01:43 – 04:19: Alexandra introduces today’s guest, Dr. Will Siu, MD, DPhil.
04:19 – 12:17: Dr. Will shares with us his story about realizing that the path he was living and building his career around was not in full alignment, or bringing happiness to his life, and what led him to trying his first DMT experience.
12:58 – 18:00: Dr. Will shares with us his experience working with DMT for the first time, and how he can best describe the experience.
18:56 – 40:28: Dr. Will shared with us what the integration after his first DMT experience was like at Harvard among his peers and colleagues, and beginning to speak up and out and how that led to the work he does now within his communities.
40:28 – 51:10: Dr. Will and Alexandra discuss how to work with psychedelics as a healing tool in your own practice, and how to begin to integrate this into your life and work. Dr. Will also shares with us his steps to the healing journey.
51:10 – 54:56: Dr. Will and Alexandra discuss the shadows of both the medical community and the spiritual community, especially as it pertains to working with psychedelics.
56:14 – 58:44: Dr. Will shares with us his favorite places to learn more about psychedelics and how to begin working with them, or exploring.
58:44: Where to connect with Dr. Will and more!
01:43: Alexandra: Hi everyone, today’s podcast guest is Dr. Will Siu. And he’s here telling a story that I found to be very inspiring. There was so much juice in this story in a sense, it was like, a story that we all live through, that we go through daily, and it was about, there’s like a turning point moment, a turning point aspect, where, I don’t know if you guys remember this Gwenyth Paltrow movie in the 90’s called ‘Sliding Doors’ it’s like this moment where if you take one train car, your life goes in one direction, but if you if you actually miss that train, or get on another train car, your life could be completely different. I feel like there was an aspect to Will’s story today that has that. His whole destiny changed because of him making a particular choice and I’m really excited to share it with you, because I needed to hear it, it inspired me, it reminded me of some things and also we got to jam out about psychedelics and healing… really excited to share this with you, enjoy, enjoy!
03:00: Alexandra: Welcome, I’m so happy to have you here with us today, and for everyone listening, this is Will. So, Will and I met a few years ago, I believe it was probably about three years ago at an event in Brooklyn. And I was really touched by Will’s presence and work in the way that he showed up in the room because he didn’t seem like your typical doctor or psychiatrist. I was like, “who is this guy?! He’s got a nose ring and a beautiful, long braid and all this jewelry and he’s talking about psychedelics, but he’s also talking about psychology…” and anyway, I really appreciate people that push against what we imagine as one thing or another. So, I think a lot of us, in today’s age are attempting to dismantle old beliefs and narratives and imagery and all of it, actually, pretty much all of the old systems and structures, and we’re all sort of nudging them around in our own way. And I felt that in your work. So, I’d love to hear from you, just starting, what is it you do, what are you passionate about, what are you up to these days, and just introducing you as we begin this episode.
04:19: Dr. Will: Alright, thank you. It’s fun to be talking today, and it’s interesting how much my story that I’m going to tell has to do with what you just described. My view as a doctor and what I’m doing, yeah, interesting synchronicity. But yeah, so I am a Psychiatrist, which means I went to medical school, which I did at UCLA. I also got a PhD in Immunology. So, I did that because back before I decided to start doing what I’m doing now, I had thought I wanted to be a medical researcher, so I wanted to both be a, well we call them Physician Scientists in the medical community, sort of Doctors who also get PhD’s, who sort of see, we use this term benchside to bedside… we develop the medications and we take them into the clinic and we save people… it’s literally like this romance story of a career. So, that’s what I initially thought I was going to be doing, so I have that science background and that medical background. And these days, I’m a Psychiatrist, so I ended up getting very interested in psychedelic work back around 2012. And it’s really become a big part of my career. I’m in private practice primarily in LA, but I do see people on zoom now since quarantine. I see people for what some would call traditional psychotherapy meaning I meet with people once a week, but I definitely also do spiritual work and spiritual healing. I have a shruti box, I chant with people sometimes, we do sort of somatic work, and I haven’t prescribed an antidepressant I think since 2015. Nobody I see right now is actually on a medication, so in many ways, I’m like, maybe I’m not practicing psychiatry. So yeah, and I think and I have a lot of hope for psychedelics being a very powerful tool for healing, outside of my practice, I write things and I’ll speak on podcasts and just trying to educate the public on psychedelics and how to use them most effectively for you to sort of, move through life. And also I’ll add on there, trying to educate the medical community, because that can be an important part of the unfolding of this work.
06:55: Alexandra: Yeah, wow. Well I have a few questions before we move on, also to hearing the story and the share that you’re bringing today. My first question is just how did you get started being into psychedelics if you were coming from that background of psychiatry and wanting to get your MD and your PhD and find this sweet romantic spot, which I love that you said romantic about medicine, I’m like, “uhh I don’t know!” But how did your mind open to that? Because I feel like a lot of people that go into studying traditional medicine wouldn’t necessarily look towards earth-based medicines or ways of healing necessarily… so how did it come into your life?
07:47: Dr. Will: Well it’s sort of, it’s part of the story I was going to tell…
07:53: Alexandra: Tell us, tell us!
