#10 Whole | Tom Eckert and Sheri Bessi-Eckert

October 21, 2020
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Sheri and Tom discuss how they discovered – and then began to advocate for – Psilocybin Therapy (2:33)

Sheri and Tom talk about their effort over the last 5 years in bringing together a ballot initiative with the Oregon Legislative Council (5:35)

Tom details the origins of the Oregon Psilocybin Society (9:30)

Tom and Ronan discuss the FDA process (11:00)

Details on Measure 109 and how it could create access to psilocybin assisted psychotherapy – and what that entails (11:55)

Sheri highlights some of the strict parameters and safety considerations built into the law – and protections of over commercialization – to maintain a community-based service (13:00)

Sheri discussed how the Psilocybin Service Initiative (PSI) aims to be inclusive, rigorous and will legitimatize practitioners with essential training programs (15:00)

How we bring about drug reform and learn as an industry from the errors of the 60s (17:00)

‘But What If We’re Wrong?' – and what does the narrative look like (20:00)

What the throws of transformation can look like – and how important the history of these plant medicines really are for us to know and pay attention to (21:20)

Consciousness as a final mystery – and the relationship between consciousness and reality. The subject/object split that physics brings into question and how these exact questions are intrinsically healing. And they seem to be related to positive therapeutic outcomes (23:10)

Sheri believes it's important for individuals to have their own genuine experience. We are all our own best guru’s. We can experience awe – and even the cosmos (26:00)

Sheri shares her personal experience with psychedelics, and how her view towards them evolved – from conservative to advocate. Psychedelics helped her see the emotions that were stuck within her – called ‘memory trauma’ (30:20)

Tom talks about his experience with psychedelics and how they helped him cope with the loss of his father (32:50)

Sheri adds how her and Tom experience the universe together when on psilocybin. “It’s a wonderful thing for a marriage” (34:38)

To heal is to become more whole – and suffering is estrangement from the whole. A psychedelic experience can bring the whole together, and to recognize that you are not separate from the cosmos itself (38:00)

Once expanded – you can never go back to your original shape. And for Sheri – that is the work of psychedelics. And for Tom, this idea of neuroplasticity is important; a flexibility away from rigid mental loops. (39:00)

Sheri talks about how she challenges the men she works with to ‘sit with their beliefs, and ask themselves: why they believe what they believe?’ (45:30)

Tom discusses the identification of meaning, and how looking forward is a blank page for all of us. You are free to be the author; can be called 'reality creation' (47:00)

Transcripts

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Sheri: [00:00:00] You're like on a spaceship together, seeing the stars and the universe and everything, and you're doing it together, and that is really a wonderful thing for a marriage. [00:00:13][13.3]

Ronan: [00:00:20] This is Field Tripping, a podcast dedicated to exploring psychedelic experiences and their ability to affect our lives. I'm your host, Ronan Levy. As husband and wife founders of the Oregon Psilocybin Society and authors of the Psilocybin Service Initiative, Tom and Sheri Eckert, have set in motion a historic campaign to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy in their home state of Oregon. The Eckert's, with a growing army of volunteers, are spreading a truth held increasingly self-evident that the psilocybin experience, when facilitated under safe and supportive conditions, can be a life changing gift. And they've worked hard over the last five years to get where they are right now by successfully collecting one hundred and twelve thousand signatures to get Measure 109 onto the ballot. Now they're involved in an education campaign to inform the public about psilocybin and Measure 109 to help it pass in the November election. In addition to their activism, the Eckert's own and operate inner work, a private psychotherapy practice serving the Portland metro area. Welcome to Field Tripping Sheri and Tom. [00:01:41][80.8]

Tom: [00:01:41] Thank you for the kind words and thank you for your support through this campaign, it means a lot to us. [00:01:47][5.3]

Sheri: [00:01:47] And thank you for what you do, Ronan, we really appreciate you as well and all the work that you're unfolding. Congratulations on all that you're doing. [00:01:54][7.0]

Ronan: [00:01:55] Thank you very much. We are big believers in the Psilocybin Service Initiative. I know it has a whole bunch of different ways, it's referred to as Measure 109, IP-34 and I'm not sure exactly what the difference is so if I make mistakes, please feel free to correct me. But one thing I would love to learn is we're right on the cusp. You know, November is just around the corner. The IP-34, Measure 109 is on the ballot and history is looking very likely to be made in the coming months. But my question to you is, how on earth did you guys get to be here? [00:02:29][33.9]

Tom: [00:02:29] I can't say for myself that I necessarily expected to be in this position, but it certainly does fit a narrative that goes back ways for me personally, going back to the 1990s and grad school and being a bit disillusioned by the focus there. I was in a doctoral program for clinical psychology, the prevailing models both in psychotherapeutics as well as kind of the movement toward a real pharma-driven approach to psychiatry never sat well with me. Not to say that I'm against anything. I think there's a place for medications and kind of brief psychotherapy, surface-level type stuff. But it was really missing something in my mind. I don't think that those modalities necessarily represent what should be the prevailing modality in terms of mental health care. So I remember back in those days kind of stepping outside the curriculum and really digging deep into what I thought were orientations that penetrated the human condition. So I started reading a lot of existentialism, the old kind of 19th-century philosophies, and then into the psychotherapists who incorporated existential thought. The reason I bring that up is because I think those kind of orientations, humanistic, existential, kind of psycho-spiritual orientations, speak to the human condition in a different way. And that was always resonant with me. [00:04:00][90.3]

