Some Technical Comments about Psychedelic Sessions

1. Use of This Manual

The most important use of this manual is for preparatory reading. Having read the Tibetan Manual, one can immediately recognize symptoms and experiences which might otherwise be terrifying, only because of lack of understanding as to what was happening. Recognition is the key word.

Secondly, this guidebook may be used to avoid paranoid traps or to regain the First Bardo transcendence if it has been lost. If the experience starts with light, peace, mystic unity, understanding, and if it continues along this path, then there is no need to remember this manual of have this manual re-read to you. Like a road map, we consult it only when lost, or when we wish to change course. Usually, however, the ego clings to its old games. There may be momentary discomfort or confusion. If this happens, the others present should not be sympathetic or show alarm. They should be prepared to stay calm and restrain their "helping games." In particular, the "doctor" role should be avoided.

If at any time you find yourself struggling to get back to routine reality, you can (by pre-arrangement) have a more experienced person, a fellow-voyager, or a trusted observer read parts of this manual to you.

Passages suitable for reading during the session are given in Part IV below. Each major descriptive section of the Tibetan Book has an appropriate instruction text. One may want to pre-record selected passages and simply flick on the recorder when desired. The aim of these instruction texts is always to lead the voyager back to the original First Bardo transcendence and to help maintain that as long as possible.

A third use would be to construct a "program" for a session using passages from the text. The aim would be to lead the voyager to one of the visions deliberately, or through a sequence of visions. The guide or friend could read the relevant passages, show slides or pictures or symbolic figures of processes, play carefully selected music, etc. One can envision a high art of programming psychedelic sessions, in which symbolic manipulations and presentations would lead the voyager through ecstatic visionary Bead Games.

2. Planning a Session

In planning a session, the first question to be decided is "what is the goal?" Classic Hinduism suggest four possibilities:

  1. For increased personal power, intellectual understanding, sharpened insight into self and culture, improvement of life situation, accelerated learning, professional growth.
  2. For duty, help of others, providing care, rehabilitation, rebirth for fellow men.
  3. For fun, sensuous enjoyment, aesthetic pleasure, interpersonal closeness, pure experience.
  4. For transcendence, liberation from ego and space-time limits; attainment of mystical union.

This manual aims primarily at the latter goal - that of liberation-enlightenment. This emphasis does not preclude attainment of the other goals - in fact, it guarantees their attainment because illumination requires that the person be able to step out beyond game problems of personality, role, and professional status. The initiate can decide beforehand to devote the psychedelic experience to any of the four goals. The manual will be of assistance in any event.

If there are several people having a session together they should either agree collaboratively on a goal, or at least be aware of each other's goals. If the session is to be "programmed" then the participants should either agree on or design a program collaboratively, or they should agree to let one member of the group do the programming. Unexpected or undesired manipulations by one of the participants can easily "trap the other voyagers into paranoid Third Bardo delusions.

The voyager, especially in an individual session, may also wish to have either an extroverted or an introverted experience. In the extroverted transcendent experience, the self is ecstatically fused with external objects (e.g. flowers, or other people). In the introverted state, the self is ecstatically fused with internal life processes (lights, energy-waves, bodily events, biological forms, etc.). Of course, either the extroverted or the introverted state may be negative rather than positive, depending on the attitude of the voyager. Also it may be primarily conceptual or primarily emotional. The eight types of experience thus derived (four positive and four negative) have been described more fully in Visions 2 to 5 of the Second Bardo.

For the extroverted mystic experience one would bring to the session objects or symbols to guide the awareness in the desired direction. Candles, pictures,books, incense, music or recorded passages. An introverted mystic experience requires the elimination of all stimulation; no light, no sound, no smell, no movement.

The mode of communication with the other participants should also be agreed on beforehand. You may agree on certain signals, silently indicating companionship. You may arrange for physical contact - clasping hands, embracing. These means of communication should be pre-arranged to avoid game-misinterpretations that may develop during the heightened sensitivity of ego-transcendence.

3. Drugs and Dosages

A wide variety of chemicals and plants have psychedelic ("mind manifesting") effects. The most widely used substances are listed here together with dosages adequate for a normal adult of average size. The dosage to be taken depends, of course, on the goal of the session. Two figures are therefore given. The first column indicates a dosage which should be sufficient for an inexperienced person to enter the transcendental worlds described in this manual. The second column gives a smaller dosage figure, which may be used by more experienced persons or by participants in a group session.

