How (and Why) I Use Shamanic Medicine and Psychedelics to Prepare for My Own Death
THE TABOO THAT IS DEATH & DYING.
Death. Something that’s not often talked about openly in our society or culture. It might even be more accurate to say that it’s somewhat of a taboo subject, where deeper discussions and contemplation on the matter are actively avoided.
Until delving deeper into the path of shamanic medicine and psychedelics, I gave little attention to pondering the concept of death and dying. It’s not a concept though, even though we can only know it conceptually, until it’s actually our time to experience it. It’s one of the great certainties in life. The ultimate guarantee.
(Unless the future of science/medicine/technology proves otherwise, of course! Another article entirely.)
Until I starting engaging in practices to become more self-aware, it was as if my own mortality wasn’t real to me. I’d rarely given it deep considerable thought, that at anytime without prior warning, the Queen of the Underworld could come and grasp my hand, taking me swiftly to the other side. My relationship to shamanic medicine and psychedelics continues to evolve, and as I feel more and more reverence towards these sacraments, the more my relationship in how I look at dying and death changes.
Jeff Mason, a lecturer of philosophy, writes this about death:
“Ignoring death leaves us with a false sense of life's permanence and perhaps encourages us to lose ourselves in the minutiae of daily of life. Obsessive rumination on death, on the other hand, can lead us away from life. Honestly coming to terms with one's death involves reflection on its significance in one's life, and thinking about the larger values that give life its meaning.” 1
I can’t speak on behalf of other people, but this certainly resonates with me. Contemplating the process of dying and death doesn’t have to be a depressing, morbid concept, but an important reminder of the reality of existence. Reflecting on my own impermanence allows me to put things into perspective. To acknowledge the fact that it may be my time to go, any time.
It reminds me to not get caught up in the anxiety and stresses of the insignificant happenings of daily life. To deepen my presence while experiencing the richness that life has to offer. To better my relationships with those around me. To define my priorities, values, virtues, and what’s truly important to me. To find fulfilment and meaning in how I choose to spend my time.
Contemplating the process of dying and death with a sense of humility and curiosity presents the option to travel deep down the rabbit hole, exploring the possibilities of what might happen at this significant event. Does one’s consciousness cease to exist when the lungs have stopped breathing and the heart has stopped beating? Or does one’s consciousness transcend our physical limitations, gifting unknown potentialities free from attachment to the material realm? It’s one of the great mysteries that humanity has explored philosophically and spiritually for millennia.
I’ve delved into books, articles, podcasts, and lectures, all which provide very interesting discussions and evidence that support the notion that one’s awareness continues to exist beyond the shackles of our physical body. This compelling information fills me with curiosity and fascination, however it’s a process that in it’s entirety, while we’re alive, we can never really know. It is possible though, to get experiential insight into the detachment from our material realm, through the use of shamanic medicine and psychedelics...
SURRENDERING INTO THE UNKNOWN.
If you’ve yet to experience any form of shamanic medicine or psychedelic substance, the whole situation can get intense. VERY intense. I think I’ll always be apprehensive about undertaking medicine journeys because of the ineffable intensity I’ve experienced in the past.
These types of experiences can be breathtakingly beautiful, filled with unimaginable landscapes, unconditional love and orgasmic bliss. They can also be deeply harrowing, thrusting one into a voyage through the depths of the netherworld; a white knuckle sleigh ride of disturbing imagery and unpleasant emotions.
To willingly put yourself into these situations, understanding the full potential to come face to face with immense adversity, takes extreme courage. The feeling of the egoic mind disconnecting from the physical body, while simultaneously being obliterated into nothingness, can be a scary process to go through! Because the ego so desperately wants to cling onto any sense of self and preserve it's identity, it can take a great deal of practice, bravery and fearlessness to release all forms of resistance and attachment, surrendering completely into the unknown.
I don’t see fearlessness in the traditional sense of having a lack of fear. To me, it’s about being honest with one’s self to acknowledge and feel the fear fully, while being courageous enough with intention to move towards it to move through it; grabbing the devil by the horns, looking it in the eyes, and facing it head on.
