Psychedelic journeys can unfold in seemingly infinite ways. After all, the word psychedelic means to manifest the mind, [i] and the mind is infinitely mysterious and complex. Psychedelics can reveal previously unimagined realms that inspire awe and wonder. They can also be more harrowing and challenging than expected, especially when undertaken in the wrong context and without the support of skillful guides. Psychedelics, by being powerful, deserve respect. Challenges can arise alongside triumphs. But life itself is this way. It’s a journey. Full of choices. The freedom to choose our path is one of the gifts of consciousness. Yet consciousness is a fountain from which we often drink only in small portions. If we choose to take in more, with or without psychedelics, we may become more aware of not only our minds but also our place within the world or even the universe.
This book is about expanding consciousness by exploring profound questions. Its path is theoretically open to all but seldomly realized to its fullest potential. Why? Because regardless of the path chosen, such journeys can be fraught with traps and unexpected risks. Undertaking a path of transformation seems beyond the capacity of many of us trying to survive day-to-day. At first glance, expanding consciousness appears to be a luxury reserved only for the most stable, successful, powerful, and well-functioning. It may be surprising to hear this book includes as many challenges (if not more) for the well-off socialite ‘on the top.’ Luxury can be a barrier to modesty and deeper awareness. People who’ve lived through hardship and survived might be better prepared for our current journey. When we meet life’s challenges openly and honestly, work through what we need to, and find our inner strength, we’ve already shown our resilience.
Accessing inner strength, then, is earned, not because it wasn’t there before but because it’s sometimes buried deep, covered up by distractions and fears. Saying ‘yes’ to a path towards greater awareness, and hopefully wholeness, means embracing uncertainty. It requires courage, patience, and a willingness to experience discomfort. Discomfort often precedes growth. It signals the need to adapt and acts as a herald for changes to come. No matter the specifics of what’s led you here, we’re all in the end, to an extent at least, ‘in the same boat.’ We all confront similar questions, even if we do so from very different angles. What’s thrilling, though, is finding your own answers and meaning. Whatever you discover will be well earned and yours to keep.
This chapter provides the first step. It introduces the path forward and serves as its ‘call to adventure.’ By the end, you’ll have examined your motivations and intentions for embarking on the journey, weighed the pros and cons of doing so, and started earnest preparations for what’s to come. Taking this time to reflect and prepare demonstrates the level of respect required to explore the profound, whether aided by psychedelics or by sustained inquiry alone.
The Choice – An Informed Consent
No one can force you to grow, nor should they. Personal growth is a value an individual either holds or does not. And that value, in turn, is either expressed in life or not. At a basic level, your choice to read this book means you have an interest in growing and expanding your awareness, integrating a greater understanding of yourself, and discovering layers of meaning. The power of that interest may be inchoate, not fully developed or realized, but trust that it’s an important inner resource you already possess.
Stability and certainty may be values you hold dearly. If they’re stronger than all others, then exploring the themes in this book may not be for you. Asking questions about the nature of existence and the structure and content of the self tends to elicit many possible reactions. This process, if undertaken honestly, is by necessity somewhat disruptive. Existential growth often comes from some kind of existential distress. If you’ve already had an existential crisis, at any age, then you know what that can feel like. Based on my own experiences, I appreciate the intro to Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.[ii]
In times of crisis and growth, we confront multiple possibilities. An existential journey questions the ground upon which we stand. Were our decisions the best ones we could have made? What of the life we have not lived? A mounting realization of choice, alongside a dissatisfaction with some aspects of life as it is, create the perfect storm of despair and hope, blame and ownership, questions and beliefs, however tentatively held. In a powerful way, though, such a crisis can make you feel more alive than ever before.
Crises are often thrown at us out of nowhere by life’s twists and turns. This book isn’t that. It’s a curated guide through these same questions. You’re not alone here. I won’t be throwing you into the deep end without a lifejacket. The choice is yours to make, at every step. As a psychologist, I understand the importance of making an informed choice. Once you’ve chosen to proceed, we’ll go over the book’s approach and start setting you up for success. You’re the master of your own path. Realizing that can give you the strength to face almost anything.
As with any major decision, it’s helpful to weigh potential risks and benefits. Do you feel prepared to embark on a journey filled with questions and few tangible answers? Is your life situated so that you can openly and courageously say ‘yes’ to this adventure? Taking time to reflect on this decision empowers you with personal freedom and agency—key ingredients to success.
[i] The word is a combination of Greek roots psychē “mind” and dēloun “to reveal or manifest” and was coined in a letter by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond when writing to Aldous Huxley. Its first official use was in a publication by Osmond in 1957.
This has been an excerpt from Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic integration and Existential Exploration by Kile M. Ortigo PhD, published by Synergetic Press and used with permission.
Kile M. Ortigo, Ph.D., is an award-winning clinical psychologist and founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, which supports people exploring profound questions about identity, meaning, life transitions, and psychospiritual development.