by Ovidiu Brazdau
In psychedelic experiences, the usual ‘safe’ way is to prepare the set and the setting, and then to let go and let the plants do the work. My view is that we can consciously co-participate in the psychedelic experience flow, while we maintain a flexible-fluid configuration.
Before using these methods, practice and learn pratyahara, internalization of perception, and samyama, complete and continuous connection to the object of attention, by flowing into it. Previous experiences with energy flowing, such as authentic dance, enstatic dance, Tai-Chi, or entheogens are helpful. Before practicing these methods, please read the consciousness sutras to understand better what is happening. When you use music as an entrainment technology, choose new music you have never heard before; it keeps the attention in the present moment. Novelty is essential.
These exercises are mostly experiential, and to understand the methods and observations, one needs to practice beforehand and re-read and review these methods after a while. For exploring visionary experiences and diving deeper, I couldn’t find a straightforward method that works all the time, as if going from A to B to C. In all points, A mixes with C and B, and sometimes when A appears, BC run in the background together. So, these descriptions may appear fuzzy if analyzed through the lens of semantic logic. The techniques described here definitely work, but treat them as options, and use them to expand your own skills, so that, in each stage of the visionary experience, you may have some available tools to influence the flow, and dive deeper or get out of the experience (if you want to).
Please consider this when you begin the practice: the visionary experiences happen while we are in the body. We are not moving anywhere. Instead, we use awareness to attend to the body layers (physical, energy, information) and space. Visionary experiences are not out-of-body experiences, but in-the-body experiences. We just dive into ourselves while staying where we are, in the area of space occupied by the body. We can work with the body-schema structure, expand or delete it. But the witnessing, the awareness that it is I who is doing this action, happens through the body, all the time, even if the ‘I am’ presence is lighter, denser, flowing-journeying toward the edge of the universe, or without any content except empty space.
These experiences can sometimes be related to ‘lucid dreaming’, but they are not the same. In visionary experiences, we do not interfere with the flow by changing the course of the flows too much; or by introducing our self-identity/ego desires, to control the flows to the desired outcome. Instead, we dive into the content that we don’t like, to deeply connect with its causal structure, harmonizing ourselves so that the specific flow that we don’t like never appears again. We do this by allowing ourselves to change instantly through the experience, while we accept the processing and integration in the moment. The correlate of this psychological experience in the neuronal patterns would be ‘instant reconsolidation’, or ‘updating consolidation’, or ‘allowing brain-body rhythms to coalesce in new ways’.
Many of the field notes were written while I took small breaks during an intentional visionary experience. I paused to write them down, and then I went back to the experience, or sometimes left the experience entirely. I compiled this text after a few years of practice, and so I don’t remember exactly how I was when I started, or how I progressed through this process. Each visionary experience produced structural changes in me, each time. Later on, I arranged them as logically as possible. Still, some of the methods were left intentionally unedited, as I wrote them down. I didn’t align them with the perspective used for this introduction. And, I link words-like-this to provide visual images. My hope is that these observations will inspire you to develop your own methodologies and techniques.
The entrainment and a preliminary training for accessing visionary layers
Wait one or two hours after sunset, in a setting without artificial light, and give your eyes some time to adapt to night vision. Use red lighting, if necessary, as it will not spoil the rods’ adaptation. Close your eyes, listen to some music on your headphones, or just go inside yourself using your own method. Perform a full pratyahara (internal absorption, as described in the ‘Yoga Sutras’). Activate visual perception through the eye retina, to watch what is happening. In other words, activate the eyes as if with eyes open in a fully darkened room, but keep the eyelids closed. Relax deeply, witness yourself, and wait 20 minutes or until the dream state begins to emerge naturally; then watch the dream visuals. Keep witnessing awareness active, and just look at the visuals generated in the dream (the visual-spatial thinking layer). Then align the dreamy landscape with real body perceptions, and allow retina perception and dreamy landscapes to unfold simultaneously.
Another view: keep the witnessing active while the dreamy state is activated, providing visual-spatial thinking, and allowing the dreamy visuals to unfold, while maintaining body presence and an active meta-attention. Once the dreamy state is fully active, notice that the eyes seem to be looking in various directions, as if following the dream (this is natural in dreams). At this point, while keeping the energy body and the brainwaves in the dream mode, concentrate the attention onto one scene, in front of your visual field, and add the dream content to here-now retina perception, by adding spatial depth to the attention span. In other words, merge the eye visuals with dream visuals, while keeping pratyahara and the spatial perception active. Then, enter into the wave realm by allowing yourself to flow within the here-now experience constantly. Sense this change. And watch how the visuals tend to unfold in new ways.
At this point, a new category of actions is possible, e.g., through consciously interacting with the visual content. Notice the visuals. You could ask, ‘Are they mine?’ Or ask the collective, ‘Are they mine?’ Usually, the collective senses our presence. Let yourself connect. Watch how this collective feedback reflection modifies the field, while the reflection process unfolds. The collective adds information to the local field, and sometimes energetic visions appear.
