THIRD WAVE PODCAST
“Nothing is Static”: Creating the Life You Want
Peter Carnochan, Ph.D.
Psychoanalyst, executive coach, author, and Harvard-trained philosopher Peter Carnochan, Ph.D., has spent the last 30 years helping clients unknot problematic feelings, solve challenges, and develop more resilient and expansive modes of living. In this episode, Peter talks with Paul about the many ways philosophy and psychedelic experiences complement each other, the interconnectedness of everything in the universe, the freedom found within boundaries, and the power we have to change our own lives.
Peter Carnochan, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco. He studied philosophy at Harvard University and completed his post-graduate work at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California. Peter is also one of the most highly-regarded executive coaches in Silicon Valley, incorporating his broad experience with philosophy, psychology, and psychedelics into his work with clients.
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- How psychedelics help with creativity and problem-solving.
- How Peter’s first LSD experience laid the groundwork for much of his career.
- What ancient philosophy and modern physics have in common.
- The interdependency between not just humans, but every moment of matter.
- Shifting our mentality from victimhood to agency.
- Peter’s close friendship with Jim and Dorothy Fadiman.
- The darkness and the beauty of human nature.
- Learning to treat life’s difficulties as welcome guests.
- Forgiveness as liberation.
- Integrating trauma rather than eliminating it.
- What is “inner radiant change,” and how is it catalyzed by psychedelics?
- How and why boundaries actually promote freedom.
- Peter’s transformational work with CEOs and entrepreneurs.
- Personalizing psychedelic experiences to the exact needs of the client.
0:00:00.4 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.
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0:01:43.5 PA: And this podcast is sponsored by Mindbloom. Legal psychedelic medicine is here and it’s available through Mindbloom. Mindbloom helps you transform your life with safe science-backed psychedelic therapy. If you’re looking for your depression or anxiety breakthrough, Mindbloom provides a fully guided and clinician-monitored experience tailored just for you. Some clients see results as soon as 24 hours after their first session.
0:02:10.0 PA: Mindbloom is in fact our first official partner here at Third Wave and a company, an organization, that we support. In fact, I’m going to start my own Mindbloom experience in the coming weeks and will write about my experience going through Ketamine therapy to address both Cannabis addiction and general anxiety. The Cannabis was to cover up the anxiety, and I can’t wait to share my own transformation with you.
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0:05:11.9 PA: Peter, I just wanna welcome you to the podcast. We met about a year ago through an investor at Third Wave, and turns out that you were also a coach of another friend of mine, James Beshara, who we’ve also had on this podcast before. We went for a long, long hike last June in Fairfax at your home, and then turns out that you also knew Jim Fadiman really well. So I just wanna welcome you to the podcast. It’s great to have you.
0:05:32.8 Peter Carnochan: Well, thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be here. A pleasure to reconnect.
0:05:37.1 PA: So I’d love if you could just set the scene for our listeners. For the past several years you’ve been a top-tier executive coach, working with some incredible founders across the tech landscape. Before that, you worked a lot with children from a psychoanalytical perspective, you have your undergrad degree from Harvard in philosophy. And what I just found out before we went live recording, you also went to the Peninsula School in sort of nursery school through eighth grade, which is in Menlo Park and sort of a school for children in the tech scene. So I’d love if you could just set sort of like a background context origin story for our listeners, and then we’ll sort of dive deeper from there.
0:06:16.0 PC: My father came out to teach at Stanford in 1960, the year I was born, so I was born at Stanford Hospital at an incredibly fortunate moment in history. I grew up going to this amazing alternative school that had been around since 1920, where a lot of the children of the tech revolution but also of the psychedelic revolution were there. And it gave me this interesting kind of double tier of influence, kind of from my family an academic East Coast approach, but from my school this very flexible creative community. And it really set my foundational values.
0:07:00.6 PC: So, fast forward, I’m now in college, I’m a sophomore at Harvard University studying philosophy, and I was reading Nietzsche at the time, thinking “This guy is very troubling and odd,” I was not getting much of what he meant by the phrase, “the world as will to power.” Me and four of my friends, we went over to Martha’s Vineyard for spring break, it was snowing the day we came over on the ferry, but we camped out on some land, and the next day broke clean and clear. Just a beautiful blue sky, crisp Spring day. And we took LSD, and we went down to the beach, and all of a sudden I understood entirely what Nietzsche meant by “the world as will to power.”
0:07:52.1 PC: I understood the energetic and relational nature of being, and that meaning is something that is not fixed and discovered, but something created in human activity. So it was interesting listening to the podcast with Jim when he talked about his work with creativity and problem solving. I definitely had an experience like that of immediately solving the problem of what was Nietzsche about. And it became the basis of my undergraduate thesis and of the subsequent work I’ve done in psychoanalysis.
0:08:29.7 PA: There was kinda like a before and after, right? Before LSD, after LSD, which so many of us have. Just to go a little bit more into that, for our listeners, what’s the elementary explanation if you will, of Nietzsche’s will to power? What was he even talking about, what did that mean, and then I’ll circle back around a little bit more.
0:08:53.4 PC: To understand it, you have to actually go back to Plato. And Western metaphysics is based on Platonic notions that what we have access to is only perception, and therefore the object itself, what Kant would call “the thing in itself”, is always denied to us, because there is always an interface between the object and our perception. And so we are always having to mourn, in some ways, the real.
0:09:25.0 PC: What Nietzsche came to see is that that notion that there’s a thing in itself is nonsensical, because everything depends on its being on all other things. So while it might seem in a way, if you take… Like I have a cup of Matcha in front of me, we can imagine that this cup exists within itself. But it’s not really true, it only exists through its relationship to all other things. If you put it in fire it would melt, if you hit it with a hammer it will shatter. And so what Nietzsche points out is that the being of any one thing is determined at every moment by an energetic relationships to all other things, and that it’s quite in keeping with modern physics, this idea that atoms are not static objects, they are energetic objects always emanating force, outwardly and inwardly.
0:10:32.0 PA: That’s sort of a fundamental truth that we recognize through psychedelics, is that sense of interdependency or interconnectedness.
0:10:39.4 PC: Yes, yes. I think that that is one of the experiences that psychedelic brings forward. I had somebody asking me about them the other day, and he said, “Well, but what you learned from that, can it be real?” Because there’s an idea that if it’s a drug it must somehow be false, whereas I think the experience is when you work with these medicines, these substances, the experience is much more that you now have access to what has always been real, and that even when you return from that state of consciousness you remember the way the world looked when you had those doors of perception open, and a sense that that is actually the deeper reality, this way in which that all of existence is in some ways vibrating.
0:11:40.0 PA: And what’s interesting about… You had mentioned Nietzsche tracing back to Plato, and there’s a philosopher that we’ve had previously on the podcast, his name is Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes, and we talked specifically about how the metaphysics of Plato was informed by a psychedelic experience itself.
0:12:03.7 PA: So there was just this book that came out called The Immortality Key, we had the author on the podcast recently, that talked about the Eleusinian Mysteries, and how the ancient Greeks would use this beverage called kykeon. And Peter Sjöstedt makes the case that after Plato went through this experience, like this kykeon Eleusinian Mystery experience, is when he sort of birthed this concept and idea of dualism, so to say, this subject-object disconnection. So it just feels correct that you were able to come to this conclusion, understand the roots and foundations of this yourself, through the same basically drug that Plato used, and that I think so many of us who have gone through, sort of seen through the veil, and recognize this sort of fundamental truth of interconnectedness and interdependencies. Right? It’s sort of the indelible print that psychedelics leave upon us that once you see that you can’t un-see it, so to speak.
