"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly."
Richard Bach, "Illusions"
Part One: An Introduction of Sorts
Despite science's denial of the possibility of memories before the age of three, my own recollections beg to differ. I remember lying swaddled tightly in bed, feeling unwell, stifled, and overheated. I struggled to free myself, but in vain, unable to move even slightly. Complicating matters, the room was filled with the incredibly loud and persistent snoring of my father. This cacophony, combined with the suffocating heat and my sense of desperation, seemed to be the tipping point that shaped my self-awareness, radically altering the patterns of an infant's brain activity, thrusting me into this world, perhaps as a last-ditch effort to find solace in the face of existential dread.
Years would pass. I'd leave my childhood home, train as a doctor, and soon specialize in psychiatry. I'd depart from the armed forces, and eventually, my homeland, continuing the scientific research I began during my student years. Throughout my life, pivotal decisions often came when circumstances cornered me, leaving no choice but to take responsibility and evolve.
Since 2014, my fate intertwined with the research of psychedelics. Initially, it was a mere scientific curiosity of a cautious psychiatrist: the similarity between psychedelic experiences and endogenous psychotic states was well-documented by the pioneers of psychiatry. The more I delved into these substances and the states they induced, the more I was baffled by the unfair treatment they received in the late 60s and early 70s. The demonization of psychedelics I encountered during my student years starkly contrasted with what I found in pre-prohibition medical literature and toxicological studies.
As time went on, more and more people sought my advice regarding the potential risks associated with these substances. While these risks are real, they are manageable under sanctioned medical use. From one interview to another, from lecture to lecture, I tried distancing myself from this topic, emphasizing that psychedelics weren't my primary research interest but a side project. Yet, like many turning points in life, I couldn't escape this one.
I resumed my psychotherapeutic practice, deciding to undergo my own psychoanalysis, which became a pivotal stage in my professional journey. Today, assisting in the integration of altered states of consciousness, including psychedelic experiences, is one of my specialties.
Psychedelic psychotherapy introduces a crisis into a patient's life—a crisis that often shatters their familiar, comfortable, and cherished norms. This crisis is relentless, often pulling the rug out from under one's feet, sometimes even dissolving one's sense of self. For an unprepared individual, clinging to outdated beliefs and a "tolerable level of discomfort," such a crisis can plunge them into a prolonged and deeper depression, especially if they aren't provided with adequate support and guidance to integrate their insights into daily life.
Unlike the prevailing approaches in our field, where constant doses of medications aim to maintain a "mental status quo," psychedelic therapy involves a temporary "dissolution" of psychological defenses. This leaves the patient with no choice but to confront the deep-rooted source of their psychological issues head-on. But today's article isn't just about that—it's about more.
Today, the world is undergoing a "global psychedelic experience." We've all unwittingly taken a "heroic dose" and are holding our breath, awaiting the effects. The psychedelic named "coronavirus" is equally ruthless, challenging our values, plans, investments, hopes, and sometimes even our lives. Global markets and healthcare systems have already taken a massive hit, with the peak seemingly still ahead. Like psychedelics, the crisis mercilessly burns everything that's already plummeting in value: the fashion and luxury industries, inflated corporate asset bubbles, real estate, and even centralized currencies. Soon, we'll all awaken to the painfully simple realization: money isn't edible. The kind of world we build on the ruins of outdated values is entirely up to us. Part Two: The Post-Pandemic World
For nearly a decade, I've lived as an expatriate. I'm uncertain if it's mere coincidence or if fate has once again placed me at the epicenter of a vast experiment, one spanning an entire nation, compelling its people to confront their fears amidst a rapidly escalating crisis. Today, the world's gaze is fixed on Sweden. Unlike many other places, Sweden has taken a fundamentally different path:
Sweden remains the last European nation to resist stringent quarantine measures, opting not to enforce them with police or military oversight—a decision that has faced sharp criticism from the European media landscape.
"I am confident that everyone in the country will take responsibility, doing everything possible to protect the health of others and assist their fellow citizens," the Swedish Prime Minister declared in a national address. This move predictably polarized opinions both within the country and globally. Television panels of experts were convened, forecasting an impending disaster.
And to be honest, I too am uncertain if the local healthcare system can withstand this onslaught without eventually collapsing. But to fully grasp my stance, I'd like each of you to ponder this question: "In what kind of world do I wish to awaken once the storm subsides?"
The extraordinary event we face today, beyond its devastating economic impact, also introduces a crisis of consciousness, shattering familiar norms and sowing seeds of anxiety and fear.
In this emotional whirlwind, we each face a choice: to await support from the "big brother," a nurturing paternal figure who will "surely think" of our health and well-being. When the plague comes, when the suffocating heat tightens its grip around our throats, he will kindly open a window, letting in the much-needed breath of fresh air. Or, we can choose to mature, finally telling ourselves, "I no longer wish to live in fear and helplessness, waiting for someone else, someone bigger, stronger, and wiser, to save me." To declare this and learn to take responsibility for our own physical, psychological, and financial well-being, the well-being of our families, and the well-being of our fellow citizens. Now is the perfect time to discern what truly merits our intellectual, emotional, and financial investments, and what is mere pretense.
We've all taken our "heroic dose," and there isn't a country that won't be directly or indirectly affected by the repercussions of this global psychedelic experience. Today, I'd like each of us to preemptively answer another question: Is it worth crawling back into the lifeless cocoon of outdated values and unfounded hopes?
© Alexander Lebedev