THIRD WAVE PODCAST
How Psychedelics Improve Your Meditation (And Much More…)
Vincent Horn is a meditation and awareness expert, and created the popular Buddhist Geeks podcast. He talks to us about his new teaching platform (meditate.io), and explains how meditation can help us reach balance in our lives. We hear about Vince’s psychedelic experiences, and the parallels he sees between meditation and psychedelics.
Although Vince has been teaching meditation techniques for years, he and his wife have decided to begin sharing all their knowledge through the platform “meditate.io”. It gives people access to a huge variety of different meditation and awareness practices, and saves you having to go to a meditation retreat to actually learn new things.
Vince’s philosophy for meditation is that it’s a technique that has to be used with focus, intellectual discernment, and an awareness of modern problems. Unlike the New Age movement, which Vince sees as a meaningless ‘soup’ of philosophies and practices, modern meditation needs to be streamlined and adaptable.
We hear from Vince about the benefits meditation can bring the modern world – wisdom, awareness, calm. He talks about how meditation can bring together the mind and body – so instead of seeing either an entirely material world, or a world entirely in the mind, we can obtain a mind/body balance.
Vince’s journey into psychedelics is interesting – he was initially a straight-edge meditator, and although he had experienced altered states in his practice, had never tried a psychedelic. Through his meditation he became more open to the idea of substances that could assist his exploration of consciousness. While living in Colorado, he experimented with psychedelics.
He found that psychedelics could be used in a similar way to meditation, in order to explore the mind and existence. By setting an intention, and creating an environment similar to meditation, he found he learned some things through psychedelics that his meditative practice hadn’t.
Vince says that the visual experience of psychedelics was very different to that of meditation. Psychedelics allowed him to feel connected to his human ancestry, and gave him an ego death experience that shook him more fundamentally than any ego death he’d experienced with meditation.
He warns, however, about the power of psychedelics – one experience made him “go crazy” for several days. He would slap a warning label on both psychedelics and meditation, describing them both as trial by fire. He describes psychedelics as a “crash course in impermanence.” Learning about the true nature of reality can be highly uncomfortable for unprepared people.
When asked about why the meditation community can often seem hostile towards psychedelics, Vince gives a rational answer. He thinks that meditation is the ‘drug of choice’ for many traditions, religions and people. For example, Buddhism has refined meditation to such an extent that they don’t need psychedelics to further their minds.
Finally, Vince talks about the need for pragmatism when it comes to psychedelics. They have benefits, for sure, but aren’t a miracle cure and won’t solve the world’s problems by themselves.
0:00:29 Paul Austin: Welcome back to The Third Wave Podcast, I’m recording this from Portland, Oregon, where I’m spending a week. We have an event here on Sunday, April 30th, which is when many of you will be hearing this. It’s a microdosing and a psychedelic stories event with symposia. And we will be doing an event at the Bossanova Ballroom if any of you are in Portland and wanna come out. And I am super excited to talk about microdosing to about 250 people here. And so, I’m coming to you from Portland, Oregon, first of all, because I’ve never been to Portland and I wanted to come out here and check it out with a good friend of mine, Brian Pace, who runs Mind Manifest Midwest, a psychedelic society in Columbus, Ohio. I was recently at Psychedelic Science, which I wanna briefly talk about, because many of you who are listening know about Psychedelic Science.
0:01:19 PA: And I met some of you at the conference itself, the rest of you, I’m sure, are interested and curious to hear about my personal experience with Psychedelic Science, so I would just like to share a few of those details. The biggest highlight of my experience at Psychedelic Science was connecting with Jim Fadiman. So, Jim is more or less known as the father of microdosing. He did a lot of research in the ’60s on LSD for creativity and problem-solving. He first tripped on psilocybin in the early ’60s with Richard Alpert, who later became Ram Dass in Paris. And I actually got to hear Jim’s story and various facets and aspects of his story, because we spent a lot of time together.
0:01:56 PA: So I learned, for example, that Jim slept in train stations, and on couches, and pretty much backpacked around Europe like a hobo and a hippie in the early ’60s, which I was really glad to hear, because I did something very similar in my early 20s. I basically traveled around Europe for five months one time. Another time was for about two-and-a-half months, I couched-surfed all over Scotland, the UK, or Scotland, England, Spain. I’ve couch-surfed in Sweden, Barcelona, Serbia, Budapest, Turkey, I mean really all over. And so, it was really interesting to hear Jim’s story and hear the commonalities that we had as people.
0:02:35 PA: Spending time with Jim, as he said to me, it’s like spending time with my younger self in a way. And so it’s no coincidence, I believe, that I have focused so much on microdosing and Jim has focused so much on microdosing and that we definitely see commonalities in terms of how we’re approaching the future for psychedelic research and for the psychedelic, overall psychedelic group in terms of how the cultural narrative is changing. And both of us see microdosing as the quickest way to make these substances available to those who would like to use them, because micro-doses are non-threatening, you don’t trip out, but a lot of people notice significant benefits, especially when it comes to mental health and mood disorders.
0:03:15 PA: So, Jim and I had dinner on Wednesday night at a Cambodian restaurant where I first got to speak to him and get to know him. And then we spoke and had many meals over the weekend. And Jim is a repository of wisdom, and I think what is going to be critical moving forward for the psychedelic space is to be able to pass that wisdom down to next generation leaders. Something that’s interesting about the psychedelic space is there’s a generation that’s missing, by and large, in that a lot of the people who were involved in the psychedelics in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s are now reaching an older age where they’re starting to retire. And because of the dark ages of the ’80s and ’90s, there’s really very few people in that age group who have been very active, prominent people within the psychedelic space. Instead only because of the recent psychedelic Renaissance, this third wave of psychedelics, are we seeing a resurgence in interest and we’re seeing a lot of people in their 20s and 30s, who have been involved with it, including myself.
0:04:13 PA: And a key critical component of furthering this message of legitimizing psychedelics and making them available to those who would like to use them is to take the wisdom and the knowledge that these people from the older generation have and to learn from it and to use it, in terms of how we carry out our next steps and moves. And what I love about Jim is he’s not of the researcher, scientist, academia mold. Jim has been a business consultant. Jim taught a class on design engineering at Stanford. Jim’s a psychologist. And we did a press conference together after the microdosing presentation that he gave on Friday afternoon, from which we learned that microdosing is effective for treating depression. A lot of the other results were inconclusive. We know that it’s probably not the best thing for people with anxiety, but overall the results look promising. Anyway, we were at this press conference and someone asked Jim a question about the research that will happen now. And the way that Jim responded to this question is something I really liked where he basically said, “I’m not interested in the research, I’m interested in the search. I’m interested in finding that unique beautiful story, that unique beautiful flower in the botanical gardens that is just absolutely breathtaking to look at and brings upon a moment of joy and bliss.”
0:05:34 PA: And I think that’s largely been Jim’s focus with microdosing so far, and he’s saying, “Hey, look, I have all this subjective data, various anecdotal reports. People have shown that it might be helpful for depression, or it might be helpful for athletic ability, or it might be helpful for creativity, or for things related to menstruation, or hair loss, or whatever.” There’s a lot of interesting stories. And what Jim is doing is he’s providing the umbrella for researchers to now take these stories and carry out double blind placebo controlled studies on the actual efficacy of microdosing. What Jim is doing is right in line with what we’re doing at Third Wave, which is why we’re really working together now, it’s that we’re trying to create an umbrella under which everyone in the psychedelic space can have a voice, not just the scientists and the researchers and the academics.
0:06:26 PA: And we think this will be critical in terms of pushing the cultural narrative forward and making these substances available, not just on a top-down FDA-approved model, but from a grassroots decentralized perspective where people can choose to make educated decisions based on what they know about themselves and based on what they know about these medicines. And so, that’s really the main thing that I wanted to share about Psychedelic Science.
0:06:51 PA: Otherwise, Brad and Brian and the whole team at MAPS did a phenomenal job in organizing it. This was by far the best psychedelic conference I have attended, it was also the largest with over 2500 people. A few of the talks that I checked out was the Psilocybin and Meditation talk, and a couple of questions that I have about that, which you will discover in this episode today with our interview with Vince Horn is, where do those come together? Where do psychedelics and meditation come together? Because we know with high doses of psychedelics and we know with long-term meditators that there are similar things going on in the brain.
