Pascal: Hi, welcome to One-Degree Shifts. I’m Pascal Tremblay, I’m your host, and I’m the co-founder of Nectara. We're a psychedelic support ecosystem, and on our podcast we have intimate conversations exploring psychedelic wellness and the journey that comes with it and what it means to integrate psychedelic experiences into daily life. And today, I'm honored and really excited to talk to Joseph Mays, he's an ethnobotanist, he's a program director at Chacruna's Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative. Hi Joseph.
Joseph: Hey Pascal. Thanks for having me. I’m really happy to be here speaking with you.
Pascal: Yeah, likewise. And where are you calling from today?
Joseph: I'm calling in from Northern Virginia actually. At the moment, I'm a guest at my parents' home, but I live in Northwest DC, Washington, DC. But I like to think of this area as the Chesapeake Bay watershed which is a basin that's created by the Appalachian Mountains, and then goes from the Potomac River in the north that goes through DC down to the James River, which used to be called the Powhatan River, and this was the Powhatan Nation, which is an Algonquian speaking confederation of indigenous communities. And I feel like this is the closest thing to a home that I've found in my life. So where are you again, remind me?
Pascal: I am in Kaslo, the native lands of Ktuxana People and Sinai people in the Kootenays, about nine hours east of Vancouver, it's a beautiful area. That's actually an area where indigenous people used to come and do ceremonies, and they didn't actually live here, they would just come here to do ceremonies. And it has a very kind of potent power underneath it as well, it's a beautiful space.
Joseph: Beautiful, yeah. Yeah, this place used to be called – oh sorry. I was just going to say, they used to call this area [inaudible] which means densely populated, so this has always been a happening place.
Pascal: And tell us more about Chacruna's IRI program. At Nectara, we love the program, we support it, and we want to spread as much awareness about it as possible, because it's such an important mission.
About the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative of the Americas (IRI)
Joseph: Yeah as you said, IRI stands for the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative of the Americas actually, and it is a network of indigenous and local community organizations. There's 20 of them that we funded since 2021. In 2020, I started developing the program, and the goal was to create something that would allow for the burgeoning psychedelic industry, the renaissance, all of the investment and energy that's going into it, to direct some of that back towards indigenous communities, towards the conservation of biodiversity, which is best accomplished by supporting indigenous and local peoples.
And we also wanted to make a fund that was ground up and controlled by the communities themselves. So the money and the resources and the distribution of funds is all in the hands of the community organizations, and they also manage their own projects and we're just supporting their work rather than creating a project. And wanted to make something that wasn't linear and top down and conditional in the way that a lot of philanthropy is with strings attached to the funding and make it something that's truly grassroots, where the power is also with the grassroots.
And yeah, it's 20 organizations from the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador, and Brazil, and Peru, and it really began with the community that I did my field work with, for my masters in ethnobotany. I studied in the community of Tsachopen, which is in Central Peru. This is a Yanesha community, and the Yanesha, they're from the Arawakan language family, but they also have some markers of Kechua in their language; and their community has been encompassed by a biosphere reserve in the past 12 years, and they share territory with Ashaninka. And I just spend a long time with them really learning how they're thinking about and confronting the forces of globalization around them, which is the ecocultural tourism industry and the coffee industry and the psychedelic industry.
So all of these different market forces are wrapped up in the displacement, in the loss of the exploitation, the extraction from indigenous communities. And the communities are aware of their issues very deeply, they have deep experience with this going back to the beginning of the colonial era and really having respect and recognition for their agency is really important to the work that I do, and the work in IRI is based on supporting the autonomy of indigenous communities.
So they're all dealing with different crises, but at the same time, all of the different communities we work with are facing similar forces and developments, and they need similar things, which is material support, but in a way that supports their own autonomy and their own agency. And that is seen as the most effective way to be an advocate for indigenous people, but also the best way to support and raise funding, raise support for their work. So that's the basic summary.
Pascal: It's a beautiful mission, and it's so unique in the world. And I’m curious from a personal perspective, Joseph, why did you feel so compelled to dedicate your time and energy to such a beautiful mission on a personal level?
Why Joseph supports true reciprocity with Indigenous peoples
Joseph: Yeah, there's so many things that play into it for me, but I have a love of nature that goes back as far as I can remember. My dad was in the military, so I moved around a lot when I was a child. Every couple of years, we moved to another country, another state.
I was born in Florida, and then, we moved to Scotland a few months later, and that's where I learned how to walk and talk, and we were living in the countryside there. And actually, where I am now, this region used to be part of the same landmass as Scotland, the Caledonian Mountains, and the Atlas Mountains, and the Appalachian Mountains were one mountain chain before the Atlantic Ocean existed.
And it feels like I've been on one piece of land almost this whole time, and I feel very connected to that, and I have ancestry there in Scotland as well, and I had this beautiful few years living in that countryside and connecting with my mom's herb garden, and the animals around. And then, I had the opportunity to experience that a few more times when I was in second grade.
So I guess, six-seven years old, my mother homeschooled me, because we didn't have access to a school, and we were in Germany, and we used to do all sorts of natural history projects, I would go identify different seeds and cones, and learning the difference between the juniper berry, and then, other conifers, and going to the pond, raising tadpoles into frogs, and then, re-releasing them. I really became – so I fell in love with that, and always wanted to do something related to it. I loved just the inquiry of it, I was very inquisitive.
But I started to also learn that things aren't going so well for the biosphere in a lot of ways, and why is that, and what are the causes of it, and how can I do something to impact that. And over time, I developed an interest in biology. I decided environmental science, I wanted to be like a marine biologist, because a lot of our environmental crises are concentrated in the water cycle and the oceans and the wetlands, and eventually, I went to my undergraduate, and I wanted to go to art school, but I ended up doing a bio major, and then, I had elective in anthropology, and had a professor Edward Abse, who studied with the Mazatec in Oaxaca when he was younger, and he taught a course on ethnography.
And I started getting really into reading ethnographies, and trying to get into a different cultural perspective, different way of relating with the world and with other people, and I ended up dual majoring in anthropology as well, and I was working in horticulture, I was working in regenerative agriculture, permaculture. I worked at an ecological reserve and, in Ecuador, my first time in the rainforest, but I also had this people oriented culture and community oriented calling, I did at the botanical survey with the local community.
