Lotus in Bloom: Meditation, Psychedelics, & Contemplation


Episode 242

Jennifer Tessler

In this episode, Jennifer Tessler, Jennifer Tessler, Psychotherapist & Founder of Alalaho, joins Paul F. Austin to discuss contemplative approaches to psychedelic healing.

Jennifer shares her journey of self-discovery through travel, meditation, and psychedelics. She discusses the integration of Dzogchen and psychedelics, and the benefits of psychedelics in supporting spiritual practices. Jennifer also talks about the founding of Alalaho Retreats and their focus on providing comprehensive retreat experiences for individuals interested in exploring psychedelics and deepening their spiritual practice. Jennifer explains the core practices in the experience retreat, which include meditation, somatic practices, journaling exercises, nature connection exercises, authentic relating, and ecstatic dance. She also emphasizes the importance of long-term integration and incorporating contemplative elements in the retreats.

Additionally, Jennifer shares her vision for offering retreats specifically for clinicians and healthcare practitioners to learn how to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies. She highlights the need for psychedelic facilitators to have personal experience and expertise in navigating the inner realms. Finally, Jennifer emphasizes the integrity and safety of Alalaho as a container for transformative experiences.

Jennifer Tessler embarked on an in-depth exploration of reality and the inner workings of the human mind(heart) following a transformative backpacking journey to Asia in her late teens. There, she was introduced to the profound teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and discovered the sacred use of psychedelic medicines for the first time. Over the next 15 years, she devoted herself to the practice of meditation and the study of psychological healing and spiritual growth, spending close to a thousand days in meditation retreat under the close guidance of her Tibetan Buddhist teacher (a renowned Dzogchen master in the Vajrayana school). Her journey also led her to become an integrative transpersonal psychotherapist, blending Eastern wisdom with Western therapeutic approaches.

In 2017, Jennifer began facilitating psilocybin-assisted retreats and co-directing the UK Psychedelic Society's Experience Retreats program, Europe's first legal psilocybin-assisted retreat program. This initiative eventually culminated in the founding of Alalaho, a pioneering organization celebrated for its integrity and heart-centered approach. Jennifer's efforts are dedicated to nurturing the unfolding of the infinite vitality, wisdom, and potential that lies at the core of our being — just like the blossoming of a lotus.

Podcast Highlights

  • LSD in the Himalayas and pivotal journeys to Asia
  • Growing up between Paris and London
  • Training as a transpersonal psychotherapist
  • Understanding Dzogchen
  • Tibetan Buddhism lineages and practices
  • Dzogchen and psychedelics
  • Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Crazy Wisdom
  • Alalaho Retreats
  • Current Focus of Alalaho
  • Jennifer's greater vision for Alalaho
  • Training for clinicians and healthcare practitioners
  • Connect with Alalaho Retreats

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Podcast Transcript

0:00:00.0 Paul F. Austin: Hey listeners, and welcome back to The Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave, where we explore how psychedelics can be integrated into culture for the evolution of humanity. This is your host, Paul F. Austin, and today I am speaking with psychotherapist and founder of Alalaho, Jennifer Tessler.

0:00:18.7 Jennifer Tessler: Of course, on the physiological level, psychedelics aren't addictive substances, but it's like our minds get addicted to peak experiences. People just want more, more, more. That grasping mind is the root of all suffering in our life, actually. I think that Buddhism and meditation has a very important role to play in people's exploration of psychedelic substances and really just teaching people to hold these experiences spaciously.


0:00:52.9 Paul F. Austin: 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.

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0:02:27.3 Paul F. Austin: Hey listeners, this is Paul F. Austin, founder and CEO at Third Wave, and I'm excited to bring you a fascinating conversation on contemplative approaches to psychedelics with my guest, Jennifer Tessler. Reading her bio, Jennifer embarked on an in-depth exploration of reality in the inner workings of the human mind following a transformative backpacking journey to Asia in her late teens. There she was introduced to the profound teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and discovered the sacred use of psychedelic medicines for the first time. Over the next 15 years, she devoted herself to the practice of meditation and the study of psychological healing and spiritual growth, spending close to a thousand days in meditation under the close guidance of her Tibetan Buddhist teacher, a renowned Dzogchen master in the Vajrayana school. Her journey also led her to becoming an integrative transpersonal psychotherapist, blending Eastern wisdom with Western therapeutic approaches.

0:03:22.8 Paul F. Austin: In 2017, Jennifer began facilitating psilocybin-assisted retreats and co-directing the UK Psychedelic Society's Experience Retreats Program, Europe's first legal psilocybin-assisted retreat program. This initiative eventually culminated in the founding of Alalaho, a pioneering organization celebrated for its integrity and heart-centered approach. Jennifer's efforts are dedicated to nurturing the unfolding of the infinite vitality, wisdom, and potential that lies at the core of our being, just like the blossoming of a lotus. So in our convo together, Jennifer shares her journey of self-discovery through travel, meditation and psychedelics. She provides a primer on Dzogchen and how the insights from this practice can be applied to working with psychedelics. And she also talks about the founding of Alalaho Retreats and walks us through the comprehensive retreat experiences that she provides for individuals interested in exploring psychedelics and deepening their spiritual practice.

0:04:21.9 Paul F. Austin: Finally, Jennifer shares her vision for offering retreats specifically for clinicians and healthcare practitioners to learn how to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies. This was a great conversation. Jennifer is a very warm, loving, caring, compassionate human being. She's done some incredible pioneering work. It's much more behind the scenes of everything, but I really think you'll enjoy the sort of value and depth and richness in this conversation. Okay, before we get into it, a quick reminder to follow the podcast wherever you're tuning in so you never miss an episode. You can also Like and Subscribe to our YouTube channel. And as always, please share this podcast with anyone you think would benefit from these conversations. Thank you for supporting The Psychedelic Podcast. All right, without further ado, here's my conversation today with Jennifer Tessler. Jennifer, it's great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

0:05:16.4 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, thanks for having me, Paul.

