This post is the most personal I’ve ever written. I considered it carefully before deciding to share. I recognize the controversial nature of using psychedelics like Ayahuasca for potential healing, and discussing my journey publicly may come as a shock to some of my readers, friends and family.
Those who know me best, know I’ve always sought to explore the limits of my physical capabilities, the untouched corners of the world, my limitless mind and inner self.
That said, my journey with psychedelics was not born out of a desire for a recreational experience or curiosity, for curiosities sake, about expanded states of consciousness. No, my exploration with psychedelics as form of medicine and supervised psychotherapy in combination with therapeutic work was born out of a profound desire to heal any old emotional wounds that were adversely affecting my life.
I’m an entrepreneur, a father, a husband, a son, and I’m a brother. My mental health, my well-being, and the ability to give the best of myself to those who are part of my life is paramount. As I was writing my Zen Habits of an Entrepreneur blog post, I discovered that personal pains were affecting all aspects of my life. Through my research, I came to believe that some alternative healing methods, which had ironically been used for thousands of years, might help me get “unstuck” and achieve better mental health and well-being.
Ultimately, I’ll speak about some of my “alternative” experiences; however, I feel that some context around mental health, and how and why I did psychedelics, is important.
Anxiety, Depression and Mental Health
I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression for the past few years of my life. I experienced symptoms of clouded and obsessive negative thinking, tiredness, shortness of breath, a hollow feeling in my chest, and a pronounced sense of negativity toward myself. I started to notice these symptoms while I was on a positive trajectory with my business and, needless to say, not expecting something like that to happen. The anxiety, predominantly, has shaped much of my recent years.
Originally, I viewed the illness as a regression of my personal development, but since then, quite the opposite has happened; in many respects, it has put me on a better path. It forced me to face my demons and overcome my tendencies to be self-involved. Through illness, I have had the opportunity to learn and grow every day.
It doesn’t make me a hero to share this. It emphasizes my humanness. Each time I learn about someone suffering from anxiety, I feel a little less alone. I hope that by sharing my own experience, I can help someone else feel less alone.
We are in the age of Instagram — which is effectively designed to make us feel insecure. We are practically forced to drink from the fire hose of information every day. Hyper-targeted ads and content are aiding in the construction of our sense of identity; dating apps and “likes” make our ego (which I define as a person’s conscious sense of self esteem, survival and importance), vulnerable to judgment — for all to determine its worth with a simple tap or swipe right.
How we should live, look, sound, and what we should be doing, used to be for magazine ads and TV commercials to inform us and parents and peers to guide us. Now, advice is tailor-made and fed to us all day long.
This keeps us all spinning on the hedonic treadmill. This feeds our belief (and the beliefs held by those who sell us things) that accumulating things and achieving success equate to happiness and self worth. Today, because of how fast-paced our lives can be, on top of the traumas we may have collected as children, we accumulate things faster, physically and emotionally, including failures, emotional hurts, careers, friends, lovers and material stuff. This often leads to an overwhelming sense of burden to carry.
To make matters worse, people tend to work a lot just to keep up. Let’s face it, most of us are almost always working a main job and/or side hustle simply by our connectivity and reachability. With the aid of technology, we’re “on call” all the time. We are in a period of rapid change. It no longer takes a lifetime to accumulate billions and, thereby, have incredible influence and power. For many, the emerging superpowers, artificial intelligence, nationalist governments, rising costs of living, and Deepfakes all lead to a feeling of powerlessness and uncertainty.
And what is anxiety if not, in part, a feeling of powerlessness and uncertainty?
Heck, I write my blog just to put the pieces together and help myself understand the concepts I’m sharing.
All this, alongside trying to build businesses and raising a family has certainly affected me. And having seen the debilitating effects of mental illness firsthand, I suspect I’ve spent occasions during the last few years on the razor’s edge of a full-blown breakdown. Because of this, I deeply empathize with the feelings of overwhelm and helpless but have also been fortunate enough to be able to proactively gain knowledge of ways to improve my situation.
One of the benefits of the internet is that is does provide us easy access to a lot of great information about how to cope with, or even cure, mental illness. It also provides a lot of bad information. So, be discerning. Don’t believe everything you read.
During my healing journey, it became apparent to me that despite positive steps in mental health awareness, depression and anxiety are still viewed as weaknesses. The general sentiment or response I’ve experienced (or witnessed others experiencing) is something like: “Why can’t you just try harder to feel better?…It should be easy.” Think about some of the popular self-help book titles — like “7 Easy Steps to…” or “stress-free ways to” and know that if you can’t master those “easy” steps you’re just as likely to feel shame and more anxiety. I’m probably am guilty presenting information that way in my blogs or on my own instagram.
