Paul F. Austin is joined by Alex Atwood, Founder & CEO of GravyWork to talk plant medicine, transformational coaching, & more.
Alex Atwood is a multifaceted, purpose-driven leader with more than 20 years of experience as a serial entrepreneur who helmed four startups in the hospitality and staffing space. He’s also a coach in the emerging psychedelics field, with a focus on optimizing human potential. Alex is a podcaster, public speaker, angel investor in firms that help build a better world, and philanthropist with a soft spot for owners and operators of family businesses.
Alex’s feel for business took root in elementary school, when he bought and resold candy and bubble gum from the grocery store at a 150% markup. Since then, he has fostered skilled, efficient teams as founder and CEO of Sanistaff, co-founder of Gravy Work, CEO of PSG Inc. and CEO of the Hospitality Training Institute.
Alex is working towards an ICF certification in organizational well-being. He has been a coach for Landmark Worldwide, a personal and professional development company, and elevation leader for 1heart. He has led workshops on integrity and self-actualization with the goal of helping attendees realize their own potential and find greater self-esteem, fulfillment, creativity, and productivity.
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This episode is sponsored by Beckley Retreats, a leading holistic wellbeing company that offers transformative self-development programs by leveraging the science-backed power of psychedelics in concert with supportive therapeutic modalities. As a trusted partner of Third Wave, we strongly recommend the upcoming retreats for Beckley in Jamaica, as well as many other locations. Head to go.beckleyretreats.com/thirdwave to book your transformational psilocybin program today.
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0:00:00.5 Paul Austin: Welcome back to the Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave. Today I am speaking with Alex Atwood, the CEO and founder of GravyWork, and also a transformational and leadership coach.
0:00:12.9 Alex Atwood: Everything in my life at this point, Paul, is somehow involved in the transformational space. My focus now is to meet people where they're at... That haven't found this work. And whether it's psychedelics, whether it's breath work, whether it's programs like Landmark, really just give as much access to that insight as I possibly can. And I think what's important is allow for the space for those that see this as being something that could be transformational and impactful in their lives. Allow that space for that to show up.
0:00:45.8 PA: Welcome to the Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave, audio mycelium, connecting you to the luminaries and thought leaders of the psychedelic renaissance. We bring you illuminating conversations with scientists, therapists, entrepreneurs, coaches, doctors, and shamanic practitioners, exploring how we can best use psychedelic medicine to accelerate personal healing, peak performance and collective transformation.
0:01:22.4 PA: Hey, folks, welcome back to the podcast today. We have Alex Atwood. Alex is someone that I first met on an Ayahuasca retreat, a 1heart Journeys Ayahuasca retreat, New Year's 2018, 2019. We ended up spending a lot of time together on that retreat and hanging out a few other times outside of that. And then a couple of years ago, Alex called me. We had just rolled out our CCP coaching certification program for Third Wave. And he's like, "Paul, I see a really big vision here and I want to be part of it." So he enrolled in our inaugural coaching program, became a certified Third Wave coach. But Alex has many hats and has held many roles, including as a podcaster, a public speaker, an angel investor. More than anything, he is an entrepreneur and a very successful entrepreneur. He has also been involved as a coach for Landmark. So we talk a lot about Landmark in this episode and sort of the pros and cons of Landmark, the differences between Landmark and psychedelic work. And overall, Alex is just a genuine human. He has a huge heart and it really was an honor to be able to sit down and record with him today, talking about meditation, talking about Landmark, talking about Third Wave's coaching certification program, talking about his sort of process and journey of finding meaning and fulfillment in his career.
0:02:39.7 PA: This is just a really beautiful sort of deep dive into Alex Atwood and who he is as a human being. Alex Atwood is a multifaceted purpose-driven leader with more than 20 years of experience as a serial entrepreneur. He has helmed four startups in the hospitality and staffing space. And he is also a coach in the emerging psychedelic field with a particular focus on optimizing human potential. His other roles include podcaster, public speaker, angel investor, all in firms that help to build a better world. And he's also a philanthropist with a soft spot for owners and operators of family businesses. Alex is also working towards an ICF certification in organizational well-being, has been a coach for Landmark worldwide and an elevation leader for the 1heart program. In addition, Alex has led workshops on integrity and self-actualization with the goal of helping attendees realize their own potential and have greater self-esteem, fulfillment, creativity and productivity. Okay, before we dive into today's episode, a word from our sponsors.
0:03:46.7 Speaker 3: Beckley Retreats received an award for best psychedelic retreat of the year in 2022. Co-founded by Amanda Feilding the "Queen of the Psychedelic Renaissance". This retreat builds on decades of research from the reknown Beckley Foundation, a think tank and NGO that Feilding founded. Feilding has collaborated with leading scientists and institutions around the world for over 20 years in a wide range of scientific projects investigating the effects of psychedelic substances on brain function, subjective experience and clinical symptoms. The retreats are one of the most comprehensive psilocybin experiences in the world run by trusted and experienced facilitators. It's a six-day retreat in Jamaica with an 11-week virtual preparation and integration program where modern psychedelic science means ancient wisdom. Beckley also recently launched a new leadership program led by Dr. Rochelle Sampson and Dr. Bennett Zellner of the University of Maryland Smith School of Business. And 2023 will be the second year that they are offering a women's only retreat. As a trusted partner of Third Wave and a recognized leader in the fast-growing psychedelic industry, we recommend Beckley Retreats for their science-backed and transformational programs. Head to go.beckleyretreats.com/thirdwave to book your psilocybin retreat today. That's go.beckleyretreats.com/thirdwave to book your psilocybin retreat today.
0:05:19.9 PA: Hey, listeners. Today's podcast is brought to you by the Apollo wearable. I first started wearing the Apollo in the midst of the COVID quarantine over two years ago. It helped my body to regulate itself, to calm down, to stay more focused, and to meditate in the morning. And I use it to really regulate my nervous system in a time of incredible stress, and I've continued to use it on a day-to-day basis. It is indispensable in my daily routine. Here's the thing. The Apollo is a wearable that improves your body's resilience to stress by helping you to sleep better, stay calm, and stay more focused. Developed by neuroscientists and physicians, the Apollo wearable delivers gentle soothing vibrations that condition your nervous system to recover and rebalance after stress. I tell folks that it's like a microdose on your wrist that helps you to feel more present and connected, especially when in the midst of a psychedelic experience. It's a phenomenal compliment to any psychedelic experience.
