The paradox of pain

The paradox of pain

The last two years of my life have been intensely painful, physically and mentally. In fact, they’ve been so painful that I was forced to deeply examine my relationship with pain and attempt to change it drastically.

In the summer of 2016 I was thrown suddenly into a terrifying chronic illness which changed my life.

I was no longer able to sleep at night due to constant, bone-deep itching like I’ve never known before, and then the accompanying pain after I’d literally torn my skin off with my nails, bleeding all over, and in the end I would fall into a fitful sleep early in the morning out of pure exhaustion.

Itch is a strange phenomenon. It’s arguably more intense than regular pain, since we tend to try to counteract itching with pain.

Anything to stop the itch

To be fair, normally people don’t get itches that are strong enough to warrant real pain, but I promise that if it gets intense enough you’ll do anything to stop it.

Although the itch may have been more intense, the pain I felt day in and day out all over my torn up body was a sort of chronic, high level burning sensation.

I often felt like a burn victim. It was that bad. I would lie in bed, staying completely still. If I could do this for long enough, the pain would subside slightly and I could calm myself down. If I moved an inch, the wounds and sores would open up again, causing me great pain and even more itching.

And when something commands your attention every waking moment as chronic pain does, you have two options if you want to try living a regular life : you can medicate it away as I did frequently (although I used weed instead of poisonous over-the-counter pain medication), or you can re-examine the way you react to pain.

Change your relationship to pain

At first I refused to face my pain, and I would look for activities absorbing enough to let me forget about it temporarily like video games and porn, and later with good old marijuana.

In essence, physical pain isn’t that different from emotional pain. We seek relief in many forms. We use porn, gambling, alcohol, weed, video games, sugar, and television to help us escape, to help us forget our pain, whether emotional or physical.

Pain

At the core of it, we’re talking about avoidance versus acceptance. In the end, I finally did admit to myself that if I wanted to avoid going absolutely insane, I would have to face what was happening to me and try to accept it.

What is pain?

I began by trying to understand what pain actually is. What the hell is it, really? The most obvious answer is that it’s a bodily mechanism that alerts us to damage being done on a physical level. Not much help there.

It’s also a concept that makes us very uncomfortable and that we avoid talking about. We’re getting closer to a model of pain that we can work with.

Life is all about perception. There is no ultimate reality, only our various perceptions of reality. In other words, in some sense we create reality. So pain, as terrifying as it is, is only as horrific as we allow it to be. If we can change our relationship to it, we can change its essence.

It’s all in the mind you see. I know that’s a cliché, but as you know, clichés exist for a reason. When I started really delving into the nature of my relationship to pain, I discovered some very liberating truths.

My greatest epiphany regarding the problem of pain, is that pain is a bodily sensation. This is a powerful concept, because as a sensation, pain has no real power to harm us. Just as we can choose how we react to sadness, anger, craving and itching, we can choose how we want to react to pain.

Pain and mindfulness

This is one of the precepts of mindfulness practice. Many sufferers of chronic pain, myself included, have discovered the incredible benefits of mindfully observing painful sensations.

In the here and now, there is no pain, technically speaking. “Pain” is a concept, and as such it resides on the mental plane exclusively. When we remove all our negative mental connotations that we’ve accumulated over the years, via family and friends, television and the culture we grew up in, what’s left?

What’s left is the essence of pain. The nucleus of the concept of pain. It can’t be spoken of, not really, because speech relies heavily on conceptualization. It’s ineffable.

The most powerful tool for dealing with pain

Mindfulness is a very powerful tool, or rather a mindset. It simply refers to experiencing reality directly in the present moment, instead of relating to experience mentally, as we usually do. We think of future events, or past events, or we think endlessly about the meaning of things that happened five minutes ago, or the likelihood of things happening five minutes from now. But we don’t ever think about what’s happening right now. The now can only be experienced directly.

Mindfulness takes us from a place of identification with pain, to a place of detached, or I should say non-attached observation. To be clear, I don’t mean to say that the pain actually goes away, rather that our capacity to deal with it improves. More specifically, our relationship to pain can change. It can change to the point that we only feel pain, without suffering.

“Detachment means letting go and nonattachment means simply letting be.”

Stephen Levine

We often feel like pain and suffering are one and the same, but there’s a massive distinction: pain is a sensation, suffering is a thought.

As such, pain may be inevitable, but suffering can be overcome by various forms of mental training.

Sitting with the pain instead of avoiding it

This is a different path that many don’t understand.

