The Psychedelic Podcast by Third Wave
Why Psychedelic Societies Are So Important
Stefana Bosse, Head of Experience for the London Psychedelic Society, explains what psychedelic ceremony means to her, and why psychedelic societies are so important for the healing of people and culture. We hear about what made Stefana decide to work in psychedelics, and why the transformations that psychedelics induce can be so profound.
- Why psychedelic societies are needed everywhere
- Avoiding a “Quick Fix” mentality and taking personal responsibility
- How psychedelics can help remind us of our shared humanity
0:00:28 Paul Austin: Hey, listeners. Welcome back to The Third Wave Podcast. I’m your host Paul Austin. We’ve been in a little bit of a hiatus lately. I actually was at my very first Burning Man at the end of August and early September, which as I continue to describe to people is like taking acid for a full week. There was almost a remembrance of these early peak experiences that I had in LSD when I was 19 and 20 and stepping back into that flow and that presence and that energy was really impactful and incredible and took a while to really settle into which has led to just a few things slowing down and as I get back in the swing of things with just my own energy but also with Third Wave and this podcast.
0:01:19 PA: So really excited for the podcast that we have for you today. It’s with a friend of mine, Stefana from the London Psychedelic Society. Stefana co-founded the London Psychedelic Society with Stephen Reed and has been doing a phenomenal job in growing that community in London over the past three years. And now the London Psychedelic Society is really the best example of a local psychedelic society that has both taken an activist approach in amplifying the mission of psychedelic literacy in community but also a more entrepreneurial approach and actually making it worth their while and time. So not only do they do events in London and quite a few they just actually got their own space in London but they also run experience weekends with Psilocybin truffles in Amsterdam or around that area, much like we do with our synthesis retreat.
0:02:21 PA: So in this conversation, we dug into a number of topics including Stefana’s past and what played a role in her getting involved in the London Psychedelic Society, the relevance and value of psychedelic community. And I think this is especially pressing and important particularly with what’s going on with our community at Third Wave as we’re launching a new project called 3W Nodes, which is basically launching social entrepreneurial-driven communities in places like New York, SF and LA to start where they’re kind of like psychedelic societies but instead of being run by activists, we’re going to really take an entrepreneurial approach and making sure that these are sustainable communities that can only spread the message of psychedelic literacy but can do so by generating the necessary funds to cover the expenses of the people who are really working and putting their time and effort. And so more details on that in the coming weeks, we’ll probably do our first event for those Nodes in October, finalizing some of the spots right now. So kinda keep your ears perked for that if you live in those cities. So without any further ado, I bring you Stefana from the London Psychedelic Society.
0:03:38 PA: What inspired you to start the London Psychedelic Society with Stephen?
0:03:42 Stefana Bosse: I didn’t actually start the psychedelic society. My absolutely brilliant colleague Stephen started it about a year and a bit before I joined. He was actually inspired to do it coincidentally from his first Nowhere experience which is the European Burning Man Festival in Spain and that was in the context of him having some transformative psychedelic experiences there and seeing them used in, I wouldn’t say like a ceremonial context, but he found a more responsible engagement with psychedelics and substances than he found at more mainstream festivals. And there was also at the time research going on at Imperial College in London and those different elements then inspired him to start the psychedelic society in the UK which at the time was the second psychedelic society in the world.
0:04:43 SB: So, there was only the San Francisco Society before that and then we were kind of the first nation-wide one. And we started out with the focus on cognitive liberty and just the human rights angle of you should be able to use these substances and to alter your consciousness as you will provided you’re not harming anybody. And also with the focus on re-legalizing Psilocybin. So that was the first year of the focus of psychedelic society which Steve did by himself and he hosted a bunch of debates and put a lot of his own investment money to get it started which I think was a unique advantage. And a real advantage was also the fact that there was research already happening in London. So the media were interested, there was a buzz happening.
0:05:30 PA: What year was this, was this like 2012, 2013? Just to get a sense for when it really started to develop.
0:05:36 SB: He founded the psychedelic society in November 2014. So there was already some of the research had already come out which gave him the confidence to feel like, “Okay this is a legitimate thing.” And yeah, so that he started November, 2014 and then I got involved in February, 2016. So just a little bit more than a year later.
0:06:00 PA: And what inspired your involvement?
0:06:03 SB: So my involvement that’s a bit of a longer story, but basically I came on the first psychedelic experience retreat that was basically… At the events that the psychedelics society had been holding we were increasingly… People were increasingly coming and they had read about it, they were coming to the events and learning more and meeting people and asking the question, “Okay, so how can I have a psychedelic experience in a safe and legal way?” And eventually Steve had the thought of like, “Well, there is actually a country not too far from us where you can do this legally.” And so he had the idea for doing a retreat with Psilocybin truffles. And the first retreat was just a few friends of ours, all who had psychedelic experience already just to kind of test the format and how would this work. And I participated in the very first one as a participant and had… At that point, my most profound trip that came. It was a year after my mother died, and we were using the playlist that was from Imperial College London that was used for the trials to treat depression and chronic anxiety and that was my first experience of taking psychedelics in a ceremonial, intentional setting and with music in that way to really guide you into deeper experiences. And even though I’d had, I’d been using and experimenting with psychedelics, not in a kind of party context but also not in this kind of deep therapeutic way.
