This week Michael Pollan, published his new tome on the Renaissance of Psychedelic Science. Pollan is a bestselling writer who has in the past, mostly focused on food. But his new book addresses the progress Psychedelic Therapy has made in the last twenty years. Psychedelics have been shown to help with anxiety, depression, addictions(drugs, alcohol, and smoking) and end of life despair. I have heard Michael's interviews and not surprisingly, he is informed and intelligent in his discussion about the matter. He's a brilliant writer and thinker and he covered every part of this discussion clearly. I've picked up his book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested by the subject.
There is something that was missing from his discussion, and it is well worth talking about. Science and neuroscience are discussed throughout the book. It is a very relevant because identifiable changes in brain function are detectable both during and after psychedelic experiences. The brain is the body's most mysterious organ, and is not very well understood. Anything that moves the needle forward is welcome. But the brain is not the creator of consciousness, it is a transmitter of it.
Carl Jung said that all psychological problems are religious in their origination. Jung didn't use this term casually. He used it purposefully. When he thought of the word religious, he didn't think in terms of exoteric identification(i.e. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Jew) he thought in terms of the word's Latin root RELIGARE', which translates "to reconnect." Jung thought that all neuroses, anxiety, depression, even psychoses, are an interruption of the ego's relationship with the Self. The ego was a necessary tool to navigate life, built out of a historical experience. The Self was in his mind, the totality of consciousness from which the ego sprang forth. It is both non historical and non biological. Jung believed that the Self existed outside of space, time, and physical reality, in what would be known by physicists in a quantum field. The brain to Jung, was the receiver, not the the transmitter of consciousness. It acts like the satellite radio receiver in your car. In the terms of present technology, your consciousness is no more located in your brain, than the Beatles are inside your satellite radio when "All You Need is Love" plays in your car.
Pollan continually talks about a "reset" of the brain that is provided by Psychedelic Therapy. But its' cause remains a mystery. Scientists and scientific thinkers are reluctant to speak of things outside the realm of Newtonian Causality, but when working with these materials and seeing their impact, an explanation does reveal itself. Everybody's brain has been shaped and conditioned by its' historical, biographical nervous system experience. Our nervous system branches out from our brain to gather information from our environment. What we perceive using our senses, and how we feel about what we perceive, shapes the brain and shapes its' form and function. The 'reset' psychedelics offers results from the brain accessing the experience of consciousness unfettered by the constraints of the externalized nervous system. The reset moves the brain from its provincial experience of historical nervous system biography into the wide open spaces of a organic non physical consciousness, unshackled by history, habit, and conditioning. The brain reorients itself toward a broader experience.
Think this sounds far out and too easy? Well, it's nothing like easy. This is experience occurs far from cultural notions of Psychedelia. It's not dancing through fields of flowers with dandelion seeds floating through sunlight, while the Grateful Dead jam in the background. That image is the bastardization of psychedelic experience. Psychedelics were used by Psychiatrists and Psychologists(and for thousands of years before that aboriginal clergy from all cultures) for twenty years before they became recreationalized and democratized in the 1960's. For those who have tripped and found themselves outside, or at a concert or wandering the streets of Florence looking at architecture, that is an entirely different experience than of what I am speaking. Using Psychedelics for entertainment, while fun, is simply running the experience through the same nervous system that creates conditioned every day consciousness.
The therapy that Pollan has written about that has aided the depressed, the anxious, the addicted, as well as the dying, is a more rigorous experience altogether. The client is removed from their physical environment. They lay on a couch or a bed, covering their eyes with shades their ears with headphones, and their body with a blanket. Their experience takes place internally, away from its' usually orintation. It is much like a waking dream. The psyche, liberated from its' usual externalized habits and marinated in its' own juices begins to self heal. The challenge is that much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the ego encounters symbolic representations of what separates it from the Self. A critical mother? Might be a witch. An unexpressed animal instinct? A Lion, or a Jaguar, or a Wolf. Pre verbal limbic trauma? A snake. A depersonalized, increasingly computerized and mechanized experience of the world creates a dystopian nightmare. These are the gatekeepers to realization of the Self, of the root of consciousness that exists outside the boundaries of physical life and biography. And while these encounters can be uncomfortable, they are in fact a psychic peristalsis, pushing the experiencer toward the experience of roots of their consciousness outside of space and time. For some, there is just bliss, because that is what is required to heal what ails them. There are no markers that predict who will experience what, but there is a great reason to feel optimistic that when tomorrow dawns, it will be a fuller, warmer, more integrated self that meets the day. Consciousness has always known what it is doing, and can be trusted.