Berkeley Talks transcript: Consciousness guide on using psychedelics as medicine

Katie Fleming: The Hearst Museum of Anthropology recognizes that Berkeley sits on the territory of Huichin, the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo Ohlone, the successors of the historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people. We recognize that every member of the Berkeley community has and continues to benefit from the occupation of this land since the institution’s founding in 1868. Consistent with our values of community and diversity, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and make visible the university’s relationship to Native peoples. By offering this land acknowledgement, we affirm Indigenous sovereignty and will work to hold the University of California, Berkeley, and the Hearst Museum of Anthropology more accountable to the needs of American Indian and Indigenous peoples.

I’d like to introduce our speaker for tonight who we’re very grateful to have here, and then I’ll turn it over to you. Françoise Bourzat is a consciousness guide, author and counselor, trained in somatic psychology who has been mentored in the Mexican Mazatec tradition of the sacred mushrooms, and has been sharing her approach internationally for 30 years. Bourzat holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in somatic psychology from the New College of California. She holds a degree from San Francisco Hakomi Institute and is adjunct faculty at the East-West psychology program at the California Institute of Integral Studies or CIIS in San Francisco. Her most recent book, which is the one that’s available tonight, published with North Atlantic Press is entitled Consciousness Medicine. So if I could ask everyone for a round of applause to welcome her.

Françoise Bourzat: Thank you for having me. Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my interest with you all. So like Katie said, I was curious early in life. Well, sort of early, in regard to sacred medicine. I had an opportunity to experience sacred medicine in South America, in Bolivia, when I was 19, which was very, for my little French background, totally out there. Maybe for some of you living in California it was already common, but for me, it was really new. When I moved to California in ’81 to study body work, I had the opportunity to meet a man who lived here in the East Bay named Pablo Sanchez, through some friends. Pablo was of Navajo, Pueblo and Mexican origin and was a counselor, social worker counselor, teacher at San Jose State. And he was also working with medicine.

So he was what we call a medicine man. He was working with MDMA and mushrooms and LSD, with ketamine, MDA, different substances. I think he must have started in the probably mid 70s, late 70s. So when I met him towards the late 80s, I had the opportunity to be actually his client. So I was seeing him on a weekly basis and I was doing journeys, we called them journeys, you know individually or in groups. This forging of this personal work as well as the community that we formed as his clients, really gave me a very personal sense of what this work could look like and the community it could create. And that this work was not just a personal experience, although that too, on a psychological circle/therapeutic level, but also a communal experience.

Pablo was also very talented as an artist. So a lot of his preparation techniques, integration techniques, had a lot to do with art, expressive arts, movement, rituals. He was of course a tribal man, so he had a lot of rituals up his sleeve and was sharing with us a lot of his rituals. So it gave me a sense of different aspects of what healing could look like that were not just psychotherapeutic or not just indigenous ritual but kind of a blend of the two. This pioneering of psychotherapy and Western psychological understanding with indigenous practices and more ritual based rituals really fascinated me and interested me because it felt like a good integrative approach. So I was working with him. I was assisting him. I was kind of learning, me and my husband did, and we were you know being his arm, so to speak, right and left arm. It was a group of us. It was not one or just the two of us. Not many people took on the ongoing work that Pablo, was doing. Some people did and continue to do so.

So we were doing that for quite a while and then in the late ’90s, I had the opportunity to go to Mexico. This was totally serendipitous. But anyway, I went to Mexico and met a man there who had lived in Huautla de Jiménez which is the birthplace of the mushroom tradition in Mexico. Or I should say, let me take that back, this is currently the only living place where the tradition of the mushroom is continuing. Mushroom was alive and this tradition was alive many different places in the Mexican pre-hispanic territory, but with the arrival of the Spaniards, all that shrunk and was pretty eradicated. So the work now is mostly centralized around Huautla de Jiménez.

So I was about to go there and was introduced to this woman, Julieta Casimiro Pineda, who passed away a year and a half ago, and she was a Mazatec indigenous woman who had practiced the mushroom work for many, many years, 50-60 years. And that was her life and her culture, and mushrooms were part of the ritual, part of the prayer, part of the fabric of the of the culture. They’re really very sacred practices. No tourism to this day. There’s no tourism with mushrooms the way there may be in in South America which has lot with the ayahuasca. It hasn’t happened yet in Mexico. So I was about to meet with her and she knew I was working with mushrooms already, and I guess she wanted to give me a sense of the roots of the work and wanted to welcome me into her work and into her family and into her tradition, which I was very grateful for. Some of you here have gone there with me. So you know how that is there. It’s a very beautiful culture and so for the last 20 years, that’s what I did. I went back and forth, and she came and she did some teaching there. She was at CIIS doing conferences and I took her to France to talk, and around the world. She was part of the 13, the Council for 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, which some of you may know of. She was one of the grandmothers and we traveled around the world and visited all the grandmothers one by one partaking in the ritual.

