The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman
Originally published in 2011 ‘The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide – Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys’ by James Fadiman deals with a certain psychiatric approach to hallucinogens; namely the psychedelic. The author has been involved in psychedelic research since its heyday in the 1960s and currently teaches at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, which he helped found in 1975. This book gives a thorough grounding in the psychedelic practice.
Weaving together history, recent research and various passages written by other psychedelic researchers, the author James Fadiman has created an excellent overview of the psychedelic movement and the various elements that make it up. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide is a book of five parts: The first deals with the transcendent and entheogenic experience, which includes guidelines for practise, Alan Watts’ explanation of its characteristics (a slowing down of time, awareness of polarity, of relativity, and of eternal energy,) along with various testimonials by the likes of Albert Hofmann, Aldous Huxley, Alexander Shulgin and Timothy Leary. This part historicises the movement through the key players and their roles, while also introducing the important terminology like ‘set and setting’.
In many respects the book addresses two groups, those who practise within a clinical context and those who perform self-exploration, though it should be said the both have their theoretical roots in the psychiatric frameworks that developed with hallucinogens in the late 1950s and early 1960s: “Before all civilian LSD research was stopped in 1966, LSD was the most widely studied psychiatric drug in the world” (Fadiman 68). Part Two then explores some of the therapeutic methods that have arisen. At a time now when LSD research is once again be on the rise, this book’s publication is ideal; a juncture between the old methods and those that modern techniques may develop. Seemingly as part of this new wave, Fadiman includes a passage by David Presti and Jerome Beck dealing with the myths and misconceptions that have proliferated – chromosome damage for instance – and are thus preparing the groundwork anew.
Part Three – Enhanced Problem Solving in Focused Sessions – looks at a study, discontinued in 1966, which dealt with the capacity to problem solve under the influence of LSD. Adjunct to this are a number of case studies and the methodology behind facilitating a session of this kind. Obviously this has become a major research area and one hopes that it will be more thoroughly explored under a legal framework in the future. Part Four – New Horizons – is particularly interesting so far as it explores the current state of psychedelic understanding through current trends, testimonies and the effect psychedelics have had on Fadiman’s own career choices and worldview. Finally, Part Five – The Necessary, the Extraordinary, and some Hard-Core Data – “contains important information for your own personal exploration” (Fadiman 256); including a checklist for sessions, testimonials from ayahuasca sessions and a fourteen-day darkness retreat, and behavioural changes in individuals.
Anthropologists and archaeologists have learned that shamans and other traditional healers have successfully used psychedelic agents for healing for thousands of years. In the west, attitudes about these traditional uses have progressed from rejection and demonization, to doubt and disbelief, to gradual acceptance and legal protection. There is now a growing interest in learning how to tap these agents’ potential for healing and spiritual experience (Fadiman 70)
In many respects, though it is not dealt with explicitly, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide is a very political text. The publication of such a book is certainly indicative of what has recently been coined as today’s ‘psychedelic renaissance’, yet the question of legality still looms over the methods and ideas the book explores. Although clinical research may well be beginning once more, and although this may once again lead to psychedelic therapy being available to the public, the ability for self-exploration by psychonauts still requires the over-turning of law. In our current legal framework this book is politically subversive though if psychedelics were to be legalised it would alter the dynamic, and change the role that the psychedelic movement can play in society. A political choice becomes evident.
When Fadiman frames the book’s content at the start, he writes: ”The disruption between species and the rest of nature has never been wider, its effects never more pronounced” (Fadiman 3) and goes on to quote Stephen Harold Buhner that we are emotionally disconnected from the Earth, having lost the understanding of our connectedness in the biosphere. These are the sorts of understandings that Alan Watts says we might discover as characteristics of the psychedelic experience and, from his inclusion in the book, it is possible to say that therapy aims at reconnecting/reintegrating ourselves; socially-personally through psychoanalysis, universally-personally through the transpersonal.
Yet, it seems to me, that perhaps these are treating the symptoms of the problem of “disruption”; a problem that appears to lie in the socio-political make-up of the West. Perhaps the movement needs to ask itself whether it should be legitimized through being an organ of the state – treating post-traumatic stress in soldiers for example – and therefore becoming a controlling force; or whether their intentions should be more subversive and actually attempt to recalibrate society from the individual up, through the supposed lessons of the transpersonal experience: “People who have used psychedelics are more likely to detribalize and, after so doing, to create new institutions” (Fadiman 306). Psychedelic practice, accordingly then, might have the ability to transform the very mechanisms of control and give birth to a society where the lessons of a transpersonal experience are known without the therapeutic aid of psychedelics. With any luck, time will tell and this book is certainly a step in the right direction.