Sheri: [00:04:01] And I have a very different background from Tom, I've kind of always been a very square person, so very spiritual, but truly square when it comes to exploring drugs and things of that nature. And so Tom and I met and we just clicked right away. We just were both very interested and as Tom shared, humanity and the current human condition mentally. And then in 2015, we read The Trip Treatment in The New Yorker by Michael Pollan. And that was the beginning of the beginning. That's like when we actually sat down together, coming together with these different backgrounds and really thought about what we were both wanting to see for our clients in terms of the healing process. And we really took a deep dive into the clinical studies. We really started looking at psilocybin because it's the one that has the most studies and the rigorous science behind it. And we just knew, we knew that this was something that we could bring to Orgonians, bring to our clients that could help them kind of skip over 10 years of talk therapy and just get right down to it. [00:05:23][81.9]

Ronan: [00:05:23] A lot of people have a lot of ambition and they start and then hit the first road bump along the way and stop. So can you give us a little bit more color into what the last five years have looked like? Can't even imagine where you get started with that kind of work being like, I know we're going to try and challenge the status quo of some of the most entrenched drug policy globally that's funded by probably billions of dollars of U.S. government money. [00:05:48][25.3]

Sheri: [00:05:49] Well, we were really fortunate, Ronan, in that in Oregon we have the Legislative Council and we knew that we could actually bring a ballot, a people's ballot to the people. So we worked with Salem and the Legislative Council in Salem. And initially the first year it was just writing the draft. What did we envision? How did we think that this could unfold in such a way that would be meaningful, that would be community-oriented, that would be expanded access, providing the best services for those who could benefit. We started really along that path and we started reaching out to wonderful people that kind of could talk with us and share with us their ideas. But it took that one year of simply writing a 10-page draft that we turned into the Legislative Council and it came back at seventy-eight pages, and then we realized, OK, I mean, we always knew it was going to be big in terms of when you look to change the law, there's a lot involved. But we didn't realize... well we realized that we weren't anticipating such a huge document and it was really fun. It was extremely educational and it was very encouraging to see that this was a possibility. It was a big possibility here in Oregon. [00:07:14][85.1]

Tom: [00:07:15] We came out this not because we wanted to jump in and make it happen faster than anyone, but we did have an inspiration to really think about the foundation we could create or the footing for psilocybin therapy in the culture. You know, we want this to take shape and find its footing and then not kind of have symptoms later on because it's on the wrong basis. So what that really comes down to is we created a way to allow access to anyone who might safely benefit. [00:07:50][35.0]

Ronan: [00:07:51] Was the reaction of the people at the Legislative Council when you submitted that? Was it shock, awe, scoffing? I was responding to some interview questions today and one of the quotes that came up, which apparently is misattributed to Gandhi but is often attributed to Gandhi, was first they laugh at you, then they make fun of you, then they fight you and then you win. Was there an element of that in the process or was the response generally pretty constructive? Because certainly parts of Oregon have a reputation for being very progressive and open-minded. [00:08:20][29.0]

Sheri: [00:08:20] Fortunately for us, the Oregon Legislative Council, they were fairly not biased. They understood that we had a vision. They worked really well with us. There was no looking down on us. We had a harder time getting a bank account than we did working with the lawyers at the Legislative Council. [00:08:39][18.4]

Tom: [00:08:40] Outside of the Legislative Council, you know, just in starting to get the ball rolling, the attitudes were quite different in 2015. I mean, there was positivity around the idea, but it felt high in the sky. It felt like probably not in my lifetime. We heard a lot, you know what I mean? And so that is what's changed so dramatically, especially here in Oregon, I think worldwide, but especially here in Oregon with this campaign is we've got this kind of kitchen table issue around mental health and psychedelics now, which is incredible. [00:09:07][27.5]

Ronan: [00:09:08] Being a lawyer, having witnessed firsthand what was going on in the cannabis industry in 2015, we were deeply involved in the Canadian cannabis industry. And if you had asked me then that whether a psychedelic ballot initiative or psilocybin ballot initiative would be moving forward, I would tell you, even from the auspices of the cannabis industry, that's outlandish. I don't know why I'm curious about this, but after you guys collectively decided to move forward with this idea, what was the first phone call you make? Who was the first person you spoke to about this? [00:09:38][30.1]

Tom: [00:09:38] Not a lot of phone calls in the beginning. It was totally a "if you build it, they will come" kind of situation. The first thing that I did is I wrote 10 articles on different aspects of the psychedelic emerging movement. I put it out there on the website, that was just a website that we built. You know, we kind of set forth the Oregon Psilocybin Society without like having a society, that kind of thing. People started to gravitate to it and it became a society, but it just kind of filled the content of the website. I wrote articles that were for educating myself fully on all the different aspects of the movement. [00:10:12][34.1]

