Just got back from a whirlwind trip to NYC which was maybe the most fun I've ever had in that bustling town.
Consider this an update instead of live tweeting or oversharing on social media along the way––just can't bring myself to interrupt real life for nattering about it in digital.
Went to give a talk at Horizons, the longest running conference in the psychedelic space on the "Psychedelic Renaissance: Pitfalls and Potentials." Horizons started out over a decade ago as a nervous gathering point for the underground and is now hosted at the Cooper Union (where Lincoln gave an address in 1860 as the nation teetered on civil war) featuring world renowned academics, venture firms and thought-leaders. It's mind bending to appreciate how far this movement has come in so little time.
In that talk I pointed out:
(Here's the slide deck if you want to take a look––not sure if they're releasing video).
In short, the money changers are already in the temple, so the only question now, is:
How do we preserve the integrity of what's timeless and sacred in the face of the soulless forces of Moloch?
Answer: Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, but render unto the Mystery that which is, and will always be mysterious #prometheansFTW.
The light has always been captured by the dark, and it's always been liberated again by the trickster rebels.
Same as it ever was...
Or rather, who I didn't notice.
The Party People.
The hedonists and transactors.
The Instagram Burning Man crowd, "medicine servers" and transformational life coaches.
You see, they were all still down in Miami, on an extended bender from Wonderland (the crypto-cannabis-tech-bro psychedelic conference), Art with Me (relocated from Tulum after that place has descended into mayhem), and Art Basel (still the place for sceney sceneing, and most recently a place for cryptobros to flex their NFT wallets).
Psychiatrists, doctors, decriminalization activists, community builders, researchers, non-profit directors and thousands of others, who all, more or less, have put their stake in the ground on behalf of the greater good.
In other words, HomeGrown Humans.
Folks who have shot the moon and come back home. Who have concluded that if we really want this "better world our hearts know is possible" there's a shitpile of emphatically non-sexy infrastructure, policy, research and ditch-diggin to get it all done. (And precisely none of that is happening on the Party Circuit).
❄️ One particularly sweet moment came talking with an Iranian and Palestinian pair of doctors who'd just returned from four years in the Canadian Arctic working with indigenous populations, who were now doing psilocybin end of life work at McGill University.
🧱 In the midst of that conversation up walks a fellow who'd just returned from working at a self-sufficient Ugandan refugee camp of 150,000 people where they'd developed a $300 program for setting up newcomers with their own "home" and patch of land. "Uganda is now a model for the world on how we can do this" he said.
🎵 This totally spontaneous gathering of folks then gave way as the musical entertainment for the night began––a Brooklyn hipster rabbi lit the Menorah, then picked up an oud (an Arabic stringed instrument that looks like a lute), while his Malawian friend played a kora (a stringed harp), and a Palestinian refugee played violin––and they sang interfaith songs of freedom, redemption, and hope.
(Check out this tear-jerking rendition of Matisyahu conducting a Jewish/Palestinian flash mob choir for a sense of it).
Read those last two paragraphs again, and just feel the amount of humanity, dedication and power packed into that random sampling of HomeGrown Humans! No showboating, no "click in the links to subscribe" self promotion––just potent, humble, creative, competent service. Badass and 100% what we need more of all 'round!
North Star––articulating an inclusive and principled pledge for psychedelic organizations to maintain the ethics of the experience and include all peoples, from indigenous folks, to inner city communities in their calculus (see the Ethics Pledge and We Will Call it Pala). Think Moody's ratings for bonds, or USDA Organic––a way to better educate consumers in a confounding marketplace of options.
Chacruna Institute––going to bat for the indigenous communities that held plant medicines as sacred for millennia and to "decolonize" philanthropy by giving no-strings-attached funding to these people, rather than micromanaging them with to-do lists and metrics to continually justify their worthiness to receive help.
Enthea––who have rightly spotted the gaping hole in the psychedelic renaissance––access. They are pioneering insurance plans for these therapies so everyone in need can have a shot at mending trauma, depression, and addiction, regardless of cash-flow. They announced their first corporate rollouts with David Bronner of Dr. Bronners, and Onnit here in Austin. So, medical insurance. Super duper not sexy, but potentially a game-changer in actual social impact beyond communities of privilege.
(Check out those three links and if any fit into your values and intentions for end of year giving, please hook 'em up!)
