Getting Higher

Getting Higher by Julian Vayne is a manual for exploring the use of psychedelic substances, and provides a variety of things that someone may consider doing before embarking on a psychedelic journey, which includes cleansing the body through washing, intentional diet, choosing clothes to wear, decorating the physical space and setting an intention. It emphasizes the importance of choosing a group of people to trip with that have mutual trust and respect for one another, and the importance of rounding off the ceremony with a formal conclusion of the session. Furthermore, it introduces techniques that can navigate or even intensify the psychedelic experience, such as breathwork, meditation, and other forms of concerted group activities, as well as artistic explorations that include drawing or painting, consciously consuming sensory content.

Publisher Summary of Getting Higher

Getting Higher is a manual for exploring the use of psychedelic substances in the contexts of spirituality, self-transformation and magic. This is the psychonaut s essential guide. The techniques presented here work whether you’re a scientist or a shaman; there’s no requirement to believe in anything other than the wonder of your own neurochemistry and the value of the psychedelic experience. Getting Higher describes the psychedelic triangle of Set, Setting and Substance. It suggests strategies to hold and enhance the psychedelic experience; from games to play when you are high, through to complete entheogenic ceremonies. It will help you to intelligently explore the territory of both traditional sacred plants and modern magical molecules. Getting Higher is a toolbox for technicians of the sacred; ideal for both novices and experienced psychonauts. Inspired by the wisdom of ancient cultures, and informed by the latest advances in psychedelic science, this book is a powerful ally for all those following the Medicine Path.”

Summary Review of Getting Higher

Getting Higher finds its roots in esoteric culture, in the occult realms of shamanism, witchcraft, parapsychology, and tarot cards. And it is good to know that this is what has formed some of the ideas presented in the book. But if there is one thing to take away from this summary, then it is that this book is accessible to everyone. From the aspiring rationalists to those who are more in touch with spiritual practices.

David Luke says in his foreword that Julian Vayne has written a book that combines drugs and magic. Or as the author put it himself, the book is a manual for both experienced and novel psychonauts. The manual offers insights for everyone from those seeking therapeutic experience, to those who just want to get really high. And, as is often the case, people come at a psychedelic experience with multiple intentions. In the broadest sense of the term, this book is intended to help you get higher.

Chapter 1 – Calling to the Spirits

The first chapter describes the preparations done at the start of a psychedelic experience. For someone less familiar with altars, the following describes does well in highlighting why it’s there: “We have externalised the psychedelic experience into this icon so we can speak to it as we would another person.” Making the invisible visible, to have something present during the experience.

This externalization, or making concrete, possibly also mirrors how Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy makes the different aspects of your psyche/personality more visible.

Chapter 2 – The Medicine Path

Mind altering drugs go with human spirituality the same way that music goes with human celebration.” (see The Immortality Key for more on this).

There are many reasons to do psychedelics, and these are just a few of them:

  • Self Exploration – examining your own psyche
  • Healing – of psychological ails and sometimes/possibly also physical problems (or learning better to deal with them)
  • Numinous Experience – positive peak experiences
  • Other Realities – as defined by the individual themselves
  • Occult or Parapsychological – using them for acts of magic
  • Creative Insight – creative problem solving
  • Preparation for Death – simulating the experience of dying
  • Reset – as a starting point for new directions
  • Recreation – experiencing the joy of life

When using psychedelics with care and within ritual, the effect may be greatly enhanced. This has been seen both with therapy with MDMA in a clinical setting (e.g. Jerome et al., 2020), as well as the large placebo/contextual effects of the psychedelic setting (Uthaug et al., 2021).

There may be neurological benefits to the use of psychedelics. Here Vayne highlights some of the changes that happen in the brain of someone on psychedelics, from lower top-down processing to more connections between different areas of the brain (e.g. Luppi et al., 2021).

Chapter 3 – The Psychoactive Triangle

The psychoactive triangle consists of the set (mindset), setting (social and environmental context), and substance (the psychedelic in question).

When investigating the dosages of psychedelics, Vayne has ranked them in this order:

  1. Baseline – before (or after) psychedelic ingestion
  2. Placebo dose – where expectancy effects can still lead to changes, but no drug has been given
  3. Microdose – a low enough dose that is perceived consciously (see all papers on microdosing)
  4. Threshold dose – sometimes also called a mini-dose, where it’s just barely perceptible
  5. Effective dose – where you do really feel something
  6. Low, medium, and strong doses – increasing levels of effect
  7. Dissociative dose – where memory is impaired and unconsciousness could happen
  8. LD50 – the dose at which half of the population would die, this is 100s of times higher than a strong dose for psychedelics (and only a few times higher for alcohol)

The useful ranking system from PiHKaL is also repeated here:

  1. Minus – no effects
  2. Plus/Minus – threshold action, just perceptable
  3. Plus One – there is action, but not quite definable (e.g. the jitters during a come-up)
  4. Plus Two – real effects, but you’re still able to suppress it and go about your day
  5. Plus Three – ignoring is not possible anymore, totally engaging experience
  6. Plus Four – peak experience, a state of bliss, religious experience

There are different ways of ingesting psychedelics and range from slow (eating, drinking) to rapid (IV, or absorption via a cut). Technology has recently added new ways of ingesting psychedelics, from continuously releasing patches to vaporizing devices.

