Taking a Deep Look at Psilocybin for Depression Research

psilocybin for depression

Michelle Janikian

Psilocybin for depression is becoming a major avenue of clinical research. The Usona Institute out of Madison, Wisconsin is about to begin the largest psilocybin-depression study in the US. Part of the FDA’s drug approval protocol, this phase 2 clinical trial will test the magic mushroom compound in 80 individuals for safety and efficacy in treating major depressive disorder (MDD).

When Usona co-founder, Malynn Utzinger, MD presented at this year’s Horizons Conference, she explained that she and co-founder Bill Linton originally wanted to look at psilocybin for depression and anxiety in those with terminal cancer. But when they brought the idea to the FDA, the government organization basically said: Why limit yourselves to depression in cancer patients? And so they changed gears to research psilocybin for depression more generally.

“It is our duty to make sure a potentially effective medicine gets to the widest… group of medical need,” Utzinger said on stage. She went on to explain that depression affects 300 million people worldwide and is predicted to be the second-largest cause of medical morbidity by next year, to further show the need for this research.

Psilocybin Depression Studies

So could psilocybin help those millions of people? Usona is hopeful, especially among the large portion of people with depression for whom traditional treatment, like anti-depressant medication, does not work. They’ve recently secured 7 clinical trial sites that will conduct this research and give qualified participants psilocybin along with therapeutic support. The sites are located around the US and include Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the University of California San Francisco, Yale University in Connecticut, University of Wisconsin-Madison, private testing sites in Chicago and Miami, and NYU in Manhattan – which is also the first site to complete training of facilitators and begin recruiting participants.

People are very interested in trying this new depression treatment. In fact, Utzinger said in her talk that over 6,000 people have volunteered for the 80 available spots in their phase 2 trial. 

Although this is the biggest study in the US looking at psilocybin for depression, this isn’t exactly a new concept. Outside of clinical trials, folks have been reporting reduced depression symptoms from psychedelic experiences – and peak experiences in general – for a long time. In fact, a 2017 study that looked at lifetime psychedelic users in “naturalistic settings” (meaning outside of a trial, but whether it’s for fun or ceremony is unknown) found them to be less “psychologically distressed” and suicidal than users of other substances. 

Over at Imperial College London, their team of psychedelic scientists have been looking into this even further, trying to figure out how psilocybin works for depression, both on a psychological and neurological level. Clinical psychologist from the Imperial team, Rosalind Watts, PhD and her colleague Ashleigh Murphy-Beiner, spoke right after Utzinger at Horizons, and presented a paper Watts authored which gives practitioners a framework for facilitating psilocybin for depression therapy, called the “ACE (Accept, Connect, Embody) Model.” 

Watts developed this idea after facilitating participants’ psilocybin experiences during Imperial’s first psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression trial. During “psilodep 1” 20 people were given psilocybin-assisted therapy, and 19 had decreased depression symptoms at week 1 and nearly half at week 5. Plus, none of their participants began a new course of anti-depressants until after week 5

Now, she tells Psychedelics Today over the phone that Imperial is halfway through their second study on psilocybin for depression; they’ve seen 38 out of “65, possibly 70” participants in a trial that’s comparing psilocybin to an SSRI antidepressant for depression treatment efficacy.

Psilocybin for Depression: The ACE Model

The ACE Model (which should be published before the end of the year) highlights psilocybin’s ability to promote psychological flexibility as a key function in how this therapy works. Essentially folks move from a psychologically rigid place where they’re stuck ruminating on negative thoughts to a more flexible, open, and accepting place, post-psilocybin session. 

Watts describes it to me in terms of a ski slope. That our minds, or our “default mode network” is like a skier who follows the same path in the snow until they’ve become deeply ingrained grooves. Then a psilocybin-assisted therapy experience is like a snowplow that comes in and evens out the entire mountain. And so folks are suddenly freed from their ruminative ruts and now have the option to ski anywhere (or think about anything) they please. “They feel that they can think a different way. That they can have new thoughts and see themselves slightly differently,” Watts says. “They can have a sense of space and freedom, mental clarity, not stuck in those deep groves.”