0:13:09.7 PC: Yes. Yes, I think what was so useful to me about the lens of Nietzsche is that it’s not just interdependency between human beings or between subjects, it’s an interdependency between every moment of matter and every other moment of matter, and that as human subjects, since we too are constituted as bits of the world, we too are gonna follow the same relational ontology, that we are gonna be energetically shaped by these relationships within ourselves and to the world around us, just like everything else, just like a rock, just like some dirt.
0:13:57.6 PA: And that’s what I even discovered in my early psychedelic experiences, that so much of who I had become, this was about when I was 19, was because of the environment in which I was raised, because of the patterns that my parents passed down to me, because of the patterns of the culture that I grew up with, in other words, it’s sort of nature versus nurture, especially after these psychedelic experiences, we come to realize that we have the choice, we have the power to create what it is that we wanna create. In other words, nothing is static, and if we orient our consciousness towards an outcome that we desire then that could significantly shift the path that we choose to take in life. And I think that is a fundamentally foreign concept for so many people, because they are stuck in a worldview where they believe they are maybe a victim to external circumstances. So in other words, these external circumstances that are occurring are responsible for their life.
0:15:06.0 PA: Have you heard of Robert Fritz? He wrote this book called The Path of Least Resistance, and he talks about reactive responsive orientation versus the creative orientation, and that external circumstances, when we’re stuck in the reactive response of orientation, we think that we are beholden to external circumstances. Whereas when we take power and control and choice we actually can step into a creative orientation where external circumstances are irrelevant and we have a chance to make meaning out of our own life by the decisions that we choose to make on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
0:15:45.7 PC: I probably wouldn’t go so far to say external circumstances are irrelevant, but perhaps the proportion of agency versus at effect or victimization can shift quite radically. Winnicott, the great psychoanalyst, has a notion that in our very earliest experiences we begin to lay the foundation of the self, and that when we are held well in a loving responsive family, our needs are met so immediately and fully that rather than reacting to impingement we can abide in what he calls “ongoing being.”
0:16:33.5 PC: And if yourself is resting on ongoing being, one doesn’t mistake yourself for any particular reaction, and then one is free to creatively shape what one does, who one is, much more immediately. He would call that “the true self,” versus when one is in a less fortuitous beginning where perhaps because of stress in the family the infant has to constantly respond to impingements, that there is hunger, that the response of the caretaking environment is not very well-attuned. And so the personality starts to be built on the foundation of reaction to impingement, and that is quite a brittle structure, and I think one of the things that psychedelics are very helpful with is in some ways disrupting those fixed patterns, allowing one to return to a state of much more expansive awareness, so that one can taste again, “Oh, that’s what it might have been like before I was set in this particular personality.”
0:17:54.9 PC: Then when you come back, your regular state of mind, perhaps in a long- term therapy, one has more freedom to say, “Okay, I get that I’ve been occupying this personality, but that’s not the totality of who I am.” And it’s much easier to begin taking blocks of it out, reassembling it, re-imagining it.
0:18:21.0 PA: With your personal experience then, being raised in the Peninsula School, going to Harvard, doing the work that you did, coming back to the West Coast in the ’80s, talk us through that a little bit, how was that set for you on a personal level that empowered you or enabled you to now do what it is that you’re doing?
0:18:45.1 PC: Well, I came back after college and I had worked in London for a year on a children’s television show, and I came back wanting to continue that work in California. And fortuitously Jim Fadiman’s wife, Dorothy Fadiman, a really fantastic filmmaker, was making a documentary about the Peninsula School. And I said, “Well, I’d like to volunteer for that.” And we began working together very closely. We shot more footage, we edited together, I was in the Fadiman home five days a week for almost two years. And when you first meet Dorothy, she is one of these deeply expansive, caring, soft-spoken, dynamic women. And it could seem a veneer, like it seems almost too nice, too constructed for it to be real.
0:19:44.1 PC: But what I found in working with her… And there was one time where I showed up at her house quite grumpy, and she was like, “Peter, what’s going off?” And I thought, “Oh, I can’t get into it with her. It won’t go well.” And I said “Nothing.” So we started working some more, but I was still quite grumpy and she says, “No, Peter, what’s going on?” And I tried to say nothing again, and she said, “No, this really isn’t working for me.” So then I told her what I was grumpy about, in terms of our working dynamic, thinking that this was really gonna be very risky. And at the end of it, she said, “Oh, thank you so much for telling me. Would you like an English muffin?”
0:20:26.4 PC: And that English muffin was one of the most extraordinary gifts I have ever received. And I realized that when you scratched the veneer of Dorothy, underneath the veneer there is the same authentically kind and expansive self. So at this time I had an opportunity, this was when MDMA was still legal, to do a guided session with Dorothy and Jim Fadiman. And Dorothy sat with me for most of the journey, and I had this profound experience of a geyser of energetic love coming out of my heart, and I was rising up on that geyser, out of my body, about 30 feet above me. And I had the clear vision of being born a second time into the Fadiman family. And I really, in many ways, had already been adopted by the Fadiman family, I was working with Jim in one of his groups, and then Jim came in for a time and he helped me, and it was an extraordinary privilege to have two such deep and wise people who have such different styles but so complementary, escort me through that experience.
0:21:51.6 PC: And it profoundly changed the course of my life, to have had contact with what it is like to be immersed in deep safety and love, and to experience what naturally flows from that, unconditional empathy really took me away from more narcissistic ways of structuring myself to what I hope is now a much more generous way of being in the world. So in Buddhist philosophy or mythology, there’s a character, Avalokiteshvara. And Avalokiteshvara, the story goes, once in space and time he vowed to save all sentient beings, in his feminine aspect of Kuan Yin. And when Avalokiteshvara began trying to think the thought of all the suffering beings that needed to be saved, there were so many of them his head shattered. And so the Buddha gives him 11 heads, one stacked up on top of the other, and now he could think the thought of all the suffering beings that needed help. And so he starts trying to reach out to help, but there’s so many that his arm shatter. And so the Buddha gives Avalokiteshvara a thousand arms, and in the palm of each hand is an eye. So Avalokiteshvara reaches out, seeing what is needed and offering it.
0:23:24.2 PC: I used to imagine that Avalokiteshvara had an enlightenment experience and then made the Bodhisattva vow. But what I’ve begun to think is that actually it was the other way around. It was by making this vow through this act of radical empathy that the self, the insular self, was shattered. And so the 11 heads and 1000 arms in some ways are an expression of the breakdown of the small self and a reconstitution of the self on a much more generous architecture. In some ways I would say, since I’ve never seen anybody walking down the street with 11 heads, that Avalokiteshvara is actually the body of community, that when you begin to relate to the world through these patterns of generosity and empathy that you become connected to. So Avalokiteshvara is made up of all of the compassionate beings on the planet.