In looking for solutions to what I was experiencing, I was personally uncomfortable with anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications and the potential sideaffects that, after consulting with my doctor, I felt would not be agreeable with me. Experimenting with pot and CBD I found they softened my symptoms and helped me sleep but made me feel less sharp in my thinking and awareness than I wanted to be.
I’d tried natural supplements like Gaba, 5HTP, Rhodiola and Ashwagandha (which worked a little) as well as HeartMath and EMDR Therapy (both also worked a little as well). I hired a good coach at one point and I did get whatever counseling I could afford. I dedicated myself to breathing practices through daily meditations. Which is essentially focusing on the breath while remaining fully awake, and letting all thoughts come and go without judging or indulging them.
I read fervently and learned other techniques for letting go and the importance of forgiveness. Each experience helped me chip away, little by little, at the pain I felt inside myself. But, I still felt that a part of me, mainly my ego, was blocking the path to the healing I truly craved. I was still searching for a way of surrendering more deeply, to find more inner peace.
Through this healing process, I learned about shamans and other healing practitioners who used psychedelic therapies to expand states of consciousness — traditional healing methods that had been practiced for thousands of years.
Traditionally, the business world doesn’t lend itself to introspection, spirituality or talking about one’s feelings. That has, however, started to shift and, if you’ve found this blog, you likely already know that. If Ryan Reynolds, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Phelps can be open about their struggles with anxiety or depression, I think we can all push aside the “nothing affects me” exterior and admit we have “negative” feelings and deep pains from our past — and possibly a lot of them.
These feelings come up when we are triggered by a situation or something someone said. It reminds our ego of an earlier time when we felt unsafe and leads us to act out in habitual patterns of response: fear, anger, insecurity, jealousy, hate and sadness.
Essentially, our ego’s job is to keep us (our identity) safe via flight or fight response. But living in this unconscious, habitual way does not free us to live peacefully protected from all life’s hardships. It can, instead, trap us in states of anxiety and depression.
Naturally, as a human being, you’ve probably incurred some “damage” along the way. Life is not a simple or painless journey. And it has become increasingly easy, through our phones and Netflix and social media, to distract ourselves from our pain. This is also why, for example, we can hate fiercely or try to control other people. We are terrified that once that hate or control or distractions are gone, we’ll have no choice but to deal with our pain.
“The wound is where the light enters into the soul.”
That quote from Rumi has always resonated with me. In other words, only by first facing our pain, will we heal our pain.
My mission has been to face mine head on. The challenge is that our pain tends to hide in the shadows of our being. We protect ourselves from these memories with suppression, denial and distraction.
And when we suppress emotional pain long enough, it manifests itself physically in our bodies. Do we not sometimes carry it as back, hip and neck pain? What about weight gain? In our sickness and disease? Accidents? In our stress, anxiety, and insecurities? In our angst and anger? What about through the sabotaging of our relationships and projection of our own struggles onto our innocent children?
Some of us can mask pain better than others; some even wear it like a badge of honor. Others can process these life traumas a littler quicker than the rest of us. Still, I imagine most of us feel these wounds and continue to carry them around in our daily lives.
No matter which is true for you, in order to heal we must untether the wounds that have held us back. In other words, we’re going to have to reveal and then metabolize them in some way in order to heal.
Recognizing, facing, and understanding each pain as it surfaces in the present moment may mean we have to relive the experience to some degree. Our ego doesn’t want that to happen. It resists our efforts to be vulnerable, to forgive and let go, because, each time we do — each time we work through a layer of pain — the ego loses a bit more control.
Looking for a way to unearth and face these old wounds is where plant-based medicines, micro dosing and other psychedelics enter my story.
The common term for psychedelics in the western world is “drugs.” The main function, when ingested, is to trigger a psychedelic experience in the brain through serotonin receptor antagonism. This causes thought, visual, and auditory changes, a feeling of opening up of the heart and mind, euphoria, paranoia, and altered state of consciousness. The psychedelics you’ve probably heard of include mescaline, LSD, psilocybin and DMT. Many indigenous traditions refer to them as medicine or spiritual medicine. The belief is that, expanded states of consciousness, leading to transformational healing, can occur with therapeutic application of these substances while ingested in company of qualified administrator and in conjunction with regular therapy.
An expanded state of consciousness is a state of mind where we have a greater awareness of ourselves, our soul, and an awareness of being part of a larger existence deeper than what most of us experience as our reality.
One may interpret this as a “spiritual” state. When in this altered state, we can feel separate from ourselves and our thoughts (like being out of our bodies), more connected to nature and other people, calm, creative, open and at peace.
This is also called an Entheogenic Experience or “generating the God within.”
