The Harvard Psilocybin Project with Gunther Weil
Today we are joined by Gunther Weil, the only remaining contactable member of the Harvard Psilocybin Project. The 60s was an eventful decade for psychedelics, among many other global and national events, and included famous studies such as the Concord Prison Experiment and the Good Friday Experiment. Gunther was involved firsthand and worked side by side with notable members such as Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Ralph Metzner and many more. We have the pleasure of hearing his stories from this era enriched with detail and charisma. We share personal experiences and discuss psychedelic therapies then, now and in the future.
Gunther Weil was one of the core graduate student members of the Harvard Psilocybin project in 1960-1963. He worked closely with Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass). He escaped the Holocaust, helped Tim Leary run the Concord Prison Experiment with Psilocybin mushrooms, edited the book “The Psychedelic Reader: Classic Selections from the Psychedelic Review”. Gunther is also a 50-year practitioner of Tai Chi and is recognized as a master teacher of Qigong. He was a founding chairman of the National Qigong Association.
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And today we are honored to welcome Gunther Weil, who is one of the core graduate student members of the Harvard psilocybin project in 1960 to 1963. He worked closely with Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner formerly known as Richard Albert, Ram Dass, and he escaped the Holocaust helped Tim Leary run the Concord Prison Experiment with psilocybin mushrooms, edited the book, the psychedelic reader classic selections from the psychedelic review. And there is also a 50 year practitioner of Tai Chi and is recognized as a master teacher of qi gong. Quite a bio. So thank you for joining us and giving us some time today.
I've lived a long life. So you know, when you live long enough, you can do more stuff.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, yes, with your eventful past, you know, we're so grateful that you've agreed to spend time with us and tell us a lot about your life. Do you want to start off by sharing some of these stories and just speaking from someone firsthand, who is involved with Timothy Leary, in escape a Holocaust and how you ended up at Harvard? I mean, how did this happen and unravel?
Sure, happy to, you know, reconstruct whatever I can have that memory, or memories. The I was, you know, I was two years old when my parents and I fled Nazi Germany. And so I don't have a lot of memories from that period. But, you know, I was definitely impacted by those experiences that my parents had. And as a, you know, in my mother's womb, and then as a one and two year old little boy, I was definitely impacted by the traumatic circumstances that came back to haunt me years later, when I was older, and had to do a fair amount of work with that material, both in therapy. And then also actually, interestingly enough, in the course of working with the psychedelics at Harvard, with Jim and Richard, around Dawson, Ralph, and others, had access to those experiences, or at least the underlying symbolism and vestiges of memories, and in the kind of aspects of trauma that were fixated at a pre verbal stage of my life. So that has been an interesting and therapeutic theme that's woven to my life. You know, it's interesting, because even now, as we're coming up to the November election, and we're seeing the what I perceived to be very strong elements of fascism arising in this country have, it's easy for me to get triggered by, you know, what we're all experiencing, you know, with the threat to democracy, that this administration, and this president presents, and I'm hopeful that as a country, we'll be able to deal with that effectively at the polls in due course, my journey with psychedelics began in the fall of 1960, when I was a graduate student at Harvard, and I went to meet with Tim Leary who had been assigned as my faculty advisor, like, know, I didn't know who he was, it was just a name to me, because at that time, I don't know how it's done these days. But at that time, incoming students were assigned a faculty advisor, somewhat randomly, I believe, and that of course, you would do an initial interview and have a conversation and so on. And if if at that point, or within a certain period of time, if you didn't feel it was the right shift for you, you would have the option to be assigned to someone else. So it's some flexibility. So I entered the building where the program was located, on a street called divinity Avenue was aptly named at Harvard in the fall of 1960. Having spent the summer prior To that, in Cambridge working as a as a research assistant to another famous psychologist, Harry Murray, Dr. Harry Murray, who was had pioneered the development of what's called the ti ti the somatic apperception tests, which at the time, and I don't know how it is now, but for many, many, many years was was was a major piece of the repertoire of psychological testing. So I, and he was a very interesting guy had been analyzed by, by young and had written somewhat extensively about Moby Dick from a psychoanalytic psychodynamic perspective. Very interesting guy, and it turned out in the fall, he and Tim actually became friends and Tim guided him through a psilocybin journey. And he was very open to it because he was very comfortable dealing with archetypes and his own subconscious. You know, he was psychiatrist also trained in psychiatry, psychologists, but in the fall of that year, I entered this building on five divinity Avenue, the Center for Research and personality, and I went into what had been a former utility closet on the first floor, which turned out to be Tim's office, because he, there were there were another rooms offices available building, it was pretty packed so so he made do with it, and it was a little bit strange, but it was fine. So he sat and he began to share with me the experiences that he had had summer before, not that summer, but the summer before, when he had been in in Cuernavaca, Mexico and have taken the mushrooms actually, in the original form, you know, the psilocybin mushrooms from a curandero in Mexico, and he's written a lot about that, and it's fairly well known story. Oh, he and his close friend, Frank Baron, were introduced to the mushrooms. So he described to me how his interest in consciousness and the role of sacred substances such as mushrooms and others, was of great interest to him. And then all of his previous work in psychology was really on the back burner. So, and he was well known for having developed a very sophisticated psychological assessment, called a multi dimensional with a multi multi dimensional analysis of personality. So, but his focus was on on consciousness because he wrote, he reported that he learned more in that one session around the swimming pool in Cuernavaca than he did in all the years of studying and teaching psychology and research. So he asked me if I was interested, and he was very free, kind and humorous, and, and said, You know, I totally get it. If you don't, if you're not interested in this, you're better off than working with somebody else. So I kind of raised my hand said, count me in. I'm very interested. So unbeknownst to him, at that time, and it was no reason to bring it up. I had had some years of experience, actually, with cannabis, having been introduced to cannabis through some friends who are a little bit older, I had a deep abiding interest, which remains to this day. And in jazz, and jazz culture, particularly the kind of Bebop era, having lived in Paris, having lived in Europe, and spending a lot of time in Paris, the year before I, I hung out with some pretty famous jazz musicians like but Paul and Oscar Pettiford, and others who were living in Paris or traveling in to Paris for varying periods of time. And, and even before that, when I was actually believe it or not, still in high school, I had an interest in jazz. So I was introduced by some jazz musicians who took a keen interest in my interest. And so I had a familiarity with with altered if you will, consciousness, you know, so, there was no reason to bring that up at the interview with Tim, and I'm glad I didn't because it turned out, which I discovered later, because cannabis was illegal. He had a very negative view of it at that time. Because at that time, mushrooms or the synthetic mushrooms or things like that were not illegal. They weren't, they weren't classified substances. So, and Tim was actually pretty straight, you know, except that one experience in Cuernavaca was so transformative. So you know, his, it was never a conservative by any means. But, but here's kind of straight profile of a, of an academic, Tweety psychologist, was beginning to more than fray at the edges. So, as I said, I didn't bring it up at that time, but having had those experiences of living in Europe. And prior to that having I grew up in Milwaukee, my my dearest friend, who I grew up with Mike Melbourne, who was passed away a few years ago was a jazz musician. And he and I, Mike and I were like, just kind of exploring the fringes of society, as experienced and communicated by people like jack Kerouac and lm Ginsburg, you know, from the, from that era, you know, this was not the hippie era. This was the hipster area. This was the beatnik era. This was prior to the hippies, if you will. So I grew up in that era. So if there's any kind of cultural, like sub cultural identification I might have. It's with people from that era, you know, and I spent time in San Francisco and city lights bookstore and some of the landmarks and people in the jazz scene in San Francisco. And also, you know, a very small version of that in the lock in traveling to Chicago to see miles and Coltrane play. And so I was full of that culture. And, and of course, cannabis was like a, you know, big piece of that. So I said, Yes. And we said, we were off and running. And a couple of weeks later, I had my first psilocybin experience at Tim's house, in Newton, Massachusetts, a house a big house that he was renting from a Harvard professor, who was on sabbatical for the year in Europe. And that's where I had my first solace I haven't experienced with Timothy at that point.
