Balanced Psychonautics

Snakes and Ladders

On the hacks and pitfalls on the Psychonauts Quest

Some of us cosmic monkeys come to this world with a thirst for knowledge and the exploration of our own consciousness. As a privileged inhabitant of a western industrialized society, I get to more or less freely embark on the Psychonauts Quest to satiate this thirst. In another time or place, the paths of the quest for self-knowledge have been hidden from the masses and only few would receive the offering of initiation into the techniques of altering our consciousness and exploring the multiple dimensions of existence. 

Nowadays, the thriving New Age market – rehashing knowledge of different traditions – and the personal development market – with a multitude of self announced gurus –  offers us access to a plethora of paths, techniques and guides to choose from to aid us or derail us on this quest.  

Psychedelic substances function as one of the more powerful tools one can play with on this quest. As a fast acting catalyst for personal transformation, they activate circuitry in our brain to open access to states of consciousness which remain difficult to reach without them. Without psychedelics, such states of consciousness would usually require knowledge of practices usually kept by traditions of old and mystery schools and lots of time and discipline to get there. 

A rising curiosity to use psychedelics for personal explorations and as medicines  emerges on the heels of the renaissance of scientific inquiry into their use for relieving mental health afflictions. We also see a higher public awareness of these substances as well as less concern for their Prohibition, which came as a response to the mass initiation and proliferation of their use through the counterculture movement, disrupting the societal order of the last century. 

The growing interest comes with an inevitable dilution of understanding of the complexity and nuance of the experience and its potentials. With the access paths to psychedelics becoming increasingly clear and simple, we are moving further away from any semblance of an initiatic process to prepare us for the potentials and perils of such a journey. We venture out onto unwalked paths exploring uncharted territory of consciousness without a guide or shaman, or rather acting as one for ourselves, often without understanding the hacks or potential pitfalls involved. 

Photo by Zach Savinar on Unsplash

I like to think of consciousness evolution as the old game of Snakes & Ladders. Each path towards the juicy apple of wisdom is completely different, and the board is filled with opportunities of rapid evolution and sudden setbacks. What sometimes seems and feels like progress can be lost with a simple toss of a die. The psychedelic ladder holds promise of fast tracking our inner evolution, but experiences provided by these molecules can also turn out to be a slippery ride back down into the unraveling of our own abyss. 

With or without the use of psychedelics, the Quest of the Psychonaut offers many amenities and many perils. When following a path of a mystery school, the candidate for initiation would usually receive the guidance and preparation of the master. The preparation of body and mind would assist the candidate in getting ready for the trials of initiation which through some sort of shock to our system would in turn open the doors of perception for the student. However even this support system does not guarantee a successful integration of the delivered shock. Many questers on those well walked paths also find themselves fracturing  their minds into the pits of unsanity.

The 8 Circuit Brain Model, devised by Timothy Leary and further developed by Robert Anton Wilson and Antero Alli for practical use, describes a direct connection between the transpersonal or “higher” states of consciousness and the personal survival or “lower” circuits. 

Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

Experiences of the “higher” states can act as catalysts for expansion and evolution of the personal circuitry or “Ego” programming or they can  initiate such a snake-like drop during or after peak experiences, – including but not limited to psychedelic journeys. Some basic developmental aspects of our psyche, according to this model, are specifically linked to the activation of certain higher states of consciousness. When a lower circuit is somehow out of balance, an experience of a higher circuit has potential to trigger a “snake” response, if the shock can not be absorbed and integrated by the “lower” circuits anchoring this experience. 

To give one example, an intense heart opening experience of ecstasy and bliss during a tantric temple (5th Circuit) can reverberate down as a shock to our nervous system, if we have not previously fully established our sense of safety (1st Circuit) or the charge surpasses that what our system can digest, resulting in a prolonged period of dysregulation. This response would present as agitation, withdrawal, mistrust of others or hypervigilance, sometimes lasting for weeks and weeks, until our system integrates this energetic shock. 

To briefly offer another, an expanding experience into the realms of non-linearity, where everything appears full of possibilities and relativity (Circuit 6), can deliver a shock of uncertainty and destabilize an unbalanced emotional-territorial Circuit 2  frying our emotional circuitry, which may result in falling into an emotional polarity of depression  and/or mania, losing our sense of self, power loss or the feeling that our life is spinning out of control. 

Photo by Scott Osborn on Unsplash

The 8 Circuit Brain Model has so far been the most useful map I’ve encountered, in navigating the shifting territory of the Psychonauts Quest. Having difficulty in accepting authorities and low capacity for discipline, I have never walked any mystery school path for long. Working with Chaos Magick and psychedelics on my own with this quest, I usually hope for each trip and ritual to be a ‘ladder’, but I have slipped down some snake rides as well. Through Leary’s model in the version laid down by Antero Alli, I gained some hacks for preparation to spot the ladders and tools for integration of the chaos unleashed by snake rides along the way. When my life was the most chaotic this map has helped me in figuring out where I was at and how to regain balance. 

For those who choose to take on the responsibility of setting out on the Psychedelic Quest, taking on the role of being their own Guru or Master, I encourage the use of this model as a map for clearer navigation. Knowing the territory of our personal circuitry  might help in seeing some of the snakes before stepping on their heads, and surf the waves of Chaos unleashed by the slippery ride down in an overall more balanced and integrative way. 

To learn more about the 8 Circuit Brain model, go HERE.