Eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία), sometimes anglicised as eudaemonia or eudemonia, is a Greek word literally translating to the state or condition of ‘good spirit’ and which is commonly translated as ‘happiness’ or ‘welfare.’ This piece was written for psychedelic education providers the Synthesis Institute.
For a long time, the Western biomedical paradigm has sought to distance itself from the idea of ‘spiritual healing.’ This mind-body dualism has allowed science to progress away from religious prohibition by separating itself from the ‘unscientific’ aspects of the ‘soul.’ Psyche-delics seek to change this, but these sacraments will not solve for greater systemic concerns.
Today, the prohibition of certain substances under the ‘War On Drugs’ – and the limitations this places on various states of consciousness – can be seen to resonate with the aims of earlier colonial projects, leading some to consider this form of ‘biopolitics’ as a modern-day witch hunt and holy war.
The quest for legalisation comes at a time when powerful institutions, including the medical sphere, are being asked to address the legacy of their pasts – including oppressive present structures; these narratives bear particular relevance to psychedelic research, given the widespread use of entheogenic medicines as tools in mental and spiritual healing.
Governing Mental Management
The regulation of certain states of consciousness can be seen as a form of governance that polices the management of human thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and affectual capacities. This has greater implications insofar as psychedelics have, and continue to be, used as vectors for the acquisition of knowledge. This is aimed at the limitation of alternate epistemic and experiential sources of information that fall outside of state-sanctioned paradigms.
Contemporary research on classic psychedelics demonstrates that they temporarily suppress top-down structures that maintain normal waking consciousness, including the perceptual and conceptual boundaries that influence behaviour. In this sense psychedelic experiences can assist in ‘decolonizing’ the spaces of consciousness wherein unyielding colonial patterns of thought have become concretised.
Ordinary normal waking consciousness is the product of a particular configuration of social relations. Establishing this consensus reality benefits communication and alignment, but it can also establish hierarchal forms of power suppression and control. Insofar as consciousness is fundamental to one’s sense of volition and subjectivity, serving as the veil through which humans construe reality, further exploration of how different psychoactive substances might affect one’s philosophical and political commitments, as well as the ability to forge new forms of subjectivity and ways of relating to oneself, others, society, and nature – offers key insights into governance and autonomy.
Prohibition in contemporary society has resulted in a biopolitical normalisation of consciousness that reinvokes colonial refrains of domination historically mobilised against traditional ritual, healing and spiritual practices. From a decolonial perspective, this delimitation of consciousness ensuing from the War On Drugs can be understood as a form of epistemic hegemony insofar as the alternate states brought about by certain drugs, in this case psychedelic substances, are delegitimised despite an array of evidence attesting to their epistemological, therapeutic, and philosophical importance.
Mass incarceration for drug-related crimes results in drastically disproportionate imprisonment rates and other socio-economic disadvantages for people of colour. Tracing this thread back, the War On Drugs can also be understood as a war against particular social and racial groups; its legal precursors historically targeted Chinese immigrants during the early prohibitions of cocaine and opium, while the War On Drugs itself targeted both the anti-war left and racial minorities during the Nixon era. This weaponised morality using the “just say no” campaign and sought to depict ‘drug users’ and ‘drug abusers’ as morally degenerate societal deviants, while also representing those who use ‘black market’ substances as criminals threatening national security.
Under the lens of decoloniality – there is an ethical imperative that calls for the weaving of a world in which many worlds fit. This positions itself as a direct response to the concept of coloniality – that is, the patterns that continue to define knowledge production, culture, intersubjective relations, and labour relations resulting in the ‘coloniality of power.’
The Price of Progress
As anthropologist Andrea Blätter has observed, in different cultures, ‘drugs’ are often used in completely different manners. This demonstrates that the consumption of drugs is culturally shaped to a very large extent. Which substances are used, when, by whom, how, how often, in which dosage, where, with whom, and why – are all mostly related to the cultural membership of a user. Because of these influences, psychoactive and hallucinogenic experiences are lived out in very different ways.
In attempting to integrate these medicines into modern healthcare, we come up against the limitations of the logic and language inherent to own paradigms. Many indigenous perspectives, especially those that refer to the ‘mind’ as an integral part of the sacred and earthly landscape, do not directly translate. This lack of a wider cultural container affects processes of preparation and integration within the Western context. Sacraments such as mushrooms are regarded as drugs or psychoactive substances – instead of consciousness-expanding entities allowing communication with ancestors and other super-natural or more-than-human beings such as the guardians of hills, caves, springs, or forests.
This is compounded by the fact that many indigenous groups are not well served or integrated by mainstream healthcare modalities. Complex multigenerational trauma from systemic oppression requires better culturally adapted treatment access and support, along with holistic programmes such as ecological conservation projects. Conversations around ethics, intellectual property, conservation, and reparation need to be Indigenous-led, but while it’s vital for people from the homes of these medicines to have a voice, not all those who can contribute are used to working with, or within, Western systems.
Psychedelic experiences, alongside newfound philosophical beliefs based on relationality and non-duality as ethically fundamental precepts, could assist in reformatting some of these colonial philosophical legacies, while also offering an experiential basis from which to develop an expanded way of life based on interconnectedness and interrelatedness.
When it comes to the question of Appropriation vs. Appreciation – advancements under the United Nations Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO imply that traditional knowledge is not an open access unregulated market. Indigenous people have the right to protect, preserve, and develop their traditional practices and medicinal knowledge, and are entitled to benefit from developments based on their intangible cultural heritage, including their spiritual practices. According to these treaties and regulations, ‘bioprospecting’ must include previous informed consent and returns to the communities involved.
There are still ongoing debates around how best to achieve this blending of worlds, including legal and structural changes, fair and just consultations and agreements, and ethical ways of respecting both local and global concerns – but in attending to the roots of our individual and shared realities, and harnessing the possibilities of our lucid dreams, we may be able to wake up to new paradigms of prosperity, in the spirit of eudaemonia for all.
“If there must be tears, let them be tears of joy” – The Two Popes