0:05:20.0 Paul F. Austin: So you grew up in Paris and you moved to London, the UK, at the age of 16. And probably as is more common with the European upbringing, you then went on some sort of, I think what's typically called a gap year, although I sense for you, it was something much deeper. There was a much deeper question or inquiry. You weren't just sort of traveling to party and stay in hostels and do the typical backpacking route. So I'm curious kind of what inspired you at a young age to travel to India, Nepal, and Thailand, and what were some of the gifts or teachings in that journey?

0:06:10.2 Jennifer Tessler: That journey, like you said, it was officially called a gap year, but it felt like something much bigger. As a teenager, I had... At the time when I turned 18 and left to Nepal, I had been leaving in London on my own for a couple of years and was having just a very kind of difficult time internally, the sort of existential crisis and a lot of big questions about life and death and the human mind and happiness and all of these things. I was super interested in philosophy. I ended up stumbling across a book on Buddhism when I was probably about 16, 17. And I remember reading that book and it was really like finding I'd say like an oasis in the desert in the sense of finding something that felt like it was really quenching, like this really, really deep thirst. I was looking not just for answers philosophically, but actually for a way of working with myself and working with my mind and the idea that there's a practice you can do to cultivate happiness and develop certain quantities. I was like, "Oh my God, this is brilliant." So, I finished high school and then was super, super keen to basically just go and study Buddhism, learn meditation. So I planned this trip to Asia, booked a lot of meditation retreats.

0:07:34.9 Jennifer Tessler: I did catch a couple of parties along the way as well. But yeah, the main focus was definitely the retreats and learning about meditation. And it was actually at that time as well, I guess, through this interest in consciousness and all these kind of big questions, I was also very interested in psychedelics. Had also in my late teens began exploring different substances and I really, really wanted to try psychedelics. And I did have my first it was with LSD, LSD experience in the Himalayas in between two meditation retreats.

0:08:14.8 Paul F. Austin: Oh, wow.

0:08:15.0 Jennifer Tessler: And that was also a huge, huge part of why this trip was so meaningful. Yeah.

0:08:24.8 Paul F. Austin: That's beautiful. I had... When I was 19, I first started working with LSD. And after I had my first experience at home where I was raised, where I grew up in Michigan, but my second and third were on safari in Africa, which is different than the Himalayans, very different, the Savannah and you see lions and tigers and... Oh, not tigers, Jaguars, cheetahs, leopards. And it was a very opening experience because when you're in this sort of majestic set and setting, which the Himalayas are incredibly majestic, then it probably inspires you in ways that would not necessarily happen in the chair of a clinic or even in an apartment in a city. It just has a sort of natural awe to it.

0:09:17.1 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, definitely. And I think if there's one word that really comes to mind and encapsulate what that whole experience both with the psychedelic experience in the mountains and also the experience of traveling and doing all these meditation retreats is that sense of immensity. It felt like those few months gave me a sense of the immensity of what lies within us actually, and I'd say the immensity of the spectrum of experiences that are available to us as humans and totally not taught in schools. So, yeah that was really just the beginning, I would say, of an exploration that I then have been continuing ever since.

0:10:04.0 Paul F. Austin: I'm curious, this may seem slightly off tangent or off topic, but because you're the only Parisian that we've had on the podcast, I'm curious what it was like to grow up between Paris and London, and if I'm not mistaken, after your travels to Asia, you spent many more years living in London as well. So, I'm just curious, how was the two historical, beautiful cultural cities, what was it like to grow up in Paris? What was it like to live for a long period of time in London? What did it teach you? Yeah, I'd just be curious to hear more about that.

0:10:48.8 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, thanks. That's a great question actually. I don't think I've really reflected on it in this way. The first thing is that it was very easy for me to leave Paris, actually. I hated it at the time. Especially, I grew up in a neighborhood that was very sort of conservative, very mainstream, a lot of... That kind of people looking at each other and what are you wearing? And just a lot of all the kind of superficial stuff. And I was always a bit of a hippie at heart, so I felt really like the black sheep in the neighborhood. Also had lots of fun and friends and family. It was also a comfortable life, but I was really, really keen just to explore and experiment something else. And when the opportunity came to move to London, I just jumped on the train and I was just so happy to pack my bags and go, and I loved it. I remember arriving in London and starting, it was the last two years of high school and there were people there with Jimi Hendrix on their T-shirt and The Beatles and all these kind of hippie stuff. And I was just like, "I'm home. Finally." [laughter] It was...

0:12:13.7 Paul F. Austin: Did you live near Camden? Were you close to Camden, or...

0:12:16.5 Jennifer Tessler: I didn't but my first visit to Camden was like a pilgrimage. [laughter] It was amazing. And it was a lot of good fun and just meeting people that felt much more aligned with what I was looking for at the time, people who were more chilled and into music and philosophy and art and creative stuff. I think it was a period of huge expansion and opening and exploration. And with that, like I mentioned, it was also really hard. I was 16, I was living alone. And there was also, I guess, facing that kind of deep sense of aloneness for the first time. And that was terrifying and heartbreaking I think in many ways. And I'm so grateful for that experience 'cause it really does feel like it sparked just something so meaningful in my life in terms of the quest for answers and connectedness and practices to develop my own mind, my own heart, I guess. So yeah, that was...

0:13:27.4 Paul F. Austin: How was it different to come back to London? After you had left and had gone on the spiritual path and journey, how did London change for you as a result of that transformation?