LSD-25 (lysergic acid diethylamide) 200-500 micrograms    100-200 micrograms
Mescaline                           600-800 mg            300-500 mg
Psilocybin                           40-60  mg             20-30  mg

The time of onset, when the drugs are taken orally on an empty stomach, is approximately 20-30 minutes for LSD and psilocybin, and one to two hours for mescaline. The duration of the session is usually eight to ten hours for LSD and mescaline, and five to six hours for psilocybin. DMT (dimethyltryptamine), when injected intramuscularly in dosages of 50-60 mg, gives an experience approximately equivalent to 500 micrograms of LSD, but which lasts only 30 minutes.

Some person have found it useful to take other drugs before the session. A very anxious person, for example, may take 30 to 40 mg of Librium about on hour earlier, to calm and relax himself. Methedrine has also been used to induced a pleasant, euphoric mood prior to the session. Sometimes, with excessively nervous persons, it is advisable to stagger the drug administration: for example, 200 micrograms of LSD may be taken initially, and a "booster" of another 200 micrograms may be taken after the person has become familiar with some of the effects of the psychedelic state. Nausea may sometimes occur. Usually this is a mental symptom, indicating fear, and should be regarded as such. Sometimes, however, particularly with the use of morning-glory seeds and peyote, the nausea can have a physiological cause. Anti-nauseant drugs such as Marezine, Bonamine, Dramamine or Tigan, may be taken beforehand to prevent this.

If a person becomes trapped in a repetitive game-routine during a session, it is sometimes possible to "break the set" by administering 50 mg of DMT, or even 25 mg of Dexedrine or Methedrine. Such additional dosages, of course, should only be given with the person's own knowledge and consent.

Should external emergencies call for it, Thorazine (100-200 mg, i.m.) or other phenothiazine-type tranquilizers will terminate the effects of psychedelic drugs. Antidotes should not be used simply because the voyager or the guide is frightened. Instead, the appropriate sections of the Third Bardo should be read. [Further, more detailed suggestions concerning dosage may be found in a paper by Gary M. Fisher: "Some Comments Concerning Dosage Levels of Psychedelic Compounds for Psychotherapeutic Experiences." Psychedelic Review, I, no.2, pp. 208-218, 1963.]

4. Preparation

Psychedelic chemicals are not drugs in the usual sense of the word. There is no specific reaction, no expected sequence of events, somatic or psychological.

The specific reaction has little to do with the chemical and is chiefly a function of set and setting; preparation and environment. The better the preparation, the more ecstatic and revelatory the session. In initial sessions and with unprepared persons, setting - particularly the actions of others - is most important. With persons who have prepared thoughtfully and seriously, the setting is less important.

There are two aspects of set: long-range and immediate.

Long-range set refers to the personal history, the enduring personality. The kind of person you are - your fears, desires, conflicts, guilts, secret passions - determines how you interpret and manage any situation you enter, including a psychedelic session. Perhaps more important are the reflex mechanisms used when dealing with anxiety - the defenses, the protective maneuvers typically employed. Flexibility, basic trust, religious faith, human openness, courage, interpersonal warmth, creativity, are characteristics which allow for fun and easy learning. Rigidity, desire to control, distrust, cynicism, narrowness, cowardice, coldness, are characteristics which make any new situation threatening. Most important is insight. No matter how many cracks in the record, the person who has some understanding of his own recording machinery, who can recognize when he is not functioning as he would wish, is better able to adapt to any challenge - even the sudden collapse of his ego.

The most careful preparation would include some discussion of the personality characteristics and some planning with the guide as to how to handle expected emotional reactions when they occur.

Immediate set refers to the expectations about the session itself. Session preparation is of critical importance in determining how the experience unfolds. People tend naturally to impose their personal and social game perspectives on any new situation. Careful thought should precede the session to prevent narrow sets being imposed.

Medical expectations. Some ill-prepared subjects unconsciously impose a medical model on the experience. They look for symptoms, interpret each new sensation in terms of sickness/health, place the guide in a doctor-role, and, if anxiety develops, demand chemical rebirth - i.e., tranquilizers. Occasionally one hears of casual, ill-planned, non-guided sessions which end in the subject demanding to be hospitalized, etc. It is even more problem-provoking if the guide employs a medical model, watches for symptoms, and keeps hospitalization in mind to fall back on, as protection for himself.

Rebellion against convention may be the motive of some people who take the drug. The idea of doing something "far out" or vaguely naughty is a naive set which can color the experience.

Intellectual expectations are appropriate when subjects have had much psychedelic experience. Indeed, LSD offers vast possibilities for accelerated learning and scientific-scholarly research. But for initial sessions, intellectual reactions can become traps. The Tibetan Manual never tires of warning about the dangers of rationalization. "Turn you mind off" is the best advice for novitiates. Control of your consciousness is like flight instruction. After you have learned how to move your consciousness around - into ego-loss and back, at will - then intellectual exercises can be incorporated into the psychedelic experience. The last stage of the session is the best time to examine concepts. The objective of this particular manual is to free you from you verbal mind for as long as possible.