0:07:26 PA: My question is, can we accelerate the process of healing, especially for people who struggle with depression or other issues if we combine low doses of psychedelics with meditation? Is it a 1+1=3 model or is it a piecemeal 1+1=2 model? My belief is that it’s a 1+1=3 model, that it will accelerate the healing process, but more research will tell us whether or not that’s true. So that’s one I checked out. I also checked out Paul Stamets’ talk about mushrooms. And there were a couple of really interesting slides in there about a new tropic in a way, like a vitamin.
0:08:00 PA: In fact, in his talk Paul Stamets referred to microdosing as a vitamin, which is the same exact thing that Jim Fadiman said about microdosing, “It’s a vitamin. It’s providing some level of hormone equilibrium which is helping people to live better lives.” And in that presentation Paul gave a little snapshot of an idea of a nutraceutical, which is 0.1 grams of Psilocybin mushrooms, with 0.1 grams of Lion’s Mane, which is a non-psychoactive mushroom, but has definite medical benefits. And so that’s a really interesting idea. If you’re interested in carrying out that idea, if you’re interested in that, send me a message and let me know. But that’s something I might look at pursuing in the future.
0:08:35 PA: The other talk I went to was about rebranding psychedelics, where we heard Don Lattin speak, we’ll have Don on the podcast in a few months. I picked up his book, and I spoke to him briefly, and I’m going to interview him for the podcast. Don wrote The Harvard Psychedelic Club, his new book is out as well, which we will talk more about later. And the Rebranding Psychedelics panel also had content managers from Beckley, MAPS and Hefter on board. Unfortunately, even though we do have the largest reach for content, we were not asked to be on, but I think Third Wave has kind of been purposely keeping us under the radar to minimize public commitments outside of microdosing seminars.
0:09:11 PA: However, I will say, if you wanna make effective content, you have to pay attention to all aspects. And you have to provide information and resources that people need and you can use those foundational resources as a means to push forward the conversation by writing opinion-oriented pieces that ask questions that maybe won’t have been asked before. We’re having a lot of success with our content. We have over 100,000 unique visitors a month at this point, including probably 20,000 to 25,000 people a month just for microdosing who come through our site. And then we have various other pieces of content that attract people as well. So in the future we’ll talk more about that. What role does Internet marketing and content management play in rebranding the psychedelic experience? Anyway, I just wanted to get in a little bit, catch you guys up with the details. Also there are a couple pieces out recently that would be good to know.
0:10:04 PA: I was featured in the largest news site in the Netherlands, NOS, which we will provide a link to. They did a feature on LSD microdosing, in terms of accessing flow states. And the Facebook video that I was in was viewed over 200,000 times, which I thought was phenomenal. And I basically wrote on that thread, “Hey, if you guys have any questions, please ask because I am available to answer questions about microdosing.” I was also featured in The Willamette Week, which is a weekly newspaper in Portland, which I definitely just mispronounced. And we will also provide a link to that article as well. I think that’s it.
0:10:40 PA: So let’s get to the podcast. Yeah, so our podcast today is with Vince Horn. Vince is a meditation and awareness expert, and he used to run a popular Buddhist geeks podcast. He now talks to us about his new teaching platform, meditate.io, and explains how meditation can help us reach balance in our lives. In this podcast, you will hear about Vince’s psychedelic experiences, the parallels he sees between meditation and psychedelics, and how the two can be used together to create new mapping territory to accelerate the healing process in the brain. You guys are gonna love this, Vince, I’ve spoken to a couple of times now, he is an amazing human being, he has keen insight on the meditative experience. He originally was a straight edge mediator as you will hear, eventually got into cannabis and then psychedelics, integrating those into his meditative practice.
0:11:32 PA: A couple of notes before we start. I just wanna thank some of our new Patreon donors, Andrew Monu, Susan link killed Susie Lynch, Ley Lennox, Jonathan Dilworth, Kelly, Sherine, Cathy Ellis and Mason Flemming. Thank you, thank you, thank you for donating to our Patreon. Without your donations this would be less feasible to do. So I appreciate all of you who are donating. Just a brief announcement about our Patreon page, now that we’ve onboarded a part-time community manager, Dania, she will be handling the Patreon page, as well as the forum, as well as social media and email. And so we’re gonna start rolling out more exclusive stuff for our Patreon subscribers, meaning if you donate to the Patreon you will have first look at the content we publish, you will have first look at the podcasts that we published, you will have first look at the books that we bring out, you will have first access to tickets that we sell for events and workshops. Patreon subscribers will have first access to everything.
0:12:33 PA: And so I encourage you guys, if you enjoy this show, to make a small donation because it would help us in making sure that this podcast is of the highest quality possible. One other thing, we are currently hiring for two positions, and if you’re listening to this in late April, early May, those positions are still available. We’re looking for a part-time digital marketer, a part-time graphic designer, and a part-time content manager. Preferably the content manager will be a woman. The other two indifferent to gender. It’ll be 15 to 20 hours of work per week, and there will be a stipend provided. It won’t be a lot, but it will be more than most other organizations can offer. So I encourage you, if you have one of the skill sets, to apply. We’ll provide a link in the show notes for more details.
0:13:19 PA: So yeah. It’s a longer intro than normal, but I feel like I will have more and more to share with you guys, especially in the coming weeks as more media attention comes out for Third Wave, we’re talking to some large global media outlets, and so there will be big news on that front as well. So thank you all for tuning in, and please, if you enjoy the podcast, leave a review. Here’s Vince Horn from meditate.io.
0:13:58 PA: Cool, well, how is your new project going with meditate.io?
0:14:01 Vincent Horn: Yeah, it’s going well, we’re figuring out how to take… When I say “we”, my wife, Emily, and I are teaching partners in that project and we have been teaching, for years, different styles of meditation, through our past project called Buddhist Geeks. We’re figuring out how to take all of the things that we’ve been teaching for years and make them more widely accessible, so that’s not always requiring us to be there. So we’re recording videos and sharing ideas that we’ve now shared many times with students. So that’s fun, figuring out how to take what we’ve been creating and make it more accessible.
0:14:37 PA: And so can we start by talking a little bit about Buddhist Geeks? ‘Cause I know that’s how I first heard of you or found out about you. What was the aim of that project and how did that go for you?
0:14:47 VH: Yeah, sure. So Buddhist Geeks started in 2007 as a podcast like this and the aim of it, initially, was just to have conversations with people I thought were cool. But then, the deeper aim over the 10 years that the project ran started to become really more about an exploration of how Buddhism was intersecting with various aspects of the modern world. In particular, we focused a lot on technology and new generational concerns and cultural issues and questions. So it really became a project, at first of seeing what does Buddhism have to offer to the modern world. And then as we got further into that question, it actually morphed into and what does the modern world have to offer Buddhism? And then eventually, the whole question exploded in my face. And I realized that in, certain ways, what Buddhism had to offer to the modern world, what modern world had to offer Buddhism. The answer to that question was, in some ways, Buddhism actually needed to change much more in response to modern world, in my opinion, in a way that I had to offer the modern world. And so that’s part of the reason we moved away from, into this new project, focusing more on meditation than on Buddhism, the philosophical system, the whole system of training that it offers.
0:16:04 PA: Can you talk a little bit more about that? What led you to that conclusion?
0:16:07 VH: Well, one of the things that was really obvious throughout this time, from 2007 to end of 2016, is the mindfulness movement was really taking off, that was one thing. And with that, was all the research was happening in the contemplative science field. The Dalai Lama helped kick that off. And there’s so much research and so many researchers who started focusing primarily on the way that meditation affects particularly the brain. And watching that and seeing that and being part of that conversation and critiquing it most of the time, appreciating it, but also being critical of it, I started to see mindfulness and mindfulness meditation were having the biggest and most significant impact on where we were heading as a species. And Buddhism certainly kicked that off but it had in some ways, lost relevance in the new era of digital unbundling where all of its component parts, mindfulness being one, were starting to come apart in the same way that everything is now in the digital age. And those component parts were then being remixed with other fields of knowledge and other component parts that were unbundling. And to me, that became the much more interesting area to explore is how to take these really interesting and powerful aspects of what you find in training in Buddhist practice, and be able to re-mix those in new ways that is more responsive to the actual needs and ways that most of us live right now, in the 21st century.