0:07:47 SB: And that was my first encounter of that and even though I’d had been on a deep journey already of processing the grief of my mom’s death, that trip I had shifted something really profound. It was like the final piece in a puzzle. I spent a year of doing different therapeutic work but something was still out of alignment and the ways I describe it is that I felt like the rug had been pulled from underneath my feet and I was just kind of thrown up into space, suspended, not really knowing where was up and where was down, and it wasn’t… In a day-to-day context I was perfectly fine, I was enjoying life of anything, more appreciative of life, but there was this kind of backdrop of a big existential… What is going on? Where did my mother go? What is all of this? Why are we here? Like all these big questions I used to have as a kid and I just kind of put away because I couldn’t figure them out and yeah, then they really resurfaced when my mom died and that Psilocybin journey, there was this moment that it wasn’t a verbal thing, it was often an intellectual thing, it was just something energetically aligned. I could just feel it. I don’t know. Chakras re-balancing right. Whatever you wanna call it.
0:09:03 SB: But yeah, all of a sudden this deep, deep peace transcended over me and I just remember standing in the room tears flooding down and I could just feel my place in the cosmic tapestry in my mom’s place and somehow everything was fine and it just… It made me be able to really step into life fully again, and that doesn’t mean that my grieve journey ended at that point but it was a really significant moment for me and that really opened me to how much potential there really is with psychedelics. And then after that, Steve, without me even saying anything actually asked me like, “Hey, don’t you wanna do this with me?” ’cause I’d already changed careers from focusing on activism to going more the therapeutic route. So it was all kind of fitting and aligning and when he asked me everything in my system, alarm bells were going, everything was saying, “Oh my God, you can’t do this. What’s your dad gonna say? What doors are gonna close? Is this just a crazy idea and then you change your mind and then you can’t get any jobs any more because you’ve worked with Psychedelics, and da-da-da-da.” All these warning bells were there. There was this really deep feeling in my gut that was just a strong yes. Yes, you gotta do this. And yeah, one of the best decisions I ever made.
0:10:18 PA: And such a beautiful story of basically coming to Psychedelics really as a medicine in a way to process and to not only process, but what I’m hearing in your story as well is this ability to even let go to step into this new journey or this new responsibility or this new presence. Even it sounds like you didn’t have kind of a clear idea of what that might be, but just in going out there experiencing this matter in a ceremonial context for the first time. It opened up this new possibility for you which is stepping into your role now as a leader of psychedelic communities and a leader of experience weekends, and so I’m personally but also I’d say generally the community at large is very grateful for you having said yes because what a lot of people do is they go, “Oh my gut says yes”, but really all of these other things that I’m thinking about which you mentioned just now, the harm to reputation, the potential backlash from family and just kinda doing something that’s way more unconventional, even for those of us who already live slightly more unconventional lives to step out and to put ourselves in this place. It just feels right but it’s still a difficult decision, and so I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. Was it just an immediate yes? And you’re like, “I’ll figure things out later.” Or was it a process of really sitting down thinking things through and then making the decision? How did that play out for you?
0:12:10 SB: I didn’t think it through all that much. [laughter] No, I mean it’s definitely… I would say that over the last few years of just work, the therapeutic work that I’ve been doing also then working with psychedelics and the medicines like more and more what is coming through is that, I think there are few things in life, if any, as deeply fulfilling, as living a life that’s in alignment with your values. And I just… By that point… I think the reason I also didn’t think it through that much, is because of that experience of my mother just passing shortly before that. And that gave me such tremendous sense of perspective of, “What really matters and that life is fragile.” And what am I gonna do with mine… Am I gonna just conform to some other people’s ideas or perspective or just keep it, play it small. There’s such a deep sense in me of knowing, “This is important. This is deeply healing” and just to take that leap of faith and trust that, yeah that I can stand.
0:13:20 SB: I went to super prestigious universities. I was always the good girl and I have all these good credential like I’m not some cliche, hippie, high school drop out. I don’t know, whatever stereotypes people wanna attach to psychedelic use. Not at all. And I really felt, “Okay, this is a moment where I can just be really true to myself.” And there’s nothing more valuable than that. And it’s actually people… It’s everybody. But especially, sometimes I feel like, especially the people that are afraid to speak out, to speak their truth and share what’s really going on. That sometimes can be the most important ones. Because every time that someone speaks up. It’s like you break the stereotype. You break the stigma. It’s like, “Oh there’s a doctor and he actually takes psychedelics or a lawyer or a politician.” And that shifts our perspective, our narrative. It’s the same thing like… Steve and I, we both had super high-class university education and all these things. We used to work in normal mainstream jobs. And I think that helps give a lot of credibility. And that’s been happening in so many different ways, of different people having the courage to speak out. And that’s partially what’s contributing to the shift in everybody. But I can say my dad, [chuckle] even after three years of doing this, my dad’s still not a fan.
0:14:46 PA: Really? [chuckle]
0:14:49 SB: Yeah. Definitely. If I could make dose, if I could give one person a psychedelic trip, it would definitely be my dad.
0:14:55 PA: You should just have him carry Michael Pollan’s book.
0:14:57 SB: ‘Cause I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s book, that was one of the first thoughts I had. I was like, “Hey this is definitely gonna be my, the Christmas present for my dad.
