MDMA and Personal Growth

By Myron Stolaroff

MDMA is in many ways a very remarkable addition to the class of consciousness expanding substances. In Chapter 3 of my book Thanatos to Eros: Thirty-five Years of Psychedelic Exploration (Stolaroff , 1994), I reported as follows:
For those who have been privileged to enter the sacred regions and appreciate the vast array of learning at our disposal, the psychedelics are priceless substances. But one stands out as especially unique, with outstanding characteristics exclusively its own. This is MDMA, code name for 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine.1 The most fitting description that I can give it is that it is an outstanding grace.
David Nichols2 has suggested a new class for this and similar acting substances, recommending the name entactogens -- substances which allow "touching within." Ralph Metzner, in a paper "Psychedelics and Spirituality" delivered at a 1983 conference in Santa Barbara, California, has suggested the name empathogens -- substances which bring one closer to oneself and others.

MDMA is not hallucinogenic like other psychedelics. It is in most cases quite euphoric, bringing about a sense of peace, wholeness, and well-being to the participant. It permits one to see the world in an exciting new way, alive with energy, color, and euphoria. And remarkably, these responses are quite uniform over a wide range of participants.

This characteristic of uniformity is quite different from other psychedelics, where an enormous range of responses is possible. Results with the most active psychedelics depend on a variety of factors such as the subject's individual value system, the state of his/her psyche, the subject's aspirations, and the setting for the experience, including the character of the companions present. While these factors are also important for MDMA, the action of the drug considerably overrides their influence, providing a much wider range of acceptance for suitable candidates. . .3

After a number of trials with this substance, I arrived at a list of "the usual symptoms." We would usually begin to feel the effect of the drug in about twenty minutes. Once felt, the intensity increased rapidly. There would be a rush of energy which could be a bit unsettling, except that for us the euphoric components always told us that we were heading in a good direction. At about the hour point, the rush feeling would subside, leaving us in a marvelous state approaching ecstasy. There was utter clarity of perception, with colors brilliant and everything standing out in sharp detail. Many times while starting a fire in the wood stove, I was startled by the crisp, clear, high frequency sounds made by crumpling the paper.4

A number of cases where MDMA was administered are described in the above-mentioned chapter.

It is now well recognized by those knowledgeable in the field that the use of MDMA can be very effective in couples therapy, as reporated in Holland, J. (2001). As stated above, this results from the very special state of being this chemical engenders, where the subjects feel at peace and very open. They are remarkably free of the need to defend themselves, so that they can openly, honestly, and fruitfully look at issues that in normal circumstances engender conflict and even anger. Fruitful methods of conducting couples therapy as well as other important applications for healing are covered in chapters 12 to 18, Holland, J. (2001).

In addition to procedures developed to take advantage of the characteristics of MDMA, it can contribute a great deal to the relationship if each partner takes responsibility for his/her own personal development. The further an individual can develop in self understanding, resolving her/his own private difficulties, improve communication skills, gain acceptance of self and others, and grow in the ability to receive and give love, the greater is the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in life. In addition, the more this individual can contribute to the growth and wellbeing of one's partner.

I am personally very grateful for discovering what the Buddhists call "skillful means," which has allowed me to grow from a highly disturbed, uncomfortable neurotic to a state of peace, greatly enjoying the wonder and beauty that life has to offer. This has contributed eminently to greatly improving the communication and deepening of intimacy with my partner, Jean. My basic practice consisted of appropriate and knowledgeable use of psychedelic substances, combined with Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice learned through my teacher, Alan Wallace. I have found over the years that these two practices very much reinforce each other.

Through appropriate use of psychedelics, one can discover that we are all One, that we are intimately related to every aspect of the universe, that the essential life force that binds us all can be experienced as incredible love. In addition, we can become aware of our inner, previously unconscious dynamics and values which govern our behavior without our realizing it. We can learn what constitutes appropriate behavior, how to listen and communicate more effectively, how to overcome our personal afflictions, and even learn the enormous potential waiting to be realized. MDMA is particularly helpful in this endeavor because it offers the opportunity to be placed directly at our center, immersed in the peace and wonder of the core of our being, where we are intimately related to the All. Here everything is perceived with love and beauty. We can have a powerful immersion into the state where we eventually wish to be at all times.