0:13:38.1 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, so actually when I came back from my... It took me a couple of years actually after to settle down. So I had all these big kind of expensive experiences with these meditation retreats, which transforms your mind and the way in which you wanna live your life. And then you're kind of what do I do? It took me a couple of years. I actually, I lived in Israel for a year after that. I studied in Jerusalem and a bit in Tel Aviv as well, was gonna stay there, but was kind of still struggling a bit internally. Moved back to Paris for a bit, still hated it. And then went back to the UK.


0:14:22.5 Jennifer Tessler: And at the time I actually moved to Brighton, and Brighton was amazing. I started uni there, a super alternative place. Lots of really interesting things happening with like environmental activism, social activism, campus life. That was really, really an amazing time. And it was after Brighton that I moved back to London 'cause I decided to start training as a transpersonal therapist. And that second episode in London, I mean, it was also great in many ways, but it was definitely not as enjoyable as when I was 16 and discovering rock and roll. I think I was already looking for more quiet, a more kind of hermity sort of life. I was getting much deeper into my Tibetan Buddhist training. And also, I just wanted to be closer to nature and I found London super, super hard towards the end.

0:15:25.1 Paul F. Austin: So you start to train as a transpersonal psychotherapist. Let's start there and then we'll... The majority of our listeners, they know of Stan Grof. They're probably generally aware as to what transpersonal psychology is, but if you could just give us a little bit of a primer and briefer for a trans-psychotherapist, what is that training like? What are some of the core skills you develop? How does that even get woven into, let's say, a therapeutic container? I think compared to Freudian or compared to even Jung or compared to... I did a very particular type of therapy called N-A-R-M, NARM, NeuroAffective Relational Modeling. So I'm curious to hear more about the sort of context of transpersonal psychotherapy. When is it relevant? When does it help? These sorts of things.

0:16:26.1 Jennifer Tessler: Sure. I mean, I guess on a personal level, the thing that drew me to transpersonal therapy, I actually came across the term in my last year at university. I was writing my dissertation. I studied anthropology and I was writing about that kind of interface between western science and eastern traditions that had arrived in the West around the kind of '50s, '60s, and what impact that had on our medical models, philosophical models and healing modalities. And so, transpersonal psychotherapy very much emerged from these dialogues between East and West at the time. So I knew that there was a deeply spiritual element to it and that it was also partly connected to Buddhism and these sort of non-dual traditions. In terms of the training itself, I guess it's probably not wildly different from what a lot of the psychotherapy trainings involve these days. There's of course a kind of academic component like reading, studying, learning about different frameworks, and there was a very, very strong experiential component. So you're doing your run psychotherapy for years. You do a lot of group process work. So yeah, you're really kind of putting yourself through that...

0:17:47.6 Paul F. Austin: Are you doing Holotropic breathwork as part of it? Was that a component or not necessarily?

0:17:52.8 Jennifer Tessler: Not actually. We didn't do Holotropic. We do learn to work with the breath in different ways, but not in the Holotropic style, necessarily. And I guess the transpersonal element, I mean, fundamentally it really means that just as therapists in that relationship we're just aware of and connected to the sort of Svastha layer in the sense that of course we'll have the personal, the individual, but there is also something Svastha that we're all part of, whether we are aware of it or not. And we cultivate our connection to that transpersonal kind of layer and also use it in our work with clients. And we're also, of course, very open to people's own spiritual questions and inquiries and how their own therapeutic journey actually fits in a bigger of spiritual development.

0:18:50.0 Paul F. Austin: Right.

0:18:51.1 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so, it's super creative. You work with the creative imagination, with art, with creative expression, with the breath, with the body. It's also a very integrative training, so you cover a lot of different modalities so that you can learn to draw from different tools depending on what the person, the client is bringing.

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0:19:52.3 Paul F. Austin: So, when I did this six months of therapy in, it was 2018, early 2019, it was NARM, NeuroAffective Relational Modeling. And I chose it specifically because I sort of had this awareness of a shortcoming in my own way of processing emotions, how I was in touch with emotions, where emotions lived in the body, and the sort of framing of NeuroAffective Relational Modeling, as the typical therapeutic process is unfolding, there's a tension brought to, okay, what emotion are you feeling and where do you feel? Is it in the gut? Is it in the chest, is it in the jaw? And then, okay, that's sadness, that's anger, that's grief, that's frustration, whatever it might be. And I'm curious, when it comes to even the clients you work with as a transpersonal psychotherapist, what's usually drawing people to work with you? Is it a spiritual emergency? Is it obviously as we'll start to get into deep psychedelic work? Is it long-term meditation practitioners who need additional support in how they weave in this nondual element? What are some of the intentions of clients? What are they challenged by? What are they struggling with? What are they navigating if they're coming to work with you as a transpersonal psychotherapist?

0:21:12.2 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah. I mean, and I'll try and be more specific, but on the one hand, my initial response is there's as many different reasons to come to me as there are individuals coming to work with me. It's very unique each time. Some people actually don't necessarily know that I'm a transpersonal psychotherapist. They just see integrative therapist or just psychotherapist and they just wanna do therapy. But some other people do reach out specifically because they know I'm trained in the transpersonal modality and also have all my kind of spiritual practices. And often I would say people have a sense that there should be more to life, or that there's more to them and they can't quite find their kind of full expression, like a sense of needing to work through some blocks to kind of keep growing and sort of unfolding and feel more free in themselves, in their lives.

0:22:14.1 Jennifer Tessler: And often people also might already be on a spiritual path, whether that's Buddhism and meditation or something else. And they're struggling and that's really one area that I kind of love working with. They're struggling to bridge the gap between their spiritual practices and the experiences that they might have on retreats, and whether that's psychedelics or meditation or yoga, these kind of like peak experiences. And then being back to their everyday life, ordinary self with all their like kind of all the contractions that we feel in our daily lives. So I love that navi... Helping people navigate the kind of integration of therapeutic work and spiritual work. Yeah.