0:24:36.3 PA: So then how has this, the generous architecture that you’ve cultivated yourself through MDMA, through your psychoanalytic work, through your own development path, how do you show up in that generous architecture with the clients that you’ve worked with? Because some of the clients that you’ve worked with have been some of the most influential people in this sort of emerging tech space. And so where do you see that sort of crossover between the generous architecture and the new technology that we’re sort of being thrust into as a human species?
0:25:23.8 PC: I’m actually gonna step back a little bit further and talk first about working with really troubled kids.
0:25:29.1 PA: Perfect.
0:25:31.0 PC: So when I was an undergraduate I began working at a place called Wediko Children Services, and it was a Summer program in New Hampshire, based out of Boston, and a lot of really troubled inner-city kids came there. And for six weeks I lived in a cabin, 24/7, with these kids, and they were often quite wild. They might throw rocks at you, they would wanna pulverize you [chuckle], they would be enraged at moments and you would have to contain them, even while they were attacking you you would have to remember that you are their ally.
0:26:13.0 PC: I remember much later on, I was working at Early Childhood Mental Health in Richmond, California, one of the roughest parts of the world, a very rough ghetto, and I was consulting to a therapeutic nursery school. And there was this one boy, maybe four or five, who clearly had seen a lot of violence. Lots of kids will hold out their finger and shoot and pretend to you that they have a gun, but when this boy did it, you sensed that he had actually seen it, and he was practicing from a very early age not to be a victim but to be powerful in the universe he had grown up in. And so at one moment he had hurt another child and I had swooped in and taken him with some force to the time-out space, and said to him loudly, “You cannot hurt other kids, I’m not gonna let you do that!”
0:27:08.1 PC: So for a moment I’m quite a ferocious figure, but then in the next moment I tried to start shifting to show him that I was rooting for him. This boy had a bit of a speech impediment but he was quite smart, and I said, “I think you feel that I just wanna boss you around, but I think I wanna help you find a way to become more powerful.” And you started… He’s kind of looking at me, I don’t know if he has any idea what I’m saying, so I go, “Let’s trade places.” So I say, “You be me and I’ll be you.”
0:27:49.5 PC: And I stood up to him and I said, “Peter, I don’t like it when you tell me what to do, I don’t want you to boss me around.” So I was trying to show him that there was another avenue of power rather than a gun: Of using words. And this boy, I just saw him, he couldn’t believe that I was tutoring him on how to lecture me to knock it off, [chuckle] and I remain quite connected to this boy after that. So that whole experience of working with really troubled kids, and I did it for many years, was a practice of coming in contact with trauma and the problematic reaction it gives birth to while still trying to remain an ally to them, even at the moment that they may be bringing a full attack at you.
0:28:46.8 PC: About eight years ago I began to make the shift from working primarily with kids to doing much more of the executive coaching in the Valley, and having grown up in Menlo Park in the ’60s I had seen the Bay Area radically transformed by Tech. And in a way it was hard for me, a lot of my childhood friends had to move out of the Bay Area because everything got so expensive. I had an experience at times that the tech universe had invaded my home, and it was troubling to me. But as I began to work with some of these founders I came to see that these were really remarkable people, that their creativity, their honesty and their interest in growing was quite extraordinary. You mentioned James Beshara, he’s an amazing man. He started this large company, he’s a force of nature, but throughout it all he was also looking deeply into spirits. So part of what I would say about these group of people is that they are very easy to help.
0:30:03.0 PC: You don’t have to break through so much trauma to reach the place where they feel safe enough to absorb new information, that you can offer something and they often have an experience of offering an insight and they pick it up and they go, “Oh, let me look at it in these 10 different ways,” and before I know it they’ve done something extraordinary with an idea that I had offered and made it utterly their own. It’s quite a joy.
0:30:34.3 PA: It’s sort of like an adaptability, an openness that comes from the true self, the ability to not overly identify with a personality that’s rooted in trauma, and I say this even on a personal level, like I was fortunate enough to have a fairly good upbringing, I had my own little trauma when I was 10, 11, 12 with my peer group, but in terms of the core family life that was always very good. And so whenever I’ve had a coach that I’ve worked with, there’s always been sort of a thirst there to grow and develop into it, and it feels like a lot of the intentions for the tech that’s being built come from a really clean, beautiful place. I even consider the example of Twitter and Jack Dorsey, and Jack gets a lot of flack for the dark side of Twitter and what it’s engendered, and at the same time he’s donated 30% of his net worth to non-profits, he’s looking to open-source all of Twitter, he has this blue sky notion that he’s integrating, they’re doing some incredible things with Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and so I think there’s sort of an unfortunate painting…
0:31:50.9 PC: Yes.
0:31:51.9 PA: Of the tech scene as nefarious or evil, and I think although there’s some weird stuff going on with Facebook and Apple and Amazon, and there’s definitely a dark side to it, it also creates an optimism for greater freedom. I mean, even going back to the ’60s, you had mentioned this before we recorded, Douglas Engelbart, who invented the computer interface, all of these early pioneers who were doing LSD in the ’60s, often with Jim Fadiman as well, Stewart Brand was another one, they really were informed by a more beautiful world, and how do we create more freedom for folks by building technology. And I think there’s no easy answer to this. I’m always a more optimist, in terms of what this can create for folks, and I’m hopeful that will sort of turn the corner relatively soon, ’cause it’s been… Especially in COVID, sort of an interesting way to see how big tech is starting to claw its way into anything and everything.
0:33:00.1 PC: Well, I do think there are some very beautiful people at the heart of the tech revolution. I work with Alexis Ohanian, when he had his daughter and he saw that Reddit, the company he helped start, was a place where some of the White supremacist groups were gathering, he resigned his board membership and said “Appoint a Black man to my position”, and he has vowed to donate all future profits from Reddit to activist causes. So I think that human nature has always had both beauty and darkness, side by side.
0:33:45.5 PC: There can be a way that sometimes really indigenous cultures can be valorized as somehow prior to all the violence, but if you read history you realize that they were killing each other too. They didn’t have the technology to kill as many people, it was a much gentler version of violence in some ways, but it happened. And so here we are at this moment of incredible technological advance that opens up many helpful and creative possibilities, but it is inevitable that all of these new portals can also be harnessed for people who are suffering, and who will do difficult things with it as human beings always have. I think the task is to realize that one can’t legislate away difficulty, one actually has to really go to the source of difficulty and try to begin offering help there, that you have to empathize even with the people you find most appalling. I would argue one should empathize with Donald Trump, even if you think, which I do, that he is the most evil president we ever have had.
0:35:10.8 PA: Why is that empathy with the dark so important?
0:35:16.2 PC: Well, one has to really look deeply to see that all darkness comes out of suffering and fear. There’s a story I love very much, about Milarepa, and Milarepa is one of the earliest teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. And Milarepa early in his life was tasked with learning black magic, and he punished some people who had done him wrong, and people died. And he realized almost immediately, “Oh no, this is bad. My Karma is gonna be very bad, my next incarnations are gonna be very awful unless I can do something in this lifetime.”