It is often the case, particularly with those carrying heavy psychic burdens (as was my own situation), that such discoveries, despite the profoundness of their impact, can fade away if we do not diligently pursue putting them into effect. A good meditation practice can be of enormous help in keeping us aware of important experiences, strengthening our intention to make indicated changes, and accomplishing further development. As discussed in Stolaroff (1999), practice under the influence of an appropriate psychedelic at a suitable dose level can deepen and accelerate one's practice. Likewise, deepening one's practice facilitates more profound sacramental experiences.

Stolaroff (1999) covers many of the issues involved in employing psychedelics to enhance meditation practice, and vice versa. A section is devoted to procedures, pp. 67-68. MDMA at full strength can be a particularly effective tool in providing a fruitful meditation experience. This is because the profound centering produced allows readily maintaining mental stability. Such stability is the optimum state in achieving clear perception of issues examined -- a clarity that emerges from a depth of understanding not generally available in ordinary states of consciousness. A further benefit is that the impact of experiencing such undistracted centering, accompanied by an unusual state of clarity, is well remembered. This makes these states more readily accessible in ordinary meditation practice.

Nicholas Saunders (Saunders, 1995) interviewed several spiritual leaders in regard to their use of MDMA. Brother Bartholomew, a Benedictine monk, describes MDMA "as opening a direct link with God. While using MDMA, he has experienced a very deep comprehension of divine compassion. He has never lost the clarity of this insight, and it remains as a reservoir upon which he can call. Another benefit of his use of MDMA has been that the experience of the divine presence comes to him effortlessly (p. 34)."

The passing of the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 has made further investigation of most psychedelic substances illegal. This has not only greatly restricted the discovery and dissemination of valuable information, but is preventing countless numbers of people from benefiting from effective healing procedures.

For understanding the tragic public and government misunderstanding of the value and potential of psychedelic substances, I highly recommend Wilber (1998), The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. Wilber thoroughly and articulately describes how science came to completely deny the validity of spirituality, and seduce most of the rest of the world to its viewpoint. Yet I consider psychedelic substances the most powerful and effective means at our disposal to rapidly introduce the properly prepared subject to profound spiritual experiences. Because of its benign nature and the power of its impact, MDMA is the ideal compound to introduce novices to new interiors of their mind.
To develop an appropriate meditation practice, it is most helpful to find a good teacher in the field one finds most appealing. I am partial to Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice, as I have found it fits well with my sacramental experiences. If a good teacher is not available, it is possible to make progress by individual practice, particularly if one's sacramental experiences have illuminated the path. In such a case, I highly recommend Alan Wallace's book Boundless Heart, Wallace (1999). Alan Wallace has been studying Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation for 30 years. He speaks Tibetan fluently, and has translated a number of important Tibetan texts. Alan's extensive experience, keen mind, and sense of humor have made him an excellent teacher for Americans.

What might we expect through undertaking such a discipline? Grof (1998) states: "In its farthest reaches, individual consciousness can identify with Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Mind known under many different names--Brahman, Buddha, the Cosmic Christ, Keter, Allah, the Tao, the Great Spirit, and many others." In the East, this level of realization is often termed Enlightenment or Primordial Wisdom. It is equivalent to what is called in some Western traditions Union with God.

Many of the world's outstanding teachers, including Sri Ramana Maharshi, "arguably the greatest Guru who ever lived (Wilber 1999)," tell us this state already exists within us.

What is it then, than prevents us from realizing our true state? In my own quest for fulfillment, I have attempted to examine these issues extensively. While my smattering of training in Tibetan Dzogchen practice has given me glimpses of the possibility of reaching this promised ground through swift, direct practices, I find that I have stumbled over a variety of obstacles. These mostly take the shape of what Jung called our Shadow, the material we have repressed into our unconscious because we don't want to know it. This material includes such things as hurts, betrayals, anger, fear, guilt, and pain. The obstacles also include various mental conceptualizations, false beliefs, attachments, investments, reifications, and other mental distortions. Reifications in themselves are quite interesting, as they are testimony to the ability of the mind to so invest in certain ideas and concepts that for us they become real. All such mental constructions stand in the way as barriers to our clear, unmediated apprehension of reality, including the nature of our Real Self.

