For such a simple activity, meditation is notoriously complicated. You need nothing to meditate: no special garb, no esoteric trinkets, no supervision. Yet, when the time comes to just sit, to calm and observe the mind, many are stunned and overcome by the inevitable flood of thoughts.
Thoughts of worry, thoughts of self, and thoughts of thoughts, all spring to the front of your attention. Perhaps the first real challenge of cultivating a meditation practice is realizing what exactly you are trying to do.
Embarking on a psychedelic experience, on the other hand, is overwhelming in a different way. If meditation sets you on the arduous path toward the center of conscious experience, psychedelics transport you directly into the thick of it. Psychedelics, after all, are often considered a shortcut to some of the insights reached through meditation.
There is some truth to this idea of psychedelics as a shortcut, but it carries misconceptions about both psychedelics and meditation. Consciousness is an elusive yet ever-present phenomenon that can be explored in many ways—using one method to skip another overlooks the compounding effect of using both, together.
Psychedelics, meditation, and the default mode network
Thanks to advanced brain scanning technology, researchers have been able to observe and map neurological changes in altered conscious states. Some of the most interesting results come from studies where patients use psychedelics or entered meditative states. These studies confirm the common anecdotal reports of both experiences and provide a scientific explanation for the feeling of ego dissolution.
Before discussing the neurological overlap of psychedelics and meditation, we must first explain an area of our brain known as the default mode network (DMN). The default mode network is aptly named. This part of our minds is active when we remember, plan, and self-reflect. It helps constitute our sense of self. By no coincidence, the DMN is often overactive in depressed patients, who struggle to stop thinking about themselves in a negative light.
The DMN accounts for our normal, everyday thinking patterns that protect our sanity. At the same time, the DMN confines us to our everyday insanity.
A comparative study examined different brain scans of people using LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca, and compared them to brain scans of people in meditative states. In psychedelic and meditative brain states, the researchers found similar alterations in the DMN. While not all psychedelic substances and types of meditation interact with the DMN in the same way, the brain scans have demonstrated that both techniques consistently disrupt our DMN and sense of self.
From a subjective perspective, the changes in the DMN related to meditation and psychedelic use are accompanied by feelings of peace, moments of insight, and internal transformation. They are also consistent with findings that meditation and substances like LSD or MDMA can be used to treat depression and anxiety. If the experiential anecdotes aren’t enough, now science is joining the argument that psychedelics and meditation are two sides of the same coin.
What are you trying to do?
There are different psychedelics and different types of meditation. Before pursuing psychedelic meditation, you should consider where you are and where you want to be. Depending on your individual experience, one psychedelic may be a better option than another.
For instance, combining marijuana with meditation may be markedly different than MDMA meditation. The dosage amount, too, will significantly alter your meditation. While a low dose of marijuana combined with meditation is an experience you can direct and control, a full-blown ayahuasca trip is an entirely different type of meditation that may have to control you instead. At some point, the lines may even blur between the two practices.
Techniques for Psychedelic Meditation
No matter how you decide to approach psychedelic meditation, there are a few techniques that can support the experience.
Mise en place
Preparation is key when using psychedelics. Psychedelics are more enjoyable and manageable when you enter with an open, ready mind. When you add meditation to the mix, that mental lightness is even more critical. With adequate preparation, when the time comes to surrender to the experience, you will do so with ease.
Maintain a consistent meditation practice beforehand. Without a healthy practice, someone trying to meditate with psychedelics will be in two unfamiliar territories, instead of just one. A lack of preparation may end up frustrating or derailing you.
You can take additional steps in your diet and lifestyle. For example, it is common in ayahuasca ceremonies to refrain from sex, drugs, alcohol, and even certain foods. There’s a physical reason for this, but these steps also frame the experience and bring it to focus.
There are psychedelics, there is meditation, and there is psychedelic meditation. If you are concerned about a substance taking over your meditation, ease into your dosage, cut it down to less than you think, and work your way upwards from there. Find your balance.
In your first attempt to meditate, a full dose of LSD may be too much to handle. You can lower the amount, or even try to use another substance instead. Marijuana edibles are common to pair with meditation. The delayed onset of effects and more regulated doses makes it easier to manage than many other substances, which is especially helpful with mindfulness meditation.
Mind your meditation
Some substances may be more suitable for your preferred type of meditation.
MDMA, for example, strongly influences your physical senses. Instead of meditating on some internal, mental processes, it may work better with meditation that involves external stimuli. For instance, you can meditate upon a piece of music, some visual stimulation, or even incorporate a physical practice like yoga or breath work. These types of meditation bring out the effects of a substance like MDMA, highlighting them as the intentional focus of the trip.
Marijuana or lower doses of psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, or ayahuasca can work well with directed types of meditation. They can enhance meditation techniques like mindfulness, contemplative meditation, and mantra repetition without hijacking the experience.
Depending on your substance and personal meditation practice, adapt and adjust your approach to what you think will work best.
Take a cue from the experts
Many therapists who treat with psychedelics use the same method, which is simple and effective. They provide a comfortable physical setting, put on relaxing music or ambience, and then get out of the way. Find yourself a welcoming place to sit or rest; somewhere you can imagine settling into for a while. Having an unobtrusive soundtrack or background audio can help you anchor your attention.
If you have company during the experience, make sure they aren’t trying to lead you to any particular conclusion or end. If you are going alone, the same idea applies to yourself. Maintain focus, approach it lightly, and don’t force yourself.
Trying to harness the mind in meditation is a bit like holding a water wiggly—those tubular, slippery, jelly-filled toys that leap out of your hand whenever you try to hold onto them. With the addition of a psychedelic state of mind, it could be like grasping with a greased hand.
Too many goals and intentions can become a roadblock to learning and growth. It is essential to observe and define your desires from psychedelic meditation, and perhaps to abandon them entirely. While there are techniques that can help with your psychedelic meditation, you should not regard them as ways to “get you there.” Instead, use these techniques and considerations to get out of your own way.