When I discovered the potential of mindfulness for changing my relationship with pain, I started doing a lot of strong-determination meditation sittings, which consist of sitting perfectly still for long stretches of time, without reacting to pain or discomfort. They are incredibly difficult, and incredibly rewarding. I would normally sit for 30-40 minutes at a time.

Pain2Only once have I managed to sit for an entire hour without moving, and it was a truly transcendental experience.

Simply observe

The pain had become incredibly intense, and my mind was screaming with frustration, but I wouldn’t give in.

And the more I directed my attention to the painful areas to directly experience the sensations of pain, the more I realized that that’s just what it was : Sensations of pain.

Our reactions to pain may seem absolutely determined, but in fact they are our own choice. The name we give to that choice is suffering.

We all instinctively know the difference between pain and suffering. If someone punches you in the face and breaks your nose, you’ll inevitably feel a lot of pain. But it’s the fear, confusion, and anger at the person who punched you that causes you to suffer.

Who dies?

The book Who Dies? by Stephen Levine really got me to think about pain in a completely different way. It’s one of the most poignant and profound books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

“If there is a single definition of healing it is to enter with mercy and awareness those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgment and dismay.”

-Stephen Levine

Overcoming our fear of pain in this way is truly liberating, and has numerous benefits. I believe that one form of enlightenment may be found in the person that has transcended the fear of pain altogether.

A few of my own observations from working with and accepting the place of pain in my life:

Reduced Fear in General

When you’ve sat through an hour of stabbing pain in various parts of your body, or your daily life is brandished with a painful chronic illness, the numerous fears that we feel towards all kinds of things may start to diminish.

In my own life, I’ve discovered that I’m way less worried about humiliating myself, so I’ve started putting myself out there in many ways. For instance by starting this website. The old judgmental part of my mind that shouts “But what if what I write isn’t good enough and nobody wants to read it and everybody will laugh at me and I’ll be exiled and forced to live in the wilderness…” and so on, can be effectively countered with “I’ve had worse”.

I’ve also seen that fear of failure has greatly diminished. All fear is rooted in pain, be it emotional or physical. Fear of failure is actually a fear of the pain that accompanies failure, like humiliation (see above) or blows to our self-esteem.

A Drive to Live a Meaningful Life

Thank god my chronic pain didn’t last forever. In the last month or so it has rapidly gotten better. So much better that I’m finally able to exercise again, to sleep through the night, and to go out and about without being constantly distracted.

The most powerful result of my work with pain has been this powerful desire to live my life exactly as I want to.

Partly because I now know by direct experience that health is fickle, any number of things could happen to me and life is too short to waste it on worrying about consequences. But also partly because I know that I can handle whatever the universe throws at me. I know that nothing that happens to me can actually break me, especially if I keep cultivating my insights on pain and reality.

An Unobserved life is not worth living

There are some harsh truths inherent in the fabric of human existence. Pain is abundant. It’s everywhere.

People die in agony every single day. Many people lead lives that are so physically painful that it’s unimaginable to those of us blessed with good health. Pain is as much a staple of being human as is being born, loving, and dying.

Even those of us born with a healthy body and healthy mind will know pain at some point in our lives. If you haven’t already experienced some kind of storm in your own life, there’s certainly someone close to you who has.

This is just an inextricable part of being human. We’re playing this human game, and pain is an aspect of that game, whether we like it or not.

It’s funny, I took a course in Vipassana (insight) meditation a while back. The teacher told us that every now and then, a student would come to her after much meditation and strong determination sitting and tell her that he had actually started enjoying the aches and pains of sitting for an hour.

The game

We can make a game of it. We just have to be open to the possibility that pain isn’t what we always thought it was. You can start catching your mind, Ah I see, an old thought pattern of aversion is coming up. Is it anchored in reality? Or is it a mental creation?

Just think of the potential benefits of doing this! The fear of pain and suffering can limit us in so many ways, but when we start to question the fabric of this fear, we find that doors start to open to us. We start to open our minds and hearts to unheard of possibilities and potential changes in our reality.

With an open heart and an expanded mind, we become unstoppable. Fear can no longer crush our spirits, and pain can no longer hold us down. We will cease to suffer.

When we stop avoiding the things that scare us the most, like pain, we find that it leads to a feeling of wholeness. A feeling of acceptance of the nature of things.

When we fully accept pain, a paradox will become apparent to us:

Pain only causes suffering because we allow it to do so.

Much love.

How to use psilocybin mushrooms for healing

Psilocybin mushrooms are amazing in so many ways.

