Watch and Pray

Successful talking therapies clarify issues and produce insight. They help bring unconscious patterns of thought and behaviour into the light of consciousness, where they are processed and resolved, ideally to the point of closure. It’s a bit like tidying up the mess in your house and putting it away neatly in drawers. Or like a lawyer working through a heavy case load, one “case closed” after another.

Unsuccessful therapy just moves the mess around in interminable analysis. It ends up being “all talk” and loses sight of the fact that it is a means to an end, which is peace and quiet. (See the blog post Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores).

Thinking, talking, reflecting, ruminating, analysing, are essential to understanding ourselves and the world. This is the specialty of the left brain hemisphere, and it is a big part of what makes us human. It is also an essential component of growing up and of being mature and responsible adults. However, when we rely too much on our thinking, we are in danger of getting lost in a dream world of mental representations and fabrications. We are in danger of “falling asleep”.

This is why Ken Wilber talks about growing up and waking up. Talking therapies helps us to grow up, but we need to look elsewhere if we want to wake up. We need to look to spiritual practices and to religion. Specifically, to meditation and prayer.

Psychedelic ceremonies are hot-houses of intense experience and sensory overload. Where quiet sitting (zazen or centering prayer) help us to wake up by gently shifting our attention from our habitual left hemisphere ruminations to right hemisphere mindfulness, psychedelics help us by brutally shaking us awake. And it’s often a rude awakening.

The psychedelic experience is not for the faint hearted or for the big headed. As the old cliché has it, the only way out is through, and the only way through is not by the way of thinking, but by the way of meditation and prayer.

Let your mantra be watch and pray (Matthew 26:41)