The Psychedelics of Everyday Life

The Promises and Perils of Visionary Medicines

The Psychedelics of Everyday Life:

The Promises and Perils of Visionary Medicines

In this deeply personal story, Len Worley gleans wisdom from twenty-plus years of exploring therapeutic psychedelics (entheogens). He recounts psychological and spiritual breakthroughs, mystical and magical encounters, terrifying death and rebirth ordeals, and regrettable mistakes. 

Drawing on his training in dream studies and depth psychology, Dr. Worley shows the surprising therapeutic potential of visionary compounds and plants. But he also offers a sobering caution to the current idealization of psychedelics in modern culture. “Psychedelics,” he writes, “offer remarkable access to hidden aspects of the personality, revealing both unactualized potentials and undermining patterns. This can occur because normal ego defenses are softened, but with this undoing of the ego comes very real risks.” Here Dr. Worley discusses how psychedelics may heal as well as traumatize, or simply lead to an endless fascination of novel experiences.

Drawing parallels to dreaming, Dr. Worley notes that visionary experiences are often under-utilized for lack of understanding the symbolic language of our unconscious process. “People often marvel at or become terrified by the extraordinary images they encounter in dreams and psychedelics,” he writes, “but if these images are not understood and then assimilated into everyday life, they are of little value.” 

This book is not just about psychedelics, however. Despite the profoundly meaningful effects of his explorations, Dr. Worley has come to value the life-enriching wisdom that comes from the experiences of everyday life, even the so-called lower emotions that spiritual practice often seeks to transcend. Grief, shame, anger, depression, and anxiety are “signals from Nature to guide us,” he writes. And the daily practice of studying dreams has proven to be “many times more useful,” Dr. Worley attests, than his numerous visionary experiences.

The heart of this book is about integrating (assimilating) intense experiences, not just having them. Whether it’s substance-induced visions, dreams, or the intensity of everyday life, understanding is vital. Here Dr. Worley draws on Carl Jung’s sage advice when he wrote:

I took care to understand every single image, and above all, to realize them in actual life. That is what we usually neglect to do… maybe we wonder about them, but that is all. We do not take the trouble to understand them, let alone draw ethical conclusions from them… It is equally a grave mistake to think that it is enough to gain some understanding of the image… Insight… must be converted into an ethical obligation. (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pages 192-93)

It is this “ethical obligation” that Worley addresses. “It is not enough to marvel at or be entertained by the images of the unconscious,” he writes. “The challenge is to utilize these experiences to grow a self that is resilient, wise, and able to tolerate and make use of the inherent conflicting forces of the personality.” 

1 Entheogens refers to the use of psychedelics for therapeutic and spiritual purposes vs their recreational use.