0:35:58.0 PC: And so he goes and he finds his teacher, Marpa the translator. And Marpa is famously very hard on Milarepa, he says “Build this stupa” like a temple, “Tear it down. Build it again over her. Tear it down.” And he keeps doing this, imposing these great hardships on Milarepa, until in some ways Milarepa has burned through his negative karma, and then he offers him the teachings finally. And Milarepa goes off into a cave for nine years, eating only nettles, turns green, until he has a great awakening. Now, at the end of his life, Milarepa is in retreat in a shack when his assistant comes anxiously knocking at the door, “Milarepa, Milarepa, Oh no, what should we do? Mara is here.”
0:36:49.0 PC: And Mara are the forces of suffering that assailed the Buddha before his great awakening. “Mara is here, what should we do?” And Milarepa says, “Oh, my old friend, Mara, show him in. Let’s serve him some tea.” Milarepa invites Mara in, in part because he knows that any attempt to lock him out is futile. If you try to exclude suffering, if you try to exclude those who are traumatic, they will break down the door. But Milarepa also invites Mara in because every time he’s encountered Mara in the past it has led to great awakenings. So he is actually glad to see Mara. He really does treat Mara as a great friend. What I would say is, can we begin to relate to the difficulties of our life like a welcomed guest?
0:37:52.8 PA: There’s a book called Letting Go, which I’ve mentioned on the podcast a few times, it’s by David Hawkins, and he talks a lot about the importance of allowing what he calls negative emotions to be felt, not repressing them…
0:38:10.0 PC: Yes.
0:38:10.8 PA: Or not suppressing them. Right? Jung talks about the shadow. And so I think this idea of, at least what Hawkins spoke about, is the only way to continue to evolve consciousness, right, Hawkins has this 1-1000 levels of consciousness. 200 is where courage starts, things below that: Shame, anger, desire, grief, all of these things cannot be repressed or suppressed or else, like you said, they will come back and try to break down the walls in other ways. So better to allow them, better to welcome them in, better to feel them and allow them to show themselves, because only through that allowance, as you said, can we turn the next bend…
0:39:01.0 PC: Yes.
0:39:02.0 PA: To a place of courage, to a place of agency, to a place of love, to a place of acceptance. And so almost in terms of tying a lot of what we’ve talked about so far in the podcast together, I think a big question is how can people in leadership positions, like you said, empathize with the other side, feel it, understand it, and allow that to shine a light on whatever a light needs to be shown on to enable their company, their business, their initiative to continue to evolve and grow.
0:39:42.1 PC: Yeah. I think there can be a tendency, sometimes, within the Silicon Valley world to try to optimize everything, that if we just get everything so dialed in, we will be able to rise up and be fully radiant at all moments. But I think that this is a disservice, actually, that if you leave out the difficult, if you try to contract against it or optimize against it, one tries to cut out a part of existence and one is depleted by it. And that instead, if one begins to relax deeply, and if suffering comes knocking, rather than saying, “Go away,” you say, “Can I feel every inch of this suffering?” That the contraction and the agony of it dissipates, and then other vertices come back in naturally, like as you say, courage, gentleness, love, beauty. So it’s not that one confronts the difficult, transcends it, and then you get to live in the Great Place. It’s that actually, one comes to be able to occupy the everything that is, a kind of radical yes where nothing is left out.
0:41:10.0 PC: I wanna jump forward now to the ’90s, and Dorothy and Jim invited me to one of the first fundraisers for MAPS, and I go because I love Dorothy and I love Jim. And there’s Bob Jesse saying that he’s trying to raise money for psychedelic research, and I’m like, “This is nuts! This is never gonna happen. But okay, here’s my check.” At that event was Lynne Twist of The Pachamama Alliance. And Dorothy introduced me to Lynne and said, “Lynne takes people down to the Amazon to meet the Achuar people where they can do Ayahuasca experiences. And immediately, I’ve heard about Ayahuasca, but it seemed very remote and very scary to go somewhere in the jungle with people I didn’t know. But when I met Lynne, she is such a together person. I was like, “This is gonna be safe.” And immediately, I committed to going down to the jungle.
0:42:11.5 PC: I took Ayahuasca for the first time on the banks of the tributary of the Amazon. I was in this open air hut, it had thatch roof, but no walls. And it was a very initially light and beautiful experience, when all of a sudden, it seemed to me that a jaguar had jumped into the hut, and I thought, “Oh, my God! I’m gonna have to fight for my life.” And then in the next moment, I thought, “No, I think what’s happened is the shaman has turned into a jaguar,” but I imagine he had physically turned into a jaguar and I was still like, “I’m gonna have to fight for my life.” [chuckle] And in the next moment, I thought, “I am so tired of fighting. I’m gonna be the jaguar’s pup.” And I spent the rest of the night in the jungle imagining what it was to be a jaguar in the jungle, and it was quite beautiful.
0:43:05.4 PC: When I came back, I looked and I looked. This was before anybody was really talking about Ayahuasca. It’s become quite ubiquitous now, but I did not know anybody, had not heard of anybody who was doing it. And I asked and I asked and I asked, and I finally found a circle. And when I drank the second time, it did not come on very quickly. And I’m sitting back in the dark on my cushion thinking, “Maybe this isn’t the real stuff.” And then I started thinking, “It’s not enough.” I become more and more grumbly, “Nothing’s enough. Nothing is enough!” The full grudge of life emerged, that nothing was enough, that everything had been inadequate in my life. And in the next moment, it was actually coming on, and that idea turned inside out. I went from the grudge of, “Nothing is enough,” to the utter acceptance, “Nothing is enough.” And then in the next instant, I thought, “Everything is enough.”
0:44:13.6 PC: And this launched me on another great inquiry into infinity. I had thought a lot about infinity as a young boy. I remember being five and trying to imagine the end of space and realizing that I couldn’t and that therefore, the world was infinite, but that that was boggling. I had studied it as a philosophy major, but I now, with the help of this plant of Ayahuasca, I was able to imagine, to enter into what I would call the imaginary dimension, and travel out into space and time and really try to investigate this.
0:44:55.7 PC: Over the course of maybe two years of working quite deeply with this, with this medicine, it started to say, “Well, okay, this plant wants to help humanity wake up.” I said, “Great, okay, we’re all gonna wake up and we’re heading somewhere.” And it was quite a beautiful vision. It helped me a lot to soften myself further to have insights until finally, I realize, “Wait a second, the Big Bang happened. The world expands. It keeps expanding. But then, the black hole comes up and everything could get pulled back into the singularity.” And so I’m imagining this moment of the singularity like, “Okay, I’m there, right next, right at God’s left hand.” And I’m thinking, “God knows that if the Big Bang is ignited again, everything that can happen is gonna happen again, that you can’t say yes to the everything without saying yes to the holocaust, to all of the traumas that are gonna happen, and nonetheless, God says yes.”
0:46:24.0 PC: And I had an experience in that moment of what I think the Buddhists speak of is equanimity, that it is a yes that is not warm. It’s not cozy and beautiful that all of this trauma is gonna happen, but it is not cold, it is not indifferent. And the experience of what that state of consciousness is of being able to say yes to the everything, that is at the heart of what I try to offer. It is the, to me, the final ground of freedom and confidence.
0:47:04.1 PA: And also the most difficult. There’s this really great DJ named Blond: Ish. You heard of any blondishes?
0:47:13.1 PC: No, I wanna, I’m gonna listen to it, now that you tell me this.
