Amidst times of war, the ancient Chinese masters retreated to philosophy to develop a science of action. The way of effortless action. Wu Wei. Action rarefied like the air, unfettered by the resistance of thought and selfhood.
How do we act responsibly as leaders in this Psychedelic Renaissance? How do we rebirth psychedelic medicine accounting past karma while inculcating future hope? How do we balance action with thought, old with new, ordered change with dismantling chaos?
The chasm of opportunity is deep. On one side unfurls a psychedelic utopia. Perhaps a society transformed will emerge. Joe the Plumber living an examined life alongside Bob the Wallstreet Banker. A society in which a jury convenes on therapy time rather than jail time. Perhaps it is a luscious green Eden, returned to nature and saved from ecological disaster. Perhaps a psychedelic utopia isn’t much different to today, except people look into each other’s eyes a little deeper and smile a little wider.
What lurks on the other side of a chasm? A failed renaissance. Psychedelic treatment abstracted into billboards and marketing: “How to Change Your Mind Today for One Payment of $99.95!”. Commercial forces re-colonizing the space, taking the “mind” out of “mind-manifesting”. A society undergoing a collective “bad trip” where openness contracts into an existential fear and closure.
They say wisdom is holding two ideas that seem contradictory in equipoise. I claim no wisdom of my own (24 years is enough to know I know little) so I rely on this wisdom about wisdom. I have come to some prescriptions for myself while confronting the chasm of possibility. I would like to share them with you.
I) ACT DIAGONALLY
In chess theory, it is taught that the bishops are best positioned on the largest diagonal on the board. Here, the bishops stay posted sometimes for the whole game and have sight over the maximum number of squares across the board.
The players in the psychedelic space that will create meaningful change will be like the bishops: those who maintain foresight and steadiness. Acting diagonally means integrating perspective across theories, disciplines and institutions. We don’t need to create a new dimension of movement; we must work within the current dimensions to create a new direction.
My experience at COMPASS Pathways demonstrated the importance of acting diagonally. I appreciated COMPASS’ ability to work across disciplines and integrate vertically and horizontally across fields and institutions in order to create a new paradigm of depression therapy. In the weekly R&D meetings, I would marvel at the discussions between a seasoned scientist with 20-years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and the recent biochemistry graduate with a love affair of phenylethylamines and tryptamines. With different backgrounds and future perspective, these two characters were equally fascinated with psilocybin therapy and could then sit in the same room to co-create a shared vision.
To protect against perpetuating the old failed systems, while also creating solutions that can help people, we need to act diagonally. We cannot alienate the institutions of law, medicine, healthcare and politics. Instead, we must work within them. We cannot alienate the seemingly impossible, arcane and uncertain solutions within the psychedelic vision. Instead, we must let them inspire us. Position ourselves like the bishop on the chess board and be patient for the right move.
II) EMPOWER THE YOUTH
When I think of the youth in the Psychedelic Renaissance, I think of brewing beer. The natural sugars in the barley are fuel for living organisms which respire carbon dioxide adding fizz and pressure. It is this fizz that gives the beer ‘life’. However, if unattended, this carbon dioxide can burst the barrel, and all the built-up pressure is squandered into a chaotic mess.
We ought to empower the youth in psychedelics because there is a potent passion brewing in young people. This passion has the potential to reinvigorate the space and ferment new institutions and ideas. At the same time, if we shovel the youth into the old institutions – even if that means established research universities, new psychedelic venture funds, psychedelic media outlets – we risk this energy turning into apathy, or worse, resentment.
With 6 of my friends from UPenn, Princeton and Harvard, I co-founded the Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network (IPN). Our youth-led organization’s mission is to foster the development of students into the next generation of diverse and interdisciplinary leaders in the field of psychedelics. We have met hundreds of young people with impressive backgrounds who are ready to learn and contribute to psychedelia.
