Culture

Auto Added by WPeMatico

Demystifying the psychedelic experience

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Marta Kaczmarczyk: I have an MSc degree in Cognitive and Decision Sciences from University College London and Post-MSc in User System Interaction from the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e). I also worked as an academic researcher on medical and health-related mobile and web applications. What combines both of these backgrounds is my search for the most effective way to help people to get into an optimised mind and body health state.

This search for effective support tools is also a reason why I began to be interested in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. To enable discussion on the topic and connect with like-minded individuals, I co-founded the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands. The Society is a non-profit organisation that advocates for an open, unbiased discussion on the topic of psychedelics and the prospects of using them for improved mental and physical wellbeing.

I am also a biohacking/optimisation consultant under the project name: Embodying the Mind. My main specialisation is stress management, which I see as the basis for any health improvement.

RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?

MK: In short, the main focus of my work is health optimisation. I believe that we all can achieve optimal levels of how our minds and bodies function. The basis for this work, in my opinion, is finding tailored for the needs and lifestyle stress management practices and tools for processing emotions in a balanced non-reactive way.

I work towards propagating these ideas in multiple ways:

  • as a consultant and coach – I help people to find their way into a calmer life
  • as a speaker – I give talks on the topic of biohacking and psychedelics
  • as a psychedelic activist, blogger, and speaker highlighting good practices for the psychedelic experience

Regarding the psychedelics, unfortunately, there is very little out there on the good practices for the psychedelic sessions. Therefore, I focus a lot on informing people about crucial elements that should be met to have a beneficial outcome from the experience.

What I feel is also lacking in the psychedelic community is a discussion about these compounds from the broader perspective. I am a big fan of the systems approach, and I feel this perspective should be utilized for the psychedelic experience. That means we should be looking into how going through a session influences your body, brain, emotional state, social interactions, morality, spirituality and the way you relate to your old environment. By understanding this, we can research practices that could optimize both preparation and integration techniques.

RB: The psychedelic movement seems to be divided into two groups, those that believe in entities, beings or spirits and those who see these forms as constructs of the mind and as hallucinations. Can you say something more about the differences between these two groups and can they be reconciled?

MK: The psychedelic community is divided into people who believe in separate from self-entities or spirits and encountered them in their psychedelic experience, those who perceived them during the experience but consider them as the product of the mind, and those who have never seen them and they either treat all visions as the product of the psyche or are open to many explanations.  The most common example of people who see entities as independent are shamans who communicate with those beings and bring information from them into an ordinary world. The more scientifically inclined camp sees psychedelic visions as products of the psyche, more like symbols in dreams.

Discussion about the topic is tricky because, for some people, belief in spirits and entities is part of their identity. Therefore those conversations sometimes become very emotional as some people see it as an attack on who they are.

I am on the side of those who believe that these concepts are a product of the mind. However, I am not dismissing the people who think that entities or spirits exist as autonomous identities. For me, this is just a different way of processing information about the world and the concept of self and others. A person with firm boundaries and feelings of individuality will see herself/himself as separate from the collective and will most likely lean towards the higher perception of agency and responsibility for own actions. A person who is more rooted in the collective and tends to see herself/himself as part of the group or tribe might see reality as more interconnected and more outside of the psyche. Hence, the latter type of a person is more likely to believe in spirits and entities.

If a person who was born in our individualistic culture believes that entities and spirits are independent from their mind, I think they should ask themselves why that is so? Is that belief beneficial for them? Or maybe this is a form of coping strategy with some overwhelming emotions or unmet childhood needs? Because both options can be true – belief in independent beings can be either higher connection to others and nature and seeing yourself as part of the whole, but also it can be a protection mechanism from some uncomfortable truths or emotions. That belief can also be a sign that such a person grew up in the environment that led to fluid boundaries (for example, because parents did not respect child’s need for privacy or parent’s needs were put upfront child’s needs). People with fluid boundaries tend to have a lower distinction between self and others. So in a way, they are more interconnected with others, but in an unhealthy way because, for example, other people’s emotions can overwhelm them.