Religious expectations invite the same advice as intellectual set. Again, the subject in early sessions is best advised to float with the stream, stay "up" as long as possible, and postpone theological interpretations until the end of the session, or to later sessions.

Recreational and aesthetic expectations are natural. The psychedelic experience, without question, provides ecstatic moments which dwarf any personal or cultural game. Pure sensation can capture awareness. Interpersonal intimacy reaches Himalayan heights. Aesthetic delights - musical, artistic, botanical, natural - are raised to the millionth power. But all these reactions can be Third Bardo ego games: "I am having this ecstasy. How lucky I am!" Such reactions can become tender traps, preventing the subject from reaching pure ego-loss (First Bardo) or the glories of Second Bardo creativity.

Planned expectations. This manual prepares the person for a mystical experience according to the Tibetan model. The Sages of the Snowy Ranges have developed a most sophisticated and precise understanding of human psychology, and the student who studies this manual will become oriented for a voyage which is much richer in scope and meaning than any Western psychological theory. We remain aware, however, that the Bardo Thodol model of consciousness is a human artifact, a Second Bardo hallucination, however grand its scope.

Some practical recommendations. The subject should set aside at least three days for his experience; a day before, the session day, and a follow-up day. This scheduling guarantees a reduction in external pressure and a more sober commitment to the voyage.

Talking to others who have taken the voyage is excellent preparation, although the Second Bardo hallucinatory quality of all descriptions should be recognized. Observing a session is another valuable preliminary. The opportunity to see others during and after a session shapes expectations.

Reading books about mystical experience is a standard orientation procedure. Reading the accounts of others' experiences is another possibility (Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, and Gordon Wasson have written powerful accounts).

Meditation is probably the best preparation for a psychedelic session. Those who have spent time in the solitary attempt to manage the mind, to eliminate thought and to reach higher stages of concentration, are the best candidates for a psychedelic session. When the ego-loss state occurs, they are ready. They recognize the process as an end eagerly awaited, rather than a strange event ill-understood.

5. The Setting

The first and most important thing to remember, in the preparation for a psychedelic session, is to provide a setting which is removed from one's usual social and interpersonal games and which is as free as possible from unforeseen distractions and intrusions. The voyager should make sure that he will not be disturbed by visitors or telephone calls, since these will often jar him into hallucinatory activity. Trust in the surroundings and privacy are necessary.

A period of time (usually at least three days) should be set aside in which the experience will run its natural course and there will be sufficient time for reflections and meditation. It is important to keep schedules open for three days and to make these arrangements beforehand. A too-hasty return to game-involvements will blur the clarity of the vision and reduce the potential for learning. If the experience was with a group, it is very useful to stay together after the session in order to share and exchange experiences.

There are differences between night sessions and day sessions. Many people report that they are more comfortable in the evening and consequently that their experiences are deeper and richer. The person should choose the time of day that seems right according to his own temperament at first. Later, he may wish to experience the difference between night and day sessions.

Similarly, there are differences between sessions out-of-doors and indoors. Natural settings such as gardens, beaches, forests, and open country have specific influences which one may or may not wish to incur. The essential thing is to feel as comfortable as possible in the surroundings, whether in one's living room or under the night sky. A familiarity with the surroundings may help one to feel confident in hallucinatory periods. If the session is held indoors, one must consider the arrangement of the room and the specific objects one may wish to see and hear during the experience.

Music, lighting, the availability of food and drink, should be considered beforehand. Most people report no desire for food during the height of the experience, and then, later on, prefer to have simple, ancient foods like bread, cheese, wine, and fresh fruit. Hunger is usually not the issue. The senses are wide open, and the taste and smell of a fresh orange are unforgettable.

In group sessions, the arrangement of the room is quite important. People usually will not feel like walking or moving very much for a long period, and either beds or mattresses should be provided. The arrangement of the beds or mattresses can vary. One suggestion is to place the heads of the beds together to form a star pattern. Perhaps one may want to place a few beds together and keep one or two some distance apart for anyone who wishes to remain aside for some time. Often, the availability of an extra room is desirable for someone who wishes to be in seclusion for a period.

If it is desired to listen to music or to reflect on paintings or religious objects, one should arrange these so that everyone in the group feels comfortable with what they are hearing or seeing. In a group session, all decisions about goals, setting, etc. should be made with collaboration and openness.

6. The Psychedelic Guide

For initial sessions, the attitude and behavior of the guide are critical factors. He possesses enormous power to shape the experience. With the cognitive mind suspended, the subject is in a heightened state of suggestibility. The guide can move consciousness with the slightest gesture or reaction.

