Today we are witnessing no less than a new psychedelic revolution, led by waves of scientific research and changing tides in public opinion, and the timing of their reemergence into our cultural awareness is no coincidence. Once thought of as a menace to society, psychedelics are now proving to be some of our most effective tools against societal ills such as mental disorders, substance abuse, and depression. It’s a very special time, not just for psychedelics but for humanity itself, because the medicine and lessons that psychedelics have to offer dovetail perfectly with many other understandings that are coming to light, fundamentally shifting our collective outlook of the world. This shift from darkness and disorder into health and wellbeing is happening at both the personal and collective level, and psychedelics are playing a very important role in this changing of the ages.
The Old Story of Separation
Writer and speaker Charles Eisenstein speaks about this moment in history as being the death of the “old story” of humanity that seems to be speeding us off the edge of a cliff, and the initiatory birth phase of the “new and ancient story” that draws us towards a sane and sustainable future. The old story that we’ve inherited and still see running rampant across the world is one of domination and control. It’s the story that underlies the world’s history of colonial conquest, destruction of the natural world, and the tendency of governments and corporations to seek ever greater power and control. This mindset, which Eisenstein points out has its roots in Cartesian thinking, sees the world as a hostile, disconnected environment where survival of the fittest is the law of the land, and numerous individual actors compete in a zero-sum game for limited resources. The old story is a story of separation, and it is this fundamental sense of separateness that underwrites every act of violence against people or the natural world.
This “old story” is also why we see such a prevalence of addiction and mental disorders at a time when, by all material accounts, the developed world is living in unprecedented safety and luxury. People who work faithfully at a job and earn a big salary find that financial success is not a goal unto itself, and that money and fashionable consumption are not fundamentally fulfilling. Similarly, when people undergo traumatic experiences as a result of this way of life — be it through war, absentee parents, stifled self-expression, or abuse — we have little cultural understanding of how to help people cope, offering dubious prescription drugs as a solution and leaving people to hide away parts of themselves and live a fragmented life prone to anxiety, depression, and addiction.
The good news is that just as these problems are starting to seem endemic and unavoidable, new psychedelic treatments are arising as incredibly effective medicines for these ills, and the new and ancient story that psychedelics are fundamentally intertwined with is emerging as a solution for the root causes of this disconnected way of life.
The New and Ancient Story
The new story of humanity, which Charles Eisenstein calls the “new and ancient” story, is one of interbeing (a word borrowed from Thich Nhat Hanh) where one’s wellbeing is based on the wellbeing of nature and others. This perspective sits at the core of concepts such as universal rights, environmental sustainability, and a world of shared prosperity. Eisenstein refers to this new story as an ancient one because it is the fundamental outlook that native cultures around the world shared before times of conquest. Our mutual ancestors, the people of indigenous cultures across the globe, saw themselves as intimately interconnected with the natural world and their fellow man. To defile nature or seek to own or control it was a foreign concept, and tribal ways of life meant that survival and comfort depended not on grocery stores or cable television, but on a healthy, functioning community.
This basic understanding of “interbeing” was and is bolstered by visionary plants and mushrooms such as psilocybin, Amanita muscaria, iboga, ayahuasca, and entheogenic cacti, all of which allow people to directly experience unity and commune with nature internally and externally. Not only do psychedelics imbue a strong sense of connection with others and the natural world, but they also help to unify the self, allowing people to integrate fragmented parts of themselves and replace trauma and disorder with acceptance and an empowered new sense of purpose in life. The fundamental understandings of soul loss and soul retrieval that were elementary in indigenous cultures are only recently being grokked by psychotherapists and addiction experts, many of whom are utilizing psychedelics as they can in their therapy and treatments. In a sense, our modern culture is coming full circle and reintegrating the wisdom of the indigenous world that we had previously discarded as rubbish, making our future both new and ancient indeed.
The Medicine of Interbeing
The fundamental message that psychedelics carry is one of unity and interconnection. Psychedelics reveal to us via direct experience that we do not have to lead disharmonious lives as disjointed individuals, but rather we are inseparable from others and part of the great network of nature, and despite whatever traumas we may have endured or destructive patterns of behavior we have adopted, we can return to wholeness again. This medicine journey doesn’t just apply to individuals but to the whole collective of humanity. We are not forever trapped in the patterns of environmental degradation, war, and competition, no matter how deeply ingrained they might seem. Just as a heroin addict is able to break free of a decades-long addiction with a single revelatory experience on ibogaine — a seeming miracle — our global culture can make similar astounding leaps of positive transformation and healing with the right catalyst and initiatory experience. In this way, psychedelics have a major role to play in the changing of the stories that Eisenstein describes.
Psychedelic advocates and change makers around the world are acting as midwives in this birthing of the new and ancient story. It’s important to take such a role seriously and with all due responsibility and care. As such we should take a cue from ancient and indigenous cultures and treat psychedelics with the utmost respect and not use or promote them recklessly without a holistic understanding of their benefits as well as their potential risks.
From that place of responsibility and discernment, we should also be unafraid to share our points of view with the world and speak our truth about what psychedelics have done for us, and what they have to offer to the world. The face of psychedelia evolves as more people from all walks of life come forward and say that psychedelics have done amazing things for them and changed their lives for the better. The more diverse, eloquent, and educated psychedelic advocates are, the easier our message will be heard, and the smoother the birthing process will be as the medicine of interbeing becomes the new meme for humanity to rally under.