So to sum up, for me this all depends on your background and how you see the world in general. I feel that the reconciliation then could come from this perspective and not seeing the issue so black and white.

RB: You are the co-founder and a coordinator of Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands. Can you say more about this organisation and what are its aims?

MK: We established the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands as a meeting place for people interested in learning more about psychedelics. We advocate for safe, responsible, and informed use of psychedelics as a means for exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness, for therapeutic and developmental purposes.

The Society organizes events related to the psychedelic experience. These are lectures, movie screenings, music events, art classes, and discussion groups. We aim for a holistic approach, discussing the social, cultural, therapeutic, and scientific aspects of the use of psychedelics. We provide opportunities for open discussions with experts in the field, including writers, scientists, therapists, and people with extensive personal experience. We are actively collaborating with other Psychedelic Societies around the world to spread the good news, safe practices, share speakers, and reliable information about these substances.

RB: What are the mental health and therapeutic benefits from the use of psychedelics and what are the detrimental effects?

MK: For me, the most prominent therapeutic potential of these substances is that they amplify autonomous patterns of subconscious behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, and even physical responses. In addition, the decrease in the activity of the default mode network (a network that is responsible for the control of self-awareness) dissociates a person from the process so one can become more like an objective observer of the self. Finally, psychedelics open the brain to increased plasticity. So with appropriate preparation, a participant of the psychedelic session can observe their subconscious patterns and immediately change the interpretation of those patterns. If a proper integration practice follows this, it can result in permanent improvements.

The detrimental effects usually appear if one opens to these subconscious patterns and finds material that is too disturbing or painful and has no tools to process them. If that happens, there is a risk that suppression or dissociation from difficult emotions will be amplified even after the experience. A skillful therapist can prevent this suppression. However, if the session is led by someone with less experience or done on its own, there is a risk that a person will magnify coping strategies. These coping mechanisms can vary from egomania, or a conviction that one touched the enlightened state, to decrease in self-worth or ridiculing the self or experience, daydreaming, dissociation, or depersonalization. Sometimes what is magnified are the obsessive thoughts and behaviours, which can be linked to anxiety or reward-seeking.

RB: What are the most common side effects that can result from psychedelic use?

MK: The side effects result from the destabilization of the human system during the experience and inability to bring the system back to homeostasis. Psychedelics disturb the inhibition/excitation balance of the nervous system and the brain and lead to a brief break of the usual patterns of functioning.

The most common side effects can be divided into:

Psychological issues:

– Dissociation and in extreme case depersonalization (feeling of being disconnected from one’s body, life feels like a dream, others seem to be mechanistic or not real)

– running into magical thinking

– egomania/hypomania

– excessive self-obsession

Physiological issues caused by dysregulated information processing:

– HPPD (Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder)

– inability to focus

As mentioned in my previous answers, the psychological issues are a result of uncovering suppressed emotions or patterns of thought that are too stressful, disturbing, or painful. They can be also linked to amplification of pre-session thought loops or behaviours. These loops can be either tied to anxiety or to reward-seeking. There is a possibility that if these loops become too extreme, the endogenous opioid system will try to control emotional pain and distress by releasing opiates, which act as a form of mild anesthesia and lead to an impression of disconnection from the body and eventually to depersonalization. The cortisol levels are dampened in the hope of forcing a recovery period from which a person is only able to get out when distressing thoughts/emotional loops are broken. The low cortisol puts a person in a fatigued state that causes further distress and disconnection, so this is a vicious cycle.

Manic effects are an amplification of reward-seeking behaviour. To avoid facing difficult emotions, the person chooses to cope with the pain by covering it with an increased need for rewards. This coping strategy can be further connected to magical thinking, which is an attempt to assign extra meaning to things that are ordinary or make forced connections between events that have no causal links.

Egomania seems to be a self-centred magic thinking during which a person compensates the felt pain by feelings of grandiosity and looks for signs supporting this coping strategy. If it is not linked to reward-seeking behaviour it is more excessive self-obsession that can be turned into self-sabotaging behaviour.

When it comes to physiological side effects, unfortunately, not much can be said about them because there is minimal research on the topic. There was even a debate in the scientific community, whether hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is a real thing because this side effect is highly unreported. HPPD is a disturbance of image processing persisting long after the experience is over. One can see trails, have blurry vision, etc. Many people do not report HPPD because this is not something that bothers them, or they are hoping that it will go away on its own. This destabilization is most likely caused by too much stress resulting from the experience and inability of the nervous system to go back to homeostasis. However, this is just my theory, and as I mentioned before, no one knows why HPPD occurs.

Less is even known about the inability to focus. Some people report brain fog after the experience. Again, this is probably linked to excessive emotional distress, but there are no publications on this topic.  

RB: What is your own personal experience of psychedelics?

MK: I have been taking psychedelics for around fifteen years. I started to take them in a more “recreational” setting with friends in nature. Back then, hardly anyone was talking about these substances as a therapeutic tool. I had been lucky because we were always taking medium doses and in a safe environment, so I had never had a bad experience. Then, I read something about 5meo-dmt and decided to take part in my first ceremony. The facilitators did not have appropriate training, and I was not prepared for this experience properly. I also did not receive sufficient integration information. I ended up being depersonalized for around half a year after this experience. The ceremony unlocked some suppressed, difficult emotions in me that I struggled to process. I used a compensation strategy of disconnecting from my body and going into overly positive mania afterward to deal with the subconscious content that was opened but not appropriately processed. When I was depersonalized, I knew there was something “wrong” with me, but no one could help me. The depersonalization ended with a massive crisis because when I was depersonalized I tended to “trust the universe” too much and overlooked many responsibilities and proper self-care.

This is why informing people about possible side effects and how to prevent, spot, and deal with them is such a big focus of my work. There are many people out there who have a similar story to mine, and they are struggling because there is limited information about the topic.

After I came out of the depersonalization, I have started to use psychedelics to decrease dissociative tendencies. But this process requires a lot of preparation, a lot of self-honesty, ensuring a perception of safety and comfort, and giving myself time and space to process it afterward. I also always make sure that I have someone to talk to afterwards who understands these processes. The mind can be deceptive, and you might be thinking that you made some improvements while all you did is an amplification of coping or compensation mechanisms. It is good to check in with someone who understands it to verify where you are taking yourself.

RB: Can there be a Psychedelic Code of Conduct?

MK: I think a Code of Conduct is much needed. After the publication of Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind there has been a surge of people interested in trying psychedelics. This created a business opportunity, and many people are trying to make money out of guiding psychedelic sessions. The problem is that many of these people have no appropriate background or are themselves in the middle of a severe unresolved emotional process. If that is the case, their services can create a potential risk of breaching participants’ safety, whether on an emotional or physical level. So a Code of Conduct that would enlist a minimum that the facilitator has to cover for the participant is needed. It should also be widely published so people who are seeking these experiences can check whether these points are fulfilled. Such a code of conduct should honour multiple approaches and be inclusive of both traditional indigenous cultures but also therapeutic and scientific models.

Here in the Netherlands, we are working on the Guild of Guides, a form of code of conduct for truffles’ facilitators. The truffles can be legally purchased in smartshops in the Netherlands, and the market of individual or group sessions is booming. Many people choose the option based on the visibility on social media, which in many cases, is not useful decision metrics. Additionally, many facilitators encouraged by positive reports in the media accept people with serious mental issues even though they have no experience or background to deal with such people. We are worried that things might get out of control, so we see a high need for self-regulation of the community, and the Code of Conduct could be one of the key elements in that process.

Many international organizations give tips on how to choose a facilitator, which is a form of code of conduct in the form of a guide. One of these is ICEERs https://www.iceers.org/interested-taking-ayahuasca/. With the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands, we published a guide on how to choose a psychedelic facilitator http://www.psychedelicsocietynl.org/how-to-choose-a-guide/ . I would recommend reading one of those articles before deciding to go for a psychedelic session.