And the ecological reserve was very conventional, it was owned by some people from the United States who purchased some land with the intention of protecting it and restoring it, and it actually had a big impact on the local community because the water in the [inaudible] river was positively impacted by the presence of the reserve further upstream, and it's the last remaining pocket of rainforest in that region.
And when I was eventually in grad school for ethnobotany, everything, this is when everything became distilled for me, which I was studying at the School of Anthropology and Conservation, but it's actually like a lot more divided than it sounds. The conservationists, the bio-conservationists have a certain approach, and then, the social anthropologists have a different approach.
And I was at a PhD defense by an anthropologist who studied in South Africa with a community that had been displaced by the creation of a national park, and lost access to their water, to their places where they would gather and hunt, and they were trying to be optimistic about the reserve, because it was something they didn't have any control over, but the effect that it was having was really hard to hear about and learn about.
But for the conservationists in the room, they were like, good, this is exactly what needs to happen everywhere, and this is the strategy of conservation that many environmentalists are familiar with, which is also called fortress conservation, and it's like the Yellowstone model exported from the United States to other countries, and it involves removing people from an area, creating a wilderness reserve preserve.
And in my work in ethnobotany, I've actually come to find that the data supports a different approach, which is that actually in indigenous territories, in locally owned, community owned forests, there is greater biodiversity and greater carbon storage and greater species richness, and all of these things that are actually more in greater abundance in those contexts rather than in a national park or a forest preserve, a nature reserve.
And it became clear to me that the best way to serve the mission of dedicating myself to the wellbeing of the environment, of the earth, would be to support indigenous communities, and it just became the same goal, the same path, one and the same, the pursuit of conservation of nature, of biodiversity, and then, culture and human and community diversity, and I really came to see those two things as unified and inextricable.
And [Audio Gap] that had a different way of relating, and it's only recently that we've come to a point where that understanding is just accepted that we are separate from nature, and the best we can do is mitigate harm, and that's just the unfortunate truth that everyone needs to accept. And I think we have to get away from that, and try to see that actually human communities being healthy and thriving is what is best for the earth as well, and its one community.
The ecological benefits of elevating Indigenous communities
Pascal: Yeah, and when you speak about around the reserves, it's very fascinating to me, because it depicts the western view of things, which is a very black and white thinking, very rigid, and very, fortress model you mentioned to me speaks a lot about the way we approach things in the western world. And I'd like to touch on the statistic or the science that you mentioned before around the conservation aspects of indigenous led communities, can you speak about that? Cause I believe it was a research and they came up with, a summary of the findings of the research around locally indigenous owned communities, and how it affected biodiversity, you want to talk a little bit about that for those who haven't read it?
Joseph: Yeah, sure, there's a huge number of studies that have been done by environmental anthropologists, ecologists that have come to this same conclusion, the work of Agrawal, Agrawal is a researcher who's done a lot of work around this in Southeast Asia and India showing the same thing. There are other researchers in Amazonia, Miguel Alexiades. I’m speaking mostly through the anthropological lens, but there's just hard data, quantifiable ecological studies that have shown this and demonstrated this in many different contexts.
If you look into the biocultural approach, if you look into biocultural diversity, any studies around that term, you'll find a lot of support for this point of view, and the data that shows those findings throughout the world.
And then, on top of that, there's also the correlation between biodiversity hotspots, and then, indigenous territories, which is also, if you look up that connection, you'll find plenty of studies. And there's also I think a recent article that summarized some of these findings was published by Mongabay, they have a good website where they publish shorter versions of articles and journal articles, studies that talk about some of these findings.
Psychedelics and reciprocity
Pascal: And where does the psychedelic space come into this mission, this vision of yours and Chacruna's vision around indigenous reciprocity, what is the role of psychedelic, how did psychedelics play a role in the creation of IRI, and also, how are psychedelics playing a role in the work you're doing now in the local communities you're working with?
Joseph: I think right now, or, at least, at the beginning, I just saw psychedelics as a way to open up this conversation with people, with the audience that's interested in psychedelics. Everyone's attention is on psychedelics, how can I use that as an opportunity to highlight these issues, and also try and speak to some of the blind spots within the psychedelic communities around the use and the practice of psychedelic medicine – can I use this as a way to explain, explore, inspire, and educate around the struggles of indigenous and local people, the actual – and also the steps that might actually practically pragmatically have a meaningful impact on that, and then, how can you carry that forward in your own pursuits in the psychedelic space.
I started using psychedelics, or I entered into a relationship with psychedelics at a young age in high school, and the experiences I had always opened me up to a greater sensitivity, greater sense of connection, and an awareness of perspective, and my own perspective and the perspective of every other being of every other point of attention in the universe. And then, becoming very interested in how to bridge different perspectives, how to communicate different perspectives, and that kind of naturally led into the scientific and the anthropological inquiries that I made.
And another part of the psychedelic experience that a lot of people talk about is just this greater sense of connection, interconnectivity, interdependence, this dissolution of separation, seeing that really we are all connected in some way, and feeling that and really experiencing that as a reality. But then you come back from that experience and you're still in an alienated environment, isolated, atomized, you still live in a cultural and economic system that doesn't feel or recognize that connection and interdependence, and then, it's really hard to integrate in that context.
I think a lot of people struggle with that, and I think that's also at the root of the environmental crises that we're facing, the ecological crises, the cultural and socioeconomic crises is that alienation, and you can't just – you had that experience, but when you're back in your daily [inaudible] mundane life, it's hard to embody that, to feel that way still – after you come back from that experience, can you still feel that connection and still see and recognize the personhood of other beings, other things that before would just be inanimate to you?
You saw them breathing, you recognized some awareness around you that you're not the only point of awareness, and actually it's all one sort of ecosystem, and I think the answer to that is really daily practice and moment to moment practice, and you can't just decide to change the way that you feel and experience the world and see the world, especially when it's something so deep rooted and unconscious, subconscious. It takes daily practice, consistent practice to start to feel and see and experience things differently.
And I think that goes beyond just an intellectual or even individual spiritual change of perspective worldview. It's something that can affect everything that you do and work on, and then, if you're building something, can you build something that reflects that understanding that you have, that you've been trying to integrate and embody?
