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A Guide to a Successful Psychedelic Experience

This guidebook may also be used to avoid paranoid trips or to regain transcendence if it has been lost. If the experience starts with light, peace, mystic unity, understanding, and continues along this path, then there is no need to remember the manual or have it reread to you. Like a road map, consult it only when lost, or when you wish to change course.

Planning a Session

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What is the goal? There can be four possibilities:

  1. Increased personal power, intellectual understanding, sharpened insight into self and culture, improvement of life situation, accelerated learning, professional growth.
  2. Duty, help of others, providing care, rehabilitation, rebirth for fellow men.
  3. Fun, sensuous enjoyment, aesthetic pleasure, interpersonal closeness, pure experience.
  4. Transcendence, liberation from ego and space-time limits; attainment of mystical union.

The manual’s primary emphasis on the last goal does not preclude other goals – in fact, it guarantees their attainment because illumination requires that the person be able to step out beyond problems of personality, role, and professional status. The initiate can decide beforehand to devote their psychedelic experience to any of the four goals.

In the extroverted transcendent experience, the self is ecstatically fused with external objects (e.g., flowers, other people). In the introverted state, the self is ecstatically fused with internal life processes (lights, energy waves, bodily events, biological forms, etc.).

Either state may be negative rather than positive, depending on the voyager’s set and setting.

For the extroverted mystic experience, one would bring to the session candles, pictures, books, incense, music, or recorded passages to guide the awareness in the desired direction. An introverted experience requires eliminating all stimulation: no light, no sound, no smell, no movement.

Preparation

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Psychedelic chemicals are not drugs in the usual sense of the word. There is no specific somatic or psychological reaction. In initial sessions with unprepared persons, set and setting – particularly the actions of others – are most important.

Long range set refers to personal history, enduring personality, the kind of person you are. Your fears, desires, conflicts, guilts, secret passions, determine how you interpret and manage any psychedelic session.

Flexibility, basic trust, philosophic faith, human openness, courage, interpersonal warmth, creativity, allow for fun and easy learning. Rigidity, desire to control, distrust, cynicism, narrowness, cowardice, coldness, make any new situation threatening.

Immediate set refers to expectations about the session itself. People naturally tend to impose personal and social perspectives on any new situation. For example, some ill-prepared subjects unconsciously impose a medical model on the experience. They look for symptoms, interpret each new sensation in terms of sickness/health, and, if anxiety develops, demand tranquilizers.

Psychedelics offer vast possibilities of accelerated learning and scientific- scholarly research, but for initial sessions, intellectual reactions can become traps. “Turn your mind off” is the best advice for novitiates. After you have learned how to move your consciousness around – into ego loss and back, at will – then intellectual exercises can be incorporated into the psychedelic experience. The objective is to free you from your verbal mind for as long as possible.

Recreational and aesthetic expectations are natural. The psychedelic experience provides ecstatic moments that dwarf any personal or cultural game. Interpersonal intimacy reaches Himalayan heights. Aesthetic delights – musical, artistic, botanical, natural – are raised to the millionth power. But ego-game reactions – “I am having this ecstasy. How lucky I am!” – can prevent the subject from reaching pure ego loss.

Some Practical Recommendations

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The subject should set aside at least three days: a day before the experience, the session day, and a follow-up day. This scheduling guarantees a reduction in external pressure and a more sober commitment. Talking to others who have taken the voyage is excellent preparation, although the hallucinatory quality of all descriptions should be recognized.

Reading books about mystical experience and of others’ experiences is another possibility (Aldous HuxleyAlan Watts, and Terence Mckenna have written powerful accounts). Meditation is probably the best preparation. Those who have spent time in a solitary attempt to manage the mind, to eliminate thought and reach higher stages of concentration, are the best candidates for a psychedelic session. 

The Setting

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First and most important, provide a setting removed from one’s usual interpersonal games, and as free as possible from unforeseen distractions and intrusions. The voyager should make sure that he will not be disturbed; visitors or a phone call will often jar him into hallucinatory activity. Trust in the surroundings and privacy are necessary.

The day after the session should be set aside to let the experience run its natural course and allow time for reflection and meditation. A too-hasty return to game involvements will blur the clarity and reduce the potential for learning. It is very useful for a group to stay together after the session to share and exchange experiences.

Many people are more comfortable in the evening, and consequently their experiences are deeper and richer. The person should choose the time of day that seems right. Later, he may wish to experience the difference between night and day sessions. Similarly, gardens, beaches, forests, and open country have specific influences that one may or may not wish. The essential thing is to feel as comfortable as possible, whether in one’s living room or under the night sky.

Familiar surroundings may help one feel confident in hallucinatory periods. If the session is held indoors, music, lighting, the availablility of food and drink, should be considered beforehand. Most people report no hunger during the height of the experience, then later on prefer simple ancient foods like bread, cheese, wine, and fresh fruit. The senses are wide open, and the taste and smell of a fresh orange are unforgetable.

In group sessions, people usually will not feel like walking or moving very much for long periods, and either beds or mattresses should be provided. One suggestion is to place the heads of the beds together to form a star pattern. Perhaps one may want to place a few beds together and keep one or two some distance apart for anyone who wishes to remain aside for some time. The availability of an extra room is desirable for someone who wishes to be in seclusion.

The Period of Ego Loss

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Liberation is the nervous system devoid of mental-conceptual redundancy. The mind in its conditioned state, limited to words and ego games, is continuously in thought-formation activity. The nervous system in a state of quiescence, alert, awake but not active, is comparable to what Buddhists call the highest state of dhyana (deep meditation).

The duration of this state varies, depending on the individual’s experience, security, trust, preparation, and the surroundings. In those who have a little practical experience of the tranquil state of non-game awareness, this state can last from 30 minutes to several hours.

The subject should hail stomach messages as a sign that consciousness is moving around in the body. Experience the sensation fully, and let consciousness flow on to the next phase. It is usually more natural to let the subject’s attention move from the stomach and concentrate on breathing and heartbeat. If this does not free him from nausea, the guide should move the consciousness to external events – music, walking in the garden, etc. As a last resort, heave.

Note: This was a condensed version of Timothy Leary’s psychedelic guidebook. The full guide has suggestions on involving a guide aka sober cop.