0:17:41 PA: And the way you’re describing it, it sounds a little bit like the New Age movement of the ’90s with people like Gary Zukav, who wrote Seat To The Soul, Gary Renard, who wrote the Disappearance Of The Universe. How would you say what you were talking about is different from that New Age movement of the ’90s?
0:17:57 VH: Yeah, so very familiar with the new age movement because my family was New Age-y. And I grew up in a New Age household, somewhat. And the New Age movement, in my experience, was really much more of, I’m not speaking of the authors you mentioned, but much more of like a soup. They were just like, “Let’s throw everything together in this one big soup and just mix it up.” And it was like throw in some Buddhism and throw in some aliens and throw in some magic and throw in this and throw in that.
0:18:28 VH: And for me, part of what I noticed was as I divorced myself from the church, my family church, and I grew up out of the family religion, which not everyone is lucky enough to do, is that what I notice is, one, a lot of these elements didn’t actually fit together, they didn’t actually meld, like the flavor when you combined the ingredients actually tasted like ugh, instead of taking something really good. And also, there’s a lack of discrimination and discernment on an intellectual level, I think, in the New Age movement, in general. It’s so committed to everything being one, that it just collapses and throws out all these important distinctions. And for me, the difference right now is how do we bring things together in ways that actually create new kinds of fusions, which are better and novel and more appropriate, not just like how do we throw everything together into one big soup?
0:19:21 PA: So instead of this mass, common… Yeah, I think soup is a good way of describing it, that people can pick and take from you see more of what’s going on now with the internet and what’s happening with what you mention like the unraveling of Buddhism and the integration of Buddhism into more modern technology. You see it as there being potential for fusion between various aspects and various modalities like learning modalities or or health modalities to create new ways of perceiving things or looking at problems or dealing with issues things, things of that nature.
0:19:53 VH: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of potential in bringing new things together, new elements, bringing… As an example, bringing mindfulness to relationships, for instance. There’s a lot of potential there in terms of how it could be done, but there’s also a lot of potential to create just really ineffective stuff that actually works less well than the past institutions that we’re unbundling from. Which are themselves already a bundle of collection of ideas and practices and views. And so I like the metaphor of cuisine and cooking, because a lot of the most cutting edge cuisine, if you want things like Netflix, like Chef’s Table…
0:20:31 PA: Oh, I love that show.
0:20:32 VH: Right, right. Okay, so one of the most common things about those people is that they’re taking things and remixing them with modern techniques of cooking, like taking Indian food and some of the classic Indian cuisine. And they’re doing this, on the one hand, they’re really breaking with the traditions they grew up in and learned from and pissing people off in the process.
0:20:54 PA: Yes.
0:20:54 VH: At the same time, they’re remixing some of the core elements that they really deeply learned. They actually know these things deeply from their training and from their, in some cases, their upbringing. So it’s not that they’re just making stuff up and throwing things in the… They’re not just like, “Oh, Indian food. Let me throw that in the pot.” I think they’re really deeply enmeshed in what Indian food is and as a result were able to identify the pieces that could be pulled out and remixed in new ways. And so I think that’s the difference. If someone doesn’t know what they’re remixing from or what they’re pulling from, there’s a much higher likelihood that they’re gonna serve you a plate of shit [chuckle] essentially. And they’re not gonna be on Chef’s Table as a result.
0:21:36 PA: Ever, they will never be on Chef’s Table. I watched that show for the first time maybe six months ago or so, with a couple of close friends of mine when I was living in Lisbon. And we watched the one that was Stone Hill Barn with Dan Barber where they source everything locally. It’s in upstate New York, like in the Hudson Valley.
0:21:55 VH: Right.
0:21:55 PA: And then we watched the French one, I forget the name of that one, but it was just like, wow, amazing. And then recently, I’m glad you mentioned this because recently, I watched the first episode of the first season. And that first episode is about an Italian chef who had lived in New York for a period of time and then had moved back to Italy and I forget the exact location, but he did exactly what you’re talking about and they highlighted that in the show where he’s basically like, “When I first opened this restaurant, no one showed up because they were all so pissed off that I’d taken grandmother’s recipes and had put this really kind of modern fusion on them.” And now, he is the second ranked restaurant in the world. Those rankings just came out yesterday or the day before. Again, the world’s top 50 restaurants or whatever.
0:22:41 VH: Yes.
0:22:41 PA: And so… Yeah, I’m really, really glad you brought up that metaphor because I think that’s a really great way of envisioning the difference between the New Age movement and what’s going on with meditation. And also, you know, what’s going on with psychedelics, because we’ve talked about this in previous conversations, but there is some really interesting potential and fusion for what we’re discovering with psychedelics and their effects and what we know about meditation, both from a wisdom perspective, things that that we’ve learned from maybe the ancient texts from Hinduism or Buddhism, but also more from a modern perspective, like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are, his aspect of integrated mindfulness. We can now take these things and apply them for specific purposes. Like you’re saying, relationships or high performance athletics or work productivity, efficiency, creativity. There are all these modalities that we can now explore. So I’m really glad that you made that point, because that makes it very, very clear in terms of how to proceed.
0:23:37 VH: Yeah, cool.
0:23:37 PA: So you did talk about meditation and relationships and eventually, I do wanna get into obviously the relationship between psychedelics and meditation. But before we do that, can you just talk a little bit more about what you perceive as being these potential uses of meditation and apply to various aspects or various areas?
0:23:56 VH: Yeah, I think you’ve mentioned some of the major ones already. And I’d add in there, yeah, like wisdom or awakening as its traditional Buddhist language is kind of impossibility as well. I think what’s interesting about meditation in a way. It’s so much about training, attention and there’s so many different ways that one can train attention or cultivate certain aspects of one’s being and one’s consciousness through meditation that it’s kind of wide open in terms of how one can then use that. It really goes back to people’s intention or kind of motivation for meditation. And to me, that’s a central point and a central question, at least for us, in how we teach is investigating that question and really making that question like, “Why am I doing this? What is the purpose of this?” a central meditation in itself. Because I think bringing attention to the question of what drives us and what motivates us is a way also to deepen our own understanding of who we are, what this is about for us, this journey of life, why is it meaningful? It brings up very deep, important ethical questions. And to me, as long as people are connected to the why of what they’re doing, I trust their process of figuring out what they’re applying it to. And there’s so many different applications.
0:25:13 PA: And for you, how important is that why in the end result or the end outcome?
0:25:20 VH: For me, I see the why as being totally interlinked with the results. In a way, you could say like, there’s the why, there’s like, “Why am I doing this?” There’s the, “What am I practicing? What’s the actual instruction method?” And then there’s all these supporting views or the theoretical framework in which that’s happening. What you’re being told the practice is, what it’s supposed to do, what it’s supposed to lead to, what kind of milestones you might see along the way, how do you know you’re making progress, how do you deal with obstacles? There’s all the theoretical frame that you’re handed and then there’s the result, there’s the outcome of your practice. And I think the why impact on that overall equation, as does the instruction, the practice, the framework, the theory also really impact the result.
0:26:07 PA: And the reason I asked that was because there has been a lot of research that’s come out recently about mindfulness meditation but also about psychedelics. And this is something that I was talking about with even a couple of the researchers at Johns Hopkins. Part of science is to try to eliminate as many variables as possible. And what we’re now discovering is that there’s this really interesting relationship between mind and body where the way that we think and how we think, how we perceive reality, actually influences things on a physical level, on a even cellular level. Bruce Lipton, have you heard of Bruce Lipton before?
0:26:43 VH: I’ve heard of him, yeah.