For example, if I'm building a reciprocity initiative, can I do it in a way that reflects my ecological and relational understanding that I now have and feel about the world and nature, ecology, culture? And to do that, I have to build something that's not linear or top down, but it has to be grassroots, mycelial, rhizomal, something that has a distributed intelligence that gives autonomy to the different actors, and that recognizes that me sitting in my position working for a non-profit in the United States am entirely dependent on indigenous and local people and the environments that they steward, because biodiversity is what supports all of us in everything we do, and what supports biodiversity is indigenous and local people and communities.
And it's just like a logical progression to get to this point, but I think that sort of change can be applied to almost everything, building a business, building a practice if you're in healthcare, if you're in working in mental health, whatever you're dedicating yourself to. We're all looking for ways to integrate the understandings that we've had that are creating such beautiful, breakthroughs in mental health and treating so many different conditions. Yeah, and I think, really, the way that psychedelics plays into the work of IRI is, IRI a way to embody and integrate and act on those principles, those insights that have been gained through the psychedelic experience; and it also recognizes the continuity that modern contemporary psychedelic science has with indigenous communities.
Because there would be no psychedelic science without Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond sitting in Native American circles and ceremonies, and coming up with the term psychedelic, and sparking off an entire movement, not to mention all of the medicines that are directly coming from indigenous practices, and the models and therapy, and all of the research, scientific research, and knowledge that comes from indigenous science and indigenous epistemologies, and having respect for that, honoring that, and then, honoring our relationship with the global south as a whole, seeing that this psychedelic industry is not separate from the larger industry, which is built on unequal exchange with all of the communities and nations where psychedelic science comes from, all of the places where our natural resources come from, and just seeing that's part of the picture, and how do I honor that understanding now that I’ve recognized my position in this system of relationship, which in some way, in some cases, is revealed through psychedelic experiences, but recognizing that you're in a relationship with everything else, that you are just something that exists in a relationship, and that's true for us, our communities, our cities, towns, countries' movements, and what role do I have to play in that with the position that I have, the gifts that I have, so I'm doing my best to figure that out, but IRI is part of that for sure.
How can the psychedelic space relate better?
Pascal: As beautiful as within, as without, I believe the saying goes, or as within, so without, which is this idea of the inner ecology, transpiring into the external ecology, and uniting together in one whole, and connecting with that sense of unity is a big part of the psychedelic wellness journey. I'd love to explore a little bit more around the psychedelic space, and what are ways that it can enter into better relationship with the Global South, especially, what are ways with Chacruna, for example, that you're helping bridge that, and what do you see in the future around opportunities that we can all take steps towards?
Joseph: Yeah, I think that a lot of people – there's a researcher Nicholas Powers, writer, professor, who I met at a symposium in Minneapolis called Big Psych; and he gave a talk and he talked about what to the marginalized is the psychedelic renaissance, what does it mean to, my neighborhood, what does it mean to – and then, for me it became what does it mean to the Global South.
What to the Global South is the psychedelic renaissance, because a lot of people are really excited about the promise of psychedelic therapy, and all of the different products that will be on the market. And it's not really the question of accessibility of benefits to more than just those that are already privileged and have a certain level of wealth and ability to enjoy these advancements, that question doesn't get as much time at the conferences that I've been to.
And it's really difficult in the United States too, because we don't actually even have any level of universal healthcare, publicly funded social welfare really. And the problems of lack of food security, of lack of clean water, lack of basic things, food and shelter and healthcare, are all barriers to people ever experiencing the benefits of psychedelic medicine in any context, and those are structural issues that we need to confront.
I would like to see a lot of more of the creativity and just amazing ingenuity of people in the psychedelic space dedicated to those problems, which we really have to face, if those promises of the psychedelic movement and renaissance are ever going to be enjoyed by more than just a few people, and just recognizing that, and seeing what are the challenges that are preventing us from getting there. I think a lot of it seems like untouchable structural tendencies that we can't affect as individuals or even as small communities, like I said before, it's like an all-encompassing cultural and economic system, it's hegemonic, it's inescapable, and one little fund or initiative isn't going to change that.
What I would like to see in the psychedelic space is what are ways that we can build things that challenge those structures within whatever limitations we have. So if we're working as a business owner or an employer, can we make it an environment that's as grassroots and ground-up as possible? How much democratic participation is there for everyone involved? What is the structure of the way that profits are shared? Is there a reciprocity component?
And I think people are asking these questions themselves, and looking to the leaders in the community to show that they also care about them, and they're actually interested in building something that's not just top down or exploitative, overly extractive, and there's lots of experiments going on. I think IRI is an experiment in pursuit of that. And the more that happens, the more pressure there is from the ground up to build things in that way. And even if you don't really care about it, if you hope to succeed, you're going to have to, at least, show your consumer base, your audience that you care about those things.
And yeah, I have hope in a growth of that sort of awareness and demand by people to see that, to see more community based, community led, community owned, community controlled projects, and more equitable distribution of resources, and more attention to those supply chains than those chains of relationship. And the indigenous communities that are impacted by the psychedelic industry are experiencing a lot of the same things that non-psychedelic industry has been engaged in for hundreds of years, and this is just the newest market, the newest sort of face of a fundamentally exploitative and extractive relationship that the Global North has, and it's a big issue. It's a huge problem, or a huge – it's an idea that's hard to even imagine being able to impact.
But I also believe that individual actions are really powerful.
We have to think both locally and systemically and think about both individual and collective action. And if we've recognized our position within this ecosystem of relationship, then we also have the power to act on that recognition and understanding, and I think that also comes back to this idea of community autonomy.
So the way that IRI is built to support autonomy, primarily, because there are these big structures that are seemingly untouchable, but the more autonomy that we have as individuals and communities, the better we can confront something like that. And indigenous communities, especially, if they have more autonomy, more stability and control over their resources and their communities and territories, then when those big structural forces come along, they are in a better position to navigate that. And they negotiate relationships with outsiders, with outside industry, with tourists, with other people all the time, and they're going to be in a better negotiating position, the more autonomy they have, and they can dictate terms to anyone that wants to, that's interested in their resources, whether that's plant medicines or knowledge, culture, land. And I can't stop those forces from being there, but the more autonomy that communities have, the better they're able to confront them; and the more that grows, that autonomy, the more we're moving in a direction where we can really change those big structural things that are part of the situation, not just our individual behavior and actions.
What is interbeing?
