Part 1
Why We Have Sacred
Experiences With Psychedelics

Summary

Hi, my name is Steve. I’ll be your host for this podcast.
   
The podcast is about psychedelic experiences that were profoundly sacred. We’ll be looking at how to successfully integrate those types of experiences into everyday life, and our goal is to make everyday life as fulfilling and as balanced as possible.     

We’ll be looking at the current scientific research about why we have sacred experiences with psychedelics. These researchers are quick to say that their findings today are still “primative” and that their research is still “in its early days”. Nevertheless their findings are already providing useful insights into what’s happening in psychedelic experiences of sacredness. These researchers have been studying how our brains filter information, and at how sacred experiences happen when psychedelics disrupt that filtering. 

We will also be looking at the experiences of many people who have been integrating psychedelic experiences now for many decades. And we’ll try to learn from their experience how to recognize those same sacred experiences in everyday life. 

And finally, we’ll be looking at how having a spiritual experience does not in itself make you a spiritual person. We’ll be looking at how becoming a spiritual person is about continually “doing your work” and what you end up doing with your life, not about some inner experience you should be having, or what you think you might know.

The purpose of this podcast is to provide information for people who have taken psychedelics and who are now trying to integrate those experiences. However psychedelics are illegal, and this podcast does not promote their use. Further,  psychedelics are very powerful substances that can harm you if used without the guidance of a trained professional. 

Introduction

People have many different types of experiences with psychedelics. In this podcast we won’t be looking at all those experiences, but rather we will focus on experiences that felt profoundly sacred, and how to integrate those types of experiences into everyday life.

Since 2000, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have been studying the effects of psilocybin. In those studies, study participants were given psilocybin and then guided through their session by a trained therapist. Afterwards participants were given a questionaire about what they had experienced. 

The majority of people in those studies said that they had had profoundly sacred experiences. How people chose to describe their experiences however varied: 

some said that they felt free from the limitations of their personal self, or that their personal self dissolved

some said that they felt a unity or oneness with everything, or with something that felt greater than their personal self 

others became more aware of a living presence in all things

some saw the world as being absolutely perfect 

and some said that the experience of freedom from their personal self allowed them to see that ultimate reality is eternal or infinite, and that ultimate reality is beyond time and space  

and some said that they experienced a sense of fundamental well-being, or a complete acceptance of themself.

After their psilocybin session at Johns Hopkins, many study participants said that their experience simply could not be adequately described with words. Most said that words cannot do justice to what they experienced, and that communicating their experiences in words to others is difficult if not impossible.

And after their session, many remained convinced that what they saw was the ultimate reality of everything.  And they remained convinced that they had gained knowledge at an intuitive level that was absolutely true.

Remember these last two points because they are central to integrating psychedelic experiences of sacredness:

First, that profound sacredness cannot be described, contained or conveyed with words;

And second, that profound sacredness appeared to be absolutely true at an intuitive level.

Yet psychedelic journeys always end and their profoundly sacred experiences fade. And you find yourself back in the everyday world, which can feel much less sacred and much less true.

In this podcast we’ll be looking at how the sacredness experienced with psychedelics and the sacredness of everyday life are the same sacredness being experienced at different levels of intensity.

InnerPeaceFellowship.org

This podcast was put together by InnerPeaceFellowship.org. Our group has been exploring how to integrate psychedelic experiences since the 1960s. This podcast is based in part on what we’ve learned and the mistakes we’ve made. 

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After taking psychedelics in the 1960s, most of our group studied with eastern holy men and women. Some of us lived with saints from east. Others chose to live alone in the silence and stillness of high, remote mountains.
 
Our group met in the 1970s when we came together to form a community of several thousand to explore inner peace through meditation. Today most of us have been practicing meditation now for over 40 years. Some of us had careers and raised families while meditating two to four hours every day. Others have lived in reclusion and still meditate for 6 hours every day. 

We’re friends and neighbors who’ve been sharing one another's successes and mistakes for a lifetime, and our community continues to explore, to learn and to grow. 

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Our philosophy is about how to gain self-knowledge while remaining empowered. 

Self-knowledge comes from the fact that you know better than anyone what increases or decreases your inner peace; that you know better than anyone what brings you closer to what’s sacred; and that you know better than anyone what is actually working in your life. 

To gain self-knowledge you must learn to trust yourself, to trust your experiences and to trust your instincts and intuition. And the self-knowledge you gain through learning to trust yourself is what then enables you to retain your power and not become disempowered and controlled by others.

Our experience has been that sacredness, inner peace, and goodness increase as you become more aware of what’s obvious; not through searching for anything that’s lost or hidden. The actual story of life on Earth is so astonishing that sacredness increases as you become more aware of how life has evolved. Inner peace increases through training yourself to have more silence and stillness. And goodness increases through following your instincts about how to get along with others. 