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All right, that's it for now. Let's go ahead and dive into this episode with Alex Atwood. I hope you enjoy our conversation together.
0:07:13.2 PA: Hey, listeners, welcome back to the Psychedelic Podcast. We have a dear friend of mine on the show, Alex Atwood. Alex and I met at an Ayahuasca retreat almost more than four years ago now. And then a couple of years ago when we launched our training program for coaches, Alex hit me up and was like, "Paul, I think I might want to do this." And so I thought, you know, he interviewed me for his podcast, The Alchemist Lounge. A couple months ago, I wanted to bring him in to talk about his experience as a founder, how plant medicine helped him through some challenges and difficulties and what's on the horizon for him as an entrepreneur, as a coach and as a leader. So, Alex, it's great to be able to sit down and record a conversation with you.
0:08:02.2 AA: Yeah, it's a pleasure to be here. I'm excited.
0:08:08.6 PA: So tell, as a starting point, tell me a little bit, tell our audience a little bit about your experience with Ayahuasca at the 1heart retreat that we were on together. Why? What brought you to Ayahuasca? What was your experience of that retreat? What maybe shifted and changed for you as a result of working with that medicine?
0:08:31.3 AA: Yeah. So finding Ayahuasca was something that had come through a mutual friend of ours who was one of the founders of 1heart. His name is Barry Stamos. And he was someone... So I had actually met Barry of all places in Beverly Hills in the mid 2000s at... Someone who was founding a startup at the time. And it was probably one of the most vapid places you could be in terms of spirituality. I mean, there was a lot of showing what it is that you do for work. There was a lot of glam, a lot of glitz. There was hand-rolled sushi happening there. It was a massive house. It was everything you could picture at a mid-2000 era startup event. And I got into a conversation with Barry, who at the time had just exited his startup. And so he was in an interesting sort of egoic mood. And we were there and we started to connect and talk about various things. And one of the things that he mentioned to me was that he had just come from this mushroom journey on the beach. And so we sort of connected around mushrooms. Now at the time, my understanding with psychedelics or mushrooms was very much related to the experimentation that I had done in college and without really any intention at all.
0:10:16.0 AA: And it was a connector. It was something that we found that was interesting between us both. And so we just sort of built that bond. And so Barry and I remained friends from that point moving forward. And it was very interesting because I had connected with him maybe three or four months prior to being invited on the journey. And he had mentioned to me that they were having... You know, he had just sort of found Ayahuasca. A good friend of his had joined a ceremony in New York. And now he had launched this new company that would take founders and take type A personalities and introduce them to Ayahuasca. And had it not been Barry, I probably wouldn't have taken part in the ceremony because to me, what I had heard at the time and between 2018 and 2023, there's been a lot more information in the public sphere around psychedelics, specifically Ayahuasca. But in early 2018, it was something that I had heard of. It was explained to me as the most powerful psychedelic in the world. And it was something that would knock my socks off. It was very difficult. I mean, there was... Most of what I had heard around Ayahuasca was...
0:11:33.7 PA: Warning, warning, warning.
0:11:34.4 AA: Warning, warning, yeah, challenge, challenge. Like, you know, there's gonna be issues. Now, I came from... Like... I was born in 1974. So I started to come into awareness in the mid '80s when the war on drugs was as heavy as it could possibly be. And there was all sorts of, I guess I call it indoctrination with children around, specifically acid. That was sort of what scared me most, right? And so my idea of psychedelics, especially something as powerful and labeled as being the most powerful psychedelic in the world, was scary. But I spoke with Barry about it, and I felt comfortable with him as a human being. And I felt like, "Okay, I'm very curious about this. And if I'm going to take part in this, I'm going to want to be with someone that I feel very comfortable with, someone that I feel like has a very happy and loving spirit." And I always felt that way about Barry. But, you know, a couple of years before that, I had taken part in something called the Landmark Forum, which is a weekend that involves no plant medicine, involves mainly conversation. A lot of NLP sort of methodology is sort of woven into it. But I had already done that a few years back. So I was in the space of transformation. And I related to what Barry was telling me, less around what, you know, sort of the fear that I had or the relatedness that I had around maybe it being sort of a fun thing. And I looked at it as more transformational.
0:13:14.3 AA: So I agreed to go. I remember, it was August of 2018, he called me, we had a conversation. Immediately, I said, "I'll go." I just committed to it. And as I got closer to it, I just became more and more fearful of it, right? I said, "What did I just agree to? I'm going to go out into the mountains of Costa Rica with only one guy that I know in this group, and I'm going to drink this potion of some sort. And I don't know what's going to happen to me." So of course, all of these things started rolling around in my head. I started listening to all sorts of podcasts, because the only real information I could find at the time around this was either on the Tim Ferriss Podcast or the Joe Rogan Podcast. So I was listening and hearing about all of the different transformational experiences. And there was a thread that, you know, "This is something that will change your life." So I held on to that and sort of let go of the fear. So when I actually arrived at the retreat, and I met you, and I met some of the other people that were there, I felt so comfortable just around people that had come from the same journey that I had, and that were in the same mindset that I was in. So immediately, in that space around those people, I felt comfortable. I felt like, "Hey, these people are from, you know, essentially, like the same, they're walking the same path that I am." There were founders there, there were people that were, you know, that I could really relate to.