Pascal: Yeah, beautiful. And I'd like to touch a little bit on the business side of things, because I've always had this project in mind with Nectara around Nectara being a living organism that is a surface for integrating our psychedelic experiences, like, how can we best reflect the insights we've got from the psychedelic experiences into an organization and looking at the smallest of relationships on that lens and trying to do our best to undo the ways that are not honoring interbeing or honoring interconnection.
And it's looking at smaller things, like, how do we have meetings, how do we relate to people that we connect with as partners, how do we create offerings that are accessible. There's so many different little things that are really like a great space of contemplation for people out there running businesses or being part of that is a beautiful journey of healing really and both personally and collectively. And I like what you said around the small actions leading to big things, because I truly believe that the psychedelic space has an opportunity to really help redefine what conscious organizations look like and how we operate in the world, and that starts always from within.
And it's an invitation for people out there to really explore that concept of interbeing, which we're going to talk about shortly, but the psychedelic space, in my opinion, should have the highest of ambitions in regards to integrity and reciprocity and collaborativeness as well, because it's those kind of qualities that are eventually, like you said, going to undo the systems of oppression, and the systems that don't service anymore. So there's a really deep journey for all of us to explore there within the work that we're doing.
Alan Watts, he said, billions of years ago you were a Big Bang, and now you're a complicated human being. The law of interbeing says that everything is connected to everything else, so that means that we ourselves are a relationship. We're not a separate being having relationships, so we're a totality of all the relationships.
And the word interbeing, it really invites us towards a shift to a new story that's more beautiful, that's more connected, that's more harmonious with the wider community of life. So it's really a reorientation of the ego to eco, and accompanying interbeing awareness is really a core concept of many psychedelic journeys. One of the core or main things that people have been surveyed around, what they've gotten out of a psychedelic experience was a sense of unity in a sense of higher consciousness. How do you relate to that word interbeing, what does it mean to you in your life?
Joseph: Yeah you put it really beautifully, I think thinking of ourselves as a relationship rather than a self or a being that's in relationship, understanding that the self is actually just a relationship, and that we are just existing in relationship, and there's no separating anything from the things that it's in relationship with. My English words are betraying me, because I have to keep saying thing. But no self can be identified that's separate from the other selves that you might point to around it, or even the, what you might not consider a self, like the land or the other, the water, the physical geography.
Alan Watts also said, you can't describe somebody walking without also describing that they're walking on something, and then, that is connected to something else, and it's just an endless chain of connections and relationships. And then, that's really what we are living in all the time, and our ego, which allows us to navigate through the world can sometimes give us the impression that we are actually a separate self, when really that's not the case. But we are still in a unique orientation within that relationship, and that's going to guide the decision that you make as a point of awareness, and as a being.
Something that I learned from Robin Wall Kimmerer who wrote Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, and she's an ethnobotanist, ecologist, indigenous from the Potawatomi Nation. And she was asked about appropriation, and if we're trying to embody that interbeing, does that mean that we need to adopt other practices from other cultures that reflect that, because we don't have that, it's hard to get there, if we're living – if we don't have that cultural conditioning or education. And I remember what she said was one of the things that is commonly associated with indigenous practices that reflect this interbeing is gratitude to the land, expressing gratitude to other beings, gratitude to that relationship that you've recognized, and that is something, that's the core basis, but you can express gratitude in a number of different cultural contexts. And if your intention is to do that, you do it within your cultural framework, so that's what it sounds like you're doing in Nectara, trying to integrate things into that culture and community that you're building, and that you're coming from and moving into, and that doesn't have to look exactly the same way as it looks in another culture but it's still coming from the same source, and the same understanding that of intervene.
Psychedelics and cultural appropriation vs appreciation
Pascal: Yeah, exactly, and it speaks to, I believe, and I think you've mentioned that earlier as well, around disconnection being one of the main ailments of society's disconnection to self, disconnection to others, disconnection to the web of life. And I've seen it a lot in ceremonies and psychedelic experiences, there is a fair level of indigenous teachings and practices that get built into the ceremonial space because it comes from the space of interbeing, and it comes from a lens of often our own culture doesn't quite have the same practices and ways of viewing the world. And we're faced with this idea of, really wanting to honor interbeing in our practices, but also not having the teachings, and not having the embodiment of those things within our own culture to be able to express that from a space of authentic origin. Can you speak a little bit about that?
And I'm not saying that cultural appropriation is great, let's just borrow everything, but it's something that is very prevalent in this space to talk about cultural appropriation, and it's a very hot topic these days.
Joseph: Yeah one of my teachers, Belinda Eriacho speaks about appreciation versus appropriation, and I’ve seen that kind of dichotomy used a few times and respect is one of the missing components when appropriation is identified, and I think it's ironic that the tendency to disconnection and alienation is manifested in this attempt to pick and take things from indigenous practices, and put them in something else, and cut them off from their roots, remove them from their cultural and environmental and community contexts, and put them somewhere else. You're going to run into problems with that, but there's a way to do that doesn't cut things off from their connections, from their roots, from their context, that honors those contexts; and that involves a little bit more work as far as historical education, engagement with the histories and stories and just struggles that these communities and cultures and environments have gone through and are continuing to go through, and the connections that context has with those practices, and those lessons, that wisdom.
Not only is there this tendency to this cherry-pick to take things without honoring their context or knowing their history, there's also a romanticization of indigenous people and communities. And I know that the biocultural approach points to the fact that around the world indigenous territories have more biodiversity than protected areas, but that doesn't mean that all indigenous communities and cultures have the same relationship with the environment as all others, that they all have the same practices.
There's no monolithic indigenous culture or wisdom, and indigenous people are human beings, their communities are going through the same struggles as other communities targeted by marginalization around the world, and we have to meet – if our intention is to connect with indigenous practices or traditions, we have to meet the communities that we're engaging with at that level. And that will look different for everyone, but it also opens up this other possibility of you don't have to reach across to the Amazon or somewhere else from where you are.
You're living in a unique environment, if you're in a forest, if you're in a grassland, or a desert, there's an interbeing there, there's a community there, there's an ecosystem there, an environment there, there's a people there, and there's a culture and a history there that you can connect directly with and you can concentrate your efforts and impact on reciprocity with that place where you find yourself in the world, and that's just as meaningful and important, and maybe is a more authentic way for you to connect with your cultural context, and find a way to embody those things that you've seen in other cultures and practices in your own life, and in your own culture. And that’s a question that everybody has to ask for themselves, yeah, I think. I have one other point, but I lost it.
