I'm lucky in the various roles I serve, that I have the opportunity to support & celebrate growth of others. This means I am also present during the challenges and resistance that show up on the journey, but I write this prompted by a wrap-up call I had with a client today who shared which really was a celebration and acknowledement of shifts occuring as a result of how he's showing up for himself in new ways. In one of my roles, as a Psychedelic Integration Guide, I'm with clients through the entirety of their journey (the length of time varies on the program they opt to undertake and the willingness of the client to engage in the process, but in the first instance all clients must take on the Basics, a course of 6 sessions which on average takes 6-8 weeks). This includes support in preparation, setting intentions, navigation and eventually integration of the psychedelic sessions. We go into habits, behaviours and thought patterns that maybe causing depression or anxiety, and how we can begin to interrupt this hard-wiring by taking new steps towards our goal.
"What we get from each moment depends on the attention we give it, and the quality of our experience reflects the quality of our awareness." - Roger N. Walsh
The medicine, in this case, ketamine accelerates the process of neuroplasticity - a term refered to the brain's ability to continuoously adapt it's structure in response to activity - something which is negatively affected in states of chronic stress, depression and anxiety. It does this by increasing a protein in the brain called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which supports maturation and growth of neurons. This protein is active in areas of the brain responsible for learing memory and emotional regulation, and so the brain becomes able to open and form new, more positive patterns. You can read more here And interestingly, ketamine has been found to reduce activity in the default mode network (DMN), an area in the brain responsible for our sense of self, I & me, memory, emotion, day-dreaming- it's the mode that kicks in when we switch off or go onto autopilot i.e. when we're not fully engaged or present with experience. This everyday state of consciousness can include negative, ruminating thought patterns where the brain can easily get stuck in these loops, especially in times of impaired neuroplasticity caused by chornic stress, depression & anxiety. I say interestingly as meditation seems to have a very similar affect on this brain area (check this post for more insight). And this is why it is crucial, as best as possible, to really pay attention to one's moment to moment experience if any long-lasting change is possible. Especially in the daily routine, the so-called mundane acitvities where it's easy to disengae and allow autopilot to takeover. And to think what percentage of our day is made up of these type of actvities - washing the dishes, driving the car, speaking to a partner or the kids, a work task or the familiar commute. But this is where the magic happens.
“It’s all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seems to work in whispers and small kindnesses.” - Charles de Lint Many people who start this program, especially as the supporting tool is a psychdellic medicine (ketamine is not seen as a traditional psychedelic compound, but has the same affects that those that are), come in expecting earth-shattering moments which will completely shift the direction of their lives, the immediate relief of their mental health challenge and this new profound way of moving through life with ease. Of course, this is not the case, and it can be dis-heartening and frustrating no matter how much I help to manage expectations. However, the medicine as with meditation, is creating the fertile conditions for new seeds of intention to grow or the potential for new neural pathways to emerge - however, the soil need be cultivated for these seeds to gradually mature into thriving plants. In other words, one needs to be an active particpant in the process or "do the work."
And this is challenging because, firstly old weeds or deeply embedded thought patterns which no longer serve us, need be uprooted - it can seem in the early stages that in fact we are going backwards. And this makes it even more difficult to be with our experience. Whether a medicine or meditation session, when you emerge, things are little more open and sensitive - things arise to the surface when the activity of usual waking consciousness (the DMN) is softened and new conections are being formed. There may be heightened awareness or fresh insight, some perceived as positive and some negative - but all evidence of the space of potential to work from. By granting ourselves the permission to make time and space for nurturing these insights in our day to day, we support the seeds planted during these fertile periods. Or really allowing new patterns of thought and behaviour to take root and mature in our lives.
We can start with pausing from time to time through our day and actually asking ourselves the question: "what is actually going on in my experience?" This can relate to both inner and outer. What thoughts are present, what feelings or emotions - how does it feel in my body, what sensations are present. What do you notice when you tune in to experience? The shifts of change and growth start off subtle, perhaps even unnoticeable if we're not aware, and compound over time. A slight change in energy or mood at a certain time of day or less reactivity to a usual trigger - these shifts need be acknowledged if they are to take root, grow and evetually mature into a new positive behaviour or habit. I had a 'wrap-up' call with a client yesterday, like an integration for the entire program (6 ketamine sessions in this case over 8 weeks) - he'd been on quite the journey, his main reward was a new relationship of being with anger, a powerful emotion which was having a destructive impact on his life and of those around him. We discussed some mindfulness theory and did some practices together, and at first he found them uncomfortable and awkward, but he took the principles into his daily life. He started paying attention to those moments where he'd get angry, with others or on his own - what was actually going on in thought, what did it feel like to be angry, what sensations where there and how long did it last. Actually being intimate with the experience, which in itself is so hard - it's unnatural to turn to towards challenging emotions, let alone allowing them to be there. His main thing was to 'practice the pause' in dealing with his reactivity to anger, sounds simple, but he found it made a world of difference. The pause provided the space enough for him to make a more skillful decision. Yesterday he shared that he still feels anger inside of him, at times raging, but when he notices this familiar thing arising, he decides to channel that energy into a walk or painting. He's noticing this anger also passes a bit quicker now than it used to when he'd immediately react. It was wonderful to hear this, and to celebrate this. It may seem minor, but our lives are made up of these moments waiting for us to notice, to attend to them in all their glory. This is being active part in the process of healing. It may start with something a simple as practicing a pause and choosing to be with our experience.