And at one of the benefit dinners, dear old Rick Doblin stood up and told a great tale (as he always does) about the new Netflix special based on Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind that is coming out soon. He wanted to reconnect with the DEA agents who had been responsible for criminalizing MDMA back in the mid 80's, and get their take on the current research. But they were almost all dead and gone. Then he tracked down one remaining fella on LinkedIn, messaged him, and the same day, the guy got back to him. Turns out, after retiring from the DEA, he'd hung out his shingle helping drugs get rescheduled from criminal "no therapeutic value" to broader access.
Rick asked him and he agreed to come on board to help reclaim MDMA as a valid therapeutic tool, and to use all of his knowledge of the federal criminalization process to help undo those obstructions. Everybody deserves a shot at redemption, and while Rick and MAPS have been catching flak for their willingness to work with police departments, the military and "the feds"––this kind of practical forgiveness, of "radical inclusion" to include even those we might think of as our enemies or our adversaries, seems like essential medicine as we seek to un-f*ck the world right now.
So when it drops on Netflix, you'll know a bit of the backstory of how these things get done––one person at a time, with forgiveness and a shot at redemption.
Which brings me to the other rad experience we got to have in NY. Our very first Broadway show. Curt, FGP's Executive Director, former Spec Ops Commander and leader of the most successful portfolio on Broadway (ten Tony Awards this year!) wanted to take me and Julie to a show, and the one he most wanted to share was Hadestown.
Set in a post-apocalyptic climate ravaged New Orleans, Hadestown is a funky, slinky retelling of one of the best known Greek myths, Orpheus and Eurydice. That's the one where Eurydice gets pulled into the underworld, and her lover, Orpheus, (with his magical voice and lyre) goes down to find her. He has to sing for his supper, and reminds Hades of his original passion for his wife Persephone (whose comings and goings from the underworld gave us the seasons). Hades is so moved he grants him his wish to take Eurydice back, but only if they can make it to the sunshine without doubting themselves.
We all remember how this story ends. At the last moment, as they stand on the verge of redemption, Orpheus doubts. And like the wife of Lot fleeing Sodom, turned to salt, because she looked behind her, Orpheus looks behind him to make sure that Eurydice is actually following.
And that's it. The hopeful slipslides back into the tragic. Eurydice is condemned to hell forever.
Which makes the cresative decision to turn that story, one where everyone knows the ending before buying a ticket, and its not-a-happily-ever-after-in-any-way-ending, a weird one to turn into a Tony winning Broadway production.
But the ending of the play is everything.
After that fateful moment of Oprheus' doubt, the stage resets, and it time-warps back to the beginning, the original meet-cute where the boy first encounters the girl. Hermes, the divine MC of the show, tells the audience, "we keep telling this tale in the hopes, that one day, it changes."
There's power in that testimony. It's bittersweet. We know it ends badly, but in the retelling, we bear witness to the possibility of change. We celebrate the hope.
Perhaps Orpheus will trust. Himself and his love. Maybe Hades will have a change of heart (just like that DEA agent who Rick Doblin redeemed). Maybe Eurydice won't be hungry and scared and give away herself in the first place. Or Persephone will finally speak her truth to diabolical power.
But in the original productions on Broadway, the producers noticed that this kind of enigmatic, bittersweet optimism, wasn't enough for audiences (at least in the US. In France or Russia, ennui and melancholy would have likely played much better).
So after the curtain call and applause, they added a coda: a final number to underscore the point. "We raise our cups to the ones who sing in the darkness" (whether in the Arctic circle, the West Bank, the Amazon or Uganda) the cast exclaimed.
Some birds sing when the sun shines bright
Our praise is not for them
But the ones who sing in the dead of night
We raise our cups to them
And that's what our collective task right now seems like it's about.
How do we move from whistling past the graveyard, hoping flimsy hopes that all will return to normal, that spring will come again, and that romance will always end in a happy redemption?
How do we commit to doing the hard work, to travel into the depths of the underworld if we must, to find and remind the ones we love who are suffering. To face the darkness and doubts in ourselves and others, while always leaving a shot at redemption––a chance for this time, out of all the times, for it to turn out differently?
So in this time of festivals of light, where cultures and communities around the world acknowledge the return of brightness from the blackness––from temple lamps burning under eight days of siege to a waxing sun and the inklings of spring, to little stars and mangered nights––we can all bear witness to those who sing in the darkness. We can tell and retell their stories and ours, in the hopes that this time, it will turn out different.
That's being a hope, not having a hope. Courageously bearing witness to the best of our abilities...and leaving the space for Grace.
So drink your gin and tonica...and let's raise our cups to the ones who sing in the darkness.
P.S. This just dropped from our friend Adrian Grenier’s new video series about living a simpler life—we got to have a heartfelt conversation and dig in the ground and plant something. ––> Earthspeed
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