It’s this same idea that her colleague at Imperial, Robin Carhart-Harris, PhD, made famous, that psychedelic experiences can “reset the brain” or “shake up the snow globe” allowing for new thoughts and perspectives. “It’s a disruption,” says Watts. “It’s actually that disruption that allows for a reset.” Yet, she explains that doesn’t happen so easily for everyone, and she doesn’t think it’s healthy for folks to go into these experiences with that expectation, because if they aren’t magically “reset”, they can be extremely disappointed.

“They’re often in very, very desperate states. Sometimes they haven’t been outside of their homes for years and their relationships have suffered and they’re feeling very isolated,” Watts says of the depression participants. “The amount of expectation and pressure that is on them for those experiences is huge.”

Therefore, in the ACE Model, they frame the whole experience in terms of a journey – rather than a reset – for participants, to try and lower the pressure and encourage the acceptance of all experiences as they come. That includes accepting challenging material that may arise as well as not making participants feel like a failure for “resisting” the medicine; in the ACE Model, it’s all part of the experience. And that’s where preparation and integration become critical to the whole healing process. 

“It needs to be a therapeutic intervention where that person’s unique set of fears and hopes can be gently sat with, processed and held so that the person that’s sitting with them has some sense of the complexity of the whole scenario,” Watts explains. “Because so often the healing isn’t actually just in the trip, it’s in the environment, it’s in the relationships that you have in the room. And actually, often it’s as much about the narrative, the story you co-construct [as the psilocybin].”

When all the pieces come together, when people feel fully supported and understood, then psilocybin can help folks out of depression by helping them see themselves and their lives more clearly. The process can also include planning actionable steps during integration that participants can take to improve happiness, like being less hard on themselves and spending more time with community or in nature. 

Watts described the psilocybin healing process in a 2017 paper as people “moving from disconnection to connection” or “from avoidance [of emotions] to acceptance” and that’s very much part of what they try to instill during the therapy sessions. The ACE Model also includes guided meditation, and during a preparatory session they have participants visualize a journey, often a diving expedition where they’re encouraged to go deep into the dark parts of their mind in search of pearls of wisdom. The therapists remind divers that pearls are often found in scary, prickly oyster shells, so it may not always be easy, but the value will be great and worth the struggle. 

This process of psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression is personal, and experts like Watts and Utzinger both point out its high rate of success is likely as much about the deep connections participants feel with their therapists as it is about the effects of psilocybin. Unlike taking anti-depressant medications for depression – which tend to numb people’s feelings – psilocybin and the therapy surrounding it encourage people to dig deep into their emotional worlds to try and heal themselves from the inside out.

The Future of Mushrooms for Depression

Even though psilocybin-assisted therapy is working for people in initial studies, it’s often not a permanent fix. Watts says many people from her trial have found that their depression symptoms come back after a few months. However, when I ask her about this, and about the potential future of legal mushrooms for depression therapy, she’s hopeful folks will have more options, including opportunities to do psilocybin sessions once every few months or so. She also adds that she thinks there’s lots of room to develop integration practices for more long-term depression relief, which could include integration groups that go out and do meaningful activities together, like planting trees.

Obviously this is just the beginning of scientific research looking into this treatment. And hopefully, as law and science catch up with nature, there will be more options for folks to access this therapy for depression in the near future. 

Michelle Janikian is a journalist focused on drug policy, trends, and education. She’s the author of, “Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion: An Informative, Easy-to-Use Guide to Understanding Magic Mushrooms – From Tips and Trips to Microdosing and Psychedelic Therapy”, and her work has also been featured in Playboy, DoubleBlind Mag, High TimesRolling Stone and Teen Vogue. One of her core beliefs is ending the prohibition of drugs can greatly benefit society, as long as we have harm reduction education to accompany it. Find out more on her website: www.michellejanikian.com or on Instagram @michelle.janikian.

