Yourself, your community, the planet, or even the universe- can psychedelics help us reconnect?
Some of the most profound connections of my life have been fostered by psychedelics. The sense of going through something together is, from my experience, a uniquely special aspect of tripping with others.
Feeling connected is a fantastic feeling. It is the basis for love, friendship, and family — what many of us will devote our lives to finding and nurturing. Yet, at times finding an authentic connection in today's society can be challenging.
Most of us have reasons why — technology, too busy, and on and on. However, we don't always consider the consequences. Belonging is replaced with disconnection.And disconnection is known to a significant feature of depression, while connection is related to improving mood and mental health recovery.
If you are like me, you don't need another article telling why you are disconnected and why its bad for you. I'm more interested in tools to help push me past the places I feel stuck.
Hence my fascination with psychedelics.
Psychedelics and Connection to Self
“Like google earth, I had zoomed out. [For weeks afterwards], I was absolutely connected to myself, to every living thing, to the universe.” - Psychedelic study participant
We tend to think of connection as happening with things outside ourselves. However, a common psychedelic insight is the interconnectedness of all things.
New perspectives gained on psychedelics can reveal a dizzying web of relationships throughout life and an equally complex inner world, breaking down the idea that we are somehow separate from reality around us.
Post-psychedelics, these fresh perspectives on how we navigate life — emotional responses, inspirations, and reactions to challenges all have an inner component that psychedelics tend to "amplify." Stories about ourselves, decisions, in past, present, and future can all become magnified, followed by intense feeling or perhaps a new perspective on an old habit.
Psychedelics can reframe a wide variety of experiences. This can be enlightening or uncomfortable, yet examining these dynamics opens up a potential for a clearer relationship with ourselves and the external world.
Connection to Self is the Foundation
“Connection to self is a bedrock from which connection to others and the world can follow.” - Carhartt and Watts
Robin Carhartt Harris and Rosalind Watts, who authored the Psychedelics and Connectedness study have proposed the above quote. It highlights insights about our sense of self have become central to how psychedelics might work. They go on to suggest that bypassing connection to self could even have detrimental effects on positive outcomes.
Connecting to the Inner Healer
Stan Grof, a pioneer in transpersonal psychology and psychedelic therapy, spoke of the ability of psychedelics to activate what he called "the inner healer." This describes our ability to find our way towards healing. An "inner doctor" can draw conclusions about our life situations, illnesses, or changes we need to make for ourselves.
This "inner healer" concept is contrary to systems of traditional psychotherapy, which often place greater responsibility on trained professionals . While finding the inner healer is not a guaranteed outcome of psychedelics, healing on our own terms can be an empowering experience.
Working the inner healer can be learning to listen to ourselves at the right moment and trusting our own advice. These are skills that can be developed and my belief experience is the inner healer can become amplified during and afterward psychedelic journeys.
This is not to say working with trained psychedelic therapists or integration coaches isn't necessary. Professionals can support you, keep you accountable, or skillfully guide you to insights otherwise missed.
Talking to your therapist may be able to reframe situations, just like the psychedelic did. But the direct experience of establishing new patterns in life will always come from within you. No therapist or substance can make the changes for you, hence the value of tapping into inner healing wisdom.
I have written another article about the kind of inner revelations we can expect from psychedelics before. Understanding the power of emotions in psychedelic states can offer ideas of what kind of connections we can expect within ourselves.
Connection to Others on Psychedelics
Group psychedelic experiences can create bonds that last a lifetime. The sensation of sharing something wondrous together is why many love psychedelics. Psychedelics have traditionally been used in groups ceremonially. Today they remain popular at festivals and parties where closeness and kinship turns into celebration on psychedelics.
Social connection can extend to after psychedelic experiences as well, even when taken in lab. In the Psychedelics and Connectedness study this article is inspired by, the authors made it clear that many people felt:
“For many, there was a general sense of ease and well-being when socializing with friends in situations that might have previously caused anxiety and discomfort… This sense of connection to people often extended to strangers”
What’s also true is that while on psychedelic relating to the people around you can be tricky, particularly during the peak of a heroic dose. Still, this openness to others might be pronounced during the "afterglow"- when a pleasant, warm openness can follow a psychedelic journey. Once the wild ride is over, connecting ca be a pleasant way to unpack whatever happened.
Shared Experience and Healing on Psychedelics
There is a camaraderie between some psychedelic users. For me, participating in psychedelic experiences with others is great, but so is conversation with people about their trips and ideas. This has been a great source of connection and inspiration.
There is a strong relationship between isolation and mental and physical health. It's understandable why people are looking to psychedelics as a promising antidote for lack of community and authentic connection— we need it.
And no doubt, in certain situations, psychedelics can create a "This is the best moment of my life!!" vibe. A deep appreciation for life and everyone in it can become palpable. Or levels of fluidity and ease around others not typically tapped into.
Some version of this has been suggested in the science too. The Psychedelics and Connectedness study, reported "a sense of ease and wellbeing returning" in social situations returning to participants, where they previously had felt anxious.
This wellbeing allowed some participants to reach out to strangers with whom they previously felt uncomfortable. These experiences, in some cases, set off a domino effect, where they would make new friends, join groups or pick up new or old hobbies.
In other cases, the sense of connection was expanded to society and all beings. Others mentioned an increased sense of connection with others who had experienced psychedelics, and these sensations of completing a journey together likely hold keys to psychedelics in groups.
These results are exciting and inspiring, but it is worth repeating this can go both wars. On psychedelics, social situations can become devastatingly confusing and awkward. Social norms can dissolve, and language can stop making sense, particularly in high doses. The stigma of using psychedelics can create distance between relationships and lead to further isolation after the trip. Psychedelics can present opportunities, but there are no guarantees, and I can't tell you what will happen.