0:15:04 PA: Oh yeah, that’s what I did. I just bought it on Amazon. And I didn’t even ask my dad if he wanted to read it. I am just like, “Here’s a new book to read.” And he had read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” before ’cause Michael Pollan is a pretty well-known journalist in the States at least. And it’s seems to be… He’s now like talking to me about. “Oh, it might be cool to go on an experience in Amsterdam.” And I’m thinking. “Alright there might be some hope here anyway.” But to get back to your story and what you’re talking about with community development. The interesting intersection here is, because you had that experience, and now you’re in a position where you are speaking your truth, so to say, you’re acting in alignment. There’s a deep sense of authenticity because these experiences that have meant so much to you personally, you can now align your public voice with that. And I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about what you’re doing, what you and Stephen and then the other people who are helping to create the London Psychedelic Society and run it. What have you focused on in terms of creating community to facilitate that same ability for those who are just entering the psychedelic space or maybe who have been in the psychedelic space for sometime but who haven’t really come out of the closet, so to say, to really own those experiences publicly.
0:16:22 SB: Just before I get into that, another thought just came to me as you were talking that I also wanted to share about this process of having the courage to step into this work. And that is, I think when you have the trust to just follow your heart and your beliefs and your values and every step you take in that direction, it sounds cliche, but that’s definitely been my experience. It’s like, “Okay, maybe some doors will close. But actually those are the doors that you don’t really wanna walk through anyway. Because they’re not in alignment with what’s true for you. And so many will open.” I mean every, and it’s not just with psychedelics. Like other experiences that I’ve had in my life. Every time I just go for something, you can’t foresee the complexity. The myriad of different possibilities that are gonna open up. But I definitely think that’s the way to go. Just to trust and follow your heart.
0:17:12 PA: Trust the process. Absolutely. Yeah. I remember…
0:17:14 SB: Trust the process.
0:17:15 PA: The intuition. Absolutely.
0:17:16 SB: Yeah, exactly. And to trust that there’s a deeper wisdom. Those things that we feel in the core of our being, in our heart and soul… They’re… In my therapy work, we have a saying and it’s, “Your longing will show you the way. Your longing will show you the path.” Just to tune into that. Just like, “What do I really feel? What makes me come alive? What do I believe?” And it’s like every time you don’t do that, because of some other people’s expectations, whatever, every time you don’t do that, that’s one step that you’re failing to live the life that really wants to be lived for you. And that really makes you happy. So it’s like having the courage… And of course, some people have faced real constraints and there are difficult choices sometimes to be made. But at the end of the day, “You’re gonna die.”
0:18:06 SB: You have this one life to live. A question about psychedelic community and kind of empowering other people to do the same. I think that is one of the core reasons of existing for psychedelic societies. Because since it is such… Perhaps somewhat negative perceptions still for many people, and it’s a bit, it’s coming out of the shadows. But for many, many people, if they have a psychedelic experience they are curious. The chances are the people in their lives like that don’t wanna have anything to do with it, or frown upon it, still frown upon it in many ways. And many people that come to our retreats, experience this. So psychedelic communities fill, psychedelic societies fill the space of just kind of creating a public space where people can come together and actually share about… First of all, about their experiences like community is an important integration aspect. And you’ve had these life-changing, absolutely ground shifting experiences and then no one in your community can… You can’t talk to anyone about that, no one can kind of uphold that for you.
0:19:13 SB: So it’s really, really important when you think about indigenous communities in the Amazon or in Australia or different tribes that have used the kind of teacher plants, there wasn’t such a need for integration. It’s not such a term, because the whole community can uphold that because everyone knows and gets it, and but here, we don’t have that same level of awareness. So it’s the psychedelic communities first and foremost, where you can meet people that can be like, “Oh yeah, I have had that happen to me or I get that,” or at least they have the awareness to hold the presence for it. So there’s that aspect of just people coming together and there’s also so many people come to our events that actually don’t have any experience but they have become curious, and so they come to events, they meet people who have experience… And we hold all sorts of different events, it can be debates about the potential legal regulation of psychedelics or about more philosophical like non-dualism in psychedelics or about growing mushrooms, about psychedelics and gender. I mean, we’ve had so many different kind of topics of discussion, microdosing you came to one of those and spoke.
0:20:27 SB: But also the more just… There is a fun aspect to it or just the other practices. That’s something that we really try to promote both in our retreats and also in the psychedelic society is that, psychedelics are one tool among many other tools and they’re the most powerful in an immediate sense, tool that I know for sure. But actually, you need the other practices to integrate all of those insights. Something I’m fond of saying is that, or the way I’m fond of looking is that part of our malaise as in western civilization is that we’re disconnected from ourselves, we’re disconnected from each other and we’re disconnected from nature and source or the divine, or God, whatever name you want to give that which is the cause of everything and that which we all deeply are. And all of those things have been severed and that’s why so many people are just deeply, deeply lost. We can’t feel ourselves, we can’t feel our bodies, we don’t really know what’s going on in our hearts. We’re just in our minds, thinking, thinking and achieving, and so there’s that aspect, which psychedelic use addresses and you get this huge homecoming and realignment and can really actually… It’s like a spiritual reset and you feel, “Okay, woah, this is where I am. This is actually how I’m doing and this is what’s happening in my life.”
