Creating Inclusive Psychedelic Spaces: Alternatives to Culture
I recently wrote a short article titled “Transcending Boundaries: Identity and Oppression Within Psychedelic Culture”, in which I offered a brief summary of my experience as a person of color within psychedelic culture. The article was not intended to serve as an academic analysis of race, gender, or sexuality within the framework of industrialized capitalism or how psychedelic culture specifically fits into this model. As a person of color, I don’t believe it is my job to educate others about intersectional liberatory politics, as anyone with access to the internet can easily research these subjects for themselves. Additionally, I did not want to detract from the primary focus of The Nexian, which is to educate individuals about psychedelics first and foremost. This is not a e-zine with any particular political leanings and isn’t meant to be a platform for individuals to push their politics onto the general mass of the psychedelic movement. Not only that, but I am still at the forefront of my own political education and understanding, and it would be arrogant and irresponsible of me to espouse ideology I do not fully understand.
I recognize that in my previous article I spoke about how psychedelic culture is non-inclusive, elitist, and inherently racist (and a host of other “isms”). I did not go in depth as to how and why I see the scene in this way, and nowhere in the article did I offer viable alternatives or suggestions as to how we can work together to make psychedelics more accessible for everyone. Though my intent was specifically to offer my own personal experience outside of the realm of politics, in retrospect I can see that in doing so I offered little in regards to empowering individuals to be engaged. Therefore, my intention with this article is to share some of my own ideas as to how we can collectively bring about a psychedelic culture that is inclusive and supportive of everyone.
As mentioned in the previous article, I am by no means a scholar. My own political education is still developing and growing, and I want to be clear that I don’t believe I have any more answers than anyone else. But I do see that with the rapid growth of psychedelia in mainstream society comes a variety of problematic concerns that are microcosms of the largely dysfunctional system which so many of us seek to abolish. I see incredible potential with the advances in psychedelic research taking place and with the work that the DMT-Nexus is involved with, and I think it would be a shame to see such promise undermined by the vices of exclusion that have come to prevail in our world.
Many of you may find fault in what I propose, whether it be that my political leanings are too far in one direction for your taste, or perhaps my analysis is incomplete in your eyes. I acknowledge that the following suggestions are far from solutions, and that there is no one person who holds all of the answers. I simply see an opportunity to offer what I think we could do as a community to really help heal the world in an effective and meaningful way. If what I suggest seems incomplete or misguided, I encourage you to please share your own ideas. The Nexian is always actively accepting submissions for articles, and the DMT-Nexus forums are an open space for anyone with something to share to do so.
So, with all of that out of the way, where does that leave us? We may recognize that our community is not perfect (as no community is perfect), but what can we actually do about it other than write short articles complaining about all of the faults that we find in what others have created?
Well firstly and most simply, I think that is important to create spaces where we intentionally think about and address how systemic forms of oppression infiltrate our everyday experience. A common practice amongst psychonauts is to set an intention before dosing. Intent will vary from person to person and from experience to experience, and knowing that you have a clear-cut but simple intention beforehand can drastically change the outcome of a psychedelic experience. Now, everybody takes psychedelics for different reasons and I’m not here to tell people what that reason should be; but I do think that having certain frames of reference to consider before, during, and after a session can be a great way to supplement the experience and provide additional layers of content to consider aside from what you might otherwise. So for example, next time you and your friends are preparing to dose your psychedelic of choice, create a list of questions and considerations beforehand. Everyone will have their own unique intention that does not necessarily have to be written or shared, but having supplementary material to consider before going into the experience can provide context for understanding the ways in which our identity is shaped whether through systemic, interpersonal, or spiritual interactions. What might this list look like? Well if we understand psychedelics to elevate us to a state which deconstructs conditioned modes of thinking, perceiving, and engaging with the world, what might the implications of that be when considering how we as individuals are shaped by dominant culture? In this context, the list might look something like this:
- Up until this point in time, how have I identified myself as a person? (Gender, race, nationality, sexuality, in relationship to others[eg. Mother/father, sister/brother, friend, teacher, student, etc…])
- Up until this point in time, how have I recognized my interactions with individuals to shape the ways in which I identify myself?
- Up until this time, how have I recognized culture/society to shape the ways in which I identify myself?
- Up until this time, how have I recognized culture/society to shape the ways in which I perceive and identify others?
- If I were to identify differently, how might that change how I perceive myself? How others perceive me? Would I still be the same person?
Now of course this list is just an example. The point here is not to tell you what to do, but provide a framework for the types of questions that you or your group can take into consideration. I would recommend creating the list after everyone has set their own intention, in this way they can work with these questions during the experience in ways that work the best for their individual goals and needs. I would recommend reading the list and answering/discussing the questions before the experience and shortly after; see the ways in which the psychedelic state might change some of your answers, or perhaps they stay the same. Try to keep your list in mind during the session but don’t force anything; keep it simple, you don’t want a huge list of things that will distract you from whatever the experience is offering.