Psychedelic integration and interbeing
Pascal: Yeah, that's great. And interbeing, one of the invitations for viewing the world that way is it's all about the relationships, it's all about seeing everything as a sacred whole and trusting really in the orchestrating intelligence of the world, and the psychedelic experience, of course, brings us into this state of gnosis, of embodied, immediate felt sense of connection to the rest of the world, and you talked about that a little bit earlier, which I want to bring up again, it's this idea that once the experience is over, we come back into this societal structure that we've been born in, and depends for everyone where they're at, but it might also often feel like that's a completely different world that we're coming back to.
What are ways that people can bridge those two worlds? And you talked about action earlier, how can people bridge that psychedelic experience into changing that narrative or changing that societal structure they come back to more better reflect the interbeing that they felt during their experience? That's a big question, and there's probably millions of different answers, but I'd be curious to hear your perspective on that.
Joseph: There are so many answers to that, but I think the one that has the most salience for me, that's been the most impactful for me is having a daily practice, and a daily spiritual practice, but it doesn't have to be religious. One of my teachers, Bede Griffiths who was a monk, used to say that even an atheist can have a relationship with God, if they're dedicated entirely to truth, to justice. If you're dedicated to something, and you have a consistent practice every day, that is how you'll see those changes come even against your will against what you think are your tendencies, despite, or in spite of the feeling of alienation that you might have because of your cultural context, that having a daily practice of some kind, a contemplative practice, or a body practice, something like that, is where you learn and actually embody and change and integrate that different way of seeing and experiencing the world into your experience of your daily life and your mundane relationships, your relationships with your friends and family and your local community, and that's where the real psychedelic work is.
And also, of course, doing something with the land where you are, having a relationship, if it's on your windowsill, you have some plants, if you have a garden, if you are able to have a community garden, if you're able to do something that keeps you in constant, regular relationship with other beings, with that relationship and interdependence, interbeing that you are speaking to, keeping yourself in that, having ways that you are engaged in that every day, every moment, all the time, keeps that understanding fresh and embodied, and it's a lot less likely that you'll be totally re-encompassed or recaptured by that feeling of alienation and disconnection. And then, from there, it's also like in what ways are you integrating that into your work, into the projects that you're involved in, into the actions that you take, beyond just your personal practice, your personal life.
Therapeutic models that address the individual and the collective
Pascal: Yeah, beautiful. There is this dance between the internal, the soul seeking of harmony and unity, and we're constantly dancing with the external world that constantly feels like it's both pushing us away and welcome us in like this cosmic embrace. We're constantly interfacing with the world in many different ways, like, how I'm sitting in my chair right now is interfacing with the external world. And how we interface between our inner world and the external world is really ground zero for psychedelic integration, and there are some cultures that talk about this concept of the sacred space, which is the space between an exhale and an inhale, and they call that the sacred space because it's where trust in the world, in ourselves, and the web of life really comes in.
The pause between the exhale and inhale is the space of trust in the cosmic intelligence, and trust in the living world around us. And it's a beautiful space of, for example, integrating interbeing into our daily life, it's exploring that sacred space between the breaths and what's living there and exploring all our relationships in that very small space that we often forget. I personally forget about it all the time, but it's also an opportune invitation to like maybe pay attention for five minutes a day and feeling what's in that sacred space, and what is it telling us. And we talked about this in a previous call, but you had some really interesting insights around that healing our trauma isn't the whole thing, it's our whole community and the world that's connected to ourselves and others.
So healing is always a societal thing, so it doesn't make sense to link it all to the individual. So you had shared that the therapy model is focused on that, it's focused on the individual, you need to heal, you need to transform. And in a psychedelic space, there's a lot of language around that too, it's around your personal journey, it's around healing your trauma, and that's all great, but it's also what's in the context of interbeing. So what does a bridge between those two seemingly incompatible words, interbeing and individual, look like from a therapeutic, transformative model?
Joseph: Beautiful question. I think one point I just wanted to mention before I get into that is that reciprocity, I think is only something that can happen within that interbeing space. And there's not really reciprocity from the Global North or from the psychedelic industry to indigenous communities just because there's a fund or some sort of philanthropic endeavor doesn't create reciprocity.
I learned about reciprocity as a young anthropologist from Catherine Allen, who is an amazing ethnographer, studied with the Quechua community in Sonco and Peru and talked about Aini, which is often translated as reciprocity, it's Quechua concept of interbeing, and it's not about give and take necessarily, but a recognition that sort of space between the breath is everything is existing within that space all the time; that there's a constant push and pull and sharing of energy, circulation of energy within every system; and that it's never perfectly harmonious but we recognize our place within that and see where imbalance exists at every moment, and committing yourself to reciprocity is just being committed to riding that imbalance wherever you're able to, and it's not ever finished.
And also, reciprocity only takes place between subjects who recognize each other as beings with personhood that are interdependent, and necessarily, it can't really happen between one entity that's extremely powerful and wealthy, and another one that's totally suppressed, oppressed, and exploited, they're not on equal ground to have that reciprocal relationship. And my work is about building something and working towards the possibility of reciprocity, but understanding that what real reciprocity looks like is much deeper than that, and isn't something that we can get to just with a donation.
But to come back to what you're saying about therapy and the therapeutic model, and the individual versus the social, the communal, I have another colleague, Adam Andros who is a PhD candidate who worked at a retreat center for a long time; and one of the things that he talks about is people, participants would comment on the different things that have worked into their healing, why are they healed after those experiences and practices, and in the therapeutic model, we identify the trauma informed approach as effective people connect with their trauma while engaging with medicine, they might re-experience it, they might reintegrate it in a different way, they have an insight on it, they experience something from their childhood from the perspective of themselves as a child, they have some sort of personal insight, maybe they have a meeting with another being, another teacher, and that is something that can create healing and change in someone's life.
And that's what the therapy model is based around is if you're seeing a therapist, can you identify some of those things that are connected to your personal journey of self-actualization, of self-healing, but another component, which I don't really see talked about in the therapy space very much is the social aspect of it. And actually a lot of people that left these retreat centers would report on being in a circle for the first time of people that care about each other, for the first time in their life, being in a group where everyone was intimately concerned about each other's wellbeing, where you were worried about your effect on the land.