They allow for unparalleled introspection, dissolution of hard-wired boundaries and insights into the ultimate nature of reality.

Be that as it may, the most important aspect of magic ‘shrooms for my own spiritual development has been their incredible propensity for working with trauma.

When I was growing up we moved a lot. We never stayed in one place for more than two years until I was 17, and I never managed to spread my roots so to speak. When you move around like that as a kid you quickly learn that making friends will bring nothing but misery in the end. So you close off.

Then when I was seven years old my father decided to come out of the closet, after being married to my mother for eight years. They promptly filed for divorce.

The effects on her where devastating, and on our family as a whole. My mother met a few new boyfriends after that, one of whom beat her, another was a raging alcoholic and sort of dragged her down into alcoholism with him.

Seeing one’s parents in constant psychological pain is not ideal for a young child, and so I started developing some deep rooted fears and insecurities for myself. These included a chronic lack of self-confidence, painful shyness, problems with commitment and making friends, and overall low self-esteem.

I know loads of people deal with the same issues and that’s why I’m so passionate about spreading the word on the incredible potential of psychedelics for improving psychological health.

A history of ambiguity

In the sixties, psilocybe mushrooms and LSD were used, in a clinical setting, to treat people with PTSD, alcoholism and other addictions, and much more. The results were incredibly promising, but the danger of societal upheaval was what frightened the authorities, and psychedelic substances were outlawed.

In my own adventures with ‘shrooms, I’ve experienced profound healing of all of the psychological problems I listed above, but especially the problem of low self-esteem.

You see, when you discover how integral, how important you are in the grand scheme of the universe, there’s no reason anymore to think lowly of yourself. I’ve seen that from where I’m standing, nothing would exist if it wasn’t for me!

It may sound narcissistic but it’s absolutely true. My direct experience of reality is tightly bound to my existing in the first place. It’s difficult to grasp this idea when it’s new to you, but it’s changed my life in endlessly beneficial ways.

Now to the core of the matter. HOW?

Preparation

The times when I’ve experienced the most healing trips of my life, have all been well planned out beforehand. I would begin by writing down the actual issues or memories I wanted to work with and ponder them deeply, before actually ingesting anything. Preparation is incredibly important.

Make sure you’re in a safe, quiet and comfortable space. If you want you can play some tranquil music, although I prefer silent darkness.

A spotter, which just means a sober person that you trust, who makes sure you have everything you need and will calm you down in case of anxiety or distress, is nice but in my experience not necessary.

Definitely turn off your phone and make sure that you don’t have anything important you need to do for the next 6-8 hours or so. Setting is key. The way you prepare your environment can make or break your trip.

Now, after deciding what you want to focus on during the trip, prepare your mushrooms. Depending on the type of mushrooms, dosages will vary. I’ve exclusively used liberty caps in high doses, so around 2-3g of dried caps. There are plenty of resources for dosages of different types and more info on preparation, for example here.

I normally make a tea, so I steep them in hot (not boiling) water for 10-15 minutes. I don’t actually eat the mushrooms anymore, as it upsets my stomach. Then after drinking the tea I retreat to my tripping space and sit in quiet contemplation until the effects start to become apparent.

Live again

When I start feeling the tingling sense of well-being, I start thinking about the issue or memory I decided on. If it’s a memory, I try my best to actually re-live it in as much detail as possible.

As an example, I focused on the traumatic memory I wrote about in my article on journaling during a recent trip. I sat in darkness and put myself in the shoes of my young self. I tried to keep my attention on the memory until the peak of my trip, and at some point I started crying a lot, repeating again and again “all is forgiven, all is forgiven”.

And that’s what we’re aiming for here, total and utter forgiveness and acceptance. Of yourself, and of those who have wronged you. The relief from releasing a traumatic memory like that is profound.

While I can still consciously remember the event, the feeling of repressed rage and grief is gone. Its hold on me is broken. I am free from its negative influence. I forgave my mom for losing her temper at me, and I forgave my family for not coming to my aid.

But most importantly, I forgave myself for whatever I imagined I had done wrong in that moment. For not being good enough, for not reacting the way I should have.

I am now free to focus on what I choose to focus on. And although I don’t want to start using psychedelics for every single traumatic memory, I think they can be powerful tools to work on our deepest rooted hurts and hang-ups. So happy tripping!

I hope this article helped someone to have a wonderful healing trip and to overcome difficult feelings. If you enjoyed this you may want to check out my article on affirmations, and the right way to use them.