Diving deeper, the images become archetypal. Archetypes are vibrational-information patterns translated into images. During this experience, it seems that the automatic selection criterion for visuals that appear is this: what is selected is the most powerful or quasi-harmonically visual form, which exists in the collective field (culture) or the personal field (personality), related to the specific topic that is active. Watch the visual flow and experience this layer as long as you want.
How to harmonize misalignments, connect with shadow roots, and ignite instant reconsolidation
This is what I tried, and it worked for me.
When the brain is in the dream state, and there are dreamy visuals, as if looking from a third-person perspective, I may happen to see myself from above, watching certain things developing as ‘the dream’. One path of interaction is this: I wait for the ‘dream visuals’ and watch. When a scene intensifies, emotional energy appears, and usually I become aware of myself as a character. Depending on the flow, ‘me-in-the-dream’ (dream self) has various reactions to the images, while processing my ‘unconscious’ information. If ‘I-as-observer’ notice that ‘me-in-the-dream’ is not reacting harmonically, I interact with the flow, move ‘I-as-observer’ inside the dream position, and add perceptual vision to the dream, by adding retina perception, body perception with space awareness, and the present moment. Through this action, I collapse into a reduced-freedom configuration, transforming the ‘cognitive’ dream into an ‘energetic’ dream. While collapsing myself into the dream self, I give up the objective-overview attention and adapt to a new style of overviewing, which feels narrowed, less spacious but more intense, and I allow myself to experience the ‘inside bubble’ perspective.
Sometimes, it’s not necessary to dive into my dream self, as the dreamlike content could be just a reorganization of information, without an active dream self. In this situation, I can merge with a scene or a character, using samyama and allowing the energy body to activate. Through this action, by entering a specific dream scene perceptually, it is possible to understand the nature of the scene or character, by allowing its roots to become conscious.
Usually, in the inner art sessions focused on harmonizing the daily content, I choose a dream scene or character with a ‘misalignment’. Then, during samyama, I allow the energy body to activate if necessary. Sometimes kundalini spikes or vibrations may appear, if integration needs more synchrony, or the misaligned patterns have deep roots in the physical of energy body layers. After I figure it out and perform the right internal action, usually acceptance or integration, the misalignment harmonizes by itself, accompanied by an instant reconsolidation of memory engrams.
In the experience of diving into something, inside the dream, the flowing speed is simultaneously aligned with relaxation. I need to relax to go faster. But I can also simply increase the speed, by accelerating the diving, and accelerating the previous acceleration method, until I connect with the source of the scene/character. And when this diving through increase of increase of increase becomes fluid, the DMT-like kundalini spikes appear, sometimes accompanied by the carrier wave. But, in this experience, compared with exogenous DMT, I still have the gamemaster tools, which allow me to interact with the experience consciously and dive deeper, no matter what I encounter. I can adapt quickly from inside. In these intentional high-sync experiences, as compared with my first Santo Daime experiences, I can manage the intensity of the experience and process and understand everything as it shows up, without any aftereffects, such as the unzipping of information. The memory reconsolidation happens instantly, and its depth depends on how much I can dive into and how much I can maintain the simultaneous connection between my physical body layer, the energy body layers, and the ‘misalignment’ from the dream scene content.
But sometimes, samyama on a dream scene could happen instantly, and there is no need to flow and work with the speed of the flow. I just connect, after a few seconds of flowing, and merge with the information root of that scene, and allow it to diffuse into all my body layers. If I am flexible enough, the harmonization of the misalignment could happen in a few seconds.
In other situations, after I decide to merge with a scene or a character and until I can complete the samyama fusion, the scene has already changed, and I need to do samyama continuously, as a flow-of-samyama so that I can reach its roots. And in some situations, the dream unfolds quite fast and for some minutes. I flow along with the dream, until at one point, ‘I-as-observer’ and the dream scene can merge. In this situation, the diving skills described above are necessary, as the intensity or the speed of the unfolding dream may change, and this going-side-by-side transforms into a ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ game.
These are just examples, to illustrate that there are various dynamics possible during a merging-through-samyama action, and it takes practice to be able to really connect with certain scenes. Especially if the dream scene is rooted in our shadow, and we have ignored or rejected that content for many years, the ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ game can take some time, until we manage to find a way to connect. Remember that the dream is just our own adaptive processing; the more rejected some content has been, the harder it is to connect with it.
Another path to high-synchrony flowing: liquifying the liquifying
This is how it works for me: using headphones, and listening to some nice flowing music, beneath the sky (it is essential to have empty space in front of the closed eyes), I begin to look inside myself, relaxing or diving into thinking, but using visual-style thinking, by seeing and by being.
Sometimes, the mind tends to be verbal, so I transform the verbal process into visuals. This transmutation is possible by accessing the dream state configuration and then using the dream visual style to process the intended information, as ‘interactive visions’, or lucid dreaming, but adding the physical awareness from the body.