So maybe there's like a dry toilet there because you're recycling everything, you're very conscious of the impact of all of your actions, everything you're consuming and producing on the land immediately around you, and you're living in a very close community of people who are all there to be vulnerable and have trust with each other. And then, you have a teacher or a facilitator practitioner who's engaging with you as an individual with such care, and is so concerned about your wellbeing, everyone is there caring about each other, and that's just a totally alien experience for a lot of people, maybe it's the first time they've ever felt it or it's been since they were a child or something, and that is really what is healing everyone, and it's not a either-or, but that must be a very important part of it, and you can't really get that from going to a therapist's office necessarily as an individual.
But then, again, like a lot of people that are getting into providing psychedelic therapy, they can't necessarily have group retreats, their clients wants to be able to see them one on one. So how do we effectively bridge those two different worlds and incorporate that social aspect? So the idea that, yes, you have personal traumas, but your traumas are not disconnected from the trauma of the community, of the environment, of the world, of other people, the social system that you're in, is all connected to your wellbeing and your wellbeing is connected to the wellbeing of that social system.
And healing itself is a social phenomenon, and building community is the way to, I think, integrate that. And for different therapists that might mean having a community of practitioners, at least, that clients can experience and feel when they go there, having community systems and support structures in place and building those and trying to create a social sphere, a culture around whatever your practice is. And some people are experimenting with having more than one client at a time, maybe it's just two at a time, like I had a – and it's not like you only have the group setting in indigenous plant medicine spaces. There's one on one healing that happens, but the understanding of the medicine and the healing is always in that context of social relationship, and social relationship not just between you and other human beings, but all beings, the land, and it's a society of beings that includes non-human persons as well, and that's just as important.
And you can certainly incorporate that in different ways into your practice, and, as a therapist, find ways to honor that side of the healing process, which is, and maybe what that looks like is just your relationship with the patient and understanding that relationship is an important part of the healing. I think a lot of people have that, but it's maybe not given as much weight as the pharmaceutical mechanism of the biochemical mechanism of the medicine, or even the psychoanalytic experience of connecting with the trauma. Then the social side of it also has to have an equal part of that.
Creating regenerative psychedelic organizations
Pascal: Beautiful. I wrote an article a few years ago around how psychedelic businesses can use nature as an inspiration, using biomimicry in some way, and what you're talking about really inspires me to explore that a little bit further with you is this idea of this psychedelic space and the therapeutic model looking at nature as the most amazing designer in the universe, probably Mother Nature can teach us a lot about harmony and interbeing and connection and community. I can't think of a better teacher. Do you have other inspirations around how the psychedelic space either for businesses or for individuals on this journey or organizations or the therapeutic ways of doing things that could be inspired by nature, what are maybe elements of nature that we could be inspired to create more harmonious interbeing led spaces?
Joseph: Yeah, I think that question really touches on a lot of what we've been talking about with IRI and my approach to philanthropy, to indigenous advocacy to conservation. It's all about taking those lessons from nature, and those lessons are lessons of relationship of interconnection. If you're intending to intervene in a natural system, but you don't recognize that's an intelligence system, which is operating by relationship and exchange and cooperation between all the different intelligences that are in that ecosystem, then your interventions are going to be harmful or ineffective.
So having that recognition before you even start anything is important, and I think it can look a lot of different ways, in different contexts, but a lot of really, trying to hammer home that message, maybe not hammer, but like massage or just really emphasize and communicate that idea of interbeing, which is so hard to embody because we just don't – our cultural conditioning, and all of our surroundings are telling us that's not the case, the interbeing is just the spiritual or New Age concept, or it's not part of the material world.
But actually if you study the material world, that it's fundamentally interdependent and interconnected with all material is only existing in that sort of relationship, and you see how that looks in different natural systems in the forest, in the grassland, in the desert. You see how all of the microorganisms and microbiomes are connected and mediating exchange between other organisms and larger organisms, the macro and that exchange of information, communication of messages, sharing of resources, distribution of resources is how it all works, and are there examples that we can point to and remind us that there is personhood and intelligence within these systems the sensitivity of flowers I like to talk about different, symbiotic and mutualistic relationships in nature and biomimicry as you mentioned, these fascinating displays of intelligence and communication in different natural systems.
And it starts to help chip away at that conditioning that we have to not recognize that, and not see that because the basic assumption of the biomedical approach is that there isn't any agency in nature, maybe human beings have agency, and then, maybe a few higher mammals, maybe an octopus. But we have to draw the line somewhere, and, of course, plants don't have agency, and there's no intelligence beyond that. But really that assumption is cultural, it's not scientific, and we could just as easily assume that everything has agency, that's just a basic assumption that actually explains things a lot better than saying that there isn't anything like that going on.
And you can see it everywhere, you can see it in, I just mentioned I think it's the evening primrose. There was a study in Tel Aviv that showed that their flower petals are like ears, and they actually listen to vibrations, and they can recognize when their pollinator is near and their specific pollinator's wingbeats produces specific vibration that they recognize, and then, they produce more nectar so that they're rewarded if they come to the flower, and that's very specific to that one pollinator; it's not just a random vibration hitting the flower.
And there's a million examples like that, even more complicated and fascinating, that just makes it hard to accept that it's just devoid of agency, that there's just random interactions happening. And if you are able to be reminded of that enough, and see enough examples of that, it helps with that embodiment in conjunction with your practice and everything, and getting you to a place where you really do experience the world, and see plants and other organisms as intelligent or as persons.
And I think that will just naturally have an effect on the things that you do, and I don't know if I can predict exactly how that would look in your particular case, but building things that reflect that. And for me, that means, if I'm going to build an organization or a program, I want it to be structured in a way where the power is distributed to the grassroots because I know that's how natural systems work, and that produces better results. You're going to have a better yield if you structure your food system that way, it's going to be healthier, it's going to be more resilient, it's going to have higher yields of more nutritious foods, rather than something that's a monoculture, that's linear, that's top down, which is easy to conceptualize if you're coming from this place of alienation where you have this assumption of agency that is just coming from you and maybe some other people, but that means you have to control things from a certain position, and there's no reason not to.
