Over the past two years I have participated in volunteering for MAPS and the Zendo Project at various conferences and festivals. This last summer, I have taken on a bigger role volunteering at five events, holding leadership positions, and working with different medical groups like RGX medical and really taking on the harm reductionist role in different ways. I also work with people in similar states in my own wellness practice and the experience of the Zendo Project and dealing with people in fragile psychedelic states has given me a tremendous amount of life experience and knowledge. I am so thankful for such groups for giving me the training and insight into how to hold space for people and to facilitate and allow processing for people on psychedelics or even those who are not and just going through “normal” life stresses of anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, self-worth, etc.
The people who run and participate in the Zendo Project and other such groups like medical with RGX and DanceSafe are astounding individuals. They each perform vital tasks in making sure people are safe, informed, cared for, and put back into the world in a better state than they were previously. Medical will patch you up and cater to your instant needs, Zendo will give you psychological support and processing, and DanceSafe will give you knowledge and information and testing for you to know if you are ingesting clean substances or not. In these groups I have never met more inspiring individuals and every event I work I am continually amazed at how I can possibly keep meeting more people who absolutely amaze me and make the world a better place. It’s unreal! The family atmosphere, the comradery, the positive radiating energy, the care, the zeal for life, the altruism, the conversations, the pursuit of knowledge, the intelligence, the empathy, the holding of space and processing for others, the patience, the love, the curiosity, the friendships, the total acceptance, the rawness and authenticity displayed, the communication, etc. is all too amazing. Volunteer for Zendo or one of these groups and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It will positively slap you in the face!
Working and doing so much work in the Zendo this summer has really taught me a lot about the true nature of harm reduction and what people need in their lives. When people become a guest of the Zendo they are overwhelmed. Many guests are not actually on psychedelics and realize that the Zendo is a safe space for coming forth with whatever is on their mind. Most guests, however, are and the experience of being on them creates an overwhelming situation within their minds and bodies that need to be expressed and let out. Contrary to the person who walked in who had taken nothing, the person on psychedelics has way less control over what is coming forth within them. They are in an altered state and this state is forcing them to go within and confront all the things that have been brewing in them for a long time. If this person is not allowed to process in a safe space the situation could be negative for themselves, others, the community, etc. The feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc. that are normally easier to control for the person who is not on psychedelics is almost impossible to control for the person who is on them. They can easily fall victim to all these suddenly overpowering thoughts and feelings and maybe even hurt themselves, others, get arrested, ruin their time, embarrass themselves, generally land themselves in a lot of trouble, etc. That’s where the Zendo and the people working it display magic. It allows time for people to interact with these feelings in a zone where they will be safe, not judged, and cared for with people who will mostly just listen, mirror conversation coming at them, and possibly offer gentle guidance. It is a remarkable process and place to be where difficult experiences that could have easily been negative are transformed into challenging then transformed into positive. It is truly a wonderful wellness experience.
One of the more interesting things about handling people in the Zendo is the most extreme cases where people go through a complete psychotic break as a few of those happened this summer. This can be very intense and scary, especially if the person is a larger male and needs to be restrained by many individuals. These people are wandering around in their bodies, their brains, and them interacting with the external world, with others is very secondary and they hardly realize what they are doing. The content that comes up relates to relationship trauma, childhood trauma, cultural trauma, trauma in general, family problems, anxieties, depressions, struggles, funny jokes, sometimes astounding musical abilities, crying, aggression, happiness, and whatever else is swirling around in their psyche. This energy needs to move around. It needs to be expressed, it needs to get out, it needs to be confronted, it needs to feel safe, it needs to be given permission and consent to be processed. This astounding intensity can last many hours and for the very few this psychotic break doesn’t stop. Their brain has normalized the way they are feeling and acting and they are stuck in this state. This is the nightmare scenario and what is projected all over in the negative, fear based propaganda rich world of the war on drugs and what say psychedelics will commonly do to you. This couldn’t be further from the truth as 99.99999% of people who take psychedelics don’t encounter such an extreme psychotic break. For those that it happens with, it basically is an invitation to take on positive wellness practices in their lives. It means that they need serious professional psychological help and they are not processing information and emotions and feelings in their lives and really holding in too much. The psychotic break is an invitation to get better. If it didn’t come out at that moment, at say a festival or whatever, then it would have brewed and brewed and come out in subtle, slow, persistent ways over many years likely crippling their life in ways way worse than the suddenness of their intense psychotic break. The good news is that of all the cases I’ve heard of people going through these intense psychotic breaks, if they have continued to get help, they have fully recovered and become far better individuals.