0:14:43.0 AA: And everyone was... Even the ones who had drank the Ayahuasca, they were all... They all sort of had the fear, but the excitement at the same time. So when I entered, I immediately felt comfortable. And I think that's an important part of, you know, those who are looking to do plant medicine work, that you feel very comfortable with the facilitators, with the group that you're with. And so that was a big part. So going into the journey, I felt comfortable. I had the people that I felt like were... I felt like would be able to relate to me. And it was the most powerful experience of my life. I mean, it really was. It's really hard to describe in words. But after my first ceremony, which is extremely difficult, the way the process works is you immediately go the following night to another ceremony. So I went into ceremony one with lots of fear. And it was... It wasn't a pleasant experience, but it was a powerful, almost unexplainable experience. The next night, which happened to be New Year's Eve of 2018, was a, I guess you can call it a cathartic experience. But what really sort of impacted me was not just the journey itself, and the music, and everything and the sounds, but the conversations that happened after the journey.
0:16:18.7 AA: When what you experienced suddenly came through someone else's voice around their experience. And I didn't, you know, until that happened, Paul, I didn't really believe in magic. Or, you know, I said, "Well, you know, there's coincidences in life." I was very skeptical. But, you know, after my first Ayahuasca experience, I immediately saw that no, the, you know, magic is, is really, you know, here in the world every day is a gift. And things happened in ceremony that were, you know, that I mean, I remember wanting to, like being in a position where I wanted to vomit, which happens quite a bit. They call it purging. And the person next to me purged for me. I mean, I was, I wanted to purge. And I was so connected to the person sitting next to me in ceremony that he actually started purging. And I felt myself, like letting go of whatever it is that was in me. And that sort of connectedness, I'd never felt before with another human being. So it was just extremely powerful. And so coming out of that ceremony, having those conversations, building these lifelong relationships was something that didn't just translate to me spiritually, but translated sort of throughout my life. I mean, it had me relate to nature differently.
0:17:48.6 AA: It had me relate to my business, my organization, everything sort of changed. And it really, to me, it was a culmination of the work that had started in Landmark, the transformational space, combined with the meditation that I had learned in 2009, but really didn't practice too much. But that sort of...
0:18:12.3 PA: Was that TM, Transcendental Meditation, or?
0:18:15.7 AA: Yeah, Transcendental Meditation. Yeah. Which was something that kind of showed in... Showed up in and out of my life. And after the 1heart journey in 2018, the Ayahuasca journey, I started to have a different take on meditation. So it really did shift everything in my life. And it was a... It was probably one of the biggest things that had happened to me.
0:18:39.0 PA: It may even be why we're sitting here today having this conversation. Having that experience then, obviously we had a chance to personally connect, but also just I imagine your curiosity and interest in psychedelics and how beneficial and useful they could be... Grew enormously after having those experiences.
0:19:00.4 AA: Yeah, I mean, I found it as being one of the most powerful agents of change that anyone could ever experience in their lives. I found it to be something that absolutely shifts the trajectory of your thoughts, your spirit, sometimes the direction that you're going in. So following that journey, I was a huge proponent, but I also realized that this wasn't something that necessarily could be heard by everybody in my immediate circle. So initially I... Yeah.
0:19:33.1 PA: Well, so let's go into that a little bit. Because... Bring us a little bit deeper into who you were at that point in time. Who was in your circle? Professionally what were you up to? Tell us a little bit about that.
0:19:51.2 AA: Yeah, absolutely. So at the time I was an entrepreneur, I had two businesses. I had one that I had been running for about 15 years. I had another training business that I had been running for some time. I grew up in the Washington DC area, which is a very conservative sort of area. I wouldn't call it like not necessarily politically conservative, but just in general acceptance of things like psychedelics or modalities like that. It's very transactional, I should say, in the DC area. So I was a very transactional person. I was transactional in the sense that I found success in business to be a gauge of overall success in life. And I guess my guiding light at the time, I would tell people, "Oh, it's my family. It's my friends. It's my business." But really it was really driven by an egoic sort of sense of success. And it was in the background. It was the operating system is really what it was. So my operating system was based in ego. My words and what I was actually speaking around were not necessarily authentic. I think that's the biggest disconnect. I was extremely, even though I didn't realize, I was extremely inauthentic and I was living a life where I was sort of identifying myself as a founder, as a father, all of these different labels that I'd given to myself, which honestly, it added so much pressure in terms of who I am.
0:21:31.9 AA: You try and live up to some sort of title that you give yourself and it ends up adding something that isn't necessarily you. So that's where I was. But the key is I didn't realize it. And when I came out of that ceremony, I found myself going back into those circles. Now, what were my circles? Well, I had a board of directors who had a certain way that they saw me and a certain way that I was around them. So I was this person around my board. I was this person around my customers, around my kids. I was this person. And so I was wearing these different sort of masks depending upon where I was. All of them were somewhat inauthentic. And none of them knew that I had just taken part of an Ayahuasca ceremony. So I told everyone I was going on a meditation retreat and nobody knew. As a matter of fact, we had people looking to shoot our experience there. And I signed off and said, "I don't want my face on any camera. I want no one to know that I was part of this." That was a big thing that I talked to Barry about. At the time, my kids were in school. They were teenagers. They were in high school. And I was like, "I'm talking to them about the dangers of drugs. And I'm in a jungle in Costa Rica drinking some sort of root concoction, which is psychedelic." So it felt as if I was like to me...
0:23:04.8 PA: Even that probably feels inauthentic then, right? Because it's like there is a... Right, yeah.
0:23:09.3 AA: Yeah, total duality. Total duality. And that's what was happening. And so that's where I was going into journey space, for sure.
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0:25:08.6 PA: So you mentioned Landmark a couple times and I don't think we've ever talked about Landmark on the podcast. I went to like a Landmark opening night when I lived in New York, invited by a friend, sort of got the lay of the land. Wasn't necessarily my thing, but I also know that for a lot of people in my life, it's been incredibly impactful and beneficial. And I'd love for you to just tell our listeners a little bit about what is Landmark and what I'm tracking in your story is potentially going through Landmark first helped to sort of knock at that identity, start to open it up. And then Ayahuasca just really sort of busted it completely. So what is Landmark? What happens at Landmark? Why do people love it? Just give us a little bit of insight there.