If you flip that and see that, actually, the way that things work well in the ecosystem, in natural systems is, in this root system, this mycelial system, that's the best way to share and distribute resources, how can you reflect that structure and the things that you're doing, and for me, that means working in community and collaboration, supporting the autonomy of people at every level, and making sure that things are being informed by the network, by the grassroots, by the community.
Creating the world we know is possible
Pascal: And what a relief it is, what a relief it is to know that we're all connected, and that in collaboration and in community, we have greater strength and resiliency and all the good things, and I think we're living in an age that we're starting to reframe, I got this to we got this, and the psychedelic experience for me has been extremely nourishing to rewiring myself, to not have that lone wolf approach, and be more in community and be more in relationships, and be more aware of the relationships that exist all around me.
I'm finding that the more work I'm doing within myself to clear the space for that connection to come in and inform me, and instruct me, the more I’m feeling at ease, I’m feeling more creative, I’m feeling happier and more joyful, but I’m also feeling a lot more resilient because I don't feel like I'm doing this by myself. I’m connected to all the people that are doing the kind of work that we're connected to and in community as well we have a beautiful community that's forming locally here, and, for the first time, I really feel like what community can really bring to the table and that's really helped me a lot in my path.
And coming back to the psychedelic experience itself, you talked about this a little bit earlier around, like integrating that experience of unity to daily actions, daily practice, and I found for myself that the psychedelic experience is a little bit like an elastic band, you have this really powerful experience and it becomes, it stretches your elastic band to a new level, and then, you come back home, and it comes back to the default, but like a little bit more stretched. And over time, as you do more work, it doesn't necessarily have to be psychedelics, the more work you do, the more the elastic band can stretch.
Can you talk a little bit about, this transition that we're having socially right now through transforming these old paradigms of competition, lack of reciprocity, and right relationship, those type of things into this new paradigm of interbeing, and what is the beautiful world that you're imagining possible here?
Joseph: Thank you for that question. And also, the relief that you expressed made me feel more relieved and relaxed because that's part of it too is the trust and surrender and ability to recognize that you're not just acting alone and that you have endless capacity for compassion, and there's energy and support there and joy, celebration, and play. Another thing everything we're talking about is so serious, but communities, when they get together, they play, they make art and music, and that's something that animals do.
All sorts of different animals, even insects play, and environmental or evolutionary biologists have to explain that it's serving some other goal, and it's not really just play for the sake of play. But it's really hard to defend that if you look at how many examples there are, and there's a great piece of writing by David Graeber that's called, What's the Point If We Can't Have Fun? And it's talking about how play is like this intrinsic fundamental part of the nature of everything, and everything is at play, and even electrons are dancing. And there's something there, and it's easy to lose that if you're just dwelling on the crises and the dark places that you see things going and fighting against it and being exhausted and not resting, and it's really important to remember that relief, that there's also relief.
The importance of joy and play in healing
Pascal: Yeah, thank you so much for bringing that up in terms of the joy and happiness. If you don't like the old model, create a new one and live it, and I truly believe that as society expands and grows, that more and more will have free time for expression, free time for creativity, and having the right community spaces and really the networks necessary to support that in a beautiful way in everyday life. It's definitely been a part of my journey to step more into joy and happiness, and yeah, healing doesn't always have to be so serious.
Joseph: Yeah, as another Alan Watts quote was, you can be sincere, but not serious, and I like that. And I need help and reminders to be joyful and to play. And coming back to your other question though, which sends my mind in a lot of serious directions, just thinking about is there really a change happening and at what level, and are we really moving in this direction, and I'm not sure, I think that we are in a really tumultuous time, and there's a lot of opportunity, there's a lot of disruption, and that's where the opportunity is. And there's a lot of immiseration, there's a lot of crisis, and that could be increasing.
And coming along with that is the necessary pressure to change those systems and structures, and I am optimistic and hopeful about how people will respond to that. And if we are all trying to build things, not just make individual choices that we feel good about, but anything that we do collectively, do it in a way that honors that desire or that world that you do want to get to, the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible. Charles Eisenstein, great book about that, and it's yeah, it's something that's connected to everything that we do and think about, and if that's your intention, if that's your heart's intention and it's sincere, not necessarily serious, that's important and that is meaningful and impactful. And then, also your actions are the other side of that, and your impact – the impact of your actions. And good intentions are, don't really matter if you're still doing the wrong thing, but it's about trying to align those.
And there's another Charles Eisenstein piece that comes to mind where I believe he was asked a similar question, and he tells a story about a woman who – a very sick elderly person came into their care and they basically had to spend every moment taking care of this person washing them, and feeding them and giving them their medicine, and they spent over a decade of this, and that's like all that they had time to do. What impact does that have on all these crises that we're talking about, these ecological crises, these cultural, systemic, economic problems? You could argue that she wasn't using her energy in the most meaningful and impactful way. She should have – that all of us should just be dedicated to a cause.
And even if you have to sacrifice personal relationships, it's ultimately serving a greater good. But I think what that story is supposed to encourage you to ask is maybe that is actually just as important and meaningful and impactful for that one relationship of care to happen has an impact on the world, and it's not necessarily so easy to make that calculation and say that any interpersonal relationship is not as important as this greater cause that you're serving or these bigger changes that you want to see.
And even if you have to kill yourself to serve that greater good, that's ultimately worth more than this individual or the small act of care, of devotion, of dedication, of selflessness, but really, I think it's not a either-or proposition, and it's just as beautiful and meaningful for somebody to dedicate and serve one other person, in that way caring for someone as it is, for you to be dedicated to whatever your work is, or whatever cause that you're serving, and it doesn't have to look just like this kind of calculation that you might make. And that really opens up the possibilities for what you can do with your time and energy in a beautiful way. That's still a worthwhile way to live your life, even if it's just in that localized kind of context.
Pascal: Yeah, that's beautiful. We like to say at Nectara that every day is a ceremony, because it really is those small things every day that I personally believe transmit one degree shifts into the world, and the one degree shift is you have a plane going from New York to San Francisco, if you change it by one degree, it ends up in Alaska. And from that lens of interbeing, those small relationships that you mentioned from that lens of interbeing, really does have a larger impact on the whole system, right? It's like the ripple effect, the butterfly effect.
