Open Practice: On Terence McKenna and the Psychedelic Path to Gnosis

Terence McKenna and the Psychedelic Path to Gnosis

Terence McKenna and the Psychedelic Path to Gnosis

I’ve been familiar with Terence McKenna and the whole psychedelic movement ever since I started my research on altered states of consciousness and the so called “spiritual” path. In fact, one of the earliest sites on the Internet that I frequently visited before the explosion of the World Wide Web is But even though I was aware of the potential of psychedelics to *transform* consciousness, I never tried *any* mind-altering substance, not even pot.

Looking back I think I could’ve tried it but I’ve chosen not to. I’ve seen how *street* drugs ruined the lives of some of my childhood friends. My priorities at that time was to finish my college education and help out with my parents. So I promised myself to live a “clean” life without any vices — no drugs, alcohol, and smoking. I continue to stick to that conviction today. That’s why when it comes to psychedelics, I’m as pure as an 18-year old virgin.

Another reason that added to my conviction of not attempting to try psychedelics is that I believe that the altered states of consciousness disclosed through psychedelics can also be accessed through good ole hardcore meditation techniques. I’ve always believed that psychedelics are like crutches or training wheels along the path to Gnosis, albeit with the potential danger of frying one’s neurons, not to mention the risk of being incarcerated. So why risk it? If meditation works then it’s the more logical choice because it has less risk and it’s *legal*.

However, lately I’ve been digging deeper into McKenna’s body of work. And the more I listen to McKenna, the more I’m convinced that the psychedelic path discloses another *facet* of Gnosis which is not accessible (or not easily accessible) through meditation practice. As a diehard empiricist myself, I believe that the only way to find out is to suspend my conviction, try damn thing, and see for myself!

Having said that, I don’t plan on going in some dark alley to score a bong hit. I’m just merely opening up to the possibility of trying psychedelics provided that the conditions are *right*. For me the right conditions are: 1) it should be legal, i.e. as part of a scientific research; 2) should be administered by someone who knows the exact *dosage* and chemical composition and knows the psychedelic territory very well; 3) must be in a safe environment so even in the event of a “bad trip” I won’t end up running around naked and cannibalizing other people’s faces. Until these conditions are met, I will continue with my zero tolerance policy on psychedelics.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with my meditation and lucid dreaming practice and keep studying McKenna, so that if and when the conditions are right, I will at least have a healthier and more *integral* interpretation of whatever hyper-dimensional Gnosis that psychedelics will disclose to this curious bodymind.

P.S. For those who are on Facebook, this post was inspired by the EPIC Terence McKenna THREAD. Check out the thread for some great discussions and more uber-geeky McKenna videos.

Here’s a video of my favorite McKenna lecture.

And here’s a video of my favorite McKenna interview. Very uber-geeky! Love it.

Comments (8)

  1. Cristiano wrote::

    This is really great. I’ve been following your blog for some time now (I was first turned on to Shinzen Young’s lectures through your blog), and I really appreciate your perspective on things. best regards!

    Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 8:57 am #
  2. c4chaos wrote::


    thanks for the kind words. glad you like Shinzen.
    see you around 🙂


    Friday, June 15, 2012 at 9:44 am #
  3. Cristiano wrote::

    I’ve always been interested in the exploration of consciousness and the nature of reality and experience. My personal take is that meditation, as a process, is more effective and transformational than the occasional usage of psychedelics. But psychedelics are very powerful potentiators/openers — in my personal case, a psychedelic experience a couple of years ago was the turning-point (an A&P event?) – intuition pointed me to meditation, and within a week I had started meditating daily (after previous attempts which never picked up steam), and haven’t stopped since. A month or two after that I stumbled on your blog, and Shinzen, pointers to treasure-troves of wisdom and method which I practice daily and have become part of my world-view.

    When I saw this post, I felt that I had to comment also on another take on psychedelics and meditation, which I rarely see discussed: the occasional and responsible use of psychedelics as tools/catalysts _to_ meditative practice. In other words, my path is through meditation, practiced daily using Shinzen’s framework and influenced by B. Alan Wallace’s methods on shamatha and other buddhist teachings. Ocasionally (5 or 6 times a year), and with appropriate preparation, dosage, set and setting, I use psychedelics and observe the way consciousness changes, manifests and opens up with the same meditative techniques that I use daily.

    Shinzen’s framework of methods are particularly appropriate, since they are primarily based on the experience of the 5 senses, without the need for a heavy conceptual framework which might not be fully available during the psychedelic state. I have found that this has deepened my practice considerably. Observing the psychedelic state with an attention that has been trained daily for concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity has opened up deeper and more fundamental perspectives. Having experienced these perspectives under these conditions, they are more readily accessible in my daily meditation practice, and eventually throught daily life. I do not believe these insights would be sustainable only with the usage of psychedelics, without the meditative practice. Concentration deepens also.