0:21:54 SB: And then there’s this big aspect where actually, so many of our problems and our pains and hurts have to do with our relating to other people. That we live our lives, we have these masks that we bring to work, we have these masks that we bring into our relationships and friends. And no one’s being real, no one’s being vulnerable, no ones being authentic. So there’s that aspect. And you have another, the deeper sense of actually, “Who am I really?” So there’s all these aspects and psychedelics are so amazing because they, depending on where you’re at and what’s coming up but they can really point to all of those but then it’s like, “Okay, what do I do with that? What do I do with those insights?” I wish it was as easy, or actually, I don’t know if I wish it but because part of the fun is actually the journey, and the growth and the adventure but basically it’s like, “Yeah, you have to put those into practice.”
0:22:45 SB: A part of what we do as a psychedelic society is, we then try to weave in all the other tools and practices to help that, so on our retreats we do authentic relating work and inquiry work and working group psychotherapeutic process, and we have body work and breath work and dance, and we offer those events also in London and in Bristol, and it’s like there’s no right way. Rumi says, “There’s hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” and, “Let the beauty you love, be what you do.” It’s just about finding what works for you. There’s not like… We’re living in this amazing time where actually we have access to so many different modalities and tools. And yeah, I think it’s not about trying all of them and then not going deep with any but it’s about finding a couple that really work for you.
0:23:35 PA: Because I’d love to hear about what works for you? When you’re looking at integration? When you’re looking at going beyond just working with psychedelics as medicines and tools, what are some of the modalities that you like to use in your own process of healing and connecting? Are there any specific few that you rely on or does it depend on what’s happening in your life, at the time?
0:24:04 SB: I can say for me, as I started going deeper into the psychedelic path, at the same time, I started a training already a little bit before as a holistic psychotherapy training and that… I wouldn’t be able to say which has been more useful, psychedelics or the psychotherapeutic work because they both have massively transformed my life and actually they go hand in hand. So my psychedelic journeys and ceremonies have become much deeper and richer as I’ve deepen my understanding of what’s going on in my life through the therapy work and likewise, sometimes something that I’ve learned about in the therapy training or that I’ve been working with or explored, suddenly it gets illuminated in the ceremony and it all just makes sense and opens further doors. So they’ve really been very complementary for me and so yeah. And that’s a constant practice of mine, just inquiry. Just this practice of inquiring into what’s really true and also engaging with shadow works. So for me, psychedelics do many things but for me, especially since I’ve started to work in the shamanic traditions, starting with Ayahuasca ceremonies in San Pedro, something that is increasing coming out has to do with integrity and with really, what are my values, what do I believe, what’s in my heart and where I’m I going away from that?
0:25:46 SB: And in the kind of Psychotherapeutic shadow work, that’s also just to see, enquire what is really going on? What is underneath? Why I’m I doing that? And not to hold it… And psychedelic is something people experience often as this tremendous amount of compassion for yourself and self-love. So in the psychotherapeutic work, I’ve also gone to those different points where it’s not about… Shadow work is not to… What happens, the reason why things go into the shadow is because you don’t want them. You think like there’s parts of you because of what you learn from the society and your parents and all that conditioning, is that you’re like,”This is not good.” It’s not good to be vulnerable, it’s not good to be greedy, it’s not good to be selfish and so we push all those things away and we don’t want to see them but they’re still there.
0:26:40 SB: And the shadowing, shadow work for me, has been very much about facing myself and just like in ceremonies, you sometimes face a lot of stuff and it’s, and it can be intensely uncomfortable. By definition, you don’t want to look there, you really don’t. But then, through doing that, through inquiring, “Okay why am I like this? Why am I acting this way?” You get to a deeper place and then you start to understand it’s like, “Okay, I am really trying to control everything because I am a perfectionist. And why am I a perfectionist? Because I’m afraid that if I don’t do it perfectly then I’m not gonna be loved and no one’s gonna accept me.” And you get to those deeper, really vulnerable layers. And for me, it’s been like this, it’s really going deep and understanding myself and then learning to hold myself in presence and compassion and love. And then self-love is such a radical act in our society. I mean everything is… That’s partially actually where all the stuff, all the acting out comes from. It’s from this, “I don’t feel good enough, I don’t love myself enough so I’m acting out in all these ways. And my ego needs to seek validation all the time.”
0:27:57 SB: So it seems counter-intuitive, but yeah for sure to practice self love, is really healing. And I’ve definitely found just… It’s a thing as a therapist also, like the therapeutic space is basically like the foundation of it is presence, awareness and unconditional love like unconditional positive regard. And there’s been studies done comparing and contrasting different approaches, whether it is Freudian or humanistic or [unclear speech] whatever all the different variants of psychotherapy that there are, and it was found that, more than the school of psychotherapy, it’s the attitude, the basic approach of the therapist in this way, of just how compassionate and how present is he with his client. And I think that, whether it is a therapist or whether you do that for yourself, that’s kind of the foundation for healing and just holding yourself with a lot of love. And that’s also in the retreats. That’s the foundation. And anyone will tell you that John Hopkins or Imperial, in a psychedelic journey, you support first and foremost just with love.
0:29:13 SB: And there’s another part of this on what you’re sharing with your team in the process. It’s something I’ve really found and we’re really inspired. But I don’t know if you’ve explored this but there’s a whole trend now of Organizational Development just like there’s been Integral Theory by Ken Wilber which is all about the stages of human development. There’s also, there was this book written called, “Re-inventing organizations.” And it is kind of trying to map like how does the structure and the practices of the organizations, how do we map that to levels of human consciousness? And it’s super fascinating, like we we’re really just in this explorations as an organization ourselves, and they call it teal consciousness. Is their name for it. They give it different colors and teal is kind of like the next step of human consciousness and how organizations could be, that comes very much from a place of overcoming separation and interconnectedness and acting from a place of trust rather than fear and how can we bring our whole selves. They talk a lot about wholeness and something I’ve definitely discovered in this conflicts with colleagues, is such a different, I have such a different response.
