Spiritual Practice: Psychedelics?

“What, you might ask, do psychedelics have to do with Christianity?”

Good question. The short answer is, apparently quite a bit. Before I decided to retire as a therapist almost a year ago, I was hearing a lot about the use of psychedelics in therapy. Specifically, Ketamine, as it is already legal for use medically. At first, I was skeptical, but I kept hearing stories about clients who’d suffered from debilitating depression, OCD, eating disorders, PTSD, and even substance abuse, who made dramatic progress in their healing after only one guided Ketamine treatment.

Recently I’ve found that the use of psychedelics is having a renaissance in the religious world. Of course, some indigenous peoples have always used things like peyote in their religious practices. But Episcopal Priests, Catholics, and Evangelicals as well? What is happening here?

The Netflix Documentary, “How to Change Your Mind,” follows researchers who are investigating the history and resurgence of the healing uses of Mushrooms, MDMA, LSD, and Peyote. In the ’60s, MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, was then known as Empathy, and it was commonly used in marriage counseling, as it produces a lack of defensiveness and the ability to listen without judgment for yourself or for your partner. In fact, many of these psychedelic substances were used in therapy.

What changed? When Nixon’s “war on drugs” started, all drugs/medicines that were being used recreationally were outlawed. Unfortunately, these included MDMA, psilocybin, and peyote, which were previously used for healing and/or spiritual quests. But now, these drugs/medicines seem to be showing up in a new way, in university research programs and in guided “retreats,” for spiritual people who want to get closer to God through the use of psychedelics. Many of these retreat participants have been pastors in traditional Christian churches.

How do mushrooms or ecstasy get you closer to God?

Here is what I’ve discovered.

First, the practitioners/therapists who monitor and guide the person using the drug/medicine emphasize both “Set,” and “Setting” in the non-recreational use of these drugs. “Set” is your mindset. You are taking this “trip,” to be closer to God, to experience psychological healing, or to bring clarity to questions you might be asking. You come in with an intention to trust God or your Inner Healer to guide you with what needs healing. The “Setting” is also important. You need to be somewhere safe, with people you trust, who know exactly what they are doing and where they are getting these substances. Those who are guiding the experience are trained therapists/practitioners. For every participant there is a period of preparation, then the trip, then some debriefing.

Many who go through these experiences describe them as incredibly healing and emotional. They encounter themselves in a way that removes their resistance to hearing the truth about themselves. They can face their addiction, fear, or whatever keeps them from moving forward and being healed. There are often tears, and a lot of processing afterward, sometimes for months, to mine the depths of what they have experienced.

Using this kind of “medicine” does not appear to lead to addiction and many people receive all the healing they need from one experience.

So, how is this becoming a thing in Christian settings? Many people who have been going through healing in medical research environments, report religious experiences. For instance, finding their “ego” dissolving and becoming one with everything mirrors experiences described by many Christian mystics. This leads to great hope for the world. Many find it enhances and heals their relationship with God.

It follows naturally that if this is a religious experience, religious people will begin facilitating it. In a podcast on the Harvard Religion Beat, Paul Gillis-Smith talks about how you wouldn’t want a religious expert giving medical advice or a priest telling you how to fix your car. You’d want a spiritual person taking you through a spiritual experience. These kinds of experiences are popping up all over the world in every religion, guided by practitioners within that religion.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Have you heard of it? Have you tried it? What do you think?

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Spiritual Practice: Accepting a “No”

Have you ever been disappointed when you wanted something, and the Universe handed you a big fat “No?

One time I got the news I had not been chosen for a writing mentorship that I was really excited about. I was disappointed. However, I was not depressed, disillusioned, or despairing. I did not spiral into all the reasons why I suck. Why? Because you can’t live to sixty-plus years old and not learn some things about disappointment.

I remember one of my first big disappointments. I had a three-year-old and a brand new baby and I had decided it was time to go to graduate school. I hadn’t just “decided,” I felt it was what God wanted me to do. I’d prayed about it; I was ready, and I was excited. The problem was I was also naïve; I didn’t know you had to apply before signing up for a grad school class, and when I went down to register, I found out I’d already missed all the deadlines to apply. I was devastated.

Disappointments are often best understood in retrospect. At the time, David and I were working with a student ministry. Each year we trained a group of student leaders and they, in turn, ran the fellowship group on campus. We called these student leaders our “exec team.” The year I didn’t get into grad school, our ministry was going strong. We had a great exec team locked and loaded, ready to start the year with BBQ’s, weekly large group meetings, etc.

Then, suddenly, all but one of the leaders quit. This left David and me to pick up the slack until new leaders had been trained. If I’d been in grad school, this would have been impossible.

Here are three things I’ve learned about disappointment:

  1. Sometimes a “No” is saving your butt! What I learned that year was that the Universe knew what I didn’t. I couldn’t know that our leaders would bail, but God did, and God protected me from being overwhelmed when I needed to pick up more ministry slack. One bigger than I had the bigger picture. Sometimes when we don’t get what we think we want, it’s because God can see down the road and knows it’s not the best timing for us to receive that desire
  2. Sometimes the “No” we receive is temporary. I did get to start grad school, one semester later. I loved it and it was perfect timing. Our student leaders were up and running and I could concentrate on school and babies.
  3. Sometimes a “No” is because there is a better “Yes” coming that we can’t see yet. When I didn’t get into the writing mentoring program it freed me up to trust myself and since then I’ve written eighteen books, fourteen are published, and I learned by doing it myself and attending all the classes and training I could find.  

Now I’m more at peace when life brings me a “No.” I’ve lived long enough to trust the Divine for the bigger picture and to know she has my best interests at heart.

How have you dealt with disappointment? Have I forgotten something that has helped you? Are you facing any big disappointments now?

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