, and deception. If anything, psychedelics seem to sometimes make these addictions worse.
Yes, there will be people that get healing, insights, something of spiritual renewal. I will always be happy for them.
But there will also be people who develop psychological issues and character disorders, believe things out of touch with reality, make terrible decisions that impact the lives of their families and communities, grow socially estranged from loved ones, and otherwise waste away years of hidden opportunity costs. There will be those who continue to live in denial of these consequences, shrug their shoulders that there is nothing to do about them, lie about them, and/or just not care.
My hope is that, over time, there will be enough people who insist on doing better. Perhaps long after this rubble settles and society becomes disillusioned with psychedelics again, or perhaps simultaneously as this new psychedelic order crumbles, there is a future I believe in.
How About the Future?
The following are just a handful of sketches, some of which I will elaborate on in their own posts in the future. They are not predictions nor prophecies, and there will be many other psychedelic iterations that rise in tandem. These are not utopias and will have their own issues. They’re just what I think makes the most sense.
Decriminalization — Not Legalization
I am for broad drug decriminalization as opposed to legalization. This is not something that would ameliorate any of the above problems, however, it would right some very overdue wrongs. Simply put, we need to end incarceration over drug possession and we need people to have access to a safe supply. Whatever combination of policy goals gets us there I’m in favor of.
In the end, I personally believe psychedelic use should be “safe, legal, and rare,” to borrow an old pro-choice line now out of style. I do think psychedelics have more subtle abuse potential than people realize, leading to a worse quality of life for people and their loved ones. But, and it may sound harsh, I support people having the freedom to fuck up on their own terms, just as I hope they support my freedom to fuck up on mine. In order to do that, the self-destructive “Dionysian impulse” of humanity should be able to express itself without fear of incarceration or avoidable death, while not being turbocharged by capitalist infusions and abusive power structures under legalization.
The drug war was never a good solution, but in fairness, the problems it attempted to solve were not imaginary. While such talk might invoke cries of “stigmatization,” decriminalization will probably lead to a lot of short-term unknown harms. But I think these do not outweigh the known harms of black markets or a draconian police state. It was always the government’s great prank to pretend it could “control” these substances.
While I believe much drug use costs humans some of their humanity, there should not be a moral stigma around it either. I choose to be sober not because it says anything about my morality, but because I believe it affords me the most spiritual freedom.
So I support decriminalization, but not because I’m illusioned that it will create paradise. I just believe it will be less bad and more ethically defensible than what we have. And as a sober Christian, I can’t think of one good Gospel argument for the status quo of prohibition.
Indigenous Reparations — Not Just For Psychedelic Tribes
I believe if psychedelic interest in repairing harm to Indigenous communities is sincere, it must include Indigenous communities who have zero interest or relationship with psychedelic plants.
Whenever the psychedelic movement wants to “honor” and “reciprocate” Indigenous relationships, it often appears this desire is not because the movement genuinely cares about those communities. Rather, it seems they want carte blanche permission to use their practices with a clean conscience. Less sexy are broader Indigenous issues like funding language preservation, repatriation of museum items, or allowing Indigenous environmental stewardship of traditional lands, to name a few.
Similarly, I believe this issue remains important for non-psychedelic Christians. As a Christian, I know I can’t put a drop in the bucket of healing the harms of Christianity’s past on Indigenous peoples or expect their forgiveness. Nor can we expect a pope donning a headdress to fix anything, especially when he doesn't refute the Doctrine of Discovery. But I do believe it’s a collective Christian responsibility to continue trying to repair those relationships as imperfectly as we can.
As far as medical psychedelic use goes, I feel much more confident about psychedelic care being wisely and ethically discerned in a hospital setting than from private practitioners.
Now, I am no fan of our current healthcare system. But I have even less confidence in a growing psychedelic therapy apparatus. My suspicion is that this apparatus will not be content with people simply healing themselves once or twice and never again. Capital demands a Return on Investment, no matter how unproven the treatment or how much systemic abuse. In the long run, capitalistic forces will create influence through psychedelic media outlets and propaganda science to justify repeat customers. And there will be plenty of dubious psychological, philosophical, and religious models to provide a rationalization for these business models.
I believe psychedelics should be simply one aspect of making ordinary hospitals and health clinics better “soul-informed.” Unlike private psychedelic therapy practices, here psychedelic treatment would be offered as an option for a care team otherwise disincentivized about which healing modality to use. While not perfect, and sometimes oppressively bureaucratic, there also layers of accountability to help reduce abuse.