John B. Cobb – Whitehead and Psychedelics – Part 4

John Cobb - Part 4

This is the fourth and final blog of a podcast recorded in John Cobb’s apartment in Claremont, California. This was recorded during a small weekend conference on psychedelics titled “Exceptional Experience Conference.” You can listen to the full talk in this episode of Psychedelics Today.

John Boswell Cobb Jr. is an American theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist. Cobb is often regarded as the preeminent scholar in the field of process philosophy and process theology, the school of thought associated with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.

John Cobb: Obviously, I’m not going to put this forward as a great psychedelic experience, it still doesn’t feel like it’s just simply my talking to myself. It feels like I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t thought about this before. Suddenly, yes, of course, that’s what I need to do.

Kyle: It feels like it comes from somewhere else, but it is inside.

John Cobb: But of course somewhere else is not as special somewhere else.

Kyle: Right.

John Cobb: It doesn’t come out of my normal ego consciousness. It feels like that there’s a wisdom in it that was not my wisdom. There’s an otherness about it.

Kyle: Right. And that it’s coming from somewhere.

John Cobb: I know. They’re coming from somewhere, it is immediately… Vision is so spatially oriented that if we talked in a visual language somewhere else is going to be very prominent. With just hearing music, the location of the music isn’t that important, is it? It’s the music in your ear or is it inside your body? Is it in the airwaves around you? Is it where the orchestra is? Well, yeah, any and all of the above. But you see a book, all right, that book is on top of that book. It’s so very clearly located and each object that you see has boundaries. And so that just creates a language and a culture.

John Cobb: The difference between Gautama and the other great Indian thinkers, for Gautama when you seek the self, there is nothing. But the others there is Atman, and Atman is the same as Brahman. The ultimate substance. And Gautama and many of the Buddhists assume that if you conceptualize at all, you will be misled. That just shows how powerful concept and visualizing is such a scene too. Whereas I belong to the view that it should be possible to have… like Bohm was saying, “Okay, let’s just use gerunds.” I don’t think it’s impossible to conceive process. That’s the part, I hope you understand, this is not me anti-Buddhist. I think it’s amazing that 2,500 years ago somebody was able to think so deeply. I regret that the tendency even today is to become anti-concept, when what we need are better concepts.

Joe: Yeah. I’m feeling like you say you can’t skillfully conceptualize process, but perhaps it’s more about feeling like

John Cobb: You can conceptualize feelings.

Kyle: Right. True.

John Cobb: It’s just that our Indo-European languages haven’t, so you can’t quickly think of examples.

Joe: That’s interesting.

John Cobb: And conceptualize maybe the wrong term. But I don’t like a kind of retreat into mysticism. If you say it’s mystical, then you say you can’t think about it anymore. I think we can think about it, and if you don’t want to call it concepts, call it whatever you want. But we can think about processes. And science needs to think about them. And thinking about them doesn’t necessary… I mean, what it has so often meant is locate it in a sight oriented world or substance oriented world, then you’ll see then you’re not really thinking about them anymore. Anyway, that’s why David, I think, has done a remarkable job of thinking about process. And has given us a language that can help us do it. And I think that’s very useful.

Joe: Yeah, I think it’s really helped me quite a bit with perhaps handling psychedelic experiences with a little more grace because it’s not so… Just Lenny has put a lot of this knowledge on us and it seems like it’s really helpful. And it’s hard to put, for me, at this point, to really phrase that well. But it’s certainly been a Boon.

Johanna: What was the one thing that was helpful for you? I’m sure there’s lots of things.

Joe: Lenny’s complicated. And as a result that…. probably more of a gerund type attitude towards the thing as opposed to this is this, this is an Apple. It’s more like, wow, this is just a dynamic flow of things through this very complicated system.

John Cobb: I see. I don’t know Chinese, so my statement that it is not so substance oriented. But when I’ve tried to talk about this with Shahar he points out that the same character can function as either.

Joe: Oh, wow.

John Cobb: An example of a word that this has happened to in English is the word pastor. It was a noun for a long time. You were a pastor. But now people talk about, “I’m going to pastor such and such a church.” No, I think that that gets closer to reality to say a person is a pastor, what does it mean? It means that he pastors. But when you locate it as a pastor, it’s just sort of strengthens this individualistic thinking rather than a focus on the activity.

