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Psychedelic Safety and Preparation
Sadaf Lotfalian, PhD
September 11, 2022
In this conversation we are joined by Sadaf Lotfalian, a clinical psychotherapist and advisor at Nectara.
In this episode we chat with Sadaf about her personal story with psychedelics, creating safer spaces for therapy, psychedelic preparation, and radical modalities for integration.
- The key elements of creating safety in psychedelic sessions, what safety means, and what facilitators and clients should look for.
- The different facets of psychedelic preparation, the role of community, and changing a culture of chasing healing.
- Her exploration of radical modalities for integration like clowning.
03:58 Her personal journey with psychedelics
14:14 What is a safe space?
20:01 Safety as a facilitator
23:47Considerations for safety
29:01 Vetting psychedelic facilitators
34:21 The critical importance of preparation
39:53 How she prepares for an experience
48:27 Community-based integration
56:08 Clowning and joy in healing
1:11:56 Quickfire questions
Sadaf Lotfalian, PhD
Sadaf is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing psychotherapist, educator, facilitator, and social innovator. Her passions lie at the insersections of science and sacred, psychedelics and wellness, and in helping create safer spaces for transformation.
"My community has been a significant source of growth and nourishment for me. I am the constellation of healers, educators, mentors, activists, artists, and leaders, who have helped me internalize the value of support, reliability, transparency, collaboration, and empowerment. These principles inform my vision of holding a space to feel heard and nurtured, lean into discomfort, and soften into healing.
My daily personal journey includes the committed practice of mindfulness and meditation—expanding the space within for the cultivation of present-moment, focused, compassionate, and responsible living. During my morning meditations, I often reflect on how I am feeling about my day and I end the practice grateful for the presence of a compassionate, listening heart.
I believe that with adversity there remains space for healthy expression, healing, and growth. Our ability to embrace this space is influenced by a complex, interconnected system. With a compassionate heart, my daily commitment is to show up for myself and the world, holding brave spaces that inspire motivation for our inner and collective well-being."
Pascal: Hello, and welcome to Nectara conversations. I'm your host Pascal Tremblay. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Nectara, a psychedelic wellness support ecosystem. And today, I'm really thrilled and honored to have Sadaf Lotfalian on our podcast. And Sadaf is a clinical psychologist, she's a person that I have a lot of respect for, and for her work in the world and the way she shows up in the world as well of deep integrity and heart and spirit towards herself and others and the work that she does in the psychedelic space.
Sadaf, would you like to say a few words and welcome, so happy to be here with you.
Sadaf: Thank you.
I'm so happy to be here too. I'm so blessed that you found me somehow, and Sheida was just such a blessing. And then to sit with you and Elaine, it's just been such a gift. I feel like you speak my language.
I feel like I see you, and you see me, and I'm just grateful for that, for a sense of belongingness and creativity too, what can we create together, feels wonderful.
Pascal: Yeah, thank you for being here.
Pascal: We're recording this today in – I'm based in Kaslo in the land of the Kootenays, and the land of the San'yas people and [inaudible] people.
I want to acknowledge and honor their history and their presence here on the land. So I'd like to start with that. And where are you calling from?
Sadaf: I'm calling from Lisbon, Portugal.
Pascal: Beautiful. So tell us about Sadaf, like, how did you get here? Where – how did your journey begin with plant medicines, and how did you become a therapist or a clinical psychologist? How did you land here today on our conversation?
Sadaf: First, can I pull us a nature card?
Pascal: Yes, before we start the conversation.
Sadaf: So that we have our nature allies with us on the altar, yeah.
Pascal: Beautiful, yes, thanks for bringing that in.
Sadaf: Of course. I have my deck of the wisdom of nature, and we've got some symbolism, of course, always from nature. So we'll just have our allies with us, again, if that's okay. I remember you said your favorite number is number five.
Sadaf: Okay. So can I pull number five for you?
Pascal: Yes, I'm ready.
Sadaf: Okay. And I'll do eight. Okay, the ant colony, which is symbol of the dignity, huh, of a lovely life. I want to show you this. I promise you that I would send you the writing for this, but for now, we know that it's the colony of ants who are with us.
Pascal: Nice, beautiful. I love ants, so that's perfect.
Sadaf: Wonderful. And then I have – I got the Arabian Desert, which is symbol of forgiveness, and I'll keep this here with us.
Sadaf: Taking us to the roots.
Pascal: Wow, so we have the desert and the ants supporting us on this podcast, that's perfect. I feel very well supported.
Sadaf: Amazing. So how did I get here? As a therapist, I think I went through a lot in childhood, and I think the one thing that I desperately wanted was for some of my really difficult emotions anger, rage, sadness, fear to just be held and to be listened to, and to be heard.
But often what would happen was that I would have an emotion that was, not the most pleasant, but the people around me would get really dysregulated and – or they would become neglectful or they would, – so I had this story of abandonment around, if I have this difficult emotion, I'm going to be either neglected or abandoned, or the people around me will go into victimhood and get totally dysregulated.
And then I would have to manage their emotions. And I think there was a desperation in me in teenage years of can somebody just hold space, because these emotions I don't – intuitively, I was like, I don't think they're bad, I really don't think, I'm not convinced that these are bad emotions. So the closest thing was psychology back then. It was like, okay, let's understand emotions, and let's understand what makes people behave in the way that they do.
And I got really into it in high school, I specialized in it in high school and loved it. And then, it just started my whole career and education in psychology and it was wonderful. Back then, this is, I think maybe 20 years ago, back then, there was – it's amazing to see what's going on right now, because back then, every time I would say I'm into psychology, the immediate reaction was, “Oh so you have problems and you're crazy,” and all these sort of – it was stigmatized, and really not supported.
And now, it's not like that, and I love that. It's really not like that. More people have respect for therapy, more people have respect for how important mental health is and how we're normalizing that. We all just need a safe place for all sorts of human experiences to take place without shaming it, or without intellectualizing it, or without creating stories around it. And I love that.
With psychedelics, my first experience was in Vancouver actually, cause I used to go to UBC for undergrad and my friend, my dear friend Khalid, the first year of undergrad said, “I'm going to brew some mushroom tea, and we're going to take it to Stanley Park, and I'm going to have a speaker with me with a six to eight hour long playlist. We have the exact same taste in music and we're just going to sit on the bench in silence and you will then see what, mushrooms are all about.”