So how do we overcome such obstacles? It appears to me that psychedelics and certain meditation practices perform in somewhat similar ways to clear away obstacles and afflictions. The most powerful method of clearing obstacles is the knowledgeable use of psychedelics. Psychedelics open the door to the unconscious mind, and releasing to the experience permits the discharge of repressed material in the unconscious, the clarification of our personality and behavior dynamics, reveals appropriate ways to function, and ultimately, as obstacles are dissipated, reveals to us the true nature of our Self. See the stages of development in Sherwood, Stolaroff and Harman (1962). Similar realizations can be reached with the appropriate use of MDMA, reinforced by the powerful centering experience that MDMA affords.

With sufficient practice, the same results can be achieved through a good breath awareness practice, as described by Wallace (1999) under the heading Samatha. As we learn to focus on our breath without distraction, we find that we have created the situation to allow repressed material to arise from our unconscious. For holding the mind steady on a single object can permit a door opening to other areas of the mind, allowing the rising of unconscious material. Instructions are to not get caught up in the thoughts and feelings that arise, but simply let them go and hold the attention on the breath. As the obstacles and afflictions are discharged, one becomes more in contact with the Inner Self, which manifests first as a noticeable increase in calm, leading to peace, then euphoria, joy, and ultimately bliss.

In one of the Dzogchen practices I was taught, the subject simply rests and looks into the empty space before her/him, holding the mind in its natural state. This is a good deal more subtle and took the exposure of three retreats for me to begin to realize results. This was mostly because not much was happening, and I didn't spend much time on it. (I am not willing to spend more than an hour a day in formal practice, a length of period that most working people find it difficult to pursue. I have attended a full five day retreat once a year for about 10 years.) It is more difficult to simply hold the mind still than to focus on an object such as the breath or an object or an image, but it is also more subtle and rewarding. As the ability to hold the mind still develops, the door is opened to thoughts and feelings arising. As with breath awareness, such thoughts and feelings are allowed to dissipate, holding the attention undistracted in its natural state. But now, it seems to me, more subtle and more heavily defended areas in the subconscious can surface. It is my belief that those who turn away from continued practice, either psychedelic or in meditation, often do so because heavily defended material in the unconscious begins to surface, and this is threatening. With complete trust in the process, and the willingness to accept whatever comes, such areas can be worked through with great unburdening. This leaves one refreshed and with more energy, as it takes much energy to hold down powerful repressions. One also discovers increased clarity of awareness, freer flow of thoughts with improved intuition and creativity, and greater joy and appreciation of life. Continuing these practices leads to steadily increasing fulfillment. This in turn puts us in position to be of greater help to our partner, both by learning not to make things difficult through opposition and differences, and by having more understanding of how to be helpful and loving.

An important contribution to applying and maintaining important new discoveries is by committing oneself to a good code of ethics. The following ten precepts are taken from Wallace (1999), pp. 17-18:
1. Avoid killing.
2. Avoid sexual misconduct.
3. Avoid taking what is not given.
4. Avoid lying.
5. Avoid slander.
6. Avoid abuse.
7. Avoid idle gossip.
8. Avoid malice or ill will.
9. Avoid avarice.
10. Avoid false views (a mindset that denies fundamental truths).

These can all be summed up by the precept of avoiding inflicting injury to yourself or others. Another simple summary is to obey the universal principal of Love.

A dedicated practice of combining psychedelic experience and meditation can take one through the following discoveries:

A. Discovering the unlimited vastness of our being, whether as our Ultimate Self, Primordial Wisdom, the deep Inner or Real Self, or the existence of God, whatever best fits our individual framework. This is the most important discovery we can make. Once we realize that such a state really exists, that it is perfectly true, then our central goal is set for life. For nothing can surpass the complete, personal realization of this state of existence.

B. A true apprehension of the above will also reveal to us that we are One with all existence, that we are the entire universe and everything in it. And that we are intimately related to every particle of existence through the Universal Life Force, which is nothing short of the most incredible love.
Adi Da (1995), a recognized adept and spiritual teacher, advises that the heart of meditation boils down to answering the question, "Avoiding relationship?" My personal experience confirms this, as I have found that the root cause of psychic pain is separation from any person or any element of the Universe. And the separation from one's Center is the most unbearable pain of all. I am personally convinced that because this latter separation is so unbearable, we cannot allow ourselves to experience it and therefore hide the pain deeply within us. Though not recognized, the pain still exists, so we attempt to extinguish it through a great variety of dynamics: personal achievement, seeking recognition to assure ourselves of our self-worth, projecting onto others or surrounding conditions to make them the source of our discomfort, etc. Any of these devices can be only temporarily successful, because they do not address the central problem: healing the separation, which ultimately reveals our true and unshakable worth -- our Ultimate Self.

