#98 Proactive change

I picked up some belongings from a friend’s house a few days ago. We talked about psychedelics and her fear of taking them. She became very panicky at the thought of ingesting an unknown (for her) chemical, of not being in control. Of surrendering to a thing about which she has no knowledge, but that many people swear by. Her biggest fear was: “How would this experience change me?”

I thought it such a good question I’m writing about it here. How might, and how do, these chemicals change us? The idea of her body or mind or beliefs or values or personality changing was the biggest fear for her. She didn’t want to change her current situation. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes. Why try to fix a good thing? Why would someone who is relatively well take a psychedelic that would change her? She heard these views many times from friends and online media. My rebuttal to her was: Why is change so bad?

I reminded her of the axiom attributed to the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: change is the only constant. So, if we are constantly in flux, why should she, a microcosm of the collective we, be fearful of willful change? Psychedelics are catalysts for change, amplifiers of what exists inside of us. I’m very curious what this means when we amplify that which is already within. I believe most people in society are good, so in theory that which is amplified would be of good nature and good intentions. But even good people have bad or negative thoughts, even though they don’t act on them. Part of being human entails questioning, doubting, criticizing, and judging at times ourselves, others, and entire groups of people such as cultures and institutions. This doesn’t mean we are bad people for having temporary negative thoughts. Who knows from where these thoughts come and why? Perhaps my friend fears amplifying that shadowy dark part inside of her, an aspect in each of us that we’re able to quiet because of our rationality and social conditioning.

I think it’s a natural reaction to “play your cards safely,” to exert a healthy dose of caution before taking psychedelics. And this means considering all the negative things that could happen to you. I imagine this to be and has been a successful survival strategy that has gotten our species this far. But I think it’s important also to remind ourselves to transcend or shut up that voice inside. It knows best sometimes, but not always. It’s difficult to overcome our biology, to ignore sound advice, to surrender to one’s unconstrained mind or perhaps another kind of intelligence, which lives in the psychedelic, or which is accessible through perceptual alteration because of the psychedelic.

Things can go wrong when taking psychedelics. Things can also go very well. Humans tend to dwell on negative thoughts. We also tend to hear negative news more than positive news. I read somewhere, don’t quote me on this, that positive news spreads at a rate of three times and negative news spreads at a rate of ten times. The point is that negative news generally spreads faster than positive news. We seem to love it, it captivates us, we can’t look away from it. With talk of bad trips and fatalities caused by psychedelics since Westerners rediscovered them en masse in the mid-twentieth century, we tend to forget or gloss over the fact that millions of people have had good trips, wonderful experiences that connected them with something Other. I think there are more of these kinds of experiences than bad. We should also remember that bad psychedelic experiences happen to everyone at some point. No one is immune to them or can take a psychological vaccine against them. It’s an eventual occurrence, a game of probabilities, a kind of Russian roulette that it’ll eventually be your turn at some point. Further, the bad trip is usually the type of experience that is most informative, the medicine or message you really needed at that particularly point in your life regarding the issues and obstacles you face. Nothing is ever bad if you reflect and learn from the experience.

The psychedelic experience will change my friend or anyone, but likely for the better. Of course, this is my opinion. It might wake her up to things that she’s not doing well, could do better, or shed harmful thoughts and actions that prevent her from fulfilling her highest potential. Stagnation is the dominant daily fixture in our lives. We crave stability in our personal lives but also in our societal structures. And this is fine. But we also need to reshuffle the personal and collective deck occasionally, even if just by a bit. I’m not talking about an all-out revolutionary restructuring of oneself or society; there’s no need to change everything. I’m fascinated by the butterfly effect, how, according Edward Lorenz’s theory, a butterfly flapping its wings could start a chain reaction that leads to the creation of a hurricane on the other side of the planet. If psychedelics do change those who ingest them, then what small change in one’s personality or choices could have immeasurable downstream effects later in their life? Perhaps nothing happens at all. Perhaps the small change is negative and completely ruins one’s life. From what I’ve heard about other people’s experiences in addition to my own, I believe psychedelics produce more good than harm. I believe one should ponder the potential benefits of psychedelics rather than dwell on their potential hindrances. Change is going to happen whether you like it or not; the question is whether you want to have a hand in initiating that change rather than change happening to you.

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