In general, I would imagine a soul-informed hospital as having increased creative resources for their spiritual care teams (often woefully underfunded) by hiring a greater diversity of creatives to infuse vitality into medical care for all patients. In disclosure, I have trained as a chaplain intern and am considering going into chaplaincy in my ministry, so there is some personal bias in this choice. But I also think this would just be awesome to see, psychedelics or not.
Ultimately, psychedelic-assisted therapy is an idea that sounds good enough on paper but is deeply unproven in practice. I’m convinced there will be a medical case for psychedelics, but I’m also fairly certain that in 100 years they’ll think we were all corrupt idiots (and I won’t be arguing against them). In the meantime, infusing hospitals with more psychedelic creative energy would be a great gift for psychedelia to offer the non-psychedelic world. Of course, a bigger gift for everyone would be Medicare For All.
I think many people subconsciously seek psychedelics because they are seeking an experience to pass through a transitional life period. There are pros and cons to using psychedelics for this purpose, much of which happens in underground psychedelic churches and retreat centers.
At the risk of explaining a term so cliched that it has lost meaning, “liminal” experiences are, in short, major sites of transformation in between phases of our lives. In the course of a lifetime, we pass through many liminal spaces, often (but not always) marked by cultural rituals—weddings, funerals, or stealing office supplies after quitting your job. Often, people who are spiritual seekers are in a phase of prolonged liminality, seeking something that will move them beyond the malaise, anxiety, purposelessness, and depression of in-between spaces. This can last for years. Often, rituals are what help people move through this liminality. I think in the long run psychedelics could be viable here, but it will require greater cultural understanding about this purpose and what facilitates it.
In contrast to liminal, what makes an experience liminoid is its non-transformational properties. These are forms of play, recreation, and escapism. Much psychedelic use, such as at festivals or on hikes, is intentionally recreational and thus liminoid, simple life-refreshers. As discussed in my open letter, in some ways a more recreational mindset may actually be safer than giving psychedelic experiences the import of liminality. In the long run, though, I think the accrued risk of continuous liminoid psychedelic experiences outweighs the benefits and possibly hinders spiritual development.
I do think psychedelics have some limited liminal potential; and I think this is what many really desire from them. I have seen many people go to retreats for these exact reasons, and part of the intention I had in my first Ayahuasca journey was to fully mourn a breakup I couldn’t process. It is further clear to me that psychedelics are popular in part because people are seeking to transcend this materialistic hellscape we’ve found ourselves in, and our old cultural rites simply are not proving transformational for many swaths of people.
The West is in the process of rehabilitating the numinosity of its religions’ shamanistic elements, which are not necessarily drug-based but are by definition transformation-based. But in order for psychedelics to be proper liminal aids, they must be understood as such: temporary. When people have had a truly transformative experience aided by a psychedelic, the post-trip exuberance of immediately wanting to trip more might be analogous to wanting to throw another wedding to the same partner six months later. If honeymoons are a different transition out of a just-experienced intense transition, perhaps Ayahuasca tattoos really aren’t a bad form of post-psychedelic “honeymoon” (somehow, I still don’t regret mine).
In my view, in order for psychedelics to be transformational and not become a new trap, there must be more psychedelic religious leaders who point to something beyond the experiences themselves. It will require disarming the fetishization of experience. But every capitalistic incentive is driven toward creating repeatable liminoid experiences while promising liminal transformation. Believing we are transforming through multiple stages of development might just be a new prolonged holding pattern for someone else’s financial benefit. If psychedelics aid transitions through liminality, then this transformation cannot be integrated until they are left behind. And the alternative—prolonged mass psychedelic use with little respect for long-term side effects—is something that deeply concerns me.
Psychedelic Monasteries - Not Psychedelic Churches
This final vision is specifically for what I think makes sense for Christianity.
Before I begin, I recognize Santo Daime and União do Vegetal are two non-monastic Christian groups that serve as counterpoints to this vision, neither of which I intend to dismiss nor criticize here.
