NPJ Book Review: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Polan

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Polan 2018

The title is explicit. I read the hardbound.  The recent paperback has offered renewed interest.

I should note the obvious, though not a spiritual treatise the mystical experiences from taking psychedelic medicine is examined. The work  offers insight in how the brain responds to medicine.

Reactions vary depending on the individual who is administered the psychedelic medicine. LSD for example is not a drug in the sense that it’s not habit forming unless one found enlightenment the first time around and wished to mine that experience again. Except no two experiences even within the same individual are not alike. The psychedelic medicinal experience can enlighten and in some cases unsettle but under appropriate administering can be insightful.

On one level I am reminded of R D Laing and The Politics of Experience who said, I can’t see your experience of me and you can’t see my experience of you.  In this case the experience of patients who used psychedelic medicine entered a world where no two experiences are alike. Some doors were open, others closed.

In the Varieties of Religious experience and his Selected Writings, William James alludes to the ineffable quality of the mystical experience. That unless you are there with that person how does a person articulate the experience. James writes about how the personal mystical experience work. It’s indescribable. They are real to the person experiencing them.  In his work on Existential Psychotherapy, Irvin Yalom writes about the nature of existence and the defenses we set up about our knowledge and aloneness. The ego can get us sidetracked.

What Polan book suggests for this reader is knowing how much the ego can interfere with our perceptions and perceptions of reality. The work is valuable as it opens the door to worthwhile information and experiences about how we view the unconscious and the mystical experience. It also suggests how we might approach meditation and self- awareness and begin to change how we perceive the world around us…that there are methods in dealing with depression, addiction, dying and pain.

The book is an exercise in looking at the unconscious, who we are, how we perceive and what are the options in terms of medicine being one example…in this case psychedelic. It also leaves the door open for other options such as various forms of  meditation.