I started a new sort of mental health agency forged in the image of a church. Why blend these two modes? In my opinion, psychotherapy offers better evidence-based approaches to promoting increased wellbeing and reduced suffering than religious institutions have ever offered. But a stable community of spiritual fellowship (a church) is uniquely apt to provide a profound mystical experience. Spiritual communities are better equipped to integrate such extraordinary “states” into enduring “traits” by providing an arena to express and develop such traits.
Deaths of despair (alcohol addiction, suicide, drug overdose) are on the rise in this nation. Not content to merely inoculate ourselves from such a fate, The LENS encourages its adherents to unfold the fullness of their capacities back into the universe which wrought them.
The LENS will continue to host symposiums wherein guest artists are spot-lighted, testimonials of awe-inspiring experiences are shared, and proven psychotherapeutic tools are practiced. The LENS is also hosting thoughtfully designed and carefully executed Entheogenic Retreats in accordance with the latest discoveries in psilocybin research. Participants safely and reliably experience what thousands of people have discovered is our natural and constitutionally protected birthright… a mystical experience among the most meaningful and healing available to mankind.
[Coming Soon. Audio and Video from the event]
Here’s what happened at the symposium
I was amazed and grateful at all the people who came to the event with little or no knowledge of what is was specifically about. The following was discussed:
Here is what the LENS is:
We are an informal mental health service provider offering a therapeutic intervention few clinics would recognize as crucial to increased wellbeing… a profound mystical experience
We are a church that adheres to an evidence-based ethic few churches would recognize as crucial to discovering ultimate truth, living honestly, and fulfilling one’s spiritual needs… Nullius in verba (take no one’s word for it)
We are a sanctuary from the rising tide of deaths-from-despair (alcohol dependency, suicide, drug overdose) that claims ever increasing numbers of people year over year in this nation.
We are a mushroom cult (but certainly not merely so)
We are a place to learn and practice meditation
We are an academy that equips its students with proven psychotherapeutic tools
We are a stage upon which you song writers, poets, artists, and dramatic performers can shine your light before of a focused audience who are prepared to ponder how your most heartfelt work might impact their lives in this moment. Sound better than a bar gig?
We are are connected to the larger world, supporting local providers of wellness services (yoga instructors, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academies, co-counseling groups, psychotherapists, life-coaches… any service that promotes evidence-based practices)
We are mainstream. All are welcome. Stigmas will be broken by our open and honest assertion that mystical experience is a common need and can be obtained safely and reliably without approval from religious clergy, subculture indoctrination, or industrial authorities.
We are a non-profit, tax-exempt organization
Here is what the LENS is not:
We are not a church that requires faith, dogma, doctrine, superstition, or idolatry. We encourage you to testify only to that which you have directly experienced
We are not a ruse to get stoned on mushrooms in the name of religious freedom
We are not a promoter of illicit drug use apart from what is required to satisfy the best intentions of our solemnly considered, well documented, and carefully performed entheogenic ceremony
We are not a promoter of micro-dosing (but not discouraging anyone from independent practice of any kind, either); our retreats are aimed at experiencing a full blown, awe-inspiring encounter with the sacred. The same sort of experience that has bewondered mystics of every culture and creed since the dawn of man
We are not attempting to play the role of parent or authority figure in anyone’s life. Speak only of your own experience, and don’t presume to know what others have experienced or ought to experience
We are not a place for sexual exploration, indeed no sexual activity will be tolerated at any of The LENS events. Entheogenic retreats entail a high degree of vulnerability and trust. Knowing that you will not be taken advantage of will allow a deeper, more effective surrender to the therapeutic process
We are not teaching The Secret, The Law of Attraction, or any other prosperity gospel that claims to improve your material wealth, physical health or social/career status
We are not counterculture. Our events welcome all people from every culture, ethnicity, and yes… even political persuasion.
We are not a for-profit business
We are not a pyramid scheme, multi-level marketing or any sort of get-rich-quick scheme
We are not isolated from the larger world. We’re not hiding. We’re open, available, and striving to become increasingly beneficial to our community
After clearing up why we were gathered, I picked up a guitar and began singing Arise Shine (I’d love it if guest artists took over this portion of an event… the last thing I want is to become a one-man-show). The people sang along. And when the moment was right, the bard emerged... Joe Dinki took the stage and recited his powerful poem, Arise.
“Arise… You’ve been invited.”, Joe proclaimed as the poem came to it’s stunning conclusion.
I then took a moment to recognize Abby Spindelman, founder of Intimacy Alive, where she hosts workshops focused on intimacy. Abby is also a yoga instructor at Shakti Yoga. Anyone who is doing the tremendous work of helping and healing using evidence-based spiritual practices in our city is welcome to visit any of our events and tell us more about your work and your passion.
I continued my presentation and we focused on the following…
Ideas and practices:
Nullius in verba (“on the word of no one”) is the motto of the Royal Society since 1660, and by disentangling faith from honest inquiry, this motto sparked an explosion of scientific discovery, the benefits of which (decreased child mortality, increased life-spans, higher quality of life, miraculous technologies, and all of the progressive advances of the enlightenment) we have all inherited these centuries later. The time has come for this same ethic to be applied to spiritual practices. Practices such as meditation, psychotherapy, and high dose psilocybin experiences require no faith or religious superstition or idolatry, and yet they reliably produce spiritual experiences that are as transformational and transcendent as any claimed by religious mystics.
