Transcript: Healing the Planet’s Suffering with Plant Medicines – Tania de Jong AM
Please enjoy this transcript of our interview with Tania de Jong.
Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, global speaker, and award-winning social entrepreneur who has developed five businesses and three charities—including Mind Medicine Australia, which supports psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of mental illness.
In this wide-ranging podcast, she and Paul F. Austin talk about mental health, surviving trauma, the mind-altering power of music, catapulting into the cosmos with psychedelics, kangaroos, and folding umbrellas.
In this episode we talk about:
- Syrian rue, Psilocybin, out-of-body experiences, and letting go of ego.
- How psychedelics help us overcome intergenerational and collective trauma.
- The story behind the foundation of Mind Medicine Australia, and its goal to support the treatment of mental illness through regulatory-approved and research-backed psychedelic-assisted therapy.
- The slow but steady journey towards legalizing psychedelics.
- Starting a charity while simultaneously attending law school and opera school, and coaching tennis to earn money.
- How singing together connects neural pathways, releases endorphins, increases neuroplasticity, and allows us to become one.
- Gratitude, resilience, and the invention of the first foldable umbrella.
- Creating immersive conferences that use multimedia to bring people together.
- Plant medicines as our birthright.
00:00 Paul Austin: Welcome to The Third Wave podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin, here to bring you cutting edge interviews with leading scientists, entrepreneurs and medical professionals who are exploring how we can integrate psychedelics in an intentional and responsible way for both healing and transformation. It is my honor and privilege to bring you these episodes as you get deeper and deeper into why these medicines are so critical to the future of humanity. So let’s go and let’s see what we can explore and learn together in this incredibly important time.
00:37 PA: The Third Wave Podcast is brought to you by MagicMind. Do you want more creativity, flow, and energy in your day-to-day routine? Then go to magicmind.co and get the 2oz shot that contains 12 magical ingredients scientifically designed to improve your productivity. I’ve been using MagicMind over the last couple of months. It has replaced my morning coffee. It has Matcha, Lion’s Mane and a number of other nootropics. And I can’t say enough about it. It is so, so useful. So, if you’re interested in MagicMind, go to a magicmind.co and enter promo code THIRDWAVE to get 10% off and try it for yourself.
01:16 PA: As long time listeners know, yoga and meditation have played a huge role as complementary practices to my own responsible psychedelic use, and that’s why we’re excited to be working with Halfmoon Yoga as a partner for the podcast. They carry everything from basic yoga supplies to more advanced things like bolsters and sandbags, to meditation cushions that are super comfy to sit on. And right now they’re offering a 15% discount to Third Wave listeners with the promo code THIRDWAVE. I’d encourage you to check them out at shophalfmoon.ca if you’re looking for tools to support your yoga or meditation practice.
01:51 PA: What inspired Mind Medicine for you and the beginning of that journey?
01:54 Tania De Jong: Yeah, Mind Medicine Australia, wow that was something that was an unplanned pregnancy.
02:03 TJ: So what actually happened was… So my husband’s Peter Hunt and he’s an ex-investment banker, and both of us had started multiple charities. So between us, before Mind Medicine Australia, he’d started two charities which were focused on women’s homelessness, and he’s also the chair of a number of other charities in the homelessness, social, micro-finance-based, relieving poverty in Africa, all sorts of different charities that he’s been heavily involved with. And I’ve set up two previous charities to this one. One of them is The Song Room, which I set up 20 years ago, which provides music and art education to disadvantaged schools and children. And the second one is called Creativity Australia and the With One Voice program. And that focuses on bridging the gap between haves and have nots, fortunate and less fortunate people through social inclusion choirs.
02:56 TJ: And, so we were really busy with our charities plus of course I perform and speak. I have been running this global conference on innovation and the pace of change and the speed of acceleration of technology and the major wicked challenges we’re facing with that. Then one day… I read Tim Ferriss‘ blogs and this one particular day, there was a link to a Michael Pollan article and the article was in The New Yorker called The Trip Treatment. It was back like four years ago, I guess now. I read this article and for some reason it just really resonated with me. And so I said to Peter, “You know, you must have a look at this article and read this article.” And he read the article. And I said, “Look, I really think we should do this therapy.” And so Peter and I have never had any drugs of any kind whatsoever. I actually don’t even drink alcohol. I don’t drink coffee. Like I’m a really boring person.
04:00 PA: You pick your spots. You pick your spots.
04:00 TJ: Yeah, I pick my spots, that’s right. And I get high from singing, you know I’m a singer. I get an incredible sense of connection and a raised consciousness through my art really. But no, what happened was, I reached out to Robin Carhart-Harris, ’cause he was mentioned in the article. And I said, “Could we join a trial?” Because we thought, “Well, if we’re gonna do this, then we really need to do this in a really safe place, and we need to do it in a hospital.” [laughter] And so there was no trials going on for patients that didn’t have a particular mental health condition, of healthy volunteers I guess. Eventually they referred us to The Psychedelic Society in the UK, and they didn’t have any retreats that coincided with when we were gonna be in Europe. So they then referred us to a private guide in the Netherlands, and we flew there and we had a session with this guide in the Netherlands which was a significant…
04:57 PA: In Amsterdam?
