Monday, May 14, 2018

REVIEW: Waking up with Psychedelics (May 31)

Dhr. Seven, Ananda, Ashley Wells, Pat Macpherson, Jen, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly

What was the original Rx? DMT?
It was a cool Sunday night, traffic was light, and we wended our way to the cemetery to be with psychedelic researcher Dr. Charles Grob (UCLA), Trudy Goodman (Insight LA), Vince Horn (Buddhist Geeks), Spring Washam (shamanic Buddhist and East Bay meditation teacher), and stroke victim Ram Dass (Harvard's Dr. Alpert who coined the phrase "Be here now").
Waking up with Psychedelics ($75, May 13th)
We were there to learn about mind-expanding substances' role in "waking up," becoming enlightened, attaining altered states of meditation and understanding to elevate our consciousness. Dr. Grob had the most interesting things to say about psilocybin (mushrooms), MDMA (pharmaceutical grade ecstasy) and Phase 3 protocols to use entheogens for healing and opening.

FOMO is the "fear of missing out." For those who missed it, we are having it another event to continue the conversation ($10 on May 31, 2018 in Pasadena, look below for details). And although the house was at capacity with about 300 in attendance, a lot more people wanted to be there. But we sold it out rather quickly. First Dr. Christiane Wolf came out and said a few niceties introducing the supposed-moderator Vince Horn.
  • Vince made an important point that echoed throughout the night: There is no sense in boosterism or pessimism, people who are all for it no matter what, people who are all against it no matter what. That would be no discussion. Let's meet in the middle. Who can tell an adult what to do or not do? Who can be so foolish to think there is no danger? Mindset and setting are key. In between the extremes are the tolerant Buddhists. They don't say yes, don't say no, but say, "We'll see." They listen to the evidence, consider the potential, assess the risks, and do not fall prey to easy answers or magical thinking. This is about seeing reality, experiencing the fullness of consciousness, not checking out unmindfully. You are responsible for you.
We got everyone in who attended with us.
There was no "discussion" as such, no "conversation," so nothing to moderate. He said his peace, next person (Trudy) said her peace and then sort of took over, and before you knew it, the beloved and respected Ram Dass sucked all the air out of the room. Yawn. No one dared prompt or curtail him; he's far too old and important for that. Even gentle Trudy didn't dare.
Goodman, Salzberg, Kornfied...Ram Dass
Horn delivered his speech in muted tones admitting his own usage after many years as a sober, somber, straight-edge Theravada practitioner, a self-described "sanctimonious prick" who had a cool wife, who was present and very supportive. She smoked pot to deal with her family. Horn's trips were mostly gentle and opened him up to the possibility that substances might be helpful to the awakening process. They come with danger, he warned

Then Horn brought out "tolerant Buddhist" Trudy Goodman, who talked about taking acid (LSD) back in the day before finding meditation. She then became a single mother and an avid meditator and left those days behind. Today she's open to the discussion, and this was the official launch of that discussion, though as already said, not a lot of discussing took place. Her brother's bad acid trip, only his fourth, took him out for ten years. He's okay now. But to reiterate, these substances come with danger.

A return to Buddhist shamanism
A Fierce Heart (Spring Washam)
Spring Washam, a secret medicinal ayahuasca enthusiast (who runs Buddhist ayahuasca meditation retreats in Peru, where it is legal and used in the traditional method under the safe supervision of a real shaman in the jungle).

She first used it to overcome childhood trauma -- which we bet was sexual, but she did not specify -- after meditating for a long time and realizing that her "stuff" was still with her.

The plant medicine healed her, and right after the event, she got on a plane to return to the jungle for another retreat. She once spent more than a year training to be an ayahuascera or "plant shaman" using this entheogen.

Author, Buddhist Shaman Spring Washam
She has learned her lesson over the years and now carefully screens all participants rather than taking their word for it that they are stable and secure enough to handle the trauma-healing and potentially trauma-inducing experience.

She is only one of two people of color (POC) teaching insight meditation in the Bay Area and is the author of Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage, and Wisdom in Any Moment.