0:23:00.5 Paul F. Austin: And for the psychotherapeutic work, do you only do one-on-one, or are there small group sessions, larger group sessions? Like obviously with psychedelic work, with psilocybin work, we're having group, it's group ceremonies. We're unpacking and processing. Sometimes there's coaching or psychotherapeutic support one-on-one prep and integration, ideally, there is.

0:23:20.4 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah. Yeah.

0:23:21.2 Paul F. Austin: But specific to transpersonal psychotherapy, are there kind of group dynamics or group elements that are helpful or is much of the work done usually individually?

0:23:29.5 Jennifer Tessler: They can be, definitely. And a lot of the kind of experiential like process weekends that we had on the training were group based, like in your little kind of three or four people pod and you do like process together the whole year. But in terms of how I currently work with people, it's mostly one-on-one. I mean, exclusively one-on-one, except of course, in the context of the retreats.

0:23:53.5 Paul F. Austin: The group psilocybin retreats with Alalaho?

0:23:55.0 Jennifer Tessler: Exactly, yeah. The Alalahos. Yeah.

0:23:56.2 Paul F. Austin: Okay. Okay. Okay. So Dzogchen, I wanna get deep into Dzogchen and talk about Dzogchen. So on the podcast, the last few months I've talked a fair amount about Vipassana. Vipassana is a meditation technique or style. I did a 10 day silent Vipassana in the Goenka tradition about five, six months ago. It was actually, I've meditated for 14, 15 years, but this was the first extended sit that I had, and it was incredible, like hugely beneficial. And when I came out of that, I was texting a friend of mine and she was like, "Oh, I've been getting very deep into Dzogchen. That's now the lineage. It's a path that I'm following". And then, we connected briefly after that. And you also, you had mentioned how integral it's become to your own practice, but also probably the way you facilitate teaching and training. So I'd be curious, what is Dzogchen? Both historically but also practically, and yeah, what does it mean to you? What's your relationship with it? How has that grown and developed?

0:25:10.1 Jennifer Tessler: That's a huge question.


0:25:12.7 Paul F. Austin: I can imagine.

0:25:14.9 Jennifer Tessler: I'll do my best to try and yeah, get into it.

0:25:17.8 Paul F. Austin: Just what is Dzogchen, right? What is the technique? What is the practice? What's the lineage?

0:25:20.3 Jennifer Tessler: What is Dzogchen? Yeah, yeah. I mean, so, Dzogchen is a particular vehicle in like School of Tibetan Buddhism. They kind of consider it the peak. They call it the peak vehicle. And in the sense that all other practices sort of eventually lead to Dzogchen.

0:25:48.0 Paul F. Austin: Is it Dzogchen? Not Dzogchen?

0:25:50.6 Jennifer Tessler: Dzogchen. No, no, that's good.

0:25:52.1 Paul F. Austin: I've been mispronouncing it. Have I been mispronouncing it though? That would be good to know if I mispronounced it.

0:25:55.6 Jennifer Tessler: No, no, no. That was great. Dzogchen.

0:25:57.2 Paul F. Austin: Yeah. Okay. Dzogchen.

0:25:57.9 Jennifer Tessler: Dzogchen Yeah. Yeah. So Dzogchen is kind of considered the peak vehicle, and it's sort of... It's so hard to put into words. I mean, if anything, Dzogchen is that which cannot be put into words. [laughter] So this is a difficult exercise. It's, let's say, the most kind of non-conceptual form of meditation and practice that you find in Tibetan Buddhism. It's generally practiced by yogis or kind of lay practitioners rather than monks. So the emphasis is not so much on the academic training and following like particular rules. You know, "Do this. Don't do that." It's really when all these kind of structures sort of fall away so that one can just have an experience of pure awareness really. There's a kind of just that sense of abiding in the essence of mind without reference points in short. [laughter]

0:27:07.6 Paul F. Austin: And what is the technique of Dzogchen?

0:27:12.9 Jennifer Tessler: So Dzogchen is kind of part of Vajrayana Buddhism. There's, yeah, sort of different steps, of different schools. And Vajrayana Buddhism is often talked about as the vehicle of means, of skillful means. And there's that notion that out of the sort of realization or kind of wisdom mind of the Buddhists or the teachers, there's an infinity of means that are used to tame the minds or transform the minds of the students or disciples. So there are, of course, practices. There's, as we call them, sadhanas, there's like prayers, recitations, visualizations, mantras. There's all sorts of this... All sorts of rituals that there are some practices that have these very actually, yeah, sort of conceptual elements and ritualized kind of practices. But all of that is meant to direct your mind towards the non-dual, the non-conceptual. So really, these kind of formal practices are just one means of working with your minds, but the relationship with your teacher is actually really, really essential in Dzogchen, is really like at the heart of that tradition, and the teacher will just work with your mind in a limitless number of ways.

0:28:31.2 Jennifer Tessler: And the goal is always if you want to let go of whatever it is that you're grasping to. It's really to get to that just space that is free of reference points. So if you're grasping to sitting practice, he's gonna just make you get up and work. If you just like to walk and you don't like sitting, he's gonna make you sit. If you... It's like it's just always kind of somehow pushing you in a skillful, respectful, but kind of skillful way so that all the limitations that our minds fabricate begin to loosen and we can become just more spacious and more connected with that kind of ground of awareness in ourself. I don't know if any of these kind of make sense.