Michael Pollan is a leading researcher and author on the scientific use of LSD and psilocybin to provide relief from addictions, PTSD, depression and anxiety. Pollan explains:
“The drugs foster new perspectives on old problems. You know, one of the things our mind does is tell stories about ourselves. And if you’re depressed, you’re being told a story, perhaps, that you’re worthless, that no one, you know, could possibly love you; you’re not worthy of love, that life will not get better. And these stories, which are enforced by our egos, really, trap us in these ruminative loops that are very hard to get out of.”
When I experienced psychedelics, I did so in the setting of a Ceremony under the guidance of a Shaman and other qualified well-trained practitioners. In Ceremony, we generally sit in a safe environment with a small group of people — where the Shaman leads us through rituals to help prepare us for the experience. Although we are in a small group, the experiences are individual and we take a vow of noble silence as to not affect other’s experiences.
Practitioners I’ve worked with cannot stress enough the significance, seriousness and sacredness of the medicine. They do not view these experiences in a recreational manner — which it should not be. These substance are illegal in many parts of the world and taking any psychotropic compound that affects brain chemistry should be approached with extreme caution, especially for those with a history of psychosis, PTSD or bipolar disorders.*
Before I sat in Ceremony with Ayahuasca, I prepared for two years. During that time, I worked with a professional counselor and a Shaman and was also counseled in Shamanic Journeying.
The Shaman did not believe I was ready for an Ayahuasca Ceremony right away so I first sat in a Sacred Cacao Ceremony. This ceremony has been practiced for thousands of years starting with the Maya. Pure cacao beans are ground and mixed with other natural ingredients and served as a hot drink. Although cacao is not a psychotropic drug and does not have hallucinogenic effects (therefore it is legal and be done here in North America), it was a powerful, inner journey experience where we were guided to focus on healing matters of the heart.
Months later, I participated in a Shamanic Ceremony with psilocybin, more commonly known as Magic Mushrooms. The Aztecs referred to this fungus as teonanácatl, which translates to the “God mushroom.” Studies show that mushrooms have been used in Shamanic practices dating back to 5000 B.C. It’s worth mentioning that around this time I also started taking non-psychotropic mushrooms such as Lion’s Mane and Reishi for Brain function, immunity and digestion.
Prior to the Ceremony, I had to set clear intentions of what I wanted to heal or “get out of” the experience. Being in Ceremony included chanting, singing, drumming (mostly led by the Shaman), journaling and purposeful focus on our intentions.
Each time our Shaman caught me just “day-dreaming,” — enjoying the warmth of the sunshine or just looking at the trees — she came over and worked directly with me. She empowered me to not overthink things and challenged me to go deeper and focus on the healing work I wanted to accomplish. The Shaman was fully present with my emotions — guiding me through my experiences facilitated by the “medicine.” At the end of the Ceremony, we all had to share what we had been through and what we’d learned so that the Shaman could provide insights on whatever we didn’t understand.
Finally, to prepare for the potential physical challenges of an Ayahuasca Ceremony, I sat with an First Nations Elder in a Sweat Lodge for a day. Each person attending had a role in preparation for the sweat. Some built the fire, some made the tea. The importance of respecting the ancestors is the heart of the ceremony. Calling them to join us involved placing large stones in the pit of the soon-to-be fire, and adding our own blessings on each rock with the topping of ceremonial tobacco.
Once the fire had burned and settled to embers, each rock was consciously placed inside the lodge and welcomed further with the feminine lemon grass and the masculine sage.
In the intense heat and pitch dark of the lodge, I can only describe the feeling as being steamed alive. It was deep inner journey where I battled mental and physical demons while honoring the ancestors and calling for their guidance. Each round of four “sweats” lasted only 15 minutes, and the sweet relief of the cool winter air outside the lodge felt incredible. The exhilaration of finishing the Ceremony was grounded with a round of the peace pipe, and some hearty soup .
Another six months of breath practice and meditation passed before I finally had the privilege of sitting in an Ayahuasca Ceremony.
Ayahuasca is an entheogenic brew primarily made out of banisteriopsis caapi vine from South America’s Amazon Basin. Many believe Ayahuasca represents the feminine energy — that she is La Madre, the Grandmother, the Lady, or Mother Aya — the Divine Feminine Spirit. She’s also known as “The Purge” since vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and crying can all be part of the “cleansing” process during ceremony.
In preparation for the ceremony, I adopted a strict diet for three weeks: whole nourishing foods but no spices, no alcohol, no caffeine, no pork, and no refined sugar. I was not allowed to have sex, watch the news, violent shows, or be on social media. Some people also fast for 24 hours prior to the Ceremony to limit vomiting — I ate very little in the 24 hours prior but did not fully fast.
Again, I set clear intentions for what we hoped to get out of the ceremony.
People from all walks of life — different income brackets, professions, ages, and nationalities — were present at the ceremony. Meeting those whom I’d be going into ceremony with, instantly put me at ease — knowing I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling and seeking.