The list doesn’t have to consist only of questions either, it could be a list of statements; things which in that moment you believe to be true or false in relation to identity and social constructs. You can of course go anywhere you want with this, do whatever feels best for you—perhaps you don’t need a list at all. The key idea is to try to keep key points in mind during your trip and see how your conceptions of self and identity might change (or stay the same) when filtered through the lens of a psychedelic experience.
The idea of creating lists to guide you through a psychedelic session is not new, and it’s a relatively simple and easy way to challenge internalized systemic oppression at a psychological and interpersonal level without having to do much other than take a mind-altering substance. I think practices such as these are valuable and shouldn’t be dismissed, but at the same time I think it’s also important to keep in mind that our understandings of culture and society are limited by our own understandings, and therefore education is critical. We are all shaped by our understandings of history; this is something we cannot avoid. Knowledge, however, is not a static thing and we always have the ability to learn more, to glean insights from other perspectives and further our own understanding; and therefore our potential for learning, knowledge, and ultimately self-discovery is only as limited as we choose it to be. Without the proper educational framework to understand how we are shaped by the mediums in which we live, an experiential practice such as this can only go so far in challenging the ways in which we navigate and interact with the world.
So how can we go further? Sure, there is value in evaluating our experiences and there is no doubt about that. It is ultimately our experiences which drive every decision we make, after all. But we are not islands unto ourselves, our experiences are made up of interactions with other individuals, and it is these collective interactions which make up the structures and systems that we see today. So how can we integrate our subjective understandings of identity and culture with that of others so that we might create something that is inclusive of everyone’s experience while creating alternatives to said structures and systems of oppression?
Well, another relatively easy thing to do is to host movie and documentary screenings, or to start a book club. There is a wealth of literature in regards to psychedelic research and a handful of good documentaries. Get together with friends and host a screening, invite people to read! Make it intersectional! Provide free food, you might be surprised how many people show up! If it is an ongoing thing, it might be best to start with books/films on other subjects such as race, gender, sexuality, class, or the environment to attract a wider audience and incorporate how psychedelics fit into the wider dialogue as you build relationships with people. Ask your community what they would like to discuss, what is important to them? You want to draw people in who might not otherwise make those kinds of connections, and you want to do it in a way that is open and safe for anyone to attend. We cannot continue to keep preaching the psychedelic gospel amongst ourselves and expect everyone else to come flocking to us; we need to meet people where they are being most impacted and we need to make the conversation relevant. Nobody wants to hear about how incredible and liberating DMT is if they can’t relate it to struggles in their own lives. These kinds of events are great ways to bring the community together and to make friends, and can serve as base-building functions to begin organizing a wider campaign/movement later on.
In my previous article I made a point about transformational music festivals and how they are inherently exclusive when they charge exorbitant fees for attendance. There are a myriad of other problems embedded within large psychedelic gatherings and members of the Nexus community have been drawing attention to some of these issues, namely the environmental implications of such massive parties that are wholly and entirely unsustainable. On the other hand, the question is often raised as to whether or not these gatherings are even supposed to be sustainable in the first place. Many argue that they are simply outlets for self expression and temporary liberation from the confines of dominant culture, and that to criticize them for being unsustainable not only misses the point but is entirely a waste of energy considering these festivals are only small hubs of a much larger system. The argument is that our time would be much better spent targeting the systems which create a demand for these types of events; in other words we need to target the root causes of unsustainability and not just try to mask some of the symptoms.
If I’m being honest, I would agree with this perspective. With this said though, I don’t understand the use of such events if they are only offering liberating and transformational experiences to those privileged enough to have the resources to attend in the first place. To be blunt and to speak metaphorically, if you’re having a healing session behind closed doors but excluding those who need the healing most, I think you need to re-evaluate how and why you are claiming to be a healer. You might ask, “Okay, I’m on board with all of that, but what are we supposed to do about these massive corporately sponsored festivals? None of us have the connections to affect how they are organized, we just go to them!”
I suspect that my following suggestion might attract a lot of animosity, but I ask that you bear with me before dismissing what I have to say.
If you see what I see at these events and you would like to see the same kind of experiences that you have enjoyed and cherished as a festival-goer available for more people, stop attending them and create something better.
Change does not occur by preaching your ideas and trying to convince everyone else to see things the way that you do. Change happens when like-minded individuals come together, create foundations, and build something from the ground up. The most effective organizers in history understood that movements are not built upon the shoulders of charismatic leaders. Instead, movements exist as a web of social relationships which are founded upon trust and mutual accountability and seek to empower ordinary people to make decisions for themselves as a community. Strong communities are the substrate in which meaningful change flourishes.