0:30:29 SB: So it’s such a different conversation. If a colleague of mine would say to me “You can’t do this anymore.” Or, “This is not cool.” Rather than say, “When you do this, this is how it makes me feel. This is the affect it’s having.” And that’s also a bit a non-violent communication. And these tools… But it makes such a difference. It makes such a difference. And to see the impact that your actions have. I believe and I can say that I personally and as the psychedelic society, we definitely believe that how you do things matters. It’s not just about what’s the end goal, but like the process. Because it’s by the process. You have to be the change also, you have to do the work yourself. You can’t just be like, “I’m just gonna say, I’m just gonna not do it right now, because then in future, it’s gonna be better if I don’t do it now. It’s like, no it’s like by going the way that you change the whole picture. That’s what I believe anyway.
0:31:25 PA: We talked a little bit about team dynamics for the London Psychedelic Society but how does that play out in setting up your own business processes and systems for the retreats that you do in Amsterdam? And for the events that you do? What for you are priorities in offering these, we could say, services. Is it accessibility? Is it transformative life experience? What motivates the London Psychedelic Society to offer these transformative experiences?
0:31:53 SB: The underlining thing is just seeing… I think it’s a feeling that many of us carry in our hearts. It’s like, “Wow everything’s somehow going or a lot of things are just not, are a bit off. It just not… Life is beautiful and abundant and an absolute gift and we as human beings can witness… We’re aware enough to witness the whole… The whole miracle of creation. So the natural response should be to want to protect that and to celebrate. And yet here we are destroying everything and competing with each other rather than loving each other. And it’s just like there’s such a fundamental mismatch of what is in our hearts to what’s… What’s really, really in the raw vulnerable sensitivity of our hearts to what’s playing out. And I started out, and so did Steve with a very political macro socio-economic approach, and because of my own spiritual and personal journey, likewise for Steve, I came to the point of actually believing that it’s really, it’s really the inner work. I’m super, super happy that there’s many people working on the macro-political issues and all of that. I think all those different dimensions of change are really important and they all influence each other. And the fact that I can even have this conversation is the result of a lot of human rights campaigning for women’s issues and support.
0:33:23 SB: But for me personally I really believe that to get to the root of a lot of our issues that I believe are just manifestations of the inner wounding and that are playing out on a really large scale. Yeah, you have to really go into this inner working. I was really seeing when I was working in activism and politics, there’s a lot of us versus them going on in the world, if you know, like we’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys. And there’s so little actually looking at, “Okay, how am I replicating the same kind of dynamics that I’m actually wanting to change and where is… Projecting the anger outward but what’s going on inside of me?” And so that’s how we came to the inner work and I guess that’s our part of wanting to contribute to the healing of the planet, and more and human civilization, but more specifically for the retreats. What has been a real aim of ours and I’m really happy to say that we’re very successful in it, is that it’s incredibly accessible to a wide spectrum of people. So we’ve done a lot of work on, I guess, we tried to de-cliche psychedelic use. It’s not super overtly hippie if I compare it to some shamanic medicine circles that I have participated in, it’s not like that.
0:35:00 SB: It’s not as clinical and sterile as the approach you’d find in a clinical psychedelic, psychotherapy setting and the trials at Imperial College. There’s ceremony, there’s ritual which we’re also so disconnected from in western society. We’ve really lost that part of ceremony. And so we bring in those elements but in a way that’s very much meeting people where they’re at. And very, making it really accessible and slowly bringing them in. So the people that come on our retreats, we’ve had all age groups from… One retreat we had someone who was 19 and someone who was 71 and every… Literally every decade represented in the middle and, yeah, huge diversity of people. People working in IT and teachers, and lawyers, and students. And it’s very, very mixed. And that’s something I… And mostly people who will not have encountered any of this stuff. The sense of is there something more to life? Like have I… Am I gonna die and I missed out on something?
0:36:13 PA: Then we see this as well with the retreats that we’ve been hosting. The transformation from day one where at least for us, we have initial one-on-one conversations with a few people to day three in the closing circle where we talk about integration, it’s really incredible. People are finally, many people, these… What I’ve noticed are coming to this basically to get out of their heads. At least this is true for a lot of the men who come and get back into their body and get back in touch with themselves. And I’d love to hear a little bit from you in that what transformations do you see? What are the experiences that people have when they come to these experience weekends from the first day to the last day? What are some of those common themes that you see pointing out?
0:37:05 SB: Yeah. Very similar to some of the stuff you just touched on and also as you were sharing about holding space, what came up for me, I think some… The beautifully ironic cosmic joke is that when we get into our vulnerability, when we show… When we really just show how we are that’s what breeds connection and that’s what makes people love us. And it’s this irony because we think if we’re vulnerable we’re weak. And people are gonna think, yeah, we’re pathetic. And we have to try and pretend to be all of these things rather than be how we really are and it’s this yeah, amazingly ironic thing that we have to actually… We learn how to just be ourselves. And that’s something that I think becomes very apparent and what’s so healing in these sharing circles or different authentic relating inquiries and games that what comes out is that shared humanity, it’s that you see yourself and everybody else is sharing and whenever someone else becomes vulnerable, it’s like they give permission to the next person to be vulnerable and the space deepens.