07:55: Dr. Will: Yeah, so for me, I don’t know, I was thinking about what a transformative moment was for me, based on your prompt, and so, yeah, as I mentioned I’ve gotten interested in psychedelics since 2012. So in 2011, I was 31 years old, I had again, gotten my MD from UCLA, gotten my PhD from Oxford. I was in my first year of Psychiatry Residency at Harvard, literally the top program in US News and World Report for the last 10 years or whatever, so meaning I was at the top of what I thought my game was, like I crushed it, I did this thing, I should be happy now, like holy f*ck, I’m at the top. And after a year of being there and finishing my medical internship, that wasn’t the case, and I was miserable and I was depressed and I wasn’t happy with my life. And I was starting to realizing a pattern, it was a pattern of putting these hoops in front of me, and then saying, “this will make me happy. Oh no oops I got that wrong, this next thing will make me happy…” and the reason I mention that again, at 31, I had basically set up all the hoops I possibly could have, like what else could I have done? And I literally thought at that time, like maybe I’ll get my MBA because some people did that, too. I’m like, let’s look inside here, what’s actually happening? And so, it was tough because it was not as if I could choose another career, so I actually thought about it, I sort of incognito applied for management consultant companies… so I got interviews at McKinsey, Bain, and I was going to drop out. So it was really like one of the two low points of my adult life. And I went into Psychotherapy for the first time getting my own treatment, and really started looking at myself, and realizing these things. And at the same time, my childhood best friend of mine ended up exploring psychedelics, he was across the country, and just someone from his circle started having him smoke DMT. And at that time, I did not have long hair, piercings, jewelry, anything. I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, like, I was terrified of drugs, I thought they were addictive and evil. But over months, he was like “Will, I had this experience, it was so powerful” and I was like yeah, but I was worried about him, I was like concerned for his well-being. And finally he was like, “these psychedelics, they used to do research on them in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and they thought they were really helpful, and the government had a conspiracy against the hippies…” and I didn’t believe it, until one day I actually went on our search engine, it’s called Pub Med and I started searching psychedelics and all these papers came up from that era of like, really good research being done at really good institutions… and that’s where my science background comes in, I was like “no, this is real, like something happened and now we don’t look at these anymore.” So, this was all sort of a lead up to, what I’m trying to sort of draw, is that there was a lot of pain happening and I had to sort of admit that there was pain, and what was causing the pain, and what the solution was going to be. So there were all these external things that I thought were going to be helpful to my pain arc.
11:35: Alexandra: Sorry, I may interrupt you just here and there to ask you a question, if that’s ok?
11:40: Dr. Will: Sure!
11:41: Alexandra: If you had to sort of sum up what that pain was like, or what it felt like, or what you felt it was related to, could you give us that in like a sentence or two?
11:52: Dr. Will: Yeah, I mean I think it was me not living authentically, like not being about in the world in the way that I wanted to be, sort of my gut, my heart, my soul, knew I wanted to be living like.
12:09: Alexandra: Yeah, like you were living in a sense of like someone else’s life or the way they told you you’d be happy?
12:17: Dr. Will: Yeah, ultimately I ended up telling myself, I ended up taking on these stories from the outside world of what was going to make me happy. And so it was allowing that pain to sort of build and then I tried a psychedelic for the first time. That wasn’t until 33, though, like it literally took me like a year to build up the courage to try it. And I smoked DMT, that was my first psychedelic and within like, 30 minutes, I was like it was waiting for me, it was warm, I had been there before, and it just became spiritual all over again. I don’t know what this thing is…
12:58: Alexandra: Wait, wait, wait. What do you mean it was waiting for you, it was warm?
13:02: Dr. Will: Like again, it was like, so this was my first, I’ve never taken a psychedelic before, so I smoked it and DMT is this very rapid acting, for those who aren’t aware, within 30, 45 seconds, you’re having a very different experience than what we’re having here in human form. And within 10 minutes, you’re sort of back pretty much to where you were in the room. And so, that’s the way I can describe it. And I know it might sound kind of crazy, but again, it was waiting for me, like I’d been there before, it was familiar, and it was warm, it was like coming home.
13:48: Alexandra: Ok, coming home. That helps I think people understand, it helps me understand what that experience was like, that it felt like a part of you felt at home, you were coming home. I think a lot of people, well I haven’t smoked DMT, so I don’t know that experience exactly, you know, I’ve experienced many other psychedelics, but it’s good to hear you, it’s fun to hear your perspective and to hear your experience there and I’ve heard a lot of different people, depending on the DMT experience, whether it’s the toad, the bufo, the different variations, I’ve heard all kinds of different ways that people describe the magical realm of existence… for you, when you had those kind of 10 minutes where you left your normal state of consciousness, or your waking human life, if you could describe just a little bit more of like what did you see or the key feeling, I do appreciate the feeling warm or home, anything else there, from that experience, for people that have no idea what you’re talking about?
15:04: Dr. Will: Yeah, so I will also say though, and it’s interesting because we haven’t even gotten to the story yet, but it’s part of it and it’s funny because like, so yes, it was ecstatic. I was meeting the divine when I think back at it and look at it. I was connecting to source, or the place where I feel we come from and we will go back to. But none of this was in my language back then, I just had this experience.