Kyle: It is versus it’s doing or it’s happening.

John Cobb: Yeah. Well to pastor people means you listen to them when they have something to say and you hear them without judgment. I could go on and on. But that’s what a pastor does. And to call a pastor is really to be pointing into that dimension of activity. The same person who is a pastor is also a preacher, but unfortunately we have a verb to preach so we don’t say to preacher. I just wish there were more cases where I could point to how a noun has just come to be used as a verb. And there are others, but at the moment I’m not thinking of them.

Joe: Do you recall the first time you heard something that made you interested in the positive impact of psychedelics or anything around the beginning?

John Cobb: Lenny was certainly one of the early ones. But I don’t want to say his first because I just don’t know.

Johanna: Right. It was southern California in that period of time when it was probably pretty intense.

John Cobb: But obviously having him, he was really trying to convert me. I appreciated it. This is not a criticism. Anytime one discovers something that’s very helpful, one wants other people to benefit from it.

John Cobb: So my relation to him was the first time this had become something that I really had to deal with. But that doesn’t mean I hadn’t heard of it before. Probably I had heard of it more negatively than positively. Because of course the hippie culture included some negatives. I grew up in a context where drinking was already a bad thing to do. And the tendency in circles I moved in, which by that time has ceased to be particularly strongly against drinking, was to associate alcohol and psychedelics.

John Cobb: I was quite sure alcohol did a lot of harm as well as working well for conviviality… You know what I mean. Of a mixture. So I thought psychedelics, and I had no doubt that some people had great experiences and other people that may found them very attractive, but it… Generally, I suspected that society was better off not to have it. So Lenny was probably the first person who really opened my eyes to the potential of very positive use.

John Cobb: I had another experience not too long after I came to Claremont. I had always assumed that civilization was a good thing. There was a professor at Pitzer College, who I worked with quite closely. We co-taught courses. He was very convinced that civilization was the basic evil.

John Cobb: I’m not convinced. I mean I think every civilization we’ve had has been pretty horrible.

John Cobb: I wouldn’t have said that if I hadn’t had to interact with him about that. But I think if there are people today of course, who just think we need to get rid of civilizations and then we’ll be all right. My impression is today it would be very remarkable if 10% of the world’s population survive without civilization.

John Cobb: Even though I appreciated his opening my eyes, I didn’t walk through that door. And the same thing was true with Lenny, I really appreciated his opening my eyes, but I didn’t walk through that door.

Kyle: I appreciate your openness and curiosity of the subject. For somebody that didn’t walk through the door, you seem to very curious about it.

John Cobb: I’m confident there’s much good that could come from it. And so when there are people who are using it for good, I want to be as supportive as I possibly can. A lot of people today will say, “Yes, we really need basic changes.” But you know what it means to make basic changes in worldview, and most of them don’t. So it’s very comfortable to be in a group of people who when they talk about changes, they know what the-

Joe: Extraordinary change.

John Cobb: Yes.

Joe: Yeah.

John Cobb: Whitehead has made me understand what I think would be the changes that might make us behave in responsible ways. So I don’t feel the necessity of having unusual experiences.

Johanna: And what would be some of those changes?

John Cobb: Have to change from our substance thinking to our process thinking.

John Cobb: This would be a change from our thinking of every individual as self contained, to understanding that we are all our products of our relationships with each other, and that the human individual is… Well, for one thing, I mean from Whiteheadian viewpoint, any individual is the many becoming one. That’s what it is to be an individual. So to be an individual is to be part of everything, is to have everything being part of us.

John Cobb: Economics, as an example, I think economics is the worst, because it is the most powerful shaper of the world and is the worst expression of the university. It assumes radically individual and really the only relationships that count are economic relationships. I think those are just two absolutely erroneous views. If they are not changed, then they have to be changed existentially, not just, oh, that philosophy might work better or something. And it’s because what you do helps to make the existential change that I in no way want to say, “Oh, all we have to do is to do philosophy.” No, no. I think the change has to go way beyond that.

