As 2 AM rolls around, I toss and turn in bed thinking, “Why can’t I fall asleep?” I have so much to do tomorrow, and while anxiety about that kept me up at first, as the hours pass, I worry more about this insomnia itself. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that leaves me unfocused and drained the next day, lucky to have caught four hours of fitful rest. That is, unless I remember my meditation practice and break the cycle.
Meditation has been shown to ease the minds of those suffering from a wide range of mental issues, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and insomnia—the last of which I’ve struggled with for most of my life. I’ve found mindfulness meditation especially helpful, and the benefits spill over into other areas of my life, enhancing my creativity, focus, and calmness. In a nutshell, mindfulness meditation is performed by freely allowing thoughts and sensations to arise in your mind but letting them pass without ascribing any judgment.
But despite the clear benefits of meditation and the low cost (it’s free, after all — it needs no special equipment and can be done almost anywhere), few people regularly practice it in their daily lives. This might be because it’s difficult to be alone with your thoughts, many do not know where to start, or simply because adopting a new habit isn’t easy.
Luckily, organizations like Vajra Body Vajra Mind, a podcast and coaching community dedicated to spiritual practices, are working to bring practices like meditation to a wider audience. Vajra founders Damien Abel and Jed Ward offer personalized coaching to help you build and cultivate your spiritual practice, and on their podcast, they talk with key figures from the Buddhist, entheogenic, and somatic communities about spirituality and how we can better understand ourselves and our place in the world. Vajra Body Vajra Mind recently spoke with Psychedelic Times co-founder Joe Mattia about his meditative practice in conjunction with the use of marijuana, which got me thinking about my own understanding of psychedelics and meditation.
The Connection Between Meditation and Psychedelics
The role of marijuana — and more broadly, psychedelics — in a meditative practice is still an open question. Certainly, it appears that Western culture began embracing meditation and other spiritual practices as part and parcel of the psychedelic movement.
But more specifically, what can meditation and psychedelics offer each other? In a 2001 MAPS bulletin, Vanja Palmer, a 30-year Zen practitioner, noted that the skills trained in meditation—of remaining at peace in one’s own mind—are invaluable during a psychedelic experience. When feeling overwhelmed, the skill of grounding yourself through meditation may be enough to pull you back from the edge of a negative experience.
Likewise, the sensations and insights felt during a psychedelic experience — such as the sense of total understanding, the ability to face your inner turmoil, and ego dissolution — can give a meditator insight into the limitless mind-states their brain can evoke. Many cultures have practiced meditation as a way to get closer to the divine—psychedelics seem to offer another route to this.
Integrating Meditation and Psychedelics
For those interested in cultivating a regular meditation practice, psychedelics may help in another way. Ibogaine’s significant role as an addiction interrupter may be in part due to its ability to help us break out of old patterns of behavior and build new, healthier habits and outlooks. Because one of the most difficult parts of meditation is simply getting yourself to do it, a powerful psychedelic experience could function as a catalyst to really integrate meditation into your life. Approaching a psychedelic session with the intention of improving your life in this way — by exploring meditation and deliberately integrating your experience afterward — has allowed many individuals to cultivate new habits and become the people they want to be.
Meditation is indisputably one of the most positive changes someone suffering from mental ailments like depression and insomnia can make in their life. Those who have tried but haven’t been able to integrate meditation into their routine, however, may benefit from a catalyzing psychedelic therapy session to open themselves up to this new, constructive practice.
On the other hand, those who are interested in psychedelic treatment for an issue like depression, but have no experience with psychedelics and are hesitant to take the plunge, could benefit tremendously from meditation, which can prepare the psyche for the insights and sensations they will encounter. Meditation and psychedelics have a deep synergy, and their combination can be truly life-changing.