Born into a divisive post-colonial world, at times I have fallen into the trap of competition. The outcomes have taught me that collaboration is how we succeed. Here I publicly confess my sins.
Every community has its divides. Subgroups and sectors are a natural outcome of a large conglomerate of individuals who inevitably will have varied interests. What doesn’t have to be a part of division is discord. But, from the outset of the psychedelic renaissance division has been a prominent part of the scene.
Creating community has always been a passion of mine. Before mushrooms were the focus of my fanaticism, I attempted to rally people through reggae. The ability of the African Diaspora to help people find common ground, particularly through music, fascinated me from my first awareness of the phenomenon. When I was growing up in Springfield, Kentucky, there was one street where “black” families lived. Probably in high school, when I began to veture into the city of Louisville with friends rather than parents, I would notice that the Diaspora community always seemed to acknowledge each other, while my Caucasian counterparts tended to ignore or even scorn those of the same complexion. This reality became all too apparent living in Jamaica. Whites would ignore me. Jamaicans almost always said hello, respect, or wha’gwaan.(What’s going on).One could speculate many reasons for such behavior. From my perspective it has often seemed that ‘white’ culture operates by default from a place of fear and isolationism.
In the early 2000s in Louisville, I attempted to create a Jamaican-style sound system called Scotch Bonnet Sounds. For those unfamiliar with that kind of community, it is a collaborative and inclusive one. Selectors or DJs exchange rhythms, and take turns toasting the mic and mixing on the tables. As you might imagine, Scotch Bonnet Sounds didn’t quite take off in Kentucky. Once a month, I hosted what was called ‘Communi-Tea Time’ at a local library where we would gather for tea and conversations around current issues. To this day, my friends know it is one of my greatest pleasures to gather folks around food, fire, and fungi.
Likewise, this is the spirit Psanctuary embodies. But that hasn’t always been my outlook in the field of psychedelics. In this piece I want to acknowledge how I have played a role, particularly in business, in the conflicts that have created some of the disparity among factions in the psychedelic community. And I hope that as founder of a nondenominational sacred mushroom church, I can do my part to reverse that trend and perhaps even repair some of the damage I have done. Without attempting to justify my behavior, it is worth noting that the American capitalist model most of us are raised in fosters competition. We were led to believe by Darwinism that “survival of the fittest” is the way of nature. The reality is, in nature, as well as in business and personal relationships, cooperation is the key to success.
My ambition and intention is to invite dialogue. There have been many things said about me, by many voices in the psychedelic community. Many of them have been public and many of them have been private. I have yet to be invited into any of those conversations. This is my invitation for all to converse about ways we can help each other succeed rather than tear one another down. Only in this way can we be the stewards of honesty and vulnerability that our clients and our communities need us to be.
This post is only part of the story. Until and unless all parties are willing to engage in a dialogue it is impossible to get a complete picture. I am only one factor in this complicated equation — but I am willing to take ownership of my part played. As a human, I am still fraught with faults and admit that as long as I am on this earth life will be a process of healing and letting go. We can only take responsibility for ourselves, and radical responsibility is what real psychedelic work is all about. That is what I hope that this post, my recent Psilocybin Says podcast with Omar Thomas of the Diaspora Psychedelic Society, and indeed the entirety of my work can exemplify.
When I first made the choice to ‘go public’ as a psychedelic personality, it was with significant trepidation. Not only was I concerned about what my family would think (I had come out of the psychedelic closet to them soon after my first mushroom experience, but to come out publicly was a whole other can of worms) but fears about what the current ‘psychedelic professionals’ would say about me also haunted my imagination. I may have a master’s degree in Education, but I also have a thick Kentucky accent and a tendency to be blunt. Back then, and to some extent still, it seemed to me that there was a sort of academic superiority around psychedelics, and it felt like I had to come out swinging.
For the most part what I am sharing with you, readers, is my revelation around the subconscious mind. I take full responsibility for what I have experienced because I am now consciously aware that it was fully a projection of my subconscious mind. The fears that I came into the psychedelic profession with, fears that I resisted rather than embraced, became manifest. What we imagine, we become, and what we are, we attract.
Many years of my life were spent imagining myself rejected, devalued, and taken advantage of by those who lacked the courage or experience to do what I was doing. When I began my work in Jamaica and for most of my years there, I was convinced that imperialism was certain to invade and conquer this sovereign space, that the eagles of opportunism would swoop in to steal what I had built. And in many ways, this came to be. Fortunately, I have discovered the power of my subconscious mind and am now actively and aggressively reprogramming, and I can see with greater clarity and joy a world of collaboration ahead of me.