RB: Can you say something about your project ‘Embodying the Mind’?

MK: First of all, it is a blog and informational platform on which I share my knowledge on the topics of psychedelics and health optimisation. My expertise is a blend of my education, and both work and personal experience. I mix such ideas as systems theory, stress management, biohacking, somatic therapy, working with behavioural and emotional patterns, psychedelic preparation and integration, psychedelic harm reduction, movement therapies, and embodiment.

In addition to sharing information on the blog and Facebook page, I also provide consultancy or coaching under this name. The majority of my clients ask me for help with preparation or integration for the psychedelic experience, but I also work a lot with stress-related problems like lack of energy or disturbed circadian rhythms. Sometimes I combine both topics of health optimization and psychedelics and cannabis to give clients and advice on how to use these substances for improved wellbeing both on an emotional and physical level.

……………………

www.psychedelicsocietynl.org

http://embodyingthemind.com/

The post Demystifying the psychedelic experience appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

In Praise of Form: Towards a New Post-Humanist Art

Today the litany of crises we face culturally and globally has become so familiar that it needs no further recitation. Indeed, so often are we reminded that the world has gone wrong that the word “crisis” has acquired a patina of banality. But this is to be an essay of hope, so let us move on. For protests to the contrary notwithstanding, there is good reason for it: across many strata of Western culture, there is a growing awareness, uneasy though it may be, that we have at last identified the problem. The problem is not out there, in some externalized other (would that it were so, so much more palatable would this be). Reluctantly, shamefully, but profoundly necessarily, we are finally meeting the enemy, and he is us: the human animal that placed itself in the center of the universe, the one that first severed itself from nature and then elevated itself above it, and the one that in imagining that this was really possible has dug its own grave. We can call this progress.

Daniel Hill, “Untitled 37,” 2012. Acrylic polymer emulsion on paper mounted to panel, 44″ x 60″ (diptych). Courtesy of ODETTA Gallery.

To be fair, the problem is more specific, and can be located in an idea. Although for most of us in the West the word “humanism” still conjures little but benevolence (“human values,” “human rights, “human dignity,” etc.), it harbors an implicit ideology that many are now challenging. This is none other than its premise of human exceptionalism: the assumption that the human being is the source of all meaning and, even further, the ultimate reality. In light of everything we’re witnessing in our ignoble Anthropocene, it is becoming increasingly clear that humanism has been as mistaken as the theism it sought to replace, for just as God’s omnipotence reduced us to servitude, so ours has done the same to the non-human world. The call for a post-humanist worldview grows ever more compelling. Can we achieve a new way of being that honors the nonhuman world, one that acknowledges its inherent richness and restores it to its rightful place in the cosmos? Spatially, chronologically, and in just about every other way, it does, after all, rather greatly exceed us.

William Holton, “Point of Convergence,” 2010. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 35″ x 36″. Courtesy of the artist.

But what does any of this have to do with art, you may be asking. And this is exactly the point. The answer is nothing – or very little, just yet. While the so-called non-human turn has inundated the humanities, leading even to the proposal a new “inhuman humanities,” visual art has undergone nothing of the kind. In fact, it could be argued that just the opposite has happened; with art’s preoccupation with social justice and an exhausted postmodernism, it’s easy for those of us in the field to forget anything beyond us exists. Adding to this our inherited assumptions about art being “self-expression” (and lest we be inclined to dismiss this as a pedestrian notion, what is our current “identity art” if not exactly this?), it becomes clear that visual art is mired in an obsolescent human centrism. Indeed, if “everything is a social construct,” as postmodernism tells us, the human being isn’t just the highest but the only reality.

But aside from the societal orientation of much visual art today, there is a deeper sense in which art has been complicit in perpetuating an old idea. It’s much more subtle than subject matter, and has to do with our very expectations for and valuations of art. For as art becomes ever more discursive, prioritizing issues and ideas over the forms in which they’re instantiated, it is reinforcing the implicit values of the humanist fallacy.