05:01 TJ: It was out of Amsterdam…
05:02 PA: Okay.
05:02 TJ: It was the country-sort-of area. I’m Dutch actually by background, so it’s like going home in a way going… Well, it was like going home in many ways. [laughter] No, so we had this session with this guide. Naturally it was a really interesting session because it was Peganum seeds or Syrian Rue. It started with Syrian Rue…
05:26 PA: Interesting.
05:28 TJ: An hour before the Psilocybin, and of course the…
05:29 PA: How did that feel?
05:29 TJ: The Syrian Rue is very calming. So, I think it’s a very calming substance. And of course, Syrian Rue is legal in most places I think. And it just calmed us down, put us into a meditative state. And then we had a large dose of Psilocybin and I don’t really know how large the dose was like, but it was large. That really catapulted us into the cosmos, into this multi-dimensional realm that all your listeners probably are very familiar with, and took us into way more than five dimensions I’d say.
06:10 TJ: We’ve never had an out-of-body experience before and this is like quite a… Yeah, it was actually quite difficult to let go and go into that space. I think both of us were fighting against it to begin with, but the dose was high so… So I remember that my final sort of letting go was that I saw these three square boxes that had the word “ego” written in them and they had these red crosses in them, and I just kept saying, “Bloody ego, just… ” I was swearing actually, but I don’t wanna do it on…
06:47 TJ: But I was just going, “Just get the hell out of here. Just get the hell out of here. Bloody ego, get the hell out of here.” And I just kept… And there was these drains, these gutters underneath the boxes, and I kept pushing my ego down into the drain literally and just trying to just get it down the drain. And finally, when I did that enough, I just went on this incredible, credible, epic sort of journey that took me through lifetimes.
07:17 TJ: And I’m the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. So I saw a lot of that. And my husband’s father committed suicide when he was 13, and we all carry trauma with us. And if we haven’t had it in our own lives, then we’re carrying intergenerational trauma anyway, from our parents and grandparents and everyone else. And we’re also carrying this sort of collective trauma that we’re all experiencing and, of course, we’re all experiencing that now with this pandemic as well. So we’re all carrying this trauma, and it was really an incredible experience to go through all of, I suppose, that but also to see what I can only imagine were previous lives that my soul has experienced as well, ’cause things I’ve never seen before and then just coming out of it. It was, like everyone says, in the most incredible experience in our lives, this incredible sense of connection and awareness of everything in life is sacred, and everything that is alive is sacred.
08:29 TJ: And we are part of everything and everything is part of us, and this incredible sense of gratitude that came out of the experience, and this enormous love and profound and eternal life that we experienced. And this was so profound that we actually didn’t have another ceremony for another year after that. We read a lot of articles, watched a lot of videos, became incredibly interested in the field. And then a year later, we had another ceremony with the same guide in the Netherlands. This was an even stronger dose and had even more profound effects. And we really came out of that and we said, “Well, if this is having this much impact on us, and it was really healing for us, not only as individuals, but for our relationship with one another, ’cause it was… I think that was… After that ceremony, I think my husband asked me to marry him, and [chuckle]..
09:31 PA: Wow, that’s huge.
09:34 TJ: Yeah, and then we… Just the impact it had in our relationships with our families, with others in our workplaces. Just the impact it had on our creativity, and our energy, and vitality and overall health and well-being was really very profound. And we thought, “Well, if this is having this much impact on us, these medicines have got to be available to people who are really suffering.” And there’s not a single experience that I’ve had with psychedelics ever since then, where we haven’t both said to one another, “We have to make sure these medicines become available to everyone who needs them in a medically-controlled environment, because there are just so many people suffering. As you have in the US, we have a massive mental health crisis, and this was already massive well before the COVID crisis. I mean we just had a bush fire crisis in Australia recently over our summer.
10:40 TJ: But even before that, one in five Australians with a mental illness, and estimated one in two of us having a serious mental illness in our lifetime, one in eight Australians are on antidepressants, one in four older adults are on antidepressants, and about an average of eight people in Australia, and bear in mind we’re not a huge population, are committing suicide every day. It’s a absolute human tragedy, the amount of suffering… The heartbreak is really enormous. And so, yeah, there’s not a day that goes by with Mind Medicine Australia where we don’t receive numerous letters from people imploring us to provide people with a pathway to access the medicines and the treatments with the most heartbreaking stories.
11:29 PA: With psychedelics… That was one thing that I came to some level of awareness to is for a lot of people these are, for many people in fact, their last resort or last option.
11:40 TJ: It’s really heartbreaking to read those letters, and we do what we can to point people to legal avenues overseas. But the best thing that we can do, and so what we set about doing was once we said, “Well, we’ve gotta make sure these become available to everyone,” was we started to connect with all the leading researchers and psychiatrists globally, and we started to attend various events. For example, the Beyond Psychedelics in Prague which I spoke at, but even then, we hadn’t decided to set up a charity. It really was not until 2018 that we decided to set up Mind Medicine Australia.
12:22 TJ: And I think really that was inspired partly through a conversation that I had with Rick Doblin and who I had met before and we’d been talking and… But it was just suddenly came to us that we should set up a charity because we could have continued to potentially just give money and so on. But there was really no professional organization in Australia or indeed the Asia-Pacific region at all. So there’s psychedelic societies and a couple of organizations who are doing some research and things like that, but there was not a coordinated approach to making these medicines accessible and available as medical treatments in this region, not at all. And so we set about setting up Mind Medicine Australia to really build an ecosystem in this region to make the medicines available.