0:26:03.2 AA: Yeah. So Landmark was something that I had no idea about. There's a mall next to where I grew up called Landmark Mall. And so when I thought Landmark, I'm like, "Oh, that's where the Macy's is." Right? Well, I was going through a very tough breakup at the time. It was in 2015 and it was somebody that I thought I was going to marry. And suddenly it was over. And I was just in this really, I was in that place where it was dark. I wasn't ready to let go. And so I was talking to a very good friend of mine and he said, "Have you ever heard of Landmark?" And I said, "I've never heard of that at all." He said, "Well, before I married my wife, her and I both took the Landmark Forum together. And we learned a way to communicate with each other that has been the biggest tool in our relationship that we've used." And he said, "Look, when you Google it, ignore everything that says it's a cult." And I said, "Okay, I will." So I typed in Landmark Forum and it's like cult this, cult that. But the people that had actually gone through it, I think they said, "It's like popcorn popping." So there was an article where you'd go there and everybody at some time in these...
0:27:26.1 AA: So what Landmark is, is it's three days, at least eight hours a day, sometimes 10 hours a day. You're in a room. They used to not let you out of the room. So the background around Landmark, it started in the late '60s, guy named Werner Erhard started the program. It's one of the first self-help, I guess you can call it, programs, transformational work programs in the West. And what it did was it sort of formulated some of the essence of Buddhism, Transcendentalism, Stoicism, and sort of synthesized it so that it would be palatable to the West. And so the language that they use, the way that they speak in the forum, the way that... It's very difficult to explain, much like an Ayahuasca ceremony. But what I realized was as you're having this conversation, and what they do is they talk about things like integrity, they talk about things like self-expression, they talk about all these different topics, but they present them in a way that is different than how you hear them in normal every day. And even the way that they speak is very unique. And to someone who'd never done this work before anything, it was just fascinating to me that I was in this room for eight hours.
0:28:43.6 AA: And at the end of the day, I was like shot out of a cannon. I remember it was a Saturday and people just start becoming completely ecstatic because something clicks. There's a conversation. There's something that was said. All of a sudden, people are on their phones calling relatives, sisters, brothers, ex-husbands, ex-wives they haven't spoken to in forever. And they're crying and they're having these deep conversations. And at the time, I had not talked to my mom in a long time. And I called her and I said, "Mom, I love you." And she started crying and I started crying. So, it was incredible. And the girlfriend, and by... Look, I went into this, I said, "The only thing I wanted to get out of this is I need to get this girl out of my freaking head. I cannot get this girl off my mind." I said, "Look," and every time... Everybody I talked to when were there I said, "Look, I'm here because of a girl. If you guys can brainwash me out of this, I don't care if this is a cult, but if you can get this out of my head, this will be a success."
0:29:43.2 AA: And so, that's basically what happened. And by Saturday, Sunday, I was shot out of a cannon. I was so excited about life. I had a whole new perspective. I was ready to have conversations with every single person I possibly could. I called my ex. She didn't answer, but I left her a message. I'm sure I sounded manic. But it was my first experience of transformational conversation and work. And you know, Paul, it felt like coming out of there, I had like a cheat code to life or something. As I'm talking to people who aren't familiar with this sort of work, I was just like, "Wow, I understand things that you don't understand." And I almost got an ego out of it. I was like, "Whoa, now I get it and you don't." So, it was almost like my conversations were like coming from a place of not meeting people where they're at, kind of telling them, "Hey, integrity is making promises to yourself and fulfilling them," and all this stuff. People weren't hearing me. They were just like, "Man, this guy's shot out of a cannon. He's got a great attitude." But man, I don't get it...
0:30:51.8 PA: He's enthusiastic, clearly.
0:30:54.1 AA: "I think he joined a cult." But I didn't care. I was just so happy to be having a different understanding of life, a different relatedness to people. And so, my life changed after that weekend. It really did. And I started to journal. I started to see my relationships differently. I really started to honor the relationships I had in my life. But I'll tell you, it was a gradual change in terms of coming out of Landmark. It was like I was shot out of a cannon. But it faded. I got into regular life. What they told me in the forum was like, "Look, you're transformed, but people are going to see you as who you were before. And it's going to be a cognitive dissonance. You're going to be talking all of this and this new insight that you've learned. But as you talk to people, they're going to put you back into that square that they know you as. And that's going to eventually wear on what you've learned." And I said, "No, no, no way." Well, that's what happened. So just a month or two months later, I started to take on my old, slowly way of being. And I found myself in a position where I needed, I felt that I needed more work. That was an insight. It was like a window had opened, and I got a little insight, but I needed more. So I decided, "Okay, I'm going to go to Burning Man." I'd never been to Burning Man before. So I said, "Okay, I'm going to go to Burning Man." Because Burning Man...
0:32:32.1 PA: So you didn't do level two of the Landmark forum?
0:32:35.9 AA: Yeah. No, no, no. I didn't jump into it yet.
0:32:39.8 PA: What year is this again? Remind me of the year?
0:32:40.6 AA: 2015.
0:32:41.1 PA: It was 2015.
0:32:42.1 AA: No, no, no. Early 2015. So yeah. So going through 2015, I... Wait, no, no. I'm sorry. It was December 2015. It's the end. It was going into 2016. Okay. So my life changed. So I immediately decided that, "Okay, I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm not any of this. This is what... I've labeled myself as this. I have potential beyond this. It's self-limiting to... " So I had all these different things that I sort of learned through Landmark and decided that I'm just going to say yes to whatever it is that happens in life. And so I was at an auction. One of my clients was the Discovery Channel. And every year in December, they had an auction. And right coming out of the Landmark Forum, the first event I had was this Christmas silent auction. And I used to do theater in college. And I stopped when I had my first daughter. But it was always something in the back of my mind like, "Oh, maybe it's fun. I loved it. I liked acting and all that." Well, there was a silent auction where the winner gets to audition with the head of daytime for CBS, a guy by the name of Peter Golden. And in my mind, one of my labels was not an actor. That was something that I just didn't... I had no business doing that. But for some reason, I said, "I got to say yes to this."