At the peak of these psychedelic experiences, it can feel as though one is dying. A lot of the terror and anxiety that can come from an extremely unpleasant psychedelic experience stems from the mere inability to let go and surrender, allowing one's consciousness to experience liberation from the egoic structures of the mind; freedom from the physical material forms of reality. This very art of surrender, is how psychedelics assist in providing practice for when the inevitable comes.
As it states in The Psychedelic Experience: A manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, (also quoted by John Lennon in The Beatles song ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’), “Turn off your mind, relax, float down stream…”
PRACTISING MINI-DEATHS DURING THE PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE.
Working with particular shamanic medicines and psychedelics, such as Ayahuasca, Psilocybin, Mescaline and Kambo, (others will have their own preferences as to which teachers, tools, allys and medicines work best for them) allows for the perpetual practice of the art of surrender. Surrendering to the great unknown. Surrendering body and mind into a grand mystery I’ll never come to fully understand. Surrendering and trying to find stillness, no matter how uncomfortable or unpleasant the experience may be.
It’s through this release, this surrender, that I come to practice a form of death. A mini-death.
When I work with shamanic medicine and psychedelics, not only are various aspects of myself constantly evolving, dying, and being reborn, but as I mentioned earlier, there are times when it certainly feels like the totality of my being is experiencing the process of crossing over to the other side. I've even had interesting experiences where I've felt like I was stuck in limbo; somewhere in-between dying and death.
Cultivating the ability to find stillness while surrendering into uncertainty, allowing resistance to fall to the way side, is a profound opportunity to continuously practice surrendering into what seems like our final moments in this Earthly plane, into the great mystery.
I’ve observed my own relationship towards shamanic medicine and psychedelics shift over the years; from deep personal transformations and life altering metamorphoses, to experiences that allow for fine tuning and re-calibrating aspects of my life. At the time of writing this, a lot more of my intention revolves around the very art of surrendering to the unknown, even when I feel really uncomfortable; not just as a practice for dying, but as a practice to embrace peace, stillness and non-reactivity in day to day life.
There’s no guarantee when any of us will go, or under what circumstances, but if the opportunity presents itself at the time, I would like to have cultivated the ability to be calm and accepting. To approach the process, even through the potential anxiety, pain and fear, while still being able to embody a sense of tranquility, kindness, and love, and to be able to embrace my departure as present and curious as possible.
That's why I approach shamanic medicine and psychedelics in this way. I haven't mastered this process, and I doubt I ever will. Sometimes it's incredibly challenging to surrender completely, but every time I step into a ceremony or a sacred space, it's another opportunity to practice the art of letting go. We only have the opportunity to go through this process once. Rather than let fear and panic overcome my being, I hope to be able to approach it with a sense of curiosity, gratitude, adventure and presence. I’ve found there to be great knowledge and wisdom in the contemplation of death, and the experiential practice that shamanic medicine and psychedelics continue to offer, is a beautiful gift.
WILL WE EVER KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE COME TO THE END OF OUR DAYS?
Many people will never consider the implications of how we spend our time here on Earth, and how that might affect what may happen after we die. Especially if one leaves no perspective open to consider that death of the physical body, may not mean the ultimate termination of one's existence.
Near Death Experiences. Past Life Recollections. Shamanic Experiences. Psychic Phenomena. Ancient Texts. Eastern Philosophy. Esoteric Wisdom. Quantum Physics.
There is a wealth of compelling information stacking up in numerous fields that does suggest that death may not the be all and end all, and that consciousness may well exist separate from the physical form of the body. The evidence extends beyond anecdotal story and subjective experience, with the latest research and findings in quantum physics making it difficult to reject the concept of life after death, without considerable contemplation. The information is out there, and if one is interested enough, continual learning and humility opens doors to entirely new perspectives and possibilities.
What truth can be found in these concepts of death, is hard to say for sure. But the possibility that my own actions in this world might affect any potential experiences in the great unknown after death, further propels me to live a healthy, kind, loving, peaceful life.
So, let us contemplate this final question…
How would we live our day to day existence knowing that what we do, and how we do it, might play a significant part in our afterlife experience?