13:23 TJ: And so our organization has four key strategic initiatives, four key strategic pillars I guess. It’s important to just say to listeners out there like we only launched this in February 2019, so we’ve only been going for just over a year at the time of this interview. In that year, we’ve set up a number of things. So one of them is our education and awareness pillar. Basically what we do is we run a whole stack of education events, ranging from information sessions across different sectors, not just the health sector, but other sectors, business sector, government sector, the general public, of course, we run regular screenings of relevant documentaries. We’ve set up chapters in many states of Australia, both in capital cities, and we’re also setting up regional chapters and looking to do that in other countries in the region as well. We also have a major global summit planned for November, which we’re praying will go ahead in November, and we have a number of the leading scientists and researchers and psychiatrists and doctors in this space coming to Melbourne for that, and it’s an international summit on psychedelic therapies for mental illness, we already have sold over 300 tickets for that. And probably if it were not for this pandemic, we would have sold out by now, actually the amount of interest is enormous.
14:57 TJ: The second part of our pillar is to make sure that there’s a pipeline of therapists and clinicians who are ready and willing and able to work with these medicines. And so we’re setting up a certificate in psychedelic therapies that’s commencing in early 2021 and we’ve brought a leading clinical psychologist, whose worked at Imperial College with the Psilocybin trials to Australia to work with us and design and develop the best practice professional development program we can create which will be a mix of face-to-face and in person over four months, so we’ll have a couple of intakes for that certificate in 2021. We’re also working with other leaders in the field like Janice Phelps and others on that program, so that’s very exciting and actually registrations for that will open in June.
15:51 TJ: Also actually as part of the whole awareness and education first pillar, obviously, we’ve built an amazing Board and Advisory Panel and team of ambassadors. So you’ll see that on our website, we have four key ambassadors, which are Rick Doblin, David Nosh, Roland Griffiths, Ben Sessa, and then we have an advisory panel, comprising of leading international and Australian scientists and researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists, GPs, but also law makers and religious leaders as well. So, we have really got people… And ethics, as well, is another area, ethics and human rights. So we have people across all sectors really who are helping to make sure that these medicines are well understood to help reduce the stigma and just to really improve the credibility around this movement.
16:52 PA: What’s the current perspective, what’s the current feeling in Australia? In the United States, I would say on the bi-coastal LA, New York, San Francisco, Portland, places like Austin, they’re becoming fairly well accepted. What’s sort of the general understanding of it in Australia at this point in time?
17:11 TJ: So that goes back to our first pillar, and I’ll finish off the other two pillars in a sec for you, but the awareness is certainly increasing. One of the things that we did early on was we supported a trial which is taking place with PRISM at St Vincent Hospital, and that’s in end of-life depression anxiety for people with a terminal diagnosis. And by supporting that, that really got Australia onto the global map I guess in terms of this movement, because the media really started to take notice of these medicines and so it was a really important thing to do, was to get that first trial happening in Australia. And that raised awareness, not only in the media, of course, people who are reading that content, but people started to look at other content and certainly once we launched Mind Medicine Australia just over a year ago, I mean it’s just incredible how much interest we’ve had, not just from people reaching out obviously for the medicines, which we can’t provide, but from philanthropist wanting to support the work, from other people wanting to partner with us and people wanting to volunteer, but also from the medical profession itself.
18:27 TJ: From GPs and psychologists and psychotherapists and psychiatrists in particular, all of whom recognize the desperation of the mental health crisis that we’re experiencing, and all of whom don’t have enough tools in their toolbox to treat people who are ill and we literally have psychiatrists and others saying to us, “Well, out of 20 people coming in to work with me, after two years, perhaps I can only get one person through the system, the other 19 are still in the system. I still have to see them because they’re not better.” So that means they can’t take on new patients either, which means that all the people who are experiencing mental illness can’t get in with fantastic practitioners.
19:14 TJ: So a big part of our work is really getting medical practitioners up the curve. So we have some of our psychiatrists speak at really major GP forums and other medical forums and it’s just all about explaining to people the science and showing them the evidence in the trials, because as we all know, who are in this space, the evidence is so compelling from these current and recent trials. And once you start showing that to people and you show the effect sizes and you show how superior these medicines are compared to current existing treatments… There’s been no innovation for nearly 50 years, as we all know, in current treatments for depression and anxiety and a whole host of other conditions. So once people start to realize the remissions that are occurring through these trials, they become very interested because all of us wanna help people to get better. And Peter’s and my sole raison d’être, we have no profit initiative or profit motive whatsoever with our charity. I just wanna be very clear about that. So our goal is just to help people get better. Pure and simple. [chuckle]
20:27 TJ: Little by little, country town by country town, I say doctor by doctor, psychologist by psychologist, we’re just trying to educate people about these medicines and get people up the curve and remove any stigma that there is and help people to understand that these medicines are profound mind-altering medicines and that the effects, when they’re used in properly intentioned environments, are long lasting and will simply transform the way that people view themselves in the world. Yeah. [chuckle] That’s what we’re trying to do.