Pascal: That's the classic Vancouver experience,
Pascal: Grab some mushrooms, go to the beach park.
Sadaf: Stanley Park.
Pascal: Of course.
Sadaf: Sit by the water, stare into the abyss, and just really experience nature. But what, and, of course, experiencing nature from that sort of closeness it's so vivid, and so connected was a part of it. But what really happened to me was that the tree that was – we were sitting on a bench under a tree, and the branches of the tree would turn into my dad.
My dad's face kept coming up, and he – my father died when I was 13, this is when I'm about 20-21, and I really had not acknowledged. I was too afraid during this period to even want to see him. I would not dream about him, I would not connect to him, I would not pray with him. It was just too much. And when he visited during this trip, or when I knew that my psyche was, reflecting or projecting something that needed to be seen, needed to be connected to. I was just – it was life changing, cause it was actually the beginning of my acknowledgement that I had some real grief work to start.
And that was lovely, it was tough because then the next 10 years were like really massive grief for, it was like, ugh, just don't know what's going on, everything is a mess, like waves of healing followed by total dysregulation lots of therapy, lots of this and that. But it was the beginning of where I'm at with it now, which is probably the most connected I feel to my dad and the most grounded I feel in my grief for him and with him. So I owe it to that to the first time of experiencing that.
Pascal: Yeah, beautiful. Francis Weller wrote a wonderful book on grief called the Edges of Wild – the Wild Edges of Sorrow, and he says that grief is an invitation to love once again.
And I really like that book around grief, and what it shares and the way he shares it as well. And that must have been a very special experience, and then, you stepped into more – more into the space after that, like, how did you get into kind of the professional realm of post Vancouver mushroom experience, how was that, the transition?
Sadaf: Yeah. When I was in high school, I started practicing Buddhism, super randomly, very random, but it saved my life to some extent. And I knew that mindfulness was the practice that would ground my professional career. And through mindfulness, I was like, okay, so what tools and what bridges and what pathways do we have to mindfulness – one of them is psychedelic medicine to really ground in the practice of present moment awareness and compassion.
And I was into mindfulness, I was still getting into the research of mindfulness in undergrad, and I started applying for summer internships and my – I'm super lucky, amazingly lucky that I had a personal connection to Bill Richards, Bill and Brian Richards, who are – Bill Richards is basically a legend in starting the Johns Hopkins psilocybin studies, and together with Griffiths and those people. And Brian Richards was just pivotal in helping me with that step, and they had me on the psilocybin studies as an undergrad sort of summer intern. And in the beginning, I thought I was just going to run research, and do the data analysis and data collection and da.
And then, they started saying, come sit on the mushroom sessions with the research participants, and that changed everything. I sat on the sessions for the preparations and the actual psilocybin sessions, and the integrations, and watching Bill Richards be in his essence of guiding and having exposure to really compassionate facilitators in these studies who were so devoted to the bigger picture of healing, and that's how it started.
So then I thought, okay, this is it, I want to do this, I want to – one major way to commit to mindfulness is through psychedelic medicines, through plant medicines, and then, I was like, okay, so naturally I have to get my PhD in clinical psychology, cause back then, it also wasn't like this, it was very hierarchical. You could only really practice if you were a PhD in clinical psychology, or if you were a psychiatrist.
To some extent it's still – we still have those barriers, much less so now. But I was like, okay, if I really want to practice freely, I'm going to go do this. So then, I just started my PhD in clinical psych with the hope that at the end of it, I would then be in my own practice of facilitating and educating and doing research and so on.
Pascal: It's interesting how sometimes you meet one person, and they change your entire life. It's everything changes like a junction A, junction B, and it's whoa, five years later, you're like, in a completely different situation.
Sadaf: So pivotal so pivotal. Luck, it was a lot of luck.
Pascal: Yeah, divine timing.
Sadaf: Divine timing, truly, it was wonderful.
Pascal: So as a, I imagine, and I'd love to hear more about this is how your childhood experience has shaped your work now as someone who is supporting others as well – you mentioned not feeling safe being you and feeling you and expressing you to your immediate surroundings, and how has that helped not just inspire, but also help guide you in your way, as you're supporting others now the word safety comes up...
Pascal: What does safety mean to you, and how would you describe a safe space, cause it's something that, in the psychedelic space that a lot of people are talking about these days is, vetting guides, setting the right container, those type of things, doing your own work, so how would you describe a safe space?
Sadaf: Yeah. Let me not get intellectual about this.
Pascal: And it's always relative too, – I'm asking your perspective on safety, but for some other people it might feel, and it might be different for others, so just your own is a unique perspective on that.
Sadaf: For me, safety is when we show up, and we don't mix our own stuff with the experience that the person in front of us is having. And if a person is having an experience and they're coming to you, what's it like to continue to normalize their experience with compassion, right? And being very boundaried around, not mixing up your own stuff and putting it into that space, it's not about me as a facilitator, it's never about me.
And, for me, so safety in these spaces is, can I feel grounded enough that my own personal fears and spiritual fears, but also my longings and desires and attachments, don't get in the way that I can center in saying ground your fears, but also ground your longings, because this is not about you, humbly with humility, just saying, I'm just here for you.
And if that happens, for me, it seems, if that happens, then the person has an opportunity to actually feel safe enough to be themselves fully, perhaps to even be dysregulated, if they need to be dysregulated to be expressed, to normalize that our process is messy, and human, and difficult, and beautiful, and ecstatic, and all of it. But at the end of the day, it's not about my agenda and it's not about my motivations.
So I have to be very clear. I think for me, as a facilitator, entering a space, I have to be very clear and grounded in my motivations. If my motivations are rooted in fear, I really pause, and I have to process that for myself in my own support systems, so that I don't bring that into a space. And if my motivations are also wrapped up with my desires for the world, my attachments to transcendence and whatever, I also still, that, to me, that's still a flag, and I pause, and I say, that's not a – it's not about you.
And I still find my support networks where I go, and I'm like, I'm feeling overly attached to healing in this container. I want everybody to just heal and be beautiful and be connected, and it's whoa, okay. That's my cue of saying, you need to pause, and you need to slow down. And safety is can you be rooted and grounded in the present in the moment without any attachments to your fears or your desires, with a lot of humility that we're not – I'm not there to save the world. I'm also not there to be totally dysregulated in my own fears. Like...