In this visual-thinking inner space, with perception activated, if I want to activate the vibrational flowing-in-hypersync high-energy state, I perform this action: I ‘liquify’ everything-that-is-inside-dreaming-including-me, and let the reality flow. But the action of ‘liquifying’ is not just a one-time action, and that’s it. The liquifying is continuous; I liquify the liquifying, like jumping into a flowing dynamic condition. This feels like switching from my physical-particle self to my energy-wave self, and—bing!—the experience structure changes, and I usually find myself in a 3D surrounding experience of inner-space presence, with tunnels evolving in the visual perception, from the retina. It is as if I switch to a smaller wavelength, and I feel the body’s energy vibrating in a static way, and the mind is no longer thinking in visuals-with-forms. The flowing style itself is the new way of thinking. And thinking is the same thing as perceiving; they are merged. The liquifying process is like returning home to the energy world, where all that is static becomes fluid. Like a breeze flowing through me, synchronizing all the layers into a pleasant vibrational experience, or like a gentle kundalini activation, or an ayahuasca aftereffect. Intense, but in a friendly way. The speed of the liquifying can also be modified through intention, by relaxing and allowing the experience to flow faster.
There is an interesting adaptive processing in the mind, in this configuration of continuous liquifying. When I add the Moon or a star by shortly opening the eyes and doing samyama with the Moon or the star, then close the eyes again, the configuration seems to facilitate the flow of information about the evolution of our species, the evolution of life on Earth, or various other topics, as seen from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary processes are so clear in this flowing of reality! If I stop to consider some aspect, decompression ensues, usually in the form of positive insight, and I write down some ideas. But I have to be careful about these ‘detours’, since I need to be brief and focused, when taking these notes, and to write just a few minutes, so that I can return to the flowing state from where the insight was ‘ejected’, without losing the connection. Sometimes, however, I prefer not to take any detour, and I simply enjoy the insight-in-the-moment, knowing I may never encounter it, while continuing the flowing experience. Sometimes, I exit the experience completely and enjoy the insight and the new configuration, until it fades, usually after a few minutes or hours.
It seems that there is no limit to how fast I can flow using the continuous liquifying method. The only limit is my own ability to accept and connect with the increasing frequency. Or, in other words, it depends on how capable my body layers are (the physical, energy, and information layers), to incorporate and maintain the higher and higher frequencies—or the smaller and smaller wavelengths. Through this method, it is possible to access configurations similar to DMT peaks, or other types of high-synchrony peaks. The action of ‘liquifying the liquifying’ is similar to the events that happen in our body layers when the carrier wave is active, and frequency increases from, say, 100 Hz to 1,000,000 Hz, or when the simultaneous processes increase from 10 to 1,000.
The liquifying sometimes ends in white light, as the body cannot discriminate anymore at that frequency layer, and the entire experience collapses into white light, abandoning the discrimination process due to overloading. But after doing some personal work, the second encounter may be more manageable, as we are able to process more connections. And there is no white light overload anymore. Progressively, while allowing this step-by-step habituation of even higher frequencies in our body layers, we can get insights about how reality functions at that wavelength, instead of just being blinded by the white light effect.
I don’t know if this process has an end. Perhaps it ends when we reach the shortest wavelength possible, the quarks layers, or the Higgs boson wavelength. My limits are at the cell size, for the moment. What is amazing is that journeys in the opposite direction are also possible. We can access larger wavelengths, but instead of going faster and faster, we would have to go deeper into stillness, while tuning into larger and larger wavelengths. I sometimes wonder if I can attune myself to feel the ripples generated by the galaxies that have crossed through the Milky Way in the past. Could a human being develop this sensitivity? Where is the limit?
Alternatively, here is a simple method to activate the high-energy synchronic configuration. I begin from the 360-degree vision and 3D inner space, while attention is focused on internal perceptions, pratyahara is active, and inner eyes are opened and locked onto the global inner ambient. In this space, I hyperventilate by breathing deeply and merge with the fresh energy that builds inside the energy body. I use samyama, fully absorbing myself to become one with this raising energy process. The key seems to be this: it is necessary to keep my body perfectly still and fully relaxed while the energy builds up. Further, I must keep the mind perfectly still, just watching the effects of the increasing energy, even if there are moments when the energy naturally tries to expand and generate ecstatic emotions. If the energy is not expanded, but maintained inside, in a static-vibrational form, the experience leads directly to high-energy experiences, and kundalini is aroused.
The path through ecstatic emotions is also usable if, just before the expansion begins, I rearrange the perspective from being inside focused, to being in a unitary mystical state—external awareness merged with internal awareness. So, when the expansion occurs, an increase in synchrony simultaneously happens, leading to a high-sync experience plus enstatic flowing in the energy body. But this method also activates the physical body, and I cannot remain still. In this configuration, I like to dance using a free-flow Tai Chi-like style, which comes naturally and allows me to interact with the flowing, rather than simply being ecstatically raptured with no control over the ecstatic expansion.
I need to say that, even if this method is simple, I think this works better for people already familiar with the high-energy spikes, due to previous entheogenic experiences with vibrational kundalini spikes.