0:38:32 SB: And it’s so touching, and healing just that, just people taking off their masks and being real. And I’ve been doing this work for a good number of years now and it never ceases to amaze me how when someone shows exactly the thing that they think is gonna make people not like them, that’s the thing that actually creates connection. It’s amazing how in such a short space of time, so our retreats used to be three days and now they are four days, ’cause we spent a whole day doing integration work and actually we have even the next retreat coming… One retreat coming out, that we’re gonna do five days and do a whole day also of preparation. But even when there were just three days in such a short space of time, at the end of the closing circle, people feel so much love and connection to everybody else. And it’s genuine. You really have these strong bonds and in it’s such a short space of time. You can go so deep with each other and feel so connected to people who two days prior were complete strangers. You’ve… They might have seen more of you and you might have seen more of them and shared more with them than with your closest friends or your family.
0:39:43 SB: So there’s a beautiful just general opening and people discover a new way to be and a new way to relate to themselves, to their own emotions. There is a beautiful opening and sensitivity that happens. And then from that space afterwards, it’s such, it’s so fresh, the space immediately afterwards and the day afterwards, because then people are so open, you can really work with how do we integrate that way of relating? But likewise what you were saying about the body. We do different embodiment practices and for many people, in our society, we all live in our heads, that so alien. We are so disconnected from our body and part of the fun and the joy that we have, we do bodywork and some dancing, some singing depending on which facilitators at which retreat but finding a way to make it accessible and to give people permission and I can say myself, like my whole life I was not, I never sang because when I was a kid, my brother always told me I couldn’t sing and I just zipped up, and I never sang. And it’s been such a deep healing journey to go on that exploration, and to start singing, and so to really create a space where everyone’s invited to just sing. Even though it’s something basic.
0:41:00 SB: We sing a song in a group and to tell people that it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if you hit the wrong note, like you can’t do anything wrong and… Because singing and dancing are actually two things that are so integral to the human spirit. Human societies and cultures have been doing that since forever, and here in the West we just totally [unclear speech] from it… You asked me earlier about what the different integrative practices are. Dancing for me is a huge one but also something that recently has become a big part of my practice is prayer. And that was introduced to me through the shamanic work. In all the shamanic ceremonies that I’ve participated in, prayer is a huge part and I was so disconnected from what prayer is for, and what prayer is about. I was brought up somewhat Christian but never really touched me, and when I was a kid. And I would very quickly kind of dismissed it all and it was only in the last few years that I through different events that happened, started to re-engage with actually like, “What is prayer really for?” And understanding how an important aspect it is of the human experience and to hear the Shamans pray in the ceremony. My God, I remember feeling that that’s one of the most important things I could learn in my life is to pray in such a way.
0:42:25 SB: To speak and to have such a direct relation to that which we can’t comprehend, which is so much greater than us, like where we came from, where we’ll go to, what we are, and to just speak from the heart and really really truthfully. And so we tried to weave in little parts of that. Just like gratitude for the food, to remembering every time before we eat that we’re so privileged to have such abundance of food, that there are people on the planet who can’t eat and that from the seed and the sunlight that nourished it and the rain than watered it and the soil that grew it, to the farmers, to the people who transplant. There’s so many things to be grateful for in every moment. So just to weave those practices in. All of those things touch people and different ones touch different participants in different ways. So it’s hard to kind of categorize that. But I also wanna be really honest, and I think this is a really important part that’s not talked about enough, is you experience huge opening on those retreats and people have life-changing experiences. But then there comes the inevitable contraction.
0:43:35 SB: I have not heard of anybody who hasn’t experienced a contraction after a big expansive psychedelic experience. And maybe there are some people, but at least I haven’t met them. [chuckle] And I think that’s a really important thing to acknowledge. That that’s first of all a natural part of the cycle. The heart muscle expands and contracts in our hand and that’s just part of the ebb and flow of life, but also to really engage with that. What does that mean? Because people, especially when it’s their first time they can be like, “Wow everything’s changed now.” And as a facilitator I also had to go on a huge process with that because of course, your ego feels very comfortably stroked, if you’re holding the space, and then people are having this profound experiences and saying, that it changed their life and you can feel really good about yourself. But I definitely then ask, “Okay, and what about two weeks down the line, and how are they doing six months down the line?” And it’s not to invalidate the experience because the experience was hugely profound and it can be life-changing. I’ve experienced it myself, and I know from many participants that I’ve stayed in touch with.
0:44:47 SB: But it’s just not quite as black and white as that, or it’s not as straight forward. It’s like, you still have to do all the work afterwards, and even if you do the work, then it’s still hard, and it goes up and down, and it’s a journey like the whole thing, it’s a journey, it’s not a magic bullet. And I think at the moment, because people are so desperate, there’s so many people that are so lost and so desperate that with this new hype that’s happening, people are jumping on like, this is gonna be the fix now, this is gonna be the magic bullet, because you see all these studies and everyone’s really excited like, “Oh Psilocybin can cure depression,” and it’s amazing that the tide is turning. But yeah, it’s also I think really important to speak very frankly of how difficult it is still.