And I think when that happens, when I don't have an agenda, but I can just show up and hold the space, then a lot of magic actually unfolds because the person can feel safe; and if they feel safe that I don't have particular motivations or agendas that I'm projecting onto them...
Pascal: And they can feel that too, they feel the energy around the space. And, as I was navigating in the psychedelic world myself sitting with different facilitators, there's a big difference between someone who's creating a very deep, safe container, and someone who's dancing around the edges of safety you feel it inside your body.
Pascal: And as you were entering the, your career as a facilitator, like, how was your experience with that? Because it's a new container to step in for someone who has in the health space for others before, I've experienced the same thing recently with breath work, like being a facilitator for the first time, it's a sacred duty, and it's a place of reverence, and I'm lucky to have sat with other people before. It's I feel the energy, so I could be that energy like naturally. But as someone who was learning the ropes what did you learn about safety as a facilitator, and to your experiences with different clients what are things that were big pieces for you to take away, aside from the really big one you just shared around just being present, just holding that space of neutrality almost for someone?
Sadaf: Yeah, this actually makes me think of people that I, like my mentors, instead of thinking of myself as where have I been safe or what have I practiced, it's it's taking me to the mentors who really embodied that for me. And I think those people are – have actually learned to really be kind to themselves first, they are constantly forgiving themselves first and they are – they can hold compassion well for others. And that means, humbly, often saying, I don't know, and I forgive myself for that. We're all in this mess together, I don't know, but I'm here, and I'm going to keep showing up. But I don't know, I have these desires, and I have these fears too, but I don't have answers for you necessarily, and to get comfortable with that, because for me we laugh about it sometimes with my PhD cohort where we're like, the first few sessions you have with clients are, you'll never forget cause you're sitting, as a therapist for the first time, and we get so excited when they would cry. We're like, yes we did it...
Pascal: She cracked!
Sadaf: She cracked, something, but the ego was quite fragile, in that sense, because it was like the attachment to yes, we – yeah, she cracked, I did it, we did it, like...
Sadaf: And with time, you actually learn that there's so much glory and beauty that unfolds when you're sitting in front of a client and you say, I don't know, and let's just hold that together. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's like this visceral experience of, I'm here just with you holding hands, and I don't know.
Pascal: Yeah, it's a witnessing,
Sadaf: It's a witnessing, it's truly witnessing.
Pascal: The word facilitation comes from the Spanish word facil, which means to make it easy, to make easy, so facilitating is not this, I'm doing this for you. It's I'm making it easy for your inner intelligence to surface and your inner wisdom really to flourish.
Pascal: Yeah, the word facil. And how was your experience – first, let's talk about like the facilitator role as well, in terms of, like, how can people that are facilitators, what's important to consider around their own blind sides, like you mentioned, doing this or the ego of cracking someone or maybe some trauma comes up around, I didn't feel safe when I was younger, and now this is happening to you, and I'm like dysregulated, how – what's important to consider around the blind sides, and also, for people that are looking for facilitators around this idea of like facilitators are not gods, they have their own stuff, they have their own shit to work through.
So what's important for a facilitator around their own blind, but also for people that are working facilitators around these people are not perfect, they're human, like you said, just now we have this shared humanity, we all have our own problems and troubles and weak points and strong points – and yeah, I would love to hear more about that, cause it's something that's very talked about in the psychedelic space these days.
Sadaf: Yeah. Have you ever sat with those facilitators where you feel like you've entered a trance?
Pascal: In what way?
Sadaf: It's almost like trance – Okay, maybe I – sometimes I sit with facilitators, where it feels like I'm in their trance, and I'm just whether they're speaking in a didactic way, or whether they are energetically creating a trance, where I actually, to be honest, a trance for me is quite dissociative, and more often than not, I leave those ceremonies feeling like I don't even remember what happened, something felt good I think, and something may have felt bad, but I don't remember. And I was slightly associated, cause I was in a mental trance of this shining thing that was being shared. That scares me. I don't like that I just I don't like that.
I think safe facilitators encourage you to get back inside your own body and to keep listening, and to keep embodying your own body and channeling what's the wisdom that exists in your own body, and teaching you if you don't know, teaching you grounding practices that get you back inside into your own sources of groundedness and wisdom. They don't create a trance. To me, that's what came up for me right now, just organically, right now, it reminded me of ceremonies where I felt like I disassociated, and then, don't really know what happened and couldn't really integrate, it wasn't memorable.
Sadaf: So safety, for me, is humility... I don't know.
Pascal: The beginner's mind.
Sadaf: Beginner's mind, totally, just beginner's mind. But I'm present and beginner's mind. And let's really respect the body in its magic to be able to ground itself, and lots of humility and lots of compassion, and this idea that let's not create a trance here. Trance is like the most unrooting, I don't know. Do you know what I mean when I say a trance? I don't know if I...
Pascal: Yeah, been there, got a [inaudible] yeah, for sure, yeah. And what would you like to share around this idea that the facilitator needs to be this perfect, healer type or perfect person that has it all figured out because there's a lot of power dynamics in that relationship of...
Pascal: There can be, and there shouldn't be, but there can be around the facilitator being like above the person. I've seen some facilitators, it's not just in psychedelics, but they sit on a higher chair than everyone else, for example that sort of like feeling. And in therapy spaces, of course, there is – there's a very strong power dynamic there, because someone is in a very vulnerable state and the other person is helping guide, and there can be some complexes that show up in that space, and it can be challenging for people to understand, and to really feel into how they should vet their facilitator, because it's such a new space, it's a new type of experience.
What do you have to share around vetting facilitators and how can someone navigate these oceans of like different facilitators propping up and not having one source of truth, if there is such a thing around which are the facilitators that are, ethical, that can hold safe space. And to me, I've always resorted to get references from like really close friends that you trust, because then they've had the experience, and they can share their experience and you trust them as a friend. But that's not always available, and it can be nebulous sometimes too, right? So what's your vision of the space in terms of vetting facilitators' like training programs and things of that nature to make sure that the space does grow in a good way and that people are held in safe spaces?
Sadaf: Yeah, this might actually connect us to the next theme of preparation, but this era of a facilitator being the expert, I think, is dissolving, because of the power dynamics that it has historically created in mental health, at least, in westernized – I'm talking about the Western model where the expert knew, so you absorbed what they knew, and you applied it through your own process. I think the more we're actually learning about being relational human beings to live in community, to learn more about relationships, to more learn about safety and have foundational values of actually we're all in this symbiotic thing together, it's not like this, and it's not linear.