Scientific research at UCLA
Then came the most fascinating speaker of the night, psychedelic researcher Dr. Charles S Grob, M.D. He had as much good to say about MDMA as magic mushrooms (psilocybe) and has not studied LSD, as others do. Details below. The published research has been amazing, progressing apace, and confirmed to help with the psychological trait known as "openness." One case dealt with the social anxiety of a high functioning autistic patient, who was relieved of his suffering.

UCLA psychedelic researcher Dr. Grob
There has been success in treating depression, palliative care for end-of-life patients, as well as giving meaning to life for those suffering existential issues. There are various phases in such research. Phase 1 protocols test the safety of a substance. Phase 3 attempts to heal. Various research facilities around the country, at the most prestigious universities in the land, are running simultaneous studies using the same protocol. Most satisfying for Dr. Grob has been how open other researchers and doctors have become to the very idea of using ancient substances -- which we have thanks to the indigenous people of this country. Not all news is good needs, but Grob notes that in just the past week, four positive articles on the issue have been published, with articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle, which didn't used to be very friendly or encouraging to this line of medical and mental health research. His research is published, and more is coming, and interest is growing.

I was Dr. Richard Alpert at Harvard U. I took LSD, went to India, and became Ram Dass.
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Then Goodman brought out Ram Dass, who brought the show to a grinding halt. Our anticipation had been heightened to see the legend live (via Skype) by a short biographical video narrated by Oprah. She asked him if he continued to take psychedelic drugs after meeting his guru, having gone from being a secular Jew to a spiritual Buddhist to a kind of Hindu devotee of a maha rishi ("great seer"). Asked this right out of the gate, Ram Dass paused, hemmed and hawed, and paused some more and some more and some more. Wait, did the video screen freeze? No, he blinked. He's just not answering.

Ram Dass (formerly Dr. Richard Alpert)
No one warned us that he was suffering from a terrible case of Broca's aphasia (a severe impairment in language function due to trauma of a certain portion of the brain related to the ability to speak fluently following a severe stroke that almost killed him 20 years ago, leaving him with only a 10% chance of survival). He was in a wheelchair, and now he lives with an attendant (seen behind him on screen) in Hawaii. Finally, he answered, "Off and on," and everyone laughed uproariously to deal with the discomfort. Then it went on like that. Speaking now takes him between 30 and 40 times longer than it should. So each second of normal speaking now takes about 35 seconds. So there was time to nap. And 20 minutes later, after a long and rambling story (that if compressed must be as funny as it is interesting), he asked, "Am I talking too much?" Everyone laughed. He must have caught on, now that we were long out of time, that he might be taking too long to say a simple thing. He does not teach with words, he claimed. He had learned to teach with unconditional love eyes, just as his Himalayan guru gave him the first time they met.
 
Sorry, no time for questions, conversation, or discussion. Please buy books on the way out. The mixed-sex bathroom line was out the door. And all that waiting, yet nobody was talking about what we had just seen. There was a bar. Why was there a bar? There was a big foyer to have a spirited discussion in. But this is L.A. Nobody talks in L.A., nor do they walk. It was out to the cemetery parking lot ("Hollywood Forever" is a really cool cemetery that annually celebrates Dia de Los Muertos in full view of the Hollywood sign).

We want more. We want to meditate. We want a chance to ask questions, to contribute to the conversation, to share and discuss experiences, and learn what the Buddha had to say about it.
  • What is the modern medical research on entheogens?
  • What is the ancient Native American shaman approach?
  • Why, according to the Vinaya, are Buddhist monastics allowed to smoke?
  • Why did the Buddha single out only alcohol as running counter to the Five Precepts?
  • What is the fifth precept actually -- since all of them are commonly misunderstood and interpreted in accordance with our cultural biases rather than those of the Buddha's time?
We'll find out on a very special night:
  • Dharma Meditation Initiative at PasaDharma
  • "Waking up with Psychedelics: Drugs, Meditation, Enlightenment"
  • Thursday, May 31, 2018, 6:30-8:30 PM
  • Sequoyah School inside The Neighborhood UU Church, Rm. 23
  • 301 N. Orange Grove Bl. (near Colorado Bl.), Pasadena, CA 91103
  • Donation: $10 (general admission with RSVP); $20 at door w/o RSVP
May 31, 2018: Waking Up with Psychedelics: A deep conversation about drugs (entheogens) and enlightenment

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