I’m just back from Burning Man 2023, which may provoke a few posts as I continue processing the event. I was a volunteer sitter with Zendo, and camped at ZenZoo along with sixty or seventy other Zendo volunteers, all wonderful and interesting people.

One conversation started with a discussion of the healing of trauma that for many is perhaps the key benefit, certainly from a therapeutic orientation, of psychedelic use. In putting my book before the world, I have contrasted this application by wanting to highlight the potential of psychedelics to serve as a catalyst in what can be seen as an individual’s spiritual awakening.

This is the context, largely, through which I understood my own psychedelic use and experiences. And yet, I am repeatedly humbled when I look at the, in many ways, the privileged environment in which I found myself raised in: a loving, intact family – with no doubt, its own subtle dysfunctions, experienced as entirely secondary – and relative material comfort, and a rich cultural-intellectual environment. Contrast this with the instances of deep childhood or sexual trauma of many I encounter having worked with psychedelics in their own healing process.

In this conversation, I found myself counting off what might be called some of the “somewhat traumatic” experiences across my own life — medical challenges, a failed marriage, and the like, and remarked, “But I see this as simply karma” — karma as the stream of experiences, situations, and people that come into your life out of, ultimately, your destiny as formed with the consent and participation of one’s higher self during pre-earthly existence. Indeed, my interlocutor in this conversation replied, “Yes, I just see this (karma) as attraction.” We ultimately attract the life we experience. (The similarity of the two words somewhat spurred my reflection. Looking at the etymology of both words, however, there does not seem to be a linkage, although they both descend from Proto-Indo-European.)

My understanding of trauma, of which there are, of course, infinite degrees, as a disruptive element in soul life and development is that the pain and severity of the experience — of neglect, of harm, of witnessing or participating in violence — is so intense and seeming demanding of, on the one hand, vigilance, and hyperactivation, and the other, an effort to suppress or blunt the force of the psychic wound. The net effect is that the individual cannot relegate the experience properly to the category of a “done and dusted” life experience or memory.

This is the understanding I have at any rate in a perhaps generalized way in understanding the efficay of, for example MDMA therapy in resolving PTSD symptoms of war vetrans. The mind – really, the soul – is able to disconnect (or loosen) from the normal pathways of habitual, instinctive response to threat and experience, from the perspective of an awakening to the positive “here and now” presence of the beautiful, the loving, the open side of our own heart natures, which the effects of MDMA can trigger.

It is part of Steiner’s teaching, and you can indeed find it elsewhere in esoteric thought, that the path forward in the development of any human being involves an inner acceptance of destiny. This is supported by the whole of Steiner’s teaching about the way the life between death and rebirth unfolds in each of us, and how ultimately we come to choose the life circumstances into which we are born. To the question, “Does this mean I chose the father who beat me?” Steiner replies, yes.

Some may read into this a revictimization, an implication that what may have happened to a – truly – innocent child is somehow their fault. Too often, when karma is understood simplistically, it is characterized as if it were “an eye for an eye” and that bad things that happen in this life are payback for misdeeds in earlier lives. This overlooks both the idea that karmic misdeeds and victimization continue to occur (that one may be the innocent victim of and hence a de novo karmic thread) and that one may instead take the view that one has, perhaps, chosen a challenging incarnation as an opportunity for development or, indeed, as a deed of sacrifice to participate in the eventual redemption of the tormentor. Much of this remains a mystery, and it is not necessary to grasp the specific mechanics of a given circumstance to perhaps benefit from these ideas. The consciousness out of which we form our pre-earthly intentions is wholly spiritual and different from our everyday sense of self.

Looking at the generalized therapeutic and holotropic tendency of the psychedelic experience properly approached, I find the impression forming that part of this benefit may arise through the loosening of what Steiner calls the etheric body. This loosening frees our habitual, trigger-based consciousness; it is disrupted, and we can begin to “see our life in a long shot” — closer to the pre-earthly perspective, where the fundamental pattern or gestalt of our life as it exists in the timeless intention of the spiritual world is seen in its ultimate perfection — in harmony with all that is — and the individual’s sense of agency is recovered relative to the accidents of incarnate existence. New possibilities for the further alternative unfoldment of the individual’s essential pattern are intuited.

As a matter of personal practice, Steiner suggests as an exercise the cultivation of a willing of all that befalls one. He gives the (slightly ludicrous) example of imagining that the cornice of a building has broken free and fallen on one’s head when passing by: that one might imagine that a few steps prior, one had split one’s self into two beings, and that the other self had run up the staircase to the roof and pushed the cornice free just as the first self passed under. This recalls to me the passage in Ram Dass Be Here Now about how, when you have the faith to “move mountains,” you realize that “you” are the one who put them there in the first place. As many recognize through the psychedelic experience, our true self exists outside of the constrained boundary of our skin.

Anthroposophically understood, we all are the bearers of historical karma through the whole of our coming into being out of the spiritual world into earth life. And for our spiritual journey of development into our highest possibility, we need to accept this inheritance of our portion of world karma – that we have participated in – and work to ultimately transform it.

Well, these are musings, not conclusions. Release from victimization requires the recovery of agency — at the deepest level. This consideration may help piece together, among other things, the integration process of challenging psychedelic biography work.