It's actually circular and dynamic, and symbiotic. And within that context means a therapist sometimes is here, sometimes is like that, and the client too. I'm learning from my clients all the time. So I'm not – it's not like I'm always here and they are always here and we don't – I have nothing to learn we are just dynamic as human beings. So to assume otherwise, to assume we're linear really misses the magic a lot of the time. And that, I think that applies to facilitation, it's no different.
I think I trust therapists who are very relational, who acknowledge that they're actually very dynamic, they commit to grounding themselves and learning and growing all the time. But at the end of the day, they're like this, and to me, that then means we're also all responsible. Okay? Just because the therapist is a therapist, that doesn't mean the client puts all the power away, gives all their power away, gives all their responsibility away for the therapist to care-take, because this therapist is God, and they've got nothing else going on. To me, that means you are too vulnerable because that is just not true. Therapists will have a lot going on, they also have a mood and all sorts of neurotransmitters, and all sorts of chemicals running through their bodies.
They might be on their period, they might be on a diet who knows. So that, to me, that assumes, let's all take responsibility, even as a client, don't put too much pressure and power onto the facilitation either. You're responsible. You're responsible to commit and show up with full awareness and understanding, and beginner's mind to your own process as well. And I think that's the part that sometimes is missing, cause clients can show up with certain expectations into a container: I want this and that, can you make it happen? And they expect it not only from the human facilitator, they also expect it from the plant medicine facilitation, from the psychedelic, from all sorts of medicine. They're just like, I want this, and I want this, and show me, bring it,
Sadaf: And I think we can't do that, we can't do that. That's assuming you're not responsible for the process. So for the – I think this relates us to preparation. Can I go into that for a moment?
Pascal: Absolutely. Please go ahead, yeah.
Sadaf: So we were talking about, just to sort of bring people up to date, but were talking about how I was talking about how, like, our culture right now in psychedelics – oh something has happened. Can you still hear me?
Pascal: Yeah, I can hear you.
Sadaf: Okay. My video just stopped for a moment.
Pascal: All good..
Sadaf: I was just talking about how in the psychedelic culture right now, we are all obsessed with integration. Everybody's an integration facilitator, integration is crucial. All of our – usually our integration processes are actually longer than the preparation, and so on. And I think that's – I think that's great that we emphasize integration more than the actual psilocybin sessions or the psychedelic sessions.
But I actually think more weight needs to be given to the preparation phase, that's the most crucial to me, it seems, process. Because it gives the client an opportunity to really, first, ground themselves in their own power, on a physical level, on a spiritual level, on a mental level, and to really make sure that they take responsibility for their own process, because they know their body, they have a committed practice with their own body to regulate their nervous system, they have a committed, spiritual practice where they can connect to something grounding that's bigger than all of this, and they have psychological power to just say, to be able to say, this will pass, these are my allies, these are my guides, and just keep grounding themselves in wisdom.
So preparation is actually the most important, and for me, it's every – if you are actually choosing a facilitator or vetting a facilitator before doing any of that, commit to your own preparation, and learn about your preparation. When you are grounded in your own power, you'll see that it's so much easier to choose a facilitator, cause you just know. You sit in front of someone, you're like, or you sit in front of someone and your body is – your nervous system is immediately okay...
Pascal: Harmonic resonance,
Sadaf: Harmon – there is resonance, there's true resonance, and there's safety, because you are grounded, and you can feel the groundedness in the facilitator. If you haven't done that work, you might blindly step into a process where you think the facilitator's everything.
Sadaf: Or you might also even step into a process where you think you are the shit, you're like the best client, take more, I can take more, I can take like 500 whatever, and it's you'll be in that process, and that's always going to be slightly, if not a lot, traumatic. So my answer to that is one, I don't know. Again, I don't know how we vet. I think we're in a very gray area in psychedelics right now, where we're all co-creating together. We don't know what's really going on, and we're just trusting the locals in the way that there's resonance for ourselves, and we're going with that rhythm. Nobody knows more than the other really.
But if I can say one thing is before choosing a facilitator, if you're an institution, even as an institution or as a private client, as an underground retreat, ceremonial space, whatever is going on, first, prepare yourself in being grounded on, in a holistic way, even as an institution, right? Ground yourself in your values, in your commitments, and in your ceremonies like Nectara ground yourself in your own ceremonies. When you've done that, you know yourself, you know your power, you know your blind spots, then choose a facilitator, then you'll just know.
Sadaf: Does that make sense, that process?
Pascal: It's honoring the prep work as much as honoring the sacred space of medicine really. It's like honoring the process to be able to have a safe and deep experience and honoring yourself as well. And you mentioned the body, which I love what you bring into the conversation around prep work is really landing in your body and being connected to your body because there's so much information that's stored there and so much trauma that's stored in the energy body as well, and what are ways that people can prepare their body and connect with their body, cause for a lot of people, there is a culture around chasing healing, we've all seen it.
We might have even done it at some point ourselves oh, I need to do this medicine. Like the first time I tried to certain medicine, I was like, wow, I'd love to do this every month, it was so exciting, this new territory, it was... But there is a cultural kind of umbrella that's emerging in the psychedelic space and socially, because we want to heal basically, and the solutions seem very exciting and new and, of course, they can be wonderful.
But people don't quite have the resources, and that's why Nectara exists is to help build those resources, to help bring people into safer spaces. But what are ways that you can share – there's probably hundreds of different modalities and different ways that people can do that, but what are ways that you prepare for a psychedelic experience?
Sadaf: Yeah. I, honestly, at this point, I think – I hope, and, for me, it's not okay, I'm about to go into a psychedelic ceremony, so I'll just use these two weeks to prepare or one month to prepare. It's more of a, this is my lifestyle.
Sadaf: This is like Nectara everything is a ceremony. So the lifestyle is the true embodiment of presence into my own body, into my psyche, into my spirit all the time as much as I can. Not that I do it perfectly or consistently, not at all, but I hope that there's something like a bit ritualistic to my rhythm right now, where it's every day there's a little bit of something, a little bit of – I make sure that there's at least a 20-minute. At least 20 minutes of practice where I feel embodied. I go – I breathe into different parts of my body to bring air, to bring presence, to bring attention to every single part of my body to occupy it, especially for people that come from, for example, I come from a background of PTSD and trauma.