C. The real source of remedying separation, and therefore healing, is love. We can discover that we are loved by the Source of the Universe, and as Brother David Steindl-Rast is fond of saying, we truly belong. And we can ultimately become this love, whereby we are inherently in love with all of existence. Most important is learning to love ourselves, as it is extremely difficult to love others if we do not love our self. MDMA is probably the most powerful tool available for allowing us to directly experience love. My own feeling of self worth was so low that for years it was very difficult for me to let love in. It is always hard to discover such powerfully repressed feelings, and when they finally surface, I am amazed that such potent feelings can remain undetected in the unconscious and exert such powerful influence. While the realized individual loves naturally, I found that I had to work diligently to become a loving person. Most success came through the idea of Partnership described in the last paragraph of Section G below.

D. Feelings. One way of viewing ultimate realization is that we can freely feel all of our feelings. Most of us repress many of our feelings, and such repressed feelings become heavy burdens, robbing us of life and energy, and coloring our disposition. Being open to feeling our feelings can make a vital contribution to our growth and development. It is the painful ones we resist, but we can discover that once we are willing to allow ourselves to feel the feelings, the discomfort rapidly abates, and substantial learning can take place. This is in addition to the satisfactory feeling of release that is obtained when repressions are freed. Gendlin (1981) and Hendricks and Hendricks (1994) are two excellent sources of procedures for uncovering and expressing repressed feelings. The lowering of defenses permitted by MDMA provides greater access to experiencing hidden feelings.

E. Once we get some understanding of our real potential, it is easy to discover the importance of taking responsibility for our life. We can see that we create much of our life and many of the circumstances affecting it, and once understanding this, we can cease placing blame on others and take corrective action. A great sense of joy and fulfillment arises from implementing such an approach. It is possible to discover that intent is the bottom line; our actions and even our awareness follow the path set by our intent. It is a rewarding practice to examine our intentions, and particularly to ferret out the unconscious ones. We can discover the effectiveness of deeply setting our intention on important matters. In fact, we can discover that nothing else can happen but what we have set as our deepest intention. In Conversations with God Book 1, Walsch (1996), God describes that it is our Sponsoring Thought that becomes our reality (p. 12). Psychedelic experiences and meditation practice can help reveal our deepest intentions.

F. It is possible to discover that we have been given free will. We can do whatever we wish, although hurting others carries a price tag. Many of the greatest difficulties generated on our planet is from the desire of some to dictate to others and control them. Honoring each person's right to free will goes a long way to improving our own stature, as well as letting others seek and accomplish their fulfillment. I very much like what Ken Keyes states as one of his important learnings. By his third marriage, he finally realized that it is all right to state your preferences, but you don't have the right to make demands (Keyes, 1990).

G. One of the most important things we can do is learn how to learn. I have dealt with this in some detail in a forthcoming quarterly bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Essentially it involves learning that there is an inexhaustible Source of wisdom, and that it can best be accessed by direct inquiry. To receive an answer, it is necessary to set aside all preconditions and surrender completely to this Source with full Trust, and be completely receptive to what comes. This last part is the hardest, for if we don't like the answer, we can easily shut down the experience of discovering it. For self-directing individuals who feel it is important to take responsibility, it is easy to forget to ask. All the resources of the Universe are there waiting to help, including departed realized masters, Divine entities of which we may not be aware (for example, I have personally received much help and a great deal of satisfaction by recognizing what appears to me to be the Source of Divine Feminine Essence), our own profound Inner Self which embraces them all. But such sources will not violate the principle of free will (although I feel grateful if some unrequested intervention wakes me up to a new possibility I have ignored). One of my closest friends who has penetrated deeply into understanding has said that in a good psychedelic experience, you can find out whatever you want to know by simply asking. However, you have to be willing to die to get the answer. Christ stated it beautifully: Seek and ye shall find; Knock and ye shall enter; Ask and it shall be given unto you.