0:34:10.8 AA: So I bid on this silent and I bid high and high and I won. So suddenly, I have an audition with the head of casting for CBS, Peter Golden, coming up. It's in my calendar. And I haven't done any acting in a long time, probably 16 years. So my voice in my head is, "You have no business doing this. What do you know about going to Hollywood and to Studio City and to audition?" Well, to me, that was something that caused fear to a certain degree. But now I was embracing it. So I started to take acting classes. I started to do all of... I did a lot. I actually went to a two-week intensive at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, where I had to do a... Not just a dramatic monologue, but a dramatic monologue, a comedic monologue, and I had to actually sing. So part of it was I had to pick a song and then sing along with a guy playing the piano. I forgot what that's called now, but whatever. So I had to learn all that in like five months. And I did. And I went through with it. And I won't get into the whole...
0:35:29.8 AA: But I got a call back for Hawaii Five-0. Now, I was back in DC. Look, I could go into a whole hour about what happened during that week when I was in Hollywood. But the point is that my belief cycle was just really firing off at that point. I felt comfortable. I went in front of... I had seven auditions within six days or four days or something like that. And I was just used to just sitting in a chair in front of five people with a camera on me. "Go." And that didn't freak me out. And so that was sort of another sort of step in my... Almost my deconstructing of who I was. So that happened. And then I went to Burning Man that year. And then I took the second... The advanced course. And then I took the self-expression leadership course in Landmark. Then I became a Landmark coach. And I decided I want to be a Landmark leader. So I started to go through that avenue, the leader program, which is a very intense program. And I was doing all that while I decided I was gonna sell my old business. So I sold my business and decided, "I'm gonna launch another startup." Launched another startup. Sold my training school. So I was just... I just decided that, "Hey, the world is my oyster. And I can do anything I want." And it was really exhilarating. So, I mean, yeah, that was...
0:36:56.4 PA: And it still is.
0:36:58.6 AA: Oh my God. Yeah. It hasn't stopped. It still exists.
0:37:03.2 PA: It hasn't stopped.
0:37:03.3 AA: No. It hasn't.
0:37:03.7 PA: He's been doing acid this entire time. No, I'm just kidding. He has not.
0:37:07.8 AA: No, no, maybe.
0:37:08.5 PA: Maybe, yeah.
0:37:13.2 AA: But I mean, it's been a... It really has taken my life and added just so much more texture and so much more... It's so much more richer now. I did not even know it existed. The interesting thing is as a founder and as somebody who had kids and all this other stuff, I thought I knew everything. I thought I had it all. I knew how to start a business. I got how to raise kids. I'm a single dad, all this stuff. There's just so much more. And that just really opened my eyes. And I realized that, "Man, life is just a nonstop journey of learning." And that's what came through. And it still is. It really has enhanced every aspect of my life, starting with Landmark, moving into more focused meditation, and then culminating in psychedelics.
0:38:14.3 PA: So, let's get into that a little bit. What did Ayahuasca teach you that Landmark didn't? What was the, not the cherry on top, but what was the evolution that Ayahuasca brought you through that Landmark... Not that Landmark didn't do it, it just... It can't teach certain things that Ayahuasca can and what were those things?
0:38:44.0 AA: Well, the thing is Ayahuasca is... It's so hard to put into words. It's something that you have always known was there and it's a remembrance. It's like, "Ah, yes." We have this connection with nature, with life, with each other, with spirit, with God that kind of falls into the background. It's not even in the background to some people. It almost turns into something that's written in books or you read in a story and you don't really relate to in terms of being part of the world that we live in. But what Ayahuasca did was it just connected immediately me with not just my inner child and my inner self, but the essence of life, the essence of how I am connected to everything and how everything is connected to me. And the thing is when you say that, I know you probably... Well you understand. You've been in this work. But just the connection to the spirit is just something that... You just can't be taught unless you have that medicine. Everything about it is magic. Just how that medicine sort of got here to us in order for us to be able to consume it in itself is a miracle. And when you consume it, you realize that plants in general have just provided so much to us as human beings.
0:40:24.7 AA: And this is just yet another extremely important and vital insight that human beings and animals have access to along with the sustainability that plants give us, the food, the nourishment, the vitamins, the minerals, feeding the animals that some of us eat. There's just so much... The oxygen in our... I mean everything is just so vital. And so my connection to plants just became such a bond. It's similar in the sense that it's transformational. It's similar in the sense that it causes a shift in the way that you relate to yourself and others around you in the world. But it's just so much more profound. And it just is really is something that is deep within us that allows you to sort of to bring forth. And there isn't a place in your life that isn't transformed through psychedelics if you allow it to be. Whether it's your business, whether it's your relationship with your parents or your kids or your friends or yourself or your health or your body or food or addictions or all of that is so available to you. Because most of what I just described is things that we take on as human beings in the world as we go through. And this medicine, specifically Ayahuasca and others, but specifically Ayahuasca is just a calling for the essence of life, the trueness of life. So yeah, I hope I explained that well. But it is very difficult to explain.
0:42:09.3 PA: It is. The ineffability of psychedelics is consistent across the board. And what I'm hearing in this sort of distinction between Landmark and Ayahuasca is the depth of Ayahuasca is much greater. It reaches into all aspects of your existence, whereas Landmark might be a little more focused on only personal development or maybe only business in the way you're relating to the leadership team. I know there's some stuff with family and other units. And also the teaching of spirit. And I agree with you. It's what research has shown. It's what so many people experience. We're raised in a culture that is very disconnected from the mystery. And so when we have that experience for the first time, like you said, it's like we struggle from collective amnesia, or we struggle with collective amnesia as a human species. And when we work with these medicines, it reminds us of this deep, archaic wellspring within us that gets opened up in relationship with these plants. Because so often in everyday life, we're just like plants are something that we objectify to some degree, which is what makes it so easy to kill nature. And when you work with something like Ayahuasca, it reminds us that everything is sacred and that everything has a place and that we are not better than we are in relationship with these various plants.
0:43:39.9 AA: That's exactly right. And even things like money, for example. I look at money as energy. I look at everything as energy now. And just that relatedness to looking at the money, the capital as a form of energy and where does that energy best serve, whatever it is that you may be focused on, aware of, or any of that. Just that sort of small insight just changes everything. And something as powerful as Ayahuasca is something that will absolutely transform the way that you see life in general and everything in and around it, so.
