Kile Ortigo, PhD is a psychologist with both a research and clinical background. This makes him an impressive guide as he invites you to travel with him across the landscape of existential exploration. Beyond the Narrow Life teems with conceptual diagrams, suggestions for personal discovery, exercises, journaling instructions, homework assignments and meditations. The author’s presence throughout the book is supportive and encouraging. Beyond the Narrow Life is a rich and complex guidebook which could keep a reader busy for…well…a lifetime of existential exploration.
The book promises to be a guide for psychedelic integration. It includes a three-page section on a “very brief overview of psychedelics,” as well as anonymous two-page trip reports toward the end of each chapter that are intended to illustrate “how a person might create meaning from and integrate the (psychedelic) experience in their life.” These are selected with therapeutic sensitivity and help connect the chapter content to psychedelic experiences, albeit minimally.
Given the current psychedelic renaissance and the burgeoning research studies documenting the therapeutic value of these medicines, psychedelic integration is a hot topic. However, it’s a topic that has not yet been well-defined, and this book does not contribute significantly to understanding how different psychedelic experiences can be integrated into one’s daily life. What does psychedelic integration mean after an ayahuasca ceremony versus after a ketamine trip? How is a psilocybin journey qualitatively different from one with MDMA when it comes to the challenge of learning from these experiences? These are questions for not only this author, but for the entire psychedelic community.
Our Western culture lacks a container that is both sacred and healing for the use of psychedelics. Oh, for a modern ritual like the Eleusinian Mysteries! We need to find new ways of working with these substances that lead naturally and seamlessly to bringing transformed individuals back into the community to share their transcendent gifts.
The conceptual framework for the book is Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, first published in 1949. Simply put, it describes the departure, initiation and return. There are innumerable references to the Star Wars film series based on the same myth. Unfortunately, this outdated framework misses half the population. Maureen Murdock, in The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, offers an alternative perspective for women that deals directly with the impact of the cultural patriarchy and considers the primacy of relationships in a woman’s life.
In a similar way, researchers have had to re-conceptualize psychological theories when they began to include women in their studies. Consider the evolution of the response to stress. For decades it was thought to be fight or flight; then eventually freeze was added as an alternative response. Then, lo and behold, researchers looked at how women actually respond and the framework had to be changed to include fight, flight, freeze, or tend and befriend.
Campbell’s hero’s journey is a rather lonely one, dedicated to self-evolution. Yet the daily challenge of psychedelic integration arises most frequently in relationships with loved ones. How do we behave when stressed, when hurt, when ignored or misunderstood? The hero’s journey shines little light on how moments of mystical experience evolve into kinder, more compassionate behavior in personal relationships, in the community and in the world.
As a guide for existential exploration, however, Beyond the Narrow Life offers a great variety of prompts for self-reflection. In essence, this is a workbook with exercises, suggestions, journaling activities and meditations. In this way, the book could serve as a rich adjunct to psychotherapy.
Each chapter opens with “Self-Reflections Check-In,” a paragraph of questions designed to explore what the reader learned, how they used the new insights in daily life and what’s opening up from within. “Did you start uncovering hidden parts of yourself? Which fears and concerns resonated with you? Whatever you experienced and discovered will continue to unfold.” These paragraphs are essential lessons in how to live an examined life. The author manages to communicate kindness and encouragement as he challenges the reader to self-reflect.
Intellectual content is presented with an abundance of graphs, charts, and figures selected to enhance the progression of the hero’s journey. Toward the end of each chapter there’s a list of possible suggestions designed to integrate into daily life what the reader has learned and discovered in themselves. For example, one suggestion is, “Outline your basic assumption about your life’s meaning.” Another one is, “Decide what your superpower might be if you were a superhero. Then imagine a ‘real world’ version of that power that you can develop, hone, or express in your life.”
These are creative, sophisticated suggestions with detailed, helpful examples to make them real. They reflect the author’s depth of clinical experience, working with clients over time in important ways.
Ortigo has a real interest in psychedelics — he completed the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) program in Psychedelic-assisted Therapies and Research under the mentorship of Bill Richards, PhD, who wrote the Foreword for this book. He’s active on the board of Psychedelic Support, an online resource and directory for people seeking psychedelic informed care in legal, above-ground settings. The workbook suggestions in Beyond the Narrow Life are ideal for helping someone progress in a therapeutic process, but from this reader’s perspective they do not constitute a guide to psychedelic integration.
Beyond the Narrow Life By Kile Ortigo 456 pp. Synergetic Press. $19.95.