15:29: Alexandra: Ok, so you’re just like it’s warm and I feel like I’m home!
15:34: Dr. Will: I will say though that also, leading up to that, was a ton of terror. It was probably the most scary thing I have ever done in my adult life, that I’ve actually chosen to do. So the ramp up of the 30-45 seconds and even the first couple of minutes, was sheer terror. Like I could have thought I was going to die. And so, it was through that, it was at some point in the experience… so yeah maybe if people want to understand what DMT is, the way I sort of describe it, is if you take all the things or many of the things that you describe as being fundamental to this human experience that we’re having, meaning that there’s matter, there’s a body, there’s gravity, there’s other people, there’s a sense of “I” like Will, or Alexandra, like essentially all of those things get pulled away… like time, time is another one. All of them get pulled away within 15 to 30 seconds, at the right dose, of course. And it’s not like you get pulled away and you’re aware it’s getting pulled away, it’s just getting pulled away. And so, most of the things that you associate with reality, except for vision, so you can see things and hearing. So, other than those two senses, everything else gets pulled away. And so, it is you know, if we sort of extrapolate that into what I was saying, my sort of journey into this, was pulling away the illusions of who I thought I was and what would make me happy, this thing pulls most of all of it away in a few seconds. So it’s the terror of doing that in a short period of time, but I think it’s that warmth and the pulling away in what people use the term ‘letting go’ and ‘accepting’ it is what led to the warmth and the coming home. And in some ways, now that I think about it out loud, that short story of entry into a psychedelic experience, being able to let go, finding your way home, is sort of the build up of the story I was saying, or many of the stories that we each are trying to traverse in our life, right? There’s this fear, there’s a build up, we don’t want to do it, we get to this point, we choose either yes or no, and it either lets go into something beautiful and warm, or we kind of go back into another cycle to let the pain build up again.
18:00: Alexandra: Ah! That is so so true and I feel like, it’s like a little bit of the Hero’s Journey in a sense, and yeah, if we don’t say yes to facing that fear, then yeah, we go back to one and walk through all the things until the pain and the discomfort builds up again, and then we have the opportunity to make a change or to let go or to open and I think along that cycle, the more that we don’t listen is where illness or where physical or mental illness can start to build up. So, anyway, I want to keep us on track, but thank you for going deeper into the DMT experience just for people listening who have no clue what that might be like. Ok, so you did that, you had that experience, it felt like a coming home, and then what was next?
18:56: Dr. Will: So it’s interesting, then I started seeing like right, so you go into that space that was warm, or I did, that was warm and beautiful and like a coming home and a purity to it, and then it almost like, as the illusions came back in that experience, but also I went back into my experience of training as a doctor in my everyday life, I started seeing those illusions coming back, right, and there was temptation to be like this, or be like this. So, you know, I then decided at that time, look, I had the opportunity to just say, either I can admit that I was putting myself in this position of wanting to be an academic researcher and this, this, and that, and I lied to myself, or I can decide to make a change. But there was so much pain in letting go of that story, because I had gone to school for 13 years after high school straight, education to build up to this thing that I was doing. So, it took a lot, but I was ok, I’m willing to say I was wrong. And that was a big deal for me. And once I decided to do that, then I started becoming more vocal about this with my classmates at the program there, and the faculty. And I was like “look, our mental health system is broken. Let’s admit it, guys, our meds don’t work. Our antidepressants don’t work. They give horrible side effects, they don’t work for me…” and I started becoming just much more vocal about all this. And my classmates honestly essentially were like, silent. We had these therapy groups for our class, and I started talking about this stuff, and people were just like holding on, like I could literally see them holding on to the illusion. And same thing, there was some faculty that I opened up to about this…
20:48: Alexandra: That is powerful!
20:49: Dr. Will: Yeah, and again, this is everyone thinks it’s relatively obvious now to work on psychedelics, like this was 2012, like people were not doing this, like at all, again there was definitely research happening, but it was not mainstream. I would tell faculty, “look at these papers. There’s active research, there’s this thing called MAPS, you know the non-profit that’s doing this, luckily I met Rick Doblin like synchronistically within a couple of months of trying DMT. But the thing is, my classmates and the faculty were all like, “no, these are dangerous, you’re crazy…” or just wouldn’t even respond. They wouldn’t even converse about it. But some faculty were like, “you’re going to ruin your career, don’t talk about this, just do your normal thing.” And this is getting to the peak of where my story was, like I had to be like, to admit to myself like, “hey, I was wrong about what happened in the past” but then I had to be like, this world is either, I’m crazy and the rest of the world is sane – and the world being the world I was in – or it’s the other way around. I’m into something, I’ve got it right and the world is crazy. And it was a choice moment where I made that decision like, this system is f*cked and I have just been buying into this. I just like started going, but that was the point where I had to trust myself, pushing through the fear, pushing through the illusion, and being like, no, this is all wrong.
22:18: Alexandra: Yeah, I want to ask some questions about some of those moments because there’s so much there and the first one that really strikes me is, in those groups, on the day, not I don’t know if you can remember the particular day, but on the day that you were like, “I’m going to speak up, instead of I’m going to be quiet…” can you tell us about that experience like, whoah, what was that like? Because I think that that is something we all face, I think to the extent that you did it, facing this really kind of archaic western system, the medical system, even in your own small community there, you’re kind of up against this huge structure… so, how did you muster up the courage that day to speak?
