Transcending Trauma and Addiction with Entheogens and Integration
A psychedelic awakening is the answer to the divided mind of humanity that is spewing out more and more victims of things like childhood abuse and war crimes. While external forces are often beyond our control, we can change on the inside. Entheogens give us a way to go within and break through old fears and trapped memories; experience the spirit within; open to the wisdom and love of the heart that can forgive, heal, reconcile opposites; and, at its best, have an epiphany.
I have been a psychonaut for over 20 years, beginning with an ayahuasca journey in 1997 that changed me profoundly. Entheogens have helped me to work through psychological trauma; find God; discover self; understand death; revere nature; refine my character; love deeper, better, and more wholly; find new creativity; and in general evolve as a human being.
What Does It Mean to Awaken?
Very simply put, awakening is an experience of the ego dying (which doesn’t hurt) and waking up in a higher consciousness, where one knows better. For some, it’s the state that Christ described as “My father and I are One.” This ego death does not have to be some gut-wrenching battle within you, although some sort of struggle and giving-way and subsequent transcendence is experienced by most. It is ultimately an act of surrender, that you, in all your “highness” will initiate.
We know ourselves specifically in the differential between who we are in our normal state of consciousness and who we become when we transcend that limited view of self. Transcendent, One is a God fractal, and one’s potential as a human seems to be an ever-expanding cone of possibility, not limited by the vagaries of genetics and environment. And indeed, this is what transcendence offers, ending the trance. And what trance is that? It’s the one at the en-trance to this journey called Life, where we surrender our divine identity and don the mask of a personality; our spirit goes into voluntary confinement in a body and we act out a life. That mask is what’s called an ego. It’s not bad; it’s simply not the whole truth.
For me, it was frustrating to wake up and understand Oneness so deeply in an altered state and then dumb down again when I returned to ordinary consciousness. In the ordinary world, I was a creature of habit, and it influenced the world I inhabited; I was inhibited in day-to-day consciousness, but I was a genius in a altered state.
I keep striving to reduce that differential between being “awake” and being the so-called “normal.” It is the long-term arc of integration. To that end, I was and am diligent about journaling, visualizing, acting, and changing according to the knowledge gained through a sacramental journey. But waking up is usually a quantum leap from the known into the new, so all methods die by the wayside of being present in the moment.
A Quantum and Cumulative Event
Waking up is both quantum and cumulative, and we ourselves set the pace. How do we integrate our experience of the Divine into our day-to-day lives?
Over years of journeying, I no longer doubt that Oneness is my true nature. I AM this expansive intelligence, oceanic awareness and ordinary. I have reliably returned to this eternal view over and over. I am it. I have woken up to the limitless petal-like unfolding of my own Buddha mind, and I can travel all the way to the edge of that lotus and find that there is no edge. The word “infinite” takes on new meaning.
In altered states of consciousness, I have, in an instant, been a Christ on a cross crying a final question.
We humans indeed know not what we do, or who and what we are; we’re caught in the delusion of a separate self, and in that separateness, we suffer, hence, the journey and the union in communion.
If we only knew about this boundary-dissolving gnosis and the liberation it brings, we would not want to worship the Christ, we would want to be the Christ.
The story of Jesus and the projection of all one’s sins onto an external savior and its degeneration into an organized corrupt religion was and is a Cris-T-is of consciousness, that we collectively have failed to identify and respond appropriately to. Same with Buddhism or Hinduism. Instead of emulating the behavior and example, we have idolized these characters with two thousand plus years of overthinking that we call organized religion or dogma. We need to wake up to the truth of Oneness.
Psychedelics Are Keys to That Awakening
Seeing into the psyche, or soul. Another word for psychedelics is entheogens, generating the divine within. It is a huge evolutionary leap in our spiritual development for us to experience the self as “divine;” it’s a living paradox, contradicted by our ‘in-divide-duality’ in every waking moment.
We have, by our own ignorance, driven ourselves into a world that is extremely polarized, and a tipping of the scale would be just and humane. But it won’t happen without a collective awakening. A direct apprehension of our divine identity is urgently needed today.