In my own life, finding the achievement of full realization still beyond my ability, I find the concept of Partnership very rewarding. This is a partnership with what I experience as God, or my own Inner Self. In such a partnership, the vital issue is discovering what the Inner Self is willing to provide, and what I must be willing to do. The first condition requires the ability to ask and be perfectly open to the response, as described above. In other words, very carefully listen. The second I often find requires being more deeply set in my intention to put into effect in my life what I have learned. When working at its best, the energy from the Inner Self and my conscious intention combine into a seamless whole of effortless flow.
H. It is most important to carry out in life what one has learned. Psychedelics, I found for myself and have recognized often in others, can be abused because it is so simple to have another experience when one is uncomfortable. Great satisfaction comes from honoring the great gifts that have been given us by putting them into effect in our lives.

Excellent, in depth coverage of many other important factors to take into consideration in one's spiritual development is presented by Frances Vaughn in her outstanding book, Shadows of the Sacred. Ken Wilber in his foreword to this book begins with the statement: "Frances
Vaughan is the wisest of the Wise Women I know (Vaughan, 1995)."

I wish to conclude with a simple condensation of much of what has been presented above. These are recommendations in ascending order of impact:

(1) Forgive others for any harm or pain they may have caused you.

(2) Forgive yourself for any harm or pain that you have caused others. This is more difficult, because who of us does not believe that what we are doing is right? Because we chose the actions, it is often difficult to examine our actions carefully enough to reveal harmful behavior. Once discovering them, sincere self-forgiveness brings great relief.

Last of all, true gratitude is one of the most important things in life. As a good friend once said to me, "Gratitude is heaven." But again, feeling gratitude depends on our ability to perceive worth in the event or condition to which we wish to extend gratitude. As we look, we can find that we often overlook very worthwhile characteristics that are deserving of our gratitude. Recognizing this permits gratitude to well up. Realizing how great this feels, we are inclined to look more deeply, which reveals even more deserving of gratitude. And as we continue to look, we can observe that everything in existence has some wonderful aspect, if not all of its aspects, deserving of gratitude. So our gratitude grows and grows, until we are consumed in unconditional love for the entire extent of the universe. We are truly Home.

1. The drugs 2C-T-2 and 2C-T-7 are code names for 2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylthiophenethylamine and 2,5-dimethoxy-4-(n)-propylthiophenethylamine respectively. The synthetic procedures and physical characteristics of these compounds, as well as MDMA, are published in Shulgin, A. T. & Shulgin, A. PIHKAL. Berkeley, California: Transform Press,

2. Nichols, D. E. "Differences Between the Mechanisms of Action of MDMA, MBDB, and the Classic Hallucinogens. Identification of a New Therapeutic Class: Entactogens." J. Psychoactive Drugs 18:305-313, 1986.

3. Stolaroff, M. J. Thanatos to Eros: Thirty-five Years of Psychedelic Exploration. Berlin: VWB -- Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 1994, Chapter 3, p. 41.

4. Ibid., Chapter 14, pp. 170-171.


Adi Da. (1995). The Knee of Listening, Middleton, California, The Dawn Horse Press, p. 442.
Gendlin, E. T. Focusing. (1981). New York: Bantam Books.

Grof, S. (1998). Human nature and the nature of reality: conceptual changes from consciousness research. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Vol. 30, No. 4.

Hendricks, G. and Hendricks, K. (1994). At the Speed of Life: A New Approach to Personal Change Through Body-Centered Therapy. New York: Bantam Books.

Holland, J. (2001). Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press.

Keyes, K. (1990). The Power of Unconditional Love. Coos Bay, Oregon: Love Line Books.

Saunders, Nicholas. (1995). Spiritual uses of MDMA in traditional religions. MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), Vol. 6, No. 1, Autumn 1995, pp. 33-36.

Sherwood, J. N., Stolaroff, M., and Harman, W. W. (1962). The psychedelic experience--a new concept in psychotherapy. Journal of neuropsychiatry 4: 69-80.

Stolaroff, M. (1994). Thanatos to Eros: Thirty-five Years of Psychedelic Exploration. Berlin: VWB -- Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung.

Stolaroff, M. (1999). Are psychedelics useful in the Practice of Buddhism? Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 60-80.

Vaughan, F. (1995). Shadows of the Sacred. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books.

Wallace, A. (1999). Boundless Heart: The Cultivation of the Four Immeasurables. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications.

Walsch, N. D. (1996). Conversations with God, Book 1. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Wilber, K. (1998). The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. New York: Broadway Books.

Wilber, K. (1999). One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, Mass.: Shambhala Publications, Inc. p. 223.


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