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7 – Then Who Are The Dutch?

Driving brings out the worst in me. In most situations, I am calm, cool, and collected until I run into someone who doesn’t know how to merge onto the highway. Then I lose my shit. I guess it is safer to release all of my pent-up anger on a stranger instead of my family, friends, and co-workers. So being stuck in the car for ten hours, with my Ego riding shotgun, made for a miserable ride home from Pittsburgh. I rolled into my driveway just after midnight and quietly snuck into bed, doing my best not to wake the family. 

I shared the details of my adventure with my wife over our morning coffee. She thought the undercover cop bit was hilarious and asked about Ali after she saw how smitten I was. Then I told her about Mark. Her first question was predictable. What the hell is an Archetypal Astrologer? I told her I had no fucking clue either, but they seemed to know a lot about psychedelics. I opened up my laptop to do some googling, and much to my surprise, Mark had already followed through with his promise.

His email answered most of my questions. He described Archetypal Astrology as a practice born out of the studies of the psychedelic pioneer Stanislav Grof. He uses these tools to reach deep within a person’s psyche to help them better understand the dynamics of their lives. While he does not facilitate psychedelic journeys, he thought his services could benefit me in two ways. First, he could help me prepare for a plant medicine ceremony to ensure I got the most out of it. In the psychedelic world, this is referred to as Intention Setting. Then, after my journey, he would be there to help me make sense of it all. They call this Integration. 

But what I was really after was buried at the end of his email. He listed the contact information for two “sitters” and a link to a program he had heard about out of the Netherlands. He was careful to make it clear he was not personally endorsing any of these resources and encouraged me to do my own research.  

When I was done reading, I let out an audible “See, I wasn’t crazy.” I wanted to forward his email to my friends and family as justification for my irrational decision to follow the guidance of an imaginary telepathic octopus. 

But no one ever doubted or judged me. I have always been my own harshest critic. Until now, I believed that the mean, self-doubting voice inside my head was just me. But something felt different. It was subtle, almost imperceptible, but I wondered if there might be two of us in here. And if that voice isn’t me, who is doing all the shit-talking?

The process of finding a psychedelic sitter was similar to calling up my local Catholic diocese and asking them to send their best exorcists. I don’t think it was the power of Christ, but something was compelling me to find the proverbial priest, young or old, that could finally rid me of this demon that had been possessing my thoughts. My Ego quickly caught onto what I was doing, and he was furious. I had to act fast before he had time to launch his counter-offensive of fear and anxiety. Without hesitation, I sent an email to all three of the links that Mark had provided. 

A few days later, I got my first call from Deb. On paper, she seemed amazing. Like many hippies, she found her way to plant medicine via the Grateful Dead. She was a psychedelic coach, a published author, and appeared to be active in the plant medicine community. The issue was cost. She was charging several thousand dollars for a single private ceremony that would be held in her suburban Maryland home. She also provided intention-setting services and post-journey integration support, all for an additional fee. I am all for people getting paid fairly for what they do, but something about it felt transactional. It was clear she wasn’t the right guide for me.

The next person to reach out was John. It only took a few minutes to realize he was shady as fuck. He spent the entire call telling me how he was going to uncover all of my repressed trauma, and he “wouldn’t stop digging until he found it.” He seemed like the kind of guy who was willing to plant a few fake memories so that he could say he fixed me. And things kept getting worse. He told me he lived in the middle of nowhere and would only send the address after I paid in full. Then he suggested I might want to camp on his property so I don’t have to drive home after an emotionally draining ceremony. As he continued to talk, I pictured myself naked at the bottom of a deep, dry well as he yelled at me to rub the lotion on my skin. I thanked Wild Bill for his time and told him I would keep looking for someone who felt less murdery.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in the middle of learning one of the most important rules of psychedelic journeys: Choose your guides wisely. Like any profession, there is a bell curve of quality. On one side of the curve, you have compassionate humans filled with love who are just trying to help people heal. On the other side, you have the monsters who use their power to prey on people when they are at their most vulnerable. Most everyone else is right in the middle, not good, not bad, just meh. This was too important of a journey to settle for average, so I kept searching. 