0:26:44 PA: Okay. So he wrote this book called The Biology of Belief, which I think I’ve now referenced in a couple of podcast episodes and he’s a medical doctor, has taught at various medical schools and kind of caused a lot of controversy 15 or 20 years ago when he started to discuss this relationship between quantum mechanics and cellular activity and how you think and what you think, and for example, the intentions you set or the purposes you have heavily influence the end result or the end outcome. Which I think then shows potentially the limitation of science in helping us to understand some of the benefits or effects of things like psychedelics or meditation even. Where are you on that spectrum in terms of the efficacy of science and how do you think this belief of yours, that the why matters so much, how do you think that would muddy or influence scientific results or if it makes them invalid or what do you see in terms of that relationship?
0:27:43 VH: Well, you started off by talking about the mind and body and the way they influence each other. And I guess my perspective is, over the years, has continued to drive toward a way of thinking and experiencing where mind and body are not two separate things. And I don’t exactly know what that means because most of my training has been, you could say, from the mind side of those two perspectives. My training isn’t as a scientist. And so, what I see as a meditation teacher is that our consciousness shapes our reality. Not in the secret way, exactly, not in the whatever I want becomes reality, but in the sense that everything that we experience, and this include scientists, everything scientists experience, everything I experience, everything is only ever known through our first hand subjective experience. And that’s I think one of the most powerful points that the meditative traditions make, at least the ones I’ve studied, is that you cannot find anything outside of this experience. And thus, we’re always limited to it.
0:28:49 VH: And in that sense, I think scientists who traditionally… I think science is changing but traditionally science has been about finding this truly objective way of looking at the world where it’s all from the third person perspective, all looking from this outside perspective on the world. And one thing I learned early on from one of my early mentors, a guy named Ken Wilber, was that there is no such thing as a totally objective perspective. The only way you can even imagine that is in your subjective experience. And so, to me, I think scientists who are really confident that everything is totally just this material experience, it’s all one thing, and that all that one thing is physical. I think there’s a belief there like a faith that isn’t justifiable, in terms of their actual practice of science because all of those beliefs are themselves arising and only have ever risen in human consciousness.
0:29:47 VH: And so to reduce human consciousness to material as an absolute, like this is absolutely true, there’s a deep irony in that because that’s only ever happened in a conscious being’s experience. And likewise, I think because on the Buddhist side, actually there’s a history, this is getting a little geeky, but I used to be a Buddhist geek, so I’ll hope you afford me that. There’s a whole school in Indian Buddhism called the Yoga Char School that literally means mind only. And that school had this fundamental belief that everything is just consciousness. And they went, to me, to the other side of that mind-body paradox and said, “Everything is just this consciousness.” But actually no, there are physical things too. And we can measure for them in certain ways that we couldn’t with our naked eye and with just our empirical senses.
0:30:35 VH: And we learned things about the universe as a result, we’re able to predict things much better, we’re able to create technologies that are enabling this conversation, the science, the scientific method. It’s like by taking the perspective as if everything is physical and as if we look at it in that way, we can discover a lot of things about the universe. But I think if we take the perspective as if everything is consciousness, we can also learn very interesting things that won’t be revealed through the scientific method, but are equally important to human life. And I think psychedelics falls squarely in that category as well, to me.
0:31:08 PA: So do you think this theory of consciousness is maybe the unitive theory that we’ve been searching for all along?
0:31:14 VH: I don’t know.
0:31:15 PA: Okay.
0:31:17 VH: I’m not searching for any unitive anything, but I am just curious when people try to reduce things that are outside their scope of knowledge to what they do know. When I hear scientists saying, “Everything is material,” I’m like, “Okay, that’s an interesting belief.” My experiences point to contradictory understandings of reality in the universe. And I think a lot of that has to do with what I’ve practiced, what I’ve learned, the intentions I’ve had, and so I just don’t see how those things square.
0:31:48 PA: Yeah, and I’m with you on that. I, myself, used to be a pretty hard core “materialist.” I grew up in a conservative environment, basically, very Christian, and then found atheism. I was like, “Oh, this is really interesting.” Richard Dawkins, primarily, but also Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and a few others. And…
0:32:07 VH: The Four Horsemen.
0:32:08 PA: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then through my psychedelic experiences, I came to realize that this idea of materialism, this idea that we can basically reduce everything into quarks or atoms or molecules or strings or whatever you wanna call it, something was missing from that. And then I read Aldous Huxley and I had read Huxley’s Brave New World in high school, I think when I was 16 or 17. And it wasn’t until I was 21 or 22 that I actually discovered that he had done psychedelics and was big proponent of psychedelics. And he in fact was such a big proponent that he injected himself with LSD on his death bed when he was dying, the same day as JFK and CS Lewis. But this is just fun random trivia that I have discovered.
0:32:53 VH: But anyway, I got into Aldous Huxley, he wrote this book called The Perennial Philosophy, and also The Doors Of Perception. And through that, then I started to explore, oh, maybe there is something about non-dualism or there is something to this aspect of a unitive consciousness that we can’t necessarily explain with measurements and instruments and microscopes. And so I think for me, this is also when I was starting on mindfulness meditation and getting into those things. And it seems like this is becoming a cultural trend. Also that people are waking up to the fact that we don’t just live in a material world, that there is something out there and the sickness that has permeated our culture and society is largely a result of scientism and worshipping materialist reductionism to an nth degree, over-compensating almost, and forgetting about the subjective experience and how, like we were talking about, this relationship between mind and body can be influenced by things like positive thinking, by meditation, by mantras, by various other techniques or methodologies as well.
0:34:03 VH: Yeah, totally, and the piece we haven’t really talked about, but I think is also another irreducible perspective, is the inner subjective reality of how we’re being constantly made up by each other, as well. And science is a great example of that because there would be no science if there was just one person out there running experiments, because you have to have things replicated. You have to talk to other people, see what they’re finding. Somebody has to do the math to explain how you got to where you got. And so, and the same actually is true in meditation. There’s no real isolated meditative experience, it’s always something that is social in nature. We share it with each other, or we be it, and we affect each other. And part of what Emily and I have been exploring a lot is how to take traditional meditative methods that were done solo by oneself, even if it’s silently with a group, and to make them more explicitly social practices.
0:35:01 VH: So we don’t continue to also worship the metaphysics of the individual, which I think is also part of the materialist world view, also it’s a rational individual at the center of it, and this rational individual is capable of knowing everything, and it is isolated or it is totally autonomous in some way, and that ultimately all we have to rely on is ourselves. And I just think that’s so not true. The very science, that science is revealing more and more the ways that that’s not true. The network has become, as Alexander Bard, the Swedish philosopher, says, “The network has become the primary metaphor for our lives now, not the individual.” So I think that’s another interesting dimension of this. We think about the deeper philosophical underpinnings of what this might all be about.
0:35:49 PA: Yeah. The deep question.
0:35:52 VH: Yeah.
0:35:53 PA: I think that’s a good point. And maybe that’s part of this cultural movement or trend that we’re seeing is it’s a recognition of the limits to individualism, and it’s a recognition of the usefulness and utility and the benefit of community. It seems like America, obviously, or the USA, the United States of America, of all places, has a very individualist mindset. I think it’s very, very strong here and that comes from our Hellenistic traditions of Ancient Greece. And then it was just kind of accentuated when we had all these settlers move over here in the 18th, 19th and 20th century. They all had that kind of pioneering mindset, and they really created a United States that was very, very strike off on your own and do as you will. And I think, I spend quite a bit of time in Europe, and my perception of Europe is they went through that period, but they went through that period like, a long time ago.
0:36:44 PA: And especially ever since World War II, the way that Europe has operated has been very collaborative, and very societal, community-based. And I think that underlying principle has created a much healthier and just society in which these people live.
0:37:00 VH: Really interesting, and that’s not even to start talking about some modern Asian cultures, like in China, for instance. It’s like such a huge shift toward the collective way of understanding oneself, compared to what you said in America that every individual is for themselves.
0:37:16 PA: Yeah, and it will be interesting as trying to… Kind of appropriate some more of Western culture and Western mindset, consumerism and individualism. It will be interesting to see how that plays out on a global scale. And we’re already seeing some indicators of that, but I feel like China really hasn’t quite developed the extent that it will. It’s still kind of in its infancy, so to say. When you have 1.3 billion people, they literally have 900 million more people than the United States. So it will just be interesting to see what happens as a result of that. But let’s kind of… What I want to do is catapult a little bit into then psychedelics and we’ll transition into that. Could you just maybe tell our audience a little bit about your experience with psychedelics? Just we’ll start with that on a more general basis.