Sheri: [00:10:13] I think once we actually had the first ballot initiative before we switched to the second and final ballot initiative, I think we really reached out to Paul Stamets. We wanted to educate Oregonians and we have 920, and so we put together two years in a row a 920 event at a place called the Newmark's here in Portland. That was kind of the beginning of this public acknowledgment that Oregon was doing something. [00:10:45][31.5]

Ronan: [00:10:46] You touched on, Tom, the idea of having a lot of respect for the FDA process. And, you know, in talking about this and what you guys are doing in Oregon, my thinking and the way I always position it is that I have a lot of respect for the FDA process. It's rigorous and strict, it's very demanding, it's what you would want when it comes to drugs. But it's necessarily rigid and therefore always going to be somewhat imperfect. And so one of the big reasons that we're such big advocates of the work you're doing is in part because the FDA process is imperfect and the need and the opportunity and the impact around psychedelics needs to have more life and more bets than just on an FDA process, because there's a lot of challenges and complexities in dealing with psychedelics, from the stigma to the way you run the trials to anything along those lines. So very big believers in that, but one thing I realized is that in this entire conversation, you and I know what the Measure 109 is, but for many people who may be listening, they don't actually know what the basic structure of what you're proposing is comprised of. So if you could just give us a high-level overview, that would be extremely helpful. [00:11:55][68.9]

Tom: [00:11:56] Measure 109 would create access to psilocybin-assisted therapy. And so the therapy is important there. We create a context for the psilocybin experience in a supervised therapeutic environment under the supervision of a trained facilitator, just like the research that includes a sequence of sessions, including preparation beforehand, orientation to what's to come, as well as assessment for potential contraindications, for example, medications that might not work well with psilocybin and then moving into the administration session, which is like the sciences under the supervision of a facilitator. And it's an inward-focused session. And of course, the integration is where you really kind of sort out the epiphanies or insights or emotional breakthroughs and integrate them into a practice moving forward. And that's really where the change happens, right? [00:12:54][58.1]

Sheri: [00:12:54] Yeah, I'd like to add to that as well in that we made sure to put up good guardrails. You won't be seeing psilocybin services happening near schools. Individuals who partake of the services will not be driving themselves home. It's not going to be sold in stores. There will be no marketing of psilocybin. So we wanted to make sure that not only were we offering the services that Tom just explained but that for those who don't know the fullness of the law, that there is a lot of safety built-in. And we were really careful as well to make sure that we wrote into the law some protections against over-commercialization, meaning that an individual can have a maximum of five service centers and one production center. And we did that because we do want to see this unfold as a community-based service for Oregonians. And we also have a two year implementation period so that we can continue to build on all of the elements that are necessary in order to roll this out in the most safe and the strongest way possible in the year 2023. [00:14:10][76.2]

Ronan: [00:14:11] I was speaking with Rick Doblin the other day and we were going back and forth as this industry and space emerges, you know, how do you properly qualify people who can lead sessions? Because I'm certainly one of the people who believe that just because you have letters behind your name doesn't mean that you're actually qualified to do the profession. You know, going through an academic setting, particularly in the context of therapy and psychedelic therapy, you know, just because you can pass a test does not make you qualified to actually lead these sessions. And so it's one of the things I've been wrestling with is like, how do you strike the balance between ensuring rigor and safety with not excluding people who may be extremely qualified to do this kind of work? [00:14:57][45.5]

Sheri: [00:14:57] Part of the goal of writing this initiative or this measure now is that we wanted to be able to bring the underground workers above ground. And to your point, there are many underground workers doing this service already who really are, as you say, they're qualified, they're experienced, but they need to be legitimized. And what this will do iss ensure the training that they get, it's standardized training, they'll get the same training that a doctor would get and give them that platform that they can take the exam. And that's why this credentialing is separate than maybe a psychiatrist or LPC. [00:15:43][45.8]

Tom: [00:15:44] Just to create the context during that two year development period after the initiative passes, hopefully, there will be an advisory board put together that will be appointed by the Oregon Health Authority, but it will be made up of folks from a variety of disciplines that are relevant to this model. And they will be charged with ultimately recommending training criteria to the Oregon Health Authority, which then will become part of an application process for the Oregon Health Authority to approve independent training programs. So the state itself isn't creating the training programs. These will be independently approved training programs, but they will meet criteria that come about that way, right? And so that essential training program, which will be intensive and I think the training is the beating heart of really the whole mob, so the training programs will be for everyone in the sense that anyone can apply and get involved with the training and do the training, whether you're a medical doctor or not. That said, we are also developing an overlay that will bring about a kind of triage aspect to all of this because it's also important that there is a connection in relation to levels of care. So if somebody has significant mental health issues, they should see a provider that has significant mental health background. So the goal, just like you said, is a balance. We're trying to create opportunities for people with the discipline and heart to do this work and the background, whether it's underground or not, to get involved. [00:17:31][106.8]