For more details about our approach, visit our web site InnerPeaceFellowship.org.

Life’s Intelligence

Psychedelics allow us to look deep inside our self at things we cannot usually see. To understand what’s happening with that, it’s helpful to understand how the intelligence of life works both within ourself and in every living thing.   

Life on Earth came into existence about 4 billion years ago. That first form of life was a single cell, and all life on Earth today – ourselves included – was reproduced from that first single cell form of life.

Stromatolites

These are your oldest living great grandparents. They are lichen called cyanobacteria growing here on dead clumps of itself called Stromatolites. Cyanobacteria first came into existence around 3.5 billion years ago and they are the second oldest life form to have ever lived on Earth. Mistakes made as the DNA of cyanobacteria reproduced itself are what produced most of life on Earth today.

That first single cell form of life contained DNA. DNA is in all living things and it contains the instructions for how life develops, functions, grows and reproduces itself. DNA has been reproducing itself over and over and over for almost 4 billion years. As you listen to this podcast, your DNA is busy reproducing and rebuilding every part of your body. You’re able to relax and listen to this podcast because what’s causing your heart to beat and your DNA to reproduce itself is happening automatically without you doing anything.

And the astonishing thing is that DNA learns. The way DNA learns is that sometimes mistakes happen when DNA reproduces itself. When those mistakes happen the result is that the DNA that gets reproduced is different. Those different DNA then competed with their family members for survival, and if the different DNA wins that struggle, then they become a new form of life. That is how DNA learns – through mistakes, and trial and error. And it was through such mistakes and trial and error that all life on Earth arose from that first single cell form of life 4 billion years ago.  

In this podcast, those instructions of life contained in DNA will be called the intelligence of life, and sometimes the intelligence of nature or simply human nature. That intelligence of life comes hardwired in every living thing on Earth including you and me, and it provides the instructions – the actual coding – for how life develops, functions, grows and reproduces.

Life’s Intelligence Has Many Forms

There are about 8 million different species of life on Earth today. The intelligence in the DNA of each of those species has developed differently and so the intelligence in each species is somewhat different. 

For example, black bears can smell food 18 miles away and eagles can see clearly about 8 times further than humans. Each year the Barred-Tailed Godwit flies nonstop from the Arctic Circle to Christchurch, New Zealand, a 7,000 mile journey over open ocean without resting. And when they start arriving, the churches there all ring their bells to welcome them home. When it’s time for salmon to spawn, they swim thousands of miles through the ocean and then hundreds of miles up rivers to the one tributary where they were born and there they lay their eggs. For humans to successfully travel such distances requires sophisticated navigational equipment that provides the intelligence that comes instinctively in the DNA of birds and fish.
  
Bears and eagles and birds and fish, as well a many other forms of life on Earth, have forms of intelligence that humans do not have. What that tells us is that human intelligence is simply not aware of everything around us. 

Humans are not aware of all the smells that a bear can smell; we’re not aware of all the things that an eagle can see; and we are not aware of what’s needed to navigate open ocean with our instincts only. We simply are not aware of much of the information that is around us; information that is vital to the survival of other forms of life. And the reason we’re not aware of everything around us is that over millions and millions of years, human DNA has learned to filter out much of the  information around us that is not necessary for our survival.

But now imagine if suddenly you could smell everything that a bear smells, that you could see everything that an eagle sees and that you could sense every bit of information around us that the 8 million other species do sense. Imagine if suddenly you did became aware of all the other information around us that normally we’re not aware of. 

Your senses would be so overwhelmed by all that additional information that you could not survive. 

Luckily however our DNA has learned how to filter out information around us that’s not necessary for our survival. And our DNA has learned how to allow into our awareness mostly information that is necessary for our survival. And that is why we are not overwhelmed and why we do survive.

The filter in us that filters all that information around us and lets into our awareness only what is necessary for our survival is called our default-mode network.

The Default-mode Network of Our Brain

Our default-mode network was first identified in 2001 by researchers at Washington University. Our default-mode network is located in our brain. It manages all the information in the different parts of our brain much like the head of a large corporation coordinates and manages the entire corporation.   

What researchers have found is that our default-mode network is most active when we’re thinking deeply, or when we’re lost in thoughts. That point is very important to integrating psychedelic experiences, so I’ll repeat it: our default-mode network is most active when we’re thinking deeply, or when we are lost in thoughts.

Now psychedelic experiences can be quite raucous. So you might think that activity in the default-mode network would increase when on psychedelics, but that’s not what happens. What happens on psychedelics is that electrical activity and blood flow in the default-mode network drop off greatly, and the default-mode network becomes quiet. 

Now remember the Johns Hopkins questionaire we looked at earlier. In that questionaire people who had sacred experiences on psychedelics often said that their personal self had dissolved. Well, when researchers at Imperial College studied people on psychedelics, they found that the biggest dropoffs in default-mode network activity happened when people said their personal self had dissolved. Their personal self dissolved when their default-mode network became most quiet. That suggested to the researchers that our default-mode network could be the actual physical counterpart of our personal self.