0:44:28.3 PA: So we did 1heart. This is early 2019. Let's fast-forward. It's mid 2021. I remember I'm staying at a mutual... I was staying at Nicole's place in Venice. She was out of town for a couple of weeks. I remember you called me. It's May 2021. And you're like, "Paul, what's this new program you got? I think we could do something." You had mentioned Landmark at that point in time in terms of what's growing and evolving. As a lot of the listeners know, our focus is not on the medical and therapeutic use of psychedelics. Our focus is on optimization, on leadership, on performance, on awareness, on growth. What called to you about the training program? Why is it that you felt like this was something that you didn't just want to work with personally, but you felt like there was a greater potential here as a coach, as someone who is professionally involved in the space?
0:45:28.8 AA: Yeah. So it seemed like the next step in how my professional and personal life were both evolving. So I had, throughout my professional career, even prior to Landmark, I had taken on what I thought was coaching. It was really mentoring where people looking to... So my company's always been in the staffing and recruiting industry and training. So people looking to get into that industry, and I was really involved in the different organizations, the associations, they would contact me and I would offer services as a mentor. And I called myself a coach, but really was more mentor. And so after Landmark and sort of things that evolved, I had really no interest in showing people the industry that I was in or how to properly manage the business. I started to see that, ah, well, I had done some coaching... Transformational coaching with Landmark. Now I saw psychedelics as being such a massive impact in life and such an amazing tool that those could use. So I signed up as part of the... From 1heart on some of the other journeys I went on. It was an integration leader is what they called it. And it was effectively someone to help on the pre-end of the journey, work with people understand what their intentions were, refine those intentions.
0:46:46.8 AA: And then, uh, during the journey, during the actual retreat, be with them, hold some programming sessions, things like that, connect, right? And I found so much resonance around being an integration leader in the ceremonial space. And it was very related to the work I was doing previously in Landmark. And so I said what's missing, I feel, is the integration program that 1heart had. It was a five-week program. It was three weeks prior to ceremony, five weeks after ceremony. It was very, mainly group-oriented. And the relationships and the people that I was working with and how I was seeing the trajectory of how things were going after ceremony inspired me to want to do more coaching in this space. And I really didn't know where this would fit, right? I said, "Well, do I want to do coaching on the integration side? Do I want to do... Do I want to somehow bring psychedelics into the business world? Like, what does all that look like?" And then I saw that there was this program. I think Tim had mentioned it or something. So I said you know... And so I called you and I'm like, "Wow, this is exactly what I wanted to do. You have nailed it." There's a coaching program and there's now an ecosystem being cultivated of actual coaches and business leaders and people like that that have now found psychedelics and want to make a difference in their coaching or therapeutic practices or what have you.
0:48:14.6 AA: That's ideal. That's what I'm looking for. So I signed up and since I took, I was in the first cohort and since I took the course, made these incredible connections with psychologists and facilitators and ecologists and you name it. There's all sorts of different folks in this program. I started to see more and more of that, "Hey," this is something that's really starting to take hold. Like psychedelics, the evolution and the proliferation of this work it's almost doubling. I mean, I don't know the exact stats. I'm sure you do. But it just feels like the momentum is just out of control. And so I started to... I made a decision after your course that I... What I want to do is I want to make this my work that I do. And I'm not sure exactly where my particular skillset could apply as well, but I want to do that. And so I was already mentoring, it's kind of cut off my executive coaching. I still... I transformed my mentoring into more transformational coaching. I started to kind of take the focus away from the business questions they had and broaden them a bit because everything that's going on with your business in some way is affected by something that's a lot deeper than that.
0:49:40.5 AA: And so my coaching became a little bit more resonant, more authentic to the folks that I was working with. And then I started to bring in the psychedelic component first... At first thinking they're not... It's a possibility, but you know, is... "Are they going to really be interested?" And one of my members of my board, who's probably one of the most conservative guys I've ever worked with, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. And it completely changed his life. And him and I were working closely together. And I told him a little bit about my work around psychedelics. I hadn't really shared too much of it. But at this point, I was so involved, I had to share, right? So my inauthentic way of being, became extremely authentic. I stopped telling people I was going to meditation retreats. I explained to people that I'm in this work. And what I realized was that people were genuinely curious. And he came to me and he said, "Hey, this is something I might be interested in. I'm not sure because I have to run it through my doctor, and I don't want to you know, there's, there's chemo, and there's all this, but I'm interested." So I had the conversation with him, and he never went on a retreat. He was open to it.
0:50:52.7 AA: But just four months ago, he started microdosing. And this is somebody that I would have never thought would... I mean, this is someone who's never smoked a joint in his life. I mean, this is somebody who's like, as clean as clean gets. And he started microdosing, and he found so many benefits from the microdosing. And it started to transform his life. So, then I realized I have this skill set, I have these groups of people who haven't been touched by this work. I want to make this my life's work. And so that's what's happened and so most recently, I just wrapped up a... I went back to my alma mater, at George Mason University, and I took an organizational well-being course, that's an ICF certification course. And I was the only one there who had any experience at all with psychedelics, much less psychedelic facilitation or any of that. For those that don't know, George Mason is a University in Northern Virginia, it's outside of DC, and 90% of the people in that class were with the... With some government organization, some acronym DOJ, HUD, whatever they are, right? And, but I got so many people curious about psychedelics there, right? And even one person is going to be going on the sacred path journey with Andy from RCCP, because when I, another thing's interesting here, Paul, when I have this discussion, I realized that some people just prefer certain methods or modalities or paths when they go down this path.
0:52:32.8 AA: And so he had... He really felt that the path of nature and walking through nature with an ecologist, that's what he wanted to do. So I said, "Hey, I know somebody who does that." And I pointed in that direction. So, and that's a guy named Andy Sudbrock, who was part of our cohort at heart1. So anyway, my point is that I found that this work resonates with not just the folks in this work, and a lot of the times in the spiritual community, there's a lot of... There's a bit of a dogma that showed up to a certain degree. But this work resonates to people all over, government workers, you name it.
0:53:11.8 PA: It's interesting because I was chatting with someone earlier today on a Zoom... I'll be on her podcast. It's like a leadership podcast a little bit later on. And we were talking about how... She mentioned someone that she knew who was a senior level government official for both the Clinton administration and also the Obama administration, who has done over 30 psilocybin journeys at this point in time. And that if we had been having this conversation six years ago, that would be, "Oh, my gosh, that's incredible. I can't believe that." And now that we're having it in 2023, it's like, it's kind of expected like, when... I feel like when we show up in situations and places that like, "I love to be the psychedelic guy at a non-psychedelic event or conference." Because it tends to be, especially nowadays, a topic of curiosity and interest, especially for those who don't know a lot about it. And I'd much rather talk with people across the table than who already get it to some degree. Right?
0:54:26.7 PA: Because I feel like the more we can expand the bubble, right? The more people can actually find true healing and transformation. Because as you and I both know, there's a lot of stuff in therapy, there's a lot of stuff in personal development, there's a lot of stuff in sort of the New Age community that people claim works, because maybe for that person, it worked or for that group of people it worked. But what we find with psychedelics again and again, is that if certain parameters are paid attention to have a coach, have a guide, have a facilitator, do preparation, do integration, work with the right medicine, then time and time again, people have incredibly transformative experiences. And I think the key and this is what I want to get your thoughts on next, because I sense you'll have some insight into this. The key is, of course, integration and stabilizing at that sort of new lens or that new perspective. So I'm curious from your perspective, I know you're working on a number of things, and you don't have to disclose specifically what those are here. But I'd just be curious, like, what are you doing on an active basis to build a new paradigm or build new systems that allow people to be authentic, that allow people to show up as their best selves, that allow people to stabilize at these new ways and new beings and new perspectives.
0:55:53.2 PA: Because like you mentioned with Landmark, we have these breakthroughs, we have these insights. And then a month or two later, a lot of that goes away. And this can also be true for psychedelics. So I'm curious, because you're an entrepreneur at the end of the day, you're a creator, you are still an entrepreneur. What does that look like in terms of in your worldview and your... And sort of what are you actively creating?
0:56:17.0 AA: Yeah. Well, I have the... And being an entrepreneur and being someone who is actively running a functioning company right now, startup with 23 employees, I get to use what I'm learning in a real scenario where you have human beings collaborating and working with each other and creating and all of that. So the first thing that I do is in terms of my existing non-psychedelic sort of life, because I still do run a startup that is not in the psychedelic world, it's in the HR software world, I've just completely transformed my company in terms of having it be highly collaborative. So another person, Keith Ferrazzi, who's part of our journey as well, he wrote a book called 'Leadership Without Authority', and I started to really look at leadership without authority, What does that look like? 'cause even that term initially, had I not heard that before meeting Keith or being in this work, I said, "How do you lead without authority? How do you do that?" Well, I realized that it's actually something that is in the world, especially startups or small businesses that really have to be nimble and have to be able to be aware of what's happening in a given marketplace or be really highly collaborative and highly functional in that way than having an authority or a hierarchal type of way of leading a business or an organization just doesn't work.
0:57:41.7 AA: It really is open communication and collaboration, but it's not just buzzwords. It's not just, "Hey," because there's a million buzzwords around that. But it's actually setting up an organization that is able to collaborate from within, to pivot quickly, but the most important thing in that, Paul, is that people enjoy what they're doing. They enjoy the work, they enjoy working with each other. The element of joy and harmony is so critical in wherever you are. And so my way of talking to those who say work-life balance and all this, I say, "Well, hold on. When you're at work and when you're in life, you're still in life." In other words, when you're at work, you have life, when you're at the gym, you're in life, when you're a parent, you're in life, it's all life, no matter what. So it's just balance in general. And so what we need more in life is balance, joy, fun, collaboration, learning and all of that, so I've just taken that, as much as I possibly can, I've infused that into the culture of my business.
0:58:48.9 AA: And then everything in my life at this point, Paul, is somehow involved in the transformational space, whether it's my company, whether it's other projects I'm involved in. My focus now is to really work with those, meet people where they're at that haven't found this work, and whether it's psychedelics, whether it's breath work, whether it's programs like Landmark, really just give as much access to that insight as I possibly can. And I think what's important is allow for the space for those that want to grow or that see this as being something that could be transformational or impactful in their lives, allow that space for that to show up. That's what my life is moving towards, and it's really... It's something that has given true purpose to what I do all around.
0:59:49.9 PA: And I see, I was checking out your website before we started today, you have up there, "Psychedelic Coach" you've really started to integrate this, I sense, with your background as an entrepreneur and the companies that you've run and what you've created and built, you will continue to act as a really great bridge for those who are coming into the space. So I'd be curious, as we wrap up, what... When you look at the next year ahead and just imagine it's the end of 2023, what's maybe one thing you've done or accomplished or created that you're really jazzed and excited for?
1:00:35.1 AA: Yeah. Well, that's a lot. I think what I'm really jazzed and excited for right now...
1:00:39.4 PA: You can only pick one thing though.
1:00:40.6 AA: Oh shit, okay. One thing...
1:00:44.3 PA: What's the one thing?
1:00:46.2 AA: All right. I'm very excited to impact the community that I grew up in, which is the Washington DC Transactional Political Community. So I wanna bring this work to that population, to that community, to potentially the government, to potentially those that don't necessarily have access to this. As much as I can, I wanna do that. And so I'm involved with something called The Shenandoah Nature Retreat, which is opening in 2025. It's a five-star resort. Some folks who are former C-Suite of one of the largest hotel organizations in the world are getting behind it. It's not a plant medicine retreat, but it's plant-medicine friendly, which I think is gonna be sort of the inroads to being able to bring people who aren't in this work into this work. So I think that's probably one of the most exciting things that I have going on. And then we have some sound healing things. There's a lot, but we'll stick with that one for now, because each thing that I'm working on could be a full episode, so we'll leave it there.