Nullius in verba also happens to be the motto inscribed on the medals awarded at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournaments I’ve attended. In this context, BJJ really distinguishes itself from other martial arts. There is no need to take somebody’s word for it that they are skilled in these techniques. Talk is unnecessary. In BJJ, two people strive against one another to gain points of advantage and position, or win outright by forcing their opponent to submit. Inside of a few minutes, one’s capabilities are silently, yet self-evidently on display.
Mortality Awareness is the beginning of wisdom. I pulled out a few Life Calendar Posters from WaitButWhy.org and asked folks to find their current week on the calendar. Having done so, now determine… just how many Sundays do you have left?
Mindfulness Meditation is, so far, the best way I’ve found to increase the quality of attention I pay in any given moment. And haven’t you noticed that attention is all you really have in this life? I may not have any hope of extending my life in the number of its days, but I have increased the quality and perceived density of time in every moment by exercising my powers of attention in this way. So far, the best meditation course I’ve found is Sam Harris’ Waking Up Course. I played the first course, a five minute guided meditation, and the entire group of 30 or so people meditated, many of them for the first time in their lives. Sam is also the author of the book, Waking Up: A Guide to spirituality without religion, which inspired me to create a church with Nullius in verba as its primary motto. In the next Event (April 19), we will watch Sam’s move, Waking Up, and do a deep focus on meditation and the need we have as humans to develop our spiritual lives. And we can do so without taking on board a slew of superstitions and unjustified claims to know shit we couldn’t possibly know.
Entheogenic Retreats. The word entheogen means “Generating (or discovering) God within”. It was coined by Carl Ruck in 1979 as a way to best describe the experiences he and Gordon Wasson had ingesting psilocybe mushrooms in Mexico under the care of healer, Maria Sabina. I then announced that we would be organizing an entheogenic retreat. The retreat would span three days, with the first day dedicated to setting one’s intentions for the profound mystical experience that would commence on day two. The second day would be devoted to experiencing what many in the scientific literature have described as one of the top three, if not the single most meaningful experience they’ve ever encountered; right up there with their wedding day, or the birth of a child. The third day would be spent integrating the experience back into one’s ordinary everyday experience of consciousness. For me, this has meant journaling. I read selections from my journal recounting my most recent trip. in this same way, I now offer the process of Discovery, Creation, and Expression to anyone who is ready and willing. And that The LENS could be the place where one could share their moment of discovery, create something from it (a journal, a poem, a song, a drawing)… further solidifying the experience in one’s minds, and then bring it back to the larger community and shine it back through the lenses of one another’s eyes, projecting the experience on the walls of each other’s minds. For fuck sake, we can do so much better than Facebook. To learn more about the science of psilocybin, read Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
Psychotherapeutic Tools. I recounted the day I first discovered Phil Stutz on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. It was a life changer for me as his book, The Tools, which he wrote with Barry Michels taught me how to dig myself out of deep holes of self-defeat and despair I routinely fall into. Why this is so important to incorporate into The LENS’s offering of services… it takes weeks and perhaps years to develop a beneficial meditation practice (and well worth the effort I might add). And even if you’re looking forward to the transformation enabled by an entheogenic retreat, that sort of experience may lie several months in the future, and in any case doesn’t lend itself as an “every-day” intervention. When you’re really stuck and hurting… you need help right now. These tools are short-term, potent, and capable of kick-starting the process of recovery right away.
To demonstrate the power of this approach, I listed the names of several holes we all tend to fall into:
Bitterness, resentment, righteous indignation, jealousy, rumination over a slight or a dis
Laziness - Addiction to comfort, procrastination
Worry and anxiety, depression, malaise - sense of how shitty everything seems to be
Public Speaking - performance anxiety - stage fright - Lack of creativity/authenticity
Demoralization - being dismissed, overlooked, ignored, judged as inadequate, not good enough
Hatred and Misunderstanding directed towards you from others who refuse to extend good faith or charity - undue criticism, called out on social media, pilloried for an honest mistake, words taken out of context to undermine your best intentions
Self Gratification - (porn, ice cream, and everything in between) - compulsive habits that rob you of significant time and energy that could be spent doing more meaningful things
Lack of Energy - especially when context switching or moving from one activity to another, one job to another
Then I posited Phil Stutz’ theory, that the reason we keep falling into such holes is because we have evolved to avoid three immutable laws of living a meaningful life:
Life is painful
Life is uncertain
Life requires ceaseless effort
Avoid any one of these immutable truths, and you’re fucked.
I then asked a volunteer to grab the mic and talk about the hole he or she finds themself in right this very moment. A courageous woman came up and talked about her desire (her need even) to find the time and willpower to go for a regular walk in the park with the hope that she might work her way up to running some day. We then stepped through the tool, The Reversal of Desire. Did it help her? We shall see. I then told her that the next time we met, I wouldn’t be asking her if she took her walk. I have no faith for that. But she demonstrated without any doubt that she could wield the new weapon she had been given in the form of a mental exercise. I knew from my own experience that such an exercise had proven to bridge the gap between thinking about making a change, and taking action to make the change. So while I wouldn’t be asking her next time if she had walked, I would ask if she used the tool. THAT’s the real test. And it’s a test I’ve discovered I can pass with higher reliability than winning the war of willpower without a tool.
… To be continued [work in progress]