Credit: Midjourney "intricate celestial flower arrangement"
The Question of Integration #
How do we reconcile the beauty we feel in peak experiences with our mundane practical reality?
An enjoyable psychedelic trip should catalyze more than a faint memory.
Meditation is an expression of integration; meditation is a way to bring beauty into the mundane. There are many ways to learn how to meditate. If you work with me then you can learn how to meditate (if you don’t know already).
flowchart TD; A(Internal Family Systems) --> Meditation; Psychedelics --> Meditation; B(Meditation Teachings) --> Meditation;
Psychedelic experience is one important way to inspire interest in meditation.1 In fact, scholars suspect that psychedelics were at the origins of many religions.234 On the other hand, psychedelics can be a frightening way to learn how to meditate for people who are identified with their parts; it is like being thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn how to swim. Internal Family Systems is a gentler way.
People can become too enthusiastic about meditation. Jamie Wheal did a marvelous job of describing the dysfunctional social situations that can happen in his 2021 book Recapture the Rapture and is worth quoting at length:
- Grabbing the One Ring of Power
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Like in Lord of the Rings, don’t be the misguided warrior Boromir or the corrupt wizard Saruman, thinking you will bend the Ring, not that it will bend you. Be like Gandalf and the elven queen Galadriel—wise enough to know better. This one is nonnegotiable. Here are the top three ways leaders get seduced into claiming more than they’ve earned.
- Mythologized Origin Story of the Founder—Carefully curated, often repeated tales of exceptional conditions surrounding birth, childhood, or early signs of prodigious talent/insight. Or a Dark Night of the Soul/ Road to Damascus conversion experience that uniquely positions this person to lead. In extreme cases, these are confirmed with self-appointed name change. (In the age of info marketers, this has morphed to include the “I had it all, the big house, fast cars, sexy life, and then . . . I woke up one day in a hospital bed and realized [fill in the blank product or service] that I’m now here to share with you!”)
- Absolutist Claims of Attainment—In the spiritual, intellectual, sexual, entrepreneurial, or artistic realms— typically reserved for the founder, occasionally extended to their inner circle. Once infallibility is claimed, all dissonance in relation to the founder must be either signs of supplicants’ blind spots and projections or deliberate “crazy wisdom” being offered to liberate the subject—never signs of the founder’s fallibility or humanity. This often extends beyond the blamelessness of the founder to the completeness and totality of their worldview, which is presumed to be comprehensive and supersedes all other modes of knowing. Two of the most prevalent expressions (often appearing together) are the one-two punch of absolute Enlightenment (with the leader implicitly or explicitly claiming such status) and a dismissal of objective reality as illusory in favor of the power of the mind, visualization, or positive thinking.
- Ritualized Separation—Keeping the leader distinct from operational tasks, duties, and common mingling. Most often done by adoption of Eastern monastic traditions and terminology (like satsang, which means “sitting in the presence of an awakened guru”) but can also be accomplished by simple celebrity handling such as use of bouncers, greenrooms, and stage settings (which often include ornate seating, lily/lotus flower arrangements, altars, dressing in white or robes, or vestments rather than street clothes) that keep the leader apart from the community except in controlled and/or stylized encounters.
- Creating In/Out Groups
The dynamic of creating an Us and a Them is central for dysfunctional cults to take root. It is how otherwise well-intentioned seekers can get pulled into a reality distortion field where they lose track of their bearings. Any practice, experience, or community that lifts people “up and away”—from their traditions, connections, and culture—rather than bringing them “down and among” their fellow humanity, can be problematic. Here are three common viruses that prompt exceptionalism.
- Messianic Purpose—The micro (of the community) is the macro (of the world) and the value of the work being done within the cloister has significance far beyond the lives of those directly practicing it. This sets up both the potential grandiosity of a world-saving mission and also can be used to suppress members’ personal needs and concerns as petty, selfish, or small-minded in comparison (such as compensation vs. volunteer labor). In extreme cases, it may also invoke a “crypto-Puritanism” where those inside the group are considered pure, saved, or gifted, while those beyond the group are tainted, compromised, or in need of redemption.
