The Boston Entheogenic Network is seeking to establish altered consciousness experiences as part of 21st century thought & healing practices. As the toleration & discovery of not jut psychedelics, but also meditation, & deep breathing grows, BEN is trying to bring together like-minded people into their circle & grow their group & mission. Meditation was trending in Silicon Valley 5 years ago, the world of altered consciences & psychedelic experience is now creeping into that same sector of society in an effort to improve professional & personal creativity. Below is the full transcript of the the 5 questions I asked about the growing popularity & attention the altered consciousness scene is receiving.
What is your organization about? What does it do?
BEN is a community group for people who have or are interested in the phenomena of altered consciousness experiences. The goals of BEN might best be summed up by our mission: to collaborate on projects that investigate, educate, and celebrate the use of entheogenic experiences in the modern world for the social benefits of public health, human rights, and activism.
In this group we have events and talk about consciousness, plant medicines, meditation, radical politics, psychedelics, art, wellness, sustainability, integration, empathy, mutual aid, the future and the now. We do not take psychedelics together… we do not condone or facilitate illegal activity of any kind! I feel it’s necessary to state that in these interviews. I’m sure that people come across the group and assume that it’s a collective of people who take substances together. Sorry to disappoint!
How did BEN get its start?
BEN came into being after I met Nathaniel Putnam, local social worker and herbalist, at Horizons in NYC 2016. The group originally was started by Matty Peru, who had a FB group page called Boston Area Radical Consciousness and Psychedelic Integration, and held a couple meetings but then had decided that the online forum was best at that time. Nathaniel and I took over the running of the group, changed the name to Boston Entheogenic Network, and had our first meeting at my house in November. From there a number of BEN members got involved to offer support and their voices in planning events, continuing to hold monthly meetings, and directions for the future. We’ve grown steadily since.
What is your professional background & how did you happen on the field of psychedelics?
I got my master’s in clinical psychology in 2013. I worked as a community in home therapist (a position for people with counseling experience but no licensure) and adjunct psychology professor, but felt disillusioned by the orientation of western models about the psyche, mental health, healing, and so on. I didn’t know which way to go, I felt no particular calling (which freaked me out), until by chance I was exposed to ayahuasca and altered consciousness experiences and their value for our relationship to ourselves and each other and the earth.
After that introduction I did some of the other requisites.. read Huxley, checked out meditation, started deepening my yoga practice, went to events and conferences. Psymposia’s conference at UMass Amherst and Horizon’s Perspectives on Psychedelics in NYC helped me to see that I wasn’t the only looney tune questioning the perspectives of modern psychology/psychiatry (and reality in general). I was engaged in this new paradigm, so I traveled some more to see other orientations to wellness and spirituality that involved psychedelic experiences. I continued with my own healing, I sought more perspectives, and I learned that these practices exist all across the world, and have been practiced for thousands of years in many cases.
What do you believe is the biggest potential & setbacks as you advance in the groups work?
BEN has grown substantially since a year ago. We now have something like 650 members in the Facebook group, and our meetings often attract upwards of 40 people. This has posed the sort of challenges you might expect, like making sure BEN stays aligned with its mission, and that our members are “safe” in every possible sense, despite our rapid growth. I see huge potential in this group, and in psychedelic community groups and societies in general. Anyone who has had an extreme experience can attest that it’s hard to talk about with loved ones, especially who aren’t versed in psychedelic phenomena. The BEN meetings and events are an opportunity for people to connect and share, who before this group had to be “in the closet” about profound experiences that shaped their life and affected their relationships and their work and their outlook on life, etc. It’s also a place for us to prevent harm in our communities by having an open and nonjudgmental forum for people to learn about what they’re doing and how to stay safe about it. Then, there is the integration piece, which is a valuable part of the process. Integration involves aligning your altered-state experiences/realizations with your outlook, with what you’re spending your energy on in your day to day life. Whether you had a “good” or “bad” or “weird” trip, integration is about weaving the psychedelic space into our daily lives and not just chalking it up to, “man, what a crazy trip”.
Where did the term ‘psychedologist’ come from?
I was staying with a Vietnamese family in the mountain town of DaLat, north of Ho Chi Minh city in the southern highlands of Vietnam. This was about halfway through my backpacking journey through Asia. I wrote a little piece (which I still haven’t released) called Same Same Shackles, but Different, playing off of the common Thai expression, “same same, but different.” The story was about peoples’ relentless efforts to reach unattainable standards of beauty and status which they learn from their parents and from media and the advertising industry, etc.
