I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with and hung out with who have said to me: “But I’ve tried ayahuasca [or San Pedro or fill in the blank]. I thought it was going to be the answer, but it wasn’t. I still feel the same.”
So, you may be wondering, what is the difference between someone who has a mind-blowing, life-changing experience with a substance and someone who still feels stuck?
It all comes down to these three things: expectation, willingness, and integration.
An entheogenic experience is not the answer to all of your problems. Entheogens are not miracle workers that make everything that is unwanted disappear simply be ingesting them. This would be a tragic disservice to you, and these spirits are far wiser and more caring than this. They are not going to take all of your pain away in one sitting, and they are not capable of changing your life without your participation, willingness, and action.
I was journeying once on MDMA with a small but significant dose of LSD. I went through a torturous letting go of a weight I’d been carrying my entire life. Before letting go I cried, I resisted, I point-blank refused. I screamed and punched the bed I was on, until finally, but stubbornly, surrendering.
What followed was complete and utter serenity. I experienced myself from my highest perspective in complete celebration of all that I am and all that I embodied in that moment. It was sublime. Every single aspect of me was deeply submerged in a world of tranquility, magic, and beauty. I had zero conception or awareness of anything other than the experience I was living in that very moment.
After some time, my consciousness re-appeared reminding me of my physical being and identity, bringing awareness that this world I was exploring was temporal, induced by the substances I had taken and was soon to end as I was coming through. The thought of leaving my newfound world was sobering. I had learned so much, felt so much, and been so utterly seduced by sheer enchantment that all I wanted was to go deeper.
“I’ll take a little more LSD,” I thought.
I wanted to go further. At that moment, my inner child appeared on a sun-drenched pathway lined with blossoming trees and endless possibilities. She reached her hand out to me. “You don’t need more LSD to go further,” she said. “All you need is willingness to see the truth of who you are.”
She held her hand out to me and smiled; then she looked beyond to the pathway of potential we stood upon. She returned her gaze back to me, patiently anticipating my response. I smiled willingly and took her hand, ready for the uncertainty that awaited.
Our journey continued together. I went into deeper realms than I’d ever experienced before and learned deeper truths about myself and the universe as I continued on this beautiful journey to meet myself.
One of the truths I was offered was that the action of taking an entheogen, be it MDMA, LSD, ayahuasca, or anything else, is first and foremost a signal to your consciousness that you are willing to see what is unknown to you. The consumption of the substance is a declaration that states: “I want to know more about myself.”
It is an intention in action that carries you to truth.
The same intention can be set in ordinary states of consciousness in meditation, in play, and in your dreams. This is your willingness; this is you saying, “Yes, I want to explore what’s within me, even if it brings fears, challenges, and pain.” The consumption of the substance is a physical representation of the depth of your willingness to explore yourself.
The substance itself opens up the gates, meets your intention, and fulfills your wish. It gives you access to your subconscious mind, your past, the universe, and its own personal wisdom. However, it can only go where your willingness goes. The capacity of the plant’s wisdom in working with you is limited to the degree in which you are ready to face the attachments to your identity, your shadows, and your pain—as well as the beauty of who you are, which can actually be more difficult than facing your darkness.
Whatever comes into your awareness during your experience is because you had a intention to open up to it, be it a conscious or sub-conscious one. Where we get stuck is when we are not ready or we refuse to see or experience the full truth of ourselves.
So what happens if you’re not ready? What if you’re not willing, and you don’t or can’t surrender?
Firstly, the substance itself will show you this which may look like being stuck in a loop or in a “bad trip” as some people would call it.
However, the learning opportunities of a drug-induced trip do not disappear along with your high. This is the greatest misconception around conscious drug use. What we do afterward is equally, if not more, important to what we do during the trip. If you remained stuck in resistance during your non-ordinary induced state, you have been gifted with a massive insight into something within you that is actually no longer serving you, with the added understanding there are parts of you that don’t see it.
This lack of willingness is absolutely not a weakness. The aspects of yourself that are not ready have very good reason to hold on. However much it may feel as though they are sabotaging your growth, they are actually protecting you. They believe in all of their existence that they are keeping you safe, and it is their job to do so. They are not against you.
What these aspects of ourselves need to know is that you are no longer in the unsafe situation you were in when you created them. They need to be recognised, appreciated, and thanked for their role thus far in keeping you safe. They need to be shown that they can now be released from this role and join you in your full stream of consciousness, in your heart flow.
So, no, entheogens alone cannot heal you, nor can a spiritual guru, a shaman, or a medicine man. To heal is to restore. When we are looking for healing, we are looking to restore our beings to our original essence, to purity, to truth that is beyond fear, shame, and self-hate. It is to welcome the rejected aspects of ourselves back with absolute love. Our pain is held within these rejected aspects. Dissolving our pain occurs through experiencing it, which takes recognition from us that there is a valid reason for it. Therefore, it cannot be removed by something outside of us.
When we allow our pain to move through us, the parts of us in need of healing are freed from entrapment and restored to the wholeness of our being. Entheogens taken with intention can lead us to this pain, but only we can move through it. Some entheogens will allow us to experience our pain through our hearts and without resistance by removing the anxiety and fear we hold around it. This, in turn, makes it far more accessible than in ordinary states where the same pain may be unreachable.
But to heal anything, which is to restore, we must first recognise that it was beautiful to begin with. Therefore, we must first see ourselves, with our pain, through love.
Entheogens can bring us to this loving state. Our role is to be with our pain when it asks to be felt, to allow it be seen, to be recognised and experienced, to be loved, to be validated, and to be known. Our role is to receive the wisdom entheogens offer us, question ourselves curiously without judgment, and meet the needs of our inner children whose essence has been maimed.
What my inner child taught me that day was that my willingness to experience the unknown was expressed through taking the substances, which in turn brought me into a state of accessing my pain—but it was by willingness to experience my pain that led me further. Without my willingness to go there, another hit of LSD would not have returned me to bliss but would have shown me the resistance I held to my truth.
But with it, her world and everything she wanted to show me was there waiting for me to explore.
Author: Kerrie O’ Reilly
Image: Julie de Waroquier—used with permission
Editor: Travis May
Copy & Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
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