0:47:15.0 PA: Okay. So Blond: Ish does remixes of Alan Watts. So Alan Watts has these beautiful lectures, three to four to five to seven to 10 to 30 minutes, sometimes, you can find on YouTube. And Blond: Ish taken certain segments of those and turned them into, put a really cool beat on top of them, and you go through the Alan Watts thing. And there was one in particular that stood out where at the end, Watts has a thing where he essentially says, “When you wake up and have this full yes to the universe, no longer can you blame your mom for dropping you as a baby, who then blamed her mom for dropping her as a baby, who had then blamed her mom for dropping her as a baby.” There’s no longer that ability because in saying that full yes to both the beauty and the suffering, you realize that at some point, it’s on you to take responsibility for your existence and to make of it what you will make of it.
0:48:23.4 PC: Yes. There’s a practice that came to me the other day, which I call Forgive Everything. It’s easy to forgive things when the other party has taken responsibility and said, “I’m sorry.” And it’s great when that can happen, that’s fantastic because it makes the practice so much more expedient. But there are plenty of things that happen in life that are going to happen in life that are difficult, and there will be no responsibility taken outside for the fact that this has caused harm. But I have come to see through this work how incredibly depleting all grudges are. A grudge keeps trying to grab hold of something in the past and say, “I’m not gonna let it be what it was. I’m gonna undo it through some future act of vengeance or transformation or heroic achievement so that I don’t have to suffer the thing that was.” But the grudge keeps us very small. And so people can imagine that forgiving is a generous act to the other, and it is. If we are forgiving, the people around us will be very happy. But it is truer, even, I believe, that forgiveness is a way of liberating ourselves. It is a way of saying, “I will not moor myself to the static weight of grudge, of hatred, of fear.” And that forgiveness is, as you say, Paul, the center of agency and of new possibility.
0:50:22.0 PC: I live out here in Fairfax, and on my hillside, there is this beautiful stone little patio with a bench looking out. And I’ve decided that the, that bench is the place to practice Forgive Everything. And so if you’re sitting up there, I have some shelves with some Buddhist statutes, and I’m gonna have a sign painted that says, “Forgive everything,” and when you’re sitting up there, that’s what you’re asked to try to move towards.
0:50:54.0 PA: It’s a mantra, a reminder.
0:50:55.4 PC: Yes, that’s right. Yes, and to do it even in the moment when the injury is coming your way, we think of, you know, that you suffer the injury, and then maybe one does work and one can retrospectively forgive, and that’s often how it has to be. But one, if you really begin to hold this practice close, even in the moment, you… Take Thích Nhất Hạnh, for example. Thích Nhất Hạnh has radical forgiveness. The very first time I sat in retreat with him, I was in grad school, and it was a retreat for psychotherapists. And I went and I hadn’t realized this was gonna be a silent retreat. I got there, I’m like, “Oh, we’re not talking for five days?” But he’s an extraordinary man, the way he walks. You watch him walk into a room and he, coming back to wield a power, emanates a different kind of energy than most anybody you’ve ever met.
0:52:05.8 PC: And so by the end of this week, I was very opened by his presence, I was delighting in his presence. And in the ending ceremony, there was a man who stood up to read a poem. And Thích Nhất Hạnh has a very famous poem called Call Me by My True Names, where he says, “I am both the pirate who, and the little girl who was raped by the pirate.” And this man stood up and he read a poem, and it was clear that he was a Vietnam war vet. He said, “I was one of those pirates.” And at the end of it, the poem, Thích Nhất Hạnh very simply said, “Do you know about hugging meditation?” And the guy came up and Thích Nhất Hạnh very simply hugged him. And this broke me open. I started to cry as deeply as maybe I’ve ever cried in my life, not because it was such a flamboyant forgiveness, but because it was so completely believable, that I thought, “This man truly forgives in every breath.”
0:53:21.2 PA: It’s just so rare. [chuckle]
0:53:24.0 PC: Yes, it is. To fully forgive, to not just partially or a little bit forgive.
0:53:30.2 PA: Or to front as if you are forgiving, but to still hold on to the resentment.
0:53:34.6 PC: Yes.
0:53:35.7 PA: And it goes back to what you had mentioned earlier, this idea of the true self, the recognition that when we touch that true self, which is beneath the personality, sort of the shell or the mask that we wear, that in touching that true self, we recognize the truth of interconnectedness, right? We recognize the truth of interbeing. And so when a hugging meditation like that occurs with a Vietnam war veteran, the release of that trauma, the release of that story is not only freeing for the war vet himself, but is just as freeing for Thích Nhất Hạnh and just as freeing for you sitting there recognizing this, witnessing this, being there because it’s only through that release can whatever healthy thing needs to come out after that can actually be seen and be lifted up.
0:54:35.0 PC: Yes. You know, the other philosopher who really shaped my understanding was Heidegger. And Heidegger is problematic. He, at times, aligned with the Nazis, I have no defense of that, but his ontology is quite extraordinary. And he has a question. He says, “The fundamental or the deepest question is, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?'” And when you take on this question, it’s what I was, in some ways, grappling with at age five when I tried to imagine the end of space, and I saw that I could not think the thought of nothing. It’s impossible. You can think empty space, but that is entirely a something. So to think the thought of nothing, you would have to somehow crumple all of space up into a ball and get rid of it, but your mind immediately repopulates space and time. To think the thought is to realize then that the everything that is has been here forever, and there’s no explaining how it got here.
0:55:46.3 PC: The Christians might say, “Well, God made the everything that is,” but that doesn’t help at all because then, how did God get there? It just puts a question one step further back. And in this way of thinking, God doesn’t stand behind the everything that is, directing it, weighing it, judging it; God is the everything that is. And in this definition, it requires no faith because you can’t imagine the opposite. You know that the everything is, is ’cause here we are. If you think of God as the foundational fabric of being, it becomes clear then that everybody is a fragment of God, that we are all imbued with the fundamental architecture, we could call it the DNA, the RNA of Godhood because we are part of being.
0:56:54.5 PC: So I think part of what the Buddhists are able to do is to practice deeply enough that they gain access to that level of being, and that when Thích Nhất Hạnh forgives completely, he has become aligned, he has become part of the Avalokiteshvara body of the divinity of everything that is. This is the direction that I wanna head towards as best I can. I do think psychedelics often open up an awareness of that ground of being that points us back towards the spiritual, towards the divine.
0:57:48.0 PA: And it’s so often just an unlearning, right? You mentioned before, the personality, the mask, right? And you had talked about the children that you had worked with who were traumatized from an early age, compared to the tech executives and adults that you had worked with at an older age and sort of the significant difference there. And so much of the personality that we create for ourselves is a protective mechanism to protect that sort of innocent, young child so that they could still receive the love that they needed to receive. And it feels like so much of what psychedelics do and meditation and any other sort of non-dual practice is they enable you to see through that illusion so that you can recognize that your true identity is actually separate from this personality that you’ve created, that you’ve thought is true, but is really illusory.
0:58:48.5 PC: I would say… I wouldn’t say “illusory”, I would say, “true but partial”. For me, the three deepest foundations of my understanding are psychoanalysis, where you will see people four or five days a week lying on a couch. It is a practice as full and as disciplined as Buddhist practice. And that would be the second tier. And psychedelics, for me, are the third leg of the tripod. I think all of these work together when done well to help, in some ways, bring us back to the place where personality is first created to soften the ties of the personality. We never can undo or stop being who we are. I’ve had over 20 years of personal psychoanalysis lying on the couch. I’ve done Buddhist retreats. I’ve done deep psychedelic journeys. And I’m still tragically Peter Carnochan. [chuckle] Happily, Peter Carnochan, you know?