21:12 TJ: So the third part of our pillars… Strategic pillars is a center of excellence in psychedelic medicine. The difference, I guess, between the center that we’re proposing and the ones that are set up so far is that, this center will have applied research and development, which the other centers have, but also we’re looking at the manufacturing of medicines, roll out of clinics, much more education of medical students and other allied health practitioners, obviously, in common with other centers of excellence, we’re also looking at novel trials, so looking at other conditions that haven’t been significantly researched yet. And we’re also looking at the whole ethical framework for these medicines and how they can best be part of the medical system. So that doctors, when they have a patient come in, they don’t just provide an option of antidepressants or psychotherapy. But they can actually say, “Well, actually, there’s another option, which is psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. And these are the benefits and these are the drawbacks.” So that, patients are fully informed of what the different options are and side effects for all.
22:28 PA: When it comes to the timeline for when these medicines will be accepted. How have you sort of charted that out from a strategic perspective? What’s sort of like… In the United States, MAPS says MDMA will be available for PTSD by supposedly 2022. There’s currently Ketamine treatments going on in both integrative clinics which are less popular. More popular are sort of these clinics where you just get injected with an IV and you sit in chair and you have it that way. I also, in 2018, started a retreat center called Synthesis in the Netherlands and so that’s another legal option, so there’s more and more innovation popping up in places like Europe and the States. But still in Australia, it feels like Australia is a few years behind. What’s that sort of schedule like?
23:12 TJ: Well, we’re not behind anymore…
23:13 PA: That’s great to hear.
23:15 TJ: It is, it is. So there’s a real acceleration taking place, which obviously we’re driving through Mind Medicine Australia. We have spoken to the regulators, we are certainly looking at the SAS type of scheme which is Special Access Scheme, which also exists in the US and Switzerland and Israel, which is like a compassionate use scheme where a psychiatrist has run out of options for a patient and they’re in danger, that the doctor psychiatrist can apply the regulator on a case-by-case basis or as an authorized prescriber for the use of the medicine, obviously in a medically controlled environment. That’s the only thing really that we’re focused on is medically controlled environments. I’m not saying that we’re against recreational use or anything like that, but Mind Medicine Australia is focused on medical environments.
24:06 TJ: Yeah, we’re working with the regulator, with… In dialogue with the regulators, the regulators have indicated that they will also take note of the trials in the US, for example, the phase three trials, obviously that MAPS is undertaking at the moment and will look at all trials going on overseas in terms of the regulatory path. And traditionally Australia does follow the USA and Europe in everything. I mean, unfortunately, Australia followed the US when Nixon prohibited the medicines back in 1970 as well, which is why we’re in the position where we are now, right? Australia will follow what is going on elsewhere and in the interim, there’s obviously a lot of education to be done. The Special Access Scheme is a pathway as well and then of course… And these other researchers in Australia who are commencing small trials in a whole range of universities and so on as well. So yeah, we’re starting to steam forward here in Australia.
25:07 PA: Yeah, we’ve seen, for example, a lot of venture capital in the United States in the psychedelic space, so there is a company MindMed that has raised millions, there is…
25:14 TJ: Yeah? Our name was first, by the way. [chuckle]
25:16 PA: Who was?
25:17 TJ: Well, Mind Medicine was…
25:19 PA: Oh, your name was first. Your name was first. Yeah, yeah. Good, good.
25:22 PA: In Canada, there’s a ton of money coming in and the UK, etcetera, etcetera.
25:25 TJ: Yeah, that’s right.
25:26 PA: What’s the status of that in Australia? Have there started to be companies that are starting to anticipate the medical market that are not charities, or that are for-profit?
25:34 TJ: Well, yeah, there’s definitely a group of investors in Australia and in the region who are very interested in this space. And we get a lot of approaches from investors saying, “How do I invest?” And we say, “Well, actually you need to donate.” But, no, I mean, there are investors around. We direct some of those to Mind Medicine and some of the other companies that are doing stuff overseas, like Eleusis and some of those as well. But we anticipate there being… And again, this is part of building the ecosystem. We’re not wanting or needing to make profit out of this, but we believe there will be opportunities for the right investors to invest in this space to create an ecosystem in this region.
26:22 PA: That hasn’t happened with Cannabis yet, right? Cannabis isn’t legal or medical or anything in Australia.
26:27 TJ: Again, it is through the Special Access Scheme. So what started out as a very slow and cumbersome regulatory… Or not regulatory, but special access scheme, it was really hard to get approvals for medicinal Cannabis and… Look, it’s still not that easy, but there’s about 4000 approvals going through a month, which is significant. So there are certainly people investing in the Cannabis space, and there’s numerous, not only Cannabis companies in Australia, but Cannabis bodies and Cannabis conferences and all sort of stuff happening in the Cannabis space in Australia. Australia tends to be… Agribusiness in Australia is quite a large… It’s quite a large sector. We have a lot of agricultural business.
27:17 PA: A lot of land.
27:17 TJ: Yeah, we have a lot of land, a lot of farmers. This is certainly a prospective area for Australia and also New Zealand, I think. There’s a lot of agriculture in New Zealand as well.
27:28 PA: Yeah, there’s like four sheep for every one person or something like that.
27:31 PA: I don’t remember.