Was this with the actual mushroom or did you have a synthetic?
A synthetic because he already had, he already had worked out an arrangement with Albert Hoffman. Yeah. At Sandoz pharmaceuticals in Basel. I believe it was Basel were located. And so we were receiving monthly shipments of psilocybin I think 30 I think 20 or 30 milligram doses of psilocybin and a little, tiny little bottle with about kind of 3040 doses. I don't remember, what was it?
What did it look like? Was it like a clear liquid?
No, it was a little blue pill. Yeah, a little a little pill.
And each pill was it was a dose?
I believe, so I don't remember now. I think maybe there were there were 20 milligram doses. I'm not sure. Maybe we took a couple or three. But it was, you know, it was fairly, pretty intense, actually. And that was my first experience of of that level or that degree of consciousness, alteration, if you will, or expanded consciousness or sight, you know, the word psychedelic being psyche, opening that psyche, revelatory, opening, psychedelic, so the opening of the psyche, if you will, and that was quite amazing, the, you know, some many of the reported effects much of that having to do with with the enhanced visual and auditory enhanced sensory dimensions. You know, later on, when we were learning LSD, it was another level, right? LSD was a whole other level of cosmic consciousness, if you will. There were elements of that fitting again, on set and setting a dosage and psilocybin, but my memory and of that, in the first year, where we were doing almost weekly sessions with psilocybin was that the experiences were, were just so incredibly aesthetic and powerful in that in the, in the sense of aesthetics, you know, and beauty. And, and, of course, the fluidity of consciousness.
At this time was the Harvard Psilocybin project initiated by Ram Dass and Timothy Leary. That was in 1968, correct?
Yes, it was initiated. And yeah, that was the beginning. Over that course of that summer, I'm sure. Again, I didn't arrive it comes off until the fall. But over the course of that summer, prior to the beginning of my graduate studies, Tim and Tim was experimenting with psilocybin. I think, Richard around us. Also, his first experience, I think, was in the late summer fall. I wasn't there with his first experience, but first experience I had that I had was with Tim and Richard and a number of other in Ralph Metzner, George Lippmann, who was another key person in our group and a number of other people, including a psychiatrist, who was the head of the was the head lead psychiatrist, or the only psychiatrist at the conquered prison, who that was his first experience to and he was a black gay psychiatrist. Could you imagine that in 1960, to be a black gay psychiatrist working in the prison project, given you know, the level of racism prevalent that time kicked me in Boston, and many other places that may have been the only gig he could have gotten at that point, given you know what he was? The Society was at that point, he was a wonderful man, very engaging, very clever, very funny. And that was his first experience. And it was essential that we develop a relationship with him because he was the one who was really oversee, medically a program at Concord, which started in, I believe, later that year or the beginning of the next year, within the first six or seven months.
What was his name?
His name was Madison Presnell.
So how did the Concord Prison Experiment Start? You know, was it Timothy Leary's idea? Whose idea was it? And how did that develop? Did you reach out to the prison to the prison express interest?
It was Tim's idea. Because, again, coming back to the what happens with, you know, with psilocybin or any psychedelic is a deeply transformational experience. And and Tim saw potential for that type of transformational experience with with the deep personal insights relating to one's karma and conditioning and all of that, he saw that, and he he hypothesized, if you will, that if there was a possibility of affecting the recidivism rate in prison recidivism rate is the rate of people the rate at which people returned to prison after they commit a crime. And they've served a sentence at that time. And I think it hasn't changed in many, many, many years. The rate of recidivism is between 72 and 75% of inmates who are in prison are released go back. And Tim, at that point was developing what he called the kind of game theory of consciousness, which had to do with societal roles and rules and regulation. Tim was a baseball fan. So he kind of viewed through the lens of, you know, of a game basically, with various rules. And so one of the rules, he saw operative interest and culture, what he viewed as a kind of graduate school for prisoners, so young criminals would be sent to prison, and they would learn their craft from older prisoners. And that, in fact, is how it happens. It still happens. So if there was a way of intervening there and interceding and transforming that, through a deep experience, where would come one could come to terms, you know, with the fundamental conditioning and the sense of being imprisoned not only in the external sense, but being in prison by virtue of one's mind and, and stereotyped emotions and conditioning and patterns, having that breakthrough. So he approached the judicial or the system, the mass mental health system, and specifically that aspect of the system, the criminal justice system, or the penal system in Massachusetts, and proposed an experiment to see if the use of these pharmaceuticals quote unquote, could impact the recidivism rate. Now, nobody knew what this stuff was. And we were high heart. You know, Tim was a Harvard PhD. And I was in Ralph and I were graduate students. So we had the Harvard imprimatur. We had, you know, the, the credibility and all of that, and nobody knew, as I say, in the penal system, or correctional system, that's the correct word. Nobody knew what this stuff was. They viewed it just as just another experiment using pharmaceuticals. Now, there's a long history in prisons. There was a long history. I don't know if it's done now. I don't think so. But at that time, if you if you were a convict, and you wanted to apply to be a volunteer in a drug experiment that was conducted by pharmaceutical companies to test the impact, the test the impact on humans, beyond the laboratory testing stage, prisons where this work was done, at least in Massachusetts, so it was voluntary, and you would, if you volunteered for that. And it could at times be life threatening or health endangering because you were early stages, you know, first human trials, you would get time off, it would call the good time, you'd get time off your sentence. Wow. So we then designed an experiment we we recruited prisoners who met certain criteria. The main one was that they were not like, we're not in for a life sentence, because we needed a release date so that we could test the hypothesis of whether or not this experience what series of experiences could reduce the recidivism rate. So they had to have a release date, within about a year. So and we began so we began working, we had a group of 12 to 14 people and we would go in twice a month, we would walk in To the prison, conquered prison, by the way was I think 100 years old, back in the 60s. And it was like a gothic structure, like out of a friend, like I have a Frankenstein movie, you know, gray, dark stone, really Gothic, you know, and with. And at that point, there weren't a lot of, if any, like electronic doors and stuff you see in modern prisons, these were like gigantic, large steel doors, which will open with big keys. And when they slammed shut, they made a lot of noise. So it was very, very profitable, you know, that kind of scene. And we walk to the courtyard of the prison, through the front gate, and through the courtyard to the back of the courtyard, where there was the prison hospital, hospital wing, if you will, it's a fairly large room. And, as I, as I said, we'd walk through there and we'd end up there, they'd lock us into the room, basically. So Tim, and I and Ralph and Julian were two to two or three of us, sometimes two, sometimes three of us. And with again, remember the exact number 1214 prisoners, who, as I said, met the criteria that we had designed. And they were ushered in by guards, and they locked us in. So we had a series of cops arranged around the perimeter of the room. And at that point, early on, we brought in some Indian prints. And we believe it or not, we even brought in some incense, in order to create the kind of set and setting.
The Gothic doors and... you gotta neutralize those weird vibes.
Imagine like this prison hospital, with a few Indian prints hanging and the smell of incense. Well, the incense didn't last very long. Because the gods objective, it was too weird. They thought we were smoking pot or something, you know. So they This allowed that earlier, right after the first session. But we were allowed to bring in a few pillows and Indian Prince to try to warm the thing up, we did the best we could with the setting part of seven, seven. And you may recall, or your listeners may know that Tim developed this idea of setting setting based on what indigenous cultures have always known that when you do a sacred ritual, you do it in, you know, in a setting that is holy, that it's spiritualized, if you will, through trained guides to wounded shamans, what have you. So we did the best we could to do that. And Tim coined the phrase set of setting, which was part of the kind of game theory model, you know, so setting setting, according to Tim accounts for about 90 95% of what happens in a psychedelic session. So, you know, the dice were really stacked against us, because he wrote in a prison situation with criminals, many of whom were had very violent past, they raised with a lot of different offenses. And we began working with them and half the group were given a placebo, and half were given a little blue pill, the blue pill?
How much experience did you personally have with psilocybin before you started administering it to these prisoners?
I had multiple sections, I probably had a half a dozen or more sections.
So you were very familiar with the the headspace that they could potentially be entering with someone in prison, but the trauma must be the high on the trauma meter.
Oh, big time, I mean, off the charts. Yeah. So you know that everyone is traumatized, more or less? You know, I don't think, you know, maybe that's too bold a statement, but I think almost everyone has some form of trauma in their life of different points. And, but criminals have had a lot of trauma. And it's passed on generation to generation, it takes a lot to break through. And I again, a hypothesis was that having a steep transformational experience would change the set would transform the set part of seven setting, transform the set, from the kind of patterns of conditioned paranoia and anger and rage and fear that were driving these guys, that it could provide an insight of deep insight that could create the change. Well, at the end of the day, we were right, but we weren't, we were wrong. Also, because as much as a deep transformational process can be extremely helpful, or maybe even necessary for change. What's required is to kind of ongoing work on oneself, that's needed beyond and I'm talking here about a kind of therapeutic psychospiritual methodology, whatever it might be, that one stumbles across, or one is exposed to, that's needed in order to so called integrate the insights of the experience into one's daily life. And that, by the way, during the so called psychedelic Renaissance, we're saying now, people are coming to the same realization. So an organization, for example, like maps, the multidisciplinary Association for psychedelic studies, which has been receiving a lot of money to do now, stage one and other ready to move into stage two trials, pending possible FDA approval, which looks likely maybe a year or two from now, to use MDMA as a, as an agent for dealing with post traumatic stress and trauma. That's very powerful, and it could very helpful, but it's a benefit in a therapeutic context. as a standalone, I would say it's possible for it to work, but not too likely, because the condition patterns are just so strong. So jumping away ahead, what we discovered when guys got released, that they went back into the lifestyle that they had before, because society, the ordinary society at that time, didn't really make it possible for them to get to be employed. Even now, even now. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so knowing once we realized that, it was kind of, you know, the ship had sailed already, but we moved ahead quickly. And we worked with a guy named Chuck Diedrich, who had developed a program called sin anon, which was a program for working with drug addiction. Not It was a 12 step program, modeled on on a chuck had taken LSD, actually, it was very powerful for transforming him from his addiction. So he developed this 12 step program, and we adapted it then for the prison population that we had been working with. And we were trying to raise money for it. But we were so far ahead of our time. Imagine, you know, first of all, using silicides on using a psychedelic agent as a transformative experience, combining that with a 12 step program. You know, even even at that stage, a was relatively new, and, and then developing a 12 step model, trying to raise money for something that was so outside the box. So outside of what society was able to understand, we were just unsuccessful. If anything like that were to be done again, today, with prisoners, for example, it would be really necessary, in my opinion, a real robust follow up program based again, I took a 12 step program is really terrific terms of kind of helping support the integration of the of the deep insights.
Integration is huge. And this is even more important, you know, with weaving capitalism in to this resurgence of the psychedelic Renaissance that we're seeing now, kind of on the shoulders of what the work that you're doing in the 60s, is that a lot of companies are coming in, and unfortunately, don't, some people don't have the highest integrity, and they're just looking for fast cash. And, you know, that's just an unfortunate truth. Some people, you know, are coming in with the best intentions and highest integrity, but you know, I can, I can see how a company would not want integration, to have people keep coming back to their retreat or keep their pill or whatever. And it's also with integration, I think this can be radical for, you know, our health system, you know, to have something that, you know, with proper, you know, substance set and setting and integration can be something that can actually heal you and, and not just covering a surface level symptom, that you need to keep coming back again, and again and again. So, I'm excited. And it's good to talk with you to learn from our mistakes from the 60s. And you know, it was a time as well, where is legal, so there wasn't as many ramifications. So, you know, a lot of people talk about the conquered prison trials, and also the Good Friday experiment of being a little loosey goosey. And at the time, it was unbelievably radical. And nobody was on board with it or not that many people. So yeah, were you at you. Were you involved in the Good Friday experiment at all?
I was. Yes. Yeah, it was. So that's a whole other story. But let me come and we can talk about that. Let me come back for a moment. To your point. We faced a different set of issues in the 60s because this stuff was totally unknown. And people don't do well with the unknown and also given Tim's personality. The overall kind of thrust and direction and enthusiasm that we had about discovering what we felt was kind of an elixir of transformation. We were, you know, we were pretty evangelistic. And so we created a counter part of our enthusiasm and evangelism helped to create a certain counter counter force, right? It's like Yin and Yang, if you have Yin, you always have Yang, right? If you initiate something very strongly, it's one of the laws of nature, if you will, that you're going to get an opposing force. And then there's some kind of reconciliation that has to happen between the initial, what's initiated and what's resisted, or denied. And then there's a reconciliation. So we're in a phase now as opposed to the early 60s, of these substances being recognized. So, you know, Tom's book and all and Gwyneth Paltrow and the commercialization publications, yeah, we're in a phase where the stuff is being decriminalized of psilocybin, and is it Oregon and Denver, right, to places where it's being decriminalized. It's not being legalized, but it's being decriminalized, which is a big step. And with MDMA, and other things that are being researched, they may likely then become part of the pharmacopoeia of pharmaceutical companies, then you're dealing with a whole other set of issues than what we dealt with, but they're equally important, and and daunting, which is the commercialization. And as you point out, people have different motives for entering into the space. So I have heard stories in the last year or so of clinics popping up for doing ketamine which is legal, by the way, you may know that ketamine is legal, so horse tranquilizer, and actually, it's been actually used in surgical operations. It is a drug that's used in surgery as a deep anesthesia as an anaesthetic, but it is legal, although it's required, you have to be a physician to prescribe it. But I've heard some stories recently of people going to a clinic, having a ketamine injection, or they've even developed now a sublingual, ketamine, and having like, some support for a couple of hours, and then being sent home with a prescription for sub limo ketamine without any guidance, you know, yeah, you're gonna see more and more of that, and hopefully, hopefully not, but I think that that's one of the real risks of commercialization and the so called medicalization of the substances. That is why an organization like maps, is doing everything it can, for a therapist training purposes to train a generation or two of therapists who have this experience themselves, and who know how to help people navigate as guides. In it, I myself, had the opportunity last year to take MDMA in a setting with a guide, I didn't really need it. But I didn't know I didn't didn't need it. Because I've been so many years since I've been experimenting, I thought I would take advantage of somebody with more experience. And it turned out, I didn't really need it. All that person really needed to do was to help me pee a cup, go pee a couple of times, and bring it and bring me a glass of water or two. And basically, I just was my own gut. Once I stepped into that zone. Again, it was totally familiar. And I felt totally comfortable with that. I've also had the opportunity to explore psilocybin mushrooms a number of times in the last two years. And so it's kind of piqued my interest again, at this stage of my life. And I'm in my mid 80s, in my early 80s, to offer whatever I can offer in the way of guidance and support, which is partially my motivation for doing these kinds of podcasts or interviews with folks like yourself, you know, I think I'm the group at Harvard have that core group of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, aka around us, Ralph Meltzer, George slip and myself. We were the five core people in that. I think George Litwin and myself were the only ones left because Ralph died, you know, last year and Ram Dass died about a year ago or a little less. Tim died a bunch of years ago. I have lost touch with George Litwin, I don't know what he's up to. But as effectively speaking, I'm the only one left in that group who was able and willing to talk about it. And so people are finding that of some interest.
Yeah, I noticed that you had had a surgeon interviews in the last couple years. Yeah. Just doing research on you and discovering them actually wanted to kind of circle back to your time at Harvard. I mean, the 60s at Harvard was such a historical decade, so much was going on in the world. And, you know, you had Ram Dass and Timothy Leary as an advisor, but was was an Andrew Weil also a fellow student, I don't know when he was there. And then Sasha Shulgin was studying organic chemistry at the same time. So yeah, where there any other like, key, notable people that were in your circle? And did you have relationships with Sasha?
I didn't know Sasha, I never met her new Sasha course I knew of him. Andrew while my namesake while though we're not related, was a Harvard undergraduate. I was a graduate student. And there's the whole history of Andrews connection with Tim and I work and that he was the author of this article in the Harvard Crimson that blew the lid open, there was a whole karmic connection there. And then then his becoming later very famous, both as an early on he was interested in mycology also, and, and in herbal stuff. He used to go to tell you right off and for their, their festival there, I believe. And he became a well known physician and holistic doctor. So as an undergraduate, he was responsible. And it would have happened anyway, he just played a role in blowing the lid open on what happened in that Harvard Crimson article. So we had a lot there were many years where we, collectively, but particularly, Tim and Richard had a very strained relationship with Andrew while eventually Tim Tim's nature was not to hold on to stuff. Richard as Richard Pryor around us tended to hold on to stuff more. But even he had later on, I think they had a reconciliation. You know, and I think Andrew visited wronged us in Maui some years ago. But there were many other people that came through Alan Watts, for example, came through and spent a few months with us and joined in some sessions. He was an interesting character. And we had Chris how's the tux Lee, who was an early advisor to Tim and Arthur Kessler, the historian and cultural historian, sociologist, I forgot, I'm a political scientist. He came to he had, there are many people that came through and have sessions with us. And of course, Ellen Gooden Berg and Peter are lupski and all kinds of people. So that was a hotbed of, of transformation.
And you're, you're just describing that you're kind of the only one left and you've had such a rich history and taking all the lessons from your life into now. Can you tell our listeners about what value mentors is and what you do now with helping people?
Sure, well, you know, when I later on after things blew up, I got my first teaching job at Brandeis University. Abraham Maslow, the psychologist, gave me my first teaching job, he was interested in what we're doing. He was working on it. At that point, he had already started to develop the, you know, the Hierarchy of Needs model, which became very famous in psychology, he was working on peak experiences, what he called peak experiences and how those impacted the hierarchy of needs. And we were in the business of creating them on a weekly basis. He was studying them. So he, he was curious, more than curious, I don't know how we met, but we were introduced. And we had a number of dinners and lunches together. And he asked me if I would be interested in a teaching position at Brandeis, and that he was the head of department at that time, so at a certain amount of clout. So I said, Yes, I would be I was looking for a way out at that point. I had finished my thesis, I was under a lot of pressure, because there are a lot of this people in the department that wanted to get rid of everybody, including graduate students, when you know when when things fell apart. So having an offer from a prestigious university, it made sense to me. So I had two young children. I was a family man, if Dad, you know, husband and father and I need to make a living. And I wanted to get out of that hole. imbroglios at Harvard was time to start my life, if you will, or that point next part of my life. So I accepted and I got involved with teaching and practicing psychology. I was a therapist for a number of years and one thing led to another and In the course of my academic career, which involved a number of different universities were at teaching positions. Brent Brandeis was my first and then I taught at Boston College. And then later, I received the an administrative appointment with some teaching responsibilities at University of Massachusetts in Boston, when that campus opened, so I was involved in academia, and I was also earning some extra income doing organizational, first doing therapy, and then discovering the field of coaching and consulting, I started to develop some skill sets. In the area of working with organizations and coaching individuals. After a number of years, I came across the topic of human values, how important they were, as core motivators for everything we do on a day to day basis, and how often people are usually not aware of their core values, what they inherited from their culture, or from their parents, or their family systems, or other other dimensions that influenced us in terms of their set. So an important aspect of set in the set of setting formula is the psychological conditioning. And the patterns that arise and values to me became, I discovered this quite a few years later, were a very interesting doorway into that. So I started playing around with that. And I having a background in research, I was interested in seeing if there was a research methodology that could actually measure human values. And I had a number of false starts tried out a number of different methods, I discovered it within the field of psychology, that was a tradition of values developed by a psychologist named rollcage. And who had developed a little methodology for that, but I didn't find that too robust. So one thing led to another I had a number of false starts. And I finally ended up discovering a methodology that was very robust, that had been developed by a Maltese Jesuit, who ran the Vatican's Office of, of social justice communications in Latin America. And a his partner, who was a British sociologist who had also gone through psychoanalysis. And the two of them developed a call the whole tone of scale of values. And it was originally developed with for the use of theological students, who were, who were working in internships with these guys in in Latin America, working with indigenous peoples, who were oppressed by the colonial cultures. And to try to measure their work get a handle on measuring their worldviews, and their sense of efficacy and agency in dealing with with the political and economic conditions that they were suffering in. So this tool was developed in that context. So I discovered how powerful it was, at the same time, it had a lot of theological baggage. So it couldn't really be applied in business, or in other ways without really, you know, offending a lot of people, it was fine within a religious context. But outside of that, it needs to be radically revised. So I began working with Paul, the whole tone of Brian Hall, his name was, and one thing led to another and then a former partner of mine, and I, we licensed a methodology. And they began to develop it further on our own, develop our own IT system, and our own approach to it. and that in turn, led a number of years later, to an affiliation with a group based in Australia, that had also licensed the same methodology from altona, some 15 years before we did for the Pacific Rim. And so I then joined forces with that group, and brought the next the next iteration of that methodology back to the US, so to speak. And I've been working continuously with that for the last 12 or 13 years now, I have continued to refine and develop that. So I could trace a interesting connection between the psychedelic experiences and my interest in human values. I see values as a really powerful concept and construct a tool for opening up a deepening and understanding of the world views are the lenses through which we look at life. This is one of the things that psychedelics do, right. They suspend your worldview for a moment, you know, and you can see through the lenses you're looking at, right now I'm looking through these reading glasses. And you know, and I forgot until I start started talking about this metaphor, I forgot to have them on. These have a, you know, reading glasses are measured in a distortion measure called diopters. So these are like 2.25 diopters, which is what my eyes need at that stage. Now the doctors are actually a distortion, right? they distort the so called external reality. And I'm looking through a distortion lens, which helps me read helps me see you on the screen. But I don't realize after 30 seconds, or a minute or less, or instantly, I forget, I'm looking through these lenses. That's what worldviews are. We all have them. We're all living inside worldviews that we don't really understand. We don't even realize we're living in worldviews. So it takes a major life crisis, like a near death experience, or a powerful psychedelic experience, or whatever it takes a divorce, you know, bankruptcy, the loss of a loved one, you know, a life threatening illness, a handful of deeply transformational events, that can provide an opportunity for someone for a few moments, or an hour, or two or three, to step outside their condition patterns, and really grok really understand emotionally and intellectually, what they've been seen through. So values are a way of a methodology, if you will, when it when they're used in the way that I use them, for helping people understand the lenses through which they look at life, their core motivators for what they do day to day. So I see an interesting correlation. That brings me to the present moment, which is, I'm in conversation with a some people here in Colorado, who are developing a research platform for psilocybin research, for mass research. Now, I'm not talking about clinical trials right now, although they are offering their platform. And they're working with the current research at Johns Hopkins, which is one of the major centers in the world for studying now. And they're offering their platform to the people at john hopkins, in addition to other methodologies that are being used at Johns Hopkins. And my idea is to use the values assessment as a pre post measure, in a clinical trial, or in a broad social experiment. So people could download an app, they could get a profile of their values, or at least a portion of it, because the methodology is extremely sophisticated and rich, and doesn't lend itself to self analysis, or self help, you know, in the way a therapist or a guide would provide that. But it can be used at an initial level, in a simple way, to give people a sense of what their top values are. And I thought it'd be interesting to see if we could introduce that, and offer that to people as an app, who are experimenting with psilocybin and other psychedelics, to do a measure of their values. And then to do after the experience to do a post measure on their own and see what shifts if any have occurred in their values and worldviews, I thought that might be an interesting experiment. So I'm coming full circle now, actually, integrating the the old days with the new day, so to speak the my background and expertise and being a guide, and a, you know, facilitator, and so called expert and psychedelics, with my many years of work and human values, and seeing if there's a way that I can bring these two streams together in a way that's synergistic. I believe it's highly synergistic. And we'll have to see if we can find the funding for that. So I'm going to be approaching some of the current people who are bankrolling some of the current research in the medicalization area, because I think what's needed here is some other assessments that could get at other dimensions of consciousness than simply looking at, at scales that have to do with PTSD scales, which are important. I don't mean to underestimate the importance of that they're very important. You want to see a shift in the classical measures of post trauma, you know, indicators, but going to the level of values to see what shifts in lifestyle, and in human perspectives may arise to promote and we all know it happens, right? millions of pages have been written on anecdotal experiences, but to have a measure of values I think could be that would be used in that context might be interesting.
