The Hardest Lesson

The hardest lesson and the greatest gift of the psychedelic experience is to “lose your mind and come to your senses”. This doesn’t mean that you literally have no mind (except in the Zen Buddhist sense of mu-shin) but that your centre of awareness shifts from the left brain hemisphere to the right hemisphere. If you don’t know what the significance of this is, please read Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

Left hemisphere activity is basically linguistic and rational. This is where we are when we try to make sense of the world and control it by fitting it into a system of mental concepts and categories. In many contexts, in society at large, this works fine. On psychedelics, this is a sure recipe for a bad trip.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is within”: whether you are in a blissful heavenly realm or a tormented hellish realm, you are in the spiritual dimension, the “Kingdom of Heaven”. The psychedelic vision quest is an inner spiritual journey and the battle is an inner spiritual battle. The more centred in the right hemisphere, and the more suspended the left, the better things will go for you.

As soon as your rational mind, through fear, decides to put a stop to the trip and to come out of the Kingdom, to take control, to get things back to normal, to “go home”, the cogs of left hemisphere madness begin to spin. And the more you try to control the experience, the more out of control it gets.

The classic psychedelics, ayahuasca, peyote, magic mushrooms, LSD, DMT, are powerful sacred medicines. They are spiritual, not mental, agents of self-discovery. If you allow your rational ego to take the reins, if you get up and leave your assigned position in the ceremony hall, if you break the sacred circle, you will suffer the consequences. What you are actually doing in pulling yourself out of the sacred space of the inner “Kingdom of Heaven” is wrenching your consciousness out of right hemisphere connectedness back into left hemisphere control, which feels safer, because more familiar. The familiar, habitual mental world system of the left hemisphere is “home”. And you want to go home.

But you’re not in Kansas any more, and there’s no going home for the duration of the trip. Either you follow the yellow brick road, or you lose your mind in the psychiatric sense. And if you’re not careful, and you get trapped in the hall of mirrors that is the dissociated left hemisphere, you might just end up calling a mental institution “home”.

The hardest lesson is to let go, to let go of your desire to control everything and have your way, to let go of your ego, to let go of your own little kingdom. And the greatest gift is the boundless freedom, joy and peace that this endless letting go confers on the buffeted soul.

“Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything.” (Isaac Pennington)