27:33 TJ: I remember when I first went to the US years and years and years ago. I went to the US on a tennis scholarship back when I was 18, and I remember people used to say, “Oh, don’t you have kangaroos jumping down your main streets in Melbourne?” And I go, “No. [chuckle] Not really.” [chuckle]
27:49 PA: Americans. You just have to shake your head at Americans sometimes.
27:51 TJ: Yeah, exactly.
27:52 PA: Kangaroos are kind of a pest though. Aren’t they… There’s been issues or challenges with them, or…
27:57 TJ: Yeah, there has been, because they love the vegetation, yeah. There’s all sorts of things. But they’re still… They’re beautiful animals.
28:05 PA: Let’s talk a little bit more about what you did before all this. I think that’s extremely relevant to your story in terms of you… You’ve started a charity before, you’ve had several businesses, right?
28:14 TJ: Yeah.
28:15 PA: I’d just be curious to hear from your perspective, how everything you’ve done professionally up until this point in time. How has that prepared you to take on something, as I would say, important as this initiative? Something that has a lot of responsibility, something that has a lot of scrutiny, something that has a lot of rigorous things that need to be met. They are not without their risks. They’re incredibly misunderstood. And I know, having been in this space now for four years, I was sort of… People who didn’t get psychedelics thought I was crazy, then people who were doing psychedelics, ’cause I was an entrepreneur, thought I was crazy. And so, it was like I couldn’t win.
28:49 TJ: Yeah, that’s right.
28:50 PA: So it… These are still very new. How is… You’ve blazed an incredible trail before this. I’d love to hear you talk about more how that’s led into this current-
29:01 TJ: Yeah, it certainly has. I feel like all roads have led to this. And I’ve always been the sort of person that takes the road less traveled. You know that beautiful poem, The Road Not Taken, and I guess…
29:17 PA: Is that Robert Frost? The Road Not Taken?
29:17 TJ: Yeah, Robert Frost’s poem is stunning. And actually, I might send you a song or something. It’s one of my original pieces to put with this podcast, thinking about it, because…
29:27 PA: That’d be lovely. Do you just wanna sing something live on the air?
29:31 TJ: Well, I think I’ll send you something. It’s too early in the morning. I’m a real night owl.
29:35 PA: [laughter] What time is it there?
29:36 TJ: It’s, well, it’s early for me for now. [laughter] Maybe at the end of the interview. But, no, I’ll definitely send you one of the pieces. So actually, at the end of a lot of my ceremonies, I come up with lyrics for songs and create songs that come out of… Out of this, but… So, what happened really, just to give listeners a short background. I’ve always wanted to sing. When I was 14, I wanted to have singing lessons, but my best girlfriend told me not to bother and said I wasn’t good enough. And this is all in my TED Talk, How Singing Together Changes The Brain, which has been viewed, I think, about 100,000 times now. So, basically, I didn’t sing at that stage. I did backstage in the school musical, and I was also a very good sports person. I was a very good tennis player, and my mom was actually a Wimbledon quarter-finalist. And so I ended up auditioning for the chorus of the school musical in year 11. I thought, “At least I can get in the chorus,” and to my amazement, I got the lead role in Oklahoma. You know, “Oklahoma” yeah, the wonderful musical. And…
30:39 PA: Say again.
30:41 TJ: Oklahoma.
30:42 PA: I love that.
30:43 TJ: Yeah, and I played the lead role in Oklahoma in year 11, and that was like, “Wow! This is what I have to be doing with my life.” I was also a very good tennis player myself, and so I applied to do a tennis scholarship in the US, and I got a scholarship to go to a college in Waco, Texas, of all places.
31:05 PA: Which college? Is this Baylor?
31:08 TJ: It’s called McLennan College. It was near Baylor College, which is in Texas as well. And so I went over there and when I was 18, and I spent quite a bit of time in Texas and all around the US, actually playing tennis, and I also learned to coach tennis and I was still singing. Obviously, I’ve been singing all the time, and I sing all over the world now, and I’ve released many, many CDs. But tennis was a big passion of mine at the time as well, and so I was playing tennis and then I learned to be a tennis coach and long story short, I came back to Australia. But I decided that, I got into a music degree, but I decided that I actually, for whatever reason, that that was not gonna be secure enough, and I enrolled in law.
31:55 TJ: So that was actually really good training for me, and it gave me an enormous foundation for everything I’ve done with the rest of my career. So I did law, at the same time as doing law I was in opera school. And I was coaching tennis to earn money. So I had this really diverse time at university. I was doing all these different things and juggling a lot of different balls. And it was at that time that I started my group Pot-Pourri, which is a singing group, and which has subsequently toured in over 40 countries around the world and released seven albums.
32:31 TJ: And literally we were playing like 130 gigs each year around the world, and I was at opera school and finishing my law degree and all this was going on simultaneously. And then I set up my first charity, which is called The Song Room, 20 years ago, which has brought music and arts to disadvantaged children, like I mentioned earlier. And has reached, I think probably nearly a million children around Australia now with its programs. And it helps improve the learning skills and well-being and self-esteem of children through music and the arts. And then in addition to that, 11 years ago, I set up Creativity Australia, which brings social inclusion choirs to, I think, nearly 30 communities around Australia now. And it’s been with One Voice choir set up also in overseas countries as well. So we’ve created a social franchise model, which enables community leaders to replicate with One Voice model and set up programs around the world. So that’s a really powerful program which changes and saves lives every day.
