Policy Reform

Consciousness Reclaimed: The Rise of Psilocybin Services in Oregon

(The following is a transcript of an address given by OPS co-founder and psychotherapist Tom Eckert, given at the Exploring Psychedelics Conference in Ashland, Oregon, in May of 2017)

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Hello, friends. Thanks for being here this morning. And thank you Martin Ball for your hard work and passion for all things psychedelic. Indeed, the topic of psychedelics is profoundly interesting and multifaceted, connecting all kinds of disciplines, from anthropology to chemistry and biology, to medicine, psychology, spirituality, creativity and art, and on it goes. And as the interest and energy around psychedelics continues to intensify, so does the dissonance around their prohibition, which has dragged on for some 45 years now. While attitudes around psychedelics continue to evolve, public policy remains unchanged and unchallenged, and the future of psychedelics in America remains unclear.

Sheri and I, like many of you, envision a new era, one that fully integrates psychedelic services into society — the kind of services shown safe and effective in research settings. So, we’ve given this a lot of thought, and gone so far as to draw up a detailed proposal which, with the help of our lawyers at the Legislative Counsel in Salem, is currently being formatted as a ballot initiative measure for possible inclusion in the 2020 election cycle. We call it the Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon, and we think it’s a plan befitting of a new era.

Of course, the current era – present day America — represents something of a complete and total disaster. I need not persuade any of you how profoundly screwed up the country is, from a political point of view. Will we recover? Are we hitting bottom? Is this all part of a bigger transformation? Or are we just drifting into the darkness, toward extinction? I don’t know. But it’s interesting, to say the least, to ponder the meaning of psychedelic policy reform against this kind of backdrop. If we — and by “we” I mean all of us — are going to make history in the coming years; if the psychedelic movement is truly on a rise to prominence, than this is the historical context from which we’ll emerge.

Sometimes I wonder… if the country, or humanity at large, does manage to survive and evolve, what will the historians of a distant future make of our situation? What will the scholars of a truly advanced society, perhaps a thousand years into the future, think about our civilization? My bet is that they won’t focus much on our absurd politics, or even on our technology. I think they’ll focus on the way we value our consciousness. I think they’d be struck by how outwardly focused we are, how taken we are by the outer world… and by how relatively little we value the inner dimensions, the inner sanctum of consciousness. And perhaps nothing would appear as vexing to these future scholars as the criminalizing of safe and effective means to enhance and explore consciousness, namely the psychedelics.

It seems to me that a truly advanced society would deeply value consciousness, and, by extension, value the tools to explore it. I think that a truly advanced society would understand “consciousness” as many in this room do, as a conduit into good health, into the self, into the very nature of our being, into the cosmos. By valuing consciousness, a truly advanced society, I imagine, would be on a path of healing, on a journey toward wholeness.

Now, as a psychotherapist of some 20 years, it is, to my way of thinking, my job to help people value their inner realms. And it seems to me that social change happens much the same as individual change happens. And what Sheri and I see in our counseling practice is this: when an individual begins to value consciousness, when he or she begins practicing self-awareness, exploring inwardly, and begins relying on inner resources, a healing process naturally begins… both psychologically and spiritually. In other words, it is by fully recognizing an inner space of consciousness that we begin a journey toward healing, and growth, and wholeness. This, I think, is what those future historians will look at. In short, I believe that the truly important issue of our time is the way we value consciousness.

So, how do we, as a culture, as a society, value consciousness? Of course, it’s a slippery question, as the meaning of the word “consciousness” is itself mysterious and not so easily defined or understood. But let’s keep it simple. Let’s just say that consciousness represents an inner space, an inner sanctum which comes to light when we push the seat of awareness inward and, so to say, strike a match. And let’s recognize that this inner space of consciousness is a very different kind of space, a realm of meanings, intuitions, wisdom, mystery, visions, and dreams which, like the infinitudes above, float in a kind of “vastness” beyond our comprehension.

So, to lose touch with these inner dimensions, these infinities within us all, would be tragic, which seems a pretty fair description of our world today. Like Terence McKenna once said, “Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.” True enough. Certainly America, in custom and culture, doesn’t really value the inner sanctum. Though many of us are seeking, longing to grow and connect both inwardly and outwardly — in fact, we’re all here today talking about exploring consciousness — it sometimes seems an uphill battle, doesn’t it? The forces of capitalism and commercialism are literally geared to make us forget our inner dimensions, our inner resources, ourselves, our deeply felt self-acceptance. We’re constantly bombarded with messages that we’re not enough as we are. There’s always something to fix, something to prove, something to buy, something to sell. Our self-worth is externalized, thrown into the marketplace, and made insecure. So, of course, we get wrapped up in what we do, what we achieve, attain, possess, conquer… seduce. And all of this outward focus distracts us from the inner space, a space which, by the way, lacks nothing at all, because it’s already full… infinitely.