0:37:58 VH: Yeah, sure. So I go into a little more detail in this, one of the last Buddhist Geeks podcast if anyone’s interested. I think it’s called Meditating on Mushrooms. But my basic background is that I was a straight edge meditator for several years. And all of my altered state experiences came through long retreat practice and doing multiple hours a day of meditation while going to school. And so that was my introduction to altered state experiences and to very trippy, weird, out there states of consciousness.
0:38:29 VH: So, I wasn’t unfamiliar with that, but I had never done psychedelics. I’d smoked pot a few times in high school and had some good experiences, but I didn’t consider them to be formative experiences. Then, as I went deeper in my meditation practice, I actually… What I’ve started to find was, I started to get more flexible and open to the possibility that what I’d been doing wasn’t the only way to explore consciousness and started to relax the rigidity and relax some of the thinking that I’d taken on about using substances, and the way that that would harm my ability to see clearly what’s here, what’s present, which is in the tradition I practice in, was one of the fundamental moral precepts, if you will. Like don’t use substances that’ll cloud your mind.
0:39:17 VH: As I started kind of relaxing around that, I was living in Boulder at the time. And so, obviously, in Boulder, Colorado, there’s a lot of different substances. And marijuana had recently been legalized, medically, and very loose laws around that. So I found myself at a party and there were joints being passed around and mushrooms in the freezer, and so I was just like, “Hey, you know what, I feel like I’m ready to explore this first hand and see what is this like and how does this compare to my own experience of meditation? See what the relationship is.”
0:39:48 VH: And so I started, at that party, starting with smoking some weed, having pretty interesting and powerful experience, started to kind of experiment with psychoactive substances, and eventually tried mushrooms several times, LSD and a number of other things. And really treated that experimentation primarily as in the same way that I treated my meditation practice. I did it usually with other people that were also practicing together, that had a similar intention to explore consciousness. We’d do the whole… You know, we’d set up the space in the same way we would set up a space for a retreat practice. We’d set an intention and share that intention with each other. We’d sit. Then we’d actually take the substance and then we’d meditate more. We’d actually do formal practice, sometimes we’d do social meditation together, and then we’d sort of let it, see where experience took us and just kind of be present for it, and at some point, as we came down from the journey, we’d reflect on what it was like, what we learned, what we noticed, just comparing and contrasting.
0:40:45 VH: And basically the way that I’ve approached psychedelics has been that, it’s been another tool or another means of exploring consciousness and what I’ve learned from that has been really in alignment with what I’ve learned from meditation, but it’s also in some ways revealed other things that my meditation practice didn’t, and so I’ve found it really complementary and supplementary as well.
0:41:06 PA: So for you, what catalyzed that shift from being a straight edge meditator towards looking at substances as a way of accessing alternative consciousness?
0:41:15 VH: Well, I’d like to think that it was actually that the meditation was working, and I was becoming more open and more flexible in my mind and less or confident that I could experiment and explore things which weren’t just about numbing out or getting away, but were actually, it could be used with an intention to explore and to investigate, that I could trust that intention more so than I could trust what the traditions were telling me is true, and I could trust my intuition about where this path was leading than I could trust the words of people that were written down and recorded thousands of years ago. That’s kind of what brought me towards being willing to experiment. And I had a bunch of friends who I really respected who I thought were decent people who use psychedelics and some of them used them regularly, and they seemed to be fine. I was like, “Oh, okay.”
0:42:12 PA: That first hand, subjective experience I have noticed that that has an impact on people. I think this is a big part of what’s going on in psychedelics right now is as more and more people become open about their psychedelic use more and more people become open about their psychedelic use. And that seems to have a positive effect because, by and large, these substances are safe and non-toxic. And obviously, as you’ve experienced and as I’ve experienced, very helpful dealing with different questions or asking different questions or whatever that might be. So, I mean, when you were going through this shift, what was your understanding as to why, for example. Most traditions or practices of Buddhism, they kind of frown upon psychedelics? Why do you think that’s the case?
0:42:58 VH: Well, I think in some ways it’s in part because meditation is their drug of choice, and what I found is like a lot of traditions, they have certain things they rely on to alter their consciousness or to explore consciousness, and I think the Buddhist tradition more than probably most others really has developed, really refined techniques of meditation, of state training, of attentional training that are really effective and work if you get the dosage right, and the instructions right. And so, in a sense, I think they didn’t really need psychedelics to explore a lot of things and probably as a result of just like having their drug of choice, just sort of simplifying things and say, no, we don’t need or want anything.
0:43:43 VH: The other traditional kind of reasoning that’s given for avoiding intoxicating substances, and I don’t think this exactly applies to psychedelics because they don’t intoxicate in the same way that, say, like alcohol does, is that some intoxicants when you take them, they actually lead to letting go of your ability to make wise discernments about your actions. They drop your inhibitions, but in a way they also drop your like moral compass in action. And you start doing stupid stuff, or some people do if they do enough of it, and so their concern really, the Buddhists were like, if you lose your inhibitions you also lose your mindfulness and if you lose your mindfulness it opens you up to making all kinds of other mistakes, like if you’re not aware of what you’re doing, or why, then suddenly you can do some things that are gonna have some real negative ramifications.
0:44:37 VH: And one of the interesting things about Buddhism is it’s built on this sort of metaphysical philosophical platform of karma, where the idea is your actions are actually sowing seeds in the present that will have some sort of ramification for you in the future. So their whole thing was about avoiding creating quote unquote negative karma, instead sowing positive Karma, and then ultimately actually realizing that who and what you are at the most fundamental level isn’t actually, there’s some aspect to experience that’s fundamental that isn’t affected by the flow of experience or cause and effect. There’s something which stands beyond, but it’s more fundamental than what’s happening experientially, it’s the other aspect of experience that’s unborn, undying, untouched, unmoved. They call it nirvana or emptiness.
0:45:25 VH: And so that’s kind of the Buddhist approach is discover your empty nature, sow good things and avoid the bad things. And for them, intoxicants led to bad things. It’s a pretty simple view in a lot of ways. That said, I’ve got a great book that I just started reading called The Secret Drugs of Buddhism, and there is actually a historical use of psychedelics, especially in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition coming out of India, and there are some good arguments being made in that book, and I’ve seen it made by others that some of the sacraments used in some of these Vajrayana tantric rituals were in fact psychedelic substances, and I think that’s really interesting that it’s not all Buddhists that have avoided psychedelics.
0:46:06 PA: What I think we’re discovering more about this in general is there’s this sense of, we interpret the past through our current principles or through the current way that we look at reality, and I think for that reason, oftentimes, when we interpret the past from a mainstream perspective, we’ve largely done it in a way that has excluded drugs, because there was so much taboo and there has been so much taboo around illicit substances. So, someone else that I interviewed on the podcast a few weeks ago, Danny, who’s written this book, partly about drugs in the Bible. I interviewed him about that topic. And he told me about all these different drugs, like frankincense is a tranquilizer, myrrh is an opiate, manna was likely some sort of psychedelic substance, whether that was mushroom or some type of ergot fungus.
0:46:53 PA: The people who… The priests in the temples used to rub this basically like a psychoactive ointment on themselves that would make them basically trip out and it was only available to the priests. And with this book that you’re talking about, that’s just another indicator that Soma is a substance that has been talked about in these ancient religions and ancient practices. And a lot of people assume that it’s like a mushroom, basically, that they were consuming.
0:47:18 VH: Yes. And I don’t know that it’s all conclusive or anything, but it’s indicative. Like you’re saying, it’s indicative that psychoactive substances have been used and have been used for religious purposes by so many of the major traditions, usually on the fringes, I think that’s kind of what’s interesting; at least in Buddhism it’s a fringe usage, but it’s there.
0:47:40 PA: It is, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes increasingly less fringe if that, we, as a culture and more embrace. Once we get over the stigma and the taboo of cannabis use or even psychedelics instead of treating them as a taboo, instead of treating them like this fringe thing, we come to accept them and understand that psychoactive drugs have been part of who we are as humans for a very, very long time. People have always looked for ways to alter their states of consciousness using external sources, drugs. And I feel like I’m hopeful that with the legalization of cannabis and just the eventual progress of time that more and more people will come around to that notion and not be so dismissive of psychedelics, or cannabis, or these other substances that we can use to explore other ways of reality or looking at reality, or perceiving reality.
