As you start to explore psychedelics, you may seek the support of an experienced guide or a retreat center. To make a well-informed decision, here are some questions to ask yourself and prospective tripsitters, companions, therapists, and retreats.
In recent years, the number of people who seek professional support on their psychedelic journeys has grown dramatically for many reasons, including:
Despite growing enthusiasm for psychedelic medicines, these substances are often grouped alongside heroin in the most restricted group of "drugs" and remain illegal in most jurisdictions.
Thankfully, as researchers and media outlets continue to publish promising data about the benefits of psychedelics, more people are "coming out of the closet" with their experiences as fear of backlash and stigmatization diminishes. However, for obvious reasons, many underground guides prefer to remain anonymous.
If you are searching for plant medicine or a psychedelic guide, therapist, or retreat, understand that those who seem to have the necessary experience and knowledge to support you on your journey may be in high demand.
While some may be happy to help you, others may refrain from responding due to busy schedules or to protect themselves and medicine workers. If someone doesn't reply, it's not personal.
Some guides and medicine people have a greater tolerance for risk and may be more open to connecting with you. These beings can help you find what you seek.
There are many online and offline forums and communities where psychonauts gather; do your research, and you may find support in these places. Please seek therapeutic support and illegal substances with utmost discretion and respect.
This manual presents some essential questions to ask yourself and potential guides. The more precise the answers, the safer and more confident you will feel with your decisions.
The goal is to minimize the potential of unpleasant and painful surprises during your journey and to maximize the probability of having a positive experience. The safer you feel, the more able you are to surrender to the process, thereby increasing the chances of a safe and healing experience.
The writer uses the words "guide" and "facilitator" interchangeably. For brevity, these terms also include retreat centers that employ guides and facilitators.
First, contemplate a few questions:
- What is my intention?
- Why do I seek a guide, therapist, or retreat?
- What do I want or expect from a psychedelic experience?
Some people search for a psychedelic experience or guide to find a instant cure to years or decades of unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, addiction, low self-esteem, etc.
However, if you think that some person, medicine, or event will make all your issues disappear, you will be disappointed. The quick fix is a fantasy. If a guide promises you an easy, painless, overnight solution, run away; doing medicine with these types of people can do more harm than good.
If you want meaningful change, you must commit to "doing the work" before, during, and after your psychedelic journey. The most beneficial attitude to develop is an eternal dedication to spiritual practice and growth. We stop seeking quick fixes when we realize there is no end to the work.
Psychedelic journeys help us to develop a holistic approach to health and well-being. We might start by incorporating simple practices such as eating healthy, exercising, and meditating.
We must recognize and be honest about what's not working in our professional and personal relationships to muster the courage to make the changes necessary to live a more fulfilling life.
Sometimes, the journey requires us to ask for support, be in community, and be vulnerable. Other times, we must practice being alone and self-sufficient.
On this journey, we learn to be responsible for our lives. No person or experience can save or rescue us.
Complaining will not solve our problems. When we shift the focus from ourselves and develop faith in something bigger, we gain the strength to move forward. No matter how difficult it may seem, we are protected by something infinite that we cannot see but can feel.
A person who has done their work and shares the medicine from a place of love, compassion, and abundance receives many inquiries. The more humble and committed you are to the work, the more likely the doors to transformational medicine work will open.
Committing means letting go of ideas, people, and possessions that no longer serve you. It means being willing to do whatever it takes to create the time, space, energy, and resources necessary to do the work. Medicine work teaches you to live more simply and minimally instead of continually seeking to get something.
Usually, most people want to connect with someone with whom they can talk openly and vulnerably. An effective guide will help you feel more confident and self-sufficient. She will listen and point you back to yourself. You may realize that she is a reflection of your true self. You have everything within you to wake up, discover the truth, and make meaningful change.
Many people microdose or take small doses without the physical presence of a guide, although having someone to talk through emotions is helpful. It may take time to clarify intentions. Be patient with yourself.
Most people, including guides, therapists, and retreat managers, must charge money to sustain themselves. Sometimes, the value of having a guide becomes apparent only after a journey.
Beforehand, we might question why we are paying someone to sit with us. After going through an experience or two, we may understand the depth of the work involved and the value of talking and processing emotions with someone who has seen many others undergo similar processes.
From the guide's perspective, working with a journeyer is a big responsibility. Competent facilitators will be available to support you before, during, and after a journey while simultaneously encouraging you to be proactive and self-sufficient.
Sometimes, these relationships last several months and sometimes years. The emotional and spiritual connection remains even without physical contact between the guide and the journeyer. Most guides will be open to further contact down the road; taking on a journeyer is like having a child -- the guide feels at least partially responsible for the journeyer's well-being.
Although "paying for a session" may be the initial mindset, it may be more helpful to think along the lines of "I am investing in myself and my spiritual growth," or "I am building a symbiotic relationship with a guide," or "I am contributing to someone who supports me."