So there is, I know that I dissociate, and I know that there's hypervigilance. And when that happens, I completely I can't – it's as if I can't feel, I don't know where my legs are, things like that. So every day there's just a practice of embodiment where I just simply bring my attention and notice, I tell the different parts of my body, hey, I'm noticing you, just that, I'm noticing you, how are you. And if you can use the breath too, also breathing to just pull the breath into each body part, so that there's a feeling of occupation or embodiment as opposed to void and emptiness.
So for me, it's I have to do 20 minutes every day of that, and that sometimes is through the breath, that sometimes is through yoga, it's through walking in nature, it's through central experiences like taking a bath, working with scent like essential oils or incense to just activate the senses, anything like that...
Pascal: Dancing too.
Sadaf: Dancing is my medicine, I wish I would do it every day. That's my biggest – that's my deepest medicine. And yeah, so practices like that, where it's you just prioritize that every day for preparation. What happens is when you are in the psychedelic ceremony, have you ever had those – you don't have to answer that. But for me, there have been moments where it has been so intense experience – the psychedelic experience is so intense that really my only grounding ally is my body. There's just no way around it. All I actually have control over is to regulate my nervous system as much as I can.
Sadaf: And those are psychosomatic practices or somatic practices where, I might be in ceremony, and I'm doing this, or I'm holding myself, or I do Qigong, and I work with energy, or I work with my breath, or it's things like that where I'm only able to stay present if I'm embodying my body. So if somebody's not practiced in that, it can get pretty, you can get pretty – it can get tough. When they say it's a bad trip, it can get tough. That's just the body part. But then, of course, there's a spiritual practice where you keep grounding yourself of, for me, it's I am nobody. I ground in the humility of, I am – all I feel is love and before God there's just love and I'm nobody but love too, and I just drown in that, I...
Pascal: Connecting to the selfless, the no-ego space, that's – it diffuses every story and every attachment, or every feeling of me really.
Pascal: And that's what I love about some psychedelic experiences, especially with something like [inaudible] it removes you as the center of the circle, but rather it makes you part of the circle. So you can witness things in a way that's there's no more ego involved in that, and that extremely beautiful and wonderful to connect with nature that way, because it really – you mentioned that earlier around connecting with something bigger than ourselves. And that to me is probably, for me, the most powerful insight that psychedelics offer us is that feeling of reconnection to everything that is, and that diffuses a lot of the, for me, the anxiety and the stress and the attachments to like actions or results or stories, and that just diffuses all of that.
My friend David who's a Nectara guide, he's a mindfulness teacher, and he likes to say remove the doer from your actions, you're just a prism from which God can flow through. And I love that, I keep reminding myself of that, and I – there's a part of what you're saying that kind of connects with that too, and your background in mindfulness, and how it connects people your practice and how you hold space for others, that's really grounded in the present moment being present and being a witness to yourself and to others in the space. And that's a big part of the medicine I find.
Sadaf: Yeah, and what I love about the part, I love about neuroscience right now in psychedelics which I think is our greatest evidence for how actually the ego is getting diluted, or is getting dimmed we're noticing that there actually is a center in the brain where activity reduces, and that is the center that holds our sense of self, the self-referential place, and which basically means it's your ego to some extent. These are all hypothetical, but – and that on psychedelics that sort of – that dims and the activity isn't there. And when that happens, it's like there's this – there's just openness to the present, and there's, as you said, there's no attachment to a story of who I am, what I need to do to the doer or the, all of that sort of dissolves, so you get to just be. For a lot of people that experience can be dysregulating, cause it's oh, I need to control where, there's like a lot of control, and to surrender to nobeingness and just, can be scary, if you haven't prepared.
Sadaf: Yeah. But if you've prepared, then you know that, no, actually, there's safety in that, because then you are just tuned into possibility. And it can be grounding. I hope that makes sense.
Sadaf: I often don't have language for these things.
Pascal: It's ineffable to where we're talking about it [inaudible] .
Sadaf: It's so ineffable.
Pascal: – experiences, where sages and poets have been writing about for hundreds of years. It's hard to find the word sometimes.
Pascal: Going back to the preparation piece and really the integration as well, which I agree is a continuum, right? Like we're always integrating or preparing, and I'm curious around we talked about the culture of chasing healing, and having spaces and people, and things put out in the world that kind of change the narrative around that, around every day is a ceremony.
But there's also this concept of, I got this, so there's this concept of, our culture has often prescribed to us that we should be shouldering a lot of things on our shoulders, and out of all the things that I've heard of in different circles with groups and community one of the most prevalent one that I've seen personally is I'm feeling overburdened, I'm feeling unsupported, I'm feeling like I'm holding too much. And this concept of shifting, I got this to we got this, really holding ourselves together. How can people that are preparing for an experience or integrating an experience, how – what are support systems that you have in your life around other people or spaces or community circles what's resourcing you these days, so that you don't have to hold it all by yourself?
Sadaf: Yeah, I'm careful not to get into this I wish, ideally, it would look like this, but it's not feeling, but what I've experienced is – what have I experienced? I am not the type of person and I have – this is why I don't always relate to I am overburdened, and I think this is where I'm struggling, because I'm, at my core, I'm a person who just massively delegates always.
And now, so I can't fully relate to an integration or preparation, I always make sure that we're all together in it, and that I'm not alone in it because I just simply know that doesn't work for me, it just doesn't work for my body. And a lot of people actually do these things in solitude and do – that can work for them, I just can't relate to it. So I always have my – I always have my allies that I trust are actually doing the work, whatever that means, that they're committed to their own growth. And the thing that I trust with them is making sure that receiving help from them or receiving care from them is consensual.
So I need to trust that the person that I go to in the community or the community that I'm in is very aware and able to say, I can't hold this right now for you, but in one week, in this day, let's do this. I need to be able to trust that, otherwise, I always have this feeling of, am I overburdening someone in that sense, right? Or, can you say no? Can I trust that you say no, when you actually don't have the capacity? Because of that, then can I fully trust when you do say yes and then it's so delicious, cause we get to sit together and really connect and share, really share and show up fully. But for that to happen, I just simply need to energetically trust that people are really good they can own their full yeses, and they can own their full noes in the community.