I might know some people you can talk to we're actually involved in company in Canada right now doing some some research and development. And we'll definitely talk after the show. Great. Great. And that leads me to my next question, which I hear a lot of people wondering about. And you first had experience with pure silicided from Sandoz. And I'm just curious what your experiences were from pure psilocybin the molecule, which they're using at Johns Hopkins and a lot of research because it's more controlled, versus the full mushroom. Whether it's silicided, cubensis, or another form, and also LSD. And have you found the differences between those and the future of this research and pushing these fungal base entheogens into the world? What form have you found to be the most powerful, and the most effective to push this research?
Let me say this, I think from my speaking only from my own experience, I don't find a lot of difference. if my memory serves me correctly, between the synthetic and the natural with respect to psilocybin. Now LSD, by definition is synthetic. I find again, the same primary dimension of a deeply transformational aesthetic. So seven setting again, are to me more critical variables than whether there it's a natural or synthetic. Now, having said that, I also recognize, given my background, that there are multiple naturally occurring alkaloids, and other substances in natural products that are not present in synthetics. And those may well have important influence also. But again, I think that is trumped, if you excuse the expression by the sentence setting, and if you're looking for if you're looking for a developing, as pharmaceutical agents have to do standards of purity and reliability and coefficients of you that relate to that, I think you have to move to a synthetic platform, also. But having said that, also, I would say, I would hope that the medical establishment and pharmaceutical establishment would not go to war with people who want to continue to avail themselves of using the natural substances. And I can I've been, you know, experimenting with psilocybin in natural form, but I can't, I don't know where to get, and I wouldn't even bother rushing out the synthetics right now. Okay. So I don't know if I'm answering your question or not, I'm trying to but giving you a balanced view, from my perspective. Now, let me come back for a moment to point you were saying earlier, because one of the things, for example, that pharmaceutical companies will want to do, and I've already heard discussions about this, for example, is they want to remove the psychedelic effects. They consider those to be side effects. They wanted to, they don't want they want, they want to play with the chemistry or the biochemistry of these drugs, to to cure depression, assuming that the drug itself will do that, because they're ignoring set and setting that process. So what they want to do is rule out chemically or biochemically to remove the whatever they need to remove to eliminate the psychedelic effect, which I consider from that perspective, that worldview, a side effect, undesirable side effect. Now, from my perspective, and once people have an experience with this stuff, the psychedelic aspect of psycho spiritual aspects are the critical aspects to healing. That's that is what actually does the work.
I'll follow that up. I have two stories. I'll make them quick. The first one was my first experience with Ayahuasca and I was in Iquitos Peru, at this point, I don't know how many years ago, and it was my first time ever drinking and I didn't know what to expect. And I was expecting, you know, this, this grandiose event to happen and nothing happened. And I was waiting, and I ended up falling asleep because the crows were really peaceful and really nice. And I fell asleep and my intention, you know, at that point, I had pretty bad social anxiety. And so that was my intention for the night was to, to help with that. And I remember the next morning I people were like, Oh, I was seeing snakes through the walls and all you know, is meeting my past life and all this crazy experiences, and I was like, I fell asleep, you know, and I didn't, I didn't notice anything and I was talking to everyone and I saw it with one of the guys after and she said, you know, how is your experience? And I said, Well, you know, kind of anticlimactic. I fell asleep, and nothing happened. And she goes, what was your intention? I said, to help with social anxiety. And she said, Well, I just saw you speak to every single person in the group and how to very adamant conversation. And I said, Oh, I guess it did work. And the other experience was through, you know, tapping into the more to the spirits of these plants, and fungi, I, you know, learn this had this routine of tapping into the spirit of whatever infusion that I was working with. And so made a list of my intentions for the journey and was having a conversation with the spirit of mushrooms before my journey before ingesting. And we're like, going through the list and, and I was getting this feedback from the spirit of the mushrooms. And it's like, Okay, do this in your life, do that, you know, this is what you need to work on, look at this XYZ. And I was like, Okay, ready for the journey. And so, you know, ate them. And the rest of the night was silent, didn't feel a thing, so to speak. And I tuned back in, I was like, Hey, you know, let's get to work, you know, and the spirit of the mushrooms was like, we already did it. And that really, you know, was like, the journey is way beyond just that, you know, for our experience, or whatever it is. And, like you noted, with the prison experiments, it's like, some of the most valuable experience experiences are actually afterwards the integration for pre, you know, the set coming into the space. So the jerky is way beyond, you know, ingestion.
Absolutely, it's a it's a complex, complex Gestalt, if you will, and even the experience itself, of going into stillness, into, you know, absolute stillness and emptiness, to use the phrase of a Buddhist or, or advised a spiritual path. Moving into emptiness, and stillness is a very deep, profound experience. That's deeply transformational. It can be as opposed to all the fireworks. Right? Right. But we're conditioned through the popular media and to word of mouth and, and all kinds of stuff and to want and need the fireworks. Otherwise, we feel we're missing something. It's actually reality, the truth is very simple. And opening a window into like, again, into, I'm using these phrases that come from, from a tradition of, you know, spiritual traditions of moving into stillness into emptiness, and to nothing, yes. Okay, which is one of the experiences that one can have, for example, with DMT, that particular trip, or substance relating to ayahuasca I've not taken ayahuasca but I've taken DMT a number of times in my life. And that is, again, off the charts, in terms of the dissolving of any fabric of reality, of moving into total emptiness into the void, if you will, which is described a lot in traditional literature, spiritual and mystical literature. So you don't have to have the fireworks. Right. It looks sounds to be those two experiences you described. Were exactly what your, your body mind soul needed at the time.
