Meditation as a foundational practice for psychedelic integration
March 12, 2022
8 min read
What Meditation Is — and What It Isn’t
Many are intimidated by this practice, understandably.
Our minds can be our own worst enemy. We’ve created a world in which we’ve minimized the need to expose ourselves to our inner world. Our phone is a convenient escape available to us at all times. Boredom is virtually nonexistent thanks to social media feeds that absorb much of our attention, whether intentionally or not.
More and more Westerners turn toward the ancient Eastern practices of meditation to ease the constant anxiety culture has ingrained in us.
You might have already given meditation a try and concluded that it is not for you.
Or, a common one — that you’re not good at it.
The reality is, meditation is for all of us and none of us will be good at it, especially in the beginning. Meditation goes against the nature of our ego-driven minds. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a skill you can develop through consistent practice.
Against popular belief, the primary purpose of meditation is not to reduce the thoughts in your mind but to change how you relate to them.
Rather, meditation helps you improve the quality of your mind by cultivating awareness and equanimity. A quieter mind is a byproduct.
Buddhist meditation practices fall into two categories:
In mindfulness meditation, you’re working on your attitude towards the experience. In compassion meditation, you’re working on your attitudes towards the experiencer.
Both practices have different effects, but they can be equally useful in your healing journey — whether it includes psychedelics or not.
How a Meditation Practice Can Support Your Psychedelic Integration
Among all integration practices, meditation is an absolute non-negotiable for me. It’s also super accessible — anyone can do it, for free, at any time.
A simple daily meditation practice can:
help you explore your true nature as a human being through the present moment
increase your emotional awareness and non-reactivity through equanimity, and with that, facilitate behavior change
help you connect with the voice of your soul and your inner wisdom
Beyond that, more elaborate meditation experiences such as silent retreats can help you explore your subconscious, bring up repressed trauma, and give you a glimpse into what Buddhists call “nirvanic bliss” (more on that shortly).
At this point, you might realize the overarching similarities to psychedelic healing.
Psychedelics, too, can help you look behind the obvious, break patterns of your mind, process trauma, and reconnect to yourself. They, too, can reveal deep insights into the nature of reality — the beingness that permeates the universe.
Experiencing the divine nature of reality, aka “nirvanic bliss”
Many of my psychedelic experiences have been centered around the experience of the present moment as the ultimate gateway into the divine nature of this universe.
In Zen Buddhism, it’s believed that if you can be fully present, you can find in the center of each moment a portal that opens to the Infinite.
This, however, requires intensive meditation. Most of us will not sit under a tree for seven days as Buddha did. Psychedelics are essentially rocketships that can get you to the same experience of “nirvanic bliss” with much less effort.
It was when I experienced through meditation what I’d previously only experienced through plant medicine — pure bliss — that I stopped questioning what was real and accepted it as the underlying quality of our universe (and us).
Tapping into the habit-altering properties of daily meditation
At this point you might wonder: why should I meditate if psychedelics can get me there faster and easier?
Putting the experience of nirvanic bliss aside (after all, not everyone is willing to meditate all day for days in a row), tangible benefits arise even from a shorter daily practice.
One key benefit is that when you observe your thoughts as something separate from you, you’ll notice there’s a space in between your thoughts and you. In that space lies a tremendous power for behavioral change. Whether you struggle with compulsive patterns, anger outbursts, or hopelessness. The voice that’s telling you to do or say something you may later regret is not you. By observing it without judgment, you create the distance required to choose an alternative course of action.
Quieting the ego to tap into the wisdom of your intuition
Once further into your meditation practice, you’ll notice another benefit: an improved ability to tap into stillness, the space in between thoughts.
This is the space where you’ll be able to connect with your most inner nature — the part of you that’s not thinking but feeling. The voice of not your ego but your soul.
Your inner wisdom holds answers to some of your biggest questions. When your mind is cluttered with fear-based or self-critical voices, though, it’s hard to hear it. Meditation helps quiet the dominant parts of your ego, which creates space for other voices to rise.
As psychologist Bill Plotkin says:
“Touching soul is easier when our minds are quiet.”
Every time I commit to a meditation retreat, I uncover inner wisdom that helps me answer questions I’ve eagerly (and unsuccessfully) been pondering for months.
It’s precisely this inner wisdom that psychedelics help you uncover, too.
Once you’ve had a profound journey inwards, a regular meditation practice is the best way to keep that dialogue going and build a relationship with your intuition.
Where To Start With Meditation
If you already have a practice — great! I’d love to hear how meditation has helped you in your journey. What have you found most beneficial, most difficult?
If you’re a newbie, let’s talk about where to start.
Some key things to remember:
It’s more impactful to commit to a short daily practice than a longer, less frequent one
Start small — you don’t have to sit for 20+ minutes at a time, especially in the beginning
Find what works for you — meditation looks different for everyone, some people will resonate more with some practices than others
I suggest you set yourself a goal, e.g., committing to a daily practice for 30 days. In that daily practice, play around with different types of meditation o find whatever works best for you. Make the experience as pleasurable for you as possible. The most important thing is that you do it, if that means you’re meditating in bed with back support, so be it!
Here’s an overview of some meditation practices to explore:
Mindfulness meditation: Most widely spread in the West currently. You simply sit quietly and observe thoughts and physical sensations. You may place your attention on an anchor of your choosing to do so (e.g., your breath). There are many apps for guidance, such as Insight Timer, Headspace, and Calm.
Compassion meditation: This is the practice of cultivating “loving-kindness” towards yourself and others, also called metta meditation in Buddhism. It’s a beautiful practice to train your mind to be more compassionate, which can be a major unlock in your healing journey. You can simply search for metta or loving-kindness on any of the apps mentioned above.
Breathwork: The breath can be extremely supportive in quieting down your mind. For a daily practice, I suggest exploring yogic breathing techniques such as Pranayama or Kundalini. There are also more activating practices such as shamanic or holotropic breathwork, which are a great option for an occasional, guided session to go even deeper.
Yoga Nidra: Don’t be misconceived by the name, Yoga Nidra shares little with a traditional flow yoga. Rather, it’s a deeply meditative practice where you go on a guided journey inside (laying still the entire time). You can find classes on YouTube or some of the meditation apps such as Insight Timer.
Dance / non-linear movement: If you’re struggling with physical stillness, don’t let that keep you from meditation. Embodiment practices such as dance are a good alternative option. The goal here is to lose the dancer and become the dance, as Osho says. Non-linear movement takes it even one step further into spontaneous, intuitive movements that may not even resemble a dance. You put on a song and let your body move, however it wants to move. Afterward, you can sit or lie still for a few moments and absorb the impact of your dance. You may find it much easier to tap into meditative states, then.
I hope this was a helpful introduction. Let me know if you have any more specific questions or curiosities. I’ve been passionate about Buddhism and meditation for years, so I’m happy to go deeper into anything that seems intriguing or relevant to you.
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