When will the hundredth monkey wake up? This water has been warming for millennia, so many are lulled, but its dangers are real. We must again have a quantum jump in human consciousness if we are to transcend our destructive, separative nature and evolve our spiritual nature. Unitive consciousness is by nature a pacifist consciousness. Who are you fighting if there is no other?
Curing Addiction and PTSD
Approximately 44.7 million people struggle with post-traumatic stress in the US. and 72,000 people died of opioid overdose in 2017
If you Google “Is there a cure for PTSD?” or “Is there a cure for opioid addiction?” you would think that MDMA or ibogaine would appear on page one since they are the only things that offer a complete cure in as little as one treatment in the case of iboga for addiction, and as few as one to three therapist-facilitated sessions with MDMA for PTSD. However they remain obscured because of legality, profiteering and self-interest.
As a result, the common treatment for PTSD and addiction is prescription drug cocktails with their slew of side effects combined with other modalities like cognitive therapies. These, if effective at all, can “manage” symptoms, but do not heal the root cause. Many adults have been diagnosed with “treatment-resistant” PTSD, a form which often includes compound shocks, such as childhood abuse and the shock of war. These patients are condemned to a lifetime of pharmaceutical cocktails, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, and rage. Many commit suicide. Others are criminally insane. Currently, 300 inmates on death row are veterans who murdered a friend or a girlfriend in a fit of rage.
Addiction is a condition that impacts body, mind, and spirit. It comes from the Latin word addictus, meaning “a debt slave; a person who has been bound as a slave to his creditor.” Many people have described themselves as “enslaved” by their opioid addiction. Addiction cannot be healed by pills and detox alone because they do not address the underlying root cause, which, according to addiction expert Dr. Gabor Mate, is always trauma. Mate says that both addiction and PTSD have their root cause in suppressed pain and trauma. It is the pain that causes the soldier or sexually abused person to seek relief in opiates. Opiates do not heal the pain so they are not a solution; they keep the person trapped in a vicious cycle of need and fear of the pain of withdrawal.
Addicts are prescribed drugs like Methadone or Suboxone, the current conventional pharmaceutical treatments for heroin addiction, which, in addition to their dire side effects, merely substitute one addiction for another. Heroin and Methadone addicts often spend tens of thousands of dollars trying different detox and rehab programs only to find themselves relapsing.
A common deadly scenario goes like this: a person gets wounded in battle or has a bad car accident; is prescribed oxycontin, a painkiller that contains morphine; and when their prescription runs out, they are left addicted. Many have no recourse but to buy the cheaper and more readily available street heroin, which leaves them open to the danger of bad drugs and death by overdosing. It’s a kind of hell created by a medical system that is ignoring the clear and present call of medicines that truly and permanently can heal trauma and addiction: the entheogens.
Profound Soul Shock Requires Profound Soul Opening
Being abused as a child or being trained to shut off your emotions, as in going to war, profoundly distorts the human psyche, especially when the causes are not just. When confronted with that level of soul shock, one needs an equally profound “soul-opener” to elevate, inspire, and heal. Entheogens are that opener.
Approach with Reverence
These powerful chemical transformers need to be approached with care and reverence. One needs to be responsible, and journeying in a group and/or with a facilitator may be necessary for many. But whether we journey solo or with others, the keys to our own divine nature are a molecule away, allowing us to reconnect with our origin and our originality, both of which we sorely need.
A Visible Sign of an Inward Grace
A sacrament is defined as a “visible sign of an inward grace.” At their finest, that is exactly what the alchemical transformation of entheogens like ayahuasca, Iboga, psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, San Pedro and cannabis deliver. We are given a chemical boost that can, with the right set and setting, awaken us from the trance of the ego, the divided self, into cosmic consciousness. We see with a “single eye,” we gain objective distance from the personality, and we become our own doctor. We are initiated into the mystery of Being in all its paradox and power. What we have manifested is our own connection to spirit, and thus we can heal. The highest intention you can set for a journey is to connect with the Source, however you perceive that, and thus by your intention be granted admission into the Holy Now of your own consciousness.