John Cobb: I had one experience out there, which made me very high. So in that sense, but it had nothing, it wasn’t a matter of breathing exercises. It was being in a group where I just felt completely accepted, completely loved. I think that can happen just by the way a group of human beings relate to one another.

John Cobb: I was still feeling that deep comfort when I came home. It took my wife a little while to puncture the balloon. So I’m not suggesting that everybody should always be in that state, but nevertheless that’s a feeling of being one with that group of people that people need. The church should be doing this. I’m not trying to push me into the church, you should understand that’s important for me in my understanding.

John Cobb: When I was in the army, one night I said, “Kneel beside my bed.” And the whole room just simply itself felt like it was filled with love and acceptance. You’re not just an individual when that kind of thing happens. You are part of something else.

John Cobb: So I’m just saying you could call them psychedelic experiences, if you want, they don’t have many of the characteristics that people describe as psychedelic, but they are experiences of a different possibility that is still a perfectly human possibility.

John Cobb: There is a woman by the name of [unclear Thandeka 01:13:05]. She’s Afro-American and Bishop Tutu. He gave her the name. And she’s spent a lot of times studying neuroscience and gotten getting acquainted with key people in the field. And she’s created an organization called Love Beyond Belief.

John Cobb: She seems to be able to help. She’s Unitarian, and she has worked with Unitarian churches, which are not the places that I would have thought, which I say most readily, but sometimes it turns out that people who have been putting all their emphasis upon reason and rationality and so forth, other ones who are really ready for something else. She thinks it’s possible to organize a service of worship in such a way that people will really existentially feel loved. And to whatever extent she can do that, I think that will accomplish much of what I’m interested in.

John Cobb: But obviously a number of people in this group, and in almost any group I’m at, have had a completely different experience of a church. That church is a place of judgment and condemnation and guilt and all of that. And that is of course the absolutely opposite of what is needed.

John Cobb: I think the church has great potential for good. It has great potential for evil. It’s like almost everything else. Education has great potentials for good, great potentials for evil. And I think the modern world has tended to bring out the potential for evil in both.

John Cobb: But that doesn’t mean, I think, in the middle ages everything was wonderful. I really think Europe was better off in the middle ages than it has been in modernity. But I’m not interested in going back.


Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition

Other books by John Cobb Jr.

A Christian Natural Theology, Second Edition: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead

Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed

Grace & Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today

For Our Common Home: Process-Relational Responses to Laudato Si’

About John B. Cobb Jr.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D, is a founding co-director of the Center for Process Studies and Process & Faith. He has held many positions, such as Ingraham Professor of Theology at the School of Theology at Claremont, Avery Professor at the Claremont Graduate School, Fullbright Professor at the University of Mainz, Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt, Harvard Divinity, Chicago Divinity Schools. His writings include: Christ in a Pluralistic Age; God and the World; For the Common Good. Co-winner of Grawemeyer Award of Ideas Improving World Order.

John B. Cobb – Whitehead and Psychedelics – Part 3

John Cobb Blog - Part 3

This is part three in a four-part series recorded in John Cobb’s apartment in Claremont, California. This was recorded during a small weekend conference on psychedelics titled “Exceptional Experience Conference.” You can listen to the full talk in this episode of Psychedelics Today.

John Boswell Cobb Jr. is an American theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist. Cobb is often regarded as the preeminent scholar in the field of process philosophy and process theology, the school of thought associated with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.

John Cobb: There were lots of biologists who have worked with us that they rather resent being constantly pushed into mechanism when in fact they’re dealing with organisms. That organisms are only complex mechanisms. A lot of biologists know that isn’t right. So we have a chance of making breakthroughs, whereas I don’t think Rosemary Ruether, brilliant as she is… I hope you understand that I’m picking people. We get it. We take her with us when we are promoting process theology. Even if she will say, “Oh, I’m not interested in process theology.” What she says is process theology, so we don’t (laughs)… So the label is not that important, the insights are important. And in a foundational way, they are common sense.