33:43 TJ: And really, I guess it’s a front-runner to Mind Medicine Australia, because it is also focused on alleviating mental illness, social isolation and loneliness, because singing is actually a mind-altering drug of its own. And in my TED Talk people can see why singing, particularly with others, it’s like a super wonder drug, I call it. And it also helps take people into an altered state and helps connect up neural pathways, similar to the psychedelic medicines. So when you sing with other people, it makes you smarter, healthier, happier, more creative, you release a whole lot of endorphins and your right temporal lobe of your brain wakes up, making you increase your neural plasticity, improve your memory, language and concentration and so on. So it really is quite…
34:34 PA: We could do an entire podcast just on that. On singing.
34:37 TJ: Absolutely. I mean, it is really fascinating.
34:41 PA: Just to tell a little bit to mirror this. I grew up in a church in West Michigan. I’m Dutch as well. I went to a school called Hope College in Holland, Michigan, there’s a tulip festival there every year and it’s super great…
34:52 TJ: Oh, beautiful.
34:52 PA: So, I grew up in a church, and so the only part I enjoyed about sitting in services, ’cause a lot of it was quite dry. But the part that I mostly enjoyed was every so often we would get up and we would sing hymns, and it was like an old church and there was a beautiful organ and it was like incredible acoustics. And that was the time where I felt connected. And so, as you’re talking about this, it makes total sense that in churches, singing is such a central part of that community and that connection.
35:20 TJ: No, it is and actually for a lot of people that are with One Voice programs, and people can see lots more about this if they watched the end of my TED Talk, ’cause you can see the program and what we do. But I mean, a lot of people likened with one voice programs to going to church, but without the whole religious dogma. So the people come to our choirs, it’s a weekly home and haven for many people, and we bring together people like doctors, lawyers, teachers, retirees and others, but with people who are migrants, job seekers, people with disability and depression, in these choirs. And we’re all there together, and what happens is the barriers between us fade away, there is no more us and them, it’s just us. You know and we’re all just…
36:05 PA: We’re one. Yeah…
36:06 TJ: Yeah. We’re all brothers and sisters singing together, no matter what our age, our background, our faith, whatever. And the beautiful thing of the program is that not only does it take people into this incredible stage, where they… Where they feel that their brain is buzzing and they’re more connected and so on. But it empowers people to ask for what they need in life. So we have a wishlist program that’s attached to the With One Voice program where at every choir every week, people can make wishes for what they need in life, and that is for both the fortunate and less fortunate people in the choirs, everyone can wish for what they need. And so a wishlist volunteer gets up each week, they read the wishes, and literally people start putting up their hands and start granting one another’s wishes. Which would be anything from help with a resume, learning English, learning how to use the internet, getting a job, even finding a partner. I mean, we’ve had numerous marriages [chuckle] that have occurred…
37:04 PA: There you go.
37:05 TJ: Through the choirs and we’re not…
37:07 PA: That’s what community is great for.
37:08 TJ: Yeah, that’s right. And then there’s… We have helped literally hundreds of people get work experience, jobs, find mentors. I call it the Weekly Miracle, it’s just a beautiful program. And really, I think in doing that gradually what happened too, was over the last decade or so I’ve been doing a lot more keynote speaking, so in addition to performing around the world, I started to do a lot of keynote speeches. And I started through the psychedelics to really investigate my own story, which is this story, this tragic story of the Holocaust, which basically wiped out my grandparents and my parents just pretty much the majority of all our relatives. Like for example all my grandfathers, brothers, but one were killed, all of my mom’s relatives were killed. It’s really by the sheer grace of God, whatever you call it, a greater being that I’m here at all today. Because by rights, my mum and dad should not have survived.
38:09 TJ: It’s a conversation for another day, but the way that my parents, both of them survived, very briefly, my dad was moved from house to house as a little kid through the Holocaust into various Catholic priests’ homes throughout the war, his dad was… Kept moving him and his brother. And those families took enormous risk, they risked their lives to house these children. My mother and her parents escaped Vienna, literally within a couple of days of the Nazis coming in and removing everyone into the camps. It’s like… So all of this has come up for me and in seeing this journey and seeing literally these things from the Holocaust and so on in my experiences, which have been horrific, I feel like this incredible sense of gratitude for being here, I’ve also learnt that I have to accept this and we all have to move on from these traumas.
39:17 TJ: That doesn’t mean that the perpetrators didn’t do terrible things, I’m not at all saying that that. And we always have to remember what has happened, but we can move forwards. And what is the wonderful thing is that my parents are incredible people, like in spite of what happened to both of them, they’ve always been the most positive and proactive people, and I just felt that, I’ve been given this gift, I’ve been given this gift of being here on this planet and you’ll hear one of the songs I’ll give you will be this song Flying Free, which I wrote at the top of Machu Picchu and it really is, saying thank you for being on this earth, what a blessing it is to be in this incarnation, to be alive on this planet with all the beauty that’s here, despite all the awful cruelties that human beings do to one another and to nature and to animals and everything, it’s still a beautiful, it still is a beautiful universe, right? There’s a lot of beauty here.
