There’s no denying we are in a cultural, mental health crisis. The trajectory has been moving that way for quite some time, but the sustained limbo presented by the pandemic has pushed us to new levels of fragility and angst. This, paired with a mounting sense of sociopolitical tension and increased financial instability—well, we can all agree that things have definitely been better. And where and how does creativity fit into this current state of affairs? If we look to history, some of the greatest artistic and social movements have emerged from the darkest eras and yet, our current time has its own unique challenges.
One development unfolding concurrently and in direct response to this mental health crisis is the psychedelic renaissance. In 2018, Michael Pollan, well respected writer and cultural commentator, published an article in The New Yorker that attracted even the skeptics’ attention and began a much larger process and dialog destigmatizing the role and use of psychedelics in a therapeutic or consciousness-expanding context.
Michael Pollan got away with sharing his story despite the obvious legalities surrounding mind-altering experiences because he’s Michael Pollan. Additionally, his personal story echoed a larger, emerging body of scientific research. Clinical trials were increasing, shining a light on one possible, new solution to the rapidly declining collective state of mental health. MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has been the organization leading the front in this research, and they anticipate certain plant medicines, or entheogens, will be approved by 2022 for use in treating PTSD in clinical settings.
Over the span of 2020 and 2021, up to our eyeballs in quarantine-induced states of distress, many people who were already struggling – internally and externally, physically and psychologically – felt their situation worsen. People who reported feeling “fine” before the pandemic were suddenly discontented and searching for solutions. Divorces increased, as did prescriptions for depression and anxiety medications. Simultaneously, the emergence of clinics and retreat centers offering alternative healing options and certification programs for psychedelic practitioners were cropping up like wildflowers.
I watched as all of this unfolded. I’d had my own coaching practice since 2010. Initially, my practice was built around supporting relentlessly striving, burnt-out executives try to find and hold balance in the sea of competing priorities. I drew from a coaching paradigm built around the notion that aligned intentions and actions, matched with thought partnership and a neutral sounding board to challenge, encourage and engage us around our values and goals created consistently strong results. I completed several courses with Brene Brown, learned about leadership through vulnerability and deconstructing busy-ness as a status symbol. Yet, to some degree, I was also guilty of the same things I counseled my clients not to do. Self-care was the first objective sacrificed in my list of deliverables. Next was my creativity. I’d all but entirely given up my writing practice, a passion I was reminded of when I made payments on the student loans for my MFA.
Things looked good outside, but they felt tenuous inside. So, I redirected my focus towards productivity. External results were easier to quantify and measure. The more I achieved, the more I was praised by society. Those accolades, while momentarily rewarding, also felt fleeting. As I lay awake at night contemplating the dissonance between my doing-self and my being, I began to reevaluate the whole construct and merits of productivity. My practice was growing and having a positive impact. My clients loved the work we were doing. Life seemed good enough, which corresponded with efforts to retire my perfectionist tendencies. But still, something seemed lacking.
Then, I got pregnant and everything changed. I nearly lost my son due to complications. Thankfully, he is now a healthy, happy six-year-old. But our journey began with one crisis after another, starting with hyperemesis, two placental abruptions, preeclampsia, six weeks of bedrest in the hospital and then a stint in the NICU. When we left the hospital, the medical team raved about how great we were doing and how lucky we’d been. Yet, I’d never felt less stable in my life, and in that moment, I certainly didn’t feel lucky. Paramount on my mind was the fragility of my preemie and the mere six weeks of maternity leave set aside to get myself together and back to business.
I never returned to work, at least not in the same way as before. What followed in the weeks, months, and ultimately, years after his birth was my own foray into the world of psychedelic therapy. This was an unexpected turn, to say the least. I wasn’t looking for a career change when I decided to become a mother; I simply wanted to fulfill a strong maternal instinct. But his dramatic entry into the world had rattled the deepest, most unresolved layers inside of me.
During a feeding session in the wee hours of the morning, I first stumbled across that Michael Pollan article. It was also in the wee hours of the morning between those feeding sessions that I suddenly found my creativity alive again. All of the doctors said the same thing, to sleep when the baby slept, but the only thing I could do during those hours was write. Suddenly, the words were pressing themselves out of me, refusing to let me turn my back any longer from my own story and experience.
Now, as I reflect, I understand the synergy in all of these seemingly disparate things. Birth is its own psychedelic experience; it’s other-worldly and profound. Connected to that profound alternate reality awaits our deepest access to ourselves and most significantly, our creative potential and expression. These things are the most common casualty to the world order of success as measured by status and accomplishments. Who has time to be creative when there’s so much work to do?
In my third psychedelic ceremony, it became clear that my coaching practice also needed a rebirth into a new configuration. The old model of defining goals, values, and actions simply was never going to be enough to fully catalyze a person’s transformation or actualization of happiness. To do that, we have to reach the depths of ourselves and truly awaken. In order for this to transpire, most people would need or want to incorporate some sort of tool to unlock the Pandora’s Box of possibility inside of them.
Psychedelics are not the only tool available, nor are psychedelics for everyone. Without the right mindset and therapeutic container, as well as preparation and integration support, these metaphysical tools have the potential to do more harm than good. However, for those feeling their creativity dulled—if not altogether thwarted—by the demands of societal values and norms, there are alternate ways to crack open your internal muse.
These are not new tools, even if the conversation is starting anew. In most ancient cultures, psychedelics were an integral component of the practices around expanding consciousness and increasing spiritual connectivity and enlightenment. They certainly weren’t limited to people in crisis states. However, what was understood in most of these ancient cultures that often seems lost today is that prolonged disengagement from our creative core leads to a kind of angst and metaphysical illness. This is at the crux of what ails so many of my clients. They’re cut off in some ways from their deepest essence and creative curiosity. Overlaying curiosity and true self is a barrage of competing priorities and technological bells and whistles that make tapping into inspiration challenging, if not impossible. In a time of cultural chaos, we can hunker down, subsisting and surviving, simply hoping we make it to the other side of this great impasse unscathed. We can also choose for the backdrop of external change to catalyze the internal fire. If you find yourself drawn towards this fire but struggling to access your voice or muse, remember there’s an ancient path more well-worn than we might realize. Now that the path is being affirmed and backed by science, it might extend an invitation to the future.
Raised by evangelicals in Tennessee, Micah Stover now resides in Mexico with her family. She works as a trauma midwife and psychedelic guide. Micah is a survivor of sexual abuse and anorexia. She specializes in working with women healing from sexual and psychological trauma by resetting their nervous system and somatic body relationship leveraging entheogens as a tool to facilitate the process. Micah has a forthcoming memoir chronicling her path to heal intergenerational sexual trauma with MDMA, psilocybin and guided psychotherapy. www.micahstoverconsulting.com.Enjoy this article? Share it on your favorite social site.