23:07: Dr. Will: I mean, it was fully related to the pain that I was talking about. Like, I can keep tolerating this pain, or I can do something about it. And so, yeah, the therapy groups were the hardest ones, because I felt like I mustered the courage, and otherwise people were just talking about like, “oh work hours sucks for doctors, they’re like 70 hours a week” and I’m like, “this f*cking doesn’t even… this does not matter, I’m like, “what about our f*cking field, what are we getting ourselves into?” and I would go in and talk about, in like the way we’re talking now, and there would be silence. And it was some of the most painful thing to keep trusting myself, and so there was fear, there was a ton of fear leading up to it, but there was also sort of enough pain that it was like, I can’t keep doing the same thing.
23:58: Alexandra: Yeah, so the pain and the discomfort that you experienced in your life created like this deep conviction and inner knowing that you could trust your body, you could trust your heart, your own wisdom, even if everyone around you was saying, “you’re crazy!” That is like a huge soul test, like spiritual test, like I feel like you can really pat yourself on the back for that one because I feel like a lot of people would go, “I must be crazy, I’m going to keep my mouth shut…”, especially nowadays, we’re having to have these kind of internal conversations with our families and our friends like, what is reality? What is the nature of what’s going on right now in the world? Like, who do we trust, what narrative do we trust? And so, for you, in that moment in your own life to go – even though I’ve poured thousands of dollars likely and time and hours into learning from this particular system of modern psychiatry, medicine, etc. I’m actually going to sit here and go, “I’m not on board with this”, I could see how that could be extremely difficult and painful and just also destabilizing, you know, after putting so much time and money and energy into your studies.
25:25: Dr. Will: Years…
25:27: Alexandra: Yeah, yeah… and so I’m curious how, because I think this is a really great story for the times we’re in now, I’m curious how your community and peers at school connected with you, treated you, did people pull you aside after and say like, “thank you for saying what I didn’t have the courage to say?” or did people come around? Like how did people relate to you after that, these moments of you speaking up in your community?
25:58: Dr. Will: I don’t really, there’s one person in my class that I keep in touch with. There was some of the more junior people, when I was a senior and I was talking more openly, the younger, like literally one or two younger residents that was more, yeah he literally pulled me aside and he’s a practicing Buddhist and it’s interesting when you say like, trusting my body and it wasn’t even in my language, like I didn’t know what I was doing, it just like, happened. But then, yeah, there was certain people that were like, “yeah, I really like what you’re doing, can you tell me more about how you got into this?” But when I left, I left in a pretty, I was kind of the troublemaker resident, literally. I was put on academic probation a few times, told I was you know, speaking inappropriately to faculty…
26:53: Alexandra: Wow, and this was at Harvard?
26:55: Dr. Will: Yeah, yeah… it’s interesting it was like, right before I left, psychedelics started becoming more popular. It was right when I left as faculty, I ended up staying on for two years not as faculty… and the head of the department, I ended up telling him, I did a presentation on my experience taking MDMA and then Michael Pollan’s book had just come out and he was like, “yeah, it’s exciting isn’t it?” and I’m like, “yeah, how about we do like an MDMA project here at Harvard?” and he’s like, “nah, I believe this stuff, I think it’s important, but I’m not going to take the PR hit for it personally…” so it was still very much of that. And now, actually, in 2020 they started a center for psychedelic research at Harvard, so like, you know, it’s a lot more people are now connecting one-on-one with me and saying, “yeah, this is great.” But yeah, it’s also just seeing it unfold there now, but it’s kind of fun having trusted myself and being able to do it just when I felt it was right.
27:50: Alexandra: Yeah! I mean, can you kind of like gently say that you feel like you were a part of the fact that that study is began in 2020 around psychedelics at Harvard, that you helped kind of like, plow the land there of people’s hearts and minds to make space for that to happen?
28:13: Dr. Will: Yeah, perhaps, I don’t know actually, I mean I just we’re all interconnected and I just kept doing my thing, so I don’t know I mean, I mean I do know actually a couple of faculty that got into you know, they started taking psychedelics or doing this stuff because our one-on-one experience, so definitely some of the work I’ve done is directly related, I can take some credit for that.
29:35: Alexandra: I mean it’s funny like to be someone who stands out on the edge first, whether it’s in your family, your community, your greater field of career… the person who stands out on the edge first doesn’t always get the credit. The visionary, the one who takes that step… it’s usually years later it becomes more popularized, the thing, that those people get credit, even though it’s taken so many people to sort of like, you know, break down those old barriers, in order for it to actually hit the mainstream. Right? So, it’s like, now, psychedelics in the mainstream have become so much more of a prevalent conversation and books like Michael Pollan’s book and different studies and TV shows, which we can get to in a second, since you were on one of them… but that all being like something that is ok in the mainstream has taken many, many, many years of people like you speaking up and going, “hey, we should pay attention to this. Hey, the antidepressants aren’t working. Hey…” think of how many people it took speaking up to actually move the needle. And we often don’t see those people, we don’t get to credit them as much, we just go, “oh cool, Michael Pollan, he wrote about that and brought that into the mainstream.” No, how many hundred people had to get around him, impacting him, for it to trickle there, right? But, what’s cool about you is that even though that happened at Harvard, you are a part of the mainstream conversation around this, or you have continued to bring it in there, which is awesome, because you deserve that, I believe, you know, hearing the story, I’m like, “yeah!” So for all of you listening, Will was on Gwyneth Paltrow’s show, ‘The Goop Lab’ in 2020, right?
31:40: Dr. Will: Yeah, yeah. A year ago, yeah.
31:43: Alexandra: A year ago. And was able to speak and share about psychedelics for mental health, right?
31:51: Dr. Will: Yeah.
31:52: Alexandra: Yeah, so you can catch that on Netflix, I believe, and what’s the name of the episode?
32:01: Dr. Will: I think it’s called ‘The Healing Trip’, it’s episode one of ‘The Goop Lab.’
32:05: Alexandra: Ok, cool. Yeah, I didn’t love the whole episode, but I loved you on it. I maybe even texted you about it, that I was a bit grumpy about some of the other parts of it. But it was important and it was beautiful to see you be able to share there, and you know, I think some of us who maybe have been touched deeply by certain modalities or psychedelics for instance, or plant medicines, we hold it in a certain regard, so it can be kind of intense to see that on television and go, “wait, they’re doing it wrong, and it’s not like that and etc. etc…” and at the end of the day, I always sort of hug that part of myself and go, “ok girl, it’s fine, just let them do their thing and like, don’t be judgy and on a high horse about it…” and you know, there’s obviously a line of discernment there.
32:58: Dr. Will: Yeah.
33:00: Alexandra: Yeah, so, after that period of time in your life, right, so coming back to kind of the aftermath of this, I have this image of like, your soul breaking through in some way, or this like, sort of, some sort of breaking through, like whether you’re like this little wild flower breaking through the concrete, or like a superhero who’s like sort of busted out of their suit and is now like, “duh duh duhduh I’m free!” like, what came after that? What was next?
33:39: Dr. Will: You mean like after the event that I’m talking about at Harvard, or like, all of it?
33:44: Alexandra: Yeah, like after you left being on the faculty there and you were speaking and sort of mentioned that you had the MDMA experience after the DMT one, what was next?
34:01: Dr. Will: So, it’s interesting, so I’ll go back to like, you know, I’ve never been called a wild flower coming through concrete, I like that, but you know, in a way I think both those stories, whether it’s this energy, let’s just call it energy for now, sort of having to build to make this decision at Harvard, or the experience the energy within the DMT experience, coming to something and having to make a decision to sort of, you know, to be myself… I think that’s the story of all us, I think, you know I think this human experience is about becoming as fully expressed as possible, for each of us, right, and it’s the stories from our past – whether it’s family, friends, relationships, trauma – that keep us from being that fully authenticated, right, and so to me, that’s how I approach healing now, like when I watch someone, when someone walks through my door or sends me an email, I sit down with them, like that’s, I feel like that’s a skill that I have as a healer, like I can see their soul through the illusions, like literally sometimes before they even open their mouth, like just seeing the way someone holds themselves, dresses, all of it. And so, I know I’m answering your question very indirectly, because I mean since then, it’s just been more of breaking through more things, you know, they’ve become more subtle and more nuanced and perhaps, smaller in some ways, than you know this big dramatic I’ve gotta shift my life and my career, but they’re still there, and I can give you examples but I won’t, but even from the last month, like there’s definitely still more like, petals breaking through the concrete, and I think that this is what the life experience is about, or as far as deep as I’ve gotten, or most of the healers and philosophers that I really respect, and so… I moved to New York City after that, to be more direct and I was there for two and a half years, and yeah, that’s when I started speaking more publicly about psychedelics, I got on my first podcast, and started giving lectures and that sort of a thing, and it was building even more confidence on this decision that I had just made. And even though I had made this decision to be like, “f*ck it, I’m going for this” it was, it felt very big, and there was sort of this reset of my foundation of life, and life was still there to be dealt with after, you know, and it’s interesting, you brought up the Netflix show, it was a wonderful thing to be on, it was this big thing, it felt like this big thing, and it was, and then you know, the dust just settles and we gotta do the life thing again. And the reason I wanted to tell the story that I did you know, about the experience at Harvard, is because I think everyone can relate to this in some aspects of this in their everyday life, you know, I don’t think I’m some sort of superhero…
36:59: Alexandra: No, no… I mean, yes, always.
37:06: Dr. Will: Yes and no, you know. I’ve gotten really good at seeing through the illusions, and I’ve built tools on how to get ourselves through the illusion, but I guess I mean I don’t take that superhero thing because we could all do this, I don’t want someone to hear this, and hear me, and feel inspired and then not feel they can do it. You know, this is the human experience.