40:23 PA: And in that suffering, that suffering is what comes out of that is life and beauty and sort of like the resilience, Viktor Frankl wrote about this in…
40:32 TJ: Yeah, well, that’s right.
40:33 PA: In the Man’s Search For Meaning, it’s that existential moment when we’re really blessed with life, we can affirm it in a beautiful way.
40:40 TJ: Well, that’s right. And if my grandparents taught me a lot of things that the greatest gift and my parents they have taught me is around resilience, that you fall over, you get knocked over but you bounce back up again. And the other thing that my grandmother… My grandmother was an incredible woman, she invented the very first foldable umbrella in Vienna in 1929, and we should be like multi billionaires now, but of course, that umbrella was manufactured for 10 years until 1939 in Vienna, and then of course, she was forced to sell her patent to the Germans, and she was never to see another cent from her invention, but she still is noted as the holder of the umbrella, foldable umbrella in all the patent offices around the world, and we have the prototypes. It’s incredible, it’s another story. But that the thing about it is she taught me two really important things, one of them was the importance of curiosity, so you can see her working notes when she’s making that umbrella and she was very curious, and also she taught me about failure and I always see the word “fail” as first attempt in learning, so that, yeah, you just keep trying and trying again, failing fast.
42:01 TJ: And you can see her working notes that she says, “I tried this today, didn’t work, but tomorrow I’m gonna try this and eventually… ” This went on for many months as she was inventing her foldable umbrella, and it’s documented in my mum’s book Driftwood, which has become a wonderful selling book on this story and she talks about this incredible invention of the foldable umbrella, and so I feel that all of this, and plus setting up six creative businesses, I’ve set up a global conference called Creative Innovation Global over the last 10 years, where I’ve brought really the leading thinkers and leaders in the world to Australia who are focused on the pace of acceleration and change across a variety of sectors ranging from people like Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis and people like Daniel Dennet and all sorts of other incredible people to Australia over the last 10 years. So I’ve already hosted global summits.
43:06 PA: Peter Diamandis, I met him in a thing about 10 months ago, and he’s really interested in psychedelics and now has been talking about his own psychedelic use in a few podcasts.
43:15 TJ: That’s good.
43:16 PA: I don’t know specifically about Daniel Dennett, but Dennet’s work on neuroscience and the level of detail that he takes in terms of understanding the human mind is fascinating.
43:26 TJ: It is.
43:26 PA: I’m curious, how does that parlay into what you’re looking to do with the conference in November? Like how are you looking at it from an innovative perspective to really ensure that it’s a really shifting conference in the conversation?
43:40 TJ: Well, the amazing thing is, is that over these last few years, particularly the last couple of creative innovation summits that I’ve curated and produced was that they, to all intents and purposes, they looked like conferences where, we’re upscaling people and fast tracking their knowledge about the future through understanding exponential technologies and through understanding the pace of change and how to manage and prepare for rapid disruption and change, that’s what those summits have been about. And we’ve bought over 100 leaders to Australia in that. But in the last few years since I came across… So in the first few years, I guess, just go back a step of these summits, they have always included multiple art forms in them. So they’ve always been multimedia extravaganzas that include music and visual projections and graphic recorders and artists and others in them, and so they’ve been out of the box conferences.
44:45 TJ: We’ve actually won major global awards for these conferences, on multiple occasions, for their innovation, because the conference format itself is very innovative. But once I came across the psychedelics, I can let you into a secret now, is that I started to use some of the best psychedelic videos and I created music, and so that all these corporates would be sitting in the room, like hundreds of people, and they’d be seeing these videos in between sessions and it emphasize certain sessions and so on. So the people actually already started to experience…
45:22 PA: So you were incepting them, basically? [chuckle]
45:24 TJ: Yeah, that was experiencing altered states. We were putting people into slightly altered states in the actual summit. So we’d get them all singing, we’d get them all dancing together, we’d put on videos that were taking them into different realms. So we were already raising people’s consciousness through these summits a few years ago. So in reverse, I guess what we’re gonna do with the summit that we’re planning in Australia is it’s gonna be unlike any summit that perhaps we’ve all gone to in the psychedelic space so far, and that’s not to say that they’re not… I love all of summits that are in the space so far, but this will combine a science… It’s a focus on the science and medicine, this summit. That’s really where the focus is. But we will certainly ensure that people who are sitting there… Because we wanna have a mix of people at the summit, ranging from government officials and business leaders and investors and philanthropists, obviously through to all the medical practitioners, and therapists, and patients themselves, so that everyone who’s there hopefully will connect.
46:30 TJ: And that’s one of the things that we really focus on is what I call positive human collisions, and really getting people from different sectors to connect and start to see one another’s point of view, so that actually we all become one. We are all one, so we might as well connect the dots and help people to experience this movement and align together and see that we’re more alike than we are different. Even if we hold different mindsets and different views, every view can be respected, and we can just educate people. And the best way to educate people is not just to talk to them all the time. It is actually important to include music and arts and visual and video and all these sorts of things. Not just as an add-on, but as part of plenary sessions and as part of helping people to understand the content of what’s being said. Last year, it was really lovely because I presented at IFC last year at their consciousness forum, so I brought some of this into their forum, and it was wonderful working with them, I really enjoyed that.