John Cobb: I think the common sense is that our knowledge of each other is not just by visual and auditory clues. But people have been told so long that it is. If you could just have people who never went to school (laughs)….

Kyle: What else would it be informed by if it wasn’t visual and auditory?

John Cobb: Just by our immediate experience of each other.

Kyle: So a felt experience?

John Cobb: Yeah.

John Cobb: I think that we’ve had an experience of being in a group where when you walk in, you feel a climate there. If you go into a room where everybody is angry with everybody, of course, you are told that you really are get visual and auditory clues. It doesn’t feel like that. You just feel this is not… The vibrations here are not good. Okay. So we need to deschool.

John Cobb: Are you familiar with Ivan Illich’s book, Deschooling Society?

Joe: It’s great.

John Cobb: But of course we also need schools, and there’s no reason, in principle, that schooling has to be indoctrination into a bad worldview. It could be something else. And there are a few schools that are already doing something else.

Kyle: I think a lot about the education system, but I’m curious what would your vision of an education system be if it’s not working right now?

John Cobb: Well, I think the one that Matthew Siegel teaches at in San Francisco CIIS.

John Cobb: CIIS and Naropa are examples of a different educational system. I have not studied either one of them enough to hold up one and say it’s better than another. Another educational system that I think well of is The Great Books Program. It needs revision because in the past it’s only been the great Western books. And at Chicago when I was there, the college was operated on a great books basis. And I hope by now they have incorporated great books from other parts of the world.

John Cobb: It’s very different. I’m just saying, I think there are different kinds of educational systems that are better than what we have. If I’m just going to have the opportunity to create a school, it’s going to be a school that teaches ecological civilization. Because in my mind, a healthy human survival is a goal that ought not to be regarded as an eccentric and marginal one, but ought to be regarded as what all we human beings ought to be getting behind collectively together. And if you have a school for that, again, curriculum could really be quite varied, but you would try to see what do people most need? And I think that the production and consumption and sharing of food would be a very, very central part of it. But also we need to understand technology and understand how it can be used for truly humane purposes. We need to understand that capitalism has ignored much of reality.

John Cobb: In economics 101, you can find out what the assumptions are. They are wrong. So people should be told what the assumptions have been and why they’re wrong. Reflect together about better assumptions and what their implications are. How we can go about changing. I’m not giving you a curriculum, but you will understand. I’d try to get the people who know the most about curriculum in the abstract in general. What students at a certain age are likely to be ready to do. All those things are relevant to developing a curriculum. My role is deconstruction. I just want to make it clear what’s going on now is absolutely absurd.

John Cobb: Enlightenment is the worst curse of humanity. We have been enlightened into not believing all kinds of things. The disappearance of subjects from the world of actuality. If that’s enlightened, I don’t want to be enlightened. But I think we need a lot of reflection about the language we use. And of course language is a very popular topic. But the questions that I think are most important are very rarely asked.

Joe: One of my favorite parts of Whitehead is the re-framing of language. In kind of your book, Whitehead Word Book, that’s a really foundational thing. Our language carries weight, our words carry inertia that we’re not aware of.

John Cobb: And I’m sure that the reason we have 36 universities with Center for Process Studies in China and zero in the United States is that the Chinese… The idea that process is more fundamental than substance doesn’t seem strange to them. To us, we know it ain’t so because we got to talk about books and tables. Those are the really real things. And how do we know that? We know because we’ve been speaking that language the whole time.

John Cobb: I’m sure language is important. Western intellectual history I have increasingly come to think of as for a long time a marriage of Hebrew hearing oriented with Greek sight oriented. And hearing oriented has made history important. And now, the universities have succeeded in excluding hearing oriented ideas completely. Its a complete victory of Cartesian sight oriented thinking. History is no longer taught.

John Cobb: Sight oriented people can know that there have been past events and they can study past events, but history as meaningful, as helping you to locate yourself in a long process, that comes only from Israel. And that used to be very important. I mean a lot of very secular… I mean you didn’t have to be believing Jew and believing Christian in the West to think history was important. If you’d think Hegle and Marx, I mean these are all history thinking people.