Our bodies are molecularly “tuned” for this sacramental experience and nature has provided the necessary molecular keys.
For example, MDMA releases serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin at the molecular level, which opens our spiritual heart and empathy. We love and forgive.
Ayahuasca is a tea brewed with two plants, one of which is an MAO inhibitor, which is what allows DMT (dimethyltryptamine) to penetrate the blood-brain barrier giving rise to a powerful, mystical, visionary experience. DMT also exists in our bodies, dormant, waiting to be catalyzed and is perhaps released at birth and death. Little is known about its role in our body chemistry.
Cannabis is a life saver for many veterans, who are able to sleep, relax, get off their pharmaceutical cocktails, and manage their PTSD. Apparently our bodies are riddled with receptors for cannabinoids; it’s a natural fit!
Iboga is a west African shrub whose primary alkaloid ibogaine interrupts opioid addiction and restores the brain and body to a pre-addicted state. Learn more about our documentary Iboga Saves: Ending the Opioid Epidemic
While this is all good news, we have a long way to go to change the public perception of psychedelic sacraments. Psychedelics have been demonized for a long time. You can trace it all the way back to Adam and Eve and humanity’s fabled exile from the Garden of Eden. Was it forbidding the fruit that kept us from gaining knowledge of our true nature? Is it the same ‘fruit’ that is now being forbidden in the US under drug laws which designate sacraments as poisonous substances?
Starting in the 1980s, the Partnership for a Drug Free America’s War on Drugs ad campaigns ran for 11 years and effectively framed our brain on drugs as a fried egg, causing much of the population to turn their backs on psychedelics.
Now, almost 40 years later, successful clinical trials ushered in after decades of effort by organizations like Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and academic institutions like Johns Hopkins are revealing that MDMA, ayahuasca and psilocybin are remarkable healers of trauma, considered incurable by modern pharmaceutical medicine, with a 76% success rate in clinical trials. Psychedelic medicines stand at the threshold of revolutionizing medicine and changing the face of psychiatry.
Using Awareness to Integrate Awakening Experiences
In this video, Michael Sapiro, PsyD speaks about the two types of awakening, absolute and relative, and how they can both be avenues to liberate yourself from the grip of anxiety, trauma and depression, by “remystifying” all experience. Dr. Sapiro is a clinical psychologist, Dharma teacher, meditation researcher, and former Buddhist monk. He is on faculty at Esalen Institute and is a Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences where he engages in research on meditation, transformation, and consciousness. His work is dedicated to personal awakening for the sake of collective and planetary transformation. In his integrative work with individuals and groups he relies on non-dual awareness and Buddhist psychology as a means of finding wholeness and ease, while refining the human mind through the practical application of the Dharma.
Read Video transcript here
We use words a lot like enlightenment, Samadhi, awakening, transformation. What are we actually talking about? How can we make it practical for people who are listening and reading and coming to me in sessions, or going to other healers or therapists to know what we’re looking for? We’re not talking, or at least I’m not talking, about a peak experience. I’m talking about the integration of an experience into a sustained new way of living.
So when I think about awakening I think about it one, in a personal sense. How does Mike have an awakening in his life. How do I have an awakening? I shift from one perspective to a greater perspective. And then what is a more profound awakening in which you start identifying as the source itself? So there you’re having relative and absolute awakenings, so there’s two kind of levels of awakening that I’ve perceived in myself and the first level is having in an experience in which I discover or relearn or remember a profound truth. This is kind of a truth with a capital T. And then I embody that truth moving forward. So perhaps I wake up to something. I was unconscious. Perhaps I remember something deep about life that now I can embody in myself as I move forward in my life. This is one level of awakening and we can have many awakenings throughout our life.
We can have awakenings that come because of trauma, car accidents, near-death experiences, divorces. We can have awakenings based on the use of meditation, psychedelics, dancing, ritualsWe can have a profound awakening in a conversation, or reading a book, and then that significant worldview shift perception shift is now embodied in us and we carry that forward forever, moving forward.
