Just had a killer exchange with Dr. Matt Johnson that I wanted to share as it's super germane to what's going on more broadly in the therapeutic space.
Matt is one of Johns Hopkins' rising stars in psychedelic research, and the academic lead on the study we are sponsoring on breathwork and PTSD.
As we were designing those protocols we realized we very much saw eye to eye on the critical importance of preserving people's "cognitive sovereignty" as they go into peak states and healing.
Even in the transformative breathwork space (which had its intellectual origins in the transpersonal psych realm, rather than cognitive neuroscience) there's been broad acceptance of terms and concepts like pre-natal regression, or rebirthing, recovery of past lives, access to archetypal realms and a host of decidedly non-ordinary experiences.
Since we were designing a PTSD study, and wanted school children around the world to have access (specifically India, Africa and South America) as well as institutions like the Veteran's Administration, we knew that it could be counterproductive to provide a powerful hit of ecstasis and catharsis, only to send patients back into culture and community that sees those new ideas as illegitimate or threatening.
Then, the very success you had in cracking someone open and potentially changing their life for the better could create blowback that would ultimately make things worse.
As Matt puts it in his new paper...
"Just as with the practice of secular clinical psychology or psychiatry, a patient can certainly bring up religious beliefs and concepts in therapeutic discussion, e.g., Buddha, Christ, kundalini, and plant spirits, but it is not the role of the clinician or scientists to introduce such concepts. The goal of the clinician should be to create an open and supportive environment where the patient can make her or his own meaning, if any, from such experiences."
Check out full article here: Consciousness, Religion, and Gurus: Pitfalls of Psychedelic Medicine
Thanks to advances in neuroscience and psychology, we have a much deeper understanding of how to prompt an experience that has been shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding.
What used to be metaphysical or metaphorical is now simply physiological. That changes everything. Crucially, that experience of peak state and profound healing is content neutral.
What you glimpse or understand in that rarefied state is yours and yours alone.
The psychological narrative that you choose to run could be agnostic as you mull the infinite wonders of consciousness.
It could be theistic, as you commune with the gods and angels of your pantheon.
It could be aesthetic as you marvel at the fractal symmetries of your mind’s eye.
There’s room for all of it on Team Human.
Believe what you want to believe. Just never lose the Faith.
Because the more you plumb the depths of the Mysto, the more you realize that it isn’t something to be mastered or mapped.
It really is turtles all the way up, down and sideways.
If you compare the accounts of the cartographers of the sacred through the ages, you quickly realize they’re wildly different.
Their experiences were mediated by biology, the filters of selfhood, culture, and the prison house of language.
"The answer is never the answer," Ken Kesey once said.
"What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never seen anybody find the answer, but they think they have. So they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer."
We're in the Wild West of access to these kinds of tools, and not all guides are fully trained in the nuances of holding back in their enthusiasm.
Sometimes, this can come from an earnest desire to share their own revelations and world view, other times, can get bent to enroll or persuade others to cross boundaries (financial, sexual, emotional, philosophical).
In any case, it's critical that we practice some epistemic restraint––and give everyone the time, space and handrails to make sense of things by themselves, for themselves.
Too often, we can’t resist personifying the information we glimpse in peak states, anthropomorphizing it, deifying it, reifying it.
We’re storytelling monkeys who cannot, will not, let the Mystery stay the Mystery.
The moment someone collapses all of that potential into the false certainty of an explanation, we distort what it was, what it is, what it could be.
Most times, it’s better just to let the Burning Bush burn.