I often tell patients that ketamine as a drug can work just ok for relieving mental distress. If you treat it like an SSRI, you’ll experience a period of relief, but the problems will eventually come back. However, if you combine ketamine therapy with a contemplative practice– before and after treatment– you can break through the oppressive fog can gain clarity into who you really are.
Meditation and mindfulness get talked about a lot in popular culture, but it’s often hard for us to understand exactly what they mean. I combine them together under the umbrella of contemplation.
Meditation often means sitting quietly, watching the thoughts come by like cars on the road. They arise from nothingness, and if we don’t engage them, they disappear back into the nothingness.
Mindfulness is returning into the moment. Often, we return to the moment through our breath. Physiologically, becoming aware of our breathing has the effect of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, relax), while diminishing the sympathetic drive (fight, flight).
Contemplation isn’t sitting around, pondering the mysteries of the universe (though we should all spend ample time doing that). Contemplation is the practice of not attaching to thoughts, feelings, and emotions, while being engaged in the present moment.
When I counsel patients in contemplative practice, I encourage them to spend a period of time every day engaging in the moment. For me, this often takes the form of exercise. I like to wake up early before the rest of the family and go to the gym. There, I try to be mindful of every rep, and every set (this also kills 2 wellness birds with one stone– exercise and contemplation). Sometimes, the gym can be loud and noisy, so I’ll ditch the headphones and go for a run with my dog. I engage with the chill air, the briskness moving in and out of my lungs, and hearing the noises of the city coming to life. Of course, my mind will eventually start to wander. I’ll get caught up with the pressures of life and old thought patterns will take hold.
But every day I practice, I’m able to engage with the present moment for longer, and more often throughout the day.
So prior to coming in to ketamine therapy, I encourage patients to practice contemplation for a few days to get the feel of it.
Now, most of the time it’s impossible to know just how clear-headed we can become. Most of our lives have been filled with accumulating, striving, attachments, trauma, etc. We just don’t know what it’s like to be empty, separated from cares of the world. That’s where ketamine can come into play.
Most patients say for a few days after ketamine infusions, they feel lighter. More able to see the world as it is, rather than through the lens of thought distortions. If they engage in contemplation daily, the distortions tend to stay away for a longer period of time. Furthermore, the depressive energy doesn’t get as dark or oppressive.
Another aspect of contemplation is how it helps integrate the mystical experience of ketamine and other psychedelics. Anybody who’s had a full-blown mystical experience will tell you that it’s unlike anything they’ve known. By its very nature, mystical experience is indescribable. And, often, it can be destabilizing to someone in a vulnerable state. It’s like you’ve shaken up the snow globe, chaos is floating around, and you’re unsure where the snow is going to fall again.
Which is exactly what you want!
Contemplation gives you the space for the mystical experience to crystallize in a way that’s meaningful to you. Because you are unique, you have your own inner wisdom and insight. Therapists, family, and friends can give their opinion of what it means, but the ultimate arbiter is you. You’re the one who explored the cosmos for what seems like centuries, and only you can say what it means. So take the time to mindfully journal, paint, dance, sing, or whatever you do to express yourself!
In a way, this is the essence of integration: you’ve stared into eternity. Your ego may have died. Celebrate who you are at your core 🙂