Very early in my public psychedelic journey, at one of the initial retreats, an African-American military veteran, Omar Thomas, joined as a guest. There was definitely a personal connection between us. He was rather quiet, but undeniably solid. His presence brought on a sense of safety as well as softness. His gentle eyes, framed by a well-defined face, were a perfect fit atop his more than six foot, muscular frame. Omar had quite a bit of experience with DMT, psilocybin, and LSD. He came on the retreat for his own healing, of course, but also just to see what it was about. To some degree, like me, Omar was a ‘nobody’ in the psychedelic world who was looking for an entry point. Also like me, Omar’s intentions were to help others heal. However, unlike me at that time, Omar was focused on true collaboration. He offered to help build the program. I accepted.
Even at this time, I knew the enormous potential of a program like the one we were creating. Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind” was about six months out from being published, and MAPS had been growing increasingly visible. As the first retreat of its kind, in the only country where psilocybin was completely unregulated, I saw massive opportunity. Not just for myself, but for Jamaica.
The opportunity I saw ahead of me was not primarily financial. Perhaps foolishly, making money had never really been a focus of mine. However— and it is hard for me to admit this, but again, my intent is to lead by example — although I sincerely wanted to help others, I also selfishly wanted fame. I wanted to be the guy who came out of nowhere and shifted global psychedelic culture. I wanted to be the Paul Stamets of psilocybin. To be painfully honest, one of my greatest struggles still is reconciling the reality that my risks, and there were many, that launched the psilocybin industry in Jamaica will go publicly unrewarded. Is this a character flaw? Is this pure ego? Perhaps. I am a human being. I sit with it to the best of my ability and attempt to focus on gratitude that there are so many people being helped through sacred mushrooms on the island of One Love. This was, after all, the vision that the mushrooms shared with me back in 2011.
I acknowledge that it was my ego that brought the separation between Omar and me. I can admit this. Inside I had always known that cooperation is how lasting advancements are really made — but how to maintain cooperation in the face of competition escaped me. Business relationships were a short-term agreement.
If there has been one single greatest revelation that has occurred to me in the past two years, it has been the slowly growing awareness that our subconscious doesn’t just influence our reality. It creates it. Now, this is an idea that gets tossed around a fair amount, particularly in New Age circles. It seems trivial in many ways, perhaps because many of those espousing it aren’t exactly grounded individuals. This has likewise been a source of distrust with the psychedelic community. Like it or not, it’s difficult to betaken seriously if you’re constantly preaching love and light and dressed in feathers and tassels.
My subconscious had been programmed to believe that we are invariably at each other’s throats in business. People play nice to your face, meanwhile scheming about how they can take what you have. If anyone is a living example of how this kind of thinking can come back to bite you, it is me. All of the criticism, all of the fears, and all of the pretenses I put out there were, in one way or another, directly reciprocated.
Some of you may know about the public lashing I took, which in some ways still continues, over my failed relationship with Psychedelics Today. Once singing my praises, they soon began denouncing me in public and private circles. They removed all podcasts recorded with me and any that had others such as Shane Mauss and psychedelic researchers who spoke highly of my work. I was for all intents and purposes, cancelled by them. I never got the opportunity to have a real public conversation with Joe and Kyle about their obscure references to ‘safety’ or the other whisperings I have heard from those in their circle. In fact, it was a recent interview of Omar by Vice Magazine, that was still attempting to dig into this Psychedelics Today statement that rekindled our relationship. Truly a man of character, Omar reached out to me after this seemingly biased interview and growing tired of hearing about me from others rather than myself. If you ask me, this is the kind of world we need to be creating, in and out of psychedelic circles.
There are current rumors and murmurings that emanate from other sources I also may or may not ever get to speak to. This is a reality that I must ultimately be comfortable with. I can only do my work and let that alone speak for my character. If there are those who would speak certain ways of me or others without our having the ability to speak in our defense or at least offer a balance, then this reflects more upon the orator than the one being referred to.
As is often said in Jamaica, time is the master. While I am not always certain that time is a reality, one thing that does seem real is that we cannot escape the consequences of our thoughts and our actions. Understanding this, I embrace my ability to think and act differently based on new information and experience. For those who have known me for years, you know I am a different person than I was even a year ago, much less five or ten. For those who think they know me then and now, perhaps your interpretation of me says more about you than it does about who I actually am. For those who really care about growth, let’s get real and get to know ourselves.
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