Ronan: [00:17:32] Sounds like you guys are very conscious about certainly not replicating maybe some of the mistakes of the cannabis industry, but also not replicating the mistakes of the 1960s. How do we as an industry, as a nascent kind of modality, make sure we don't make those same mistakes, specifically about the 60s? I mean, the cannabis story is still so immediate and still so relevant in some ways probably less interesting, so curious to know your thoughts about how do we avoid another Timothy Leary? How do we avoid another Ram Dass? How do we avoid another backlash that sets us back so much? [00:18:05][33.4]

Tom: [00:18:06] Well, in terms of the Oregon model, the training is so key because we want to really advance the kind of nondirective approach to psychedelic facilitation where there's a lot of work on yourself and how to sit with someone without bringing any kind of ego into it and imposing anything onto this experience. I think that's so important to Sheri and I, to protect the sanctity of the experience as belonging to each individual who participates and to simply help people bring out their own healing capacity. [00:18:44][38.2]

Sheri: [00:18:45] And I think preventing the 60s, again, from taking place is up to people like Tom and I, like you, like all of those who are putting efforts in to developing drug policy reform efforts and bringing them to the people that are sensible, that will provide what the people are looking for, which is to have the experience, whether it's for healing or whether it's for personal growth or consciousness expansion. You know, if we present to our culture a viable way of making psilocybin and other plant medicines something that is appropriate for us as a Western culture, doing this in a smart way, just being aware of the fact that we can land in a bad spot if we aren't careful is starting out in a completely different place. And so I think we're all going into this with a little bit more wisdom this time and a much bigger passion and desire to see it unfold into our culture in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable. [00:20:00][75.1]

Ronan: [00:20:01] This is a real question, which is like, what is the ethos of our time in your mind? Or maybe if you could project out 20 years and look back, the narrative we have of the 1960s, there's a great book by Chuck Klosterman called But What If We're Wrong? And it basically goes in and tries to ask the question of like, what if all of our fundamental assumptions and beliefs are just wrong, you know, and it really gets into the fact that we're terrible at projecting into the future throughout history, we always make the wrong bets. But the next generation, two generations down, gets to define what happened in our generation. It's like, you know, the example he gives is that Bach may have not been such a big composer at the time that Bach was alive, but two hundred years hence, we look back and he was one of the greatest composers of all time, or how Moby Dick was panned when it was first published. But now is one of the great American novels. So project out 20 years and look back, what is the narrative that we're weaving right now or what do you want it to be? [00:20:57][56.6]

Tom: [00:20:58] Certainly speak to what I want it to be. And that would be healing, reconnection, rediscovering our humanity in a way, I think the society reflects the. Transformational gyrations of the individual human being, when you're in the throes of transformation, the first thing that happens is everything feels like it's coming apart. And then you enter in this period of anxiety and lack of clarity because the new integration, we don't have the capacity to understand it until we kind of get there. And it's hard to miss that element in our current state of affairs. Of course, there's no guarantee of integration into something beautiful and connected, but that's certainly what I hope for. And that's certainly a role that psychedelic healing itself can play, but also what psychedelics can represent and be a part of representing. [00:22:00][61.7]

Sheri: [00:22:01] Yeah, I think one of the mistakes that we make is that we often don't look back at history when we're envisioning the future. And I think that's a mistake. And if we were to look back at the history of psychedelics way before the 50s and 60s and really look back at how these medicines have been used for thousands of years and what the achievements were for the societies that used them and that continue to use them. [00:22:35][34.0]

Ronan: [00:22:37] I think your point is well taken, and it's one of those things where when I think about what's happening right now is that over the last 50 years, we've made a lot of advances in terms of technology, you know, and Einstein's comment about our technology is far exceeded our humanity at this point. But we separated Spirit from the rest of the world. You know, we kind of took the physical world as our objective reality and there is nothing but the objective reality. And Tom, I think this is something you know, I saw some of your comments about quantum physics and the integration between quantum physics and consciousness and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, I found that super exciting. And how do you look at how this integrates with our understanding of quantum physics and reality and all that kind of stuff? [00:23:17][40.2]

Tom: [00:23:18] Well, consciousness is this final mystery, right? We don't understand what we're dealing with here. We know that we have an experience and there's something fundamental about that. And so the question arises, what's the relationship, if any, between consciousness and reality? The observation versus the observed, and that's the kind of subject-object split that quantum physics brings into question, so I don't know if I can go too far with that because it's so endlessly mysterious and interesting and there are much better minds than me to talk about it. But it's certainly an area that seems to come up in relation to the psychedelic experience because your perceptions are so loosened up that you see reality in these marvelously different ways. And you can sense that there is this interplay between your consciousness and what you're seeing now that could all be tied up in your skull and your brain chemistry. But it doesn't feel that way. And it brings up certain questions about the nature of consciousness. And so I'm not going to posit any great theory there. But I will say that just on many levels, the research into psychedelics and just the potential to better understand consciousness with the tool of psychedelics could bear fruit in our understanding of our position in nature and how it all works. It's just endlessly fascinating. And interestingly, there seems to be a healing component. I mean, most people who are advancing research and looking at the therapeutic angle on psychedelics say, well, we're not going to know those answers, that it kicks up all these amazingly interesting questions. But what's interesting is that those very questions and just that sense of connection between you and the cosmos is intrinsically healing and seems to be related to positive therapeutic outcomes. So you can always bring it back to that as kind of a reason to continue down this path. [00:25:35][137.8]

Sheri: [00:25:37] It's also why we really, really do believe in what we wrote into the legislation is that it is a nondirective approach, because when we're talking about reality creation, the moment we start putting ideas into people's heads about what their experience is going to be like, we are shaping in part what their experience is going to be instead of letting it be purely, quantamly theirs. You know, and I think that it's important that individuals aren't swayed in any way as much as possible so that the experience is genuinely theirs, because we all have our own inner therapists, we are our own best gurus. And when we look at ourselves as sacred beings with the potential to experience awe, to experience what we can't even describe the inevitable, then we begin to tap into the tapestry of the cosmos. And that is where we see people finding profound healing when they're been diagnosed with a terminal illness and they're at the end of life because they are now connecting with something they haven't been connected to yet at such a profoundly deep level. [00:26:56][78.2]

Ronan: [00:27:03] As evidenced by the fact that we can produce and publish a podcast on psychedelics and psychedelic induced trips, it is clear evidence that attitudes towards psychedelics have evolved rapidly over the last few years. With the benefit of a little hindsight, it's not altogether that surprising. We live in a world where there is a massive and burgeoning mental health crisis happening. One quarter of people globally are expected to experience some form of clinical mental health challenge at some point in their lives. That's approximately two billion people and current approaches are not working for most of us. We also live in a world where the research around psychedelics is challenging many of the things we were taught in school, showing psychedelics to be generally safe and highly effective. And the work that Tom and Sheri and others are doing is helping to advance those shifting attitudes. Of course, the success of the cannabis legalization movement has also made the conversations around psychedelics that much easier. As well, the general failure of Big Pharma and regulators around opioids has made people look for alternative approaches to healing and medicine. But I don't think all of these logical reasons are the cause of this shift. Sure, all of those reasons make sense. They are intuitive and logical, but I think there are bigger, less measurable forces at play. I genuinely believe that we as a species are consciously and unconsciously evolving our consciousness and while I get that may sound a little woo-woo, think about it. Throughout human history, there have been clear and rapid evolutions in how we think and act for the first tens of thousands of years of human history. There's no real physical record of our existence. Then almost simultaneously in an evolutionary sense, all of a sudden culture develops and we develop the capacity to engineer and build huge monolithic buildings like the pyramids. More recently, look at how rapidly our attitudes toward war, violence, religion, equality, sex, and drugs have changed. We are evolving our consciousness faster than ever before in history, and I think that's very much at play here. [00:29:17][134.1]

Ronan: [00:29:20] Obviously, psychedelics can be transformative experiences and create a lot of meaning for people, and I've always found a lot of power and influence in people sharing their most profound experiences on psychedelics. You know, I think people can find meaning from them, even if they didn't have that specific experience, because obviously that specific experience is particular to you, but doesn't mean that there's not energetics or meaning that are available to other people. So the question I pose to both of you is, can you tell us about some of your most significant or one of your most significant trips and what you kind of took away from that, assuming you have since embarking on this program, become more open-minded to using psilocybin? Just speaking me personally, before I got into the cannabis industry back in 2014, I had maybe touched cannabis a handful of times. And certainly, I'm not a huge user, but I'm definitely much more receptive and similar to those psychedelics. You know, I had touched it maybe once or twice psilocybin before I started in the industry. But obviously working so closely with it, seeing the impact, seeing the potential I've become much more open-minded and more actively involved with actually taking them myself. So curious to know what your experiences have been and any deep insights that have emerged from them. [00:30:31][70.6]

Sheri: [00:30:31] I have been a fairly square person and the reason for that is my mother eventually became a drug addict and she died from AIDS-related pneumonia, from shooting up, sharing needles. And I grew up in this era in the 60s, we were poor, we were Jewish, and there was a lot that went around that we are her family was pretty much ostracized from the rest of the family. Life was really difficult. And then to watch my mom kind of go downhill emotionally, physically, mentally was a real struggle for me. So I became very conservative and I even went to a seminary for graduate school. I was searching. And along the way I found a lot of healing. And there were a couple of experiences I had that were not psychedelic experiences that really, really made that healing very strong. But I do remember the most meaningful experience for me was with all of this trauma and this angst that I've experienced from zero to the first time, I guess I was 53. There was a lot in me just in my body. And I remember just sitting on our floor and I was so happy, but my body was crying. I was talking, I had joy, I felt peace and love but there was this huge release of emotions that were just stuck inside of me and unbeknownst to me, really impacting me, you know, impacting the way that I saw the world, the way that I reacted instead of responded because within me was a lot of memory trauma that needed to come out. And it just came out through tears. And it was phenomenal. It was beautiful. And so that's the healing that I experienced with my psilocybin experience. [00:32:43][132.0]

Tom: [00:32:47] For me, I've been a bit more psychonautic, I suppose than Sheri in the past, but on the healing I think well, a couple of things come to mind, one is being able to grieve the loss of my father, in fact, before he died because he had dementia, Alzheimer's. So I kind of lost him before we lost him physically. And that kind of complicates grieving someone. And I hadn't realized that I was kind of blocked there. And so I had one experience near the end of his life. I didn't know it was near the end. He had been stricken with Alzheimer's for years and I had an experience where finally the tears just came through and I was all in, you know, I was grieving my dad, but also just being put in this context of loss in general, like just the human condition, degree of the human condition. It's a tough experience. But I came out so light and rejuvenated and feeling connected and no longer fragmented. And just really early on in college, when I did it for the first time, I remember just this, of course, as a young man, simpler realization that I now take for granted. But at the time, just realizing that I didn't have to live inside a box, that I could take it less conventional path. I didn't have that freedom mentally before that. I didn't understand that there was kind of a fundamental choice there. And I think that resonates throughout my life. So if I look at it that way, that was formative to my path. [00:34:32][104.7]

Sheri: [00:34:33] I'd like to just add one thing and when we experience so psilocybin together, we are not only connected more profoundly to one another, but we experience the universe together differently. And there's something so amazing about that, to be able to be outside of the box together, experiencing something so profoundly different is so real that you're like on a spaceship together, seeing the stars and the universe and everything, and you're doing it together. And that is really a wonderful thing for a marriage. [00:35:19][46.2]

Ronan: [00:35:23] Most people talk about MDMA as being the thing for a marriage, but I could definitely see that. And just as you're speaking, what came to me was like, Sheri, you and I have banter to some degree back and forth on the impacts of chauvinism and the distortion of the masculine and feminine. And what came to me is that, yeah, you know, when you're on psilocybin, you're feeling more connected, you're more connected to yourself, you're more connected to your planet. And as a woman or as a man, if you're feeling more connected to the opposite sex or gender, you know, I could see how that could fundamentally change your perspective on everything because you're going to see it from a, you know, more balanced energy, I guess, is the way to say it. [00:36:01][38.7]

Sheri: [00:36:02] Absolutely. I mean, the work that we do with men who have committed crimes of violence against their significant intimate partners, it's really tough work. And I know that having now had my mind, my whole way of being expanded because of psilocybin, that I am able to look at the men that I work with, with compassion, with love, with the desire to see them grow and want them to experience the joy and the connection to life that I have, and to be able to work through the challenges that Tom and I are faced with every day that they're faced with, with that, knowing that it's going to all unfold exactly as it's supposed to. And so there's so much potential. And I do know that it has really grown me in my empathy, especially towards men who have been violent towards women, because that is my background. That's what happened to me. [00:37:16][73.6]

Ronan: [00:37:16] I think there's something very profound in what you just said. I love the quote, "There's no such thing as a weird person, some people just need more understanding." And one of the things that I watch is that in our society, there's a lot of blaming. There's a lot of like I'm a victim. And the truth is there are a lot of victims. But what often gets missed in the discourse is that usually the person victimizing is a victim themselves of something. It doesn't make it permissible, it doesn't make it OK. But once you see that it opens up, I think the capacity for forgiveness. [00:37:47][31.0]

Sheri: [00:37:48] What we share with the guys is that hurt people, hurt other people. So let's heal you. You've got to heal yourself. But here are some tools, you know, and none of them are psychedelic, by the way. [00:38:00][12.1]

Tom: [00:38:01] But there are psychedelic principles, to your point. I think we're incorporating those ideas. And to your point, Ronan, about wholeness, that's really the frame. The word healing comes from the same ancient root as whole. So to heal is to become more whole. And so we're all on a journey recognizing our wholeness, right? That's kind of the human condition that we keep coming back to - we are all whole beings without awareness of it to varying degrees. And what we call suffering is that estrangement from the whole. So when you have a psychedelic experience that's wiped away, at least temporarily, you have an experience of wholeness or something approaching wholeness. And of course, that fades a little bit. But you have seen the mountaintop, right? You know that it's real. You have a sense of a state of being that is beyond your experience and beyond your personal history. It includes it all. But you can have compassion for your plight in this world while recognizing that you are not separate from the cosmos itself. [00:39:11][70.1]

Ronan: [00:39:12] That is really quite profound and quite beautiful. And what it sort of brought up for me is that what psychedelics do enable us to step outside of ourselves into a more however you want to describe it, let's use the words used, which was wholeness. You can feel more whole for a little while. And even if you kind of move back into the normal state, you've now expanded your capacity, right? It's kind of like it's a very droll example, but it's like lifting weights, right? Like the first time you push past your limit, you can't always do that, but you've set the map, you've broken the boundary and now you can step through and get there again. And that's exactly the same thing with psychic healing, which is as soon as you step through, you've now created a wedge where you can step through and open it wider and wider and wider and start to expand your ability to step into that next level of wholeness. [00:40:02][50.7]

