You don’t have to suffer from addiction to know that life can sometimes be overwhelming, and can temporarily lose all meaning and purpose. Yet addiction invariably occurs when it becomes impossible to connect to life in a coherent way, and self-medication provides the only relief from this void. Above all, therefore, addiction arises out of a frustrated search for meaning, and true recovery entails a profound reconnection with oneself, with life and with the world as a whole. Ibogaine and other visionary plants can play a huge role in this process, but it is ritual that provides the roadmap for navigating life’s ups and downs without becoming disconnected.
Unfortunately, however, modern Western culture is largely devoid of valid rituals, leaving many people feeling lost, isolated, worthless and empty.
What is Ritual?
Ritualising a behaviour creates a sacred container around it that separates it from ‘ordinary’ life. While the world outside of this container can sometimes seem chaotic and pointless, inside the ritual we can construct a semblance of meaningful order that gives value to our experience. Ritual therefore provides a lifeline that helps us remain on track when life becomes challenging; it keeps us connected to our identity and purpose and guides us towards unconditional self-love. The effective use of ritual can be seen in countless non-Western cultures around the world, with Native American peyote ceremonies providing a particularly beautiful example:
During these rites, the psychoactive peyote cactus is ingested in order to remove the veil between the physical and spiritual domains so that all of the counterbalancing forces of nature and the universe can be invited into the tipi: spirit and man; light and dark; masculine and feminine; life and death; day and night; material and divine. By entering the tipi, participants ritually return to the cosmic melting pot from which they were created, restoring their connection to the universal order that gives meaning and purpose to their lives.
Having rediscovered their true worth, individuals are now able to extend this ritual through their daily lives by acting in alignment with this renewed sense of identity and purpose. When times are hard and the conditioned narratives of pain, shame and inadequacy surface, ritual provides a way back to authenticity and a connection to meaning.
Indeed, every indigenous culture that uses visionary plant medicines recognises that it is the ritualised consumption of these sacraments that unlocks their healing power. In Bwiti tradition, for example, iboga is consumed as part of a ritual “crossing over” into the realm of the ancestors, where initiates discover their place in the cosmic chain that links past, present and future generations. This discovery then permeates their daily life, which they dedicate to “continuing the work of the ancestors”. Essentially, their whole life now becomes one continuous ritual as every activity is performed with a conscious intention and a respect for the value of life, which in turn provides the clarity, meaning and self-esteem to assist them through difficult moments.
Ritual in Addiction
Ritual may not help us control what is happening in the external world, but it does help us control our feelings by injecting a sense of value, order and meaning into a particular experience. Given that addiction stems from an unfulfilled search for these qualities in life, it is hardly a surprise that so many (though by no means all) people who suffer from addiction ritualise their drug use.
This may involve preparing drugs in a highly personalised and repeatable way, always using in a particular place, or a host of other aspects. Regardless of the ritual, the point is that it transports us to a separate space where we are in control of our experience, even if we believe we have zero control over anything outside of this container.
Like drug use itself, the rituals that accompany addiction are all part of the need to control our experience in a world from which we feel so disconnected. Yet they fail to achieve this because they don’t guide us towards any meaningful identity or purpose that can add value to life outside the ritual container. On the contrary, they amplify this sense of disconnection by reinforcing our understanding that our life only makes sense when we are using.
Ritual in Recovery
The key to a successful ibogaine treatment (or any other psychedelic treatment for addiction) is to create a ritual out of the entire process – just as would be the case in any indigenous culture that uses visionary plants for healing. One of the functions of pre-treatment preparation is to learn how to create a sacred container around the process, and to invite into this space all of the elements that you need in order to feel a sense of meaning and value. Doing so generates the respect, reverence, integrity and intentionality that are absolutely essential for a treatment to be effective.
It is this approach that truly unlocks the power of visionary medicines to reconnect us to our authentic self and facilitate recovery from addiction. Going forward, small daily rituals allow us to remain within this sacred container of meaningfulness as we go about our lives, extending the healing process and helping us stay conscious of our own value when challenges arise.