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Three Jungians on Psychedelics: Is Tripping a Valid Path of Self-Discovery?

Jan 4, 2024

VIDEO

Art Credit: Jano Tantongco, jano.tantongco@gmail.com

AUDIO

How can combining psychedelics and Jungian psychology enhance our understanding of psyche?

The evolving field of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy offers a unique intersection with psychoanalytic theories, particularly those of Carl Jung. Psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca have shown potential in facilitating deep explorations of the psyche, akin to mystical states or intense psychoanalytic processes. These substances unveil layers of the unconscious typically accessible only under specific psychic conditions, revealing perceptions and experiences that parallel primitive ritualistic states and analytic encounters with the unconscious.

Psychedelics possess a profound ability to induce ego dissolution, leading to the emergence of unconscious material. This facilitates a state where self-representations soften and fall away, allowing a unique self-confrontation. In psychoanalytic terms, this aligns with exploring diverse, often conflictual self-states. Psychedelics perturb the mechanism maintaining conventional identity and self-recognition, leading to co-consciousness among disparate self-states and an expanded self-unity after reorganization.

Psychedelics disrupt the narrative self, composed of personal history, experiences, and social contexts, bringing forth the ‘minimal self’ characterized by immediate sensory perceptions. This shift highlights a transition from narrative identity to a state where the minimal self becomes more salient. Neuroscientific research aligns the narrative self with the Default Mode Network (DMN), which shows altered activity under psychedelic influence, mirroring the subjective loosening of narrative identity.

The integration of unconscious material is pivotal in both psychedelic therapy and psychoanalysis. Psychedelics act as catalysts for softening defenses, allowing repressed or dissociated content to surface for guided restructuring of self-narratives. The parallels between psychoanalytic processes and psychedelic therapy suggest a deep kinship, potentially enriching both fields.

The concepts of ‘set’ and ‘setting’ are crucial in psychedelic therapy. ‘Set’ refers to the individual’s psychological state and expectations, akin to psychoanalytic understanding of character, disposition, and unconscious processes. ‘Setting’ encompasses the therapeutic environment, including cultural and societal backdrops. This aligns with the psychoanalytic emphasis on understanding layers of meaning in patient experiences.

Psychedelics have a long history in indigenous cultures, viewed as sacred and integral to rituals and healing practices. Indigenous use, often misinterpreted through ethnocentric lenses, is now better understood through ethnography, shedding light on how these substances have been woven into the fabric of various societies.

Jung’s view on psychedelics was complex, marked by skepticism about their religious and therapeutic utility. He acknowledged their power to reveal the unconscious but cautioned against their use without understanding how to integrate these experiences. His views, partially shaped by ethnocentric perspectives and contemporaries like Eliade, highlighted concerns about indiscriminate access to deep unconscious material without adequate integration.

Jung’s concept of individuation, integrating unconscious material into consciousness, is highly relevant to psychedelic therapy. Psychedelics as psycho-integrators suggest parallels with Jung’s theories, potentially facilitating a deeper understanding of the psyche. This integration may involve heightened connectivity between evolutionarily ancient primary process brain systems and more evolved secondary process systems.

Psychedelic research offers insights into human psychology and consciousness evolution. It suggests transitioning from secondary consciousness associated with the DMN to primary process cognition. This shift is believed to underpin the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, enabling reconfiguration and rewiring of the brain.

Ethnographic data from traditional psychedelic use, like the Bwiti cult and ayahuasca rituals, reveal common themes: the significance of music, visionary journeys, feminine motifs, and transformative experiences. These elements suggest a shift to right-hemisphere-dominant awareness and primary process cognition, resonating with Jung’s ideas of big dreams and collective unconscious.

Find the Books We Suggest in this Episode HERE

HERE’S THE DREAM WE ANALYZE:

“I’d heard about a luxurious and impressive hotel, and though I knew I wouldn’t be allowed in, I went anyway. I entered the lobby, which was enormous and where everything was a warm shade of brown or gold. An employee approached me and politely told me to leave. I said I would but snuck on the elevator when he wasn’t looking. I pushed the button for the 20th floor, but it took me to the 19th, where the door opened into another elevator, which went up to the last floor. I wandered the hallways for a while until I got to the corner of the building, a kind of open common space with couches. Off to the side was a janitor, cleaning, who I passed on my way to look out the window but who stopped me before I could reach it. He was a large, oafish fellow, like Chris Farley. He jerked and stretched his body around to do his tasks, over-exerting himself in a way that was meant to be funny. When he bent a certain way, I could see he had on lacey, pink women’s underwear under his jeans. We spoke briefly, but I don’t remember the conversation. At the end of it, we agreed that he’d be better off working the same job but in a movie theatre. I left, going back down the elevator, and again, it took me to one floor before my destination, where I had to enter another elevator to get to the lobby. I crossed the lobby, exited the building, and onto the street.”

UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF YOUR DREAMS:

Dream School provides a gently paced program with live interactive webinars, an uplifting online community, thought-provoking audio modules, and guided journaling to deepen your experience. Lisa, Deb, and Joe crafted the program with you in mind and companion you through the process. “Step-by-step, we’ll teach you how to interpret your dreams.” Join the revolution of consciousness! Join Dream School and Transform Your Sleep into the Greatest Adventure of Your Life: LEARN MORE

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7 Comments

  1. Jorge

    You folks may consider interviewing Brian C. Muraresku who wrote “The Immortality Key” which expands on Carl Ruck’s work. It’s a recent book that cites archeo-botanical evidence for the use of psychoactive substances in Dionesian temples. He also covers in more detail the evidence we have for the use of psychedelics in paleo-Christianity. More interestingly however is how deeply he goes into the rituals surrounding the Eleusinian Mysteries and the preparation people went through in order to partake of them. He also spends a lot of time discussing the pagan continuity theory and how pagan rituals and beliefs may have played a role in the formation of many of the Christian traditions we now have. I think he’d be a great person to interview. I would love hear the sorts of questions you all would pose given your unique perspectives.

    Reply
  2. Liz Huston

    This was my favorite episode of yours ever, and that’s saying a lot, as I’ve been a fan since the very first one! Just wanted to thank you for what you do – especially this one! I loved every minute of it.

    Reply
  3. vee mahoney

    Thanks for this episode! I wasn’t able to access the link to the books.

    Reply
  4. Meg Westley

    Such a rich and fascinating episode. At age 69, I devote considerable time to dream interpretation, fairy tales (partly via Lisa’s Spinning Straw group), breathwork and meditation. My psychedelic journeys, undertaken with intention and preparation, and followed by intense reflection, have been transformational. Psychedelics are not a magic bullet, for sure, but if the intention is true and the psyche open, such drugs can be an extraordinary catalyst for exploring the unconscious and the mystical/spiritual. It was a delight to hear you discussing this topic with such depth and sensitivity on TJL.

    Reply
  5. Max and Reif

    (I’m pasting in a Comment that I just made in the Community Forum of the DREAM SCHOOL of “This Jungian Life.”)
    I’m not quite done listening to the podcast on psychedelics, but I feel they’re giving a pretty balanced job of it. I had recently read that letter of Dr. Jung’s and wondered whether they would quote it. I’m glad they did!

    I’m a psychedelic “casualty” from the ‘60s. It’s a very long story. I had 8 psychedelic trips ‘68-’70. I feel I’ve come to recognize that I was nowhere NEAR mature enough to enter that domain…my judgment did not have the maturity needed to navigate the issues! I was like…well, the title of a book by the author John Barth comes to mind: “Lost in the Funhouse”…except after awhile it was NOT FUN!

    Part, not all, of what happened was that several trips in, material from VERY deep and VERY repressed/locked-in childhood trauma started surfacint. (I had some awareness of it, but my mind was so compartmentalized I could not consciously access it. I was totally SPLIT!) And when THIS stuff started coming up, I broke down completely.

    I got through the shame, related to the traumas, that was so deeply repressed, in fortuitous ways. The most dramatic event of this healing, which took place in stages and in some ways is still going on, was my working with Ram Dass, whose loving presence enabled me to finally, 20 years after my initial trauma at 7, talk about it. The life-murdering shame that helped lead to my breakdown has never returned.

    The Indian sage Meher Baba, whom Ram Dass wrote to about psychedelics, being baffled himself after hundreds of trips, said among other things “Taking lsd can be like opening up a locked room with a crowbar. You don’t know what will come out, and there is no way to get it back in.” He also said to one close devotee, “You could take psychedelics hundreds of times and be fine, and he (pointing to another person present) could do so once, and never be the same again (meaning, I think, “ok” again).”

    Meher Baba, in his reply to Ram Dass, published later as a pamphlet called “GOD IN A PILL” acknowledged that while psychedelics can be risky, they can indeed be used helpfully in psychotherapy..

    I personally intend to stick with dream work and Art for this lifetime, at least, given what I’ve already endured and recovered from (hopefully, to continue to grow AND access the Unconscious, personal and if needed, collective, for my continued growth.)

    Reply
  6. Graham Morgan

    Thank you Joe, Lisa and Deb for a very balanced and nourishing exploration.
    Having trained in London as a Jungian Analyst I am interested in looking into the experience of psychedelic substances and the interface with Jungian work.
    I liked what you said Lisa about dreams being analogous to psychedelic experiences. The dreamtime when we sleep can indeed be like a trip.
    Thank you.

    Graham (UK)

    Reply
  7. Philip Levine

    I’m deeply committed to my own therapy with a Jungian analyst. Listening to this brought back memories of some of the many acid trips I’ve taken over the years. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, I worked with a Jungian analyst in NYC who claimed that Jungian thought would start to ”ínfiltrate” our consciousness. This was her prediction that of course has come true. But she also on occasion gave me micro doses of acid during our therapy sessions. Looking back I really can’t say with any certainty what all that acid did for me. I do know that when I had a ”good trip” I experienced an outpouring of the love I was later to discover was inside of me. On the other hand, when I had a bad trip I couldn’t function or talk to people. There was one time back then when I took some acid in a hotel in Kansas City and for the next two weeks, I thought I was dead. hard to explain.
    Now, as I’m writing this I realize that acid did show me the full range of who I was what condition I was in, and possibly what the future could hold for me.

    Reply

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