0:48:31 VH: Yeah, I’m generally with you on that. And I think at the very least, we need to have a wide open space to explore the biological dimensions of these things and see how they affect us. It’s sad that there’s so little research that’s been done on cannabis, for instance, because there’s so many people, like 10% of people in America use cannabis regularly, something like that and we don’t really know what the long-term physical, biological effects are from a science standpoint, that’s because it’s been totally shut down.
0:48:58 PA: Yeah, so… And as more research comes out, I think we’ll discover that I think even what we’re discovering with tobacco right now, for example, there are healthier ways to consume tobacco and there are less healthier ways to consume tobacco.
0:49:08 VH: Yeah.
0:49:09 PA: It depends on how it’s grown, it depends on how it’s raised and I think we’re discovering that with cannabis as well. If you vaporize cannabis oil, that’s very… That has no impurities, well, it’s definitely like a medicine. It’s definitely gonna be very helpful. Whereas, if you smoke a joint with cannabis that’s been treated with 100 different chemicals, well, that’s probably not so healthy. And you’re probably, not only are you getting carcinogens from the fire, but you’re also ingesting pesticides or chemicals that were put on the marijuana to help them grow or whatever. Well, cool. So let’s keep going.
0:49:40 VH: Let’s do that. [chuckle]
0:49:40 PA: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I wanna get a little bit into… You had mentioned this transition of yours into using psychedelics. What has been… What have been some of your discoveries or some of your understandings when you fuse the two together, psychedelics and meditation? How has that helped or hindered your meditation practice?
0:50:00 VH: I think one of the things that was most interesting right off the bat, especially using psilocybin, was the way that it altered visual perception, really, in some ways, was much different than the way that my meditation practice had altered visual perception. That could be because I wasn’t doing visualization-type meditations. I think it’s quite possible that visualization meditations done at a really high dosage and a high concentration actually lead to similar types of effects. But for me, I hadn’t done that. And so it was like an immediate experience of the fluidity of the visual, external visual space and of the interesting overlap and the interesting power of the imaginal mind, if you will, like the ability for the mind to generate images of meaning and the way that not just affects our reality, but in a sense is a huge part of how we experience things. That became more clear using, especially, psilocybin.
0:51:00 VH: The other thing that was really unique for me and I don’t know that this is universal, but I had this just sense in some of the psilocybin journeys that I did, especially being outside, walking around, that I was really connected with my ancestors and not just my specific ancestors like my grandparents, just my ancestors as humans, my human ancestry. There was just this feeling of kind of intuitive connection to a relationship, with a recognition of that stream of connection and a really deep appreciation and gratitude for it that I hadn’t experienced in that way before.
0:51:37 VH: And then I’d say the other thing was the most seminal experience I had doing psychedelics was actually the most disturbing and scary one where I think it was the third or fourth time I did mushrooms, I did a pretty high dosage and ended up having what now, I would describe as a kind of ego death experience. That was quite frightening, it felt like a heart attack. It was obviously like a panic attack, but it was the panic attack heightened by, intensified by a huge amount of psychedelics. [chuckle] So it felt like I was dying and it really, in a way, was the best way I could imagine what death might be like was that experience. It was simulated death. Obviously, I won’t be able to tell you how similar it was to dying unless I die.
0:52:26 VH: But it was definitely an experience that shook, it shook the core of my being in a way that surprised me and shocked me because I’d had very many experiences with meditation of ego dissolution, of letting go of a certain kind of dying and a certain kind of dropping away. And this was just so much more cosmic in nature and dramatic and physical, the experience, that it really… It shook the very core of what I thought I knew and of who I thought I was, it also shook my sanity a little bit. I think this is part of the benefit of talking about these things openly is we can also talk about the downsides and the negative sides.
0:53:03 VH: Now I see it as quite a positive thing, but at the time, I actually, there were brief periods over a course of a few days after doing this dose where I lost touch with consensus reality, brief periods, and literally went crazy. And fortunately wasn’t hospitalized and fortunately my sanity returned. But I also had a really powerful experience of what it’s like to lose touch with conventional reality in that sense, and that gave me so much more appreciation for the many people who, for whatever reasons, have lost touch with that in more permanent ways. The people that are living on the streets who have lost touch with conventional reality, and can’t operate within its confines anymore. It gave me a real deep appreciation for how that could be felt subjectively. And in a way, it was like being trapped in my own thoughts about reality. And that was really quite scary, ’cause I didn’t know what was going on at the time that I’d lose touch with who I was and what was happening, but I knew at some level that something was profoundly wrong and it was deeply terrifying. And so, that experience really was so formative. It took me several months to kind of digest the fullness of it.
0:54:14 VH: And fortunately, I had a mentor and teacher who was living nearby that kind of helped me reframe it as a positive experience, helped me kind of see that what I’d seen in that trip was actually part of the nature of reality and it wasn’t some bad thing that had happened because I took this drug. Like it actually was pointing to something deeply and profoundly true that perhaps I wasn’t totally equipped to deal with at the time. But it also pointed out and showed me, this is the compassionate part of that experience, it showed me where I wasn’t equipped and where I was being arrogant and where the hubris was and where the limits of my own understanding were so clearly and so poignantly.
0:54:52 PA: And I won’t say too much to that, because that, as a story, it stands alone on itself, but with my first really, we could say bad trip or challenging experience, I experienced something very similar, in terms of thinking that I died and… But also more importantly, that compassionate aspect where you’re like, oh, for some people it’s like every day normal waking reality, and they never actually shift out of it. They never really integrate it. It’s how they, like you said, kind of construct reality and it’s foreign. And so, I think going through these challenging experiences, for a lot of people, they’re very transformative. They’re impactful.
0:55:30 VH: Yeah, and it’s like the transformation that a lot of people maybe don’t wanna talk about, which is the transformation through fire. It’s the burning away of delusion and it’s uncomfortable. Like it’s profoundly uncomfortable, it can be. And I think that’s, for me, I slap the warning label on both meditation and psychedelic use and say like, “Hey, this can be… If you really do this and you fully do it, it can and probably will be highly destabilizing for some periods of time and disillusioning. And it’s really good to have support to be aware of what can happen, to have a network of support of people that you can pull on and draw on when you’re like if and when you do crash and have an experience like this,” which fortunately is not the most common experience. I mean, it doesn’t happen all the time. And the cool thing is, as I’m sure you did, I learned from that experience and I haven’t since then done psychedelics in a way that was destabilizing, in part because I think I understood why I did it in that way to begin with, and what was driving that, and where was the hubris, as I said before, where was the arrogance there, and thinking like I can do anything and take as much as I want, and nothing will happen to me, or it’ll only be good, or it’ll only be positive, or pleasant.
0:56:46 VH: No, it’s actually… One of the key learnings for me, both from deep meditation practice and psychedelics, is when you really let go into experience, it’s out of control. And actually, it’s always been out of control. It’s always been groundless. And part of what we cling to and hold onto, and this is the Buddhist perspective, is we hold onto… We try to find some solid grounded space in this groundless free fall of existence. And that’s why we suffer so much, that’s why we experience so much existential pain is because we’re trying to do what’s impossible. We’re trying to create a solid reference point in a field of experiential awareness, which is constantly coming into being, and then being annihilated.
0:57:28 VH: It’s like things are coming and going, they’re being born and dying, and there’s nothing we can hold onto.
0:57:34 PA: This is where then, I think at least from my perspective, psychedelics help us to see that or for some of us help us to really understand this sense of or this reality of impermanence, is basically what you’re describing.
0:57:45 VH: Absolutely, I think psychedelics are like a crash course and not for most people. And I think maybe it’s worth saying too in the meditative tradition, so there’s a parallel between meditative traditions and psychedelic traditions where, or least the emerging psychedelic tradition that you’re exploring here, where that recognition of impermanence, say like in the Buddhist context, was almost always tempered by also the cultivation, opening of heart of the development of qualities, like compassion and kindness and care toward ourselves and toward others. And in a way that open heart is what actually can hold the devastating reality of impermanence.