With regards to the naturalness of psychedelics, Vayne argues that both are valid and that the line between them is more blurred than sometimes is assumed. Even if a psychedelic can be found, we usually still do some man-made processing such as heating them. A plus for artificial drugs is that the dose is usually easier to calculate (and thus effects can be somewhat more predictable).

The effects of psychedelics are (broadly) defined as uppers (amphetamines), downers (opiates), and those who change our perception of the world. Of course, many compounds show characteristics of multiple effects (e.g. MDMA or ketamine combine the upper/downer effects with mind-altering effects).

Body load refers to all the effects that psychedelics have on the body, from yawning to feelings of anxiety. Rituals around the use of psychedelics usually help reduce the negative experiences around body load. Experiences such as singing together, to playing card games during the come-up are just two examples of ways to focus the attention away from the body (load).

The chapter ends with a note about contact high, experiencing psychedelic effects by someone who is with a group, but has taken no substance themselves. Vayne suggests that someone who wants to (lightly) experience psychedelic effects, could do it via this route.

Chapter 4 – Beginning the Journey

Psychedelic drugs radically rearrange our experience of the world. They cleanse the doors of perception, so that the most mundane of things can be appreciated as wonderful, curious and even divine.”

There is a large contrast between the traditional use of psychedelics and that with clinical studies. In the former, psychedelics are taken within the context (setting) of a group and with the leader/host often participating in taking psychedelics. In the latter, someone is (usually) alone with a therapist. This chapter highlights some things we can do before tripping, at the start of the journey.

  • Washing – ranging from just hands to taking a bath
  • Fasting – which can be a psychological experience and also leads to faster absorption
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes
  • Blankets – for keeping warm and feeling safe/comfortable
  • Making your setting beautiful – cleaning the house, adding art, flowers, etc
  • Have water available
  • Turn of your phone
  • Arranging light – from candles to electronic (strobe) lights

One should be aware of the level of trust and respect required when experiencing psychedelics together. Often personal details are disclosed, and one should be aware that this may/will happen.

Prayers, spells and invocations can also be said at the beginning of a trip. Another way of putting this is the ‘statement of intent’, saying out loud what you hope this trip will bring you.

On page 32 the text of an opening ritual is given.

Chapter 5 – Core Techniques

This chapter discusses various ‘core techniques’ that one can use during a psychedelic experience. Some are similar to what is being used in clinical studies, but many are much closer to what people do in psychedelic experiences from Amazonian shamanistic rituals to Western group experiences.

  • Breathwork – “deliberately slowing and deepening the breath serves to calm the bodymind as a whole”
  • Hawk breath – forceful breathing in combination with raising and lowering arms from over the head towards the heart or tan tien (slightly lower)
  • Sun Moon breath – breathing to access/connect to yin energy
  • Partner and group breathing – passing a breath around (one breaths after the next one)
  • Breathwork systems – these include ones such as Holotropic Breathwork
  • Light breath and Tonglen – imagining breathing in positive and breathing out negative energy
  • Meditation – e.g. mindfulness meditation and becoming aware of the here and now (can also be beneficial before and after a session)
  • Pre-recorded music – “Listening to music provides both a wrapper around the trip and interesting content to focus on while high” (see all papers that mention music)
    • Multi-layered music, it is proposed, can be most interesting during the peak of a trip
  • Making music – from singing to mouth harps
  • Drumming – usually at 200 beats per minute in Native American peyote rituals
  • Movement – dancing together (e.g. like is happening at a festival or rave) can create a shared experience
  • Posture – the posture you take may influence your mood (alas the psychological research into this has been largely debunked, still there may be a small (and amplified under psychedelic) effect here)
  • Balance – doing anything from yoga to slacklining
  • Weaving the ‘Web of Wyrd‘ – “The Web of Wyrd is a metaphor for fate and destiny derived from women’s spinning.
  • Gestures – this can be anything from holding hands to doing mirrored movements
  • Sensuality and sexuality – think group hugs and massage, but be very clear about what is appropriate before the session starts
  • Animal forms – simulating the movement of animals (just like martial arts use this as an analogy, but here also meant more literal I think)

Chapter 6 – Internal Journeys

This chapter presents two examples of ‘guided imagery processes’, the use of stories that aim to induce a state of trance vision.

