a psychedelic new world
Our world is changing in very big ways very quickly. We are currently in a liminal space of overlapping states of the world, on one side the pre-pandemic and on the other side the post-pandemic world. The overlapping sections of this global venn diagram is the liminal state itself, effectively known as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Liminal states are transitory experiences often characterized by moments of vulnerability and uncertainty, no matter what type of liminal states they are categorized as. So guess what is also a liminal state? A psychedelic experience.
I personally believe there are transferable observations that connect both of these liminal experiences. In some reversed moments of wisdom, there is also a lot that the psychedelic community can learn from the experience of this pandemic.
1. They are both surreal.
This pandemic has sparked a lot of comments around the utterly surreal nature of living in a world wrecked by a public health crisis of this magnitude. Every day we wake up to unfathomable news cycles that detail biostatistical models, death rates, and horrific failing systems, with each new day worse than the previous. Without any perceivable grounding in a known reality, this new world can feel surreal, with everyone questioning the validity of their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. The psychedelic experience leads people to question this changed perception of your reality, your surrounding, and the visuals of your environment.
Typically, this experience of struggling to perceive your external environment as real has been pathologized in the mental health establishment as derealization, which is often connected to a dissociative response to trauma. Is there an evolutionary mechanism for not feeling like your environment is real? Unsure. It could, however, be a ‘red flag’ indicator that if your environment feels off or surreal, it means that it changed somehow and not always in the best ways. When something appears surreal, it forces us to be more attentive to our surroundings. We are all suddenly more aware of this exposure to the fractured society we live in.
2. They both require integration.
Integration is the psychedelic community’s way of describing the process of emotionally and mentally processing a particular experience. This process is geared towards the psychedelic experience itself but people do this exact same process in therapeutic environments concerning the experiences in their everyday lives. Integration is the space where we try to find meaning in an experience where the meaning is not completely known or understood. When our experience feels overwhelmingly rooted in surreal chaos, it can be helpful to find patterns, which requires having enough information to actually see the patterns.
At the moment, this pandemic has upended our lives and fractured the very systems that dictate our livelihoods. Many people are searching for any meaning to this public health crisis, but it is very hard to find meaning during an actively traumatic experience. Understanding the meaning of something requires being able to look at something through a logical lens and through an emotional lens. This level of understanding requires analysis and critical thought, with the understanding of being able to see a whole picture scenario. This experience is still unfolding, and similar to the psychedelic experience, the experience of the pandemic will require a level of integration to actually fully understand it.
3. They expose the process of medicalization through capitalism that is supported by a racist and ableist medical system.
I feel like it is finally safe to actually admit to our global psychedelic community that any form of medicalization, supported through a broken, racist, and ableist medical system, is inherently problematic. If this pandemic has exposed anything to the general public’s view, it is that our US medical system is a capitalist tool that denies access to healthcare. Our personal health and livelihood have become a public political tool, and there is no way out when this is the only way in for healthcare. This known weakness in our healthcare system, which was gatekept through privatized insurance and built upon institutional racism, was often dismissed in the psychedelic community, even though it was spoken about as a problematic structure to legitimize the psychedelic movement.
This pandemic is disproportionately targeting Black and Indigenous (BIPOC) communities in the US through lack of access to proper medical care, with an increased pressure felt in the proposed disposability of elders, disabled people, and other marginalized community members. The future of the psychedelic community and its drive to legitimacy through medical psychedelic exceptionalism needs a deep reflection for a future alternative to the previous mainstream move forward. Many people have been talking for years about a different psychedelic future, often to the dismissal of researchers and academics. This pandemic has shown the psychedelic community that prioritization of communities most impacted by systemic frameworks of oppression need to be centered and that means decentering narratives that uphold futures supported only by those same broken frameworks.
4. They teach us that it may be impossible to continue as normal.
It has become overwhelmingly apparent that we cannot continue as normal. In a matter of a few weeks, everyday activities that were once considered normal everyday errands are now limited by shelter-in-place state lockdowns. A universal effort to transfer most activities to a virtual equivalent came as a quick reaction to triage what we considered a normal life, including academic environments, work environments, and social environments. Even in quarantine and social distancing models, people are struggling to do everyday activities, with an increased presence of emotional and mental challenges contrasting the narrative of normalcy. We are being shown, similar to the change of priorities when in a psychedelic experience, that our priorities have changed while in this pandemic.
Prioritizing normal in the midst of chaos can be a coping strategy for balance but can also come across as denial of the overall impact of the situation. I think it is perfectly okay to realize that being unable to work, do simple house tasks, or struggling with increased social connection online is reasonably justified. A global pandemic is not the time to be guilt-tripped into making your crafting dreams come true or launching your new online class unless of course, you have an inherent crafting response to traumatic environments as a safe coping mechanism. Otherwise, we need to take a pause and collectively reflect that everything has changed, and it has not yet settled down into its new position.
It is paramount to find grace and compassion with yourself and your loved ones as our world unfolds into mass grief. It is with a weary critical lens that I view psychedelic virtual events that are proceeding with a false sense of normalcy promoting that the psychedelic narrative is unchanged by the pandemic experience. The psychedelic experience is now informed by the pandemic experience and will be moving forward in a myriad of ways. I hope the psychedelic community does not fall prey to the global gaslighting of psychedelic capitalism, but only time will tell.
TL;DR - What do we do now?
It is quite possible that comparing the liminal space structure of the pandemic experience and the psychedelic experience feels too ‘out there’ to really feel meaningful. Full disclosure: it is out there. The sad reality is, just like the psychedelic experience was fearful and overwhelming for many people, the pandemic experience is also fearful and overwhelming for many people. The only thing we can do in any current moment is to support each other as best we can because one thing is for certain: this is going to be one long, strange trip.