And so we’re all, to varying degrees, caught up in our cultural conditioning, chasing outcomes, trying to feel better about ourselves, about who we are. I suppose some of this is necessary. We all have egos – a certain amount of which is necessary and healthy – and we all have things we want to do, ambitions and so forth. I mean, you can’t just meditate all day, some would say. The world out there deserves some attention.

Indeed. I wouldn’t disagree. But that doesn’t mean we should let ourselves get transfixed and hypnotized. It doesn’t mean we should forget ourselves, forget the inner source, forget the lens through which we’re taking it all in. But, collectively, we have forgotten. I’m sure that those distant future scholars, or the aliens — whoever happens to be looking in on us – would readily observe that we haven’t fully recognized the inner dimensions. So, bottom line, if we’re going to become the advanced civilization of the future, we must reclaim our inner dimensions, the healing and visionary powers of the inner sanctum.

I think it’s clear that the loss of an inward connection is rendering consequences. We’re lost in a social neurosis of vanity, consumerism, image over substance, attention at all costs, and all the rest of it. And then, on the shadow side of all this false success, this unfounded arrogance, we’ve got the failure narratives, the depression, the alienation, the addictions.

So, it’s long unfolding, this crisis of consciousness, and now we’re in a tailspin. And while the wreckage is inevitable, I can’t help but think there’s something else going on here. It’s all coming to a head, isn’t it? I mean, our current affairs have gotten so untenable, so unbearable, that our cultural denial is wearing thin. I get the sense that nature is forcing us to look at ourselves. What are we really all about? Who are we as a people? Certainly not this. Not degraded and corrupt. This much, we know, and this much I think we’ll eventually overcome. But maybe the transformation is more fundamental than some of us care to admit. Maybe the scale of change is more profound than we imagine.

There’s certainly a lot of energy out there today. And the last half century isn’t without promising trendlines. The previous decades have seen an interest in consciousness steadily growing in the West. We see it in the literature, the science, the arts, and the mainstreaming of things like meditation and yoga and alternative healing. But there’s a whole other level, isn’t there? And we’re not there yet. And it has to do with real people, and is has to do with healing the culture. Those of us on the ground, in the grassroots, those of us connecting at festivals and rallies and conferences and classrooms… we, the people… we’re just not in a positon to settle anymore, to lower ourselves anymore. The country is bottoming out. It’s a grow or die type scenario. We can’t just negotiate along the periphery, bargaining for mediocrity. That time has passed. We must evolve, significantly, or we’re not going to make it at all. As far as I can tell, this is the state of America today.

And while it seems dire — and it is — perhaps it’s just what we need. Sheri and I are here today with a plan of action, and we hope it’s one of many transformational ideas incubating out there across the country. And with it, we offer a message of hope, and it’s not really a message about incremental change. It’s more about reclaiming our consciousness. It’s about social catharsis, about healing the culture. Isn’t that what psilocybin provides? Isn’t that what an intelligently regulated psilocybin service framework might offer our state, country, and world? I mean, the psilocybin experience, in so many amazing ways, helps us to reclaim ourselves, our wholeness, our truth. It reconnects us to the mystical experience, which seems to me an antidote to so many social ills. In the glowing aftermath of a well-integrated psilocybin experience, we can’t help but value our consciousness, or the possibilities of inner work. We can’t help but experience empathy, or appreciate all of nature’s miraculous beings, or value the Earth, or open up, in utter astonishment, to the infinities from whence it all came.

And yes, I do think the culture is ready for something like this. Not in recent history has there been such connectivity on the ground. Not in recent memory has there been such an urgency to define, declare, and defend the perennial value of consciousness, and to infuse consciousness into law. And with the hijacking of our federal government, the power to reevaluate falls to the states. Thankfully, we find in Oregon not only a progressive populace but an instrument of direct democracy: the ballot initiative. My friends, let’s use it. As a corrupted federal government unravels, we Oregonians must ready ourselves to plant a new, psychedelic flag.

So, as we contemplate the construction of a more conscious society, we must realize that Psilocybin Services – the careful crafting of a humanistic, community-based service framework – is not a periphery matter. Legally regulated Psilocybin Services would powerfully signify a new valuation of consciousness in America. As such, Sheri and I would like to introduce the Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon.