I often think about the efficacy or purpose of all the different modalities and tools that one might find on the path of what we might call "awakening". There are lots, and there seems to be a growing number of them. Or, at least, there seems to be an increase in accessibility to a variety of methods. Do all of these "ways" have their place? Certainly. Everything has its place. However, we must be careful and discerning about what we use, why, and how. This is true for all of our actions. And when it comes to powerful practices such as the application of plant medicine, we must be even more careful and discerning about the what, why and how.
First of all, I believe it is important to look at or at least seek to understand the concept of "awakening". Knowing what we are trying to do will -- or should -- support us in establishing the correct and aligned behaviors that will lead us to our desired result. All humans share a fundamental desire to minimize or reduce suffering. Life has built-in healing mechanisms. Evolutionary energy pours into us at birth, the driving impulse for the baby to take its first breath and the "will to live" that enables creatures to persevere. A force beyond us is organizing our intelligence and helping us remember actions that lead to positive results and the pain of misaligned actions so that we can try to learn from our mistakes to avoid future suffering. The human brain and nervous system is a millions-of-years-old biocomputer inherited through generations of refinement. What we know today isn't just what we've learned in this lifetime -- it is the accumulate knowledge passed on along the great lineage of life. Thus, this idea of "awakening" is sort of like the evolutionary light switch -- stepping out of our "lower" impulses which assure that we merely survive and into a state of thriving. In order to do this, we must examine our past and integrate material that has been unresolved. Unresolved material from the past keeps life energy stuck and prevents us from making truly new, truly innovative decisions in the Now moment. The yogis called this karma. Awakening is a process of clearing karmic debt so that we can "awaken" out of our the illusion of our self-identified process and towards a more cosmic Self. It is our self-identified process that holds us trapped to the past and prevents the future Self from emerging. This is what a stops, or obstructs, the flowing continuity of life energy. We must resolve our past in order to heal and move forward. It is simple. This is "awakening". Basically, it is the same thing as going beyond one's self & one's limitations, away from fragmentation and towards greater Wholeness.
The role of plant medicine integrates quite profoundly into the concept of "awakening". However, there are caveats (as with most things).
Plant medicine, when applied effectively, assists the practitioner by temporarily inducing a state of altered consciousness whereby their attitudes and beliefs about reality are in a "different" mode. The "default mode network" of the individual is a bit like the physiological activity of the ego. Our brainwaves and neural patterns follow predictable outcomes. Most of the thoughts we think are the same, day after day after day. It takes energy to produce new results, and this energy is often hard to come by in our daily routines. Why? We can only speculate. I have a harsh belief about the sheer laziness of humanity but what may be more realistic (or diplomatic) to say here is that most people, most of the time, simply prefer their comfort zone. Stepping into the unknown requires energy because energy is light and light is needed when we go into the darkness beyond the comfort zone. The human psyche cannot see beyond its own limits and therefore protects us constantly from doing so. The "event horizon", or the limit of the ego's known reality, is a terrifying place for the ego -- and it is the ego that is analyzing whether or not to engage in behaviors. The trick is in giving the ego something that satisfies it enough, while slowly edging it beyond its boundaries. This is why consistent sadhana is so important -- it satisfies the ego by creating a sense of peace and well-being after practice is complete, while also slowly expanding the nervous system's capacity for more energy. We need the structure for the energy to flow. Until the structure is in place -- the neural network needed for new thought patterns to emerge and remain -- our patterns stay the same, and life is relatively similar, day-after-day-after-day.
Plant medicine throws a wrench in this process. It takes us beyond our "default mode network", putting us in an entirely different reality. When we find a way to effectively bring the results of our plant medicine journey into our "ordinary" reality, we start to see things differently and therefore begin to do something different. It may be small, but small progress becomes exponential over time. Now, I'm not suggesting that people go out and get a bag of mushrooms and start eating them every night. What is more important, I think, than intensity of experience or frequency of use is the integrative ability of the practitioner. Which means that they are able to properly assimilate the new energy that is made available to them from their plant medicine experience. This means that they must have the correct structures in place to do so.
This is both easier and harder than it seems. What is meant by the "correct structures"?
A simple way to look at this would be to examine the time -- hours, days, or weeks -- following a plant medicine experience. If someone is able to physically change their environment there will be a different structure present for energy to flow. This can look like travel, or a clean house, or even just a clean closet. The clearing out of the old patterns and habits takes on physical form and is reflected by the environment. If a person is smoking pot in the same filthy room everyday with very little creative effort around it, the chances of this plant medicine experience facilitating the awakening process are very slim. However, if this same person takes their cannabis out on a hike into nature and says a simple prayer of intention to the plant spirit, there may be an increase in the affect of the medicine in terms of providing insight, inspiration, creativity, and real neuroplastic change. This is what we are after, and this is what changes a person's relationship to the plant medicine as a drug or something to do just to "get high" and moves this relationships towards one that is more sacred, or medicinal, as it were.
The world is filled with people who abuse different substances. If we value our health and our awakening process -- liberating ourselves out of the endless ruts of the mind and moving us towards a higher reality than our current state -- then we have so many tools that can help us. All it takes is a minor shift in intention and attention. Small changes are exponential over time. I think it is very wise to not underestimate the use of substances and to give great respect to our plant allies, as they certainly can help us expand our minds and find solutions where previously we were blocked.
There may be more I can say but for now, I feel satisfied with this short share on the topic of "plant medicine". The takeaway? Try to use your explorations & experiments to investigate what you do not know. Enter the unfamiliar territory of altered consciousness with curiosity & awareness and not merely a desire to escape ordinary reality. These non-ordinary states have treasures for us and, if we can create the structures in our "normal" life for the treasures to take root, we can wield the powerful tools of plants to produce lasting alchemical changes in our brain and nervous system. On the flip, be careful. We can just as easily fool ourselves into thinking that something is changing when it is not. This is true for any practice. We must honestly examine where we are trying to go and what we are trying to do in order to produce a positive result for ourselves.
If we are trying to awaken, we must know the sleep that we are trying to awaken out of.
Be scientific. Be experimental. Be wise.
Thank you to the plants.