Sheri: [00:40:03] I can't remember who said it, but he said once expanded, you can never go back to your original shape. And that is absolutely the work of psychedelics if they're done properly, meaning with intention, good set, and setting. [00:40:19][15.6]

Tom: [00:40:19] I often think about what growth means, how do you operationalize growth, how do you know when you've grown, it brings up these ideas like you can access more possibility is one way to look at it. Freedom seems to be part of growth, the ability to manage situations that you could not manage before because you have a certain flexibility to navigate. So, yeah, I think that in general, mental health has a lot to do with mental flexibility and psychedelics from a neuro perspective, even this kind of plasticity idea, that's what's happening here. And it's also why it's not for everybody because some people have kind of too much openness, there's kind of a spectrum of mental health conditions, right, the ones that are on the side of rigidity, depression, addictions, OCD, PTSD, things like that, you're getting caught in rigid mental loops, right? And so the psychedelic experience creates flexibility where there wasn't enough flexibility. Now, you could go on the other side of the mental health spectrum and talk about psychosis where things are not knit together quite enough to be able to function in this world at least. And so psilocybin only exacerbates that. [00:41:35][75.7]

Ronan: [00:41:36] That's a really interesting perspective, I'd never thought about that, but that's a really great way of conceptualizing psychedelics in the psychedelic experience and their applications and benefits and a great way of understanding the risk as well. Two final questions for you, speaking of stretching, we pose this question to everybody so we're halfway through a pandemic, let's call it probably entering another deep phase of this pandemic. And some people have described the pandemic as the great pause. It's given all of us time to a large degree, as well as it's forced to the surface a lot of issues, whether it's economic uncertainty and anxiety, whether it's interpersonal uncertainty and anxiety, whether it's isolation. So wondering if during this period when taking a break from, you know, trying to change the world and regulations with the work you're doing if you've found growth during this period and in what respect? [00:42:27][51.3]

Sheri: [00:42:28] You know what, COVID, it's a sad pandemic for sure. On top of everything else that's going on in our society, but I have found much growth. I've been forced, so to say, to sit with myself more often, because when you're stuck at home, there's only so much that you can do and you can start overthinking and that can lead to depression. And we see a lot of that going on right now. But for me, it's been the possibility and the opportunity to sit more with nature, to be more in tune with just the birds, you know, sitting in my backyard and watching the trees and looking at all the various shades of color and listening to the same songs sung every night by these two birds that come out and to realize that I live on this really small planet and this very ginormous universe has given me the opportunity to feel more connected to life and to nature and to feel that the sadness like that for humanity to really feel connected to humanity and a great love for humanity and at the same time to really realize, Mother Nature's tired. And so perhaps just to have that thought go through my mind, is growth. [00:44:00][92.1]

Tom: [00:44:02] Kind of on a cognitive psychological plane, disrupts our automatic thinking, dismantles our structures that held us and that's jarring, provokes anxiety to a degree, but it also creates a recognition and kind of a wake-up. And I've noticed that I'm noticing my kind of micro habits and observing myself a little more clearly, which is in a sense kind of frustrating because I'm seeing how automatic I had become. And just the nature of everything going on, the pandemic, the lack of clarity around our democracy here in the States, just questioning things that I've always taken for granted and not quite sure of, you know, what the next integration is is very interesting place to be. And on the optimistic side, it's a very creative place to be. It's a place where transformation can happen. [00:45:03][61.2]

Ronan: [00:45:04] Tapping into the conversation around chauvinism, which has turned women into sex objects and men into performance objects, you know, watching the financial uncertainty, watching my savings disappear kind of right before my eyes without being entirely out of control. It's really forced me to confront how I define security, how I define my self value. If I can't provide for my family, if I can't pay for my house, you know if I can't put food on the table and my worthwhile? [00:45:35][31.6]

Sheri: [00:45:36] That's really beautiful Ronan, one of the things that we work with, with the men that we work with, we have about one hundred and twenty men in our program and we ask them to sit with their beliefs and ask themselves, why do I believe what I believe? Why do I believe that the man must mow the lawn and the woman must do the dishes and the ability to do what you're doing and what you're exploring and questioning in regards to defining what makes you worthy and what doesn't make you worthy is a beautiful ability. And I love what you just shared, because when we all start questioning, is this my belief or is this a belief that was superimposed on me by society, by my family, by my friends, by my church, whatever it may be. Then we begin to see ourselves more genuinely, more transparently, and then we have to sit with that person that we now see. [00:46:35][59.5]

Tom: [00:46:37] Gets back to our identification of meaning as being so important we bring up that idea of that our lives are like narratives are like stories, and the pages have been written of the past. And you can go back and look at those in memory, but then you turn the page and suddenly there's a blank page in front of you. You can't necessarily just pick up somewhere else in the story. You have to pick up at the last sentence where that last period was. But other than that, you are free. You are the author. [00:47:07][29.9]