1:00:00.0 PC: And so one image that I’ve had is that there are difficulties that are infinite. We might think, “Oh, we could get to the bottom of the trauma. This boy who was shooting, who I certainly imagined has watched people shot dead on the street, that if we really fully got to the bottom of that, we could undo it.” But I think if you really attune to these traumas, they have no bottom. They are, each one, an infinite vector. And so the idea that you could heal it by getting to the bottom of it is an illusion. Instead, what I would say that if you give it deep attention, you allow its time and care that eventually, other vectors in infinity start to miss you. Joy starts to say, “Hey, Paul, come play with me.” [chuckle] Courage says, “Come on, I’ve got a really good thing for we could go do.” And so it’s not that we, in some ways, heal anything. It’s that we expand who we are so much, that the traumas become a part of the mandala of self, rather than the dominant figure of self.
1:01:28.4 PC: I’ll tell you now another story from that first journey of MDMA with when Jim came in. I was grappling with the heart of my bad feelings about myself. And I was working so hard to let them go. It became like a large redwood tree, and I was trying to float them downriver. But every time I tried to let them go, they would come back. I think part of me was secretly grabbing hold of them and pulling them back. And Jim came in and I described to him this struggle I was in. And he said, “Maybe you could let it just be a small object in the corner of the room.” And as soon as he said that, I was like, “That’s correct. That rather than trying to struggle and grapple with it, which kept it completely in the foreground, I could allow it to be one thing near the bench that I’ve learned from, that I’m glad of, that is part of my capacity to empathize, but that I don’t need to get rid of it because we’re not wired that way. We’re too attached to everything that we’ve gone through to ever have it expire.”
1:02:50.0 PA: So much of what I’ve thought about as healing is going into the unconscious, going into the subconscious, taking out the skeletons, looking at them, shining awareness on them, all of that. It has always felt like introspective, but also a backwards-looking way of being ’cause we’re trying to understand ourselves by looking at the stories that influence who we’ve become today. Whereas, the way that I perceived growth, development, higher states of being is much more the expansion, much more expanding the total being to have new perspectives, to integrate new habits, new ways of being that continue to expand.
1:03:42.8 PC: Yes.
1:03:43.4 PA: And what I’m hearing from you is those are both one and the same. In other words, there’s no before and forward; it’s all here.
1:03:55.0 PC: Yes, ’cause in a way, when you take, when you go into the unconscious and you look at the skeleton, what was densely compacted begins to be permeable. It actually now becomes fully itself. So part of the expansion is even the expansion of the traumatic, not in a way that overwhelms, but that it can now the unthinkable becomes thinkable. And that in a way, by offering all of those grudges care, they begin to accept that it is somebody else’s turn to play, that the joyous Paul gets a turn now, the mystical Paul gets a chance to play now because they don’t feel a sibling rivalry against the other aspects of Paul; coming back again to Jim and his notion of the multiple selves.
1:04:51.8 PA: The multiplicity of selves, right.
1:04:53.6 PC: Yeah.
1:04:55.4 PA: So in other words, that self is still there, it still exists.
1:05:00.0 PC: For sure, for sure.
1:05:00.3 PA: But it isn’t… Because of that expansion, it creates the spaciousness for the other selves to also be highlighted and played with and integrated.
1:05:14.0 PC: Yes. So in psychoanalysis, one of the great psychoanalysts is a man named Bion. And Bion was a Indian-English guy who was a tank commander in World War I. And he one day took a division of tanks out into No Man Land, and everybody, as often happened in World War I, died except Bion. And Bion spent the night out in No Man’s Land, surrounded by the corpses, before he got back to English lines. And he then went on to lead post-traumatic stress groups. It wasn’t called that. It was called “shell shock.” And he started to understand that much of life is unthinkable until it is dreamed, that you need to take the raw elements of the catastrophic perception, and you need to begin dreaming it before it could be fought.
1:06:21.8 PC: Antonino Ferro, the Italian analyst, expands this greatly, where he says that as opposed to forging an interpretation where you say, “Oh, you thought you were talking about the present. Really, you were talking about the past and about your father.” That’s a translation. In this Bionian way of interpreting, one doesn’t wanna make translating interpretations because that, in some ways, keeps meaning constant. Instead, what you want to do is begin narrating and expanding the characters that come in. So somebody might tell you, might come to a session and tell you about a cartoon.
1:07:08.7 PC: I had a client this week tell me about Road Runner. He liked Wile E. Coyote growing up. And we were starting to think about all of the catastrophes that happened to Wile E. Coyote, and about the ways in which the laws of physics were seeming to conspire against Coyote. The rock would hover up in the air until he got under, and then gravity would work. Who is Wile E. Coyote? One could say this was your brother who bullied you when you were young. You could say this was your father, or you could say this is a part of yourself inside of you. But in an unsaturated interpretation, one tries to expand these characters so they are suitable metaphors to expand to many things.
1:08:01.2 PA: So let’s tie this together, right?
1:08:05.0 PC: A small task. Itsy-bitsy.
1:08:08.9 PA: Itsy-bitsy. You published a book in 2001? What’s the name of it?
1:08:21.0 PA: What’s the thesis of it?
1:08:24.8 PC: Well, at the beginning of psychoanalysis, Freud discovers what is called transference, and transference is the patient’s emotional response to the analyst. And Freud got that in a way the patient began responding to the analyst like they had responded to their parents or other key figures of their life. But his notion was that the analyst should be an objective scientist, that the analysand, the patient, had transference, but the analyst would have no countertransference, no emotional response back to the patient, that that would be a misperception.
1:09:09.2 PC: Over the last 100 plus years of psychoanalysis, it has become clear that that is impossible, that analysts absolutely have emotional responses to patients, and that in fact, that’s of tremendous value, that the emotions we feel to a patient are a way of knowing and understanding what they maybe can’t understand about themselves. And so I, the book is about: Well, how did that transition happen through the history of the encounter between the patient and the analyst? It’s an account of epistemology. What does knowing mean if we go beyond objectivist epistemologies where knowing is knowing the thing in itself and getting all human subjectivity out of the way? If one accepts that the world is willed to power and all being is relational, what is a relational epistemology? And finally, what I call the architecture of virtue. What constitutes a good life?
1:10:17.7 PC: So early in psychoanalysis, Freud would have argued that the patient suffers because they are stuck in a fantasy. And that if you can show and illuminate the fantasy, it can be let go of, and then the patient is put in contact with the real. And what I call the imperfect excellence of the real is the therapeutic agent that the analyst only points to the confusions. A second position, a kind of Winnicottian position of the true self is what I would call natural virtue. And that’s an idea that we begin fully in virtue, but then trauma, the personality comes on, and that that’s the problem. And in a good analysis, one holds himself well enough that the impingements can be released and one can return to the true self. But again, the analyst isn’t implicated as a source of value because it is the body that does the work of change.