To encompass the potential of empowering the youth I would like to tell you the story of Andrew (pseudonym changed to protect his identity). Andrew is a recent graduate who has been working at a major consulting company for the last couple of years. When I first met Andrew, I instantly sensed the demeanor of a consultant: friendly, a little distant and intently structured. Andrew asked me if IPN could help him find a job in psychedelics.
“Why do you want to get involved, Andrew?” I am always excited to meet other young people like me in the field and am always curious about what has brought them here.
Andrew proceeded to give me a generic answer as to the current predicament of mental health, the promise of psychedelic science and, of course, a biblical reference to the Gospel of Michael Pollan.
It was only after getting to know Andrew better that I found that he was not truly satisfied with working as a consultant. He had always wanted to be an innovator and involve into a space of novelty. He himself had encountered illness and thought psychedelics could be used to help others who had experience his specific illness. I got to know a bright, curious and dedicated young person who had a heartfelt and meaningful intention.
Players in the psychedelic space can empower the youth by incorporating youth-led psychedelic clubs and movements. Commercial players should consider integrating internship programs and research institutions focused on psychedelic research should open research programs for summer studentships. By doing so, we can empower the youth rather than alienate them from institutionalized progress.
III) CONNECTION OVER PERFECTION
Humans have always been captivated about the idea of capturing perfection: from architecture that would rival the gods themselves, to art and aesthetics conceiving the ideal form.
There is humanity in pursuing perfection. However, perfection is not the essence of humanity. Humanity is defined by connectedness. When we see the wonders of ancient art, we are amused by depictions of perfection yet ultimately enthralled by the connection to the human condition which is portrayed.
The Psychedelic Renaissance is a space that thirsts connection. There is a mosaic of different disciplines, ideologies and interests that refract the energy within the field into a kaleidoscope. If each fractal were to pursue perfection it would lead to fracture; as one person’s perfection is another’s defection. Perfection will invariably lead to ideas and ideologies vying for dominance. Prioritizing connection ensures that every player in the field engages in a shared vision.
Leading the Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network has demonstrated to me how connection creates the space for co-creation. Our structure engages bio-mimicry: we have a mycelial leadership that metaphorically works underground, leading from beneath, connecting different functional teams (mushroom caps) to each other and resources. Our advisors (birds) fly overhead seeking opportunities and protecting us from above. We do not envision a particular future for psychedelics. Our priority is the integrity of our connected ecosystem.
Leaders in psychedelics should turn their attention towards the ethics of connection. The North Star group, a non-profit organization aimed towards creating an ethical community around psychedelic healing, is a prime example of prioritizing connection over perfection. More organizations and groups across the industry should integrate their opinions in a connected ethic.
As a young person in the Psychedelic Rennaisance, I am willing to be patient. I aim to act diagonally, across my education and experiences. I aim to empower the youth through mentorship. I will rely on mentors to integrate my different views and will rely on my mentees to reinvigorate my vision with their perspectives. Each day that I progress through my career, through my relationships and being present with myself, I will prioritise connection over nebulous perfection. I promise to enter the space of ideas with open heart and open mind.
Overlooking the chasm between utopia and dystopia lies a horizon that connects the whole landscape. While walking on the tightrope of the Psychedelic Renaissance, our gaze may wander to either side of the chasm. We must remain focused on the horizon. Like the ancient master of Wu Wei we can formulate our own science of action and work towards the rising sun of renaissance and usher in the new day.
By Rahul Sood
More IPN Blogs
Cover art from created using DALL-E 2 (prompt: Psychedelic Library Inception) and Canva, by author In the corner of the dark, cold storage room of my family’s basement, a collection of fascinating books awaits. Broadly about altered states of consciousness, but mostly...
Cover art from @carlosthechemist Psychedelics Psychedelics allow us to move away from this three-dimensional world – a place where we usually only believe what our five senses can perceive, where time plays out in chronological order, where our logical minds usually...
First, read part I, click here As I continued deeper into NIO-5, my direct experience became akin to watching the falling of leaves. Just as my gaze cannot dictate the spin of falling leaves, I could not dictate movements of my body – yet, I moved forward. I could...