But overall, I don’t think the concept of dedicated psychedelic churches—as in a substitute to non-psychedelic parishes—works well with mainstream Western Christianity for a few reasons. One is that, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, new and sincere psychedelic theologies would have to be created to insist that a psychedelic sacrament is central to its practice, which would require an extremely heterodox theology in a new denomination. Another is that while psychedelics truly “aren’t for everyone,” Christianity inherently strives to be. An attempt to create a mainstream psychedelic church would result in far too many people getting hurt to justify its existence, much less last very long. Further, now that my pro-movement blinders are off, I am properly disturbed at the thought of combining psychedelics with toxic Christian theologies, which only have to be a couple of degrees off to prove disastrous. And reading 1 and 2 Corinthians cautions that while ecstatic experiences might be a gift, they have the capacity to wreck churches just as well.
I do not think Christianity must incorporate psychedelics beyond demonstrable medical use. But I think the most stable and healthy expression of it in the West will be as a new branch of its monastic tradition.
For centuries, monasteries have been the primary vessel of Christian mysticism. Most historical Christian mystics believed that a sacrificial, disciplined way of life was necessary to prepare one for the intensity of mystical experience without drugs. I believe this would be even more the case for psychedelic use.
To be clear, I recoil at the misuse of the term “mystical” as a substitute for “hard to describe,” and I believe most psychedelic “mysticism” is divorced from the wisdom of most religious mystical traditions. This is why I believe whatever Christian mystical experiences that might happen in psychedelics should happen under the purview of religious experts who demonstrate such a level of seriousness that they commit their lives to it at a material cost.
Further, if psychedelics are somewhat inherently chaotic agents, monasteries provide the necessary counterbalance of strict containers. Not just in a physically safe setting with good music, but a community container, a lifestyle container, a theological container. And so I believe if psychedelic mysticism is to have longevity in Western Christianity, I believe it must be in a community that maintains a lineage of generational knowledge transmission, developing liturgical rhythms in conversation with its non-psychedelic monastic lineage. Visitors could be allowed to come, but the monastics would determine who is ready to have such experiences, and what level of commitment they must express in order to engage in psychedelics.
An important contribution to collective psychedelic groundedness is the monastic posture of praying on behalf of the world. Generally speaking, monks do not think everyone should live in a monastery, accepting that their lifestyle is spiritually extreme. This is somewhat similar to the UDV and Santo Daime’s posture of non-evangelism. A psychedelic monastery would trip on behalf of the world instead of convincing anyone to trip, mitigating the problems of psychedelic tribal Messianic complexes.
Unlike contemporary psychedelic retreat models under late-stage capitalism, monasteries would not be forced into financial “pay to pray” models or create any incentives for visitors to return. If anything, a monastery’s spiritual director could be an important voice of discernment and regulation for prospective visitors.
If everything with psychedelics in the West is a spiritual experiment, a monastery would be the equivalent of having a lab with full safety equipment and full equipoise. Still, infusing psychedelics into Western religion is going to result in a lot of experiments that will explode. I am sure most of these monastic movements would fail too, or turn into a successful cult, but I am also confident that at least one format could succeed and develop a new generational lineage. It strikes me as the least insane idea.
In Sum: Why Candor?
I wrote this opening series because I do not know how much longer I will comment on psychedelics. It could be a long time, but a part of me hopes to say what I need to say in the coming year and then move on with my life. Time will tell what I feel called to. This series covered a lot of my largest issues, but there are many more things still to share.
To recap, I’m still in the psychedelic field, but I left the psychedelic movement because it is dominated by three D’s: denial, delusion, and deception:
Psychedelic use is risky. We should not deny this.
Psychedelics have unknown long-term side effects. We should not be deluded otherwise.
The psychedelic movement mindset is consciously deceptive as a political tactic, and it cares more about image management than public safety.
Psychedelics may not be physically addictive—but money, power, control, and feel-good lies have this movement hooked. The result is layers of systemic abuse: sexually, financially, spiritually, cognitively.
But the fourth and final point that I made in this piece is that I do have hope in the far future for societal psychedelic integration. I don’t know if I will see the day. But I know it will not happen without telling and wrestling with truth. And if it is not interested in pursuing justice as well, then whatever spiritual pride the psychedelic movement wants to claim is utterly bankrupt. We must tear down what is corrupt and compromised in order to build up.
We do not need delusions. Our deceptions mostly deceive ourselves. We must relentlessly drag each other through our denial. This is the only way we can set each other free.
Nobody will have it all figured out. I know I don’t, and I know I’ll look back and wince at some things I wrote in this series. We’ll all be well-meaning fools, idiots, and assholes in history’s rearview. And that’s if we’re lucky. If we’re unlucky, there’s enough evil in psychedelia’s past and present to suggest that something incredibly sinister might be in its future. This is the most important thing not to be deluded about: psychedelics have the potential to lead to something incredibly evil in the hands of powerful people.
