When I started this website back in 2019, I had big plans for my future. Before this website, I started many others. There is a wasteland of four to seven entries in at least 5 different blogs littering my little niche in the blogosphere, going back quite a few years. Part of that speaks to a lack of focus, an inability to play out an idea to completion. And part of it speaks to the events of life interfering with the desires of creativity.
Now, I am now a denizen of New York City. My prior work has ended, and I am trying to generate new work in different ways. My hope for this blog and website is to highlight some of my thoughts and ideas around Extraordinary Spiritual Experiences (ESEs), which was the focus of my Doctor of Ministry degree (grad. 5/2023). Those thoughts and ideas also comprise a half-completed book I intend to finish soon. I also hope to use this site to advocate for and discuss the rapidly accelerating psychedelic renaissance. Psychedelics are a subset, in my mind, of ESEs and reveal not only topographies of the mind, but also cartographies and contours of the soul and the divine. There will also be occasional posts about anything in particular that seems to rise in importance to me.
Back in December of 2018 and January of 2019, I participated in a study through Johns Hopkins Psychedelic and Consciousness Research lab. The study was designed for religious professionals with the intention of ‘facilitating mystical experiences’ with high doses of psilocybin, the psychoactive part of magic mushrooms. For my part, the study definitely facilitated mystical experiences. I will disclose more of that experience in another post.
In the meantime, I am in this in-between time, the space between ending a 15 year time of pastoral ministry – two years in Yellowstone National Park and 13 years in Midcoast Maine – and whatever comes next. For the record, I am not opposed to serving a church again if the right opportunity arises. But I am also open to other possibilities. Soon, I will write a post that discusses some of the problems with pastoral ministry in the American context, with the recognition that personal experience is not universal, even as there are universals within our personal experience.
The intention for the Psychedelic Pastor blog, though, is a deep exploration of ESEs. From my experience at Johns Hopkins and my research for my Doctor of Ministry project (which you can read here if you so wish), there appears to be a pattern to ESEs that is scalable and transferable from experience to experience. As with all patterns, there are gaps, wormholes, and recursions that throw the whole pattern into question. Regardless, we are meaning-making creatures, and some events – ESEs, for instance – and some substances – psychedelics, as an example – demand meaning be made of our encounters with them. The pattern of an ESE which we will be developing is designed primarily to enhance the integration process following one’s encounter and experience.
The history of psychedelic research has generated many maps for integration and understanding of the psychedelic experience, so my project here is building on the shoulders of psychonauts and researchers reaching back almost 75 years in the context of modern scientific study, and back many thousands of years in the context of shamans, mystics, and experiencers throughout history.
What I am hoping for, and what I would like to see is an approach to psychedelics and ESEs that provides opportunities for spiritual leaders to discuss ESEs without resorting to, on the one hand, the purely materialist and clinical assumption of a personal problem requiring intervention, while recognizing that the individual who has the ESE may be in need of those things; and on the other hand, resorting to binary and hyper-spiritualized interpretations that simply reinforce dogmas and belief-structures as simplistic explanations which do not allow the ESE to transform the experiencer. To put this more succinctly, I am hoping to come at the psychedelic experience and the ESE from the perspective of the religious and spiritual direction rather than the scientific and clinical direction.
There are plenty of excellent researchers in the realm of psychedelics. Dr. Roland Griffiths, Dr. William Richards, Dr. Matt Johnson at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Dr. Rosalind Watts at Imperial College in London, Dr. Bia Labate, Dr. Monnica Williams at Chacruna Institute are all examples of in-depth and integrative work in the scientific field. Chacruna Institute, especially, focuses on the intersection between ancient shamanic and cultural practices around psychedelics, as well as a powerful devotion to inclusion of indigenous, female, queer, and BIPOC voices in the community.
Whatever I am doing here is in communion and conjunction with these scientific endeavors, not at the expense of them. Also, it seems good to disclose that I am a follower of Jesus. Having said that, I do not believe the meaning-making I am working on is limited to the Christian perspective, and at the same time, I do not deny the influence of my faith on this project. Hopefully, that perspective and the experiences explored are open to and welcoming of discussion and expansion.
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Rev. Dr. Seth Jones