Using ‘let-go’ keys for transitioning through layers of inner experience
Hint: choose your own method for transitioning through layers and anchor it in your psyche as a personal ‘let-go key’. It can be a word, image, visual, process, previous experience, or something you like that reminds you that you can do it, or a method that you have done before. This privacy is necessary to ensure 100% effectiveness. And don’t tell your key to anyone, until you feel the need to change it again. It is fine to share, but when shared, it expands with the next person and, temporarily, becomes harder to access when needed. So, find your key, transform it into an anchor, and use it when necessary.
After merging with the visionary flow, using the method described previously, watch, but when you feel you are curious or have a question about a scene, just dive into its stream by using your key, and get more information by watching the experience. If you need to know ‘what is the cause of the experience?’, ‘why am I experiencing this?’, you can go deeper using your keys. Or just ask politely to be allowed to dive further. It is possible to advance to the next depth of reality by developing another attitude as a key. After you learn to dive by flowing into the unknown, no further keys are needed. What you think or want-to-see is what you get.
In my explorations, I realized that there are so many ways to let go and allow the transition through layers of reality, that what matters most is the ability to use the appropriate tool for the situation. The availability and diversity of these tools are essential, not the keys/tools themselves. When we are flowing through visionary experiences, it may happen that some parts of our memory are not available easily, and so practice is essential.
When I use a tool, I select it intuitively. Sometimes it works, sometimes not; it is a matter of resilience. It is not like in the ‘Matrix’ movie, where there is one key for one door. Instead, a key can open many doors, with each new input generating a chain reaction in the experience.
In other words, the let-go key is an action, a transformational option available to witnessing awareness. For me, it is not that the witness is an observer who commands the change. It is more like this: I allow the attentional flows to change it, with me inside as ‘the flow’, allowing a new style of ‘eversion’ every time, never knowing what is on the other side.
– For diving into a perspective (visionary flow) by seeing-being the visual landscape, one must use full samyama and develop the ability to perform full absorptions into the flows of events presented by the collective. To accept everything. Unconditionally.
– Multiples dives through visionary layers, inside a current vision, are possible by focusing fully the narrow attention into a point, a flower, or a shadow, and then diving again through that point, like a zooming journey through fractals. Watch a Mandelbrot Fractal Zoom video to see what I mean; they are available on the internet.
– In the visionary configuration, if we wonder: ‘What is this, that I see?’, the answer reveals itself. A complete letting go is needed. Ask ‘What is this?’ and then forget about the question, and just watch. Watch what new landscape is configured due to the previous action, whatever that was.
– Do not be brave when you see a ‘demon’. Just let it in, experience it, dive into it or breathe it in. Allow its energy to enter and transform you. Feel it when it passes through you, while it passes. Use equanimity. But, sometimes, be brave. There are no general rules. I prefer to use a perspective based on curiosity, instead of courage-like attitudes, for these situations. For some time, I used to ask the adversity characters directly: ‘What? Now what? What is this? Who’s playing with me?’ And usually, certain characters would smile at me, and then they faded away. However, sometimes it is hard to be so relaxed as a freezing response appears naturally, and only direct interaction tools are available, rather than the self-reflection tools. Now I see ‘fear-generating characters’ as dense packets of energy-information, too dense to be processed because of our limited flexibility. At this fundamental level, the adversity bubbles are just dense ‘presence triggers’. They cause a shock to our system. We compress ourselves, and the visual is formed as an explanatory layer. And when an adversity character appears, we stop. One way to manage these events, learned from the Santo Daime community, is to let it flow, every time it appears, while singing and dancing continuously during the experience. So, if you see a ‘demon’, flow through it and connect with the energy and information that created it. Or do whatever you feel like to embrace the information; just don’t stop too much. Unfreeze yourself, using any tool that is available at the moment; just don’t run away. Interact. The mechanisms I described above also happen when the visionary visual is positive, and a character invites us, and we go with them, to connect and communicate. They usually transmit presence in a pleasant way.
– When I used music, I noticed that I could interfere in a positive way with the visionary flow, by modifying the energy source, the source from which the visionary flow feeds. I just picked another sound flow, like switching from bass to vocals. But, to do this, some previous practice with full let-go is needed.
Some reflections for advanced psychonauts
If you are a psychonaut and prefer to dive deeper into experience, using music and ganja as journey companions may densify the dives, by facilitating samyama processes. But using ganja is not an easy method, as the plant intelligence fluidifies the psyche. And, during high-energy experiences, if the psyche is not pure enough, inner tensions may appear, and the flow of experience may be hijacked by the self-identity/ego, resulting in dreamy-style self/ego trips which de-focus the experience for a while.
Sometimes, however, it is perfect to enjoy the self/ego’s visions. If you detect any hijacking while it is happening, at least you can be creative: you can play and interact with the visionary self/ego contents, no matter whether it is a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ or an ‘explanatory’ story. Practice equanimity and continue to use witnessing awareness actively. After all, any vision will end sooner or later, after the energy is consumed and information is rearranged.
