Following all the hype generated about the therapeutic powers of psychedelics by Michael Pollan’s 2018 book How to Change Your Mind and follow up 2022 Netflix series of the same title - millions are turning to psychoactive medicines like magic mushrooms (psilocybin), ayahuasca, peyote and LSD for healing, personal development and mystical experience. But are psychedelics all they’re cracked up to be?
Jennifer Tessler, Director and Founder of Alalaho
, the trailblazing provider of the first legal psychedelic-assisted retreats in Europe, says: “Psychedelics are often overhyped, and on their own they are certainly no magic bullet. However, combined with supporting practices, these medicines can be powerful catalysts for long lasting transformation and healing.”
Jennifer shares nine ways psychedelic experience can be supported to generate long lasting change in peoples’ lives.
“More than simply tools for strengthening the integration of psychedelic experiences, the practices outlined are cornerstones for an ongoing journey of personal growth and human flourishing,” Jennifer concludes.
Alalaho, operating in The Netherlands, pioneered the first legal psychedelic-assisted retreat programme in Europe in 2016 and has safely facilitated over 1000 journeys. Alalaho place a strong emphasis on preparation and integration before and after retreats, incorporating tools and practices from the Western clinical model, somatic and transpersonal psychology and spiritual traditions like Buddhism and shamanism.
The next Alalaho retreat takes place 7-10 December. Offering a mix of 4 and 5-day retreats, prices start at €2,850 for a 4-day retreat including facilitation, food and accommodation. Beginning/ending the journey in Amsterdam, the rural retreat venue is a two hour bus ride from the city.
- Meditation: Meditation practice brings greater presence and awareness to a psychedelic journey: it helps you to be more mindful of your inner processes and emotions and grows your capacity to embrace and hold a whole spectrum of internal experiences. In the long-term, meditation sharpens your insights, increasing your potential to learn from the experience.
- Body awareness: By tuning in to your body, you access a repository where past memories and experiences are stored, allowing you to process and release the unconscious and limiting grips these may have on your life. Becoming more embodied helps to anchor you in the present moment, enabling you to find joy in the mundane and to be present to the natural flow of your emotions.
- Therapy: Psychotherapy provides a safe space allowing you to feel seen and supported on your journey towards deeper self-awareness. The relationship with the therapist serves as a mirror, clearly reflecting both your authentic self and any distortions that may exist. Therapy is especially conducive for processing any complex personal material that may surface during a psychedelic experience, helping you gain new perspectives on your life.
- Nature connection: Nature is a wellspring of inspiration and sensory joy. Immersing yourself in the aesthetic beauty of the natural world can help you to feel resourced and revitalised, replenishing both body and soul. Spending time in nature gives you a sense of being part of something greater, which can feel especially meaningful during your integration process post-psychedelic experience.
- Journaling: Journaling is a simple yet potent tool for active inquiry which encourages us to spend time with ourselves, in silence, directing our attention inward. This introspective reflection can unearth emotions and reveal aspects of ourselves that usually lie in our unconscious. The act of writing also taps into our creative energy, acting as a catalyst for self-discovery and personal transformation. Overall, journaling offers a structured yet open framework for exploring our psychedelic experiences and our broader life narratives.
- Community: The importance of community cannot be overstated, especially as we undergo transformative experiences that can be both uplifting and challenging. Feeling connected and supported by a circle of like-minded individuals provides a sense of safety, belonging and validation. Feeling held within a compassionate and affirming community enhances the psychedelic journey and fosters long-term personal transformation.
- Authentic relating: If psychedelics prompt us to open up and explore our innermost depths, authentic relating is about putting this openness into practice by having the courage to be transparent and genuine with another. By embracing vulnerability, you not only enter into a deeper relationship with yourself, you also extend an invitation for others to drop their facades. Only through such genuine interactions can you feel truly connected with others.
- Compassion: Many delve into psychedelics in the hope of experiencing a profound ‘ego dissolution’. While ‘ego death’ may remain elusive, the psychedelic experience invariably dissolves boundaries, expanding your sense of self and interconnectedness. Cultivating compassion is key to sustaining and deepening this expansive state. By directing your thoughts and care towards others, you continue stretching your mind beyond the confines of your own skin and species, and your capacity for love and empathy grows.
- Playfulness: Embracing light-heartedness and remembering to laugh and play reminds us that not every step of the journey has to be 'hard work'. This playful approach can infuse our lives with joy, making us more resilient and adaptable to the unpredictable twists and turns of life. Psychedelics frequently provide insights into what is often termed the 'cosmic joke': a realisation that while existence holds profound depth, it is also imbued with the absurd and comical. By integrating playfulness into our lives, we can balance intensity with levity.