On Psychedelics and Meditation

The Hedge Maze

I’d like, if you’ll permit me, to tell a story on something that has arisen in many conversations for me of late in my travels. It’s a conversation that has never quite sat right with me for some reason, and I feel compelled, now, to articulate a little further as to why.

I’m talking about the use of drugs as a tool for spiritual enlightenment, versus the practice of meditation. There seems to be much divide between these two camps, with people often falling into one or the other (in my experience). Stoic students of meditation are often heard exclaiming that they have no need for an external stimulus. And conversely, many others (usually the kind that like to mix partying and spirituality together) have not seemed to pick up the habit of sitting alone with one’s thoughts.

I’m not here today to argue which is better or worse. I’m here to tell a story on how the two relate to each other, and what they both offer if done “correctly.”

The Hedge Maze

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re in a giant hedge maze. It’s tall, luscious leaves stretch far above your head, and you are quite incapable of peering above it. For as long as you can remember, you’ve wandered aimlessly through this vexing puzzle of plants, seeking only one thing—the exit. And yet you’re not entirely sure why.

Life is the hedge maze. Nobody has any idea what it is, or why it is. But one thing is for sure; we’re all in it.

Magic Boots

Some of us maze-runners will eventually stumble across something rather spectacular. A magical pair of boots awaits many who care to look and offer rewards for those who put them on. You see, these boots are special; they allow you to jump. High. It is just the thing a weary maze-runner needs to peer above the hedge and look for “the exit.”

For those that are fortunate enough to happen upon these lofty loafers, life becomes very exciting. A “heightened” state of awareness brings an individual a far greater ability to “take in” information, be creative, and experience emotions, ideas, and realizations—some of which they would not have encountered even in their “wildest” of dreams. Super shoes feel great.

But, like all good magic, there’s a downside too. Some of us become over-reliant, even addicted, to the supposed “vision” these super-shoes provide. If we become disillusioned with the endless walls of leaves, and the twists and turns of life, it’s effortless to slip on our boots and shoot for the moon. Life is interesting again, and we can SEE. Until we can’t.

Like all growth, doing the work is half the job. The other half is integrating it. How do you take the lessons, the shifts, the realizations of the “trip,” and meld them back into “normal life”? Some get over-confident in their jumping expeditions, and on a not-so-good day, land the wrong way! “Broken ankles” are a common sight in the “drugged up, spiritually aware” communities.

Put another way, you run the risk of having NO idea how to even contemplate what you just experienced. This can literally send people mad. Be careful.

The Step-Ladder

There are others who, over many moons, collect the odd branch and pieces of wood they find along the way. It’s a slow process; however, they gradually acquire enough resources to build a small step ladder.

If one plays at this game long enough, they’ll develop enough skill to build something large enough to stand on. And maybe, just maybe, peak over the leering green wall.

Meditation is a slow practice. It’s challenging in all ways conceivable, can take many years to see any effects (though certainly not always!), and requires constant, patient, deliberating. Do not expect to download Headspace, close your eyes, and experience non-duality and astral travel. Please.

Our step ladder is something we carry around with us. We add to it over time, strengthening, and lengthening. There is minimal risk in propping it up against the wall, climbing up for a peek, and stepping back down. It’s much safer than the Moon Boots.

Boots and Ladders - A love story

Perhaps our argument between psychedelics and meditation is a false dichotomy. Substances certainly have their uses (there is extensive research into their use for therapeutic applications as of writing), especially for those who’ve become disheartened by the hedge maze.

Sometimes, just what we need is a few micrograms of LSD or Psilocybin to show us what is possible. It can change your life and has done so for millions.

However, extensive work must also be placed in a daily practice of self-reflection. Meditation provides the tools to understand what we experience on drugs and integrate it into our lives. It also stops us from over-relying on the euphoric, temporary states of “enlightenment.” It’s safer and better for us in the long run. When combined with “smart” use of substances, the two may provide incredible healing, powerful realizations, and a broader perspective.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Cover photo by Sigmund @sigmund