Exactly. Yeah. And, you know, maybe for people they don't need, quote, unquote, the fireworks are the side effects. And for other people, you know, that is the main medicine for them. And you need that ego dissolution, or seeing your lens and re seeing reality. But for some people, it's just me, you know, for some people, they need a, they're so entrapped with their trauma that any form of the quote unquote, side effects would be, you know, wig them out too far. And it may be exactly what they need. And for some people, they might need a very soft beginning and tiptoe in and then maybe a little bit further in, they might want more of a profound experience with that those consciousness altering effects.
That's very much a function of of what the guide can offer and what the trained sensitive guide can do. And just to share with you an anecdote in that regard. For example, after many, many years, I'm talking my last historical psychedelic experience with something in like 60 465 something like that. Okay, I'll fast forward to, you know, 2018 2019 when I started to experiment, again, a little bit with psilocybin, using the the natural form, I discovered, for example, as I was sitting there waiting for it to come on, all these visual effects don't happen again. And and I was intrigued, you know, but there was a part of me that was witnessing all of this saying, been there done that. Gunther. What else have you got to show me? And so I intentionally took a detour, you know, I shifted conscious, I shifted my attention away from the psychedelic kaleidoskope. And because I was working on on, actually I'm, I was, I was revisiting some of the trauma I talked about, at the very beginning of our talk today, at this stage of my life, still unraveling, some of that early two year old, one year old in utero trauma, believe it or not, and I find that the visual effects were actually a distraction from what my intention was,
I take a very Terence McKenna approach to my journeys, I solo complete darkness, blindfold. Sometimes I like to start in nature. But I'm not there for the fireworks. Like you're saying, I'm there to work. I'm there to do some work, you know, and I want to roll up my sleeves. And let's get into it. And I tend to do it alone and complete darkness and like, let's, let's shoot, right for it. Let's not take detours the scenic route, you know, yeah, I'm here to get my hands dirty. So let's go.
Yeah. So, you know, the same for me. I mean, I sit in this chair for six, seven hours, with a blindfold, the same thing you're describing. I mean, nature is wonderful. And we live, I live up on a mountain top. In Colorado, you know, we're surrounded by hiking trails at our doorstep. But and, and, you know, later on when when I can I have some mobility? Yeah, of course. But in the height of the session, I want to do the inner exploration. So it's basically sensory deprivation, so to speak, you know, right. Yeah. And I have a minimal interaction, my wife, again, will come in and, Honey, do you need any water? Do you need anything? And I'll say, Ellen, would you please write down and I'll give her a couple of things that have ideas or thoughts that have come up that I want to preserve? She makes a note that she leaves that she said, You know, I have a little buzzer if I needed a buzzer, but it's almost all alone for six, seven hours. Basically, that's what it's about. And it's incredible. And I, you know, again, it's not something I'm doing a lot, by no means. I don't, maybe once a year, maybe twice a year. And it's really because I want to work on something very concrete. And right now I'm working on my own death. I'm preparing for my own death. Not that I'm about to die. As far as I know. I'm actually pretty good health. You know, and I'm not it's not about any kind of morbidity or negativity or despair. It's nothing like that. I want to die consciously. Yeah, I want to die and full awareness. Okay. And so, again, exploring what the obstacles are, in consciousness, to experience that kind of Death to the extent that, that I can even presume to address those outside of the actual experience of dying physically.
A lot of people talk about psychedelics as death practice or death rehearsal. Yeah. So even if even if you're young, and you're taking it, there's still these implications that this is essentially what you're doing.
Yes, of course, there's a lot a lot, there's a lot more to it. Because you know, depending on on your state of health, the level of pain your body may be experiencing. The level of fear that may, I think we're the psychedelic to really help is with the recognizing of the role of thought and belief in the mind stuff that arises. But when one is in severe physical pain, you got yet to have the option of recognizing that may Trump everything, you know, I don't know, none of us knows until we actually do it. Having said that, you know, I feel that these are steps in the right direction. And of course, this is all in the context of the spiritual work that I've been doing for many years, which started basically, at the time I within the first year of my first psychedelic experiences, we all all of us at Harvard got interest In various traditions, including Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Vedic studies, Taoism, for me, it was the work of Greg Jeff, whose photograph is here behind me. And that system of of inner work, which also led me to do a lot of work in Taoism, I've been, you mentioned, I've been a teacher and student of Tai Chi and Qigong for many years, a lot of that has helped my vitality and health. So, yeah, well, they're all
You know, for the same journey.
Yeah, we just had a podcast with them. Vanya Palmer's, I'm not sure if you're familiar with him. But he was involved with Franz Vollenweider , I might be butchering his last name, but he was one of the first people to conduct or help conduct a study where they were measuring the effects of psilocybin with experienced meditators. And a whole bit of that conversation was just how meditation and psychedelics these are both two sides of the same coin.
You know, I brought up the story, in the beginning of be here now, where ROM das talks about his experience with maharajji, you know, his, his guru and, and taking the 900 micrograms of LSD and not feeling anything. And then going back, I don't know, maybe a couple years later, and he took an even bigger amount right in front of him with a clock. And he basically said, you know, Yogi's have been using infusions for a while, I've been using them with fasting, and it's just another tool, you know, and you can, if you're deep in practice, you can take these entheogens and not feel any side effects, so to speak, because you're so deep in the practice, and it's all going to the same place, you're all on the same journey towards oneness. And so they're just different tools in your tool belt, which is really cool. And, and you can use multiple tools together, and it might help the journey even more, and even amplifies that set and setting and that integration of, you know, I'm sure qigong and other practices help with integration and to have a absolutely, or other yoga practices or other fields of philosophy, thought religion, to kind of cradle the experience and help the understanding of that.