Chapter 7 – Advances in the Ultraworld

Just like the fifth chapter, this one offers suggestions for many things that one could do whilst tripping. They range from visiting a museum, to experiencing a festival.

  • Artistic explorations – drawing, painting, etc. “Psychedelics provide us with an opportunity to play with paint, draw in the sand or mould clay in a way where we can reconnect to a child-like appreciation of exploration and fun without self-critical judgements about making ‘good’ art or a specific final product.”
  • Consuming content – movies, series (some of which are made to be enjoyed whilst high)
  • Wonderful things – become enamored with everyday objects
  • Sculpts – moving/placing objects within a space and endowing them with meaning
  • Cut-ups – rearranging things to find serendipitous meaning
  • Playing games – from Frisbee to Twister (personal recommendation: Dixit during come-up)
  • The Superheroes game – describing the superhero qualities of your friends
  • Psychogeography – playing with movement and location (going on an exploratory walk)
  • Museum level – “describes a dosage of any substance that allows the user to successfully enjoy a public space … in an altered state of awareness”
  • Vigil & vision quests – doing a solo journey (sometimes also done with fasting)
  • Raves & Festivals – celebrating life with others, and also giving meaning to the preparation before such an evening
  • Mindful Smoking – smoking tobacco, sometimes part of shamanic rituals
  • Sigil – a representation of a desire in an abstract way
  • Mimetic magic – also known as sympathetic magic
  • Divination – externalizing your thinking in objects (e.g. tarot cards) and finding meaning and understanding that way
  • Sensory deprivation – from blindfolds to floatation tanks (one such ritual under the influence of ketamine is described)

Chapter 8 – The Medicine Circle

This chapter is inspired by the Native American peyote circle and describes elements of a medicine circle. A circle is usually led by an experienced person (Roadman, Medicine Carrier), who can be assisted by several helpers who can help with anything from keeping the fire going to helping people who are ‘getting well’ (i.e. vomiting).

Many medicine circles recommend that people engage in a variety of preparatory rituals. These range from eating a certain (usually plant-based) diet, fasting the (half) day before, and refraining from sexual activity.

During the ceremony, a central altar could be made that represents a certain ‘energy’ and makes visible some of the abstract thoughts/ideas/intentions.

When a group starts, a statement of intent could be made. Confessions, or talking about what problems you’re bringing to the circle, are then shared, a talking stick could be used to facilitate this ritual. When taking the medicine (which should be voluntary and could be skipped at each round by the participants), the leader should take into account the state of the participants (e.g. using the Shulgin Scale).

The latter parts of the chapter describe a variety of other things to do during a ceremony. Time for silence, taking breaks, drinking water, prayers, movement, and more are discussed.

In the end, Vayne stresses that there is no clear distinction between spirituality and fun, both can happen within the same ritual. Challenging experiences and hearty laughter can happen in the same evening, and relaxation and deep contemplation are not mutually exclusive.

Chapter 9 – A Guide for the Perplexed

Experiences with a guide can also be helpful, and this is how Western/clinical experiences usually are conducted. A guide can provide context, grounding, integration and reflection. Unlike in some/many circles, the guide or sitter doesn’t take the psychedelic themselves.

Sitters can also provide grounding through physical, non-sexual, touch such as holding hands.

Chapter 10 – Dealing with Challenges

Challenges may arise during a psychedelic experience and they shouldn’t necessarily be avoided. “These processes can be vital part of the transformative power of the trip…” Then can, however, be attenuated by employing one of the following strategies:

  • Changing the setting: changing music, offering a blanket, going from inside to outside
  • Changing the set: focussing on breathing, recalling a pleasant memory, focus on the music
  • Changing the substance: seek medical attention if needed, keeping the airway clear if vomiting (but most challenging experiences are caused by anxiety and not bad/adulterated drugs)
    • There are currently no trip-stoppers publically available that are guaranteed to work, but anecdotally a vitamin C pill or fruit juice may help (if only as a placebo)
  • Relax and float downstream: ride it out, know that ‘this too shall pass’
  • Refining your rapture: not taking more of a substance, but increasing its effects by fasting or other methods

Chapter 11 – On Coming Down

When coming down from a trip, making sense shouldn’t be the immediate priority. This could be left for another moment when you come back together as a group (the next day or week). Recording thoughts during, immediately after, or the next day could be helpful in processing the trip.

All that is left is to integrate the experience back into daily life. Are there lessons to be put into habit or insights that you can bring forward? Doing this consciously (e.g. discussing the trip afterward) or unconsciously, will hopefully help bring lessons from the trip to your daily life.

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