Written by – Duncan Riach
Cindy and I returned from our psilocybin-assisted retreat in Jamaica a couple of weeks ago, and, supported by our ongoing group chat and our first group integration video call yesterday, the changes have coalesced enough that I can begin to describe them. One major theme is related to a clarification of the boundary between myself and others.
There has been a softening of what a friend has called “the hell of self-consciousness.” I have a habit of being worried about how other people are perceiving me, often finding myself revisiting conversations in my mind after they have concluded, second guessing my responses, and questioning if I behaved in an optimal way, in a sufficiently kind, generous, or curious way. I have a habit of not trusting that I did the best I could in the moment and letting that effortlessly pass into history.
During all three of my psilocybin dosing sessions, this doubting of myself, this questioning of my own reality, showed up as a form of paranoia, a psychedelically-amplified experience of a usually sub-clinical process. The cost of these chronically-tolerated, old mental patterns were laid bare by being taken to their logical conclusion, to the extreme of almost complete delusion. But even in that confused and troubled state, some part of me seemed to be quietly witnessing. After coming back and coming down, and in these days that have followed, my awareness is now able to discern the flavor of this type of thinking, more able to calmly thank it for its service and then gently and effortlessly pull the rug out from under it.
In the past couple of weeks, I have caught myself again and again spiraling into cycles of self-doubt, into impossibly unsolvable conundrums of managing other’s perceptions and expectations of me. It might, at first and at times, seem that these problems are worse than before the retreat, but I think it’s actually that the awareness of them has increased. This increased awareness has enabled me to reach out to those I trust in order to get a reality check, to take helpful and healthy actions like meditation, sleep, and exercise, and to draw the focus back into myself. Rather than struggling with what other people might be thinking or feeling about me, it’s so much clearer that I am struggling with something inside of my own psyche.
During my second dose, I sat up and raised my eyeshades to check on Cindy, who was in the shade of a cabana maybe 50 feet away, across the brightly sun-lit retreat grounds. In that moment, I experienced extreme judgement of her, so extreme that I couldn’t see how I could stay in relationship with her; it was just totally overwhelming. I wanted to get away from the feeling and the only way to escape seemed to be divorce. I also felt deeply ashamed of the feeling, fearful that I couldn’t share it with anyone. So there I was, writhing in psychological agony, unable to get help, as my life was apparently falling apart, a victim of my own disgust.
I think this moment was pivotal for me. I began to see how much I judge others in general, how much I suffer through this process of judgement, no matter how subtle, no matter how much I try to temper it. I think I may have asked for help internally. Perhaps I asked the mushrooms, or God, or some kind of higher power to help me. The silent answer that came, perhaps even from my own wisdom, was to take it all back, to stop projecting all of this outwards. This led to a recognition of the pain in myself, and to an hour or two of sobbing release, of grief.
By the integration session the following day, it was clear to me, in a deeply visceral (and non-intellectual) way, that when there is any unpleasant or negative emotional experience in relation to another person, it’s a giant, flashing neon sign that says to me, look inside! People behave how they behave, and it’s possible for me to be objectively aware of their dysfunctional behaviors, but any negative emotional reaction in me to that behavior is mine, a sign that there is some unintegrated part of myself, some part that I do not have compassion for. There’s some way that their behavior is triggering something in me.
It’s important for me to be clear that this does not mean that it’s healthy to tolerate abuse. On the contrary, this realization means that abusive behavior can be calmly moved away from or disciplined, rather than being engaged with in a dysfunctional victim/perpetrator/savior spiral.
I also want to clarify that there’s not necessarily, or even usually, a perfect one-to-one correlation between the behavior in the other that is judged and what is unconscious in the self. In other words, just because I judge someone for doing something (or not doing something), it doesn’t mean that I’m actually, or also, doing (or not doing) that. In reality, that behavior in another is activating some unintegrated wound, reminding me of a part of myself that has been split-off and shamed. The call to integration in the self, appearing as emotional discomfort, just happens to be activated by that particular behavior in another.
Since returning to my regular life, I have found myself witnessing behavior (or memories of behavior) that I would previously have judged as less than fully functional and wrong in some way, and perhaps felt scared or anticipated being victimized, or I would have worried that myself or others could be victimized or harmed or hurt, or that things would not work out well. Often this has been people who have misunderstood me or apparently projected their disowned parts onto me, or tried to scapegoat, shame, invalidate, or belittle me. What seems to be happening now, instead, is that I can simply perceive their behavior (even more clearly than before) whilst not feeling responsible for it anymore. I allow them their right to their behavior. I allow them the freedom to live their lives how they choose, and to take the natural consequences for that behavior, allowing them, fully, their right to learn for themselves.
Being responsible only for me and for my actions, and not for anything that anyone else does, is such a massive relief, the relief of an enormous burden lifted. As a consequence, I seem to have so much more compassion for others, so much more space for them. I can meet people where they’re at, as they are. And then I have the freedom to choose how I respond, based simply on what I want and need.
As I am writing this, I have still not yet fully integrated the understanding that all of these things are connected, that my preconscious judgement of others, my projection of my disowned parts onto them, is what also leads to me imagining that they are judging me, projecting their disowned parts onto me. But, as I continue to write, I can see that I just project my self-judgement onto others and then feel bad about it; it’s the same thing. Others may not be projecting their disowned sub-parts onto me, but I’m definitely projecting my self-judgement, amongst many other things, onto them. The simple answer is that all of this personal discomfort is a sign to go inward, to return to journaling, to meditation, to creating space for increased self-awareness. All of this reminds me to take it back, to look inside!
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” — Jesus of Nazareth, translated from intergenerationally-remembered Aramaic into Greek and finally into Olde English.
It’s interesting to me that these changes are only really fully clear in relational interactions, where the psychological rubber hits the road. I’m discovering new changes as old interactions are naturally revisited. For example, I’ve been surprised to discover how much more confident I feel talking with others, how much more natural and carefree I am, more able to say just what I’m thinking, less likely to walk on eggshells in an attempt to protect an imaginarily fragile ego in the other person. I’m much more willing to enter the china shop, horns at-the-ready, prepared to stomp through the place under the gleeful eye of its proprietor. I’m patiently but attentively waiting and watching for the subtle nod of approval for the Greek wedding to begin.
A few days ago, after spending an hour working-out at our gym, instead of rushing back home to crank out results, I found myself hanging around for another hour, having the most deeply enjoyable, rich conversations with friends there, finally freed, to at least some degree, from the hell of self-consciousness.
Footnote: While paranoia is a somewhat rare experience while dosing with psilocybin, it does happen, and is more likely with the very large doses I had whilst at the MycoMeditations retreat (5, 8, and 10 dried grams of the B+ strain of Psilocybe cubensis). MycoMeditations recently created this post on Instagram that explains how “allowing somebody the time and space for paranoia to play itself out without judgement, through care and attention, allows deep trauma processing to occur.”
Thanks to Cindy Dinh Riach
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