1:11:30.0 PC: I argue that there’s a third position, what I would call constructed virtue, which is that while we… There are certain limiting terms of who we might be, the body and how we grew up. There are an infinite number of ways that a life can be constituted. There are a host of what I would call affective relational skills that lead to more or less beautiful lights. And so from this point of view, it’s not enough merely to undo the past; one has to begin pointing to and help the patient become a co-artist of what it might mean to live a beautiful life.
1:12:18.2 PC: So for instance, if I take this practice of Forgive Everything, that, to me, is an affect of relational skill that an analyst might offer to a patient. One shouldn’t offer it prematurely. Forgiveness done before the trauma, and the grudge has had its full time is only gonna be veneer. And so psychoanalysis, I argue, seeks to not veneer solutions over the top, “Here’s your cognitive behavior, old way of thinking differently, your new exercise program that will lead you to do things differently.” It aims to come to the ground of meaning-making and to have what I would call radiant change. Not change that it’s full of radiant life, but from the inside out. And that is part of why that one has to attend tomorrow when he comes knocking at the door, is that you don’t wanna veneer anything over the top because veneers always break under stress when it’s trying to really locate the utter core of subjectivity and help the patient find new ways of being that they can feel, they have authentically said yes to.
1:13:42.9 PA: This is good. [chuckle] Two things that pop up. The inner radiant change. How does that relate to leadership development, in particular? And then what role does psychedelic medicine play in catalyzing that inner radiant change for leaders, for people in leadership position?
1:14:22.3 PC: I think the best leaders have a deep curiosity about who they are and what they’re up to on the planet. And that they lead not by fronting confidence, but by having a confident that they have earned by looking deeply. They then are in a position to model for subordinates a way of really having radical curiosity, a willingness to understand how other people are experiencing them and taking responsibility for having that go better. Leaders like that go beyond mechanical leading. They’re not just saying, “Okay, how am I gonna put in place a system of OKRs that are good? And how am I gonna set goals and achieve them? And how are we gonna iterate on the product?” They’re trying to solve really profound problems, problems that nobody maybe has encountered before. And they’re trying, and they are simultaneously looking outwards like, “What are our product? And how can we have, how can we iterate our products such that it really fits a need that’s out there and communicated in a way that the customers welcome it rather than are threatened by it? But simultaneously, how do we create, internally, a culture of true boldness in our problem-solving?”
1:16:00.1 PC: There’s one leader that I work with, really quite extraordinary man, who took part in an Ayahuasca journey. And very, from the very beginning, as it emerged, he thought to himself, “Oh, my God! I’m such a control freak, and that’s not gonna work here.” [chuckle] And over the course of that evening, he looked very deeply into his family, his mother, his father, his siblings, the scarcity he had grown up with, and how that had all channeled into his wish to control things, but also into his ambitions as a founder. And rather than that, in any way, leading him to feel that diminished the vision of what he was building, it actually added to it. He was able to see, “Ah, these are all the gifts that came from that beginning,” even the complicated gifts of that beginning. And that the company he’s leading becomes an expansion of the self, the culture of that he is creating with his… The other people who he’s working with, the very product that he’s working on is a beautiful expression of his generous offering to the world. And so rather than being some narrow division, “Oh, here’s my work self and here’s my authentic self,” the two can come into great alignment by that there is no artificial boundary between his earliest moments as a boy and his radical capacity as a leader. And that fluency that he has with his own roots is part of what make him such an extraordinary leader.
1:18:02.1 PA: And that recognition, often through psychedelic medicine, this is what I hear again and again and again with folks who have created that artificial boundary. “I am my work self here, and I have my personal self here, and this is what so many of us have been taught, and why I have the boundary in between.”
1:18:20.1 PC: Yes.
1:18:20.4 PA: Well, of course, what psychedelics do is they dissolve all the boundaries. There are no boundaries. You realize that there is no separation. And I think whether it’s a leader, whether it’s a leader who is in a company, is running a company, has a psychedelic experience, and goes back to continue to work on that company, but shifts and changes. A good friend of mine, Michael Costuros, who I’m sure you know Michael.
1:18:50.0 PC: Yup, yup.
1:18:51.7 PA: Ran and has run Ayahuasca retreats for entrepreneurs publicly, and he’s had several folks who have come back as a result of Ayahuasca and run their companies differently, invested more in HR, giving people more time off, been less controlling about certain things.
1:19:09.4 PC: Yes.
1:19:10.2 PA: And there are so many people who have this sort of boundary-dissolving experience at the South, and that fundamentally shifts the work that they choose to pursue because they realize that the core of their suffering and their unhappiness, their depression, their addiction, whatever it is that has brought them to psychedelics in the first place, is tied directly into that artificial boundary. Only by dissolving that boundary can this sort of radiant change where they come from within and a sense of authentic self really began to rise to the surface.
1:19:46.7 PC: Yes, although I would put a caveat there. I don’t think that the correct destination is to be boundaryless. When people, that’s one of the shadows of psychedelics, is people have a boundaryless experience and then they’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna live my whole life that way, and therefore, since all rules are made up, I don’t have to follow any rules.” And catastrophe follows. I think Tony, the founder of Zappos, was one of these casualties. He tried to say, “I’m gonna live in a way without boundaries,” and it led to his death.
1:20:24.3 PC: As a psychoanalyst, there is something called the frame, which is creating boundaries around the therapeutic experience that create freedom. So when a patient lies on the couch and the analyst sits behind them, there are boundaries, right? “You’re on the couch, I’m on the chair. And we’re not gonna touch each other. And we’re not gonna be friends. And I’m not gonna have dinner with you.” Those boundaries actually promote a more expansive realm of freedom in the imaginary plane because the patient and the analyst know that imaginings are not gonna be acted upon. One becomes free to imagine whatever you need and want to imagine. So the boundaries on the real are vital for creating safety for the infinite space of the imaginary.
1:21:31.9 PC: I would say the same thing for a CEO. They are in a very different position than their employees, and they are going… As the father or mother figure of the company, employees are gonna have very powerful transferences to them. And if the CEO fails to be mindful of the boundaries and the responsibilities of the asymmetry of power and position, things can be incredibly destructive. So yes, by all means, understand that there is no separation, the oneness of everybody, but then realize that we are actually existing within separate cells and separate personalities, and that there are… That responsible action as a leader requires a deep understanding of what correct boundaries are. Skillful boundaries rather than tyrannical or rigid boundaries.
1:22:44.9 PA: It reminds me of the, a metaphor that Joseph Campbell would often talk about, which is you have the two horns and the bowl, and you don’t wanna get stuck on either horn, right? So much of life is finding the way to sort of balance in between, and so much of boundary-setting is not being, like you said, overly rigid and tyrannical, but also not having no boundaries whatsoever. It’s being able to exist within the paradox of that and balance between those two extremes.
1:23:16.8 PC: Yes, I have had an image. In one notion of boundaries, one can say that on the left, that’s the good area, and on the right, that’s about the bad area. So if you put a boundary right down the middle, stay on the safe side of the boundary. The problem is there are a host of different virtues or values for a person or for a company or for a psychoanalyst. So in a good company or a good psychoanalysis, some of the positive virtues are safety, creativity, drive, motivation. And some of the problematic ones are overwork, misuse of power. The problem is the good virtues are not separated from the problematic ones.