The ritual was led by a Shaman and supported by a small team of qualified healing practitioners. After sharing brief introductions and our intentions with the group we all took a vow to honor the sacred silence.
Our shaman led us through prayers; blessing the medicine and then we each took turns kneeling in front of the shaman, holding a small glass of Ayahuasca to our hearts and then drinking it. The taste was herbal — bitter with a slight sweetness. I was told this particular Ayahuasca was less vile tasting than most!
Once complete, all the candles in the room were blown out and we sat separately in our spaces, in the pitch black while we waited for the medicine to come to us. Some “purged,” some didn’t. After about an hour of silence, the Shaman and her team sang, chanted, and played music throughout most of the night. They offered one-on-one attention to those who struggle with the intensity of their experience.
My own experience was astral — taking me out of my body into a non-physical realm that felt not of this world. During my experience, Mother Aya guided me to three specific experiences from my past ranging from childhood to only a few years prior.
I’m not yet prepared to share with you the full intimate details of my experience. It was deeply personal. Everyone’s experience is different and, should you ever want to try it for yourself, I wouldn’t want to create any “expectations” based on my own.
I also don’t want to leave you with the impression that this was some “cool” or in vogue “trip” that you need to take. This is a serious personal healing experience and, if it is a journey you sincerely wish to explore, knowing full well the risks and legalities depending where you live, I’d recommend you seek professional medical advice and take what you read on the Internet with a grain of salt.
This, and all the other experiences I’ve been through, have opened my mind and softened my heart in ways I didn’t expect. This has been the most profound awakening aspect of my journey so far.
There are many powers at work in ceremony — such as how much love the Shamans project onto you, the music, the chanting, the dancing, the breathing, the dedication to the process, the choice you’re making to heal yourself, the intentions you set, the people there with you, sharing personal stories. That is all part of the healing, that is all part of the medicine.
The benefits and importance of a Ceremony with plant medicine extend beyond the actual event. It’s so easy to get caught up in the actual medicine as the quick fix to our problems. There is no question all the medicines I took were powerful and caused deeply emotional healing experiences; however, they only represent a small percentage of the healing. They can crack open the door to allow enough light to guide us in the right direction but the majority of the work isn’t done in Ceremony — it’s done in the Ceremony of our daily lives.
Although I felt like I’d just breezed through ten years of psychotherapy in that one evening, I wasn’t so naive as to think my ego would be satisfied and not come roaring back with its demands once the halo had worn off.
Daily deep breathing exercises, consciousness meditation, professional therapy and journaling have continued to be my focus as tools to integrate the teachings into my life.
Having experienced moments with the medicine liberated from ego, my state of consciousness expanded – I was able to feel complete love, gratitude and connection to the natural and spirit worlds.
This allowed me to have more clarity, a clarity that had been almost impossible for me to experience while stuck in anxiety and depression. This softness, if you will, improved my ongoing practice of kindness and gratitude.
It allowed me to surrender a little more and reminded me of the importance of being in nature. The effects of the medicine helped me have more awareness of toxic personalities that would have previously infected my state of being and feeling — perpetuating my anxiety.
Over these last few years, I have come to accept that healing work is a lifelong commitment. I’ve come to cherish the moments when anxiety isn’t weighing heavily in my chest, rather than fearing its return; I feel more present in the moment. Now, when I can, I replace frustration with reverence for the process of healing — knowing that it can take just as long to wade out of the water as it does to wade in.
Finally, it seems I have more hope now — for these experiences have taught me that hope can be the best tool during the darkest times.
Although the modern research on the long-term effects of plant medicines is still very much in its infancy, as is its decriminalization in North America, psychedelics are becoming more accessible. Healers, Shamans and practitioners have combined indigenous knowledge with new applications to introduce ancient ceremonies to the modern world without, hopefully, losing their traditional contexts.
In the USA, some states have already decriminalized the therapeutic use of MDMA (the drug known as ecstasy) and psilocybin administered in conjunction with psychotherapy, as they have been found to be effective in treating PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
I’m committed to continue growing my knowledge of these healing methods and I have recently purchased the books: Consciousness Medicine by Francoise Bourzat and Kristina Hunter, and How to Change Your Mind by Michael Polland, and I continue to study expanded states of consciousness as a means to healing.
Tim Ferris recently moderated a panel of leading researching on micro dosing methods and psychedelic science that is absolutely worth listening to. And Ben Greenfield offers advice on micro dosing as well. This blog led me to explore the healing benefits of micro-dosing LSD — which is an experience I’ll share in another blog.
Thanks for Reading, Be Well.
Legal Disclaimer :
Please note that I am not a doctor or am not recommending or endorsing any products. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Further, these substances can be dangerous and are illegal to use in many countries, states, provinces and territories.