0:29:15.1 Paul F. Austin: I'm just... I'm picturing a monk or a teacher who's kind of the example that you gave. He's like, "Go do that now. Go do that now. Go do that now." And I would imagine like you have a 40-day period of silence that's coming up. You've done some of these longer times in silence as well. I would imagine a lot of the day is just spent sitting in practice. And then there's questions of inquiry with the teacher or the kind of... Yeah, the teacher who's facilitating that. And that tends to be in a group, but it can be one-on-one as well. I guess, I'm just trying to get like, in a way, what was interesting about Vipassana was very much like, you're gonna do these 10 days. You're gonna... The crux of the technique for me was these sittings of determination where you'd have to sit still for a full hour without moving, without opening your eyes, without moving your hands, without moving your seated position, right? So no itching, kind of no eye movement, three times a day. And then there's a lot of other context that provided as to the why but there's no... You know, there's a teacher there, but it's not like my teacher. Whereas what I'm hearing from you is probably the relationship with the lineage is more relevant and important for Dzogchen. It's not something that can necessarily... It's not a technique that can necessarily...

0:30:51.9 Paul F. Austin: Like with the Goenka and Vipassana, there's 120,000 people a year who go through that 10 day period, whereas what I'm hearing with Dzogchen is it's a bit more about... It's maybe not as structured. It is more based on lineage. It is more based on sitting with a teacher. I mean, obviously, you still have to sit and be with your thoughts and emotions. There's probably different breathing techniques as well. I'm just trying to get, I guess, a sense of it, but maybe the whole point of Dzogchen is it's hard to get a sense of it.

0:31:22.2 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah. Yeah. No, I mean, everything you're saying is like super, super valid. And also there are practices. There is absolutely... There's a huge place for discipline, for repetition. There are kind of different meditation techniques that we do. There's this kind of gradual path. It's also like... Dzogchen is considered really the peak. And it's like you can't really just... Unless you have this kind of karma, you can't just catapult yourself to this kind of highest level. You have to walk the path. So in Tibetan Buddhism, there's these practices, for example, called the Ngöndro, which means the preliminary practices. And there's a lot of effort that you need to put into that. You need to repeat like a particular practice and ritual, like a hundred thousand times and then once you've done completed these practices, then you get access to the kind of next teaching. And then once you've done that, you get access to the next teaching. So there is a very gradual training that requires a lot of diligence and kind of, yes, patience, repetition. So there is a very formal kind of discipline side to that path as well. Absolutely.

0:32:40.5 Jennifer Tessler: And the teacher is kind of constantly sort of dancing between that kind of form, that sort of rigid framework, like effort, effort, effort, and popping all the kind of bubbles of grasping that might come up in your mind at all these different kind of stages. And always reminding you that in a way it's like Dzogchen is the result, like the ultimate result of your practice, but it's also the base. It's there from the start. It's almost this thing where Dzogchen is your natural state. It's just fundamentally what we are. And it's almost just so obvious and so simple that our minds are incapable of abiding there. It's like we're just so used to being caught up in such crazy levels of sophistication and elaboration and conceptual just stuff that abiding in naked awareness seems impossible. So, yeah, it's the ultimate goal, but it's also the base. And I think that the beauty of this path is that the teacher dances between these different frameworks.

0:33:52.5 Paul F. Austin: Okay, this is helpful. So now we're... So the path that I'm now charting with you is practice is essential. There's let's say layers. It evolves. And of course, for me, the next question then that comes up is, what's unique about probably your practice? And it's not specific to you, but I would say there's probably very few, if any, retreat facilitators, practitioners who are holding space, who are also extremely well versed in Dzogchen. And psychedelics and Buddhism have an interesting history. And so I'm curious, how do you see these two start to play together? Dzogchen and psychedelics? Could be specifically psilocybin, but generally the psychedelic experience 'cause as you talked about Dzogchen is the peak. And as we also know, psychedelics can be that peak experience. They can sort of accelerate our pathway to this abiding naked awareness. And typically, the question that we, many of us, come back with is, how do I integrate that? How do I access that without having to take 35 grams of truffles? So let's start to... Yeah, let's start to unpack that. Like, how do you look at that relationship between psilocybin, psychedelics, and also this lineage of Dzogchen.

0:35:26.5 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, that's a super interesting and rich question. I mean, first I just wanna say I'm not an extremely well versed or advanced, I don't know what your exact words were, a Dzogchen practitioner. I'm still, if not a complete newborn and maybe like a little toddler. When it comes to Dzogchen, if you really look at what being an accomplished Dzogchen practitioner looks like, I'm a good...

0:35:54.4 Paul F. Austin: But you're about to spend like 40 days in silence, right? With...

0:36:00.8 Jennifer Tessler: I do that regularly, yeah, but that's still just baby stuff. [laughter] That is really baby stuff. I mean, we are baby. We're toddlers.


0:36:13.7 Jennifer Tessler: So anyway, that's that, but I'll try and share a few thoughts on the connections with psychedelic exploration. So it's an interesting one. So I feel like there's two main things, really. First, and on a personal level, like, I'm so grateful for psychedelics and that I really do feel like the experiences I've had and continue to have on psychedelics are very beneficial to my practice. That's something that's often talked about. I think that people having, like, psychedelics can give you these very embodied, visceral experiences of interdependence, of compassion, of deep love, these kind of just insights into the nature of reality. And these experiences really actually come and kind of support or let's see, they're very in line with what's talked about in Buddhism and some other traditions. So psychedelics can help one in this way on the Buddhist path or on the spiritual path. Now, from a doctrine point of view or from a Vajrayana Buddhism point of view, in Vajrayana, there's this notion of using substances and using any kind of intense experiences as a practice, as a means of realizing the nature of mind.