For very deep explorations in the mind layers, sometimes I prefer to navigate with a micro-dosed ganja aboard. If it is too intense, the high activates the vibrational kundalini configuration, and the experience becomes enstatic. In addition, this high is energy-consuming, so it’s a choice depending on what’s happening in me. Micro-dosing fits in me better because it offers me a sort of control. If I choose to dive deeper, it is easier to add ganja little by little, and to monitor the effects, instead of jumping directly into a very intense experience where I would be blown out by the density. If I take this step-by-step path, the entire experience may last up to 5-6 hours. Of course, I don’t just sit down during this time. I move, eat, dance, watch the sky, but, if I use music, I like to keep my headphones on and keep the flow of the experience through music. And all the activities that I do with my body, during the ceremony—well, they feel like a dance.
In my opinion, ganja/charas are highly skilled navigators, who can allow amazing transitions. We just need to behave appropriately with the plant and tell it where we want to go, and then be brave enough to navigate wildly, allowing ourselves to change the navigation style.
Stages of psychedelic-induced visionary experiences and how to choose the post-session personality
For a better understanding of the methodologies used to activate and navigate the intentional visionary experiences, without using psychedelics, or when using micro-dosing, it is helpful to take a look at how the psychedelic-induced experiences are unfolding. The most in-depth research was undertaken by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert. What follows in this section are the stages of psychedelic experience, as described in ‘The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead’. My suggestion is to consider these stages as layers of experience, as they don’t necessarily activate in the order described below. Please remember that in the following quotes, ‘ego’ refers to self or self-identity, not to the ‘selfish’ aspects of self-identity.
“You must be ready to accept the possibility that there is a limitless range of awareness for which we now have no words; that awareness can expand beyond range of your ego, your self, your familiar identity, beyond everything you have learned, beyond your notions of space and time, beyond the differences which usually separate people from each other and from the world around them. You must remember that throughout human history, millions have made this voyage. A few (whom we call mystics, saints or buddhas) have made this experience endure and have communicated it to their fellow men. You must remember, too, that the experience is safe (at the very worst, you will end up the same person who entered the experience), and that all of the dangers which you have feared are unnecessary productions of your mind. Whether you experience heaven or hell, remember that it is your mind which creates them. Avoid grasping the one or fleeing the other. Avoid imposing the ego game on the experience. You must try to maintain faith and trust in the potentiality of your own brain and the billion-year-old life process. With your ego left behind you, the brain can’t go wrong.[…]
Following the Tibetan model then, we distinguish three phases of the psychedelic experience.
First Bardo: The Period of Ego-Loss or Non-Game Ecstasy (Chikhai Bardo)
Part I: The Primary Clear Light Seen at the Moment of Ego-Loss.
The duration of this state varies with the individual. It depends upon experience, security, trust, preparation and the surroundings. In those who have had even a little practical experience of the tranquil state of non-game awareness, and in those who have happy games, this state can last from thirty minutes to several hours.[…] Here is a list of commonly reported physical sensations: Bodily pressure, which the Tibetans call earth-sinking-into-water; Clammy coldness, followed by feverish heat, which the Tibetans call water-sinking-into-fire; Body disintegrating or blown to atoms, called fire-sinking-into-air; Pressure on head and ears, which Americans call rocket-launching-into-space; Tingling in extremities; Feelings of body melting or flowing as if wax; Nausea; Trembling or shaking, beginning in pelvic regions and spreading up torso.
These physical reactions should be recognized as signs heralding transcendence. Avoid treating them as symptoms of illness, accept them, merge with them, enjoy them.[…]
Part II: The Secondary Clear Light Seen Immediately After Ego-Loss.
The preceding section describes how the Clear Light may be recognized and liberation maintained. But if it becomes apparent that the Primary Clear Light has not been recognized, then it can certainly be assumed there is dawning what is called the phase of the Secondary Clear Light. The first flash of experience usually produces a state of ecstasy of the greatest intensity. Every cell in the body is sensed as involved in orgastic creativity.
It may be helpful to describe in more detail some of the phenomena which often accompany the moment of ego-loss. One of these might be called ‘wave energy flow’. The individual becomes aware that he is part of and surrounded by a charged field of energy, which seems almost electrical. In order to maintain the ego-loss state as long as possible, the prepared person will relax and allow the forces to flow through him. There are two dangers to avoid: the attempt to control or to rationalize this energy flow. Either of these reactions is indicative of ego-activity and the First Bardo transcendence is lost.
The second phenomenon might be called ‘biological life-flow’. Here the person becomes aware of physiological and biochemical processes; rhythmic pulsing activity within the body. Often this may be sensed as powerful motors or generators continuously throbbing and radiating energy. An endless flow of cellular forms and colors flashes by. Internal biological processes may also be heard with characteristic swooshing, crackling, and pounding noises. Again the person must resist the temptation to label or control these processes. At this point you are tuned in to areas of the nervous system which are inaccessible to routine perception. You cannot drag your ego into the molecular processes of life. These processes are a billion years older than the learned conceptual mind.