Pascal: It's radical kindness.
Sadaf: Yes, total radical kindness, that's a good term for it. So I look for that. I look for people who are like, yes-no, yes-no, this time but not this time, this place but not that place, and that sort of clarity and consent. I don't know if that answers your question, but I was just tapping into where do I feel trust and safety, in not actually overburdening or feeling overburdened, which means healthy boundaries, kind boundaries.
Pascal: Yeah, I love that you bring that up saying no is like challenging, it's been challenging for me in the past as well. And I found the more I say no, the more people connect with me, and the more people relate to me. And when I say no, I'm always surprised. I used to be surprised around the reaction of okay, cool, I totally respect that, thank you so much for sharing that.
Pascal: I think that's a very valuable point in terms of support systems.
Pascal: Is there anything else you want to add about preparation before we go into clowning?
Sadaf: Ooh, clowning...
Pascal: Maybe what's your wish for the psychedelic space in terms of preparation, how about that? Something you'd like to your greatest wish for the space around preparation.
Sadaf: For right now, to be honest, it's not a grandiose plan. Right now, it's let's just value it let's hype that up, let's really hype that up. And one thing that, I think will surprise us is it's funny, because I think the more we commit to preparation, the less we'll need the plant medicines to guide us. Not that I'm against psychedelics to be the actual fireworks of the season, right? Love them, love everything, but I think we'll find that the more we prepare, the less we'll need, because the more grounded we are and the more aware we are, and the more we're committed to community and support, cause we'll realize, we'll start to recognize the importance of preparation. And then, so for now, for me, it's normalize it, and emphasize it. Tune into what works for you in terms of preparation. It's going to be very different, but it has to be holistic, it has to be holistic. It can't leave out the body, it can't leave out the psyche, it cannot leave out the spirit, it has to be holistic.
Pascal: So let's talk about clowning. So the first time I met you, the second time I met you, I know you're a clinical psychologist, you have all these like degrees and like internships at big places and degrees and things like that. And then, you introduce yourself and at some point you mentioned about you clowning, and I was like this – what an amazing person that has the kind of the clinical side, and then, the clowning as well, which is beautiful mix of humor and pleasure and joy, and then, this more scientific background. So how did you get into that, and tell us more about clowning, and do you use it in therapy spaces?
Sadaf: I felt so ridiculous that day when we met, and I remember turning off the thing, even though you made me feel so comfortable and so loved, and I had no reason to just feel so anxious. But we turned off the thing, and I was like, what did I just say, what just happened here, cause I don't think I had ever really talked about these things in professional spaces, even though this feels a lot more like community.
Clowning, so one is I come from a background – my father was a surgeon, so he was quite scientific in all these things, but my mom is an artist and she paints, and my grandfather is a writer and a poet and all these things. So there was always an importance of – I was always the bridge, the sky walker between science and arts, or science and spirituality. It was always like, I walked both, and I was always trying to bridge both of them together. And I know I have I have that in me just inherently, but the thing that changed that for me was, I don't know if – you guys have Authentic Relating games in Vancouver, do you know about the model?
Pascal: We've done diets before, and we've done kind of spaces like that, yeah, practices like that are definitely powerful. Is that what you're talking about?
Sadaf: Yeah but the platform has leadership sort of trainings. And I joined the leadership training where you become an authentic relating facilitator.
Sadaf: But it's actually very intense, because it really gets down into process and you have to be performative, and your comfort zone is completely out the window, but in a fun, gamey way, not in a, I'm going to crush your ego, so we built your ego back up, not in that way. It was actually delightful.
But that weekend when I was with all leaders, and the one reflection I kept back getting was that everybody just called me a clown, and I had never acknowledged that in myself, because I always – I think of myself as a child, as a very serious mean child, that's how I think of myself. And then in adulthood, I was like, I'm a serious psychologist of da. And they were all like, that's all bullshit actually, we don't see any of that. You're a clown, and you got to own that, part of you. So what happened was for our grand final performance, I was mortified, but stepped into clowning as my final performance, which, because it's authentic, relating, clowning is not performance because it's completely authentic, you have to pull every single part of your authentic self, to then express it in a clowny way, which is really tough cause it's ugh, who am I, what are my authentic self, and then, how do I channel it through clowning. But it was wonderful wisdom to just I was shocked to just receive that. And then, I got really into it, and now, I really want to go to a clown school, and I don't use it specifically in my therapy sessions, but I use it in retreats that I lead, where we mix, where we integrate psychodrama with psycho magic clowning, and all of these elements where you get to practice all those little parts of you that never get to come out because you're so scared of judgment.
So your ego is just bruised, like [inaudible] you're just like, I feel ridiculous doing this, but it's not about that, because you are actually fully embodying joy when you're doing it and play. And when you are doing that, actually, people feel so connected with you, because it's not about performance, it's not about analyzing the perfection of the techniques that you – it's none of that, it's can you feel so connected to your authentic joy and your authentic playfulness, even if they're shadows in dark, even if they're like, ooh, and you're making fun of yourself, or you're playing with that. And in that space, people will feel connected to you, there's no way around it. They love it, they see it, they see you, and they're not analytical, they feel it with their bodies and they laugh and they cry. And I love it as a practice. I also don't really know what I'm talking about, cause I don't have any formal, it's not a formal clown, it's just...
Pascal: We're all clowns in some way.
Pascal: We're all a bit clownish, and I think...
Sadaf: It really resonated with you.
Pascal: I was the class clown when I was younger, so that's why maybe it resonated, cause I'm like maybe I should be a clown too.
Pascal: So this speaks to the idea of bringing more joy and fun and excitement and passion to the healing path too, right? Because healing can be so serious, and we're talking about trauma and shadow work, and we're talking about our childhood, where our parents said something really mean to us, and that's all good and valid, but there's also this other side that I feel personally that it would be wonderful to have more of that.
And I'm speaking for myself, but in spaces where we're doing healing work, because laughing together being silly together, doing cart wheels together painting and those type of I wouldn't call them softer, but maybe softer modalities of therapy can be very powerful for connecting us to our inner child again and they're wonderful. And I'm curious in your experience, what are some of the modalities that you experienced that kind of brought you into that space and maybe share one experience you had with one of those softer modalities?
