Three Traditional Ways to Prepare for an Intense Trip
Let’s say you’ve decided that it’s time you took a major foray into the interior world. Perhaps it’s a feeling of restlessness or a crisis of identity, or maybe you just know inside of you that it’s time, that this is something you need to do. You know that the plunge you intend to take may change you forever, and you know that nobody can truly tell you what to expect: whatever the experience brings, it will be a surprise, or it won’t have worked. You want to approach with care and reverence, but you don’t want to presume to bias or pre-determine the experience. So what can you do to ready yourself and to mark the importance of taking a major step?
The following are three methods that come from religious backgrounds and which can be used for nearly any visionary experience. Whether you’re planning a several day total fast, an extended silent retreat, a potent dose of a psychedelic drug in the dark or any other method of transformation or contact with the divine, these are ways to get yourself into such a frame of mind as to allow for rebirth.
Tell seven people. This was taught to me by an Ojibwe elder, in the context of preparing for a four day total fast (no food, no water). It might be a little awkward to tell somebody “I’m going to be doing a major ritual of transformation next week” — but just for that reason, you probably won’t do so unless you’re really taking it seriously. Plus, if something should go wrong, seven people will know what you were trying, and in the case of a fast in the woods, where to go looking for you if you don’t come back. This also has the benefit of extending the preparation and anticipation into your community: if you do end up going through some sort of transformation, your friends will know not to be completely surprised. It also means you will likely have a few people eager to hear how it went. If you need someone to talk with afterwards, that can be very handy, as they will know in advance that it’s important for them to make time to talk with you. This is especially useful if you are planning a solo trip, because these may be people you can call on late in the experience if you need an ear or a shoulder. Sharing with others what you are planning can also give them an opportunity to share with you any experiences they’ve had, and you just might be desirous of their advice and well wishes.
Fasting. Abstaining for a little while from anything you would normally do or consume can help you to mentally mark an upcoming event as significant, and to gear up for it. What you choose to abstain from and for how long (if at all) is up to you. Heavy foods, sex and recreational drugs are common choices of things to take a break from, perhaps for as long as two weeks. Personally, I often adjust gradually, taking care first and foremost to ensure that I will be as clear headed as possible on the day of, so no staying up late or drinking, and for at least a day before the trip I observe a vegan diet. Heavy foods like meats and cheese are thought to be grounding and to draw the blood flow away from the brain and into the digestive tract, leaving us less able to go deep into ourselves. That does not necessarily mean starving myself of calories, however: on a classic psychedelic, I’ve found I get the most benefit when I have the energy to think clearly, so I make sure to have a good breakfast the day of (note that on some drugs it’s better to have an empty stomach), and to make plenty of fruits and grains available for during. Others fast more totally and for longer, and find that this works best for them. The more you fast, the more introspective and the less energetic your experience is likely to be. Some visionary traditions — such as various forms of ayahuasca shamanism — have their own lists of specific prohibitions, frequently limiting intake of salt, sugar, oil, fat, spices and pork, and typically encouraging sexual abstinence both before and after the ceremony.
Confession. Have you done wrong? Do you have any regrets you’re holding onto? Such memories might serve as obstacles, or even take you by surprise and plunge you into a dark, emotionally painful trip full of fear and judgement. If you can find a way to get them out of the way beforehand, you might both save yourself some grief, and allow yourself to feel truly ready to begin once the time comes. Personally, I don’t go to a confessor; I go to myself, writing down my thoughts and thinking on them for a time. If you have someone you confess to, whether they be a friend, a lover, a priest or a therapist, by all means use them. The important thing is to spend some time admitting to the things you’ve done lately about which you are not totally at peace, laying it all out so you won’t be caught off guard. Apologising and laying to rest old grudges is an important part of letting go of the past, and might allow you to begin with a clean slate and move in a new direction. Questions I ask myself include: When have I hurt somebody? When have I been greedy? When have I pretended to be something other than what I am? Who have I disrespected or failed to honour as I should?
For the purposes of this article, I have assumed that you wish to prepare without predetermining what your experience will consist of or focus on, instead seeking to rid yourself of obstacles. The opposite approach is to set an intention, such as by preparing questions you want answers to, surrounding yourself in relevant symbolism or laying out images of loved ones. Once you have developed familiarity with visionary experiences, you may have a good idea of the areas you need to work on, and setting an intention can be very helpful. When you’re new to tripping, however, the former approach may be preferable. Don’t overthink or try to control it; let what happens, happen.
Whatever techniques you use, the important thing is to put your mind in the right place so that you will be free of distractions and ready to go deep. That doesn’t mean, however, that elaborate preparations are totally necessary; many of my respondents report that some of their best trips were spontaneous and totally unplanned. Don’t feel that you *have* to follow any particular protocol. If you think ritual can help you get in the right state of mind, pick which ritual is right for you and your circumstances, and observe it insofar as it remains useful.
Cleansing and Banishing Rituals — techniques to create a distraction free space
Potentiation — ways to make a trip stronger
The Psychotherapeutic Setting — a trip setting designed around maximum introspection, ideal for first timers