0:45:33 PA: It’s still a lot of work after we have that opening and I’m glad you’re emphasizing this. In other words, a lot of people who are approaching this, what I’m hearing from you, are still operating within that same paradigm of the medicine will do the work for me or the pill will fix me or whatever else it might be where there’s still this sense of we’re giving up A, our agency and power to this external thing. And I think what I’ve learned from psychedelics, what many people are learning is that ultimately the agency and the responsibility in almost every way, is up to you. And there’s obviously qualifications of that, obviously with all the systemic issues that we hold as a culture and society, particularly if you’re black in the United States or Hispanic, or even women in many countries. There are certain things that must be overcome but at the same time, ultimately, that was kinda my main thing that I came to, is like, oh I can say “Oh all these things are wrong externally with the system that I live in,” but ultimately then it’s up to me in terms of how I’m going to approach that. And not only changing my relationship to these things but ultimately also, being empowered enough and having enough agency and ownership over these things that I can actually work to change those larger systemic issues.
0:47:02 SB: You, yourself is you have the most power to change that, and it’s just this thing, that you can’t really change other people, you can only, you can change your reaction, you can change the energy which you’re sending out. You just, you do that also with yourself, you know of course… I think we’re also, part of our culture is that we live in a really convenience consumer-oriented culture, so we want the change now, and we want it fast and we want it easy. And that’s so different to especially some of the Eastern traditions also in the Amazon, people who do [unclear speech] where different cultures that still have a sense of discipline and patience, and commitment and that things take time. So to really… Yeah, to really have patience with yourself, and I think that this… Yeah, just coming back. Whenever I feel, whenever I kind of veer off course a little bit and get disconnected from myself or just caught up in the daily grind, it ironically often it’s exactly those times that we then stop doing our practice. We stop meditating, and we stop going for a run or whatever it is because we don’t have enough time, we need to do this, this and that or actually, we’re feeling, just not feeling in the mood for it.
0:48:35 SB: And that’s of course, those are exactly the moments that you need it the most, that your practice is the most important. So every, just having, just remembering, cultivating that remembrance and coming back to it and having that trust and then also there’s this big question. Alan Watt’s famously said “If you get the message, hang up the phone.” And I get asked this question a lot, what is this thing of like, “Should you use psychedelics more frequently? How much is too much?” and all these things and I can say for me personally, yeah, they’re just this deep cleanse and re-alignment. And sometimes they can just really put things back into perspective and help you go a bit more deep into certain issues and there’s so much de-conditioning to do. And I found in myself that the more I do this work with the psychedelic medicines, with other practices, then it starts… You start to refine who you really are and what you’re really feeling. And what’s really going on and with that comes a growing sense, I think of trust in life, and of courage. And with that, I think then will come, to really know what is your gift to bring, like what are you here to do in the world?
0:49:57 SB: First, you have to clean out all the stuff that isn’t you, all the expectations and the ideas that have been put on you by your parents, by your education, by society and advertising, everything you’re bombarded with all the the time, you have to kinda do a proper cleansing out to feel what is really the guiding force inside your spirit inside your being, what does your soul want to manifest? And then, that then will come the courage and the trust to follow that It comes back to our earlier conversation of, do you have the courage to speak out about psychedelics and associate yourself with that or not? And whether it’s psychedelics or whether it’s something else. I think the clearer you become, the more work you do and the clearer you feel like, what is really true for you, the harder it becomes for you to abandon that and to do something else. And the reason why so many people aren’t doing that is because our whole culture is focused on numbing out and distracting. So we’re doing things that aren’t true to what we, our soul really wants to manifest. And then we drink, and watch TV, and are on Instagram and all of these things, they’re just constantly taking us away from feeling…
0:51:14 PA: And I think, to add to that, just quick, I think, smoking Cannabis, as well. I’ve seen this as a lot of people are just smoking Cannabis as a replacement for alcohol, but it’s still acting as this distraction or this way to numb.
0:51:27 SB: Yeah.
0:51:28 PA: So that’s also something, just wanted to add that because I think, everything with legalization is great, but there’s also these things to continue to be mindful of in terms of our relationship with substances.
0:51:39 SB: Yeah, totally. And even, we know with the more powerful psychedelics like, I’ve certainly… I think it’s a little bit harder but definitely not impossible. I’ve certainly met people who have participated in my 80 Ayahuasca ceremonies, and you meet them and you feel a bit like, “Mmm, you know… ” [chuckle]
0:52:00 PA: Maybe you should be drinking a little less Ayahuasca, yeah? [chuckle]
0:52:02 SB: I think, it’s like, even though it’s not this… It’s not your obvious high in the way that, I don’t know, taking a line of coke is, because you could really face your demons, and it could be really, really brutal and rough. There is nonetheless like a high that also comes from Ayahuasca and LSD and all the psychedelics. And people can also become really attached to that and to the kind of ceremony and the context of it, and just keep chasing that. Keep trying to just live in that bubble rather than taking it and reintegrating it and… And I don’t mean that there’s not… I’m not saying like, drinking Ayahuasca 80 times is a bad thing. I also know people who’ve drunk a lot of Ayahuasca and they are phenomenal human beings, full of integrity and love, and really living it, and that’s just their path. I’m just saying, I think, basically the human mind can abuse and distract with everything. It’s how do you use… It’s just to be really mindful and aware of the power of all of those things constantly. And to use it with intention. And to, yeah, check in with yourself.
