The Relationship Between Psychedelic Experience and Dreaming…
From the front page
If you are not familiar, there is surprising research into the efficacy of psychedelic substances like Psilocybin Mushrooms and LSD to treat a variety of issues from PTSD, to addiction, to depression and many other issues.
I was surprised to learn this, because I had always understood these substances to be “party drugs”.
I had not realized that there was serious medical and psychological research into these substances dating back to the 1950s.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan, author, journalist, Professor at Harvard University and professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, has written a fascinating book about this research called “How to Change Your Mind”.
Despite the controversial nature of psychedelics, the book opens a brilliant conversation about consciousness.
One of the primary threads of this book and the research that he is writing about has to do with the healing nature of the experiences that people have with these “medicines” when they are administered in a healing context.
For our purposes, in regards to dreaming, this is an incredibly important point about these substances. It is not the substance itself that seems to affect the person.
It is the experience the person has, that heals people.
This is different than how a medicine like antibiotics for example, directly kills bacteria and as a result heals the person.
What happens while in the psychedelic experience of these medicines, when properly administered, is that people frequently have profound experiences that are often described as spiritual in the sense that they experience forms of consciousness that seem from their perspective to come from outside of their own immediate consciousness.
The profundity of those experiences, according to the research, affects people strongly enough to help them through profound problems such as addiction.
Another place this work is happening is with people facing the challenges of and end of life diagnosis.
Again the research shows that these experiences profoundly alter one’s experience of themselves and the world. In this case to such an extent that it allows people to face the end of their life, with a sense of peace and not with dread and anxiety.
So what does any of this have to do with dreaming?
Well at first I doubted that it would. I was actually extremely averse to reading this book despite it being recommended to me over and over.
I have very negative associations with alcohol and any other so called party drugs and I simply could not imagine how this book could have anything to do with the work that we do with dreams. I eventually wavered in that aversion – after about the 10th person I knew recommended this book and also described a profound dream experience that they had which they associated with reading the book.
I finally decided to read it despite my aversion – I think the dream experience finally hooked me.
In reading the book, I immediately appreciated Michael Pollan’s skepticism about the research and about the substances themselves. It made space for my own skepticism.
What surprised me most, though, was how much the experiences he was describing in the research, paralleled the process of how we work with dreams. For example, how it is not the substance but the experience that happens under the influence of the substance, that changes people.
That I thought is a beautiful description of how we work with dreams.
It is most often, not the dream itself but the experience that one has while “working” with a dream, that opens an experience that then changes the dreamer.
The work that we do is not just about the content of the dream. It is about our relationship to that content. This is why we don’t work with dream dictionaries or other forms of dream interpretation. Embodied dreamwork is instead, a process where we step into relationship with our dreams, in a way that allows us to understand ourselves by literally, on a level of consciousness, standing under our normal way of looking at ourselves.
As I read more about the research into the psychedelic experience, I could see more and more resonance with the process of embodied dreamwork.
Under psychedelics the normal executive function of the brain is not shut down but it is also not in charge, the way that it is in our normal waking consciousness.
The same exact thing happens when we are dreaming!
The prefrontal cortex which manages so much of how we view the world in our day to day consciousness takes a far less dominant role while we are dreaming.
Instead other more primal parts of the brain, like the limbic brain are more active. The result is that we are processing things but from a place that is normally very repressed in our waking day to day lives. Instead of everything being filtered by the ways we have learned to manage our lives in this world there is in the dreaming experience space for other parts of our consciousness to come to the fore.
Possibilities for new ways of experiencing ourselves and the world open up in this altered state of consciousness.
Instead of issues spinning around in our mind the way they often do, these “altered” states of consciousness, allow us to have an experience of ourselves, that takes us outside of that spin.
And there is something magical, yes even psychedelic, that happens when we work with dreams in this way. Instead of our habitual patterns being in charge, there is a feeling that the floor drops away in some way. But instead of falling, as we might expect, we are held in some kind of bigger consciousness.
From that place we don’t have to figure things out.
There is instead, space to not know and in that not knowing ideas, feelings and possibilities come to us. It is not that we are not thinking but that our thought process is not in isolation the way it so often is when we try to understand things.
Our thought process, our consciousness becomes part of a broader process that feels more like a creative process than a more narrow thought process. Realizations come to us in ways that are at times inexplicable. It is a process that becomes more about a kind of resonance for what it true inside oneself than about what is right or wrong.
The cool thing about this process is that one then learns bit by bit to trust oneself.
It is not that there are never moments of grand realization, it is just that at the end of the day the process is in the long term at least, more evolutionary than revolutionary.
This is where the concept of microdosing comes in. It is a word that also comes out of the world of research into psychedelic substances. The idea is to take much, much smaller and more regular doses of the psychedelic substances, in order to sustain some of the benefits of what happens during a more intense “trip”.
The embodied dreamwork process is by its nature a process of microdosing.
It allows us in a safe way to dream by dream reclaim the fullness of who we are. To not settle for the ways that we have learned to survive.
What better way to learn to trust our deeper selves again, than to begin with a resource that comes from within us. We may need a guide to help us facilitate this process – but the heart of the process is not about some wisdom that is held by the teacher.
It is about the wisdom that lives in you and shows up in your own dreams.
All we need is the space to look at that brilliance, not from an interpretive point of view that dissociates us from the dream but instead from a safe embodied relationship to our own experience.
Over time my hope is that there will be research on embodied dreamwork also. It is legal, it is safe and it has the same kind of potential, if not more to create transformative experiences that allow our own bodies wisdom to heal and beyond that reclaim the fullness of our own beauty and brilliance.
In the meantime you can learn to “microdose” your own dream experience.
You can do a little of it on your own and you can do go even deeper if you have someone you trust to hold space for you in the experience. That person can be someone who is professional but it does not always have to be.
In our online programs we have been playing around with simple processes to hold space with each other in our dream experience and the results have been both touching and profound. My hope is that we can democratize that training, so that we can all regardless of our financial resources have the opportunity to experience this.
Hopefully, this will be a first in a series, that might be usable as a guide for others to embark on this as a practice or as a supplement to your existing personal and spiritual growth practices.
With love and respect,
3 MONTH PROGRAM: MICRODOSING DREAMS -
HOLDING SPACE FOR DEEPER CONSCIOUSNESS
A 3 Month Exploration of Consciousness, Relationship and Community
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