And one thing I learned in my journey is I used to have a lot of social anxiety, or a lot of climate anxiety, it's called solastalgia. Glenn Albrecht coined the term in 2017 to talk about this idea of the feeling of unease that we feel within ourselves when our home is at risk, and he coined that word because of climate change, and because of the anxiety, the social anxiety that's rising around that. And I struggled with that for many years, until I did ayahuasca ceremony, and I was going through the experience and grandmother told me don't worry, I’m going to be fine.
Micro changes into planetary change
Pascal: And there was a whole story that came around that as well that – it's too long for this podcast, but it really helped shift my anxiety into more of ease and relaxation and rest and trust. And ever since then, I’ve had this perspective of, I’ll just do whatever I can every day in every little moment to add positivity to the world, and add what I believe is helpful to the world in the capacity I have. And I invite anyone who's watching this that really does care about these things is to not have an attachment to things becoming “good”. There's no guarantee in the world, but what we can do is hold that flame until the very end, and feel very at peace around what we've been able to contribute to that greater story, and finding solace in that.
And yeah, I just want to share that personal story on it, cause there's this beautiful idea of interbeing and higher consciousness and new paradigm, and there's that micro element of that from within our own psychedelic experiences when we leave the experience and we go back home, and then, there's also this macro one that we've been talking about, this kind of idealized version of the world that we all strive for, but there's also a lot of beauty in accepting that it's not necessarily going to happen overnight, there's a lot of gentleness that happens when you come to accepting that, and I believe that the core of that is essentially just accepting life and death really. There's a very deep medicine, at least for me, around accepting death, and not being attached to results, and I’m finding a lot of relaxation in that for me.
Do you want to add to that for yourself what has been your relationship to that as you're trying to change paradigm and you're trying to change yourself and change the relationships and do a lot of change in the world, what's your relationship to that desire for a better world?
Joseph: Thank you for sharing your story about that, and just the reminder not to be attached to outcomes. It's really important, gives us the ability to be creative and free, artful, and I think that's also a natural part of that play. And I do care deeply and have a serious conviction about the things that I work on and do. But I think another part of that surrender, of that letting go of the results is connected to humility. And I think being humble, being humbled by our position in this interbeing, understanding that relief that you touched on, that you can feel when you realize you're supported by and connected to all life also comes with a humility, because you realize that you're only this one small piece of awareness in a greater whole, and that there's a wisdom and intelligence within that which you can trust in that, and understand that's much greater than any understanding that you can have as a individual ego, and that could be a source of relief.
And just having that attitude of humility in the things that you do is another way of acknowledging that you're not in control of the outcomes and the results, because you aren't, and that's a part of control that you have to let go of. And I think we also get out of our own way in a sense, we avoid maybe making certain mistakes or repeating mistakes if we have that attitude of humbleness in our work. And yeah, not being attached to it or identifying ourselves with it in that way, allows us to be more teachable, to be more open to learning and changing, and then also adapting and adjusting.
And with IRI, with the Indigenous Reciprocity Initiative, I started developing it in 2020, and like almost a year later, we launched it. And now it's another year and a half, almost two years later that has been a process of constantly learning and adjusting, and it still will continue to be that, and it's organic. That's an organic way to be is constantly influx and changing, and that also means, yeah, you don't know exactly how things will turn out and all you can do is make the decisions that you are making moment to moment and acting, and if you're going to act, at a certain point, you have to let go of that, because otherwise you'd be paralyzed by that; and that's a really important lesson that I am constantly relearning and re-experiencing and encountering all the time.
Pascal: Likewise, yeah. What are ways that people – and thank you so much for sharing today, it was a beautiful conversation. I really appreciated your level of depth and wisdom and humbleness as well, and just a host of different qualities that I really respect in you and thank you so much for sharing with us.
Joseph: Thank you for having me.
How to support Chacruna's IRI program
Pascal: Yeah, our pleasure. What are ways that people can get involved in IRI from a business perspective and also individuals what are the different entry points to supporting you?
Joseph: Thank you so much, Pascal. It's really been a pleasure for me, and I'm going to work on my podcast setup, cause I now realize the sun is setting here and losing the light, so my lighting scheme is all, is falling apart, but...
Pascal: It's all about the small relationships, Joseph.
Joseph: I know, I'm staying in a relationship with the sun right now, because you're seeing it change. With IRI, another big piece of IRI for me is that it's open source, so you don't have to support the IRI program or Chacruna, you can go direct. We have the network on chacruna-iri.org, and you can connect directly with any of the organizations that have capacity and directly give donations to an individual group, community, or project, or you can give to the IRI program, which gets distributed evenly to each of our indigenous community partners. Donating money is a big part of it, obviously, and if people have that ability, really that material difference is what affects these projects and allows them to continue. And it's just the lack of resources, the projects are there, the people are there. And sometimes it is that simple.
But I know everybody has limited money and limited time and resources and energy, and I think what we touched on earlier is that it's not a waste of your energy just to be able to live a life with dignity and support yourself or your family. And if that's all you are able to do with your time, that's worthwhile. You can start to try and practice that reciprocity in relationship with your own self, your own community, your own environment and land where you are, and that helps IRI. Also just staying engaged with Chacruna's work, getting into our newsletter, staying in touch with what's going on with IRI, we do publish updates almost every week, and we are working on a few different video projects with some of our partners, just ways to highlight the projects that they're working on, the struggles that they're going through, their perspectives on the psychedelic renaissance, on reciprocity.
And those are educational materials for the public, so if you watch them, if you engage with them, if you share them, that's helpful. And just if you heard, if you understand the message that IRI is propagating the idea of how things should be structured and built, what reciprocity looks like, how authority and power can be built into a program that gives it to the communities, to the grassroots, you see that and you look for other organizations, other projects that embody those same sort of principles. That would be beautiful for me if a million initiatives started that we're all trying to do that in a different way, and it doesn't have to be IRI, I-R-I, or Chacruna. And there's so many different ways that people can get involved beyond just the donation, although that is very important part of it as well.
Pascal: Beautiful. Thank you so much for the work you're doing, and for people out there to, people or businesses, there's multiple ways to chip in a little bit of money to IRI or add a piece in your checkout to donate when you have an event or you have an offering, you can give a percentage. There's lots of ways to give and start to live reciprocity. So thank you so much Joseph for everything, and take care of yourself.
Joseph: Thanks Pascal, really appreciate it.
Pascal: Take care.
Joseph: You too.