- Specialized Language—Often culty cults use novel terms to describe or redefine everyday concepts or introduce pseudo-spiritual or pseudoscientific terms to convey legitimacy on otherwise unprovable truth claims. Over time this increasing lack of interoperability with everyday language or the concepts of mainstream discourse isolates the faithful from friends, family members, and healthy debate. “Quantum” used by non-physicists is a frequent catchall in the New Age scene.
- Break with Past Precedent—Very rarely do cultic leaders situate themselves within a lineage that would subject them to accountability or critique larger than themselves by others older or wiser than themselves (living or dead). Instead, they tend to declare a “clean slate” even if their own development began within a school or tradition. That immunity against precedent extends to charges of cultic behavior, as these leaders will often volunteer extended critiques of past gurus with feet of clay, holding their own transmission up as a corrective exemplar. They may even declare a complete break with the aggregate Human Condition, i.e., that they represent an end to suffering, ego, conditioning, fear, or trauma that has never been accomplished before (or has only been accomplished by Axial Age greats—Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Lao-tzu, etc.).
- Weaponizing Peak Experience and Healing
Ecstasis and Catharsis create highly impressionable and susceptible states. While they can be used to enhance sovereignty, they can also rapidly erode it. Unscrupulous leaders make the most of this fact to control their followers in three consistent ways.
- Tightly Controlled Access to Techniques of Ecstasy—drugs, sex, breath work, music/dance, prayer, charismatic transmission, or sensory deprivation, as well as to methods of catharsis—body work, encounter-type group therapy sessions, personal inquiry, specialized diets, cleanses, etc. Unsanctioned access and insights that contradict the leader’s framing or group norms are often discouraged or suppressed. New or competing interpretations of peak states, healing, or broader philosophy by members are often treated as subversive or heretical.
- An Emphasis on Regressive Practices That Value Feeling Over Thinking and an inoculation against thinking/discernment as signs of ego, projection, or resistance that is to be trusted less than either the “truths” of catharsis/trauma release or the insights and framing of the leader. Because the very methods of personal discernment (a.k.a. “trusting my gut”) and logical critique are already discounted by the leader, even the most thoughtful and accurate concerns can be ipso facto dismissed as proof of a member’s resistance to transformation—there is no way to crack the facade from within it.
- Key Decisions and Commitments Encouraged or Forced While in Non-ordinary States—Whether testaments of love, allegiance, atonement, or payment, these groups use the softened boundaries and impaired judgment of euphoric peak states or cathartic release as times to secure emotional, social, or financial commitments. Suitably primed members are encouraged to equate the visceral “truths” of the state they are in with the validity of all the prior truth claims of the guru. That is, if I am blissed out of my mind, or shuddering in trauma release, and that is an undeniable reality for me, then I am often compelled by the group to sign off on their entire mythology. Key decisions and commitments are encouraged or forced while in non-ordinary states, rather than deferring until a person returns to clearheaded sobriety and can offer full consent.
Non-placebo sacraments are our highest ranking teacher because chemicals don’t become egomaniacal.
flowchart TD; subgraph Synergy Meditation <--> C(Psychedelics); end B(Mundane Practical Reality) --> A(Flow) Meditation --> A(Flow)
Psychedelics can inspire and teach us how to meditate. However, psychedelic trips consume a lot of time and, if you have a job, can have a maximum frequency of once a week. In contrast, meditation is a daily practice that can increase your access to Self energy. Increased Self energy makes life somewhat less mundane and tedious. More often, we may enjoy full immersion in our daily activities (flow).
Doblin, R. (1991). Pahnke’s “Good Friday experiment”: A long-term follow-up and methodological critique. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 23(1), 1-28. ↩︎
Muraresku, B. C. (2020). The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. St. Martin’s Press. ↩︎
Brown, J. B., & Brown, J. M. (2016). The psychedelic gospels: The secret history of hallucinogens in Christianity. Simon and Schuster. ↩︎
Crowley, M., & Shulgin, A. (2019). Secret drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic sacraments and the origins of the Vajrayana. Synergetic Press. ↩︎