The more clarity you have about the resources you are willing to invest in your psychedelic journey, the clearer your choices become. For example, if you have $10,000, you'll find open doors almost everywhere; you'll be able to afford any retreat, ceremony, or guide. Having $1000-$1500 will open doors to a few multi-day retreats and many guides offering one-day and overnight sessions.
With $300 in your bank account, you may be better off growing your medicine and asking a family member, friend, or community member to tripsit for you. You can receive free support in online forums and groups. If you want to work with a "professional" guide with this budget, you will almost certainly be disappointed in the available options.
However, you may be lucky to find a guide who charges nothing for her time or services. Most psychedelic guides naturally become friends with many on the path and may offer support as friends. Most "professionals" start as friends who listen and care and to whom people come for advice about psychedelics.
Empathetic psychedelic guides and friends are in high demand. We hope everyone, regardless of budget, has the ability to connect with these generous beings and can sooner or later practice being such a guide and friend.
Remember, you only need a little money to get started. It's relatively easy and affordable to grow mushrooms. There are grow kits and spore syringes available for purchase on the internet and countless tutorials on how to be successful in the growing process.
This guide on finding medicine may be helpful. This route takes guts, resourcefulness, and a higher tolerance for risk, as you may be engaging in illegal activity.
If you seek support from an experienced guide, understand that many others are doing the same and that the guide may lack bandwidth to begin a new relationship. When you focus on spiritual practice and are willing to do whatever it takes to do this work, medicine, and guides will show up to support you.
You may feel more comfortable taking mind-altering substances in specific environments. Some prefer being in nature or their home. Some may like taking mushrooms in a city setting. Others may choose a clinical setting with licensed doctors and therapists.
Sometimes, the journeyer will travel to the facilitator or vice versa. How comfortable are you traveling to and entering a new space? How are the accommodations? How are the bathrooms?
While some journeyers travel to the Amazonian jungle for their first experience, others may feel safer asking a tripsitter to come to their own home. If you are not used to getting out of your comfort zone, you may benefit from having a more familiar setting for your first few experiences. On the other hand, pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone may be the best thing to do.
Some people feel more comfortable in one-on-one sessions, while others may want to experience psychedelics in a group. Sometimes, people who are initially skeptical are amazed at the power of being part of a group. After a group retreat, others may feel that a private ceremony is more suitable. It may be beneficial to keep an open mind about this question as you continue your exploration.
Some people seek a guide or retreat, thinking they will be in and out without having to do much work before or after. Some people want to "experience" something special. These attitudes are misguided and reflect a culture that lacks spiritual education.
However, you may recognize the depth and intensity of the work. Facing yourself is often complicated and unpleasant. You may experience existential crises. The feeling of melting or breaking down may arise repeatedly during and after a journey.
If you expect only pleasure, you will be disappointed. Some core unpleasant emotions — shame, guilt, grief, rage, frustration — may surface during your psychedelic experience.
It's essential to enter the field with humility and gratitude for anybody who takes the time to support our journey. Otherwise, the medicine may not be as effective as we initially thought. A sense of entitlement and "getting" leads to challenging and disappointing trips, which may teach us unexpected lessons.
Some of us like being in control and getting what we want, but medicine shows us life does not always unfold as planned. The more we surrender to the process, the more an invisible force supports us.
The psychedelic experience is just one aspect of the spiritual path. It may take one or many psychedelic journeys to realize these experiences are part of a continuous awakening, an infinite lesson, and an eternal unraveling.
Many medicines are available: psilocybin mushrooms or truffles, ayahuasca, DMT, peyote, san pedro, LSD, iboga, MDMA, 5-MEO-DMT, kambo, and others. Sometimes, you may work with the medicine available locally and conveniently rather than wait for an opportunity to work with what you perceive to be the ideal medicine.
For example, you may be called to experience ayahuasca in the Peruvian jungle. Still, you may accept the homegrown mushrooms your friend offers you. As the saying goes, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
Other times, you may do whatever it takes to follow a calling to work with a specific medicine, location, or guide. When you practice trusting and listening to your heart and gut, resources and support appear everywhere you look.
In some cases, there may be considerations about sustainability (peyote, ibogaine, 5-MEO-DMT). You may decide only to work with regenerative and widely available medicine. Or you may meet a guide and trust whatever they offer. The medicine appears in many forms, and the more open you are, the more you allow it to work its magic and find a way into your life.
You may feel called to have a guide of one gender or another. Regardless of biological sex, softness, gentleness, kindness, humility, strong listening ability, and non-rigidity are characteristics of a competent guide. They will be curious about you without assuming they know better than you.
You may feel they are merely in the background, accompanying you by your side or holding your hand. The guide may feel like a parent or, grandparent or sibling. You will feel like a servant is waiting on you rather than a king or queen wanting your obedience, respect, and adoration.
A mature guide follows your lead rather than pulling you from the front. Mature facilitators practice "non-doing." A good facilitator does not push, rush, puff up, or have anything to prove.
These realities may seem subtle initially but will become more apparent as you explore options and speak with more facilitators. In the end, an unexpected friend or community may support you on your journey.