That’s a personal Awakening.
The second level of awakening is when we have an experience of being the source itself, where we dissolve the boundaries of our personal selves with the greater universal self or source and now we’ve had what people might call a sense of oneness where we are no different than the source or the mystery from which we are coming from, and so that awakening I’ve had much less in my life, but I have had those moments where I have dissolved into the mystery and I realize that I am the mystery from which I am arising. And so that’s a second more profound level of awakening. And people use psychedelics for that often, where I find with non-dual meditation I can get to that place more frequently and readily without taking or needing any substances. Where I know I am actually the profound mystery itself arising in the form of Mike.
So I guess I want to make it really clear. I kind of defined awakening in two ways and I’m gonna make it concise.The first relative way of awakening I call embodying the truths that you discover and the second is being the living expression of the mystery itself. Walking around knowing you are the living expression of the mystery itself and everything else is also, so when you meet another person, an animal, a situation, a tree, you fundamentally already know that is source greeting you, just as you are greeting it. Its source meeting source feeling being, meeting being. So that’s another form of awakening and when I think about the relative awakenings I have so many stories of course you would, and everyone listening has, and these happen all the time if we’re really aware of what’s happening.
One of them I remember I was on a five day solitary meditation retreat in Central, Oregon and on the third day of my meditation retreat I was sitting, it was winter, so I was sitting in the cabin with the sliding door open and there was snow outside and wind blowing snow around and I was really still and quiet by the third day of meditation and in my breathing practice my body became a sense of translucency, it became transparent where there wasn’t breath coming in or out of the body there was just wind or breath itself moving and it didn’t matter that it was moving inside or outside it was the same air and so I had this disappearing sense of Mike disappearing sense of self into the actual just becoming Nature. My personality dissolved and it was just breath or air moving and there was a moment where I heard a voice that said “This is enlightenment.” “What’s all your friends gonna think.” and I woke to the fact that there was some part of me that arose that had identified as this being “Mike” is now an enlightened being and many of us have had this experience that we’ve identified “Oh, I’m enlightened now and what am I gonna do, how everyone’s gonna see me as different.” and many of us have that experience. The awakening for me was not so much in dissolving myself into spaciousness or into nature itself. It was that I had an ego identity that really wants to attach to all these kinds of experiences and make meaning out of them and that is separate from my own experience of just being Nature itself. And it was really pretty profound for me and very simple to hear my own voice identify with the state — sense of enlightenment or awakening whatever it classified it as because then I started to have a little bit of distance between that speaking narrative voice and my own experience which was profoundly different and much more spacious than this little voice.
And I had an experience like that again I was a monk and I was sweeping it was 14 days into a meditation retreat I was living myself with a hermit monk and I was sweeping just sweeping saying “Buddha Dharma Sangha” over and over in my mind for an hour and there was a dropping away of emotions, cognition, narrative self I just became the motion of sweeping and even the “Dharma Buddhist Sangha Buddha Dharma Sangha: mantra just left and literally “I am” was all I experienced– the sweeping, the sounds, the heat, the swishing of the robes and everything dropped. There was no more identity as me sweeping. There was no more identity as I’m thinking or it was just dropped and then very, very, very far away as if someone was calling from a forest like the next forest over it said “Who am I, Who am I” and for a moment? I didn’t register. It was just another expression of the universe arising “Who am I” and then the fear of “Who am I”– because the sense of self that Mike was was totally dissolved, but it was really like I don’t know what I am then if I’m not emotion, sensation, belief, perception, cognition, what am I? And that fear actually flooded me rather than just seeing it as another expression. I identified with the fear of not knowing what I was and I remember becoming really overwhelmed by this confusion– not knowing– and I rushed up to the hermit monk I was living with and I sat with him and I explained I had dropped away and I came back and became fully afraid because I didn’t know who I was and he just laughed and he said “Go back to sweeping!”