Sadaf: Yeah. One thing that came up for me when you were sharing, cause, of course, in mental health, we're so used to pathologizing, right? Historically, everything has been pathological, and we call them disorders, and it is heavy and pathologizing. And yet we also know that if we fear, it's almost – I don't know how to say this, but it's almost if I fear my own joy, or my own pleasure, that alone creates a lot of suffering, that alone is contributing to everything. So I don't know how we just bypass that I don't understand why we bypass that in mental health, cause it's we don't always, things have changed a lot. We're not in a psychoanalytic phase where forever you talk about your mother in a bad way we're not in that phase anymore. But how connected you can feel to joy and pleasure and all of that, also actually gives you permission to feel connected to your pain too, they go together, but in a much more sort of grounded way. You're not avoiding either, cause avoidance of either will create suffering. But if you can lean into joy, you can also lean into your pain a lot more skillfully, right? So it is actually productive. Sometimes when my clients are like, “But is that really efficient or productive if we,” some clients get a bit, heady around that stuff. I'm like, yes, actually it is very productive, because the more you delve into joy, the easier and the safer it becomes to also delve into understanding your pain. They go together.
And, so joyful modalities – I've done things like I love making sounds that are ridiculous, that one of my mentors calls as sounding. And we put sounds to our emotions and we – so we just, instead of them telling me this is my emotion, they actually sound the emotion, and a lot of people struggle with that because we feel embarrassed about these things. It's ugh, sounds are really, I don't know, sounds are weird I don't want to – I'll never forget this has nothing to do with anything, I'm sorry, I'm going to say this. But in grad school, one of my professors said, do you know the number one reason – to the class – do you know the number one reason – I don't know why I remembered this is 10 years ago – do you know the number one reason men feel embarrassed in urinals? And we're all like, I don't even know what class this was, but we're like, size, cause they, I don't know, they like look over and compare, or I don't know. But that was the consensus was like, okay, it's size. And he was like, no, it's sound. People get very subconscious about sound. And that's a thing, but if we can just get used to expressing it and make fun of ourselves and be funny with it and just be like... Or go from one thing to another, and normalize that there are all sorts and all forms of expression instead of keeping things stagnant, it's beautiful. So that's one thing we do a lot of.
Pascal: And it releases energy too it moves emotions and feelings in the body...
Pascal: And you can express those, and it reduces the charge of them during breath work, we do a lot of sounding.
Pascal: I like to howl like a wolf, and that helps me with stuff, cause I'm channeling my spirit guide or whatever, but it really helps me to like embody that energy and that quality of the wolf, so that connects you as well to more shamanic aspects of healing when you're embodying a certain teacher or emotion or person or animal or whatever you choose it's very useful, yeah.
Sadaf: Yeah. Exactly. And it gets us to be, I feel like, Western art, I don't know if it's Western art. But art, the art world, or the performance world, has actually done a disservice because everything has become so analytical only great singers can sing, or this sort of narrative that oh, your voice should be expressed unless you can really sing, or things like that has really abandoned our bodies. Whereas the body often actually – the expression of it can bring out so much wisdom because it helps to bring all the process out as opposed to like you're saying and with that, you can then start to actually transmute what's not serving you, but also embody what's serving you.
We can't do it without the body, but it's become so performative and analytical that we're not feeling our bodies anymore or our senses. So I try to use the senses a lot to get back inside and be like, let's see what the body's wisdom is. And sometimes, really, the sounds that are coming out are so joyful, so if the person is like really spiraling in victimhood and the stories, the narratives of blah, blah, blah, but the sound is making them laugh or making them be like, what was that. And I'm like, I don't know, but it's great, like just, it lightens things up. It lightens things up and it starts to connect us. That's just one practice there.
I do a lot of movement where we make, where we are creating things. I do from IFS, Internal Family Systems, we name our different personas and create characters around them. I share this a lot with people, but my critical side, that's like vicious, that's – and now I'm doing clowning what my critical side in partnership with someone. Her name is Thornicus, because she's a thorny, she's like a thorny cactus. And...
Pascal: I can already feel the thorns with that name, that's a very spiky name...
Sadaf: Thornicus. Yeah, so when she comes, I'm like, Thornicus is here. Everybody just
Just watch out. And we go in a bit of a defense, and I start playing with it, and I'm like, okay, and through play, it's a lot safer to then go to Thornicus and be like, it's okay, what are you needing, can I take your thorns out a little bit, just what, so through play, we can just do that, through imagery, through – Does that make sense? Some of those [inaudible] whatever.
Pascal: It does, it transcends the logical mind is basically what I'm understanding.
Sadaf: Yeah, exactly, that's what it is.
Pascal: It's it transcends all that stuff, right?
Sadaf: That's what it is.
Pascal: Yeah. Beautiful. I'd love to do a session with you someday, cause the clowning, and the whole unfasten the whole sounding thing, it sounds amazing.
Sadaf: Let's do it.
Pascal: Yeah. So I have a couple of quick fire questions for you to end this beautiful conversation. What's the book you're reading these days?
Sadaf: Oh, we talked about this Entangled Life, she's all about fungi, my friend got me as a gift, and I'm so grateful for that, and it's brilliant. I just, I think I told you that I think it's one of the most important books of this century.
Pascal: And what is it about? I know what it is, but for people.
Sadaf: Yeah, so Entangled Life is basic – you would probably describe it better. Sometimes, I don't have great – I think English as second language sometimes fails me.
Pascal: I can try.
Sadaf: But yeah, please try. That would be amazing, cause you're reading it too.
Pascal: Yeah, I started reading it, and what I'm gathering so far is that it's a book about our fungi overlords, and how it touches on almost everything in life, and it affects rain, and it's like how the plants got on earth the first time fungi was like being your roots. And I'm just like, wow, that's amazing. Of course, I've seen Fantastic Fungi, a documentary and Paul Stamets' talking, and yeah, I'm always blown away, and I think we're just scratch – only like 7 or 8% of fungi has been discovered and researched It's amazing what's out there.
Sadaf: Yeah, and so humbling. I read every page, and I'm like, wait, who are we, what are we doing, who are we.
Pascal: We're not the masters of the universe, you mean, like...
Sadaf: We're not the masters of intelligence what is that.
Pascal: Oh no.