Ronan: [00:47:08] That's one of the reasons that I find reality creation as a philosophy. You know, you can ignore the science aspects of it, even though there are very many scientific aspects of it. But when you choose to believe in reality creation, when you choose that you are the author of your own reality, you can never be a victim, right? You've chosen everything and you accept that whatever happens to you has been chosen consciously or unconsciously. And when you accept that, then you can make meaning out of that, to your point, Tom. Like, why did this happen? What am I going to take from this? Why did I need to experience it? But the other point I wanted to touch on was the pages of your book having been written. And my favorite author is a guy named Tom Robbins who has this magical quote where he says, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." And I think one of the things that's super powerful about psychedelics is that they can take you back to that childhood and have you reexperience that and relive it and see it from a different light and heal it. And so using the analogy of the book, it's like not only can you write the future on that blank page, you can actually go back and not erase the past, but rewrite the meaning in the context. I do have one more question. I've asked this in a number of different ways, so I'm going to ask it in a specific way for you, two to three years hence, the Psilocybin Services Initiative, the program has been launched. If there's one person that you would hope to be the first in line to get a psilocybin experience, who would that be? [00:48:31][83.8]

Sheri: [00:48:32] Oh, boy, Ronan, that's a big question. I want to reverse that question to you. [00:48:38][6.5]

Tom: [00:48:39] I'm going to officially give up on the current resident of the White House, but maybe those in the future could be a little more open to the idea. Wouldn't that be cool? [00:48:49][9.6]

Sheri: [00:48:49] I would have to really think about that. I know so many hurting people that would be so impacted by this, but I know so many brilliant wise people that their creativity could really go off the charts. [00:49:02][13.1]

Tom: [00:49:03] I just hope the principles of the psychedelic experience become more mainstream and those who choose to have the experience connect with it in their own way. But this conversation we've had, you know, it speaks to ideas that, you know, I'd love to see become part of how we see ourselves as a culture, connectivity, the wholeness, the not seeing others as different than yourself, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, there are things we at times pay some lip service to, but I would really love to see the culture get grounded in reality. [00:49:40][37.4]

Sheri: [00:49:41] I'm truly hoping that you and I and everyone listening are actually entering into the age of enlightenment, into that age where the most important thing is personal transformation above all things. Because from within from that personal transformation flows, everything that's out there, all the chaos, all the joy, all the ugly, all the beauty. If we can personally transform as individuals and be a little bit more woke, maybe then we can begin to transform the outer world in such a way that we love what we see. [00:50:29][47.8]

Ronan: [00:50:30] On that note, I just want to thank both of you for joining us. I really enjoyed this conversation. I appreciate all the work you do. I say this loosely, but you're doing God's work. And I think it's really important and just driving this conversation forward. [00:50:41][11.3]

Tom: [00:50:42] Thanks, Roan, it's been a lot of fun. [00:50:43][1.8]

Sheri: [00:50:44] Thanks, Ronan. [00:50:45][0.5]

Ronan: [00:50:48] My conversation with Sheri and Tom helped to remind me to appreciate some important things in life. First, our lives are open books waiting to be written, and we get to be both the author and the audience. So be conscious of how you choose to live. As Tom Robbins says, "If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense." The price of self destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought. Also, it's never too late to have a happy childhood. Even though the past is behind us, it is always open to us to revisit and reimagine what impact our histories have on how we live the rest of our lives. Psychedelics are a powerful tool to help us do so. Finally, and most importantly, not only is it a choice to see our lives through these lenses, it's also our responsibility. We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves or in Tom Eckert's words, we all have our own inner therapists and we are also our own gurus. [00:52:09][81.3]

Ronan: [00:52:20] Thank you for listening to Field Tripping, a podcast dedicated to exploring psychedelic experiences and their ability to affect our lives. I'm your host, Ronan Levy. Until next time, stay curious. Breathe properly. And remember, every day is a field trip if you let it be one. Field Tripping is created by Ronan Levy and produced by Conrad Page. Our researcher is Sharon Bella. Special thanks to Quill. And of course, many thanks to Sheri and Tom for joining me today. Be sure to check out their Oregon ballot initiative at Vote Yes on 19.org and we're wishing them the best in early November. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and sign up for our newsletter at fieldtripping.fm. [00:52:20][0.0]

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About Ronan

An entrepreneur and a visionary, Ronan is one the founders of Field Trip – with a mission to bring the world to life through psychedelics and psychedelic-enhanced psychotherapy. Concurrent with his work at Field Trip, he is a partner at Grassfed Ventures, a venture capital and advisory firm focused on the cannabis and biotech industries and is Chief Strategy Officer and Member of the Board of Directors for Trait Biosciences Inc., a leading biotech company in the hemp and cannabis industries. Prior to his current roles, Ronan co-founded Canadian Cannabis Clinics and CanvasRx Inc., the latter of which was acquired by Aurora Cannabis Inc. (NYSE: ACB) in 2016, after which he served as Senior Vice President, Business and Corporate Affairs for Aurora. A lawyer by training, Ronan started his career as a corporate lawyer at Blake, Cassels Graydon LLP and Legal Counsel at CTVglobemedia Inc. (now Bell Media Inc.) He holds a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Commerce degree, both from the University of Toronto.