That being said, taking psychedelics in groups is the traditional way. While I have had transformative experiences doing psychedelics alone, the connections that emerge from retreats and circles strongly suggest that group therapy will become a part of modern psychedelic rituals.
Psychedelics and Connection to Nature
“I felt like sunshine twinkling through leaves, I was nature.” - Study participant
Psychedelics can connect us not just to ourselves but to every living thing or the universe. One of those things is our planet.
The pull back to the natural world on psychedelics can be strong and feel, well, natural.
Under the right conditions natural settings and psychedelics are a very agreeable combination fostering appreciation for our environment. If we choose to indulge these impulses and prioritize rebuilding connection to nature, there are many benefits.
Recent study suggest immersion in nature can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Spending time in nature can rejuvenate burnout symptoms, with 5–10 minutes lowering stress levels and blood pressure, improving our attention and memory while increasing feelings of pleasure and purpose.
What I also find fascinating is that in the Psychedelics and Conenctedness study, synthetic psilocybin also makes people feel connected to nature, even when taken in a laboratory. Reports of "we are nature," connecting to the "miracle" of life, and how interwoven we all are is a life-changing experience for some, particularly those who have felt to be in "a prison of depression."
This raises questions of mindset, setting, and whether a substance like psilocybin itself is connecting us to nature, if environments or setting plays a role, or perhaps even what archetypes and assumptions are nestled into our subconscious and associated with the substance.
Whatever the case, in a time severe environmental stress and human disconnection from the planet the potential of nature connectedness seems worth exploring. While the implications are only really theorized, you can read more about them here:
Do Psychedelics Connect us to "Something Else"?
Psychedelic "mystical experiences" have become a popular explanation for the mechanics of psychedelics. This is someone’s roughly defined as the sense of self-dissolving completely for "ego death," deep a profound sense of oneness, but "mystical" includes many possible individual interpretations.
When the boundaries of ourself appear to dissolve and we become one with the universe, a new perspective can be gained of one's place in the universe or life. It can also be an utterly terrifying, although potentially transformative experience.
While the mystical is an exciting and impressive part of psychedelics, many people find new views of reality without leaving their bodies or vibing with source. My own shift involved no ego death, but I always attribute psychedelics to altering my beliefs about reality:
I ate my first tab of blotter when I was 16. Our source dubbed it "triple-dip screamer." I simply wanted to watch the Canada Day fireworks on acid And see what hallucinations were like. At that time I was an atheist apsiring to study political science. We missed the fireworks and spent the whole night playing with my friends on a jungle gym while deconstructing "The American Dream" of money, family, and success. It was a joyful, hilarious experience.
I never had what I would call a mystical experience that particular night. Nor can I pinpoint exactly what moment caused the shift. On the surface we were all playing and being silly, far from a therapeutic setting. But when I emerged from the LSD trip, I did feel connected to "something else," that today I describe as spiritually. The shift gradually fueled a very different life than myself or my family would have guessed was in store.
This is what I would call the "spiritual" element of psychedelics. Many people find that psychedelics trigger appreciation for what is often described as spirit. This effect, however, is not necessarily the norm. My friends I took LSD with, as far as I am aware, did not have some awakening moment, nor should anyone expect to have one when taking psychedelics — it is simply another potential to be tracking when considering psychedelics.
If this topic interests you, check out an earlier article about the mystical here:
Why Connection From Psychedelic Experiences Helps
Why does connection matter? It's a simple word that implies many things.
Some trace it back to our ancestors, pointing out that we are wired to connect to survive, hence all the lovely chemicals our brains bathe in when we are in connection. These feelings arguably help keep humans alive.
Evolution is neat, but I don't know about you- I'm trying to do more than just survive. Connection can be with self, family, friendship, community, society, the planet, or other great mysteries that provide meaning. From connection celebrations, conversation, laughter, humor, collaboration, and ideas can all stem from.
Knowing the names of chemicals in my brain is a favorite hobby of mine. Yet the truth is connection just feels terrific, and that's what I crave. I'm not chasing dopamine or oxytocin. I'm seeking good feelings. As one article puts it:
“These chemicals work in a beautifully inefficient way, with the imprecision of poetry. And like poetry and art in general, they bring us back to what it’s like to be human here on earth.”
An example of this imprecision is love, one of the most beautiful and challenging experiences of human life. But, like a good or bad psychedelic experience, love brings an overwhelming meaning to life that demands to be dealt with.
How to use Psychedelics to Connection
Psychedelics have brought some amazing people into my life. But one caveat is always present with psychedelics— it's not a magic pill.
Psychedelics are a neutral tool. They hold as much power to connect as they do to alienate, so here are some other practices I use alongside psychedelics when they trigger an impulse to connect with others:
- Lean into connection- this is a common agreement in group work and circling, meaning in moments where you typically hold back, instead, lean in. This can be with others, yourself, a new idea. Experiment and see what happens.
- Be brave and honest- psychedelics can be brutally honest. Most of my challenging experiences with psychedelics have been due to hard truths that I wasn't seeing or lying to myself about. But, this is where growth happens. When we bring this same clarity into our relationships, opportunities for connection often open up.
- Find a psychedelic community — join circles, trip together, support ceremonies. Finding other people who understand and relate to my experiences has made me not feel like a lone weirdo taking drugs and reading strange books.
- Group work— retreats, integration circles, or practices like Authentic Relating and Circling are great ways to experience connection with others. These are generally safe spaces free of judgment that further teach connection skills.