April 10th 2021
Developments around psychedelics are currently riding the crest of a wave. Keeping track of the surge of information and different perspectives regarding these developments often feels like entering into a whirlpool. The implications of how this wave hits land are monumental. The reverberations will trickle into law and politics with regard to drug reform, into the mental health professions and even into our understanding of spirituality. The possibilities seem to suggest an evolving of humankind, of what we think is valuable and how we decide to live. We all sense the importance of maintaining balance and creating a steady flow towards a bright future of expanded human consciousness and mental health.
And we sense the gravity of getting it right this time.
The Philosophical Theory of Psychedelics is our way of looking at the developments from all perspectives. This week we take a look at the role of the psychedelic guide, it will be this new interpretation of an ancient profession which will ensure the wave gently lands with finesse and professionalism and courage.
The following discussion is taken from the most recent Psychedelic Safari Book Club zoom meeting, in which we reviewed, Consciousness Medicine, by Françoise Bourzat.
And, as with all initial philosophical enquiry, the discussion often resulted in more questions than answers. Which is fine, for now.
Bourzat outlines nine points from the Code of Ethics from The Council on Spiritual Practices, for those who serve (or who are looking to serve) as 'spiritual' guides:
1. Intention: Spiritual guides are to practice and serve in ways that cultivate awareness, empathy, and wisdom. Bourzat writes:
It is best to approach expanded states of consciousness gradually in order to build trust and comfort. At first, the guide might introduce the journeyer to gentle introspection through mindfulness, journaling, and self-reflection.
This was thought to be a beneficial beginning to the exploration of consciousness.
Bourzat also writes:
Some people, whether guide or journeyer, do develop an inflated ego through this work. The difference between those who have an inflated ego and those who do not is often how much healing they have done.
The discussion focused on the length and quality of the guides healing. How much is enough? And, what type of healing should a guide experience?
A common romantic fantasy in neo-shamanism is that the shaman’s role is to journey into a person’s inner world and rescue their soul like some kind of superhero. A genuine guide is someone who has the courage to face fear and is full of humility. The role is one of humble service.
The discussion then turned to possible ‘God complexes’ that might enter the space when a guide is involved in the transformational experience of a person. It is wise to remember that it is the medicine that is the transformational agent.
2. Serving Society: Spiritual practices are to be designed and conducted in ways that respect the common good, with due regard for public safety, health, and order. Because the increased awareness gained from spiritual practices can catalyze desire for personal and social change, guides shall use special care to help direct the energies of those they serve, as well as their own, in responsible ways that reflect a loving regard for all life.
Is the overseeing of a person’s personal change as a catalyst for social change the responsibility of the guide? This would require long-term provision of care. Is this feasible? Is there another way for the person to explore the expanded landscape of their experience in some other way, an integration group for example?
3. Serving Individuals: Spiritual guides shall respect and seek to preserve the autonomy and dignity of each person. Participation in any primary religious practice must be voluntary and based on prior disclosure and consent given individually by each participant while in an ordinary state of consciousness (Shortened).
This area of discussion was presented in the last BPA newsletter. Matthew Johnson calls for spirituality to be left out of the psychedelic process. Daan Keiman calls for an inter-faith provision.
The group discussed the difficulty in being able to provide a cross-section of knowledge around different faiths and the obvious need for neutrality.
The conversations a guide would have pre psychedelic experience could be in the region of atheistic/materialistic and then move into the realm of spirituality/deep divinity post psychedelic experience.
4. Competence: Spiritual guides shall assist with only those practices for which they are qualified by personal experience and by training or education.
When I began this work, I quickly realized that to become a well-rounded and creative guide it was essential that I acquire an understanding of various modalities.
Bourzat recalls her many years of practicing various modalities of expanded states of consciousness: retreats for dance, yoga, sweat lodges, singing, artwork, breathwork.
The group questioned the viability of finding the time or financial means to meet this high level of active practice of various modalities.
Bourzat’s training, as with all guides to date, has been self-selected and experiential. There has never been a formal psychedelic guides training until the recent programmes created in the US and Holland.
The group discussion centred around what that education should be? How much experience and training? How much should be theoretical and how much experiential? Who will set the qualifications? Is an apprenticeship model, with ongoing theoretical study acceptable?
5. Integrity: Spiritual guides shall strive to be aware of how their own belief systems, values, needs, and limitations affect their work. During primary religious practices, participants may be especially open to suggestion, manipulation, and exploitation; therefore, guides pledge to protect participants and not to allow anyone to use that vulnerability in ways that harm participants or others.
In another area of the book, Bourzat writes about what can go wrong:
Over the years I have seen many spiritual communities struggle or even dissolve when a leader breached boundaries. These transgressions often relate to money or power. Some leaders demand immense sums of money with no transparency concerning its use. Sometimes participants are told to abandon their normal lives in order to devote themselves to their spiritual teacher and are then treated as servants. Other leaders abuse their position of power by seducing clients or students into entering sexual relationships with them under the guise of it being customary of the lineage.
The group discussed the need for professional ethics. However, with the understanding that there will always be a minority of dubious players as there are in counselling and psychiatry. How to ensure standards are maintained is something that requires more investigation.
6. Quiet Presence: To help safeguard against the harmful consequences of personal and organizational ambition, spiritual communities are usually better allowed to grow through attraction rather than active promotion.
The group discussed the challenges of bringing the benefits of psychedelics to mainstream through promotion and allowing the ‘growth through attraction.’
Do we have the time to wait for the message to simmer through to the general public?
The BPA’s response is to create a documentary, a story of how people have improved their mental state and their lives through the use of psychedelics.
7. Not for Profit: Spiritual practices are to be conducted in the spirit of service. Spiritual guides shall strive to accommodate participants without regard to their ability to pay or make donations.
Whilst this is an admirable goal, it could be difficult for guides to do the work they are drawn to whilst also being able to financially support themselves and their family, if they do a large percentage of the work voluntarily.
However the idea of receiving great wealth (individual or organisational), built from the medical needs of others was not supported by the group.
8. Tolerance: Spiritual guides shall practice openness and respect toward people whose beliefs are in apparent contradiction to their own.
Basic listening skills should be in place, as in the current counselling model.
9. Peer Review: Each guide shall seek the counsel of other guides to help ensure the wholesomeness of his or her practices and shall offer counsel when there is need.
An arrangement of peer support/supervision was discussed. The group could have a structured process in place, as well as sharing best practice, also acknowledging challenging situations would be encouraged.
The final meeting to review Consciousness Medicne will take place on April 12th 7-9pm UK time.
If you would like to join us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Weaving Worlds: Indigenous Traditions & Western Psychotherapy
In this unique cross-cultural conversation, we compare and discuss the connections between Mazatec healing traditions and Western psychotherapy