Written by James Clifton, Psychedelic Lead Facilitator at Synthesis Retreat
All of us have experienced transformational change in some way. The most obvious is our pre-personal experience of leaving our mother's womb and entering fully into the world. Our personal experiences are many, and a simple reminder of the actual moment that we changed from crawling to standing, and from standing to walking acknowledges this process. Each transformational stage is preceded by subtle and transitional state shifts and changes between these significant moments or stages of development.
The state experience where transitional change happens, is often preceded by a drive for something other, a frustration, a point of tension, a drive for purpose, meaning or novelty. The natural urge for change is inherent in all things, human beings, and non-human alike. And when novelty is reduced to stagnation, and the overly habitual or overly safe feeling occurs in your life, this drive re-emerges. And if this authentic drive is inhibited, suppressed, oppressed or just ignored for too long, a pathology may ensue.
The Trans-personal (beyond, yet includes the personal) experience is also another way of pointing to an underlying essence that moves us into the non and less than ordinary. Sometimes referred to as mystical, spiritual or religious experience, these state experiences immerse us in ways of being and knowing, unfamiliar to our rational mind yet somehow and often already deeply known within.
Like the cognitive, emotional and physiological development of human beings that can be mapped, logged and spoken clearly of, the transpersonal also has its own cartography and the wisdom traditions and perennial philosophies have mapped these subtle realms for many thousands of years. Ancient, pre-modern, modern and postmodern cultures have always been fully aware of the importance, necessity and inevitability of change.
Often transformational change arises without our conscious consent and proves particularly challenging when least expected. A crisis can leave its mark without the right kind of resources and support. An understanding and more importantly a valuing of the process of change can make all the difference to how we integrate our experience. An oversimplification would be to say ‘how do and can we find meaning within any such crisis’?
One of the ways of referencing this, comes from the American psychiatrist John Weir Perry who coined the term the ‘Renewal Process’, a beautiful way of describing how each previous understanding and perspective of ourselves, others and the world is periodically renewed. As the American Philosopher Ken Wilber would say, ‘the previous stage would be transcended and then included’ into a new worldview.
Another way of reframing a crisis is Christiana Grof’s phrase of the ‘spiritual emergency’ (emergence / emerging). And how non-ordinary state experiences are, ‘not always a psychotic break’ but an unfolding and awakening of a new version of oneself. The classic mid-life crisis or midlife passage, is a modern and well-known example of this.
Of course, some of us may be privileged or resourced enough to choose to enter consciously into a process of unfoldment of change and / or awakening. Phrases like ‘Growing up’, ‘Waking up’ and ‘Showing up’ are becoming common in our language and mainstream in conversation of personal development.
The use of plant medicine is also now a visible landscape of open dialogue and exploration again, with western culture and the prior taboo of ‘Entheogens’, sacred plant use in a spiritual context, becoming common parlance. And within this is an open and conscious exploration of the plants’ multiple benefits as a tool to support and catalyse an opening to the imminent depths of our souls, and the transcendent heights of our spirit.
Fostering intentional exploration of our psyche and soma requires safety, containment and ethical support by experienced guides, who incidentally operate within many different cultural contexts. A northern European truffle will carry and embody a language and flavour of influences, from not only its environment but will also often carry cultural contexts, as would the South American vine Ayahuasca from the Amazonian basin.
Taking a deep exploration and dive into the non-ordinary realms of our consciousness in an intentional way, requires courage and is often preceded by a drive to connect with the unknown. On one level this highlights our inherent knowing that the answers lay within the depths of our own being. Each unfolding journey requires an understanding and a committed attitude of receptive curiosity to lean in fully through ‘all that may arise’.
All evolutionary waves can disrupt all that was once known to us and many of us will naturally want to hold on to any habitual pattern, behaviour or mental construct that feels familiar. The need for the known and safety is of course natural and paramount to being fully human, yet the challenge herein is to value both the familial norms and also the opportunities that novelty and change will ‘inevitably’ bring.
The current global crisis that we all collectively now find ourselves immersed in, may also ask of us challenges that are difficult to cognitively understand and fully embrace. The unseen, unknown and vast complexity that is arising in its myriad of ways may be best met in a similar vein to a psychedelic journey. Aligning ourselves with courageous intention, openness and trusting in the possibility that this collective crisis may well be an opportunity for transformation, and a drive from the transpersonal or nature’s very urge toward ultimate wholeness.