0:37:47.8 Jennifer Tessler: So going back to what I was saying earlier on, it's very different from the monastic kind of lineages that have discipline, things that you do, things that you don't, in Vajrayana, you can use anything. It doesn't mean that you need to go and drink alcohol and have sex or take drugs, but you can. And not only can you, but you can use these things and anything else as a practice. They have this image of the peacock and they say, I don't know if it's true or not, but that the peacock gets its colors from eating poison. So Vajrayana is very much about eating poison. And so, from that point of view of trainings your mind, training your awareness, psychedelics can be really useful in the practice as well, in that they help you train the strength of your, what we call Rigpa, that train the strength of your awareness. Because if you can sort of be in the psychedelic space without being completely swayed by the kind of display of appearances and emotions and experiences that arise. It kind of gives you this sharpness and, yeah, it kind of trains the sharpness of your awareness. You look perfect.

0:39:07.8 Paul F. Austin: Who are some of the greatest teachers then of Dzogchen? Just to bring it back there.

0:39:13.6 Jennifer Tessler: Some of the greatest teachers there?

0:39:13.9 Paul F. Austin: And were there any great, like, you know, there were all these, there were many Lamas and other Buddhist teachers.

0:39:24.2 Jennifer Tessler: Rinpoches.

0:39:24.3 Paul F. Austin: Rinpoches?

0:39:25.1 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, yeah.

0:39:26.0 Paul F. Austin: Rinpoche. Yeah, okay. Who were present in the '50s and '60s and '70s with Allen Ginsberg and with Jack Kerouac. Were there any prominent Dzogchen practitioners? Was Dzogchen really ever brought to the West? Or has it been much more of a sort of, you got to go to Tibet, you got to spend time there to really learn this tradition in this lineage?

0:39:50.0 Jennifer Tessler: Now, we've definitely had some incredible teachers come to the West, following the Chinese invasion. And yeah, so many of the Tibetan masters kind of leaving Tibet. So, I mean, they were like, of course, like, Dzogchen Rinpoche, Dzogchen Khenpo Rinpoches. I mean, I'm gonna say all these Tibetan sounding words that aren't really gonna resonate so much for people. Probably one of the most important names, I would say, and probably some people will recognize that, is Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who taught in the US, is known for his crazy wisdom sort of approach, founded Naropa, and taught in all sorts of really unconventional ways. And that is purely Dzogchen. And it's not that, there's a thing with Dzogchen, it's like it's not about the form, it's about where it's coming from. So at the time he was teaching all the hippies who were like totally free, everything. And he got all his students to wear military uniforms and walk like military soldiers. And it's not that we shouldn't say, okay, so Dzogchen means you have to put a military uniform and walk like a soldier. It's just that Dzogchen there is this incredibly sharp and skillful wisdom that just responds to any situation and the minds of the disciples and the students in a unique way each time it's like it's on the spot it's incredibly fresh, there's no form, you can't say it's this or it's that, it's just always on the spot.

0:41:25.7 Paul F. Austin: Okay, so it's very emergent.

0:41:27.9 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah.

0:41:28.1 Paul F. Austin: I'm just looking up Chögyam Trungpa.

0:41:30.8 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, he's incredible.

0:41:32.6 Paul F. Austin: And how insane he was, right? Like the way he taught was...

0:41:38.0 Jennifer Tessler: How sane he was, I would say. We're insane.


0:41:42.9 Paul F. Austin: But at times it's extreme, right?

0:41:45.2 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, there's some incredible and crazy stories that you can hear about him and the stuff that he kind of did or how he taught his students. There's a beautiful documentary called Crazy Wisdom.

0:42:01.7 Paul F. Austin: Crazy Wisdom. Okay.

0:42:02.1 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, about him and his life.

0:42:05.4 Paul F. Austin: Okay.

0:42:05.6 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah. And there were also like Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, was another great Dzogchen master who taught a lot. He passed away a few years ago. He was quite, quite famous in the West, had like a huge number of students.

0:42:18.7 Paul F. Austin: I see. I could spend many more minutes, if not hours. I'm gonna do my own research a little bit more and then delve a little bit deeper. But let's talk about Alalaho a little bit. So I love the name. It's probably my favorite retreat center name. What does Alalaho mean? Where does that come from? What's sort of the etymology of that?

0:42:45.0 Jennifer Tessler: So unsurprisingly, it comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition [laughter] and by Vajrayana and Dzogchen in particular. It's really hard, again, to really put into words what it really means. But let's say like one way of putting it, and that's kind of how we frame it in the context of the retreats and the way that we do is that Alalaho is like, it points to this completely, utterly open nature of mind and that capacity of the mind to just hold the entirety of experience, without being altered by any kind of appearance or phenomena. So Alalaho is this sort of just capacity of the mind to just dance with the whole of experience, which, as I'm sure you can resonate, is a valuable skill to bring to psychedelic journeys.

0:43:44.0 Paul F. Austin: Is this like the abiding naked awareness? Is there similarity in terms of that description?

0:43:49.8 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It's definitely close. Yeah, yeah.

0:43:55.4 Paul F. Austin: So, Alalaho, you initially, these were... Well, tell us a little bit about the history, right? 'cause I think this is helpful to know how Alalaho has, how it started, how it's changed, and how it's evolved. So, yeah, how did this come to be? How did this come to pass?

0:44:13.6 Jennifer Tessler: Sure. So initially, actually, the team behind Alalaho, even in its current form, was actually the first team to run legal psychedelic retreats in Europe, in the Netherlands at the time. We were initially part of the UK Psychedelic Society. The first retreats kind of took place in 2016. And at the time it seemed like a pretty wild thing to do. And so yeah, we started running these retreats. Initially they were even just weekends. People would just come, get ready with her psychedelic ceremony, little sharing circle, and then the next morning off they went back home. We very quickly realized that it did not feel right to put people on planes so soon after a ceremony, so we started increasing the length of the retreats. We moved to being a four day and then a five day program and then added a lot more one-on-one work preparation integration. So you the whole Program evolved and matured. And eventually, after a few years of operating as part of the UK Psychedelic Society, we decided to branch off and create our own organization 'cause we had been operating quite independently for a while and just wanted to have our own, just our own kind of identity and flavor. So that's when we founded Alalaho. There were four of us founders at the start. And the whole team just continued working and then growing together. So, yeah, that's kind of Alalaho in a nutshell.

