Is the ‘road to hell paved with good intentions?’ Exploring ethical integrity in the emerging psychedelic space with Synthesis.
A sense of morality is intrinsic to being human. Throughout time we have sought to decipher ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ by exploring concepts such as justice, virtue and duty. There are many different lenses that can be used to explore these ideas including utilitarian, deontological, indigenous, feminist and so on. While these approaches may present contradictory perspectives, they can coexist without being mutually exclusive.
What we, as a society, consider to be ‘morally right’ is tied to socially accepted cultural norms – for example it was once considered ‘just’ to resolve an argument with a duel to the death. Communal accountability is upheld or enforced using laws, existential principles, religion, group debate and discussion. On an individual level, our sense of morality is enhanced by our personal experiences. As we embark on the path of becoming who we are and discovering what we stand for, we further our understanding of the differences between theory and practice.
Psychologically, we form our sense of ‘Self’ before integrating this into our view of the wider world. This intrinsically incomplete picture is what informs our personal sense of relational ethics. As an ever-changing mosaic, the dance of life and our story within it, are forever emergent and interdependent; However from the micro to the macro, systems seek balance and mutual benefit in order to maintain stability and integrity. The things that often detract us from our inner compass stem from the “I” of “ego” in relation to society (money, sex, power, status), rather than the “me” in “we” inherent to solidarity (abundance, intimacy, empowerment, authentic relating).
As a Psychedelic Institution, the Synthesis Institute aims to bring an ecological and transpersonal approach to the field of ethics, especially with regards to non-ordinary states of consciousness. Synthesis adopts the perspective that ethical considerations are not doctrines to be imposed, but a complex dynamic that values and honours the sacred web of life.
Finding Unity In Diversity
Without resorting to dogmatic rules, we are asked to appreciate complexity through humble inquiry. How do we foster alignment and coherence while respecting conflicting worldviews? How can we nurture individual rights and autonomy within the needs of the community? And what does it mean to live ‘well’?
Psychedelics are often referred to as ‘de-conditioning agents’ because they have an ability to reintroduce the nuance that is lost to cultural rigidity. Embracing a non-binary perspective, they challenge the dichotomy of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ The alchemy of transmuting a ‘vice’ into a ‘virtue’ rests on an ever-shifting context, and believing in the kindness of humankind requires the capacity to appreciate alternate points of view.
Although there are some ‘absolute’ boundaries that must be upheld by those working within the psychedelic healthcare space, the general intent of a ‘Code of Ethics and Conduct’ is not to pass judgement. These manifestos invite a constructive dialogue that moves beyond right and wrong, into a deeper understanding of what constitutes wholesome activity. This requires space to learn and grow from past ‘mistakes’ and takes a profoundly self-reflexive stance, acknowledging that sympathy is from the sidelines but empathy comes from experience.
The Synthesis Institute define ‘right relationship’ as being in ‘ethical integrity’ with ourselves and one another. Above all, this requires self-awareness. Our feelings are valid and emotions can be agents of change, but they can equally overwhelm us and cloud our better judgment. Consistent embodiment practices turn information into insight: creating space for us to process what is arising before acting upon it. This can include meditative or visual exercises that allow us to observe our thoughts and feelings in a more detached manner, transmuting impulsive instinct into informed intuition.
Finding your North Star starts within – it can be expanded by studying the traditions, stabilised by building trust, motivated by contemplating meaning, humbled by establishing equality, and rewarded through paying it forwards. In the long-term, a self-reflective stance can only truly flourish within a wider culture of vulnerability, honesty, and transparency. This is why openness and acceptance are vital to growth. Because the contents of our unconscious are likely to have been formed as a result of shame, judgment, and fear, having containers where we respect our shared humanity allows us to find camaraderie in acknowledging our unmet aspects.
Kylea Taylor author of The Ethics of Caring: Finding Right Relationships with Clients, describes ‘right relationship’ as being willing to learn what we do and do not know about ourselves, in order to care for and support others as conscious “well-wishers.” This notion finds its feet in constant motion, along with deep focus, presence, and emotional attunement. It also respects that everybody’s process has its own tempo and pace, “working at the speed of safety” means having faith in a non-linear but directive process.
As we collaborate on the mandala of life, inner ethics and right relationship emerge as the threads that weave together the tapestry of transformation. By remaining open to experience, we can create a culture of mutual compassion, respect, authenticity, and responsibility. Many of the most profound aspects of life reach beyond the limitations of logic and language, but in sharing the stories that encourage us to question and to communicate, we find not just guiding philosophies, but holistic and diverse narratives that can become ethical cornerstones to the evolution of an emerging field. A rich and fulfilling life is not without its own challenges and consequences, but the Synthesis Faculty aim to provide an expansive array of perspectives and possibilities, so that you can find your voice
“People think they want status, when really they want authenticity… Status optimises for society, authenticity optimises for you.” – James Clear