In all of the Asian countries I visited, people bleached their skin, powdered their skin, wore long sleeves and socks with their flip flops despite sweltering heat. As you can imagine, the sun is strong over there. And yet, actresses and actors on TV have really light skin and round eyes, and you can’t find sunscreen that doesn’t have something like 10X WHITENING POWER written all over it. I compared this with my experience coming from the US, where many people (myself included) are overweight or obese, eating disorders are shockingly prevalent, and normal food portions are huge. We have lots of drive throughs and caloric, non-nutritious food is sexualized and aggressively marketed.. hence, there’s a huge market for weight loss, just as there is a market for skin whitening in Asia. Same same shackles, but different.
I had never written something like this before, and I knew that this perspective I was taking had been made possible by the revelations from ceremonies with ayahuasca and other psychedelic journeys. What kind of social science perspective am I taking, I asked myself? It was psychological, sociological, economic/marketing, etc., and inherently psychedelic.. I played around with some word combos and decided to called it “Psychedology.” My perspective continued to be informed by my psychological training and the experiences I was having in the world and in other realms. I had wanted to try podcasting as a medium for my ideas and messages that I feel are important for people to consider.. I felt the call to be a female voice in the psychedelic movement.. it could only be “The Psychedologist.”
How can eco-feminism, psychedelics & social and class justice be advanced in your view? What can be done to remodel the older views of hippies at woodstock to put it simply?
Thanks for asking this very important question. I’ve reflected on it continuously, especially since taking a Permaculture course (Earth Activist Training) this January. The psychedelic movement is so multifaceted, and power/privilege comes into play from almost every dimension. What I want to touch on here (because I think this question merits a longer article) is the marginalization of indigenous people in favor of unchecked expansion and industrialization, the unfair proportion of people of color to white people imprisoned for “drug crimes,” and the relative whiteness and maleness of the psychedelic movement.
The mainstream popularity of sacred indigenous medicines has led to an influx of rich, often white foreigners purchasing land on which to build ayahuasca retreat centers in central and south america. Another concern (that LisaNa Redbear voiced to Gabor Mate at Psychedelic Science 2017) is the cultural appropriation of these sacred traditions as a retraumatization of indigenous people. There are lots of dynamics at play here, and I would encourage anyone interested in these traditions to learn about the lineage and culture of the people these ceremonies “come from.” Westerners like myself who have experienced healing through ayahuasca might not be so blind to the atrocities that indigenous people have faced and continue to experience today (such as the destruction of their environment, way of life, and traditions by the hand of colonization) if they approached the practices with awareness and respect.
Groups like these Ayahuasca-enhanced mastermind programs boast that they help people maximize their creativity and avoid a “bad trip.” This sounds to me like the microdosing craze in Silicon Valley, where 10 micrograms of LSD allows you to work 75 hours a week with even more enthusiasm and innovative zeal than before! Psychedelics are powerful tools, and in the words of Wendy Chapkis, PhD: “without properly understanding them, we risk leaving these problems of inequality and destructiveness in this society we’re trying to transform.” This destructiveness includes the devastation of the amazon due to consumer norms of the west (consumption of beef, palm-oil products, fossil fuel dependence, etc.), something that we might take steps to be more aware of and better advocates to prevent.
Speaking of inequality and destruction, the epidemic of the prison industrial complex and the massive amounts of people of color sitting in cages for selling or possessing cannabis is an issue of social justice and cognitive liberty and more. While people have fought for marijuana policy to change, there has not been much headway in getting people released from jail and their records amended for these prior “crimes” which are no longer considered as such. People of color are still unfairly targeted by police and this puts them at greater risk to “come out of the psychedelic closet,” or even to consider experimenting with these practices in the first place.
With the tremendous potential offered by psychedelics, why is it that almost all of the research being done on psychedelics is headed up by older, white, men? Natalie Lyla Ginsberg, MSW, Policy and Advocacy Manager at MAPS, describes how psychedelics could be used to heal trauma from racial oppression. Rick Doblin, PhD, MAPS founder, spoke at our BEN event about how mystical experiences have a social justice component, namely the realization that despite our differences and how we may attach to these ideas, deep down “we are all the same.” Ismail Ali, J.D., Policy and Advocacy Counsel for MAPS, speaks of how psychedelics directly impacted the relationship to his identity as a Latino Muslim man in a post-9/11 world. In a recent article, he writes “the psychedelic movement is more than its shortcomings, and much of it is truly magical. Within that magic lies a rich fertilizer from where our culture’s growth can take root. Using our privilege to leverage our voices in spaces where we feel safe, even and especially when others don’t, is a crucial next step in developing our community.” Perhaps this current imbalance is a reflection of demographic norms in academia and psychiatric research in general, but if the psychedelic movement purports to be one about equality and growth, the voices of people of color, indigenous people, women, and other populations that have historically not had a place at the table must be honored and invited.
I tried to join their facebook group a couple of times, including messaging one of the moderators. No response.
Message to the moderators – At least try and be respectful and courteous. If there is is reason why you don’t want to accept certain people in your society (sex, race, religion), just be open about it and communicate back.