PEARLS AND PERILS: NAVIGATING THE PSYCHEDELIC LABYRINTH – by Kevin Parker, MA, RCC; 2017
Right now. Taking a full deep breath as I take in the view from a lovely cottage on the Hanalei River in Kauai. This has been a time of relaxation and deep reflection on events that have transpired over the past few months. The journey has taken me through majestic peaks and deep, dark valleys, chaos and clarity, razor sharp lucidity and a seductively dangerous flirtation with madness.
As the founder of the Psychedelic Psychotherapy Forum, I have had the good fortune of connecting with many of the pioneers and luminaries in the field of psychedelic science. We have engaged in dialogues and debates on everything from recreational versus therapeutic use of psychedelics to the training of psychedelic psychotherapists and the legal and ethical challenges involved in working with psychedelics.
The allure of psychedelic substances is, personally, quite compelling. As a “seven” on the enneagram, I am always in search of the next big event, be it travel, a concert or hosting a party for those I am close to. I had taken a twenty-five year break from using any kind of psychedelics before drinking Ayahuasca about ten years ago. Although I appreciated the insights gained from the experience I also enjoyed the visuals and the buzz and would, with great enthusiasm, anticipate the next opportunity to voyage.
A few of months ago a friend whose judgment I trust strongly recommended that I discontinue using any kind of psychedelic substances for a while and possibly for good. I made a decision to take a sabbatical from the use of entheogens until I gained some clarity about where my own process had taken me.
To simplify a longer story which may someday become a novel, I had become badly out of balance and ungrounded. I was using psilocybin on a daily basis and was convinced that it was opening up visions and providing insight that was vital to a greater work that I was doing. My sleep patterns were erratic, sometimes sleeping only two or three hours a night. My consumption of alcohol and tobacco had increased and I was loosing weight at an alarming rate. The most difficult element of what I was going through was how my personal relationships were being impacted and the hurt I had caused some of the people I was close to as my behavior became erratic and sometimes reckless.
I am no stranger to spiritual emergency. I was hospitalized at seventeen and diagnosed schizophrenic/paranoid type following a profound awakening experience that I didn’t at the time have the maturity to handle or a mentor or guide who recognized what I was going through. At the time, the term “spiritual emergency” had not made its way into the psychiatric lexicon and to this day is still not recognized in the DSMV. At eighteen I was hospitalized again in Atlanta Georgia after spending time in a fundamentalist Christian cult where members were expected to spend several days in isolation fasting and reading the bible in a locked room. That experience took me into what I can only describe as a hell dimension where I was convinced that I was utterly and hopelessly alone for all of eternity. I have also spiraled into deep depression in my mid forties after leaving a community and teacher that I had been involved with for several years.
Having seen the mental health profession from the perspective of one who was being diagnosed and institutionalized, I became interested in not only my own process of navigating through neurosis and psychosis but also helping those who had been through situations similar to what I had. At forty-nine I went back to graduate school at the California Institute of Integral Studies and received a Masters degree in Integral Counseling Psychology. Around this time, I was introduced to Ayahuasca and began a ten-year relationship with plant medicines that included Huachuma, Salvia Divonorum and psilocybin. I also worked with LSD and MDMA in a variety of contexts professionally and personally.
I am blessed to have an excellent support system of fellow therapists, medical doctors and psychiatrists to help navigate all of the different states of consciousness I have experienced and to offer feedback and suggestions. These kinds of checks and balances are essential for anyone working with altered states of consciousness.
I view all of our experiences with altered states, whether they are terrifying or ecstatic, as journeys into the depths of our being where we can, if we remain open and surrendered, take away insights and lessons that bring us closer to our essential self, unfettered by fear and anxiety.
I have no regrets regarding the journeys I have taken although I have experienced periods of conscious remorse, recognizing that the consequences of my actions and lack of knowledge and wisdom have at times deeply affected the people I am close to.
As for the pearls…
The insights gained through working with psychedelics within an appropriate set and setting and with a clear intention are too numerous to describe. When the veil that obscures our true nature and the true nature of the cosmos falls away and we sit immersed in awe and indescribable beauty, when shame and guilt fall away like dead leaves being composted back into the earth, when we are able to relax into the ease of being that is our birthright, the value of these remarkable substances becomes crystal clear and the vision of a new earth is no longer a new age fantasy but a palpable reality. It is also important to recognize that there are many, many different modalities to awaken us to our essential nature and that states of consciousness are just that, states that are transitory as is everything in the phenomenal world.
My advice to voyagers old and new: Never underestimate the value of conscious community and never hesitate to ask advice/counsel from those you know and trust. I have witnessed in myself and others an ego inflation sometimes bordering on messianic delusion that can seriously derail what might be very good work. I have also seen how psychedelics can bestow a sense of empowerment and energy which can feel very powerful but at the same time we may not be aware of the signals our bodies are giving us to slow down, rest and implement a program of self care. Be careful to not work in isolation or to surrender your power to others you feel are more knowledgeable or wise than you. As long as someone is still in human form they will have their own stuff to deal with! Ask questions and question authority especially if you feel something is off. Stay awake, pay attention and always keep a sense of humor because if you don’t have a sense of humor…it just aint funny!
I am grateful for the regular and consistent yoga practice that has helped me ground and integrate my experiences. I am also thankful for the role music has played in my life as I have turned valuable life lessons into songs that I can share with others. I am looking forward to the next phase of work that is beginning to open up which will include offering workshops on psychedelic integration, expressive arts and the use of the Enneagram and Tarot in the therapeutic process. It is my sincere hope that all that I have gained from the sometimes wild, chaotic and intrepid trips I have taken in this incarnation can be used to guide others and assist those who may be struggling with their own process.
Kevin Parker MA, RCC is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with a private practice in Nanaimo. He is the founder of the Psychedelic Psychotherapy Forum which takes place in Victoria BC and features a wide variety of presentations on psychedelic medicines. He is available in person or over Skype for psychedelic integration, trauma and addictions counseling, couples work, polyamory, gender and sexuality issues.
For more information contact Kevin on 778-918-2188 or via this Contact page.