Sadaf: Yeah, I love the part where he talks about intelligence. I think it's – I haven't finished the book, I'm not even that far, but there's a part where he's the way we're measuring intelligence altogether is wrong. It's so based on human being capacity, which undermines what the universe is really capable of. We're not the intelligent ones here. We've created our own definitions, and we've created our own assessments, and based on those, we've said, oh, okay, are we intelligent, or are we not. And yet, it's like the – what these species, what these creatures are capable of doing, and have done it way before us, and will continue to do way after us is just incredible. And that to me is oh intelligence, right?
Sadaf: It's much larger than us.
Pascal: Indeed. So Entangled Life, if anyone hasn't checked it out, it is a wonderful book, I highly recommend it as well.
Pascal: This is a really broad topic, I'd love to actually do another podcast on this, just this topic itself, but diversity in the psychedelic space, you talked about something being formed around messaging and supporting people from Asian heritage, you want to talk about that a bit more?
Sadaf: Yes, I would love to. My great friend Simran and some Asian folks were all in the midst of creating a collective called the Asian Psychedelic Collective, and Asia really being all inclusive, so the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, Central Asia, all of that.
And part of the reason why we're doing this is because a lot of the feedback – a lot of the people who reach out to me are people who have been harmed as POC, and as BIPOC people in psychedelic spaces because of white supremacy, and sort of white feminism too. And there's just, not only that, but there's just lack of representation, we know that very well.
There's lack of representation in facilitation, in research, in participation, in ceremonies, in resources, in all of that, even though, for example, the Asian population is the fastest growing population on earth, and it's the largest population on earth, but it has the least access to resources and so on, in the psychedelic world, it makes you pause. And it's not often, sometimes I've heard, oh they're not into that, they're just like not into, they come from a different cultural background and they're just not into it. In grad school, I used to hear that a lot about Black and African American clients where the consensus was, they just don't believe in therapy, so it's okay, let's just focus on non-Black folks. And to me, that's what are you – that's not a – that's not true. And the more we destigmatize and create resources and provide accessibility, actually, I think they'll be open to it.
So my philosophy right now is one is that it's extremely overwhelming what we're dealing with in the world in terms of diversity and inclusion and how polarized we are and so on. So I give myself grace for feeling very overwhelmed by it. When that happens for me, my way of dealing with that is to get local, and I focus very locally in this neighborhood, what resources are available, what can we do, where are the spaces, what's the focus group, what are the needs. Let's not – because I think the more one size fits all kind of way we get, the more nuanced we're missing, and the more anxious we'll become, because that's impossible, we're not going to do that. So it's a matter of locally find places where you have access, right? And for those of us who are in a position where we can provide locally start providing and invite people into experiences where they can see for themselves that it's possible to sit together and do all these things. But, to be honest, I think it's a very messy – it's sad to see in psychedelic spaces that we – it's not that much better than the non-psychedelic world, which you wouldn't expect, cause psychedelics are oneness and connectedness and we're all,
Pascal: unicorns and rainbows, yay!
Sadaf: Yeah, unicorns and rainbows, so we're all one, and there is no color. And there is...
Pascal: Yeah, we've all been people of color at some point in our past lives, right?
Sadaf: Exactly. So then it's like the amount of bypassing is no different actually, and we are seeing the harm unfold. So yeah, I think my thing is, let's not – let's actually acknowledge that there's quite amount of bypassing going on, and that is not that different from the non-psychedelic world, and we're still seeing the same issues unfold. And in order to manage our own anxiety is get local, get specific, go small micro movements to me, because I think...
Pascal: Yeah, and look at ourselves too, right?
Pascal: Starting in and around those ideas and constructs and things that we have to undo and clarify and eliminate within all of us, really, to be able to embody that in the spaces that we show up in.
Pascal: Yeah, it's a deep conversation, I'd love to have another podcast around this and bring more discussion...
Sadaf: You have a diversity and inclusion crew at Nectara?
Pascal: Yeah, it's a small forming team right now, and we're walking with people. If someone out there wants to help us create safer, and more inclusive spaces in what we do, it's very important for us that we understand those nuances, because sometimes having someone to advise you and someone to be a part of the process really helps you to do those things. It's not something that's inherently going to be perfect from the beginning, so we're humbly forming a DI council to learn and grow with, yeah.
Sadaf: Yeah, it's beautiful. I will say one thing around that – oh and okay, we'll pause, after – I'm just realizing it's been a while. One thing I'll say is, as an Iranian woman, of course, I get a lot of requests from Iranian populations being like, hey, do you facilitate, because, of course, they feel like I can know them better somehow, cause there's cultural connection. And what I'm understanding is actually that it is important.
You and I talked about how even bringing in Persian instruments and musical instruments, and facilitating retreats that are Iranian at their core, and so that the collective trauma can actually go back to the roots and acknowledge the ancestors and start to work through some of those things in order to arrive where we are now, and these are important, some of the ceremonial aspects of these containers, it's like, it's important to actually go back to your roots and acknowledge and understand it better. So I also want to normalize that we need that I might not need – I don't know I feel like, for me, to go back to my roots, I need some Iranian elements, particularly music the way I got to move through some things and heal through some things just by Persian music in ceremonies has been important because it brings, it just brings all the stuff up from places where you're like, I don't even know where that was from I don't even...
Pascal: Science is telling us that it, the effect of, your lineage and your DNA line, it goes back 14 generations. That's a long time of having that in our system, and these spaces can help us eliminate those things and understand them and then embodying and integrating them into our living. It's helping us finding meaning and belonging really.
Pascal: Yeah. So what a wonderful conversation.
Pascal: Last question, where can people find you, like, where can people connect with you?
Sadaf: I have a website and through that – I'm sometimes hesitant to just give out my email, so I'll just do the website. My website is www.lotf.cc, and you can just contact me there. I go through phases of being really great at responding, and then just being like, nope, not the time. So I also want to just put that out there, it depends on how overwhelmed I'm feeling in life and how much is going on. But I always do my best to be of service in some way.
Pascal: Beautiful. Thank you for that.
Sadaf: Thank you so much.
Pascal: Thanks for your time and energy.
Sadaf: You too.
Pascal: It was really honor and real joy just to speak to you and look forward to the next time.
Sadaf: You too, Pascal, it's always a joy.
Pascal: Likewise, have a beautiful...
Sadaf: To more clowning.
Pascal: To more clowning together.
Sadaf: To more clowning together.
Pascal: And to whoever's out there listening, have a beautiful rest of the day. Lots of love. Bye-bye.
Sadaf: Good day. Bye.