The program Mark mentioned in his email was facilitated by Synthesis, an organization based in the Netherlands. They had an extensive online presence, which allowed me to do some research before our intake call that was scheduled for later in the week. Their website said they provided “safe, legal, and professionally curated programs, including psychedelic-supported retreats, that offer participants the potential for personal growth, emotional breakthroughs, and spiritual development.” It was the safe and legal part that interested me the most. It would be expensive to travel overseas, but I wouldn’t have to risk being arrested just for trying to get better. I also didnt have to worry about tripping in some shady dude’s basement while he took measurements for his human skin suit. My gut told me Synthesis was the right choice.  

The first thing I noticed on our call was Steve didnt have a Dutch accent. When I inquired, he said he was actually an expat from Philly. He had just moved to the Netherlands a few weeks ago to take a job with Synthesis as their new operations manager. The first order of business was to make sure I was healthy enough to attend the retreat. He proceeded to ask a bunch of questions about my physical and mental health. Once he gave me the green light, we started discussing the different services that Synthesis provides. 

Initially, I was adamant about wanting a private retreat, just me and two sitters. People are dangerous, and there was no way I was going to explore the darkest parts of my soul in a room full of strangers. It would already take every ounce of my energy to trust the two sitters, so I wasn’t interested in adding anyone else to the circle of trust list. Steve was very empathetic and acknowledged all of my concerns. 

Then, he asked if he could share a different perspective. He suggested participants in group retreats get just as much healing from the others as they do from the medicine. He wanted me to consider their Expansion program. A cohort of 10-12 people would spend seven weeks together. The first three weeks would consist of group video conferences where we would get to know one another and learn how to prepare for our journey. Then, we would all meet for five days in the Netherlands, where we would participate in two psilocybin ceremonies. Then, we would all head back to our respective homes and do another three weeks of post-ceremony integration calls, ensuring we had the support to make sense of our experience. 

I think my exact words were, “Fuck it, let’s do it”. In a flash of spontaneity, I agreed to attend their next available Expansion retreat, which was scheduled to start on January 3, 2020. I had no clue which part of me agreed to do this, but I didnt want to give my Ego any time to beat me back into submission. Steve was excited and said he would send the paperwork to me in the next few minutes. I didnt want to risk “sleeping on it” and changing my mind, so I immediately sent $5700 to secure my spot in the program. 

A few days after securing my spot with Synthesis, my boys and I took a trip to see a Michigan football game in the Big House. We had a blast as the Wolverines stomped their Spartan rivals. We got home late Sunday night, and I was surprised by how good I felt. I had a great weekend with my boys. I was hopeful about my upcoming journey. My wife and I were getting along. Things finally seemed to be going my way… until Monday morning rolled around.   

My boss was waiting for me as I walked in and asked if I had a few minutes to catch up on something urgent. I knew what was up when I saw HR sitting in the conference room. My boss was a very caring man, and he actually started crying when he told me I was being let go. 

It wasn’t a total surprise. The week before I went on vacation, the Chairman of the Board had scheduled a check-in to see how things were going. I decided not to hold back and told him exactly what I thought about our new CEO. The HR lady said my job was being eliminated as part of a planned restructuring. I knew it was because I had called the top executive “an inept dumb-ass that had no business leading any company.” They walked me to the door after our meeting. I was devastated and relieved. 

My ego seized this opportunity to get me to cancel the upcoming exorcism. I had just spent almost $8,000 on the Expansion program, travel, and other expenses, and he was trying to convince me that this money would go a long way in helping my family survive the next few months. He also suggested I needed to use this time to focus on finding a new job. His goal was to catastrophize everything, so I felt defeated and scared, and it worked. I am embarrassed to say I even re-read the fine print of my life insurance policy to make sure it would pay my family if I killed myself.   

Until this moment, I had been resisting the natural flow of things. Life was a mighty river that needed to be conquered. At times, I would swim upstream to the point of exhaustion. Then, I would find the nearest rock and hold on, trying not to drown until I could regain my strength. I repeated this cycle dozens of times, each time thinking this was the day I would finally make it to that elusive streamside utopia that was waiting for me somewhere upriver. 

I still don’t know if it was a moment of weakness or strength, but I decided to let go and surrender to the flow. As the current of life sucked me downstream, I watched my Ego standing on a boulder with a look of “What the fuck did you do?” as I drifted away. Fuck that guy, whoever he is. There was no way I was canceling my retreat. Besides, what did I have to lose? I would either find calmer healing waters ahead or drown in the raging rapids along the way. All I had to do now was keep my head above water for a few more weeks.

Published inMy Journey

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