Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Set and setting are terms used to describe the internal and external environment that is occupied during an altered state experience. The set and setting can have a huge effect on the overall experience. Setting is the physical place where an altered state occurs. Consuming LSD at a music festival can be chaotic, taking mushrooms before dinner with your mom - potentially disastrous! Psychedelics amplify almost everything, meaning that tripping in a dirty dorm room might become incredibly unpleasant. The internal environment, or mind ‘set’, is also amplified. Tripping the day after a break up might not be the best idea.
Timothy Leary coined the term "set and setting", but how are they utilized to get the most out of a journey? Set and Setting can have a huge influence on the out come of an altered state experience. They can have an additive effect or become opposing forces during a psychedelic experience.
Set refers to the current internal state of both body and mind. Consider how you are feeling both physically and mentally pre experience - an altered state will most likely magnify these feelings. If your body is sick maybe consider waiting until another day. Positive pre-work such as yoga, meditation, intention setting and eating a great breakfast can potentiate how deep of an experience occurs.
Setting refers to the physical and social environment where the experience occurs. It is important to choose a safe place to be a container. The ideal place will feel both safe and comfortable. A good setting will be different for everyone. Some considerations for creating this container are: picking out soothing music beforehand, a trip sitter (https://tripsafe.org/psychedelic-trip-sitter-guide/), avoiding crowded public areas, and not having any pressing responsibilities. I turn my phone off beforehand - my mom always seems to pick that moment to call.
The social setting a psychedelic experience takes place in will also have a large effect on the experience. If you are looking for a healing journey taking a large dose at a party might not be setting yourself up for success; maybe a social dose would be a better call for a party environment. Inversely, you might find yourself underwhelmed if you dose conservatively when your goal is to go deep into your subconscious for some inner-healing. Considering where you will and who you will be around once the psychedelic kicks in can save yourself some potential discomfort.
An easy way to influence both set and setting is to utilize personal rituals. These can look various ways but can include: using sacred objects, chanting, meditation, essential oils, prayer or flow arts. Anything that helps hold attention and intention can serve to magnify an altered states experience.
Intention is also a huge part of utilizing set and setting to maximize the benefits from a psychedelic experience. An intention statement is a purpose statement for your experience - why are you interested in taking psychedelics? What is the purpose of consumption? Having fun or connecting with your friends is a perfectly valid intention. Here at Altered States Integration we believe that recreational is not a ‘dirty word’!
Here are some questions to get the creative juices flowing while crafting your intention:
What has drawn you to psychedelics?
What would I like to change about my life?
Where do I feel I am stuck?
How does my behaviors compare to my values, beliefs, and goals?
What are you hoping to get out of your experience?
An often overlooked part of planning a psychedelic experience is considerations for what you are going to do afterwards. If you are taking psychedelics in a location that involves driving how are you going to get home? Do you have a designated driver? Aftercare and integration is also worth spending some time considering. Is there an integration circle coming up soon after your planned experience? A psychedelic coach can be a great tool to successfully integrate information gained into your daily life. Planning to have a story session after a night-out with your friends can be a great nightcap. There are no right answers for how to successfully take care of yourself after a big psychedelic experience but putting some thought into it before dosing can be super helpful. After-all, how can you have a huge breakfast feast if no-one had the foresight to bring bacon and fruits to consume?
A little bit of careful consideration of set and setting can go a long way to producing the healing results desired. Medical and therapeutic contexts are going to have a stricter structure than a fun psychedelic experience with your friends. There is no correct way to engage with psychedelics but proper planning reduces the risk of something negative occurring.