Supporting a Loved One
Who is Coming on Retreat
If you’re reading this guide, then you play an important role in the life of somebody who is trying to heal. Thank you. Thank you for that love, which is in and of itself a form of medicine.
Below are some suggestions to (1) guide you on how to help your loved one get the most out of their time on retreat, and
(2) help you understand and support your own self in the process.
What's Right to Heal?
Right to Heal is a 501c3 non-profit organization.
We help people reclaim their lives through education, advocacy, and empowerment.
Our philosophy bridges conventional, holistic, and indigenous medical systems.
We understand that healing includes the body, mind, and spirit. It also includes the individual, their family, the community, and nature.
What is psilocybin?
Psilocybin (sill-OH-sy-bin) is a natural compound found in over 200 different species of fungi (mushrooms and truffles). These so-called “magic mushrooms” grow on every continent of the planet except for Antarctica. Archaeological evidence tells us that psilocybin has been used by humans for spiritual and medical purposes since at least 5,000 BCE.
Psilocybin is not physiologically addictive. It is also virtually non-toxic. (To reach the toxic dose of psilocybin, one would have to eat several cartons of magic mushrooms.)
Note: Mushrooms with a red cap and white dots are commonly depicted in psychedelic artwork. These mushrooms are Amanita muscaria, a species that does not contain psilocybin. Amanita muscaria works through a different mechanism than psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and it is quite toxic if incorrectly prepared.
How does psilocybin work?
Research has helped us to better understand how psilocybin works in the brain and in the body. While entire books could be written on the topic, we will focus on a few key components:
Parts of the brain send communication signals to other parts of the brain. There are always “conversations” happening within the brain. Under the effects of psilocybin, more “conversations” happen – and they happen between parts of the brain that do not normally talk to one another. Brain scans have also shown us that more regions of the brain consume more oxygen while under the effects of psilocybin.
This essentially allows the experiencer to literally use more of their brain, giving them the ability to examine topics from angles they might not have been able to consider before. This phenomenon is called “cross talk.” Cross talk may also explain why sometimes people experience vivid imagery when they close their eyes on psilocybin: more regions of the brain can communicate with the visual cortex while on the drug.
The Default Mode Network.
While many parts of the brain become more active during a psilocybin experience, other regions get less active. Specifically, the parts of the brain collectively known as the Default Mode Network (or DMN), get quieter. The DMN is responsible for our automatic, ego-centered thinking. It is thought that in certain disorders like depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that the person has a hyper-active DMN. Letting the DMN take a little break during the psilocybin experience allows the user to reconsider their story about themselves. It also disrupts the patterns of harmful thinking that may be keeping them stuck in their illness.
As we grow up, our brains become more efficient. Rather than taking in every sound, smell, and image as a brand-new adventure (the way young children do), we start filtering information. We also look for patterns and then apply rules to situations: “If A and B are true, then C must be so as well.” This process is largely mediated by the DMN. While this allows our brains to conserve energy, it can also create some trouble: Our formulas aren’t always right. Nevertheless, as we encounter evidence that challenges our formulas, our brains dismiss away that evidence, instead favoring data that supports our theories. Under the effects of psilocybin, the brain becomes less defensive of its formulas, allowing us to consider which ones may in fact need some updating.
For example, somebody who was abused in childhood may have created the “formula” that all people are harmful and not to be trusted. Through the psilocybin experience, they may experience a newfound appreciation for others. Somebody who was taught as a child that love was contingent upon accomplishment might renegotiate that belief, and understand that they are worthy of love exactly as they are. Other participants have found that they created stories about having to suffer, in order to “properly” honor their ancestors. Psilocybin work helped them find other, healthier ways of honoring their ancestors.
The snowfall analogy.
Michael Pollan has a lovely analogy to explain the effects of psilocybin. Imagine that every day, a person goes sledding down a snowy hillside. After a while, tracks will be made in the snow, and the person may find themselves taking the same track down the hill day after day. Each time the sled slides down that track, it gets reinforced. Taking psilocybin is like having there be a snowfall of fresh snow. That fresh snow fills in the old tracks, allowing a person to choose a different route – a healthier path – down the hill.
Transformation can get messy.
When a person re-examines their formulas, things can get emotional. They may reinforce and celebrate the formulas that are true (I am a good person! I do love my spouse!), and grieve the ones that have caused them pain (Wow, that really was an abuse of power, what my teacher did). It can also be painful to open one’s eyes to things.
For example, one guest who was able to understand that his fear of intimacy made him treat many of his former partners terribly. Once he realized this, he was quite upset with himself for hurting those caring individuals – and he was upset with himself for denying himself their love.
Our staff are all skilled in supporting people in psychedelic states, through both the blissful and the challenging parts.
Respect the cocoon
Before a caterpillar can become a butterfly, it must make its cocoon. In this safe, dark place, the caterpillar is isolated from outside influences and can focus solely on its own transformation. The caterpillar dissolves into an indistinguishable goo; from that goo state it becomes a butterfly. If one were to crack open a cocoon during this process, they would find only slimy goo; no caterpillar, and no butterfly. It can be quite alarming!
For this reason, we strongly encourage that you do not disturb your loved one’s cocoon when they are on retreat. All this will do is get your hands dirty and slow down your loved one’s transformation. If you encounter goo, you might also get frightened, which isn’t helpful for anyone!