John Cobb: We need to understand how things got to be the way they are. What are the issues today coming out of that history? And I think that’s very important. But the university has finally excluded it almost completely. You see for science only what can be repeated in the laboratory (is true). First of all, what can be repeated. But the whole point of history is that events cannot be repeated. That automatically excludes history. Excludes a lot of other things too.

Kyle: I’m curious, you said you haven’t had any experience with psychedelics, but you feel really hopeful about their reintegration in society.

John Cobb: Yes, if they reintroduction in the way this group would do it (regarding a private conference at Claremont College). Obviously if they are reintroduced primarily for the profit of the reintroducer, I’m not confident it would end up being a benefit.

John Cobb: The more people use the most expensive drugs, the more profit.

Joe: Right. And you know, skillfully used, you probably need less than 10 LSD experiences to heal most of what you’ve got. And to do some really creative work. Some people just have one and that’s it for their life. That’s a very different thing than drugs that are around for our whole life.

John Cobb: That would be sort of like a near death experience. One is usually enough.

Kyle: I’d say so.

Johanna: Were you there for Kyle’s story? Kyle had one at age 16.

John Cobb: No. I was not there yesterday afternoon.

Kyle: I got in a snowboarding accident and ended up rupturing my spleen, and I lost about five to five and a half pints of blood internally. I guess like where it started to become mystical was when I was in the MRI machine, CAT Scan machine, and they were trying to figure out where the blood was coming from. I was on the other side of the room with the doctors, but I was also in my body at the same time.

Kyle: I kind of describe it as like an orb of light kind of surrounded me, and a voice kind of appeared and said… It wasn’t an external voice. It seemed a little bit more internal, or maybe it felt experienced. I don’t know how to really put it into words.

John Cobb: You felt internal, but nevertheless, it wasn’t just you talking to yourself.

Kyle: Yeah. And something just said, “You’re going home, going back to the stars where y’all come from. And this is just a transition. The more you relax into it, the easier it’s going to be. This physical life’s going to cease to exist, but you’ll continue on.” And it was a really blissful kind of experience at that point, and I got excited, I was like, “Oh, I’m going home.” But then coming back to reality, it was difficult to reintegrate that.

John Cobb: Within the experience itself, there was nothing about coming back to reality?

Kyle: No, there’s a-

John Cobb: Because many people report a kind of moment when there’s a decision made.

Kyle: Yeah. I think they caught me at the right time as I was really starting to slip away. They put me under anesthesia, but I didn’t remember anything. There was a felt sense that I went somewhere and I talked to something. But I couldn’t remember it. And when you say, we’re so fixed on the visual aspect, I mean, that’s what I think irritated me the most that sometimes people report going down a light or they see something. This was a felt experience. Like I knew something happened, but I couldn’t describe it.

John Cobb: In the auditory world, the location of the words… in the auditory, sometimes a meaning is communicated. And if you explain to somebody else, of course you have to put it into words, but it’s initial reality is not words. I think a lot of the time in the Bible when it says, God spoke to me and said such and such, people just felt called. And I’ve had that kind of experience. I’ve never had hearing in the liberal sense. But I just sometimes sit quietly for a while and then it just comes to me, there’s something I need to do.

Read part 4 here.


Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition

Other books by John Cobb Jr.

A Christian Natural Theology, Second Edition: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead

Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed

Grace & Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today

For Our Common Home: Process-Relational Responses to Laudato Si’

About John B. Cobb Jr.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D, is a founding co-director of the Center for Process Studies and Process & Faith. He has held many positions, such as Ingraham Professor of Theology at the School of Theology at Claremont, Avery Professor at the Claremont Graduate School, Fullbright Professor at the University of Mainz, Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt, Harvard Divinity, Chicago Divinity Schools. His writings include: Christ in a Pluralistic Age; God and the World; For the Common Good. Co-winner of Grawemeyer Award of Ideas Improving World Order.