0:53:24 PA: Yeah, there’s a metaphor that continues to pop in mind, ’cause I’ve been having this conversation with many people lately. It’s… And we’d like to say, “People are maybe visiting the dentist a little too often.” And the reason we say that is usually you just go to the dentist every six months, and you get a nice clean and that’s kind of the metaphor for a high dose psychedelic experience. Like you were saying, it’s a deep cleanse of the self from a hygienic perspective, whereas things like yoga, meditation, even sauna, breath work, microdosing could fall into this as well, these are, that’s more like your constant practice of brushing your teeth and flossing every day. And that balance then of doing the little things consistently, but still remaining in the here and now, in this reality grounded and grounded enough to make impactful change. It’s important, I think, to find that balance where you still might go and do a high dose experience every maybe three to four to six months. But at some point, like you said, it just becomes more of a distraction.
0:54:34 PA: So this is a conversation that we’ve been having internally, from a team perspective, this is something that I’ve been reflective upon and I’ve been discussing with different brands, it’s like, maybe you should do a few less dentist visits, and maybe you could just kind of take what you’ve learned or the insights that come those experiences and now look at, “Okay, how do I actually integrate this in on an ongoing basis?” So even what you were talking about earlier with Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics and Frederick Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations. This for me is the big question that, at least, I’m curious about is how do we integrate post-egoic transformative experiences into organizational culture to change the way that business is done? In other words, when people aren’t incentivized by financial, or aren’t… Most companies aren’t incentivized by only financial profit but also social and ecological well being, which is a major element of this maturation and kind of integrating consciousness that Ken Wilber has spoken about or Frederick Laloux.
0:55:48 PA: And there are elements of that in holacracy as well, which is slightly different, kind of the green teal stuff. So these are all important questions. But with all that being said, I’d love to start to wrap up. And in wrapping up, I’d love to hear your thoughts a little bit just about like, where is the London Psychedelic Society headed? So what’s on the agenda? Or what’s on the horizon for maybe the next six months to a year? And what are some of your larger kind of visions for how this will continue to develop and grow and to change the conversation around psychedelics both in London but also international?
0:56:27 SB: Yeah, so in London, the UK, one of our main focus points at the moment is the campaign we’ve launched to reschedule Psilocybin from schedule 1 to a schedule 2 substance which would just make research a whole lot easier and less red tape, less money and so that we can really get the science and the data to then ultimately, hopefully contribute to changing the law, but to show the benefits and also the things to be aware of, but… So the political campaign in the long run, after, if that is achieved, our vision is definitely to, for the UK to move towards, hopefully like a more decriminalization scheme, just like in Portugal, we definitely have the position that ultimately a lot of the, or actually pretty much all the drug-related harm comes from prohibition, and prohibition doesn’t serve anybody. That’s a whole another conversation to get into now, but basically, that’s kind of… There’s a lot of campaigning focus. And we’ve just secured our own venue in London, so that’s a really exciting kind of next shift in life over there.
0:58:01 SB: So that’s gonna be a combination of a coworking space and an event space. And yeah, so just really kind of doing even more work on building the psychedelic community and creating a real hub for all these integrative practices, and for people to engage with the psychedelic society and the different things that we offer. The long-term vision would be to… Something that we’re doing actually, is we’re going to do a little bus tour around the UK, hopefully, next year, with events and talks. And to just… Yeah, to really keep spreading the message, spreading the information, reaching also areas of the country. London is obviously very international and the research is happening there, but the UK is much larger than that, so we’re really trying to expand and reach out.
0:58:58 SB: But on the retreat front, so we are going to continue the work we’re already doing for sure, but the vision that we definitely have is to really deepen both the preparation and the integration work, so envisioning setting up a more long-term preparation-integration package that will support people a few weeks, possibly even months before the experience as well as afterwards so that you can really go deep into that journey. Also, to have longer retreats and more different theme ones, so we have also women’s retreats at the moment. Next year we’re most likely gonna have some men’s retreats. We’re in the plans right now for rights of passage for young adults. And I think that’s just such another really important piece because one of the tragic things is that we don’t have real initiation rites into adulthood. And obviously, psychedelics are such a right of passage in their own right, so they very much go together. So that’s something we’re working on. And women’s, men’s retreats, also retreats for the queer and transgender community, and as well as different focused ones that have more to do with permaculture and nature connection. Maybe some more orientated around grief-work or end-of-life stages. And just different different aspects of exploring. Maybe more experienced psychonaut weekends.
1:00:40 SB: There’s lots of possibility and scope. And the real dream is definitely to have our own venue. We’re at a point of basically running around three retreats a month, so it’s just… Yeah, we’re just really getting to the point where it’s like, “Okay, let’s somehow put a business plan together to get our own venue and make it really beautiful, really make it our own.” Also energetically to create a space that holds… When you have different groups coming in and out, it changes a thing. But if you can really… If you’re doing a certain work that you can connect with the land, you can set your intentions for the space, everything that happens in the space is energetically contained within there. And also, we can just make it really beautiful. So those are some of the thoughts going forward.
1:01:29 PA: I wanted to express my appreciation and gratitude because both you and Steven have done incredible work in raising awareness and in building community, and in facilitating these experiences for people.
1:01:43 SB: I really believe that given the state, the mess that we are in as a civilization, it takes us work. It demands of everyone to go this deep into themselves. And so in that sense, I think, then, it’s such an incredible honor to be able to support that and to support these journeys. And every single person counts. Every single person shifts the whole picture one by one.
1:02:16 PA: One by one.