We are asking you to trust. To trust in your loved one’s process, and also to trust in our facilitation team.
Please, try not to monitor your loved one’s experience or progress. Do not expect daily updates or summaries. And do not try to impose your own formulas on their work.
We suggest that you do not ask or expect anything of your loved one while they are away. Without meaning to, you might be poking their cocoon and doing them (and yourself) harm. Avoid asking your loved one to support you or to complete tasks for you. Now is the time for you to call in your other sources of support and comfort, without relying on your gooey caterpillar.
Let our team support your loved one and their cocoon state – and their emererging.
The soufflé & the mechanic analogy.
It’s hard to bake a soufflé, but well worth the effort. The recipe for this delicious dessert calls for a flavorful base and glossy, beaten egg whites baked to a puffy perfection. Anyone who has ever baked a soufflé can tell you that there are two very important things to ensure the soufflé rises properly: Do not open the oven door! Do not poke the soufflé!
After putting the ingredients in the oven, the baker must guard the oven to ensure the soufflé rises properly. If every curious friend, family member, or neighbor came along wondering “How’s the soufflé coming along?” and opened the oven door and poked the soufflé… Well. We wouldn’t have much of a soufflé at all.
So our ask of you, dear one, is this: Do not poke the soufflé! Protect the precious process that happens during retreats.
If these analogies don’t work for you, then here’s a simpler one: Don’t expect to drive a car when it’s in the shop for repairs. The mechanic said it’ll be a week. If you call or show up at the shop before a week is up, it won’t speed up the process, and it will annoy the mechanic. The distractions might actually slow them down and make the job take longer.
So can I call my loved one?
We suggest that any communications between you and your loved one be kept brief, supportive (meaning you support your loved one, not the other way around), and led by the one in the cocoon.
If your loved one doesn’t call or text, it’s because they’re in their cocoon and if they focus on you, they can’t do the important work of healing.
On a logistical note, the days on our retreats are long (some days contain over 12 hours of programming), the WiFi at the retreat site is inconsistent, phones are not welcome in the group space, and we often encourage our guests to ignore their phones.
Furthermore, if we find that a retreat participant is being distracted by their phone, we will (lovingly) ask them to power it off until the end of the retreat. We also reserve the right to change the WiFi password so that only staff can be connected electronically.
If you want to connect with your loved one, we suggest brief, loving messages like, “Thank you for doing this important work. I’m rooting for you,” or “Hope it’s all going well. I’m so proud of you.”
Be the rock.
As the brain, body, and spirit complete “unfinished business,” the process can get messy. For example, many years ago a guest came on retreat who had experienced sexual abuse as a child. Under the effects of psilocybin, his psyche went back to reconcile the trauma, and he experienced paranoia. He phoned his wife, hysterical, telling her that the retreat staff were trying to kidnap him and sell him to sex traffickers – a claim that was, of course, entirely untrue. Thankfully, this guest’s wife understood that issues – like bruises – can get uglier before they resolve.
Another guest was still on mushrooms at the end of the day when his wife texted three times, nagging him for not calling her. He called her back and blurted out that he was gay. This guest likely was not actually gay, but rather was working through a process around his own homophobia. His wife was understandably confused and concerned, and the next day she received another call (from a sober husband, this time) with an apology and clarification.
If you get correspondence that has you concerned, remember that things sometimes get chaotic before they settle down. If you’ve ever cleaned out a closet, you know that the rest of the room becomes chaotic during the organization process.
You’re of course also welcome to check in with us if you’re seriously concerned. (See contact details below.)
It's ok to change. It's good, in fact.
As healing as change can be, it can also be frightening. What will change? What will stay the same? Will my spouse still want to be with me? Will my family members forgive me? Will they remember what happened and become angry again? There can be so many feelings, so many things to worry over, and so much to get insecure about!
Healing work entails an element of surrender – for both the person and for those who love them. Remember to breathe this week, and trust that whatever is in the highest good is on its way.
This might be a nice time for you to seek out support for yourself, too – whether it’s a lunch date with a friend, a therapy session, or signing up for a class you’ve been curious about.
Psilocybin is not physiologically addictive. While it’s technically possible to become addicted to just about anything, psilocybin addiction is quite rare.
There are, sadly, individuals in society who use psilocybin and other psychedelics as a form of escapism. This is the exact opposite of what we encourage on our retreats, and our model is designed to help guests show up for their work, rather than run away.
Service is a love language.
We know that it can be hard work to support somebody’s healing process. In addition to everything discussed above, there are also the logistics of running household, business, and life. Letting your loved one take this time likely means that you are having to carry a heavier load than usual. Perhaps it’s parenting by yourself for the week, housekeeping, running the business, caring for dependent elders, or otherwise “taking one for the team.” Many retreat participants have shared much they appreciated coming home post retreat to a clean and tidy space.
Your acts of service in this way are a form of love, and we all so, so deeply appreciate them.
In case of emergency
We have every retreat guest’s emergency contact information on file and will be in touch if an emergency occurs during the retreat.
If you urgently need to reach your loved one during the retreat, please contact us. Our office admin will check voicemails and emails regularly, and contact us as needed.
Phone: +1 971 708 0208
Please keep correspondence for emergencies only. Our retreat staff work more than 12 hours per day during retreats.