47:41 PA: Well, with, MAPS did this conference, three years ago with the Psychedelic Science Conference. It was at hotel in Oakland. And they, in terms of how you’re just talking about this conference, that’s the closest parallel that comes up, because it was an overall focus on the science and the researchers, but they also integrated other arts and elements, and they had a place where you could buy certain things to support some of the organizations were there and people were outside hanging out. It was very much like, this is science and this is serious and this professional, and we’re here to enjoy ourselves and connect with others, and I think when we look at doing, specifically conferences in the psychedelic space, that’s so critical because these experiences themselves are not intellectual experiences as we all know.
48:28 TJ: And you actually need to immerse yourself, and that’s what I guess I’m talking about, is creating immersive environments for people, because it’s much more than… These medicines, and what we’re talking about here is really, I think we all understand this on this podcast, but it’s not a two-day or three-day experience. It’s a multi-dimensional experience. And you can talk about the science, but you actually have to experience what’s going on, and so if you can’t have the medicine, well, then you have to take people into other altered states, either using virtual reality or other types of visual and artistic ways of taking people into those states so that they can actually experience an altered state in some way.
49:11 PA: Everyone can’t be doing mushrooms yet, in the conference. That’s just not possible.
49:14 TJ: Right. We’re not gonna be providing substances at the conference, let me be really clear.
49:18 PA: Exactly, exactly. [laughter]
49:18 TJ: Well, there’ll be coffee and stuff, but…
49:22 PA: Coffee, and teas, and things like that.
49:26 TJ: Superfoods, we’ll have some superfoods there.
49:29 PA: Right. Superfoods are great. Superfoods are great. I love superfoods. It’s been an hour. We’ve gone so deep into Mind Medicine as a company and your strategic pillars, and we’ve heard a lot about your story and how that interweaves into the really innovative approach that you’re taking.
49:43 TJ: Oh, I should say another thing, Paul.
49:45 PA: Yeah.
49:46 TJ: One other quick thing that I wanna mention is just in terms of the music, of music for the ceremonies. Obviously, one of my favorite things has been creating some incredible playlists for these.
50:00 PA: Oh, playlists.
50:00 TJ: For these sessions.
50:01 PA: That’s cool. I love playlists.
50:02 TJ: So I’ve really spent quite a lot of time thinking about what is the arc of music that bests suits these ceremonies and so on. So I’m always open to speaking to people about that, and I’m always tinkering with my, what I call, my Perfect Triple A Mushrooms Playlist and… [chuckle]
50:23 PA: We’ll have to compare notes sometime.
50:25 TJ: That would be lovely. I’d love to do that.
50:28 PA: Do you make them on Apple Music or Spotify or what do you typically use for…
50:32 TJ: I make them on iTunes. I just make them on my own iTunes, but…
50:35 PA: Beautiful.
50:36 TJ: There’s quite a lot of music that I’ve got that either I’ve created or that other people have created for me that is on those playlists, which isn’t readily available in other places. So they’re quite unique. And I think we all agree, but the music that people experience on these healing journeys is just so critical. It’s just such a key part of the journey in terms of people’s traveling to new dimensions and new places in their minds and beyond and… Yeah, that’s something we could talk about another time, I guess.
51:17 PA: It’s very liberating these experiences that allow us to expand into the full potential of who we know we are.
51:23 TJ: That’s right.
51:23 PA: And that’s why they’re so beautiful because it feel like the normal restrictions that we exist in, were sort of, they’re removed for a little bit, and I think a lot of our work and the integration process is like coming back to that, that feeling.
51:36 TJ: Well, that’s right, and you know one of our board members who’s Dr. Simon Longstaff, who’s the head of The Ethics Centre in Australia, says it’s unethical for these medicines to be withheld from people who are suffering, and if we can help people to expand their boundaries beyond what they thought life was about… And that was part of what really drove me in the beginning to try the medicines was I’d always been in control, like I said, I’d not had drugs, coffee, alcohol, nothing. So I wanted to just let go of that for a moment and see what I was missing out on, was there something more? And I realized there was a lot more. So that’s… Because I got that gift now, and my husband as well, we now wanna make sure that every human being… This is our birthright, to be able to interact with these plant medicines, is part of, I believe, our human birthright, and if we wanna heal this planet and we wanna heal all the people who are suffering in it, then these medicines need to become available as soon as possible.
52:38 PA: Totally, 100%. That’s a great way to end it. Before we leave though, if you could just give our listeners like more details to where they can find out more information about the conference and all that good stuff.
52:49 TJ: Yeah, so anyone who’s interested in connecting, please reach out, we really love hearing from you, and it’s www.mindmedicineaustralia.org. We are a registered charity. We accept donations which are fully tax deductible. The summit is 16th to 19th, November. There’s a two-day introductory workshop on psychedelic therapies for therapists and other interested people. Then there’s a two-day summit. Please register soon because it will sell out. Connect with us, reach out, don’t be a stranger. Let us know how we can help you as well, and together, we can change the world.
53:32 PA: I love it. Well, thank you so much, Tania, it’s been an honor to have you on the podcast.
53:36 TJ: No, thank you and thanks for having me. I really salute what you’re doing and look forward to keeping the dialog going.