    Throughout this, I’ve tried to maintain a measure of rationality, skepticism and scientific reasoning (if not method) towards the process, analysing the conditions surrounding the experiences, the short and long term effects, documenting experiences and changes in view, measuring/testing with dosages, and so on. I’ve always been an auto-didact and I’m aware that this combination goes through uncharted territory, so I’ve read a lot, contrasted things with my on experience, and in general tried to maintain a grounding and level-headedness in regards to this.

    For example, one of my pragmatic conclusions is in regards to dosage is that, contrary to common myths, high dosages are not necessary (specially to people who have developed refined attention through meditation) and may even be detrimental by generating an experience that is so ‘out there’ that the mind reifies and grasps at it constantly. In fact, I’ve gradually diminished the dosages over time, instead of increasing them, and have managed to stabilize and deepen in spite (because?) of this. Anyway, I claim no special status, realization or training through this — what do I know, right? — but there are many other relations/tips/findings which I’ve picked up on the combination and have been useful to me and which I haven’t seen elsewhere around the net.

    Man, this ended up much longer than I intended 🙂 As I said, you’re blog was instrumental in opening up things to me, and I just wanted to put this out there in case it could be useful or interesting.


    Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm #
  4. c4chaos wrote::


    wow! thank you so much for sharing your story and your practice. i’m humbled and pleased that you’ve found my blog helpful with your practice.

    you said: “I do not believe these insights would be sustainable only with the usage of psychedelics, without the meditative practice.  Concentration deepens also.”

    that’s also my belief. i have no first-hand experience with any psychedelics for reasons mentioned above but i have always maintained the opinion that psychedelics (when used properly with the right type and dosage, and intention) can induce a state of “Kenosis” or no-self.

    (see Humility to the Vanishing Point: No Self Around the World ~ Shinzen Young ~

    i’m glad to hear that you’ve found a good balance of meditation and occasional use of psychedelics to deepen your practice. thanks again for sharing. take care and keep it flowing.


    Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm #
  5. omegapoint wrote::

    If one works really hard and masters meditative fire, then one can induce the phantasm visions that ‘standard’ psychedelics in high doses bring one too. Getting visual distortions isn’t the goal, the goal is to consume all ‘objective’ reality with hallucinations (NOT distortions). This is called bardo yoga and is pretty hard for most contemplatives to practice even with being in retreat for a rather long time.

    Secondly there is NO evidence at all that psychedelics like mushrooms, lsd, or mescaline ‘fry’ neurons at ALL. As far as psych problems, one needs to at least be adept at non-conceptual concentration to reduce the risk of psychosis to 0.

    As far as what Mckenna talks about, it needs to be separated between standard psychedelics and n-n-dmt or dmt-n-oxide. I have studied the advanced contemplative schools in some depth, and it is rather unlikely that one can experience what smoking either forms of said dmt with ANY type of meditation. Researches such as Dr. Rick Strassman believe the same thing (that dmt can bring one further out into the bardo then any meditative mental posture could). There is a saying that dmt makes lsd seem like tap water, they are not in the same league at all (this is referent to max psyche dose 500 micrograms lsd).

    Monday, July 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm #
  6. c4chaos wrote::


    thanks for your comment.

    you said: “…there is NO evidence at all that psychedelics like mushrooms, lsd, or mescaline ‘fry’ neurons at ALL.”

    i used to believe that for all psychedelics, but now my belief is more nuanced. but i think Terence McKenna was right when he said that, (and i’m paraphrasing) although (plant-based) psychedelics (specifically psilocybin and DMT) are not toxic, we may discover that the effect of it on ourselves could be “self-toxic”. meaning that there are risks involved depending on the psychological health or state of the person under its effects.

    you said: “I have studied the advanced contemplative schools in some depth, and it is rather unlikely that one can experience what smoking either forms of said dmt with ANY type of meditation.”

    there’s a latest scientific study which compares the effect of psilocybin with traditional meditation on the “selfing” boundary. check this out if you haven’t seen this yet.

    “A current paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “Neural Correlates of the Psychedelic State As Determined By fMRI Studies with Psilocybin” by Carhart-Harris, from Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and University of Copenhagen, is the first to examine how the active material in magic ‘shrooms, psilocybin, works in the brain.” –

    Monday, July 16, 2012 at 10:57 pm #
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    weak sauce

    Sunday, September 8, 2019 at 1:05 am #

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