Another typical and most rewarding phase of the First Bardo involves ecstatic energy movement felt in the spine. The base of the backbone seems to be melting or seems on fire. If the person can maintain quiet concentration the energy will be sensed as flowing upwards. Tantric adepts devote decades of concentrated meditation to the release of these ecstatic energies which they call Kundalini, the Serpent Power. One allows the energies to travel upwards through several ganglionic centers (chakras) to the brain, where they are sensed as a burning sensation in the top of the cranium. These sensations are not unpleasant to the prepared person, but, on the contrary, are accompanied by the most intense feelings of joy and illumination. Ill-prepared subjects may interpret the experience in pathological terms and attempt to control it, usually with unpleasant results.[…]
If the subjects fail to recognize the rushing flow of First Bardo phenomena, liberation from the ego is lost. The person finds himself slipping back into mental activities. At this point he should try to recall the instructions or be reminded of them, and a second contact with these processes can be made.
The second stage is less intense. A ball set bouncing reaches its greatest height at the first bounce; the second bounce is lower, and each succeeding bounce is still lower until the ball comes to rest. The consciousness at the loss of the ego is similar to this. Its first spiritual bound, directly upon leaving the body-ego, is the highest; the next is lower. Then the force of karma, (i.e., past game-playing), takes over and different forms of external reality are experienced. Finally, the force of karma having spent itself, consciousness returns to ‘normal’. Routines are taken up again and thus rebirth occurs.
The first ecstasy usually ends with a momentary flashback to the ego condition. This return can be happy or sad, loving or suspicious, fearful or courageous, depending on the personality, the preparation, and the setting. This flashback to the ego-game is accompanied by a concern with identity. ‘Who am I now? Am I dead or not dead? What is happening?’ You cannot determine. You see the surroundings and your companions as you had been used to seeing them before. There is a penetrating sensitivity. But you are on a different level. Your ego grasp is not quite as sure as it was.
The karmic hallucinations and visions have not yet started. Neither the frightening apparitions nor the heavenly visions have begun. This is a most sensitive and pregnant period. The remainder of the experience can be pushed one way or another depending upon preparation and emotional climate.
If you are experienced in consciousness alteration, or if you are a naturally introverted person, remember the situation and the schedule. Stay calm and let the experience take you where it will. You will probably re-experience the ecstasy of illumination once again; or you may drift into aesthetic or philosophic or interpersonal enlightenments. Don’t hold on: let the stream carry you along.[…]
Second Bardo: The Period of Hallucinations (Chonyid Bardo)
If the Primary Clear Light is not recognized, there remains the possibility of maintaining the Secondary Clear Light. If that is lost, then comes the Chonyid Bardo, the period of karmic illusions or intense hallucinatory mixtures of game reality. It is very important that the instructions be remembered—they can have great influence and effect.
During this period, the flow of consciousness, microscopically clear and intense, is interrupted by fleeting attempts to rationalize and interpret. But the normal game-playing ego is not functioning effectively. There exist, therefore, unlimited possibilities for, on the one hand, delightful sensuous, intellectual and emotional novelties if one floats with the current; and, on the other hand, fearful ambuscades of confusion and terror if one tries to impose his will on the experience.
The purpose of this part of the manual is to prepare the person for the choice points which arise during this stage. Strange sounds, weird sights and disturbed visions may occur. These can awe, frighten and terrify unless one is prepared.
The experienced person will be able to maintain the recognition that all perceptions come from within and will be able to sit quietly, controlling his expanded awareness like a phantasmagoric multi-dimensional television set: the most acute and sensitive hallucinations—visual, auditory, touch, smell, physical and bodily; the most exquisite reactions, compassionate insight into the self, the world. The key is inaction: passive integration with all that occurs around you. If you try to impose your will, use your mind, rationalize, seek explanations, you will get caught in hallucinatory whirlpools. The motto: peace, acceptance. It is all an ever-changing panorama. You are temporarily removed from the world of game. Enjoy it.
The inexperienced and those to who ego control is important may find this passivity impossible. If you cannot remain inactive and subdue your will, then the one certain activity which can reduce panic and pull you out of hallucinatory mind-games is physical contact with another person. Go to the guide or to another participant and put your head on his lap or chest; put your face next to his and concentrate on the movement and sound of his inspiration. Breathe deeply and feel the air rush in and the sighing release. This is the oldest form of living communication; the brotherhood of breath. The guide’s hand on your forehead may add to the relaxation.
Contact with another participant may be misunderstood and provoke sexual hallucinations. For this reason, helping contact should be made explicit by prearrangement. Unprepared participants may impose sexual fears or fantasies on the contact. Turn them off; they are karmic illusory productions.
The tender, gentle, supportive huddling together of participants is a natural development during the second phase. Do not try to rationalize this contact. Human beings and, for that matter, most all mobile terrestrial creatures have been huddling together during long, dark confused nights for several hundred thousand years. Breathe in and breathe out with your companions. We are all one! That’s what your breath is telling you.[…]
Following the Tibetan Thodo, we have classified Second Bardo visions into seven types: (1) The Source or Creator Vision; (2) The Internal Flow of Archetypal Processes; (3) The Fire-Flow of Internal Unity; (4) The Wave-Vibration Structure of External Forms; (5) The Vibratory Waves of External Unity; (6) ‘The Retinal Circus’; (7) ‘The Magic Theatre’.