Millions of people love festivals. So much in fact that they spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars each summer on entry fees alone; that’s not counting the money spent on food, clothes, drugs, and other memorabilia. We do not need to convince everyone to boycott these events, as that would be a waste of time. But we can organize with the countless others who think as we think and who see the same potential in transformational gatherings. Imagine if just a small handful of the folks who regularly attend these festivals were to pool their money together and create an event that has everything they would like to see happen. We could create free events that are albeit small, but open and inclusive of anyone and everyone who has an interest in attending. We could make sure that there is always healthy food, spaces for harm reduction, opportunities to teach or to learn, and we could create something that is motivated not by profit but by a genuine passion to liberate the bodies, souls, and minds of our fellow man, woman, and trans-folk; both domestically and abroad.
Of course some of our favorite musicians might not be present, but why not create our own culture which seeks to uplift the work of local artists and performers? Why let corporate interest limit the possibilities of what we can do when we come together in large groups? Why allow corporations to charge us exponentially for something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience?
Why permit these multi-million (billion?) dollar industries to market liberating experiences and put a price tag on them? Why offer burning man CC VTseekerarticlethem the ability to make us pay for the innate human desire to be in communion with one another, to sing and to dance, and to connect with whatever it is that we are all a part of? The epitome of what it is to be human, perhaps the most profound thing one can ever experience, has become a past-time of the bourgeoisie and whenever we pay $50, $100, $300 for a ticket to one of these events we are not only complicit in this process but we are conceding our natural birthright to an experience that has been communally celebrated by all peoples since the dawn of humankind.
I don’t know about you, but I refuse to give them that. I would much rather see smaller gatherings of friends, family, and local talents/skills come together to create something new and organic. Something beautiful. Something not sponsored by Monster, or Coca Cola, or Sony, or any other multi-national corporation. I refuse to allow them access to how I approach the divine mystery, and I don’t understand why anyone else would.
That all sounds fine and dandy, right? But where the hell do we begin? Your friends are a good place to start. Talk to people you know who attend multiple festivals a year and ask them to set aside just one of them, and instead pool that money and use it to build something fresh from the ground up. Talk to community members and ask for food or money donations. Hit up your local musicians, who I’m sure would be excited to perform any chance they get. Get in touch with artists you know who would be thrilled to help build a space where their work is not only on display for others to appreciate, but that facilitates and fosters the creativity of everyone who feels compelled to create. Sure, it might start as something small, but even so the largest trees grew from a seed, and what the world needs right now are people planting seeds. And lots of them.
It was recently brought my attention that well known electronic musician The Polish Ambassador has undergone a project to create and host a festival which focuses not so much on getting as messed up as you possibly can, but instead on growing things:
“For the past 5 years I have been touring as an electronic music composer and performer. It has been a joy, an honor, and an evolution to share my music with an audience that seems to put progressive ideas and community at the forefront of it’s collective consciousness. I’m fully aware that without the support and participation of YOU GUYS this project would cease to exist. It’s for that reason I feel indebted to the supporters of this project to use TPA as a platform to facilitate positive impact.
In speaking with so many of you guys at shows, festivals, and random encounters in the street, it has become clear that this music scene is ripe for some change. It’s also clear that you guys want to be a part of it. In fact, the type of change that we are calling for will only work if you guys ARE involved. It’s a collective movement that can be accelerated through artists, but ultimately comes down to the people–YOU.
People are attending concerts and festivals by the tens of thousands yet it is rare to see this energy mobilizing for a greater cause, a cause that directly affects the local community that is hosting the event. Yep, I’m with you. The party, the celebration is awesome. Shaking booty with your friends is heaps of fun. I’ve been doing it for the past 4 years. I know. But now, I’m longing for something more. Are you?”
“The Polish Ambassador’s fall Permaculture Action Tour is bringing together permaculture educators and community organizers to inspire and educate people about how we can make a shift towards a more sustainable and regenerative way of living, and channel this energy into local project builds in each of the cities we visit–getting people to take action to build the world they want to see.”
Admittedly I do not know much about this tour, and regard it with a healthy degree of skepticism. I have many questions in regards to some of the logistics and implications of this endeavor in regards to accessibility in addition to who will ultimately actually benefit from these spaces and what they produce. It is unfortunately very common for urban gardening projects to turn into yet again just another extension of white supremacy, in which people of color produce healthy, organic food that just ends up being sold in food co-ops that white folks shop at an exponential rate (while the communities who actually produce this food see very little of this profit). Many of these “food justice” programs lead to racial tension in the area and arguably do much more harm than good.
