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Shaping the Set: 11 Techniques for Psychedelic Journeys

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in this article
  • Introduction
  • Understanding the Psychedelic Mindset
  • 11 Techniques for Cultivating the Ideal Mindset
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Conscious Media Intake
  • Framing
  • Physical Activity
  • Environmental Considerations
  • Gratitude
  • Clearing Unresolved Matters
  • Final Thoughts

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Introduction

Central to the conscious preparation of any psychedelic experience is the concept of “set”.

Set is short for mindset, and refers to the mindset one brings into the journey.  The significance of the “set” is well known in psychedelic space now, and for good reason. It plays a pivotal role in shaping the nature and depth of the psychedelic encounter. 

In this blog post, I’ll explore the art of nurturing the ideal mindset before embarking on a transformative psychedelic journey. 

Understanding the Psychedelic Mindset

shaping the set corridor

Defining the Set:

In the context of a psychedelic experience, “set” refers to the mindset, emotions, and psychological state an individual brings into the journey. It encompasses intentions, expectations, fears, and overall mental disposition. Together with “setting,” which includes the physical environment, “set” significantly influences the nature and depth of the psychedelic encounter, shaping the overall quality and outcomes of the experience.

Components of an Ideal Mindset:

Openness to the unknown, surrender to the process, curiosity to explore the depths of consciousness, and self-compassion to navigate challenges are all great pieces to have for an ideal mindset.  

In terms of emotions, it can help to feel safe, trusting, open, and calm (though nervous excitement is also totally fine and to be expected). Feeling ready and prepared for the experience is also a great starting point. 

These components can lay the ground for a beneficial experience that allows for profound insights and transformative encounters.

But how to get there?

11 Techniques for Cultivating the Ideal Mindset

The following techniques and practices will help to equip you with tools to optimize your mindset going into your next experience, to increase your potential for profound insights and personal growth.

Meditation

Meditation has been shown in studies to reduce anxiety and induce what has been called a ‘relaxation response’.

By incorporating mindfulness practices like guided meditation or breath awareness into your preparation routine, you help bring about a calmer state of mind and set the stage for a smoother entry, and thus a transformative experience.

While it is true that the setting and the techniques used at traditional Buddhist retreats are not geared toward the use of psychedelics, it is quite obvious that skills in meditation, the practice of being at peace within one’s body and mind, even in uncomfortable places, can be of great help in the course of a psychedelic session.

— Vanja Palmers, Meditation & Psychedelics

Meditation techniques help to quiet mental clutter and allow you to fully embrace each moment as it unfolds without getting stuck in your head. This can provide a receptive canvas for whatever content is emerging during your psychedelic experience.

Journaling

shaping the set journalling

Journaling about your inner experience can bring increased awareness to it. It gives an opportunity for you to see the contents of your mind, your feelings and your emotions.

In this way, journaling can almost be considered psychedelic in itself and works as a great way of deepening our understanding of ourselves, our thought patterns, and our beliefs. 

In preparation, journaling can also help to get clarity on intentions for a psychedelic experience.

Writing out your fears can help to bring a sense of space between them and yourself, and it can take the sting out of them, helping to alleviate anxiety.  It can also help to then take steps to manage sources of worry.

Biographical Work

Embarking on biographical work – a journey through key events and memories in our lives – offers a wider perspective that can provide insights during the psychedelic voyage.

You might do a life timeline by plotting your life on a horizontal axis, from your birth to the present moment, and then marking any significant events on it.

You try the psychedelic picture trip, a technique employed by Leo Zeff, a pioneer of psychedelic therapy. This involves finding and looking at photos of your life up to the present moment, exploring and reflecting on any feelings that arise with them.

You might also explore by therapy, a counselor, friend, or journal. Key areas you may look at might include your childhood and early family life, the environment you grew up in, your romantic relationships, your work life, and your spiritual beliefs or worldview.

Conscious Media Intake

The media we consume and the sensory impressions we engage with leave a mark on our mind.

A recent study on this topic highlighted the importance of this when it comes to psychedelic experiences. Case studies included a woman who spent a lot of time trading Disney pins on a message board, and who found her experience ‘hi-jacked’ by Disney characters, and a man who played lots of video games found himself in a Minecraft world with a ‘pixelated consciousness’.

The neuroscientists who conducted this study call this phenomenon ‘imprinting’. What enters our consciousness can linger there. And when we consider that it may come up again in a psychedelic experience, it’s useful to take that into consideration in our preparation.

Be conscious of your media intake and your content diet. Consider how much time you spend on social media and youtube, and if the content is nourishing.

Best to avoid disturbing horror films, imagery, and anything that may subconsciously set you up for a gruesome experience!

You might opt to listen to timeless wisdom, or watch something worldly and with a positive message.

Long term, conscious media intake, where you curate positive and informative content, becomes an invaluable practice in sculpting the ideal mindset for a conscious psychedelic explorer.

Framing

How you frame the purpose of your psychedelic experience is also a factor that will contribute to your mindset. It will inform your approach and how you engage with the unfolding experience.

Are you aiming to feel only positive emotions? Or do you see the experience as a chance to learn or grow?If you just want to feel good, and then some challenging emotions or thoughts come up, then you may be inclined to resist the experience. And resisting is the big no-no of psychedelic navigation.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
– Marie Curie

If you’ve framed the experience as an opportunity to learn, then you can be more open and accepting of whatever unfolds. If resistance is the no-no of psychedelic navigation, then openness and acceptance are the go-go. And, as it happens, are the approaches most likely to lead to positive emotions. With the mindset that the experience is an opportunity to learn, you can bring a curiosity to difficulties and fears, and there may be some real gold with personal insights in there.

Shine the flashlight of your awareness in the darkest corner of your mind.

Physical Activity

In terms of neurochemistry, physical activities emerge as alchemical tools that can help prepare the mind for a psychedelic odyssey. Though we might not consider physical activity to be part of ‘mindset’, engaging in exercise stimulates the release of endorphins and other mood-enhancing chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

These impact our emotional state.

You might consider an invigorating run, a dance session, or a 20-minute HIIT session to help you enter a more relaxed, present, and centered state. Or you may prefer something more gentle. Even a brisk walk or a gentle yoga session can do wonders for your awareness before starting a session.

Coupled with adequate sleep and a balanced diet, these practices bolster the foundation for a receptive and resilient mindset.

Environmental Considerations

This is another one that you may not initially consider to be part of ‘mindset’. But the place and space you are in can have a profound effect on your mood.

Imagine being in a bright, crowded, and bustling airport, going through security as a stranger pats you down.

Now imagine being at home with a loved one, the room is lit by candlelight, and some soft music is playing in the background.

How would you feel in each situation? If you’re like me, there’s quite a difference between the two. I know which one I’d prefer to be tripping in.

Your setting has an influence on your set. So creating some kind of sanctuary for your journey can go a really long way. An uncluttered and harmonious environment will likely help invite your ideal inner landscape.

Incredibly simple, yet powerful and pith advice for psychedelic preparation is three words long:

Clean your room.

Before beginning the session, may take a quick tour around your space, and make any adjustments that help to cultivate an atmosphere of serenity. This way the space becomes a haven, inviting exploration and introspection.

For an extra meaning-infusing touch, you might also add and arrange meaningful objects in the space.

Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude before the journey offers a nurturing soil for positive psychedelic seeds to flourish. 

Gratitude is like a muscle that can be strengthened with use. By directing our attention to things we’re grateful for, we train ourselves to recognize things we can be grateful for. This helps to improve mood and wellbeing and helps to enter a positive state of mind.

The best way to consistently cultivate gratitude is by making it a practice.

To do this, you can begin by choosing a time of day that you will list 3 things you’re grateful for. It might be at breakfast, before lunch, or right before you sleep. Then you can choose anything. It might be a nice interaction you had with someone at the supermarket, a delicious meal you’ve recently enjoyed, the prospect of an upcoming holiday, or a friend in your life.

There is no limit to what you can be grateful for. It might even be a difficult experience you had, that you’re grateful for because of the learning or growth you received as a consequence. You can say these to yourself, out loud, or write them down.

Loving-Kindness Practices

Along with gratitude, practicing compassion can also aid in bringing about a positive state of being. To practice this we simply send positive wishes and loving-kindness to ourselves and others.
A simple loving kindness meditation that you can use is four lines long:

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.

After wishing this for ourselves like this, we can replace the word ‘I’ with you, he, she, they, or all, and then extend it outwards towards others.

Coupling a gratitude practice with loving kindness creates a heart-centered foundation. This foundation enriched with positive emotions serves as fertile ground for insights and connections to blossom during the journey.

Clearing Unresolved Matters

Addressing loose ends and unresolved matters can help free your mind from the weight of any unfinished business.

This brings a greater sense of ease and peace as you prepare to embark on your journey.

Try to close any ‘open loops’ you have that might be taking up space in your mind, and tie up those loose ends that are hanging around. 

This might include mundane tasks, like paying bills and taking out the trash. It might also include more substantial things, like wrapping up a personal project or submitting a project for work.

There may also be emotional factors taking up heart space. For example, you may have been avoiding a difficult conversation. It can help to reach some resolution, or make some progress in this area, before your psychedelic session. Writing letters to people is a practice that can help to process emotions, even if you don’t end up sending them to them.

To do a good clearing practice, engage in a thorough inventory, create a to-do list, and communicate with those you need to connect with. By clearing mental and emotional clutter, you create space for insights and revelations to unfold during your journey.

Social Support and Connection

Finally, remember that your journey into psychedelic realms doesn’t need to be solitary. Seek out trusted friends, mentors, or experienced guides who can offer you support and guidance as you prepare. Engaging in open conversations about your intentions and fears can bring about a sense of community that can boost your mindset. 

For the session itself, you might consider enlisting a tripsitter, or the support of someone you know. The supportive presence of someone else can provide a safety net, and allow you to explore with greater confidence.

Final Thoughts

The art of shaping the ideal set for a psychedelic journey is a multifaceted project. It can include philosophical reflections, personal practices, and conscious choices.

In this article I’ve shared with you a handful of techniques that you can utilize to bring about a more centered, open and positive frame of mind for you to enter your next psychedelic session.

From meditation to environmental considerations, physical activity to gratitude practices, I hope what I’ve shared here empowers you to cultivate a receptive and transformative mindset.

If any of these ideas and practices are new to you, I would suggest picking between one and three, and trying to adopt and implement these into your preparation.

It can be overwhelming to try to do too much at once, so start small and build from there. You can always come back and try the others later. Preparation for our sessions is an ongoing work in progress, so be realistic. Work with the time, energy and resources you have available. 

Sending you my best wishes on your journey.

John Robertson | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective | mapsofthemind.com

John is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at blog@chemical-collective.com

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johngalt
9 months ago

My favorite setting is playing video games. I feel like diving right into the game, and when it happens to be a bad day outside (rain, cold etc) I can jump into any world I like. Especially RPGs are fantastic, you literally ARE in the story. And since the comedown lasts for late into the night I have so many core memories of my trips where I finished an epic adventure and fell into bed.

Rizza
10 months ago

Some great ideas here, lot to tink about, thanks

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