And by far the most interesting thing of all, is running into people the next day who were guests at the Zendo. You met this person going through an overwhelming personal crisis in a dramatically altered state. It is easy to think that people are insane or have a million issues or will never be capable of being different or handling their thoughts and emotions. When you meet them the next day and see how good they are doing and how thankful they are of the time, energy, space, and care you gave them, it is such an emotionally positive feeling that flows through you. They are in fact human just like yourself and it brings a grand connective feeling about, that we are all the same and all need processing and a huge respect emerges for that person for taking on the work they did. We all are in need of such work and how would you act if you took on such tools in substances that allowed you to really dive into all the little crevices of your brain and soul and body? What would you uncover? We all know and possibly shudder at some of the things that might come up and shudder even more at the things we don’t know would come up. There is a grand connection for all of us humans to have space held for us and be accepted, not judged, and cared for while we go through tough processing and transitional moments.
When handling people in the Zendo it is also informative to see how loop thinking emerges. People have a fear or concern, they grow more paranoid about the fear or concern, it leads to a level of peak intensity, then a solution or other way of thinking is presented, then a calmness emerges and some other thought distracts for a moment, then that fear or concern comes back and the loop starts all over again. When people are on psychedelics everything is happening on a more intense level. The exaggeration witnessed allows one to make connections of how loop thinking works in a calm way in a “normal” brain or in your “normal” life. We constantly go through loop thinking especially with fears and negativity in our life. We often hold this in and continually go through this process. When we voice these concerns out loud, or to people it is easier to witness what we are actually doing. By default, most of us will always pay attention to negativity in our lives over positivity. It takes work to not fall into the negativity trap. Our brains are set up for this and it’s called negativity bias. Left to our own devices, our brain will not do what’s best for us, rather, it will do what’s easiest for us. What is easiest can very commonly not be what is best. This is where things like positive mantras come into play. We have to counter our brains with positive mantras, meditation, yoga, exercise, breathing, any wellness practice overall so that our default brains don’t take over. Our brains are addicted to easy. They want to cater to reactionary ease. We are addicted to allowing our brains to just operate without any intervention and that doesn’t exactly lead to the best place. How can we all get out of our own loop thinking in this regard? Psychedelics have been shown to help in this way and get us out of our own way, but other daily practices need to be found to overcome where our brains will naturally take us.
Psychedelics aside, as in the cases of the few people who come into the Zendo, you don’t have to be on psychedelics to be experiencing a psychotic break. I’ve realized that people in my own life who put themselves through immeasurable amounts of stress, don’t sleep or eat well or generally take care of themselves, put a lot of pressure on themselves, self-medicate with alcohol, pot, TV, sugar, or whatever else that is easy for them to use are going through these same breaks. You can see it in their eyes and movements. They can look at you or act towards you in the same way that guests do in the Zendo who are going through intense processing. It just feels different because it is in the “normal/default” world but people don’t realize that this is in fact behavior that is leading them ever closer to a psychotic break, or they’ve just learned how to be people who are functional people constantly going through psychotic breaks (think functional alcoholics).
In this way, I see the future of facilities like the Zendo being incorporated into our everyday lives and within our communities. People talk all about mental health and how mass shootings are a result of mental health or that homelessness is a result of mental health. Not that “A” leads so linearly to “B” in regards to mass shootings or homelessness or whatever but there is something there in regards to this. We need wellness facilities that will facilitate and allow people to process information. We don’t necessarily need more doctors, we just need people like that are in the Zendo. People focused on harm reductionist strategies that will give people space and time and safety to take on whatever it is that is inside of them. Things will come out regardless whether people have this space to process or not. Do we want to make this a positive experience where we harness this energy into something good or do we just want to continue to keep putting pressure on people by telling them to deal with their problems alone until they do pop and break and spiral out of control and most likely bring about even more stress and negativity to themselves and people around them, hence, furthering their problems? Most people have the strength inside of them to take this on but just no outlet or place to do it in. If we had facilities in our culture like the Zendo Project for people to use psychedelics or whatever tools or just talk to people and really engage with internal dives, then mental health would greatly improve. Normal, everyday people can have a major positive impact on those around them and be healers. The Zendo Project proves this and works. It helps a dramatic amount of people. It would exponentially help a dramatic amount of people as well in the “normal/default” world too.