Because this is a natural part of the meditative process of dropping away and reforming it’s a constant stream of Information and some of which we really identify with. I identify with the stream of information that sounds like Mike in my own mind– a stream of information of the ego going “I am this, I am that, I am this, I’m that..” it’s a natural part so that personal awakening was that I can be both I can be both spacious unlimited formlessness and then I can be the small little voice in my own mind that’s afraid of losing its own identity. And so what I had to do is really integrate all of that.So when I start hearing my own voice going, “I’m afraid. Who am I? What’s going on?” I understand fundamentally– that’s just a part of me really attaching and identifying to its own sense of self and I don’t have to do much with it. I can allow it to be and it goes, just like the sound of passing cars behind me or the fan that’s above me spinning. It’s just movement. So even my own grasping sense of self that attaches to its own identity is just another piece of information passing through my awareness. And that that was a profound small awakening that I had. Um, that’s lasted 12 years since I’ve had that experience.
What we want to talk about when we’re working with people with trauma, anxiety,, depression is how to create a sense of space between the sensations, perceptions, and narratives that are creating depression, anxiety, trauma responses to find a sense of freedom and well-being
so that as a person with PTSD and pretty significant anxiety I can tell you it’s really uncomfortable to be in a body that has trauma responses that become super tight and agitated, intense to have a mind that’s constantly projecting situations that are fear-based where I can get hurt, my loved ones get hurt. This is what I go through as someone with PTSD and anxiety. It’s really uncomfortable. It’s tense. So when I’m working with people, including myself using awareness as the medicine for healing trauma, anxiety, for recognizing even the spinning down of depression going down toward that swamp where stagnant energy happens. The body doesn’t want to move, the mind goes down toward hopelessness, helplessness apathy.
Once we start having a sense of spacious awareness we can start resting in that even though we’re feeling identifying symptoms or signs of anxiety, trauma, depression. So the way I found healing is not by trying to get rid of anxiety, it’s actually holding anxiety like a mother would hold a child who’s wounded or hurt and nurturing it. So we’re actually working on various levels here. We’re working on the physiological level where I’m soothing myself with my own hands. I’m doing deep breathing and through that I’m able to really start creating a sense of safety, a sense of assurance that I’m here for myself and then once I have that sense of safety my physiology, my neurology, my nervous system relaxes and then I’m able to start doing a little bit more of this work. We’re talking about using awareness to become a little bigger than the thing I am experiencing which is tension, anxiety, stress, fear. So the first thing I do is calm myself down. I assure myself, I’m safe. And then I start breathing and expanding my awareness around me. So I see that my anxiety or my trauma responses are just one of many signals coming into me. There are sounds, there’s lights, there’s other sensations and emotions, there’s other thoughts I can have and now I see that I’m much more vast and I’m not this constricted sense of self that’s only based in fear or anxiety or hopelessness.
I don’t want to demystify awakening to something that just helps us with symptoms and you know regulates anxiety. The excitement I feel is that everything, including anxiety, points back toward the source! That we might use even our own fear to guide us back to the mystery from which we come because once we have a relationship with spacious awareness. Then we see that everything arising in it, including our own fears, narratives, depressive feelings, when we hold them in awareness with love, those symptoms themselves point back to the silence and stillness from which they come and so awareness is not only the medicine we use to get back to source, but pure awareness is the source from which things arise.
So we’re actually re-mystifying our own symptoms and our own signs of anxiety and fear. Were mystifying them with the source itself. So then anxiety becomes paired with this sense of mystery and once we’ve learned to rest in anxiety we also get to rest in the mystery from which we come.
About the Author
Lakshmi Narayan is the founder and editor of awake.net, a non-profit collective wisdom blog about the inner journey with entheogens, and founder and creative director of Awake Media a digital media company offering media products and services to clients in integrative health, transformational technology, and mind-body-spirit healthcare. She has a decades long interest in the cause of repositioning psychedelics in the public mind, and educating people about the benefits, cautions, best practices, and timeless wisdom that can be had from these experiences.