1:01:48.0 PA: So the Shenandoah Nature Retreat going back into the sort of DC Political Community, making an impact that way. I know you're working on the sound... Do you wanna talk at all about that? Tell the audience a little bit about it, because it's fucking... It's cool, if you want.
1:02:06.9 AA: It's very cool. Real quickly, going into the One Heart Retreat that we met at, the music that resonated with me at the time, I liked jazz, I liked some rock, I loved hip hop, I loved sort of the EDM scene, I loved all of that. And Barry, who was the person who showed me 1heart, before ceremony he said, "Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world," and I was like, "What the hell is that? That sounds really cool. What is that?" So I went and talked to Barry, he goes, "Hey, that's the Grateful Dead." And there's a lot... I didn't know anything about the Grateful Dead at all. Knew nothing about them. I knew I'd heard of them and I had heard a couple of songs, but I wasn't a Deadhead. I'd been to a Dead show to sell nitrous, that's a different story, in '92 when they were at RFK.
1:02:56.3 AA: But I wasn't actually... I didn't understand the community, and I didn't understand the transformational nature of the Dead. I didn't understand how the Dead and their music and that community related to the work, and slowly I started to pull back this rope since my retreat. I went to my tent during the retreat, I turned on Pandora, I played some Dead songs, and I haven't stopped playing 'em since. So now I'm working with a group of people also from the CCP, from the training program, Cohort One, and we're putting together a Grateful Dead-based ceremony. So it's transformational work. It is a ceremony, a true plant medicine ceremony, and the container is provided by the community and the heart and the soul that was initiated through the Grateful Dead. And if those of you... Again, we can have a whole another show about that, but the Grateful Dead themselves were a big part of the second wave, Timothy Leary's... What we know as acid and what we know as psychedelics, the Grateful Dead had a big part of that. As a matter of fact, if nowadays, I'd say that they were probably the shamans of acid to the west during the second wave, and I think they have a lot to do with why we're here as well.
1:04:11.9 AA: But I didn't know anything about that, and so now I'm working on that with some very talented people, some of the founders of Blue Man Group are part of that. We have one of the executive coach and we have lots of cool people being involved, so that's to come soon, but that's another very cool project I'm involved in, so thanks for asking.
1:04:32.0 PA: I'm glad you brought up the Grateful Dead. The first ever podcast we did for this podcast was with a guy named Jesse Jarnow who wrote a book called 'Heads'.
1:04:42.9 AA: Yeah, he's awesome.
1:04:45.6 PA: Which is a massive book about the Grateful Dead and how they really tied together the '70s, '80s, '90s. So prohibition went into play '60s, '70s, and the Grateful Dead is what kept it alive for that entire... And Terence McKenna for that entire period until the new research came out and all those sorts of things. So they've been a huge spider web for the psychedelic movement from the second wave to the third wave. And I've been to a Fish show, I've listened to the Grateful Dead a little bit. I would not say jam bands are my favorite, but I'm also open to going to a Dead show. Are they still playing? They were doing John Mayer and then...
1:05:29.3 AA: No, Jerry's obviously the heart and soul, and he's...
1:05:30.1 PA: Jerry died in '94.
1:05:33.9 AA: '95, yeah.
1:05:35.1 PA: 27 years ago, yeah.
1:05:35.2 AA: Yeah. But no, John Mayer's with them. Dead & Company's final tour is this year. I'd love love for you to jump on.
1:05:39.1 PA: That's what I thought, okay.
1:05:41.0 AA: 'cause this is it. This is it.
1:05:43.5 PA: Yeah. I definitely need to go then. I definitely need to go to a show, for sure.
1:05:44.1 AA: Yeah let's go, man.
1:05:45.4 PA: We're going to a show.
1:05:46.3 AA: We're going to show this year. Just like you, I wasn't a jam band guy either, but the Grateful Dead, the one thing about them is they didn't plan sets. They played in a very gestalt way, and what was essential to them was the community that they were feeding energy back and forth. So each Dead show was truly a ceremony, and I'm excited to share that with you, brother, in our Dead & Company final tour...
1:06:12.2 PA: Let's pick a date. My year is quite open, I have a sabbatical, so once...
1:06:19.3 AA: The Gorge in Washington State, three nights, we'll go camping.
1:06:23.5 PA: Okay.
1:06:23.6 AA: Let's do it.
1:06:23.8 PA: All right.
1:06:24.8 AA: Okay. This is recorded, so we're going to the Dead [chuckle] in Washington...
1:06:30.2 PA: I'm on it.
1:06:30.7 AA: All right, cool.
1:06:31.0 PA: I'm on it.
1:06:32.2 AA: Beautiful. Amazing.
1:06:33.6 PA: I'm just gonna look at the dates and... I have a couple of commitments, one in June, but that's it.
1:06:37.5 AA: This is July, so you're free.
1:06:39.3 PA: Perfect. Yeah, July's perfectly open.
1:06:42.9 AA: Beautiful. I love it.
1:06:43.6 PA: All right. Wow. We'll wrap it up with that. Alex Atwood, if people wanna find out more about you, your background. You've a pretty active LinkedIn. What's your website?
1:06:51.8 AA: My website's AlexAtwood.co, not dot com, so feel free to...
1:06:54.0 PA: C-O?
1:06:57.1 AA: Yeah, C-O. A-L-E-X, A, one T, W-O-O-D. You're right, I am active on LinkedIn. I never really got too active on Instagram or the other ones, but LinkedIn because I'm a founder and because I just have so much of my world was business, I've been putting a lot of content on LinkedIn, so check me out there. You can just search me, you can Google my name, Alex Atwood. A lot of the stuff I'm working on will be coming up. I also have a podcast called The Alchemist Lounge, you'll enjoy that. Paul was on The Alchemist Lounge. We have lots of really interesting guests on there, so please check it out. You can also Google The Alchemist Lounge, you can find it anywhere where podcasters stream. And, yeah, feel free to reach out any time. I love talking about this work.
1:07:31.8 PA: Thank you, Alex. This was fun.
1:07:34.2 AA: Yeah, absolutely, brother.
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