Hedge90 wrote: ↑Mon Aug 30, 2021 4:51 pm
I have a quite limited experience with psychedelics, but I had one ego-death level trip, which, while left me pretty shaken afterwards (after my ego returned), was a beautiful experience through and through while I was having it. So in short, I haven't had a bad trip yet.
My theory, though, is mostly that you have a bad trip if you are unable to let go of your ego and surrender control, and then your ego self has to go through a traumatic experience where there are no certainties and reference points. I know that when I had my ego death it was a critical point in the trip, because I literally felt that I was leaving my identity behind, together with every personal emotion and thought - I still "saw" them, but from the outside, as a dispassionate observer. This was a necessary point, because the rest of it would have probably ruined me for a while, had I not shed my ego.
But from friends and browsing trip reports on erowid, I can see several bad trip reports, even from people who had already had "heroic" level trips before, and who thus must have been aware of how you have to surrender to ego death.
What do you think causes these cases? My only guess is that once you feel "comfortable" with a psychedelic, you ego may become complacent and think "oh I can go in there no problem", and then when they have the experience with their ego intact, it's scared shitless.
But I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter, whether it's theoretical or based on personal experience.
I didn't see this thread until today.
I've had many psychedelic experiences, spanning three decades of my life, involving mainly psilocybin mushrooms, and I have some ideas about what bad trips actually mean. These are original ideas, based on my own experiences and the experiences of people I know, not on anything I've read (but I've read a lot about psychedelics).
I've come up with a sort of "model of the psychedelic path", which I can summarize like this:
- It's very different to try psychedelics once or twice, or to try them many times but in a casual, playful way, than to engage in a serious exploration of the psychedelic experience. This serious exploration is what I call "the psychedelic path".
- In the psychedelic path, one encounters a series of doors or gates. These gates appear to every individual in the same necessary order. Each door represents the threshold into a new realm of experience. Each door feels, in increasingly deep ways, like Death.
- I've personally encountered three doors. There may be more, at even deeper levels. But these are, as far as I know, the Three Doors in the Psychedelic Path:
- The First Door is the dissolution of ego (what you call "ego death"). This happens to most people at their first or second trip. For those who try to cling to their habitual way of thinking, to their familiar identity (ego identity), the experience turns into a "bad trip". It is just the ego terrified at its own demise. Many people stop there, after their first "bad trip", and never try psychedelics again. But for those who are brave enough to go through the gate of ego-dissolution, a wonderful new realm of experience opens up. You can witness the world in a completely new and amazing way, free of the constraints of the habitual mind. It's actually a wholly new world, a parallel universe.
This is the incredibly rich and vast realm that most psychonauts love to explore. But if you continue your exploration on this ego-free level, you eventually reach the Second Door.
- The Second Door is the dissolution of the body. We could also call it the dissolution of the world, or the dissolution of perception. This usually happens to experienced psychonauts, not to beginners. When you reach this door, you witness your own body dissolving. Some people experience this in a very terrifying way: they see bugs crawling all over their skin, or they see their veins opening up and the blood running free. But if you are able to calm down and observe what is happening, you can witness how your body, like all physical reality, is made up of these infinite multicoloured filaments of light (I described this in some detail in my essay "Intuive Idealism vs. Analytic Idealism"). What happens at this stage is that all those filaments become disconnected and begin to flow freely throughout your visual field. As your body dissolves in this way, the whole world around you dissolves. You end up floating in this boundless sea of pure awareness, pure consciousness. That's what those luminous filaments are made of: pure consciousness. So there's no ego, there's no body, there's no individual identity anymore, but you are still there, experiencing yourself as pure universal consciousness, boundless and eternal. It is a blissful, deeply liberating experience.
Most experienced psychonauts know this realm of pure consciousness. It is a beautiful, peaceful, wonderful experience that for some represent the end of the psychedelic path. After that encounter with pure formless bliss, there seems to be nothing else to explore. Many abondon the use of psychedelics at that stage, and start practicing meditation, yoga, etc., looking for other ways of accessing that blissful state, without the unpleasant side effects of psychedelics (those unpleasant side effects are inevitable: the "way back" from that blissful body-less state after a psychedelic trip is always difficult). But some psychonauts keep coming back again and again to the psychedelic experience, sensing that there may be more to discover. I'm one of those, and after many experiences of blissful dissolution into pure consciousness, I began to encounter something else: a growing feeling of pure dread. This was a fear, a terror, infinitely more powerful than the fear of ego-death or body-death. It didn't belong to my ego. I was pure consciousness, experiencing this deep terror. It was as if the whole universe was made of fear. I called it the Horror.
Most psychonauts stop there. They simply feel that they're done with psychedelics. It's not fun anymore. But I persevered. I went back again and again, for many years, ecountering this Horror again and again. I just wanted to know what it all meant. And finally, with the help of some deep insights I received from my spiritual teacher (I was doing some spiritual work on myself, other than taking psychedelics), I finally understood what it was: I had reached the Third Door.
- The Third Door is the dissolution of consciousness. Once I realized this, I understood my terror. It was the terror of consciousness witnessing its own dissolution. I was clinging to my consciousness, which at that stage was my true identity. I was the universal consciousness. I wasn't ready to let it go. But when I understood this, I saw that I had to let go. So in my next psychedelic trip, that's what I did. I surrendered my consciousness. I witnessed my consciousness dissolving, gradually dissipating, until it was gone. And there was nothing. Absolute blackness. No time, no space, no experience. It was pure Nothing. It truly felt like dying.
There was a gap in my experience. And then, eventually, I came back. It was like being reborn. Everything felt renewed, fresh, wonderful. It was the most amazing spiritual experience in my life. I realized that this Absolute Nothing is the source, the ground of everything. I realized I had finally found my Home.
I don't know anyone else who has gone through that Third Door. Each door feels like dying, but in an increasingly deep and powerful way. Passing each door brings a liberation from the fear of death, but also in an increasingly deep way. I can say that after going through that Third Door I have absolutely no fear of Death.
So this is my model. Of course, it's only a model, an approximation, a simplification. But it can explain three different types of "bad trips", related to those three gates. And it can explain why experienced psychonauts can also have bad trips.
There are other types of bad trips that I haven't included in my model, because they don't correspond to gates or doors into deeper levels of experience: they happen at the first level of exploration, when one is free of the habitual mind (or ego) but still retains an individual identity. At that stage one can encounter quite scary creatures, sometimes interpreted as aliens, or elves, or demons. I prefer to call them Faeries (or Ireluak
, in my mother tongue, Basque). This is especially likely to happen with magic mushrooms, which traditionally have been linked with these sort of creatures. This is a whole vast topic in itself. It's very difficult to distinguish, when it comes to this sort of experience, if we are dealing with real entities or mental projections, inspired by tales, myths, movies, etc. But these encounters can be as terrifying as the best horror stories.
Anyway. I don't know if all this will make sense to you, but at least I hope it may be interesting, or even intriguing.