So what exactly is the personal self that dissolves on psychedelics? In our experience, our personal self is that character in our thoughts who talks about what could happen next or what has happened in the past.

Strangely however when our personal self dissolves on psychedelics, the experience of being alive seems more intense, not less intense. So how can that be? Our default-mode network is now quiet and less active. So why are we experiencing such increased intensity? 

One researcher has suggested the answer here is that “while the boss is away the kids do play”. Researchers at Imperial College found that when the default-mode network shuts down on psychedelics, other parts of the brain that suppress emotions, memories, wishes and fears become more active. And when the default-mode network shuts down on psychedelics, parts of our brain that don’t ordinarily communicate directly with one another start talking with one another, often with bizzare results.

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So then, what about when you’re not on psychedelics? Can anything quiet your default-mode network in everyday life? Can anything quiet your personal self from chattering away inside your head so much? Luckily the answer is yes. 

Researchers at Yale University found that the default-mode network becomes less active when people meditate. And in people who meditate, they also found that their default-mode network is less active during daily activity compared with people who do not meditate. This finding suggests that people who meditate are having fewer thoughts during daily activity compared with people who do not meditate. It suggests that for meditators, their personal self diminishes and the chattering character in their head chatters less, and sometimes not at all. 

Our staff has meditated for over forty years on average and that finding fits with our experience. During everyday life the chatter of our personal self has diminished, and sometimes that chatter goes away completely. And while those experiences in everyday life are more subtle and less intense than on psychedelics, they are quite pleasant. 

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Here we’ll pause Part 1 of our podcast and skip ahead to Part 2 because the remainder of Part 1 is not yet finished. The remainder of Part 1 is about how to recognize and increase sacredness in everyday life and that should be finished soon. That new information should be quite helpful, so I’ll see your back here in a while. 

Part 2
A Conversation
With Michael

Next in our podcast is a conversation with my friend Michael. Michael and I have been neighbors since the early 1980s when we each moved to our small midwestern farm town here in the US to help start a community of several thousand meditators.

Michael started exploring psychedelics in the early 1960s. Here he talks about how the sacredness he experienced with psychedelics profoundly changed his life, and how he then integrated those experiences over many decades.  

The sacredness experienced with psychedelics can be experienced in everyday life. However the sacredness experienced in everyday life is not as intense or as flashy as it is on psychedelics. Directly experiencing sacredness in everyday life has been called enlightenment, awakening, the peace that passeth all understanding, etc. However those terms often cause confusion, and that confusion can actually become a barrier to directly experiencing sacredness in everyday life. 

Researchers at Sophia University have studied hundreds of people who are considered enlightened and awakened. Their study identified two main characteristics that those people shared: First was that they had a sense of fundamental well being. Second was that the amount of thoughts they once had had noticeably diminished.

It seems that contentment and happiness in everyday life are pretty good measures of your connection with sacredness.

(Sorry but a transcript of the conversation with Michael is not available.)

References

”Factor Analysis of the Mystical Experience Questionnaire: A Study of Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin”; Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2012) 51(4):721–737; MacLean, Leoutsakos, Johnson, Griffiths; Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The Questionnaire was developed by Walter Pahnke (1963, 1969), who referenced the work of W. T. Stace and Abraham Maslow.

“Searching for a baseline: functional imaging and the resting human brain”; Gusnard, D. A., Raichle, M. E; Washington University; Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2001 Oct;2(10):685-94.

“Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity”; Judson A. Brewer, Patrick D. Worhunsky, Jeremy R. Gray, Yi-Yuan Tang, Jochen Weber, and Hedy Kober; Yale University; edited by Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University St. Louis, St. Louis, MO; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; December 13, 2011 108 (5O) 2O254-2O259; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1112029108

“The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs”; Robin L. Carhart-Harris, Robert Leech, Peter J. Hellyer, Murray Shanahan, Amanda Feilding, Enzo Tagliazucchi, Dante R. Chialvo, David Nutt; Imperial College; Front. Hum. Neurosci., 03 February 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00020

“Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin”; Robin L. Carhart-Harris, David Erritzoe, Tim Williams, James M. Stone, Laurence J. Reed, Alessandro Colasanti, Robin J. Tyacke, Robert Leech, Andrea L. Malizia, Kevin Murphy, Peter Hobden, John Evans, Amanda Feilding, Richard G. Wise, and David J. Nutt; Imperial College; www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1119598109/-/DCSupplemental.

Michael Pollan; How To Change Your Mind; What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence; Penguin 2018

Michael Pollan; “The Trip Treatment”; New Yorker; February 9, 2015

Jeffery A. Martin; The Finders; Integration Press; 2019

Portions of this page were adapted from David Christian’s Big History Project.