Nathaniel Branden and Psychedelics

The other night I had an overwhelming psychedelic experience. My total sense of self was ripped apart and the trip took over. I’ll admit it got dark at parts. A sense of panic kicked in. Fortunately a friend was able to help guide me back into sanity. For someone like myself, who takes a lot of pride in being mentally capable, it was deeply humbling. I eventually regained the reins of my trip. As my mind begun to put itself back together a lot of important introspective thoughts came up. I knew I had to seize this opportunity to get to know myself as best as possible. But introspection within itself is not enough. I need tools for determining what thoughts should be explored, what actions to take from these conclusions.
Fortunately I’ve been reading Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-esteem. The ideas I found in this book were essential for helping me process my experience. Each one of these six pillars were applicable. Each equipping me with the psychological tools to understand and deal with my thoughts.

The Practice of Living Consciously

Branden’s first pillar is the practice of living consciously. This is the act of embracing reality. The choice to be active in our existence instead of being passive. To live unconsciously is to sedate our minds.

Psychs have a way of waking the user up. For me this may mean bringing out thoughts that I might not want to hear. There is no way to suppress inner feelings when the chemicals drag them out. I do however, have a choice in what I do with those thoughts. I can, and did choose to be an active participant in my experience. This pillar showed me I needed to dive in and maintain a healthy and consistent relationship with reality. It didn’t matter how dark or uncomfortable a thought was. To live consciously I had to actively engage it.

Conscious living implies a commitment to reason. It can be tempting during a trip to hide away in mysticism. To think my feeling are beyond the ability of my mind to resolve. This can be a grave mistake. Without a conscious use of reason I can not accurately evaluate my self discoveries. Without reason I can not find the correct course of action to work with them. There is no demon tricking me or old eastern God trying to connect. There is only me, my mind and reality.

The Practice of Self-acceptance

Self-acceptance means refusing to ignore or reject who we are, how we feel, and what we’ve done. It does not mean we must like these things about ourselves. It means that we are willing to experience ourselves as we are. Without a willingness to accept ourselves where we’re at, we cannot work on moving past it.

Practicing Self-acceptance gave me the strength to recognize my thoughts for being an accurate reflection of how I felt. I did not like many of the feeling that arouse during my trip. Some of them bothered me deeply.  If had I entered into this experience with a sense of self rejection, I would have had trouble acknowledging the truth of my wants and needs. How can I work on my anger and sadness if I can’t even admit I have them?

This practice helped me be more compassionate to myself. I am only human and make plenty of mistakes. I should not hate myself for my mistakes. Without a sense of compassion, I could have gotten stuck on the negative discoveries. I could have taken a dive into another bad trip. But if I hate myself for the thoughts that came about, I can never learn from them. I can forgive a friend for their transgressions against me. With kindness and grace help them learn from their mistake. To get the most out of my trip I have to treat myself like a friend.

The Practice of Self-responsibility

Self-responsibility is the practice of taking ownership over our existence. This is the acknowledgement that we are responsible for the achievement of our desires. We are responsible for the level of consciousness and effort we put into our actions.

Of course I admit my friend was extremely helpful in bringing me down from the toughest part. I am grateful for their guidance. However, I still had to embrace the fact that I was ultimately in control of my experience. No one was coming to save me. No one was going to hold my hand and tell me which thoughts to dive deep into. Through the practice of Self-responsibility I could take ownership for my mental health and how the trip affects it.

Self-responsibility also implies I must be willing to act upon these thoughts. I know that it’s not enough to think and process but I must put together plans for action. I must own the fact that I can not waste this experience. I must accept that growing from this adventure is my responsibility and mine alone.

The Practice of Self-assertiveness

The assertion that we have a right to exist, this is Self-assertiveness. To stand up for ourselves. It means honoring our values and acting upon them. This is a context based practice that builds off of responsibility. Once we’ve taken responsibility we need to have the virtue of courage to act.

Assertiveness reminds me I must act upon my desires and stand up for myself to not let the lessons from my trip go unused. When we discover things about ourselves we need to act upon them. Sometimes sharing my feelings can be an uphill battle. But in order to live a more full life I need to have the assertiveness to live authentically. This means being honest with my loved ones about my needs and wants. This means asserting myself in the battle against my own insecurities and mental blocks.

The Practice of Living Purposefully

Living a life without purpose is the choice to live life in an unconscious manner. It is the act of letting chance and randomness decide our fate. To take responsibility for our lives we have to develop purpose. With purpose we have goals that direct our actions. Purposeful living is the difference between hoping things work and making them them a conscious goal to work.

I know that without clear purpose there can be no self improvement. I have to first want to be happy before I can use my trip as tool for achieving it. So much of a psychedelic expressed is framed by our starting mindset. If I go into a trip with a conscious want for self improvement and enjoyment, I will likely get there. If I go into an experience with no purpose, or with a sense of laziness I risk an even worse trip.

The Practice of Personal Integrity

Integrity is about maintaining a healthy integration of our convictions and behavior. If must walk the walk if we talk the talk.

In this context integrity becomes the ability to maintain the truthfulness of my experience with my actions. It means I shouldn’t slant the uncomfortable truths I discovered and find an excuse to ignore them or create a fake problem to replace them.

Integrity does not imply I will always make the best choices but it implies I make an honest effort to make choices that align with my authentic desires. By sitting here and writing this I’ve made a public declaration of my intent to act upon the lessons from my trip. I can not and will not betray my standards by letting these things pass me by without action.

In fact, in order to emphasize this virtue here is a list of some things I am working on as result of my trip.

  1. Accepting that even though I don’t love my parents they aren’t the worse people in the world. I take responsibility for amplifying the damage they caused by letting my mind be obsessed with them. To heal I will move on and think less about them.
  2. I have been deeply dishonest with myself and my romantic partners about my wants and needs. Prolonging relationships that I knew wouldn’t work out and avoiding relationships that might have been worth trying. I will be coming up with a list of what I want out of romance and using that list to determine who I want to spend my time with in the future.
  3. I am reconsidering the projects I’m working on and making economic choices that better reflect my desires. At the time of writing this I’ve already dropped one job, or at least put it on hold, so I can focus on things more directly appealing to me.

The Six Pillars is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Every day I’m encountering opportunities to apply these pillars. The use of Psychedelics can be intensely transformative but I believe without internalizing Nathaniel Branden’s practices I might not have had such a therapeutic experience. I want to grow as a person, build self esteem, have healthier relationships, work harder and embrace life. With a little help from good books and good drugs, I will accomplish these things.


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