37:27: Alexandra: Well, I think that we all have our own internal superheroes, sorry to sound cheesy, but I think we can call that an exalted being, or a soul essence, or the pure unconditional love, or the ground of our being, or whatever we want to call it, depending on our belief system or our ideology… for me, the image of a superhero came to mind, but it is essentially breaking free of the constraints of our shadows, our limitations, our cultural conditioning, all of that. Which, depending on how you see life, and I believe that a lot of people who experience psychedelics or plant medicines, have a similar way of understanding our life, that we are breaking free and letting go and shedding and moving out of shadow and calling shadow into light, and we’re here doing this kind of deep alchemizing lesson learning. You know, my first spiritual teacher was like, “yeah, we go into classrooms, metaphorically speaking, for our soul, and we just keep learning, yeah, and if we’re not learning, we’re thrust back into the same classroom” so I feel like, in that regard, it’s like we do get to be our own superhero in a way because we get to come through our own shadow tendencies and bring them into light, right, and that might mean speaking up and I feel like those are moment, and I have all of these kind of, imaginal ways that I see things, like your ancestors are clapping for you, it’s almost like in the video game where it’s like, “ding ding ding ding! Great, next level!” you know, you level up. And they’re not moments where, “oh, I made a lot of money or I wrote a bestselling book, or whatever…” they are these moments, where your grit is tested, your integrity is brought into light and depending on the stakes of your soul’s karma, some of those are really like, more intense, like some people were speaking up in a way where they could go to jail, and these people exist in the world, there are many souls who speak and share their heart with what they believe and they go against certain governments or religions or acts of violence and speak up, so, that moment, whether it’s on a small level or big level, whether the stakes are super high – life or death – or whether the stakes are – I might lose my family or my community, or I might lose my acclaim, or I might lose my following online, or whatever – it’s interesting, you know, I do think that’s where the soul is tested through those moments of the grit is where we see what we’re made of.
40:25: Dr. Will: Sure, yeah, beautifully said. Absolutely.
40:28: Alexandra: Yeah, wow, you like, this was such a complete kind of a story which is fabulous and I appreciate that, and before we move towards closing, I just, for those people listening, who are curious about like the psychedelic piece, in terms of how psychedelics can be beneficial for mental health problems, how they can access that information, I do feel like there’s a lot of information out there right now – tv, podcasts, news – about using psychedelics and/or plant medicines, but sometimes it can be overwhelming I imagine, for people and sometimes people message me and they’re like, “what should I do?” and I’m like, “I am not the person to advise you, follow your heart…” which is like, super annoying, I’m sure for them to hear, and I know it’s total like new-age hippy speak, which I’ll take full responsibility for, but what would you, how would you direct people that are curious to learn more about stepping outside of the traditional paradigm of dealing with mental health or mental illness or mental problems, however you want to categorize that, and into a more progressive way of solving those problems or issues, with psychedelics, specifically?
42:02: Dr. Will: Yeah, follow your heart. Haha! That is what we’re talking about, right? There is somewhat of a formula, I think, to healing. And within, without psychedelics. I don’t think the formula is any different with psychedelics, actually. I think it’s you know, realizing that we’re in pain. I think number two would be then, realizing that we are in large, the cause of that pain, and I think that’s a big first step for people, right, because until we say, “I am the cause of my pain” we’re not going to solve it because you know, it’s this dual sort of paradox, to me, saying, “I am the source of my pain” it’s a painful thing because we can’t blame the outside. Outside of the immediate trauma that’s still happening, but it’s also empowering because if I’m the cause of my pain, I am the solution to it. I think that’s sort of level one, and I think of people, where are they? Are they coming to me saying that the outside world is horrible, and that’s why they’re unhappy, or the inside? So, step one is own your pain.
43:16: Alexandra: Yeah, taking responsibility. In my book, I kind of walk people through a process that’s similar to what I experience with or without a psychedelic and the first one is, I say, just get real about where you’re at. Like, that in itself, is a huge part of the healing process. Is to just take responsibility for what you’re feeling, to acknowledge it, and even learn how to feel it and identify it. Some people aren’t even there, right? Like the idea of feeling what is happening inside is still foreign, and then to feel it, and then to take responsibility for it, to have that awareness, it takes a certain level of spiritual and emotional maturity. And I do think that is an important step before taking a psychedelic, because otherwise you can think, “oh, this is just gonna wipe it all away!” and, probably not.
44:09: Dr. Will: Well, yes, I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. And I would actually say, in any of the steps of the healing, maybe we’ll keep talking about it or not, so I would say yeah, it’s admitting that we’re causing our pain. Number two, is where is the pain coming from? So, it’s being aware of our body, like what’s doing this? And number three, I mean, I’ve never said these out loud, so they may not be the steps the way they work out, but then it’s like, so what am I doing to perpetuate that, and what can I do to change that? Whether that’s relationships, work, etc. And then we usually find the catharsis after those. Each of those steps is challenging, you know, I know these well, and I’ve gone through many of them and I’m still going through many of them. So you know, all these things are happening unconsciously. So I think at any level that we’re talking about in terms of becoming more of who we are and healing, psychedelics can help facilitate that. If we think that we’re not causing our pain, a psychedelic experience can help us see the way that we’re doing that and admit that to ourselves and mourn the resistance to that. If it’s how is it now happening in my every day life, how am I causing my pain, psychedelics can help you see into how you’re doing that. So, they can be helpful at any stage of the way, so I personally wouldn’t say that, you know, they don’t work at any step of healing, but it’s more being mindful of what we’re doing, you know… and in some ways, what’s not being talked about much right now that’s going to be necessary is that not all psychedelics are created equal, you know. Some are very powerful, short-acting, like DMT or the toad. Or some are much more gentle, like MDMA.