Visions 2 and 3 involve closed eyes and no contact with external stimuli. In Vision 2 the internal imagery is primarily conceptual. The experience can range from revelation and insight to confusion and chaos, but the cognitive, intellectual meaning is paramount. In Vision 3 the internal imagery is primarily emotional. The experience can range from love and ecstatic unity to fear, distrust and isolation. Visions 4 and 5 involve open eyes and rapt attention to external stimuli, such as sounds, lights, touch, etc. In Vision 4 the external imagery is primarily conceptual and in Vision 5 emotional factors predominate. The sevenfold table just defined bears some similarity to the mandalic schema of the Peaceful Deities listed for the Second Bardo in The Tibetan Book of the Dead.[…]
Third Bardo: The Period of Re-Entry (Sidpa Bardo)
If, in the second Bardo, the voyager is incapable of holding on to the knowledge that the peaceful and wrathful visions were projections of his own mind, but became attracted to or frightened by one or more of them, he will enter the Third Bardo. In this period he struggles to regain routine reality and his ego; the Tibetans call it the Bardo of ‘seeking rebirth’. It is the period in which the consciousness makes the transition from transcendent reality to the reality of ordinary waking life. The teachings of this manual are of the utmost importance if one wishes to make a peaceful and enlightened re-entry and avoid a violent or unpleasant one.
In the original Bardo Thodol the aim of the teachings is ‘liberation’, i.e., release from the cycle of birth and death. Interpreted esoterically, this means that the aim is to remain at the stage of perfect illumination and not to return to social game reality.
Only persons of extremely advanced spiritual development are able to accomplish this, by exercising the Transference Principle at the moment of ego-death. For average persons who undertake a psychedelic voyage, the return to game reality is inevitable. Such persons can and should use this part of the manual for the following purposes: (1) to free themselves from Third Bardo traps; (2) to prolong the session, thus assuring a maximum degree of illumination; (3) to select a favorable re-entry, i.e., to return to a wiser and more peaceful post-session personality.
Although no definite time estimates can be given, the Tibetans estimate that about 50% of the entire psychedelic experience is spent in the Third Bardo by most normal people. At times, as indicated in the Introduction, someone may move straight to the re-entry period if he is unprepared for or frightened by the ego-loss experiences of the first two Bardos.
The types of re-entry made can profoundly color the person’s subsequent attitudes and feelings about himself and the world, for weeks or even months afterwards. A session which has been predominantly negative and fearful can still be turned to great advantage and much can be learned from it, provided the re-entry is positive and highly conscious. Conversely, a happy and revelatory experience can be made valueless by a fearful or negative re-entry.
The key instructions of the Third Bardo are: (1) do nothing, stay calm, passive and relaxed, no matter what happens; and (2) recognize where you are. If you do not recognize you will be driven by fear to make a premature and unfavorable re-entry. Only by recognizing can you maintain that state of calm, passive concentration necessary for a favorable re-entry. That is why so many recognition-points are given. If you fail on one, it is always possible, up to the very end, to succeed on another. Hence these teachings should be read carefully and remembered well.[…]
Methods of Choosing the Post-Session Personality
Choosing the post-session ego is an extremely profound art and should not be undertaken carelessly or hastily. One should not return fleeing from hallucinated tormentors. Such re-entry will tend to bring the person to one of the three lower levels. One should first banish the fear by visualizing one’s protective figure or the Buddha, then choose calmly and impartially.
The limited foreknowledge available to the voyager should be used to make a wise choice. In the Tibetan tradition each of the levels of game-existence is associated with a particular color and also certain geographical symbols. These may be different for […] Westerners. Each person has to learn to decode his own internal road map. The Tibetan indicators may be used as a starting point. The purpose is clear: one should follow the signs of the three higher types and shun those of the three lower. One should follow light and pleasant visions and shun dark and dreary ones.[…]
Use your foresight to choose a good post-session robot. Do not be attracted to your old ego. Whether you choose to pursue power, or status, or wisdom, or learning, or servitude, or whatever, choose impartially, without being attracted or repelled. Enter into game existence with good grace, voluntarily and freely. Visualize it as a celestial mansion, i.e., as an opportunity to exercise game-ecstasy. Have faith in the protection of the deities and choose. The mood of complete impartiality is important since you may be in error. A game that appears good may later turn out to be bad. Complete impartiality, freedom from want or fear, ensure that a maximally wise choice is made.
As you return, you see spread out before you the world, your former life, a planet full of fascinating objects and events. Each aspect of the return trip can be a delightful discovery. Soon you will be descending to take your place in worldly events. The key to this return voyage is simply this: take it easy, slowly, naturally. Enjoy every second. Don’t rush. Don’t be attached to your old games. Recognize that you are in the re-entry period. Do not return with any emotional pressure. Everything you see and touch can glow with radiance. Each moment can be a joyous discovery.”