This is the reason why I believe in leaning into the virtue of uncomfortable, still sometimes mistaken, Candor.
Candor is an act of love. Candor is not unprocessed aggression, nor demonic honesty that shoves its listener into hell. It’s not saying everything we think, and it is not necessarily saying the rawest version of what we feel. It is, however, an attempt to be open and sincere towards a difficult conversation in expressing truth. And it is a risk of love.
Postlude: The Sacrifice of Experience
The final delusion I want to expose is perhaps the most stubborn one, because it might be the most fundamental not only to psychedelic culture, but to our human attachments.
I am moving into a post-psychedelic phase of my spiritual life.This is partly because I’ve taken a more rigorous inventory of the hidden costs behind the veils of experience. But it does not mean I cannot have gratitude for whatever fruits they gave me, including something of a re-awakening into Christian spirituality.
I’ve decided to take my cues from Trey Anastasio of Phish more than Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Neither Jerry nor the Dead had much in the way of sobriety, and Jerry passed away in 1995 at 53 years old looking and sounding like he was 83. In contrast, Trey has left drug use behind. Perhaps this was always my destiny; I was completely sober when I first discovered Phish at 16, and they were my far-and-away favorite band for five years before I discovered psychedelics. They have been the soundtrack of my life ever since I found them, and given how psychedelically-influenced their music was in their early years, I will always have something of a debt of gratitude to the wonders psychedelics can help humans make as temporary agents of liminality.
But Trey has walked away, locking in whatever gains psychedelics gave him, and discovered a much richer life beyond the dream. But neither he nor I have to be ungrateful nor judgmental. Aside from the losses I’ve incurred from psychedelics, they also inspired me to make music, explore so many of life’s alternatives, and find glimpses of lesser-known truths concealed from normative, far-too-material Christian culture. Thanks to psychedelics, I know our unconscious minds have treasures outside of our default sight, and I will now always have a love for healthy heterodoxies.
The final point I want to make for this series is one that I will make more in the future. As Ram Dass’ guru told him, psychedelics might let you darshan (visit) with Christ for an afternoon, but they can’t help you become like him. Love is a stronger medicine. So you might as well get on with loving and becoming, and deal with your shit.
Still, I am not quite this spiritually optimistic about drugs. I now understand the madness psychedelics can and does lead to, that they might also let you visit with the demonic, and thanks to Thomas Merton I no longer believe mysticism is something we can “reliably occasion.” Unfortunately, it seems that drugs can make us darshan with the devil as much as Christ. And I do not wish this on anyone. If there is any silver lining to those encounters, it might awaken us to the importance of the spiritual realm, and awaken us to the fact that this spiritual realm is in the very world we live in. And then it’s time to get on with living in it.
But if you are constantly chasing your old awakening, then your awakening has become your new stumbling block. And so I do believe psychedelics might help someone awaken, but they can’t help you become. The work of discipleship is not centered around ecstatic inner union. Rather, the union we desire comes through genuine union with others:
Basically, one who is obsessed with his own inner unity is failing to face his disunion with God and with other men. For it is in union with others that our own inner unity is naturally and easily established. To be preoccupied with achieving inner unity first and then going on to love others is to follow a logic of disruption which is contrary to life.
On the other side of the religious spectrum, while I haven’t regularly listened to the Buddhist atheist Sam Harris since about six years and three religions ago, his essay from 2011, “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” remains a close approximation of what I believe, albeit with a few notable differences. His main argument is that once psychedelics have taught you that there is a lot more to reality beyond our default consciousness and that everything we do affects our relationship to these unconscious realms, there may be nothing else significant to learn from psychedelics. The content of the experiences are just too hit or miss, and the risk of cognitive costs and insanity are too great for me to continue pursuing.
Eventually, like Ram Dass and Sam Harris—two opposite ends of the psychedelic woo-spectrum—I realized that psychedelics couldn’t give me what I wanted or needed. Learning to pray, to continue growing my relationship to God, to live in service to Christ, this is the fascinating frontier to me now. And I am discovering how sacrifice is intrinsic to all of it.