Sometimes, the best guides show up in an unassuming fashion without any expectation of getting anything from you. Sometimes, you may not think an individual is a guide initially, but you may change your mind retrospectively. The more we look inward and commit to the work, the more guides appear.
Ideally, you can spend multiple days with a guide or at a retreat. In reality, time, logistics, and finances may be limiting factors. Balance your genuine desire with realistic expectations.
Facilitators who discuss and emphasize the importance of preparation and integration are more likely to understand the holistic nature of the work than those who focus only on participation in a ceremony or retreat.
Preparation sessions help the guide and journeyer build high trust, which is essential for an effective medicine session. Integration helps the journeyer feel held and loved even after a session.
Some guides provide all these services, while others partner with therapists and integration specialists who can support journeyers before and after sessions. The more support you receive before and after the journey, the more likely you will experience long-lasting benefits.
Do your research. Many individuals and organizations that have experience doing this work will have some type of internet presence. If they don't, you may wish to ask for references. However, the lack of an online presence does not mean the guide is inexperienced; she may rely solely on discreet word-of-mouth referrals. Some of the best guides have been discovered only by their clients and a few trusted associates.
Some guides work alone with a maximum of one or two journeyers during a ceremony. Others may employ an assistant even when working with a solo journeyer.
Retreat centers differ in the ratio of facilitators to participants. The more highly qualified facilitators available to support you before, during, and after a journey, the better your chances of having a positive experience. However, having access to one mature facilitator can be sufficient.
How reverent does the guide seem? How much faith does she have in the mysterious workings of the medicine? What attitudes does she carry toward the medicine and the work? To what spiritual practices or lineages is she connected?
Having many personal experiences does not automatically qualify a person to be a trustworthy guide. On the other hand, even if a person has had only a few experiences with the medicine, her spiritual and emotional maturity may make her an excellent facilitator.
Spiritual guides are committed to lives of truth and service. A mature facilitator listens more than she talks. She does not need to prove or sell herself to you. You will feel safe and comfortable around her. The possibility of tripsitting may not excite an experienced guide as she has realized that the work, although fulfilling, can be heavy. A competent facilitator will exude confidence, calm, and joy rather than an excited restlessness.
In general, the more stringent a guide's screening and qualification process, the more likely she takes a more cautious, long-term, holistic approach to the work, which signals experience. Competent guides focus on building trust and relationships. The less eager a guide seems to get you "in the system," the more you can trust her.
Does the guide focus on quality over quantity? Are you exploring with the guide and making decisions in your best interest? Do you feel pushed or rushed to make a decision? Do you feel encouraged to take your time to make a well-informed decision? Do you feel optimistic and grounded during and after your connections with the guide, or do you feel off-center and restless?
Ethics is a paramount issue in the psychedelics space. Small ethical slips can have far-reaching consequences when working with these medicines. Make sure your guide has a strong ethical code.
Does the guide feel grounded? Does she want you to think she is someone special? Does she listen more than she speaks? Do you feel comfortable and safe when in her presence? What drives her? Listen to and trust your gut.
This code of ethics provides examples of the attitudes and qualities of a competent facilitator.
Some journeyers may feel safer when licensed medical and psychological professionals are present during the session. Some retreats provide medical supervision, but many individual guides will not unless they are doctors, nurses, or psychologists. Remember that, for millennia, people have been taking psychedelics without medical supervision.
A facilitator's academic or clinical training may or may not correlate with her ability to support you before, during, and after your journey, and many competent guides lack any formal training. However, the mere presence of licensed clinicians may reassure those with more delicate mental and physical health.
For legal reasons, some guides may request you source your own medicine. If so, make sure you are able to do so before making the decision to move forward.
If you are a heavy smoker or drinker, your guide may ask you to abstain from these habits for a specified period before, during, and after a session. Most guides do not allow alcohol or cigarettes during a session.
If you have been dependent on these or other substances, be prepared to face intense cravings without being able to fulfill them. Some guides may allow or encourage the ceremonial use of cannabis or rapé (tobacco snuff) before, during, or after a session.
Some facilitators may microdose to tune into the field of medicine. Some facilitators may take larger doses when they tripsit for others. The intention behind this decision is important: Why is the facilitator dosing? Does the facilitator's actions aid her intuition and ability to support journeyers?
Skilled guides may be able to take medicine alongside journeyers without experiencing adverse effects, whereas inexperienced guides may run into problems. Make sure you know what the guide will do on ceremony day.
Understanding what nourishment is available before, during, and after your journey is helpful. Some guides will offer a post-journey meal even for one-day sessions. Some traditional multi-day retreats require all journeyers to follow a severely restricted diet.
In contrast, modern retreats may be more lenient and cater to various preferences. If you are a picky eater or find comfort in specific foods or food groups, find out if the retreat has what you like. If not, you have an opportunity to become aware of and relinquish attachments to specific tastes and sensations.
Ultimately, you decide how to move forward on your journey.
Develop your intuition. Make decisions that are a full yes.
Have faith in yourself.
Wishing you safe and healing journeys!
Explore other written guides for journeyers.
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To learn more about what's it's like from a tripsitter's point of view, read this guide.
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