Creating a Safe Space
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
“Safe space” is defined as an environment in which one feels trusting enough to let down their normal defenses, become vulnerable, and allow inner change. Feeling safe, comfortable, and relaxed during an altered state is an integral part of the healing process. It is difficult, if not impossible, to fully surrender into a psychedelic experience if one is not in a safe space. Because set and setting are some of the most important aspects influencing the psychedelic experience, they are incredibly important in helping to create a safe space. We’re going to delve deeper into how to achieve this because it is such an integral aspect of the psychedelic experience. Some general factors that can contribute to creating a safe space are the presence of a trip sitter (which we’ll explain further down), location, music, comfort items, and readily available food/water. Keep in mind that an appropriate and safe space is going to look different for everyone because of individual preferences. Because a good setting helps curate and create a safe container to allow a psychedelic experience to unfold, putting a little thought into setting up a safe space before entering the Altered State can pay dividends later.
The external environment can be reflected internally during an altered state of consciousness. Before your experience, it is important to consider what purpose you want your environment to serve. Being somewhere familiar can be comforting and helpful. A familiar and comfortable environment can enable deep dives. However, there can be residual energies from past traumas or a sense of distraction in your home that inhibit the ability to focus on the matter at hand. Another way to encourage a medicinal altered state is by utilizing eye shades. If your intention is internal healing, the external beauty of the world during an altered state can sometimes distract you from this purpose.
If you are using a familiar space, take care to declutter and clean the space where the experience is going to take place. A cluttered and messy environment can possibly lead toward negative thoughts; certain spaces can also hold emotional significance for the journeyer. Consider renting an AirBnB for an energetically and physically clean environment. Renting an AirBnB can provide a neutral place to have an altered state with the advantage of being in a novel space, free of familiar distractions. Researching the location beforehand to ensure that it will be private can help to decrease the risk of paranoia that some people may experience as part of an altered state experience.
In general, we recommend avoiding completely outdoor locations. That’s not to say that a safe container can’t exist out in nature, just that there are extra challenges associated with using an Outdoor Setting. It may take extra effort to prepare for temperature changes, access to water for drinking, toilets, and bathing. Remote locations will require special planning to ensure a safe space exists and emergency service can be accessed.
Music is a critical consideration when planning out and creating a safe space. Music can help curate a certain vibe for the experience, help one out of a negative place, or break thought loops. Music can be an amplifier of, and have a huge influence over, a psychedelic space. Take care to select calm soothing music. Generally, music without lyrics is best to decrease messaging or distractions. Make sure there is enough music available for the duration of the altered state experience. When going to more remote places, remember to download some music beforehand, as you might have issues streaming from a cloud service.
An easy way for a journeyer to influence the setting is to bring ritual objects and comfort items into the space. These objects can be helpful for grounding. Comfort items might include a childhood blanket, mala beads, or maybe even your dog. Some people bring ritual objects with them; items that help fix their intentions. Crystals, feathers, scents, and artwork are all powerful ways to invoke ritual into an altered state. I like to write my intention down on a piece of paper and place it on an altar. If I am trying to release some energy, I might even end up burning this paper when the time feels right. The choice of objects will vary depending on the person, and can really help in creating a setting that feels safe.
While the journeyer’s mind-set is the hardest aspect to control, basic cautions and practices can make a substantial difference in outcomes. While pursuing altered states can be healing, care should be taken that it’s NOT done when directly experiencing a crisis or psychotic episode. Assess your psychological safety needs before you approach a journey. While it may feel devastating to delay a long awaited experience, poor timing can create more psychological baggage. Psychedelics tend to be a magnifying glass - they bring things to the surface. Pay attention to your mental state above all, and honor it.
There are a few simple ways to promote a positive mind-set. Intention setting is huge in helping establish a good set. My go-to intention is ‘I am here to learn.” It is open-ended but I definitely feel it preps me for my experience. Writing an intention down on a piece of paper is a way to bring a physical representation of it into the experience. Another way to affect mind-setting is by observing a personal ritual such as meditation or yoga. It can help calm the anxiety normally experienced on psychedelics. These grounding activities help restore balance.
A trip sitter, who can help with creating a safe space by being a grounded energy, is highly recommended. A Sitter is someone who keeps you safe during your altered state experience. This is a different role from a guide because the trip sitter is not orchestrating your experience. They create a container for the altered state to occur by helping attend to your needs and ensuring your safety. Both the trip sitter and the participant should prepare together to minimize the risk of fear or anxiety. I find it helpful to start a discussion about meaningful aspects of the participant’s life. Topics such as childhood, current relationships, and what they are hoping to get out of this experience are all good starting places for this discussion. During the session, a Sitter should be “nondirective and supportive.” I would say that the most important reason to have a sitter is to encourage one to “trust, let go, and be open” to the altered state experience.
There are many considerations when making plans to journey, and choosing your Set and Setting are extremely important factors in the outcome of psychedelic experience. A lot of thought before the experience is good - Just be cautious that this focus on controlling your set and setting doesn’t become a nexus for anxiety. Once inside of an experience, creating a safe space can also manifest itself as simply slowing down and focusing on your breath. Overall, making considerations about your Set and Setting beforehand will help you create a safe container in which your Altered State can unfold to its fullest potential.