September 9, 2014

Zen & the Art of Psychonauting: How Yoga, Cannabis, & DIY Healing Saved My Life. ~ Jonathan Talat Phillips

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Like many Americans, I had the cursed blessing of surviving a PTSD-inducing childhood.

My father had been one of the casualties of the Reagan Recession, taking meager accounting jobs far away from our home in the Colorado foothills. With a hair-trigger temper and bipolar mood swings, my mother didn’t have the temperament to raise three children on her own.

For years, she would explode into unexpected rages, screaming how “worthless” my siblings and I were, while crashing the vacuum against the upstairs furniture.

Over time, the emotional wreckage manifested in a nervous “black bowling ball” of abdominal pain. I experienced daily panics attacks, chronic depression, suicidal thoughts and physical terror upon hearing footsteps at the front door.

Like 60 percent of adult Americans (according to the latest CDC report), I sought salvation in prescription antidepressants. The symptoms never waned, but these drugs added a mental cloudiness and body numbness that isolated me even more.

Fortunately, unlike so many others, my story doesn’t end here.

Something else was happening along the way. Estranged from my family, I drew power and creative expression from the high-adrenaline escapades I initiated with my childhood friends. Night sledding in the Colorado foothills, BMX quarter pipes and daredevil skiing provided more comfort, support, and confidence than church, school or family ever did.

Even with the onslaught of panic in my gut, my desire for adventure brought me to live in Europe and finally New York City, where I explored healing modalities, even completing a two-year bioenergetic medicine program, to help relieve my PTSD. But after years of fighting my inner shadow and demons, I was still suffering from debilitating anxiety, totally incapable of holding professional wellness practice.

All that changed when a friend suggested I join him in smoking cannabis before a vinyasa class. I enjoyed yoga, but never liked the drills: move here, breathe this way, upward this, downward that.

I also never really ‘got’ cannabis: hit bong, lose keys, listen to Fleetwood Mac, pine over old girlfriends.

But the combo in class was pure joy and evolutionary enhancement.

When I stretched into an extra-wobbly warrior-one pose, a bluish current of light rushed through my spinal column, flushing out blocked energy. Tronish green healing colors opened my chest during back-bends, and pink neon waves nourished my hips in the deep openers.

Most holistic modalities discuss the human energy field, but here I was seeing quantum-like colors and waves in my minds eye, which completely tantalized the sci-fi adoring kid in me. Fusing cannabis, yoga, and energy healing over the next few months, I illuminated chunks of the the black bowling ball until it was down to a manageable shot-put.

Finally, I could move to San Francisco and start my bioenergetic practice.

My next breakthrough came when I visited the tumultuous waters of Ocean Beach, CA. As I watched the surfers carving up the barreling surface, it suddenly hit me that they were riding 5-foot waves of physical energy, not because they had to, but for the fun and thrill of it. In that moment, I understand that you just can’t ride big waves with a woe-is-me attitude.

What if instead of battling my darkness and processing every bit of energetic trauma, I could find the courage, skill, and audacity to surf my roaring emotional currents…not because I had to, but for sheer pleasure?

That was the moment I became a “Psychonaut.” A popular term in transformational subcultures, psychonauts are explorers of consciousness, studying and navigating the diverse waves of the quantum multi-verse, using mind/body altering tools, such as meditation, entheogens and biofeedback machines. What it really meant to me was a total attitude adjustment.

I had grown up learning disempowering moods from my mother— “life’s hard,” “things suck,” “it will always be this way.”  Now, I resurrected that excited 10-year-old who could confidently soar high above BMX quarter pipes. Using my cannabis-dosed practice, I embarked on what I called “The Art of Psychonauting.”

Unlike therapy, fun and adventure were priority, just like in surfing. With my ownTony Hawk-like style and bravado, I’d carve out big moves, joyously surfing my shadow for a delicious adrenaline payoff.

Several months in, the results astounded me. The black bowling ball—the nightmare of my 38 years—had eroded and dissolved into tiny, dispersed pebbles; the panic subsided, my mind cleared, and my body felt like one of those Hawaiian power-yogis on Gaiam TV. I experienced a wonderful new feeling—extended happiness.

I soon fell in love and kickstarted dream projects with my dream girl.

As my capacity grew, so did my ability to love and laugh at almost every situation. I began having compassion for my mom, and the pressure she must have felt raising three kids mostly on her own. Would I have even learned healing and Psychonauting, my life’s passions, without our troubled relationship?

So I reached out to build a friendship, phone call by phone call.  Smart, savvy, big-hearted, and hilariously unstoppable, she was really cool, and I soon understood that I had misinterpreted her as a kid. She wasn’t “mean,” nor did she think I was worthless. She was just someone who had struggled with her own intense emotional waves, much like I once did.

We eventually became real friends and allies, especially when nerding out on one of our favorite shared interests, American History and the Civil War, which my mother had taught to middle schoolers. Once, I asked her what she had learned from studying this dark period: “That most humans are generally honorable and good underneath,” she said. I nearly cried hearing that from her.

Today, as I continue to expand as a person and professional psychonaut, I discover more and more that my mom is right: most humans are not just honorable, but incredible beings, if you’re wise enough to pay attention.

Thanks to “Zen and the Art of Psychonauting,” I’m learning to let go of my civil wars and to dance with my inner and outer “demons” until that which terrified me becomes a trusted friend.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Wiki Commons 


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