To return to the concept of justice, what makes our modern psychedelic injustices so abhorrent is that they have no appetite for self-sacrifice. Instead, they treat others as guinea pigs to test their half-truths and shrug their shoulders at the harms. I believe we are called to be self-sacrificial for future generations, and entering into psychedelic dangers on behalf of others is a cause worth having informed consent about. But we must never seduce others into dangers they aren’t prepared for just because it will be politically expedient. I don’t know God’s Justice, but this devil’s bargain has already accrued spiritual consequences for the movement’s soul.
I think some of us cling to the idea of psychedelic spirituality because our late-stage capitalist world is so hellish, that we can’t imagine a spiritual life that would be better without psychedelics. We can’t imagine a richer spiritual life that isn’t predicated on such miraculous cognitive experiences. Thus it becomes so important to bring this spiritual life to other people by any means necessary.
If we unconsciously hold this view, perhaps we might consider that other people might have an extremely rich spiritual life without psychedelics. And that some of them may not want to have an experience that simulates meaning rivaling in importance with the birth of a child. While some psychonauts see this as proof of their significance, to me it now rings large alarm bells about the deep seduction of the psychedelic experience.
I think the movement mindset clings so hard because if you were to say that psychedelics aren’t the ultimate of spirituality, and in fact are often spiritually impoverished and outright detrimental, it might sound like profoundly Bad News. And if I were to have no alternatives, it would be cruel. For some people, this might be the last hope of having a spiritual life. “If the incredible experiences of psychedelics aren’t the path, what the fuck is?”
I believe the path is sacrifice—including the sacrifice of being attached to experience itself. That is “becoming.”
Ever since I began taking psychedelics, I have idolized authenticity. It made me chase a delusional dream of being a professional comedian, it made me get a tattoo of North Carolina’s Latin state motto esse quam videri (“to be rather than to seem”), and it’s now made me create an idol out of Authenticity’s relative, Candor. I’ll never fully escape its gravitational pull.
I once thought psychedelics were the key to finding my authentic self. But what I have discovered is that false authenticity is an authenticity that makes no sacrifices. Idolatrized authenticity is a selfish endeavor that centers its misunderstanding of trueness upon superficiality, aesthetics, and otherwise illusory phenomenon. True authenticity is what remains when you are willing to burn all of that shit up for the sake of someone else.
The purification of that discovery of true authenticity is the process that Christ spent his whole life trying to teach humanity. The way of the Cross is to discover yourself, because it is to discover that you can only really find the realest you by disregarding all the other distractions and abstractions that keep you trapped in the false consciousness known as “sin.”
The goal is not to live for experience, but to make all of one’s experience fully lived. “Eternal life.” The willingness to sacrifice experience is, itself, what births the fulfillment of all experience.
There is no psychedelic experience that is as beautiful as discovering a love of sacrifice, because it is a love of sacrifice that lets us discover true freedom in God.
Thank you for reading Psychedelic Candor. Subscribe for free to receive new posts.
Post-psychedelic is a term I first heard used by Ashley Lande
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 208
Psychedelic monasteries are definitely the least insane idea and likely the best idea. My biggest hope for the future of the US is that all religions establish more retreat centers for deep learning and worship. The monastery model needs more of a presence in the states for our long term spiritual health.
I'm so glad that someone is thinking about this topic as deeply as you are. You're imagining both the possibilities and the pitfalls, from the vantage point of personal experience. Winnowing out the delusions, whether the paranoid and restrictive superstitions of drug prohibitionists, or the self-editing denialism of starry-eyed bliss ninny psychedelic utopians. Psychedelic substances are not good or evil; they're POWERFUL. Whatever human minds manage to extract from their use is always informed by the values and teachings of the society in which they're instructed. The evidence of use of psychedelic substances by Mesoamerican civilizations indicates that their use did not automatically equate to benevolent enlightenment. To understate the case.
The most positive impression I've gotten as a result of my experience and observation of psychedelic users is that all other things being equal, the experience tends to make people more tolerant and less mean-spirited than they otherwise would be. But not even that is completely assured. I think much of the benevolence experienced in connection with today's psychedelic culture is conditioned on social codes of behavior that have served to provide a foundation for American society. Judaeo-Christian ethics, for want of a better term. I know that there are some Jews and some Christians who are insistent on separating those traditions, but to me that's a different debate. I think the commonality of the ethic is real, and vitally important- especially now that its religious basis is so widely disdained and disrespected. As if the feel-good nihilism with a smiley face that seeks to replace it is an improvement.