This excerpt, from ‘The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead’, is presented here to illustrate the stages/layers of inner experience available during psychedelic experiences. To find out more about these stages and their detailed descriptions, please read the entire manual. Also, the processes described in ‘The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead’ are not generally valid. For example, the kundalini spike through the spine is not the only way of activating the high-synchrony in the energy body layer. After the energy body layer has been harmonized through various practices, the high-sync can be activated all at once; no upward flow is necessary.
And remember that in intentional visionary experiences, there is a greater degree of choice, as compared to the psychedelic-induced experiences.
Intentional vs. psychedelic-induced visionary experiences
Is it possible that the intentional visionary experiences (without psychedelics) may involve the same brain mechanisms as the psychedelic-induced visionary experiences? What does modern neuroscience say about this topic? A possible answer is provided by Michael J. Winkelman, in research titled ‘The Mechanisms of Psychedelic Visionary Experiences: Hypotheses from Evolutionary Psychology’, where he explores two hypotheses: (1)—The effects of psychedelics in producing visionary experiences involve the same mechanisms, elicited by other non-drug mechanisms, for altering consciousness and producing visionary experience; and (2)—These mechanisms involve a dis-inhibition of regulatory mechanisms of the brain that release a number of innate modules, operators or intelligences, especially the mirror neuron system.
In his paper, Winkelman writes: “Neuropharmacological effects of psychedelics have profound cognitive, emotional, and social effects that inspired the development of cultures and religions worldwide. Findings that psychedelics objectively and reliably produce mystical experiences press the question of the neuropharmacological mechanisms by which these highly significant experiences are produced by exogenous neurotransmitter analogs.
Humans have a long evolutionary relationship with psychedelics, a consequence of psychedelics’ selective effects for human cognitive abilities, exemplified in the information rich visionary experiences. Objective evidence that psychedelics produce classic mystical experiences, coupled with the finding that hallucinatory experiences can be induced by many non-drug mechanisms, illustrates the need for a common model of visionary effects. Several models implicate disturbances of normal regulatory processes in the brain as the underlying mechanisms responsible for the similarities of visionary experiences produced by psychedelic and other methods for altering consciousness.
Similarities in psychedelic-induced visionary experiences and those produced by practices such as meditation and hypnosis and pathological conditions such as epilepsy indicate the need for a general model explaining visionary experiences. Common mechanisms underlying diverse alterations of consciousness involve the disruption of normal functions of the prefrontal cortex and default mode network. This interruption of ordinary control mechanisms allows for the release of thalamic and other lower brain discharges that stimulate a visual information representation system and release the effects of innate cognitive functions and operators.
Converging forms of evidence support the hypothesis that the source of psychedelic experiences involves the emergence of these innate cognitive processes of lower brain systems, with visionary experiences resulting from the activation of innate processes based in the mirror neuron system.[…]
The differences in psychedelic-induced mystical and shamanic experiences illustrate that while these substances reliably produce certain kinds of experience, the forms of experience may vary considerably—one agent, variable experiences. Secondly, the similarity of psychedelic and non-psychedelic mystical experiences suggests that the explanation of psychedelic experiences is not through mechanisms unique to psychedelics, but rather through shared mechanisms affected by non-drug procedures.[…]
The repeatable effects of psychedelics in producing such visions and mystical experiences make them an unparalleled tool for the examination of the operation of this cognitive-affective system that is an innate aspect of the human brain-mind. Psychedelics consequently can serve as tools to provoke and expose this system, facilitating the examination of an area of human knowledge that has remained marginalized because of its notoriously subjective qualities. Through the use of psychedelics, we can come to better understand the nature of some of the ancient symbolic and conceptual capacities of the human brain, and the kind of experiences that generate the human quest for transcendent knowledge and spirituality.”
In my explorations, after many years of practice, I admit that I don’t intentionally pay attention, very much, to the detailed methodologies and processes that I describe in this study. When I navigate through intentional visionary experiences, the techniques are by now automatic tools, and in each now-moment, there are various tools that become available, and in the next moment, other tools make themselves available, and so on. Choosing them is more like a dance, not a process of cognitive analysis. I just live through the experience, adapting and adjusting the flowing, based on what I can do, and on what is being offered to me. Without reason to fear, I know I am never lost, and the tools always appear when needed. The more I use a tool, the easier it is to use it in the next inner art session. With time, the tools are transformed into choices. And when no tool shows up, I just relax and abandon the no-tool configuration and flow further. I don’t know where I am going, but I trust that I have a satisfactory amount of samskaras to deliver me safely to the next self-identity shape, after the intentional visionary experience ends.
References and notes (updated – January, 2022)
1 Leary, T., Metzner, R., & Alpert, R. (1965). The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (3rd Printing ed.). University Books.
2 Winkelman, M. J. (2017). The Mechanisms of Psychedelic Visionary Experiences: Hypotheses from Evolutionary Psychology. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2017.00539
3 Further reading: Brazdau, O. (2019, February 27). Entheogenic Insights I: Psychology of DMT/Ayahuasca Experience. Consciousness Quotient Institute. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.consciousness-quotient.com/psychology-of-dmt-ayahuasca-experience