0:45:52.7 Paul F. Austin: And what's the current focus? So one of the interesting projects, which I don't know if you want to speak about or not, and if not, it's totally okay. But the training, more of a focus on training clinicians, training therapists, training practitioners on how to do this deep work with psychedelics, which is slightly different than even the training that we offer what I focus on, which is more of the leadership performance, well-being aspects. And obviously, as we know. Australia has legalized psychedelic therapy with MDMA and psilocybin. The FDA will likely approve MDMA-assisted psychotherapy this year. Colorado, Oregon have legalized it, right? California may. So there's a lot of momentum. So I'd love to hear sort of what does the current focus look like for Alalaho? Who are these retreats great for? And yeah, let's talk about current focus and then I want to hear a little bit more about vision as well.

0:46:51.9 Jennifer Tessler: Sure. So current focus, I mean, of course, our main activity is still to offer these, what we call the core retreats that are really open to anyone wanting to either explore psychedelics for the very first time or not necessarily the first time, but who might wanna do it within this context and container of a retreat with like a comprehensive program. So that's very much our kind of main activity. Now, we're also kind of beginning to move into slightly different areas. So one thing that I'm super excited about is that we're gonna have our first returners retreat in April. So that's gonna be for people who've either attended a retreat with Alalaho before, but potentially might also be open for people who've attended similar types of retreats with other organizations. And our intention is really to help people just take the next step. I often have people who come back on the core retreat, you know, some participants have come like two, three, even four times. And they kind of, they love Alalaho they love the container, they love how we do the work. But they wanna take the next step, you know, they wanna deepen into some of the practices that we've introduced on the core retreat. So yeah, the returners retreat is really about going deeper into some of the core practices that are introduced, and especially it will have a much stronger focus on contemplative practices meditation in particular.

0:48:27.8 Paul F. Austin: Dzogchen.

0:48:29.3 Jennifer Tessler: So yeah. Well, I don't know if I would say, you know, I wouldn't call myself a Dzogchen teacher. It's my own practice and it's what I hold in myself and I'm hoping that tiny little drops might kind of get transmitted somehow, but I'm not teaching Dzogchen per se. But I'm also sick in it. Of course, it's my practice. So yeah, that will be the tradition and the lineage that informs how I share these practices.

0:49:02.4 Paul F. Austin: What are the core practices in the experience retreat? Like the retreat that you've done now, whether through Alalaho or the UK Psychedelic Society for many years, how have you refined that for the trajectory and sort of the flow that people go through?

0:49:17.6 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, sure. So, let's see. Basically, the core retreat really seeks to introduce people to quite a wide range of different practices and modalities, 'cause what we want is for people to find one or two or three practices that really resonate with them, so that they can then develop their own practice. So there is, of course, some meditation or kind of awareness practices. There's some somatic practices. We also use quite a lot of journaling exercises, nature connection exercises. Authentic relating is a really huge piece of the retreat and something that people absolutely love and is really often as transformative as the psychedelic experience itself. So, yeah. And also sometimes like singing, dancing, ecstatic dance, these kind of things. And one of the things that I really love about Alalaho is that there's lots of different skills in the team and so we always kind of mix the team. There's like a dozen of us facilitators, but we always work in different constellations. And so, based on the constellation of facilitators, each retreat will be slightly different 'cause somebody might bring this practice or that practice. But the core ingredients are always kind of there and more or less the same ones.

0:50:43.7 Paul F. Austin: Go ahead, sorry.

0:50:44.6 Jennifer Tessler: No, no, go ahead.

0:50:46.8 Paul F. Austin: I would just say, so as, as Alalaho grows, as it develops, right, I believe this year. I mean, business has been a little hard in the psychedelic space and the retreat center space. There's been a proliferation of a lot more retreats. The challenges we both know is the discernment around what makes a great retreat and what makes a not so great retreat. People who are new to this practice have a hard time understanding that or discerning that, which is a big reason why we're doing what we're doing at Third Wave. So I'm curious, like, so for you, what would be the greatest hope or vision or prayer, maybe a good way to put it, for what you're creating through Alalaho? What's that deeper why? You know, what really makes you so, I guess not enthusiastic, but just so committed and devoted to this as a practice and work?

0:51:48.2 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah. Yeah, that's a great question. So there's two things that come to mind. First in terms of the retreats that we offer. I am very keen, and it is kind of going in that direction, but very keen to continue developing our offer so that we really accompany people on the long term. You know, it's like, it's not about having the peak experience, and even a four-day or five-day retreat, it's nothing, it's just the bleep in someone's life. So that's why we're now introducing the returners retreat, which is kind of like, okay, taking the next step with people. I also really want to start offering retreats for people who are really clearly interested in meditation practice or have a meditation practice already. And eventually just bring in more and more of that kind of contemplative element to the retreats. I think it's a really important component and thing to sort of throw in the cauldron of the psychedelic scene and what's happening at the moment, for many reasons, but one of them being that, of course, on the physiological level, psychedelics aren't addictive substances, by no means. But it's like our minds get addicted to peak experiences.

