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decomposing the shadow james jesso[This is a section excerpt from Decomposing The Shadow: Lessons From The Psilocybin Mushrooms, published 2013]


Psilocybin mushrooms guide us into a state of increased emotional awareness, and in doing so, are able to bring us into a direct encounter with the shadow. When used with maturity and respect, they can help us to address enduring psychospiritual blockages. During these encounters with the shadow, the mushrooms can guide us into the emotional roots of self where the hard truth of psychoemotional wounds can be faced directly, released, and healed. Yet, when used out of ignorance, shadow experiences with psilocybin may further emotional repression and worsen the consequential blockages. The results of facing the shadow depend entirely on how we choose to interact with it.

While facing the shadow—immersed in the potent emotional environment psilocybin unlocks—we are offered new perspectives on how the shadow manifests in our lives, and powerful lessons about the shadow aspects of self in general. These lessons and perspectives are generally communicated in two ways. First, through a direct visitation of shadow-inspired choices—i.e., actions, thoughts, or feelings from the past (or potential choices in the future) associated with uncomfortable or repressed emotions; and second, through creative ideas or metaphors founded on personally relevant symbolism—i.e., a strange and novel, yet deeply personal visionary experience, wherein the underlying emotional concept is directly relevant to repression.

When we understand we are facing the shadow and choose to surrender, these experiences enable a powerful opportunity for cultivating self-awareness, personal growth, and healing. However, if we do not understand the breadth of what is happening to us, we may create resistance, anxiety, and further emotional repression and projection—as is often the case with young recreational users.

Many people begin taking psilocybin recreationally with the intention of playfulness and without understanding its potential to expose the uncomfortable honesty of the shadow. Regardless of intention, as one continues to explore the emotional depths of self with this substance, a tendency to journey deeper and deeper with each session may occur, and eventually, this light-heartedness may be challenged. Occasions arise where recreational intentions and a lack of understanding result in poor choices regarding the decision to indulge, and one may end up forced into addressing the darkness that lays within. This unexpected and unrequested experience can be very challenging and uncomfortable. It is that first hard experience, the “bad trip”, which generally stops recreational users from exploring the substance further. Due to a lack of understanding and an abundance of stigma, many people in the position of having had that experience end up blaming the mushrooms for being “bad” or the “drug” not being “right” for them. Yet, the problem was not the substance; rather, the user was not prepared to handle the dark emotional honesty exposed during that experience. In this type of circumstance, the emotional flow is resisted, surrender and emotive-psychosynthesis denied, and all the possible benefits of facing the shadow are discarded. The potential lessons of that dark experience are rejected, and the substance is blamed to avoid dealing with the challenge of owning personal responsibility for being the source of that experience. It is true that psilocybin mushrooms are not for everybody, but this is because not everybody is prepared to deal with the intensity of emotional honesty exposed during the experience. (Excluding people with current, or a family history of, severe mental illness, which can be potentiated through psychedelic use. These people should be very cautious in their choice of using psychedelics.)


The rush that comes with psilocybin is one of extreme emotional energy. It cannot be stopped; it can only be surrendered to or futilely resisted. A direct experience of the shadow is very challenging, but addressing the things that arise within it can expose us to a broader self-awareness and understanding of life. By surrendering into the dark emotions exposed during shadow experiences, we have the rare opportunity to look with humbled eyes into the uncomfortable truth of emotional repression and allow emotive-psychosynthesis to take place. This provides us a vantage point to see life beyond the psychoemotional weight of self-repression, denial, and cultural conditioning.

The shadow is where our most challenging experiences come from, and to enter the source of those experiences catalyzes an intensity of emotion that cannot be understood until we are there. In the midst of this challenge, the mushroom can work like a guide. It can direct the light of awareness towards personal landmarks in the mind, in a way that enables us to better navigate the darkness. These landmarks are where we store bravery, courage, self-confidence, strength, compassion, etc. Thus, in this experience of exploring the darkness with mushrooms, we are gifted reminders of the light. The moments of facing my darkness with psilocybin mushrooms have been among the most difficult experiences of my life, but they have given me a beautiful sense of confidence and courage in facing life’s everyday challenges.

Psilocybin brings the dark aspects of the emotional self to the surface of awareness with full intensity. When in this space, the conscious mind begins to expose us to the life experiences associated with these dark aspects, which are the surface-level manifestations of our emotional repression and potential for darkness. The psilocybin mushroom exposes the surface of personal hardships by bringing us into the depths of their origin, but it does more than just take us there. It helps us process these hardships and bring a conscious understanding of how to navigate them. As we learn to work with psilocybin and develop the ability to surrender into the emotional honesty it potentiates, we become more capable of metabolizing the repressed emotions it exposes. We learn confidence in allowing emotive-psychosynthesis, and gain an ability to navigate and integrate challenging emotional experiences as a process of healing and maturation in all areas of life.  The mushroom helps us to metabolize the potential energy contained within challenging emotional experiences and direct it towards psychospiritual maturation.

Decomposing The Psychedelic Shadow

Fungi are the decomposers of our planet. Without their role in death and decay, there would be no life. Psilocybin, like all fungus, plays this role as well. By guiding us into the emotive-psychosynthesis of emotional repression, it decomposes the shadow and unlocks the nutrients contained within it to feed the soil of psychospiritual growth. They take us on a journey through and beyond the death and decay of repression, into the fertile grounds of budding maturity, courage, and confidence.

Through breaking down the emotional blockages that hinder us, the psilocybin experience guides us through the shadow and beyond, into the empowerment of personal responsibility and psychospiritual maturity. It helps us learn the ability to surrender ourselves into the honesty of dark emotional experiences without projection, assures us we are ready and capable of going further, and enables us see the true strength residing within the release of personal blockages. It exposes us to the crucial understanding that the shadow can be among our greatest spiritual tools once we learn to navigate it. If founded on respect and the intention of healing, a practice with the psilocybin mushroom can bring about a full and successful integration of a fragmented emotional existence into an expression of whole self.

Choosing to explore psilocybin with conscious intent opens the door to a caliber of experience that once opened, cannot be closed again. It’s like learning a new language. If we learn French, for example, we will not be able to stop the mind from interpreting the French language when it is heard. The same goes for the psilocybin experience. Once these experiences become dark, we may be forced to face an even deeper darkness each time we re-enter the psilocybin space. When recognizing this potential and still choosing to work with the mushroom, this practice can become the experiential point of reference by which we explore and understand the deep courage residing within us.


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