0:58:24 VH: My first major “spiritual experience” happened when I was a freshman in college. And no drugs involved, I had a very impactful experience where I suddenly felt like I was holding and feeling the suffering of the entire world. And what felt like it kept me from totally just breaking instead of breaking open, like just breaking down, was that there was a simultaneous arising of the quivering heart of compassion, of this [unclear speech] quality of heart, this cosmic quality of heart that could actually hold and embrace the suffering that’s there. The suffering of the Syrian people who just got gassed by sarin, probably. There’s some part of us that actually can recognize it and be devastated by it, but also can hold it with an open and tender heart. And I think the equivalent in the psychedelics are things like MDMA or these more heart-opening substances can also reveal something like that. And I think it’s interesting to think about what those different substances help reveal, how they complement and support each other in terms of having like a bigger picture of view and being kind of more sane and hopefully also a more decent human being.
0:59:35 PA: Yeah, more compassionate and more understanding. That’s a big discussion in the psychedelic space is do these substances have inherent values or do they have the values that we give to them? Coming back to our conversation earlier about intention and purpose. What is the intention or what is the purpose for having the psychedelic experience and in what type of culture is it incubated? Because if, for example, the ancient Vikings used to take Amanita muscaria, which is a kind of a psychedelic. It’s a hallucinogen mushroom from Russia and Scandinavia. They used to take it before battle. They went and they killed people. And so I think that also then ties into our discussion. This purpose or intention is so critical to the outcome or the result of the altered state of consciousness that we’re going through, whether that’s something that’s a more long-term disciplinarian approach like meditation or whether that’s something that’s immediate and impactful and external, in a way with psychedelics, I think that purpose or intention is really critical to the outcome that we get from them.
1:00:42 VH: Yeah, absolutely, I have a mentor who has been part of the effort to train snipers mindfulness. And I was surprised by this, when I found that out, ’cause that’s often used in our circles, the mindfulness meditation circles, to describe how meditation can be used in a bad way. And for him, his reasoning, which I thought was quite interesting was, “Who do we want more than the people that have the power to pull the trigger, and to end life? Wouldn’t we want them to be, to have the capability to be present and aware, not just of their sensory experience, but of what’s driving them in that moment of their cognitive faculties, etcetera.”
1:01:22 VH: Mindfulness isn’t just about being aware of basic sensory experience, it’s also about being aware of all of the stories and of the feelings and of the things that are driving us to act as we do. And he said, “Of course I wanna help these people have as much of that capacity as possible, given that the reality is that they’re there and whether or not I train them in this isn’t changing that fact.” And so he decided to do that. And this is… He’s a boomer, he’s a hippie, this is Jack Kornfield. He said this, publicly. It surprised me.
1:01:52 VH: And yet, I think that’s the other part of it. It’s an interesting way of looking at what you’re saying, which is, these things can be used in service of all human intentions, so it feels like, for those of us who are kind of awakened to our inter-dependency, like the way that we deeply influence and impact each other, and we really care about that, it’s our responsibility use these things wisely, and to advocate for the wise use of them in whatever context they’re being used.
1:02:24 PA: I think that brings up an interesting point that is really widely now talked about in the psychedelic space with microdosing specifically, is there are a lot of people who are critical of the fact that people in Silicon Valley, for example, are microdosing, because they’re… The way that they perceive it is, Oh, we’re just teaching these people to be more productive and more efficient and more creative within a system that doesn’t obviously work, this capitalist free market system, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I take issue with that, I take tremendous issue with that one, but I think your reasoning that you’re explaining with what Jack Kornfield is talking about kinda hits also right into psychedelics in a business perspective, is if we agree and we accept that psychedelics can have these benefits, and these effects and can elicit maybe a mystical experience or a peak experience, and we do accept that for example, people in Silicon Valley are going to have an increasingly amount of leverage and power in the business world, because a lot of new wealth is being created there.
1:03:23 PA: Then from my perspective, it seems like a positive thing that many of them are doing psychedelics, because they’re probably extremely then mindful of the impact that their choices and actions are having on the communities that surround them or that support them. And partly this is because in the psychedelic space it’s fairly… What’s a good way to describe it? I think somewhat idealist.
1:03:46 VH: Absolutely.
1:03:47 PA: And I think…
1:03:48 VH: Same with the meditation space.
1:03:50 PA: Yeah, exactly, there’s a high level of idealism and I think if it continues, it could eventually be the downfall partly of psychedelics, because I think there’s a lack of practical understanding and pragmatic understanding, in terms of, look, if we wanna make these substances available to everyone who wants to use them. And of course, this is a different context than meditation, meditation to make it more accessible to people. There are apps like Headspace and organizations like what Jon Kabat-Zinn runs, and that’s ongoing, but it’s not like it’s illegal, it’s not like it’s illegal to practice meditation. With psychedelics it still is. Yet there’s clear, clear, clear, clear benefits to them, and so if the objective is to make these accessible for everyone, we look at practical and pragmatic ways and we eliminate as much idealism as possible.
1:04:36 PA: And I think going back to this Jack Kornfield, and the sniper story, this shows that these are tools and they can be used in ways, and that we don’t live in a perfect world, but if we can slowly change one person at a time, we’re going to continue to improve this world and hopefully live in a better future. And I think that’s pragmatism, and I think it’s important that people who are using psychedelics or who are practicing meditation, we really should understand or analyze how do we get more people doing this and not in an unethical, pushy sort of way, but how do we provide the space to allow people to make rational decisions about how they wanna alter their states of consciousness, and whether that’s microdosing or macrodosing, whether that’s mindfulness meditation or trance, or hiking or whatever, it is, how do we give people the freedom to explore?
1:05:27 PA: And I think that’s a really important question that will… Is going to become increasingly important in the world that we’re living in.
1:05:35 VH: Yeah, I tend to agree with that sentiment. And I think the part of it that I just emphasized that you already said, was doing that in a way that’s not just purely idealistic is really helpful because the clearer of a picture we have about what these substances are, what they do, how they affect us, what the full wide range of potential experience is with them, the different ways that they can be used and the different outcomes that can be experienced through their use, the clearer we are on that picture, the more intelligent choices people can make.
1:06:08 VH: And then we see the areas, the downsides more clearly. The warning label is, it’s right there on the bottle, to be read, we’re not just being handed this thing, like this thing is great, it’s gonna solve all your problems. No, of course not. Nothing is gonna solve all of our problems, that’s just part of being alive, but I agree with being able to make more intelligent decisions is really important and then being really pragmatic about these things and their use, that’s been a big part of what Emily and I focused on with meditation.
1:06:37 VH: Like, no, if you get the dose high enough, these things can and will destabilize your life and that’s actually part of what they’re designed to do. And it’s not always pleasant. And if you go in thinking that it is, then you’re gonna have a seriously rude awakening, and that actually can really backfire on the goals and aims of these traditions is when people are having rude awakenings, and they’re being fed really hyper-idealistic stuff, then they get disillusioned and then maybe make it their mission to make sure no one else has access to these things because of the traumatic experience they’ve had. That’s a really also, I think, a common outcome when we’re not including the full scope of reality in terms of what we think is valuable that we’re offering.
1:07:23 PA: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, and I think that’s a great way to end. We’re kind of eclipsing the one-hour mark.
1:07:29 VH: Yeah.
1:07:29 PA: Just briefly, Vince, can you tell us a little bit about where to find you and just the projects that you guys are working on at meditate.io?
1:07:36 VH: Yeah, so meditate.io is where you can find me in terms of meditation training. And we basically are running an ongoing program of different styles of meditation, so we run concentration training, mindfulness training, inquiry training, using questions as a prompt for discovery, heartfulness training, inclining the mind toward opening the heart, awareness training, and embodiment training. And those are the different styles, like the different… As we mentioned before, the different core meditative practices that we’ve seen inside the Buddhist tradition, that we have unbundled and remixed into this larger, kind of modular system of training where you can kind of decide what you wanna train in and why you wanna train.