Werner Sun, “Double Vision 1B,” diptych, 2018. Archival inkjet prints and acrylic on board, 12″ x 25″ x 2″. Courtesy of the artist.

The problem is made evident when we consider prevailing attitudes toward form. “Empty formalism,” “mere formalism,” “shallow form devoid of content”: in a time when art is expected to address this or that issue, form has become a critical embarrassment, something insufficient in itself but useful for one purpose – namely, to serve as the delivery system for the real substance that is “content.” So pervasive is the disdain for “mere form” that today’s artist’s statements often read as hyper-intellectualized apologia – discursive treatises announcing in advance that there’s no “mere” happening here. And yet in the privacy of their studios, in the presence of that trust they have only with each other, many artists will confess that it is precisely form – the interplay of shapes, colors, textures, and materials, and the tensions and rhythms generated therein – that is not only captain but also navigator: the one with the first word, plenty in the middle, and certainly the last. A tacit understanding among those who make, discursive content is to many a mere maneuver of expediency.

David Mann, “YTB III,” 2016. Oil and alkyd on canvas stretched over board, 68″ x 72.”

Why the disavowal and disparagement of form? As our attitudes about art can’t be separated from the larger culture, we come back to humanism and its hierarchy of values. One of the most pernicious assumptions of the humanist worldview was its devaluation of the body and all that is associated with it. Carrying on the legacy of the great Cartesian cleavage, humanism had reason enthroned on high, casting off as inferior the emotions, the senses, all our autonomic functions – in short, anything rude enough to remind us that we are animals. And yet as today’s neuroscience has definitively shown, the body and the emotions are not separate from cognition; far from being “soft” and secondary faculties inferior to reason, they are in fact central to it, integral functions on which reason is entirely dependent. If form is something we apprehend with our senses and discursive content that which is grasped by the mind, the inferior status granted form is a tired recapitulation of the humanist error. But it is also more than this.  In denying form its rightful place in art, art is denying itself an exquisite opportunity. For if now is the time for us to move beyond ourselves, to reclaim our fleshly relations to earth, animal, and world, what better vehicle than the power of sensual form?

Debra Ramsay, “The Wind Turning in Circles Invents the Dance,” 2019. Acrylic on acrylic panel, 19″ x 18″. Courtesy of the artist.

In the spirit of the emerging ethos, then, can we imagine a new art for a post-humanist century? What would a post-humanist art look like, and how would it be experienced? First and foremost, a post-humanist art would be one that embraces form. It would be an art that considers form not as something that serves content, but rather as something that, like the body, possesses an intelligence of its own – an intelligence far deeper and more complex than conscious, discursive thought. In its address to the body and somatic experience, it would run directly counter to the prevailing emphasis on ideas, seeking not their propagation but exactly their cessation. For in order to gain access the beyond-human world, conscious thought, discursive thought, must first be extinguished. Rather than focusing on the contents of consciousness, then, post-humanist art would alight on its structure – all the subtle rhythms and patterns that constitute its movement. And not least, being decidedly oriented away from the self – away from personal identity, above all that of the artist – a post-humanist art would be one of transcendence. For with the thinker that thought itself into the center of the world silenced, we become living organisms again just like all others, participating in, and exquisitely sensitive to, the dynamic flux of the natural world.

Linda Francis, “Nostalgia for Messier #2,” 1994. Chalk on paper, 52″ x 39″. Courtesy of the artist.

