practice supporting others on their journeys
Spiritually mature, heart-centered psychedelic guides are gems for humanity.
Here are some resources for those seeking to grow in the work and serve as witnesses, mentors, and allies for other people's spiritual / psychedelic journeys.
An increasing number of people are interested in becoming and, in some cases, have started working as a psychedelic therapist, guide, facilitator, or practitioner. This document provides basic advice and a list of resources to help these individuals realize their full potential. Please note: the writer has his own biases, and you should question, examine, and come to your own conclusions about any and all perspectives provided below.
Staying close to the medicine is the most direct path to growing as a facilitator. This means communing with the medicine, supporting those who work as guides/therapists/tripsitters, volunteering at or contributing to retreat centers that offer the medicine with integrity, and connecting with individuals that do any of the above. The more you practice preparing, experiencing, and integrating your own psychedelic journeys, and support others to do the same, the more confident you will feel. To initiate others, you must take the steps to go through your own initiation. Each step you take will give you a more nuanced perspective. You must lead by example.
The less we interact with the medicine, the slower our progress will be. Each interaction with the medicine is a revolutionary act that aids us in dissolving the harmful effects of society's conditioning on our psyche. If we are unwilling to face our shadows and fears, how can we help others to do so? Medicine work will make us realize our shortcomings. Are we willing to face them with honesty and courage? If not, are we at least willing to acknowledge the fact or will we pretend otherwise?
When we have faith, commit to sharing the medicine, serve others, and practice relinquishing attachments, life grants us opportunities to be involved in the work. The medicine illuminates the path, purifies intentions, opens our hearts, dispels doubts, activates gratitude, and shifts our focus into the present moment.
It’s important to develop and strengthen our spiritual practice, which helps us cultivate generosity, compassion, loving-kindness, and experiential wisdom. We practice being aware of and content with whatever arises rather than following the endless desire to become something other than what we are or to get something from the world. We learn how to care for ourselves and set strong boundaries.
Then, when we feel abundant and relaxed, and when we are happy with who we are, we are able to open, listen, and forget about ourselves while holding space for others. The more we seek for name, fame, attention, insights, or respect, the less effective we are as facilitators. The less we seek, the more we can be a clear open witness for ourselves and others. We are never done with the work, and must remain vigilant about mental impurities that can harm ourselves and others.
As Shantideva says, “All the suffering in this world arises from wanting only our self to be happy. All the happiness in this world arises from wanting others to be happy.” The path to being happy and inspiring others is to give generously and find ways to benefit others -- to put aside our own desires and ideas and be a loving presence and witness.
The medicine path is not an easy one. Especially at the beginning, working with our own and others’ traumas can often be unpleasant, confusing, and painful. We may feel like escaping or hiding at times from the seemingly never-ending suffering. However, a willingness to explore all the intricacies and subtleties in our own psyche is necessary to be a successful practitioner. If we are not willing to face ourselves, we cannot support others to do so.
We must practice getting to the root of our suffering, understanding it, and transmuting it into love and light. Indeed, the more inner work we’ve done on ourselves, the more that people will be willing and able to surrender, heal, and grow in our presence. When we practice being fully honest with ourselves, we allow others to be fully honest with themselves.
There are countless distractions and temptations along the way, and these will increase as one successfully moves along the healing journey. Those who stay heart-centered, humble, and soft will be able to sustain themselves, even if they make mistakes. Repenting and asking for forgiveness cleanses the spirit. Those who fall into various traps (misuse of or obsession with money, sex, power, name/fame, etc.) may achieve worldly success, but will ultimately be unhappy. It has been said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.“
Those who practice the teachings of The Tao de Ching tend to be the most effective guides. Service-orientation, groundedness, humility, and patience are some of the qualities of the most sought-after practitioners. Not knowing is more powerful than knowing. The more we think we know, the less qualified we are to sit for others. The work requires us to drop our intellectual understanding and feel into things.
Reading written guides from other practitioners can be a starting point for recognizing the most important aspects of working with the medicine. Please keep in mind that no amount of reading will prepare us fully for what we may experience on our journeys as facilitators.
It’s important to have a solid understanding of how a psychedelic therapist or guide is expected to think and act, and some of the pitfalls to avoid.
Some of the following programs mostly center a Western medicinal and therapeutic paradigm, which, like any other framework, has limitations. Western society has for many centuries rejected psychedelic substances, and programs designed within this system will usually make compromises in various ways.
Some of these compromises may include disallowing practitioners to practice with the medicine; only accepting people with certain academic qualifications [which do not necessarily translate the ability to sit with others, and which reinforces systemic inequalities against black, indigenous and people of color] into the program; or using and promoting language, imagery, ideas that focuses mostly on the individual as separate from the whole.
Still, many of these Western-based training programs can offer great insight into creating the conditions necessary to succeed as a medicine practitioner in our modern society. Being trauma-informed and learning about the nervous system are important aspects of being prepared for some of the cases we may encounter.
Meanwhile, some indigenous cultures have been using plant and other psychedelic medicines for hundreds and even thousands of years, but offer very little formalized training, and essentially none recognized by Western institutions and society. However, many practitioners around the world have found and continue to find it helpful to spend time and study with indigenous healers. Actively seeking out environments that challenge one’s core beliefs can be a fruitful endeavor. You may find it useful to receive training from various cultural perspectives, and to apply a combination of the teachings you receive in your own practice.
Furthermore, any training that allows you to practice sitting, listening, volunteering and helping others work through trauma can be helpful. In your journey as a medicine worker, training in meditation, yoga, and breathwork can be just as powerful or even essential as formalized medical or clinical training. The medicine path is a spiritual path, and ultimately has nothing to do with institutionalized structures and hierarchies.
In fact, cooking for others, sweeping the floor, and cleaning toilets without monetary reward may be the best practice one can receive on the way to holding space for others. Psychedelic guides will often encounter unpleasant emotions in themselves and others; it’s best to get in the habit of being comfortable with cleaning up physical messes as a preliminary practice. As a revealing aside, in some monasteries, cleaning toilets is a task reserved for the highest master.
Remember: you are enough already. A true teacher will always point you back to yourself. These various courses, workshops, and retreats are ways to get in touch with your innate ability to be a healing presence, and to connect you to a wider community of trainees.
As the third poem in the Tao says,
Here are some books that may be helpful on your path.
Here are some videos that may provide insights into holding space for others.
Here are a few helpful articles about some of what we've discussed above.
If you think something should be added, changed, or taken off this guide, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explore written guides for journeyers.
Explore the mycelial network through the Tripsitters Directory.