1:08:20 VH: And we obviously have our own perspectives and we share those, but ultimately to me and what’s exciting about meditation training and psychedelic use right now, is that there is this wide open space to explore how we want to apply those things to our lives, which are just so dramatically different than they’ve ever been. And in a way, I see them as really useful. Yeah, really useful tools and compatriots on the journey.
1:09:04 PA: Welcome back to This Week in Psychedelics, this is also going to be a bit of a longer segment because the renowned psychedelic chemist, Nicholas Sand, passed away on April 24, at the age of 75. Sand is best known for producing the iconic Orange Sunshine LSD of the 1960s. He in fact made his last public appearance this past Saturday at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference when he showed up for the screening of the new movie by Cosmo Feilding-Mellen, The Sunshine Makers, about him, Tim Scully, Bear Owsley and their manufacturing of LSD. Nick’s closing remarks to the audience, his last public words posited that LSD helps to answer our questions. Who are you, who are we, what are we doing here, are we here to make war or are we here to make love.
1:09:53 PA: And on that same note, he wrote an excellent essay that has been published on Psychedelic Frontier. The essay is entitled Moving Into The Sacred World Of DMT by Nick Sand. And the essay is largely about the futility of the imposition of psychedelics from an authoritative perspective by medical professionals to get government-approved. Basically, Nick, in this essay takes the stance that these are unique substances and that it is ultimately up to the individual to use them in a way that’s responsible to explore their own consciousness, and to receive permission to be able to do that misses the point, and I think these words are valuable, especially as the narrative has been largely one-dimensional so far in scientific research or policy. And it’s been incredibly effective and incredibly important. At the same time, these are important things to remember and I wanna read you a segment of this essay that I think does an excellent job of encapsulating the overall thought or approach of his take.
1:10:58 PA: It will take about five minutes, but I encourage you to listen. Once there was a time that we could gather together lovingly and peacefully take sacraments together. Hardly anyone remembers that time now. The ambiance of government terrorism against psychedelics produces a very different set and setting. I was a guide at the Millbrook League for Spiritual Discovery. This was a legally incorporated religion whose charter included the use of psychedelic sacraments when one night the door was criminally kicked in by G Gordon Liddy, now convicted burglar of Watergate infamy. That changed forever.
1:11:30 PA: Overnight, the quality of magic that we had created was invested with fear, although nothing illegal had been found and psychedelics had not yet been scheduled, the reign of terror had begun, the inquisition had arrived. It is flourishing even more now. The negative effects of the government-supported substances of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are more than a hundred times worse than all illegal drugs together. If you consider only the psychedelics and pathogens and herbs such as cannabis, these government-supported drugs are thousands of times more harmful. Yet, we are criminals and soon we may go to federal prison for only talking or writing about scheduled plants and compounds. The Bill of Rights is dead. No religious freedom, no free speech, no right of association, no right of assembly. The people who call us “druggies” are the true criminals.
1:12:20 PA: The explorers of consciousness are persecuted, jailed and vilified by the people in charge of this inquisition, hypocrites who are rarely called druggies, despite their frequent addictions to alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, some of the most consciousness-lowering drugs known to man. These “drug warriors” fear expanded consciousness, because it exposes the lies and perversions of their loveless and violent lives. In desperate acts of self-serving stupidity, they blame others for the very sins of which they would rid themselves. Although the consciousness explorers are the victims of this reign of terror, it has nothing to do with us. It is just the mindless raging of the beast.
1:12:58 PA: It is important to remain transparent and cloud-like in the face of this. This incredibly vast wash of lies and cruelty must be ignored. This is their battle with themselves, do not be washed away in the waves of disinformation and lies. Stay centered, know thy selves, stay with that thread of truth and love that you have discovered within. Even though it fades in and out, it is your inner truth and the doorway to your own authority. I am a “criminal,” I’m a fugitive, I have been for 40 years, but I have been true to myself and to my friends. It has been hard, but I have a vision, some day, somewhere I will establish the University for Psychedelic Studies, there will be a department of psychedelic botany and chemistry. There will be a beautiful park and temple with lawns and ponds, peacocks, swans and wildlife walking fearlessly. There will be pavilions for initiation, there will be a department of entheogenic worship.
1:13:48 PA: There will be a school of psychedelic medicine and curing, there will be acres of psychedelic herb gardens, there will be places to dance and places to meditate. There will be a school of yoga, tantra, and a mystery school, a school for breathing, for art, music, for meditation, for ecological and planetary studies, as well as applications. A school for love, and one for beauty, there will be no government inspectors or police, they will not be necessary, there will be guides, friends, helpers and lovers. On the new level of consciousness struggling to be born now, this will be how it is, for the old way of competition, murder and exploitation is fast becoming an impossible situation.
1:14:24 PA: This planet must be lovingly cared for or we are all doomed. We are the guardians of life and planetary harmony, this is where we are going. That is what I have seen in my visions and that is what I’ve been working for all my life, that is what I will continue to do until my last breath. Care to dance?
1:14:44 PA: So, I’m getting goosebumps as I’m reading this, and I think it’s up to us now that Nick has passed, all of us, to carry on this tradition. And I think these are beautiful words to keep in mind as the psychedelic narrative continues to evolve. We will provide a link to this essay, and I encourage you to read through the entire essay, as it is a powerful and pertinent piece of work.
1:15:06 PA: In other news for This Week in Psychedelics, there was in research published called Psychedelics, Personality and Political Perspectives. And I’ll just read the abstract for you, we’ll provide the full link in the show notes.
1:15:19 PA: The psychedelic experience, including psychedelic-induced ego dissolution, can effect lasting change in a person’s attitudes and beliefs. Here, we aim to investigate the association between naturalistic psychedelic use and personality, political perspectives and nature-relatedness using an anonymous Internet survey. Participants provided information about their naturalistic psychedelic, cocaine and alcohol use and answered questions relating to personality traits of openness and conscientiousness, nature-relatedness, and political attitudes. Participants also rated the degree of ego dissolution experienced during their most intense recalled psychedelic experience. Multivariate linear regression analysis indicated that lifetime psychedelic use, but not lifetime cocaine use or weekly alcohol consumption, positively predicted liberal political views, openness and nature-relatedness, and negatively predicted authoritarian political views after accounting for potential confounding variables.
1:16:08 PA: Ego dissolution experience during a participant’s most intense psychedelic experience positively predicted liberal political views, openness and nature-relatedness, and negatively predicted authoritarian political views. Further work is needed to investigate the nature of the relationship between the peak psychedelic experience and openness to new experiences, egalitarian political views and concern for the environment.
1:16:29 PA: So this is interesting on two points: We could take it from a potentially positive perspective, which is, yes, psychedelics lead to more liberal views. Thank you for confirming what we already know. There’s much more bad than good in this study, and this needs to be approached extremely cautiously, because if you start politicizing psychedelics, that is how you initiate a backlash. I encourage people to not talk about this with others. I encourage people to keep this research quiet. We’re talking about it on the podcast right now so I can make my views clear. I was speaking to a researcher seven or eight months ago, he’s probably the most prominent psychedelic researcher in the field today, and he expressed explicit concern about politicization of psychedelics. Don’t tie it to politics, don’t talk about how it makes people more liberal. That is a very good way to initiate a crackdown. We’re already seeing a divide between urban and rural. If we continue to accentuate that divide, we may wake up in a world and a time where we don’t have the ability to freely talk about these things anymore.
1:17:34 PA: So I encourage everyone who is listening to this to be extremely cautious about the way in which you talk about psychedelics, especially if you’re involving political aspirations or motivations.
1:17:45 PA: Last note for This Week in Psychedelics, as I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, Psychedelic Science was this past weekend, all of the talks will be up on the MAPS, I believe, YouTube channel within a week or two, could be sooner than that. And so we’ll provide a link to the MAPS YouTube channel, just keep an eye out for all the presentations that will be posted and you’ll be able to find them as soon as possible. So that wraps up This Week in Psychedelics, if you enjoyed the podcast, please leave a review and we will see you next time. Bye-bye.
This Week in Psychedelics
James Fadiman’s talk at Psychedelic Science 2017
Psychedelic use (especially peak experience with ego dissolution) predicts liberal political views