45:46: Alexandra: Ah! MDMA was so not gentle with me a few months ago! It was one of the worst experiences! I almost texted you, I was like, “I wonder what Will would say about this?” Because I was just vomiting, nauseous for eight hours on the floor, I was like, “did I accidentally take ayahuasca and no one told me?!”
46:10: Dr. Will: On a tangent note, related to that, I have found that actually since connecting more to my gut and catharsis through purging and vomiting, with ayahuasca, I now often purge with other psychedelics…
46:23: Alexandra: You do? I wondered about that.
46:27: Dr. Will: Yeah, yep. It’s rare, though. But once you start connecting, I think this felt very much like a catharsis.
46:32: Alexandra: Yeah, I took it as that. And then, I was able to like, stay with it, and I just acknowledged that because of the work that I’ve done with ayahuasca, when I enter that portal, I have to just sort of use the same rules, like, anything can happen and not go, “oh, this is gonna be like this” because it’s MDMA or you know, this psychedelic will act like this, but I kind of now, I enter any of them and I say, “I could poop my brains out, puke my brains out, cry my brains out, laugh, or nothing could happen, actually” like there is no golden standard for each of them, and that’s control, and letting go of control, too and just surrendering to the experience, but anyway, didn’t mean to interrupt you there.
47:21: Dr. Will: No, so I mean, in a way, what I’m saying is basically like, it just depends, but I wouldn’t take each experience as a one-size-fits-all because there’s certain things that people are now talking a lot about the toad, which is 5-MeO-DMT, I haven’t done it, and I’m not sure that I will do it, because it’s really f*cking powerful and like, I have a history of PTSD because of the stuff that happened when I was young basically, pre-18, and I was talking to a friend yesterday who also has PTSD, and he had his first 5-MeO-DMT experience like a week ago, and he feels net traumatized by it, it was a very difficult experience, and so, I would not say all psychedelics are meant for everyone to take, some might be too much and they might leave you in a worse place, and so I think being very mindful about the use, who we’re doing it with, why we’re doing it, and being able to say no when it doesn’t feel right because I think as exciting as psychedelics have become in the last years, it’s hard to find good guides and practitioners, so sometimes the first person that comes to them, they’re like, “yes I’ll do it” and sometimes it leaves them in a worse place, and I would say trusting your gut overall. And being patient and gentle.
48:50: Alexandra: Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I really appreciate what you said before that like, they can meet whoever wherever they are. I think I just have like a bit of my cautious like, where I’m like, “well, you should just do a little bit of work before you enter in there” but they will meet you wherever you are. My mother had a ketamine experience for depression, she had deep depression for a very long time and been on Zoloft for probably 40 years, and she let me talk about this in my book, because it’s a profound experience in my life to live alongside her, and so when ketamine was – I think I told you this actually, when we became friends – they were able to prescribe it to her, and I was still bummed out that it didn’t come with any sort of psychological therapeutic addition, right… she just went to the clinic, they gave her ketamine, she was in a room with a television and… that’s it. And I think there can be, there are so many different sort of, potential shadows that can arise for a culture in the mainstream for medicine as people tap into these potent substances and I think that’s why I advise people to just enter with caution and awareness because if you’re gonna go there, you might as well go with like, “ok I know what I’m bringing, I have some awareness of my pain, my trauma, like, what’s bringing me here” and then having integration, having some intention before, and all of these other pieces that I hope the medical system will be able to bring into experiences with people so that, it’s not like, oh cool, now we’re just going to hook them up to the MDMA machine… without any type of support, you know, obviously, we’ll see what happens in the future. If our country is still ruled by capital and money, then it might not be for humans, you know, as these medicines get put more into the mainstream.
51:10: Dr. Will: Yeah you know and it’s interesting as you mentioned that you hope the medical community, as they, you know, is able to respond and provide these medicines in a very most supportive and helpful way, and it’s a bummer to hear about your mom, and that’s what’s happening right now, you know, it’s interesting, I was talking to a friend… I live in Venice Beach and I know you lived there recently, and it was like, every time I walk by Med Net now, especially it’s like you know, psychedelics, there was lots of shifts in 2020, there was decriminalization in lots of places that are very supportive of, but also lots of companies went public you know, and some big pharma psychedelic companies went public, and so, I don’t know, when I walk by Med Net, I’m like, there’s gonna be some aspect of psychedelics that becomes this, it’s going to be like a shop and they’re going to be in these tiny little boxes, like different types of mushrooms and people are going to claim that they do this and that, and I already feel like it’s sort of happening already… you know, whether medicine will evolve or I think it’s going to evolve slowly, because being open to it is one thing, but learning how these psychedelics work and tying in the body and spirituality is something that’s going to take a very long time for medicine, at least five, ten years plus at best. And the same thing happens in the wellness and the spiritual community, there’s plenty of people that don’t have degrees that are calling themselves guides or coaches offering psychedelic, and they’re also not offering it with full integrity or awareness, just like the medical system. I think psychedelics should be available to all communities to do safely, whether it’s within medicine, or without, but I just think practitioners just need to be mindful of what they’re able to provide to people. And to do it safely…
53:03: Alexandra: Yeah… and I like that you’re pointing out one extreme is like, the sort of, super clinical, no spiritual or no psychological support. But just like this clinical, you take the thing and etc. etc… but on the other side, super wild wild west practitioner rogue, sort of like, basement shaman vibe that your friend recommended and that maybe has no background in understanding trauma or the nervous system or any type of actual psychology… like these are extremes, right? And so, you’re a bit of an anomaly, in a sense, that you walk along the spiritual path and that you have the medical and academic background, I don’t think or haven’t heard a lot of people who are holding the sort of reverence towards the spiritual path, which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, that that’s not super common, but I appreciate it!