 

 

The awesome power of psychedelics

„Psyche“ referring to the mind, and „delic“ from the greek dêlos, meaning to manifest, make visible or clear.

Lies and confusion have surrounded psychedelic substances since they were introduced to western culture in the early 20th century.

This is because they dissolve boundaries, allowing people to see past their societal personas and making them less likely to accept unfair treatment towards themselves or others around them.

People and systems that have the most to lose from boundary dissolution have deliberately spread propaganda and falsehoods to instill fear in the average person and encourage persecution against those who decide to actively explore their consciousness.

Psychedelic substances are incredibly powerful. They should not be approached as „recreational drugs“. Atmosphere and setting are very important, as all feelings and thoughts are magnified during a trip. To be clear, I’m referring to substances such as Psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, Mescaline, DMT, Salvia Divinorum and (arguably) MDMT.

I don’t include cannabis because I don’t view it as having the same consciousness expanding potential, although it has its uses. I’ve mostly experimented with liberty caps (Psilocybe Semilanceata) that I picked myself.

As with all substances you plan on ingesting, make absolutely sure you KNOW that it is what you think it is.

My most beneficial trips have been conducted in silent darkness, and most of the time I‘ll meditate, especially during the peak effects.

If you take shrooms at a party, for instance, or while watching a movie, your consciousness will be completely at the mercy of other people and outside influences. You will be missing the most unspeakable and amazing quality of a psychedelic trip : the chance to know thyself.

That said, your emotional state before taking a psychedelic substance will affect your trip to no end. The one time I decided to take a mushroom trip while I was feeling depressed was the worst trip I‘ve ever experienced.

I ended up sitting in my sofa for the entire duration, experiencing a torrent of negative thoughts and feelings. I‘m absolutely sure that my experience with meditation saved my sanity that day. Be warned.

Here are a few of the effects I‘ve noticed in my own psychedelic journey. Some of these will be regarded as negative by people that haven‘t „tuned in“, but I assure you that I‘ve never felt as much freedom of thought and existence as I do today, and I attribute a big part of that development to my use of psychedelic mushrooms.

Psychedelics will make you unemployable. They will show you that the time expended doing repetitive unfulfilling work for the benefit of a select few is time wasted. Time that could be used to expand your faculties of awareness, experience all the beautiful diversity that life on earth has to offer.

You‘ll see that work can be play. Work is a word with endless negative cultural connotations, but it can be fulfilling. It should be fulfilling, because work should be play. We aren‘t machines.

When our ancestors hunted mammoths and gazelles in wild nature, it may have been a dance of life and death, but I believe it was, more than anything, play. Excitement, risk and reward, and a complete immersion into the present. A game. The infinite game.

Psychedelics will make you unacceptable to mainstream culture. They will show you that the things you‘ve been made to believe will make you feel happy and fulfilled are actually bottomless pits of excess and dissatisfaction.

You‘ll never have enough, until you accept that existence itself is enough. Your mind and body and clean air and real food and good people are what you need to be satisfied. And maybe a roof over your head.

The Lexus, flat screen TV, Macbook air, video games and the porn, oh god the porn, will never fulfil you. And psychedelics will make that abundantly clear.

Psychedelics will make you see the areas of your life that are holding you back. All your addictions. Hard addictions and soft addictions. Sugar, alcohol, porn, social media, TV, tobacco, weed and so much more.

Eating nutritionally deficient foods laden with poisonous additives and guzzling it down with a Pepsi. Psychedelics will slap you in the face repeatedly and show you what‘s wrong and how to make it right.

Psychedelics can take you to states and places undreamed of. If you take the plunge, become an explorer of your consciousness, you will be richly rewarded.

The late Terence McKenna, a master wordsmith and leading psychonaut, once said that going through life without having a psychedelic experience was like going through life without ever having sex. Boundary dissolution like you‘ve never known.

That said, there is definite potential for harm in psychedelics, so I keep to two golden rules: Setting is everything and don’t mix and match. Mixing psychedelics with other psychoactive substances such as alcohol is not a good idea.

If you‘re interested in learning more about psychedelic substances and how to safely use them, check out http://howtousepsychedelics.org/safety/. I also recommend the book Food of the Gods by Terence McKenna, and really any of his lectures that you can find on Youtube. He was the one who showed me the potential of these substances.

I also like Leo Gura‘s approach on Actualized.org, working with psychedelics as a way to emotional understanding and enlightenment.

I sincerely hope psychedelics will give you everything they‘ve given me and more. Safe journeys.