With the affirmation of form as the powerful force that it is, the question becomes how, exactly, it delivers us to the non-human. We can begin by examining how form works on us, and why it moves us so deeply when indeed it does. Of all the arts, visual art is singular in a particularly significant way, and this is that it is physically embodied.[1] Its material presence being the first thing we apprehend, we confront in it not just it but ourselves: body to body, there is a certain carnal reciprocity absent in music and literature. Grasping the whole with an uncanny instantaneity, the eye moves in to probe the parts and their interrelations – this part to that, these to those over there, all of them in active tension with the overall organization.  Attraction and repulsion, assonance and dissonance, the ever-present tug of gravity that is the counterpoint to all visual form: whatever forces are enacted in the work’s particulars reverberate sympathetically on the instrument of our nervous system, causing subtle internal movements we cannot locate introspectively. Never fixing on any one area for too long, the eye is led by the forms in a rhythmic leaving and returning, ever expanding and contracting between the general and the particular. A kind of optical dance choreographed by the artist, the experience of viewing is far from the passive act of receiving information; rather, it is a profoundly active and participatory mode of engagement. When we say we are moved by a work of art, it is not just conceptual metaphor. In a very real sense, on every level of our organism we literally are moved. The experience of visual form is a distinct and particularly intense kind of electrochemical excitation.

But the real mystery of aesthetic form is not so much why it moves us but why it moves us so deeply. Why, when it does so, does it not merely delight? Why is it not just pleasant, the way the sound of a distant foghorn is pleasant, or the smell of fresh rain falling on stone, or the brush of a hand against the soft fur of an animal? Unlike these momentary pleasures, the experience of a great work of art seems in some way to change us, to rearrange the internal architecture on the deepest level of our being. And not only does it change us; it does so in a way that feels unusually significant. There is a profound rightness about it, a felt realignment, a re-membering of something unconsciously undone.  Indeed, so right is the feeling that is has, in the largest sense, the quality of coming home.

Ed Kerns, “Degree of Freedom in a Liquid Field; Not Overwhelmed,” 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 30.” Courtesy of the artist.

Perhaps the experience of aesthetic form feels like coming home precisely because it is coming home. Home, that is, to the world that gave rise to us: the world of inanimate matter in all its myriad manifestations, and the whole kingdom of sentient creatures from whom we are descended. For what is the nature of this non-human world if not an endless cycle of dynamic patterns, from the rhythms of the tides to the sonic undulations of the animals to the expansions and contractions of the earth moved by forces to all manner – not least life and death – of arisings and evanescings? If the world out there is constituted of patterns of movement, it is in their deep visceral experience that we gain access to that world, moving from a consciousness of separation to one of participation. The experience of aesthetic form is an active engagement in the largest kind of communion.

It is also, and not insignificantly, an act of self-recognition. For in transcending the thinker and entering the greater world, we find not just the greater world but the greater parts of ourselves: the millions of years of evolution we carry in our bodies, and all that constitutes, unbeknownst to us, the richest reservoirs of our intelligence. We all know the feeling of being thus transported. Little else is as satisfying. The separatist ego will return, of course, to reassert its authority, but the experience of having left it lodges deep in the body, where, like a benevolent nuisance, it reminds us of something we only half want to remember – namely, that we live most of our lives locked in the smallest room in the house. Summoned on occasion by the exquisite rightness of a form, it comes back, and there we are again, and again we have to humbly concede that we really should get out more.

Yoshiaki Mochizuki, “Untitled, 6/6,” 2012. Gesso on board, clay, palladium leaf, and ink, 10.5″ x 10.5″. Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough, New York and London.

While it may not be our only means of participating in the Great Beyond, aesthetic form is surely one of the most powerful. If visual art continues to dismiss it, insisting on art’s identity as a discursive enterprise, it may end up on the losing side of our century’s catastrophe. For if the arrogance of reason is what brought us to where we are, it can hardly be expected to be the thing to get us out. What we need is reason reunited with the sensorium that sustains it and with the misconceived “other” that gave rise to it in the first place. And what is art if not an agent of integration, and what are artists if not those who know how to show us what that might look like? So let us reclaim form. Let us reclaim it as the transformative force it always was, and let us reclaim it in the name of something larger than ourselves – something beyond art, beyond culture, beyond even human history, something that, in returning us to our smallness, grants us full citizenship in the greatest largeness.

[1] Unless it is not. There is certainly much conceptual art that lacks any material component, but our focus here is on visual art that is visual – which is to say visual art that has sensual form.

……………………………..

http://www.concatenations.org/

The post In Praise of Form: Towards a New Post-Humanist Art appeared first on Interalia Magazine.