Coming Full Circle by Shannon Duncan: Book Review
Coming Full Circle by Shannon Duncan: Book Review
The human brain is a remarkably complex and powerful tool – one that even a century or two of modern medicine and technology have yet to realize fully. That which modern medicine has yet to fully understand has been studied intently and has been the subject of experimentation for seemingly hundreds if not thousands of years in some cultures. It is the modern interpretation and practical research into this cultural knowledge that has led to a resurgence of interest in the use of psychedelics over the past two or three decades. Less the stereotypical “hippy trip” point of view and a sea of starry-eyed concert-goers and more the guided healing session, Coming Full Circle offers a very personal and often painful retelling of author Shannon Duncan’s journey to healing his own trauma using psychedelics.
Duncan presents his journey Coming Full Circle in three parts:
Part One is a background on the psychedelics Duncan has employed in his work as well as other substances that were not part of his work but bear some consideration all the same.
Part Two is an investigation into the healing process – both historic and modern – and how integrating psychedelics into a therapy regimen can help participants learn to heal from trauma. Duncan shares his own deeply personal experiences with the various processes and step-by-step descriptions of how he undertook each.
Part Three summarizes Duncan’s journey to healing and his own very personal integration results.
Despite not being a trained medical professional (he is also the author of Present Moment Awareness from 2004), Duncan provides well-researched technical descriptions and cultural context for each of the psychedelic substances discussed in the book along with a healthy dose of warning language to readers. Beginning with his own initial psychedelic experiences both solo and with others, Duncan recounts several specific instances where he was able to identify physical discomfort (specifically lingering knee pain) and find a way to mentally move past it. At the end of that particular experience, he realized that he no longer felt pain in his knee as an outcome of that particular “trip” and remained pain-free. A subsequent trip (employing a different substance) showed him the temporary ability to “feel love and approval for myself.” Thus began his journey to see how psychedelics could heal and more.
The psychedelics discussed in Coming Full Circle include MDMA, Psilocybin, 2C-B, 3-MMC, 5-MeO-DMT, N,N-DMT, Ayahuasca, and Ketamine. While the list of psychedelics used for healing is far more comprehensive than presented here, Duncan limits his attention to the list above involving his own firsthand experience. MDMA – commonly known as Ecstasy, E, Molly, and several other names gets a great deal of attention in healing due to the limited chance of fear or paranoia while under its influence. Created in a laboratory in the early part of the 20th century, MDMA was very popular in the club scene in the late 1970s and 1980s before it was added to the Schedule 1 list of controlled substances in 1985. Known as an “empathogen,” MDMA is considered both a stimulant and a psychedelic which no doubt led to its popularity among dancers at nightclubs. Duncan considers it a suitable starting point for healing due to the euphoric feeling users experience and its ability to access deep feelings. Psilocybin – the psychoactive ingredient in “magic mushrooms” which have been around for thousands of years – has been seen lately in the trend of microdosing: ingesting very small amounts (less than a “recreational” dose) to dig into the subconscious in small increments. While there are naturally occurring psychedelics like “Toad” derived from the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad, Duncan also discusses several synthetic psychedelics including 2C-B, 3-MMC, 5-MeO-DMT, N,N-DMT. 5-MeO-DMT gets special attention as Duncan sees it as being three different drugs based on the levels of the dose ingested. Ayahuasca is another naturally occurring psychedelic that has seen a surge in popularity in the last decade. Ketamine – also known as “Special K” has been part of the microdosing trend as well – mostly for its dissociative qualities which – like MDMA – help access deep feelings quickly and without prolonged effect. What Duncan refers to as “layering” – the combination of two or more of the psychedelics above in specific sequences and timing is another healing methodology discussed in Coming Full Circle. All the substances discussed in the book are currently illegal in most US states but more importantly, should not be tried without careful consideration and education with knowledgeable and experienced guides or practitioners.
Photo of Shannon Duncan courtesy of the author
Duncan identifies not only specific substances he has employed but also the various modes that are commonly seen in the use of psychedelics. These include his terms “recreational” and “expansive.” His point of view on the “recreational” mode includes the aforementioned concert-goers, nature walks, and often group experiences but in an unstructured format. Think going tubing on a river on mushrooms or taking LSD at a concert. “Expansive” to Duncan involves more personal quests “for personal development, spiritual growth, and healing.” Coming Full Circle focuses most of its time on a third mode: deep healing with psychedelics. While any psychedelic experience can result in a bad trip or “ego death,” recent deep healing practices (should) involve trained guides and structured sequences to reach goals and breakthroughs in the safest possible ways. As with most discussions of psychedelics, the phrase “set and setting” plays a huge role in the individual’s experience. Duncan cautions the reader to not only learn the details of the substances outlined above and their effects both short and long term but also vetting spiritual guides. He warns of spurious claims by people claiming to be healers with little to no experience with psychedelics, their doses or even basic medical treatment in the event things go sideways. Likewise, he warns against sharing experienced healers’ information or practices. For all the research that has resulted in the widespread use of psychedelics in healing, the substances remain illegal in most US states and other countries.
While the impetus for trying psychedelics in healing was manifested by profound historic trauma, the final section of Coming Full Circle is a memoir of some of Duncan’s childhood experiences and his specific work to heal those traumas. Deeply personal and open, his journey is fraught with pain and sadness. Learning to heal is a process – treating the underlying symptoms is one way, and digging deep into the root causes is the path he chose to write about. Or as he put it: “Go for the roots, not the leaves.”
Related: Heal the World?