1:24:11.7 PC: I haven’t seen it much more if you imagine a whole set of planets that are moving around in space. And some of these planets are planets you wanna land on, they have really great habitats, and you’re trying to get there. And other planets are very problematic. They are full of ammonia gas and you’ll die if you land on there. [chuckle] But sometimes, the two planets are very close to each other. So as you are navigating this terrain, one can’t have a simple set of rules, “I know what the boundaries are and I’m gonna follow them.” One has to try to keep in mind the full gravitational space of these different competing values and troubles, and that sometimes, when you’re trying to approach something that is very useful, you come very close to something that is quite problematic. Kinda like a Star Trek scene where Kirk would be saying, “I need more power, Scotty! We’re getting pulled into the vortex!”
1:25:22.8 PA: Yeah. What would be a concrete example of that from a leadership perspective? What are some common experiences or examples of that for a CEO of a start-up or a CEO of a major corporation, the planetary situation?
1:25:39.0 PC: Well, so one value would be transparency. And there’s a whole culture there of radical honesty. “We’re gonna say everything at all times and that therefore, there will be no secrets, and it will be so powerful.” I’m working with two really great young founders right now, and they, in their rooming group for a while, did this. They became aware that people started being just mean all of the time. It was not fun to live in that climate. And so honesty can be quite close to brutality as a planet. And so one has to actually keep in mind honesty with compassion. One has to keep, as an analyst, you may understand something about somebody, and you know that if you said it to them bluntly and plainly, that it would just ricochet off them and they might ricochet out of the treatment.
1:26:46.8 PC: And so you have to do a lot of work before some interpretations become helpful, rather than destructive. And you have to keep in mind: Has there been a… Has enough good experience accrued that they can tolerate it? Do they now know that if there is something that somebody might criticize them for, that doesn’t mean that they are atrocious? If it is true that if there is something bad about you that is everything that you are and you should be thrown out, it would be a terrible thing to say to that person, “There’s something bad about you. There’s something problematic.” One first has to do the preparatory work that in some ways, we are all multiple selves, we are all capable of problematic and beautiful action. Once that is really absorbed and understood, not only within the self, but in the presence of the analyst, the presence of the leader, then feedback becomes possible when it’s capable of learning.
1:28:06.0 PA: Because there’s a yes, a total yes to everything?
1:28:10.3 PC: The total yes to everything is finally the deepest insight that allows learning to happen because then, you can go, “Okay, since I’m prepared to accept and forgive everything, I can accept and learn about my most difficult aspects. I can really afford to hear how I’ve impacted somebody and hurt them because that is not equivalent to being a paraiya.” I wrote a paper once about Antonino Ferro’s work, the Italian analyst, and I suggested in this idea of constructed virtue that there are skills we sometimes wanna help teach our patients. And one of the skills I really liked to try to help teach kids is the ability to tease ourselves. Kids often think, “Oh, this is a competition. I’m gonna feel better by teasing other people for what’s bad about them, and then people will put the bad attention on them, and I will be elevated.” It’s quite counterintuitive to realize that it’s much funnier and more confident if you always tease yourself, you know? It says, in some ways, from the get-go, “Wait, you’re teasing yourself about being a foolish? You must think somehow it’s okay to be foolish. How do you do that?” I am quite foolish. [chuckle]
1:29:45.3 PA: The self-deprecate… Right. Yeah, yeah, the self-deprecation, it’s like taking a shit on the ego, so to say, and having the ability to be the… A friend and I were just talking about this last week. It’s almost like the ability to be the fool.
1:30:02.8 PC: Yes.
1:30:03.0 PA: Without being okay with that at times, the ability to be the fool, and not taking it so serious because your personality, the thing that you’re presenting, it’s just a thing that you’re presenting. It’s not necessarily what is the true, authentic self. And even if it was the ability, the truth authentic self, that stuff just sort of bounces off because there’s no stickiness to if you know at the deepest part of who you are.
1:30:27.1 PC: That’s right. It doesn’t bounce off; it lands, but it’s fine because it’s only one small piece of you.
1:30:37.0 PA: This is good. I feel like we could probably just continue talking about this for hours and hours.
1:30:43.3 PC: Well, it’s a joy talking to you, Paul. It’s really was a pleasure when we took that hike, it’s pleasure right now.
1:30:48.9 PA: It is. Any last sort of tie-ups or final words or just sort of a question or thought that you’d like to leave our listeners with?
1:30:57.0 PC: Well, I’m enrolled right now in a course on psychedelics and psychoanalysis, anticipating that a moment is gonna come in the near future when these things are legal. And I think we’re on the cusp of developing increasingly careful and responsible and correctly-targeted ways of using these medicines in conjunction with other traditions. So how would… So right now in the MAPS trials, they’re using MDMA to deal with trauma, and they’re quite careful on the spectrum of things. They have a number of sessions prior to the journey. They have screening questions. They have follow-up. But in the real scheme of psychoanalysis, that is a split-second. Psychoanalyses can go on for four years, five years, 10 years, four times a week. And so what will it be like, how do we best bring together some of these traditions? Spiritual traditions, therapeutic traditions, coaching traditions with these substances so that we can bring out what is most helpful in them, but be careful not to create damage, not to have the casualties that can come from reckless use?
1:32:27.0 PA: You know, when you were making the point about 10 minutes ago about if you stretched too far, it can be sort of a backlash. I think that’s just as true with psychedelic substances, where this is, in large part, why MAPS has focused on MDMA. Because MDMA is the nearest threatening to the ego as 5-MeO-DMT.
1:32:47.4 PC: Yes.
1:32:48.3 PA: And that ability to sort of fine-tune the experience to be exactly what the individual needs. You and I who have been doing psychedelics for many, many years have a different sort of risk tolerance than someone who is never enrolled in psychotherapy, has never done any psychedelics, and maybe just started to meditate. Their ability to sort of go between the different bulls of the horn is gonna be much more limited than the expansion that we’ve created. And so I think the more that we can personalize these experiences for the exact need of the client based on the medicine that we use, or based on the set and setting, or based in the practitioner, based on their spiritual background, or what outcome they’re looking for, there’s a real distinct possibility to enable, potentially, millions of people to touch into that true radiant gorge, to go beneath the personality and see into the true self, and oftentimes, for the first time ever, right?
1:33:56.6 PC: Yes.
1:33:56.9 PA: And to be able to do that in a way where that container is set, where the boundaries are set, where the support system is there, I think is the beautiful potential of everything that MAPS has worked on, and all of this other sort of momentum that’s arising in the psychedelic space.
1:34:12.0 PC: Yeah, so I think that in the first wave of psychedelics, it went off the track because in some ways people, Leary, amongst others, were too wild about it. They said, “Everybody or Ken Kesey do it all the time, and there were casualties.” And in this second wave, there is a lot more care, but there is a kind of idealization of what this can do. These are very helpful teachers, but they’re not magic. You will still be yourself, I hope, unless you have a real breakdown at the end of it. They are powerful teachers, but they are not going to solve everything by any means. And so my great hope in this next wave is that we can find a realistic, careful and expansive relationship to these substances.
1:35:15.8 PA: Beautiful! Well, thank you so much, Peter, for joining us on the podcast.
1:35:20.0 PC: My pleasure, thanks so much.