On Psychedelics

I think the more I progress within psychotherapy and find separation from my past, the more I realise how interlinked creative expression and trauma are. I don’t necessarily mean trauma as an awful event that happened it your life. Obviously it can be that, but also it can simply be the experiences, events and belief systems that have formed as a result of the life you have lived. There was a really interesting study (Childhood Adversity and the Creative Experience in Adult Professional Performing Artists) that found a significant correlation between childhood adversity and more intense creative experiences, where participants noted that the experience of creation had a spiritual quality and that there was a breakdown between themselves and what they were creating.

After reading about the research currently being conducted on mental health and psychedelics, I decided to embark upon a therapeutic plant medicine experience. As part of that experience I spent about an hour or so taking photographs and was utterly enthralled by the process. There was a sense of child-like awe and wonder at how beautiful the world was, the sensuality and sexuality that was exploding within every drop of nature. I recently had the photographs developed and was surprised at how flat they were – the content was the same as what I would usually photograph, but they were emotionless. It was as if all the feeling had been experienced in the moment of taking the photograph to the extent that there was no emotion left for the photograph to have.

I have experienced a few versions of altered states including the plant medicine trips and bodywork techniques such as Vegetotherapy in which you use breath and movement to physically manifest strong emotions and liberate the autonomic nervous system. I believe that plant medicine differs from non-drug induced states in its ability to provide you with some sort of separation from your imprint. The psychedelic appears to defragment your mind, separating out the habitual behaviour, belief systems and reactions so that you are able to observe it as it plays out. This separation helps with understanding and challenging these belief systems at an emotional and intellectual level. Within the non-drug altered induced states, I step into the split off version of myself that stored the emotions and through expressing them am able to alleviate their imprint.

I have been ruminating on this experience of separation resulting in emotionless work and the differing qualities the two creative experiences have. As a child there is that awe at the world and an unbounded desire to explore, experiment and create. There is no ulterior motive or reason to do this other than the energetic experience of joy and curiosity of the process. The work that children produce is single layered, a physical manifestation of themselves in that moment. The psychedelic, in its ability to bring you into that single layered existence where there is separation between you and your ego, returns you to the state of child-like awe. As an adult, that process becomes different. Our life experiences are now a heavy weight in our psyche and our bodies, we split ourselves into multiple versions, seemingly discarding our shadow selves. When we create it isn’t just the single version of us that speaks, it is the echoes of forgotten and lost forms of us that imprint onto our work, haunt us in their presence. These split off versions of ourselves inform what grabs our attention. They are forever trying to be seen and heard and they present themselves in our creations, gasping for attention.

The merging of artist and work stems from the merging of our trauma and our existence, it comes to define how we relate and experience the world. The unprocessed emotion that is stored in our psyche and our body is transferred to the piece that is created. In my mind, this is why for artists the act of creating can be such a toxic one. A creative practice can be a way of returning to emotions and experiences compulsively.

I ponder now the question of whether creativity is the result of trauma. Perhaps creativity is feelings and feelings are the personal lens through which we view the world. What I do know is that our creations are a mirror for us, they show us as we actually are in that current moment. I think this is why the process of creating can be such a painful one, it forces us to stop and look at who we actually are. I believe in the possibility of healing and using our creative practice as a vehicle to look at our trauma. But I do not think that healing comes from discarding or separating ourselves from our shadow. I believe that integrating the split off feelings and versions of ourselves can result in a creative practice that is nurturing in its existence and is a tool to bring us closer to true selves.