Psychedelics create space for consciousness altering experiences that can profoundly improve our lives. We often find ourselves limited by the conceptions we have developed about who we are and the world we live in; however, profound experiences tend to offer a glimpse beyond these limitations, making us more resourceful to experience life from a richer perspective. Though profound experiences can come in different forms and under different circumstances, here we’ll be exploring the role that psychedelics, and the introspection that usually follows their use, can have in creating such experiences, along with the benefits they provide.
One of the benefits of such consciousness-altering experiences is the ability to help us look beyond our psychological filters. These filters are our subjective ideas and perceptions of ourselves, and the world around us; we develop them based on our memories, our past experiences, and our interaction with our environment.
Psychological filters greatly shape our identity and the behavior that is influenced by it: If your entire life you have been pushed down by your family, and your peers, you are extremely likely to have a psychological imprint of it, and this keeps effecting the way you think, behave, and interact with others.
Looking past these filters allows us to experience the world and ourselves anew, giving us new perspectives, ideas and perceptions. We are basically expanding our psychological filters themselves, and while we might not be able to escape subjectivity entirely, taking a look at the world with new eyes will surely expand your mind and your life.
Another point worth mentioning is the principle of commitment and consistency, as described by Dr. Robert Cialdini in his enlightening book, “Influence”. In his book, Cialdini explains how much of our behavior is influenced by the type of person we think we are. When deciding how to deal with certain situation, we will look at our identity and previous behavior, and then try to act in a manner consistent with them. This means that, in a sense, we become tied to our previous behavior and to the self-image we have developed over the years.
The psychedelic experience allows for dissolution of this consistency principle; we encounter an image of ourselves that is not held back by our past behavior. We are free to experience and express our identity beyond the shackles of the unreliable self-image we have constructed throughout our lives.
Another value of consciousness-altering experiences that is often discussed is problem solving, and with good reason. As we have seen, psychedelics can activate fresh perspectives in our lives, and this not only helps us to have access to more solutions - as we are no longer tied to our egos or the ideas we have of ourselves - but it can also provide a different perspective on the problem itself. Since we can look past our psychological filters through the psychedelic experience, we sometimes get to realize that what we thought was a problem or a challenge was in fact not a problem at all, or that it was different from what we had originally thought. This realization empowers us to address our problems or challenges with a better understanding, and a wider range of options.
The value of psychedelics may not come just from the experiences they create in themselves, but mostly from the reflection and quiet introspection we are prone to engage in after such experiences. The introspective and inquisitive behavior after such experiences could very well be accessed through other non-psychoactive induced experiences that are significant enough for us to lend an either temporary or permanent new perspective on our interpretations of events, life, ourselves and the way they all relate to each other. In other words, psychedelics may work as “experiences in a bottle”; we no longer have to wait until we face consciousness-altering experiences that make us see the world differently or make us reshuffle our priorities, and we can instead take control over when, how often, and even how deep we immerse in such mind-altering experiences.
It is a psychological understanding that our neurology can be shaped and changed. Our perception of the world around and inside us evolves as we collect more knowledge and experiences, and subsequently reflect on them.
Psychedelic "trips", just like regular life events, provide the experience but don’t create the change; it is our interpretations and analyses of the events that change our perspective and, ultimately, our way of being. Some people live an experience, real or substance induced, and move on, gaining no value from it. Therefore, it is up to the person, and not the substance, to create personal change and development through reflection on the experiences it provides (whether they are provided artificially by substances or organically by life itself).
If this is in fact accurate, then using writing as an introspective mechanism for the psychedelic experience would dramatically increase the value of taking psychedelics.
In the words of Professor Richard Wiseman,
“From a psychological perspective, talking and writing are very different. Talking can often be somewhat unstructured, disorganized, and even chaotic. In contrast, writing encourages the creation of a story line and structure that help people make sense of what has happened and work towards a solution. In short, talking can add to a sense of confusion while writing provides a more systematic, and solution-based, approach.”
The experience provided by the psychedelic should be in the first place thoroughly documented in order to extract as much depth and detail as possible, and later reflected on to gain insight. We should ponder the meaning of the experience whether we believe there is one or not, as the mere search and focus should trigger enough neurological activity and connections to lead us through a path that has driven all progress, development and knowledge throughout human history: a path of thinking and questioning. I personally do not believe in hidden meanings, time travel or alien encounter through substances, but I do believe that the thinking and the questioning behind the experience, whether the experience is true or not, secret or open, religious or non-religious, profoundly intellectual or shallowly psychotic, brings true self development to our existence.
In conclusion, many of the benefits that we have discussed could be achieved by enriching your life, planning more activities, having more time for introspection, and basically just adding more content to your life. However, the great value of psychedelics is that they give us control over consciousness altering moments; we gain independence from life itself and its events, and we claim power over acquiring content to reflect on and to be effected by.