Perhaps these are issues that are being addressed by the organizers of this tour, and perhaps my skepticism is unfounded. I am not familiar enough with this project to weigh in on it authoritatively. With this said, regardless of how “radical” this tour may or may not be, I see it as a remarkable improvement when compared to this:
It is not up to me to tell people how to celebrate life. If people want to party, by all means party until you have serotonin syndrome. I really don’t mind. But for those of us who would like to be active in our communities, and would like to disassociate from the taboo often associated with psychedelic culture being an all-white new-ager-party-scene, please read on.
With that I would like to make one last final suggestion as to how we might work towards making the future of psychedelics something that everyone has a stake in.
To once again reconnect this with my previous article, I had eluded to some of the issues that come with the rise in popularity of ayahuasca, which has secured a near-mythic reputation around the globe as one of the most powerful and sought-after hallucinogens. Aside from the obvious cultural appropriation of indigenous spirituality that I can see taking place amongst psychedelic circles, there is increasing attention being drawn to the problematic industry of ayahuasca tourism. Investigating the economic and environmental implications of the large-scale pilgrimages of Westerners to Latin America that is currently taking place is beyond the scope of this article, but I would like to offer my thoughts as to how we might utilize this medicine and learn from the Native culture in a respectful way that does not compromise the culture from which it originates.
Popular figures such as Dennis McKenna have made it apparent that one does not need to travel to Latin America to partake in the profound mystery that is ayahuasca. Part of the overall work that the DMT-Nexus does in regards to harm-reduction includes providing people with the information necessary to cultivate these sacred plants on our own. I think that this is important for a number of obvious reasons, sustainability in particular, and it cannot be emphasized enough. I would like to go a bit further with it though.
It has long been a dream of mine to one day help operate and manage an ethnobotanical center that serves as a sanctuary for plant medicines in addition to being an educational center and retreat, as well as a trauma center for victims of systemic and interpersonal violence and abuse. This would be a space both for the general public and burnt out organizers/activists. I would one day love to see this center exist as a multidisciplinary hub for political and scientific education, self-empowerment, and spiritual exploration. Ideally, a place such as this would be self-sufficient and would be completely free to visit, perhaps run by donation. It would be located someplace that is accessible to those who do not necessarily have access to these medicines, likely just outside of a major city center.
For me, it is important when sharing these plants to acknowledge the cultures which have utilized them for generations, and to invite them to come share their knowledge, pay for their travel expenses, and create a network of solidarity and mutual aid with indigenous movements of resistance.
I know that there are many shamans, Taitas, and curanderos who travel to the US and other countries to share these experiences, but it is often at a high cost for those who attend. Ceremonies can range from being $50 (if you’re lucky) to several hundred dollars per night for a ceremony. In my experience with ayahuasca ceremonies, I found it painfully ironic that aside from the Taitas hosting the sessions, I have always been the only person of color in attendance. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I would like to see indigenous peoples able to share this medicine without creating an unsustainable demand for native plants in their homeland, while simultaneously remaining open and accessible for anyone to attend said ceremonies regardless of economic class. I have no idea what this would look like, but I would love to hear input from the community in regards to this subject.
Now once again, where does this leave us? None of the aforementioned things I have written about address the root causes of systemic oppression, but that is not my intent. With this article I have tried to lay out just a few simplistic but realistic ways in which we can go about challenging the ways that the dominant power structures of society infiltrate the psychedelic community. It is up to each of us as individuals to take these steps further if we wish to see real change at a fundamental level. This includes educating ourselves in addition to being pro-active in struggles that we are passionate about. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of that. Let your passion inspire you to take action, and let the knowledge and experience of those who have resisted before us guide you in whatever struggle you feel drawn to. Ultimately it is all the same struggle. The fight for a just and redeemed world of free peoples, the fight for liberation on all fronts—for the earth, for our brothers and sisters, and for ourselves; it all starts with the act of self-liberation. We must free ourselves from the bonds of oppression that we are born and conditioned into, that we condition unto ourselves, before we have the proper vision to see clearly what it is that must be abolished.
That is the ultimate struggle, and that is why I genuinely believe that psychedelics may be one of our greatest allies in the fight for a free earth with free people, free bodies, and free minds.
A few brief notes…
Want to do something in your community? Go online and see if there are any groups doing anything in your area. If there’s not, get some friends together and start doing something! Start small and set a goal that you can achieve. Have realistic expectations and remember that lasting change occurs at the local level. Your community can set an example for others to follow.
Want to learn how to unlearn, but don’t know where to begin? Join the club! Here’s a fantastic resource I’ve recently discovered. It’s a tad bit overwhelming, but contains a wealth of historical information which you might find useful for furthering your own political education.
Original source: http://the-nexian.me