54:04: Dr. Will: Yeah, it’s interesting and I think it’s just sort of, you know, there’s a quote that I’ve heard attributed to Ram Dass, but I’ve like, googled it and I can’t find it under him, but I’m reminded of it now, which is, the quote is something like – you can only get as high as your shaman’s gotten – so I think it’s sort of connected and related to what we’re talking about is that wellness has sort of become a capitalist industry, too, like I think we have to admit that. And spirituality, spirituality has become a capitalist or it’s going to soon become…
54:38: Alexandra: No, it already is, big time!
54:40: Dr. Will: It’s like, everyone’s a coach now. Everyone is telling you how to heal, and follow these steps, and it’s too much, who do you believe? And ultimately, I always approach it like, the person sitting in front of me is the one that knows best for them.
54:56: Alexandra: Yeah, yeah! And I mean we’ll close here in a moment obviously, this is such a huge conversation and I really wanted it to be centered around you and your story and there’s so many offshoots of why this is a hot topic now and why psychedelics and plant medicines have changed my life completely and helped me and continue to… in so many ways, even just teaching me how to sit with extreme states of fear and discomfort and anxiety and pain and turn towards them instead of away from them. I do believe that because of that training in a psychedelic experiences it now leads into my normal days like, “I feel like I did mushrooms, but I’m actually just in a deep, sort of like, psycho-spiritual-emotional process today”… so I have such gratitude and reverence for the possibilities there and definitely a longer conversation and I appreciate that you just brought it in, and is there anything that you want to just add in as we close, or anything we didn’t mention?
56:14: Dr. Will: No, I think we kind of talked about everything, it’s really just trusting yourself on the healing journey and seeing all the tools and the people that are sort of, part of your healing journey as tools, but that ultimately it’s building your own philosophy on how to live your life.
56:33: Alexandra: Mmmhmm exactly. And anything you’d recommend for beginners for places that they want to, or they could potentially learn? Any kind of books or podcasts or movies or anything that you’d go, “oh, just start there”?
56:50: Dr. Will: Yeah, I really like two media companies around psychedelics, Psychedelics Today does a really great job, they put out a podcast and some content and Double Blind also, I’ve gotten to know the two women that run that magazine and they really do a solid job. So I think for mainstream stuff, yeah, those two, and MAPS too…
57:19: Alexandra: Yeah those are great places to start. So everybody, if you’re interested in learning more, look up Psychedelics Today, they’ve got a great podcast, and Double Blind is an awesome platform and they have a beautiful actual magazine, which they’ve sent me, and it’s just full of such interesting content, really smart and helpful. And I think they’ve also put out some classes on how to work with psychedelics, I think they have some online mini-courses and things… and also, google Will… well, don’t google Will, I’m trying to become not addicted to google, I changed all my search engines to Duck Duck Go or Pro, I think it’s Go, so I’m trying to secure my online life, how much of a tech avatar I have just casually laying around on multiple websites open, but that’s another conversation, but anyway, look up Will online and also, he’s been on many podcasts, so you can listen to him talking more about this subject in depth on many many podcasts, so, and do you have any upcoming classes, events, anything you want to share?
58:44: Dr. Will: Yeah, so Instagram is the one medium I have now, but I’m looking to spread that, so I’m going to be… I’ve been doing a course for clinicians to learn about psychedelics, so if you’re a clinician, I’ll announce that on Instagram. Medium, I’m also going to start a Medium page and I’ll start writing…
59:02: Alexandra: Yeah, I think we all need to start spreading our message around and decentralize from just living on Instagram, our businesses and our public selves, yeah maybe a Telegram channel and you can be completely uncensored… but Medium sounds great and I think that is such a great way for us to read more in-depth work, where Instagram is like trying to pack everything into a little short bit or a video and sometimes the messages live better in a longer piece of writing.
59:39: Dr. Will: Absolutely.
59:40: Alexandra: So yeah, follow Will on Instagram where he’s going to tell you when to go to Medium and read his essays and about his classes and things and events that he has coming up. Well, thank you so much, this was so fun to talk about and sort of just like, bring into this space, and thank you for being on my first season of my podcast of sharing… and I hope that everyone listening, I hope that this inspired you just to continue to speak up, to ask questions and to question and to listen to yourself, and when you feel like something inside is like, “that’s off for me” to really listen and to speak and to keep living, to keep living in these times, and to keep questioning and healing and not to get entrenched in fear and you know, a little mushroom journey will help you right out of that! I didn’t recommend that, that’s just my practice! Thank you so much Will.