The key issue here is the guide's ability to turn off his own ego and social games - in particular, to muffle his own power needs and his fears. To be there relaxed, solid, accepting, secure. The Tao wisdom of creative quietism. To sense all and do nothing except to let the subject know your wise presence.

A psychedelic session lasts up to twelve hours and produces moments of intense, intense, INTENSE reactivity. The guide must never be bored, talkative, intellectualizing. He must remain calm during the long periods of swirling mindlessness.

He is the ground control in the airport tower. Always there to receive messages and queries from high-flying aircraft. Always ready to help navigate their course, to help them reach their destination. An airport-tower-operator who imposes his own personality, his own games upon the pilot is unheard of. The pilots have their own flight plan, their own goals, and ground control is there, ever waiting to be of service.

The pilot is reassured to know that an expert who has guided thousands of flights is down there, available for help. But suppose the flier has reason to suspect that ground control is harboring his own motives and might be manipulating the plane toward selfish goals. The bond of security and confidence would crumble.

It goes without saying, then, that the guide should have had considerable experience in psychedelic sessions himself and in guiding others. To administer psychedelics without personal experience is unethical and dangerous.

The greatest problem faced by human beings in general, and the psychedelic guide in particular, is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control. Fear of trusting the genetic process and your companions. From our own research studies and our investigations into sessions run by others - serious professionals or adventurous bohemians - we have been led to the conclusion that almost every negative LSD reaction has been caused by fear on the part of the guide which has augmented the transient fear of the subject. When the guide acts to protect himself, he communicates his concern to the subject.

The guide must remain passively sensitive and intuitively relaxed for several hours. This is a difficult assignment for most Westerners. For this reason, we have sought ways to assist the guide in maintaining a state of alert quietism in which he is poised with ready flexibility. The most certain way to achieve this state is for the guide to take a low dose of the psychedelic with the subject. Routine procedure is to have one trained person participate in the experience and one staff member present in ground control without psychedelic aid.

The knowledge that one experienced guide is "up" and keeping the subject company, is of inestimable value; intimacy and communication; cosmic companionship; the security of having a trained pilot flying at your wing tip; the scuba diver's security in the presence of an expert comrade in the deep.

It is not recommended that guides take large doses during sessions for new subjects. The less experienced he is, the more likely will the subject impose Second and Third Bardo hallucinations. These intense games affect the experienced guide, who is likely to be in a state of mindless void. The guide is then pulled into the hallucinatory field of the subject, and may have difficulty orienting himself. During the First Bardo there are no familiar fixed landmarks, no place to put your foot, no solid concept upon which to base your thinking. All is flux. Decisive Second Bardo action on the part of the subject can structure the guide's flow if he has taken a heavy dose.

The role of the psychedelic guide is perhaps the most exciting and inspiring role in society. He is literally a liberator, one who provides illumination, one who frees men from their life-long internal bondage. To be present at the moment of awakening, to share the ecstatic revelation when the voyager discovers the wonder and awe of the divine life-process, is for many the most gratifying part to play in the evolutionary drama. The role of the psychedelic guide has a built-in protection against professionalism and didactic oneupmanship. The psychedelic liberation is so powerful that it far outstrips earthly game ambitions. Awe and gratitude - rather than pride - are the rewards of this new profession.

7. Composition of the Group

The most effective use of this manual will be for the experience of one person with a guide. However, the manual will be useful in a group also. When used in a group session, the following suggestions will be most helpful in planning.

The important thing to remember in organizing a group session is to have knowledge of and trust in the fellow voyagers. Trust in oneself and in one's companions is essential. If preparing for an experience with strangers, it is very important to share as much time and space as possible with them prior to the session. The participants should set collaborative goals and explore mutually their expectations and feelings and past experiences.

The size of the group should depend to some extent on how much experience the participants have had. Initially, small groups are preferable to larger ones. In any case, group experiences exceeding six or seven people are demonstrably less profound and generate more paranoid hallucinations. If planning for a group session of five or six people, it is preferable to have at least two guides present. One will take the psychedelic substance and the other, who does not, serves as a practical guide to take care of such concerns as changing the recordings, providing food, etc., and if necessary or desired, reading selections from the manual. If it is possible, one of the guides should be an experienced woman who can provide an atmosphere of spiritual nurturing and comfort.

It is sometimes advisable that the initial session of married couples be separate in order that the exploration of their marriage game not dominate the session. With some experience in consciousness-expansion, the marriage game like others may be explored for any purpose - increased intimacy, clearer communication, exploration of the foundations of the sexual, mating relationship, etc.


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