I would agree, I really, I would completely agree with that. And, again, speaking only for myself, and psychedelics were the portal that allowed me to begin to explore and now for many, many years, to continue to explore and develop my spiritual muscles, so to speak. And but that that requires a form of weightlifting or running, you know, spiritual isometrics. So whatever, whatever metaphor you want to use, you kind of do the work, if you use psychedelics, just to get you high, or to get you away from pain or away from trauma, or away from, if you're using it as an escape, it will have a very deleterious effect, it actually turns on itself. It's like the genie in the bottle. It's that perfect metaphor for it, you know, if you're using it that way to replicate the experience of oneness and emptiness repeatedly, it will not do the work it but it's a blind alley at that point, but to to use it as a way of a way of opening up the possibility for transformation. Absolutely. And then carry on, if you want to explore some particular issues, and they might be creative, they might be scientific, you know, there a lot of history and history and stories about Nobel Prize winners, like you know, Crick discovering, you know, DNA, right. Sure was still assigned to psychedelics or Steve Jobs, you know, being influenced around his vision of kind of the Japanese Zen minimalism design, but, and the idea of a computer being able to transform society, not just business, not just a business tool, but actually being utilized for deeper transformation, his own psychedelic experiences, I'm certain we're part of that.
Yeah, it's that's such a compelling conversation and way of using psychedelics is just to enhance your own creativity and creation and weaving, even weaving it into something like engineering, a tin can. These are all like such profound impacts that this can have on us as a society and improve in every possible way you could imagine. Yeah, and there's something I'm curious about, and I kind of want to rewind, did anyone in your circle ever isolate another compound within a psychedelic mushroom and test that and bigger doses so we were talking about the other alkaloids that of course, are doing something to our neuro chemistry, but we're not sure. It doesn't seem like that's the active component because the psilocybin, synthetic and the mushroom are comparable for what if you were to take a large dose of like norbaeocystin or baeocystin or other compound that's within that, did anyone ever do this?
In our group, with the exception of Ralph Metzner who took some advanced courses in pharmacology, none of us were chemists or biochemist. So and we have a lot of connections into those worlds. And I'm pretty confident that Tim experimented with some other things that were provided by people, but by the underground chemists, so to speak, who you know, including Oswald, and others, who were relatively well known at that time, were later. But speaking for again, for myself, I, I've only experienced psilocybin, LSD and DMT and MDMA, if you want to classify MDMA, a psychedelic, which I think you can, I've actually never taken ayahuasca, in that setting. But again, my experience goes back to the 60s and, and a lot of things you're describing other, there's constant stuff being developed, you're moving, you move a molecule, or you know, a couple of molecules, and you have another product, if you will. So there's a I'm sure there's a lot of that going on right now. And has been for a while.
You talked about weeding together the value system with the psilocybin Renaissance. And I think that unbelievable, what else do you see as the future of fungal based entheogens?
Well, I think, I don't know. Okay, I mean, I, what I what I'm tempted to say here is, I find mushroom medicine to be very powerful. Okay, whether I'm not talking about, you know, psychedelic effects, I'm talking about just straight medical, nutritional support, which I make extensive views of, of course, Epson, and other products in this area. So I think there's a great potential for a deeper understanding and awakening in the population of the importance of, of these of these medicines. With respect to psychedelics, again, I don't know what to say there. I think right now we're on a fast track towards medicalization commercialization, there are attended risks and dangers involved in that. Other different than the risks and dangers we encountered back in the 60s, which were political, you know, and social. Now, again, you know, the less for profits, and and again, the reliance on medications, I'm concerned that that the current risk might co-opt the, the broader benefits of these sacred medicines in whatever form and tie them to closely or subsume them or co-opt them by a commercial motivation, and power motivation. Okay.
And what kind of advice would you give people like us who are just average consumers, and then anyone else who's potentially involved in the entrepreneurship surrounding this shroom boom or mush rush to not end up there, and not go towards a capitalistic, only capitalistic model of only being able to access the psilocybin and for just taking the therapeutic-ness out of it and making money the number one driver like what would you say to people, then what advice would you give us with this new Renaissance? Where we're trying again, we have a second chance as a society. How do we do right?
Know yourself, know your own motivations, know your values, not your worldview, have that level of insight and an honesty that that's required. Having that integrity and honesty and pick your partnerships very carefully. And even that's not a guarantee, but you do the best you can on on your terms on your own terms, to you know, to be as clear headed, and as pure in motivation, have as clear integrity and honesty about your own motivation and pick your partnerships carefully.
Said it twice.
So let's revert the lens in another zeitgeist or worldview. And this is a question that we ask all our guests on our show. And the question is, if mushrooms had the microphone and could say one thing to the whole human race, what would they say?
Check me out.
I love that. We are going to compile all of these answers from all the different guests that we've had and maybe make a little zine to go with it. Oh, second hand advice straight from the mushrooms.
That's great. Wonderful.
We want to thank you so much for coming on. Where can listeners follow your work and maybe get in touch with you check out your history, maybe if they want to check out your your value mentorship,
Sure what I'm on Facebook, under my name. I have a LinkedIn account. And I have a website, which is www.valuementors.com value mentors. plural.com.
Awesome. And I'll have all of that in the show notes for anybody listening and curious.
Okay, great. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation today. And, and I, as I say, I love your products. They're really, really been enjoying particularly the cordyceps, which is a staple for me and I really, really like it for me. It's very pure, and it works very rapidly for restoring energy.
Oh, we got more where that came from, don't worry. And thank you everyone for tuning in Sherman and listen in for an hour and a half for our conversations and tuning in to another episode of mushroom revival podcast. If this is your first episode, please check out more you can check out our website www.mushroomrevival.com. Where we have all the podcasts we have the cordyceps that come through was talking about and a whole line of functional mushroom extracts, we plant a tree for every product that we sell. So making the world a better place inside and out. And please reach out to us if you have any future topics that you want us to talk about, or guests that you want us to bring on our show. We'd love to explore and meet new people and dive down the rabbit hole with with as many people as possible. So thank you if you're listening on Apple podcasts, please hit that subscribe button our YouTube right now hit that subscribe button, share with the friends give leave a review. Whatever's honest and integrity. Whether it's one star five star bad, good, whatever you feel is true. And as always, much love and may the spores be with you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai *Subject to error