0:53:10.4 Jennifer Tessler: It's like there's something I think about our Western sort of minds at the moment, or the kind of contemporary mind where we need intensity, we're always looking for the next intense thing, or people ask us, like, "You do double ceremonies", and why not? And people just want more, more, more. And that grasping mind is the root of all suffering in our life, actually. And I think that Buddhism and meditation has a very important role to play in people's exploration of psychedelic substances and really just teaching people to hold these experiences spaciously not follow, not fall for the visions and the fireworks, not get distracted by that, but really focus on the essential and the meaning, the intention and the fruit of these practices. So yeah, I'm super keen to kind of really strengthen the kind of contemplative element of what we offer. So that's kind of one thing. And in terms of what's happening, also like in the psychedelic scene, and something I'm super excited to be doing this year, we have our first retreat for Australian clinicians and medical kind of healthcare practitioners.

0:54:27.8 Jennifer Tessler: We've partnered up with organization called Mind Medicine Australia, they're running training for doctors who want to learn how to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies. So they run these trainings. And basically, Alalaho will be delivering the kind of experiential component of that training and just taking people on a psychedelic journey. And also, of course, sharing like, kind of, there'll be some training components, but it's really about just taking people on a psychedelic journey. So that's super exciting, and definitely something that I want. And I think Alalaho is really well placed to kind of move into, is actually just sharing our expertise and the kind of experience that we've gathered through all these years of doing the work with sort of the next generation, let's say, of psychedelic practitioners. And where that's one, I think, of the debates in currently what's the shifts with the legalization and all of that. It's like, should therapists, do therapists need to have had a psychedelic experience before taking their clients through psychedelic journeys? And for me, it's like an absolute yes, they must, they need to. So yeah, I hope that Alalaho can play a role in that.

0:55:42.0 Paul F. Austin: And that's a phenomenal entry point. We've talked a lot about Australia internally. I think you're probably aware of this, the initial cost of it is quite prohibitive. And that tends to be how "experimental", even though we both know mushrooms are not experimental, experimental therapies are treated initially, until there's greater accessibility that can be created. And I think what's fundamental to that is training everyone on the front lines will deliver that care and service and ensuring they've walked the walk, right? That's something that we emphasize in our program as well. It's like, if you wanna guide other people through this, you should need a minimum of a year of your own, I would say, pretty deep medicine experience of really understanding that and unpacking it and seeing what arises and how to navigate it. Because this, it's really working with an intelligence that is very different. It's a totally new paradigm from what we've been subjected to or exposed to in the past.

0:56:42.1 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, yeah, totally. I mean, I couldn't agree more, really. And that's also something people often ask us, like, "Oh, what do you have to do to become a psychedelic facilitator?" And the truth is that nobody on the Alalaho team did a psychedelic facilitator training. We all just learned by having attending ceremonies, doing that work ourselves, and also not just working with psychedelics, but working with a really wide range of supportive practices and modalities that mean that we have cultivated, I suppose, a certain experience or expertise or ease in navigating the inner realms in a lot of different ways. And I think that is really like, the core skill that one must have in order to be a safe, psychedelic facilitator is to be really familiar with that navigation with these kind of inner realms. Yeah.

0:57:41.6 Paul F. Austin: It's like surfing. That's a metaphor that I keep coming back to. It's how do you ride the wave of consciousness? And how can psychedelics help us to get up on that big wave and have the courage to face some of our deepest fears? And in that practice, then a lot of these other practices sort of can naturally unfold and emerge from that because we've done the harder work of, I think facing our demons or our dragons or however you wanna put it.

0:58:08.0 Jennifer Tessler: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely.

0:58:12.3 Paul F. Austin: Well, Jennifer, this has been fun. Thanks for, and very deep. And I feel like there's been quite a few topics that I personally wanna dive deeper into, specifically around Dzogchen and the practice. If folks wanna learn more about Alalaho, it's Alalaho.com?

0:58:37.6 Jennifer Tessler: Alalaho.org, to have a look at the website and yeah, also really inviting people to sign up to our Newsletter, the glimpse that I send every other week. And people can get the glimpse into the world of psychedelic ceremonies and all the different kind of practices that are part of the Alalaho offering.

0:59:00.4 Paul F. Austin: And just so folks know, Alalaho is spelled A-L-A-L-A-H-O.org.

0:59:07.7 Jennifer Tessler: That's right.

0:59:08.7 Paul F. Austin: You have a few retreats that are coming up this year. I think in particular, kind of the way that I would contextualize it is people who are based in Europe or travel to Europe or enjoy traveling to Europe and have maybe some, especially for those who are somewhat new, some deeper medicine work to understand. I feel like the container that you've developed and created, the expertise that you brought in, the quality of psychotherapy and practitioners that are available, both clinicians and non-clinicians, people who have... Right. It comes back again to like, I mean, it's kind of crazy 'cause we've been doing this for 15 years ourselves, it's probably both of us to some degree, which is not that long. But in this space, it's a long time, to have to be in a medicine practice and be doing that work. And so, I think the integrity that you bring to this work and the safety and care that you provide for others is really important. So I appreciate you coming on and sharing a little bit of yourself with us today.

1:00:15.6 Jennifer Tessler: No, thank you so much. Yeah. And it was a super enjoyable conversation. I'm glad that we also spent so much time kind of getting into Dzogchen. Feel free to reach out if you wanna talk more about it. And yeah. Yeah, thanks a lot also for giving me the chance to talk about Alalaho. It is an incredible container. I mean the magic that happens on these retreats and just the beauty of the kind of bonds that are created amongst the participants is it's really, really incredible. So yeah, we're inviting people to come and join us.

1:00:48.4 Paul F. Austin: Thank you, Jennifer. This is a pleasure.

1:00:50.4 Jennifer Tessler: Thanks, Paul.

1:00:55.9 Paul F. Austin: Hey, listeners, Paul here. I hope you enjoyed our episode today with Jennifer. Remember to follow the link in the description to go deeper into this episode. There's show notes and a full transcript. And if you wanna continue this conversation, join our free community platform, community.thethirdwave.co. Thanks again for joining me on the podcast, and we'll see you next time.

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