What was really interesting about working with her was looking at these different indigenous practices. Not only did I learn the very root of her tradition, her practice. I want to be very modest and very humble because I can’t pretend that I know Mazatec culture and I don’t speak the dialect. There’s a lot of things I don’t understand, but what I was able to collect together, or I was offered. It’s a very specific culture, but what was interesting with her as we traveled the world and as we met with the other Healers and women sharing prayers was the cross pollination and the commonality rather than the differences that we found. How bonding it was to receive ayahuasca from one of the grandmothers in New Mexico or how they all came down to her ceremony room from Tibet and Alaska and ate mushrooms with her, and the Lakota woman was singing peyote songs in the middle of Journey. That was very unifying and what still feels very present for me, is that it’s a unification of what prayer really is. I used to say it doesn’t really matter what’s on the plate because what’s on the plate is really of the earth. So what we’re really gathering and ingesting is Earth’s wisdom itself. It’s Earth herself that gives us this medicine. So if it looks like this, or it looks like this, or it looks like this, it’s really all the same message.

But, of course, every culture is very distinct and it has its rites and rituals and processes. So as I talk tonight a little bit about what I find pertinent as far as current research and medicalization, or the commercialization of these practices, especially psilocybin which is coming on online here. How do we how do we give back? How do we reciprocate? How do we honor the original place where these medicines come from and what do we give back? How is it reciprocal? So that’s kind of my conversation this evening for you. Because I think it’s the same problem with all medicines. I think it’s the same problem with ayahuasca, the same problem with all kinds of medicines that have been extracted from the jungle or from nature and where things have not been given back to support the people who hold this tradition sacred.

Currently in our culture, especially in California, we have a great broadening of those practices, right? There’s many, many circles of ayahuasca happening. People come from South America people go to Mexico to South America or to Costa Rica or to Jamaica. I mean people travel now both going somewhere or people coming up and there’s a variety and a great amount of circles going on and people are really looking for that. And I mean, I know so many people I work with now are initiated in Burning Man and the comments are that “I had this experience. I don’t know what happened to me. I want to integrate. I don’t know what to do with all this.”

So it’s a lot of usage, and the point is, why is this usage so on the surface of society now? I’m interested in that because I think that in the current age and time, what we’re dealing with on the level of the planet, the level of political stress, the social fabric of the human, there’s an emergence of consciousness through these medicines. Interest that’s really coming up in the treatment with MDMA, with psilocybin, with ketamine, with LSD, ayahuasca, cannabis. Everything is being brought to the surface and it’s interesting because it’s at a time when there’s a lot of political repression, it’s not easy now, what’s going on politically. This wave of consciousness is really moving forward almost regardless of what the political climate is. It’s really kind of strange.

A while ago, I had the pleasure of being in Oakland for the decriminalization [efforts]. We were gathering our little special one minute

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, to try to support the thing, and I was like, wow this is happening when Washington is in bad, bad, bad shape. And then Denver and Chicago, and then everybody’s decriminalizing. Oregon is about to legalize mushrooms. But this movement is happening no matter what is happening politically, which shows a great deal of the, I don’t know what to call it, the rise of Consciousness on almost an archetypal level that’s happening maybe to counterbalance this darkness that we are facing here.

I was meeting someone today, organizing some work together for some conference and some talks, who’s very, very involved in climate change and redesigning 25,000 high schools in the country. This is a big project of redesigning access to high school for minorities, and she was saying, “Regardless of what’s going on in Washington and all the oppression that we have, there’s a great mobilization. People are really organizing, maybe to counterbalance this.” She was talking about the force of darkness which is really upon us and we need to rise. So I’m noticing, and I’ve been noticing for a while, that it keeps expanding. That all these experiences with psychedelics are really becoming more and more mainstream. Of course, Michael Pollan’s book was a big breakthrough as far as bringing the topic of conversation to the mainstream. He was on Colbert’s show and Good Morning America and everywhere, so that definitely helped the stigmatization and the conversation on this topic. I think it’s a wave.

I think that the researchers like Rick Doblin, Stephen Ross, Richard Roland Griffiths, all these people working with the with the research actually have been moving forward these 20 years. I don’t when Rick Doblin started to work with Michael Mithoefer, but I think it’s close to 20 years now, right? I mean something like that. So 20 years of effort and then I remember once I was at Burning Man and I was talking to Stephen Ross and I said “God you guys are like so dedicated. You know, it’s been like 10 years that we’ve been doing this effort, you know to really bring psilocybin on the forefront of treatment.” So, you know, I can see and can appreciate the amount of commitment it takes stay on track with these protocols. I have a ton of respect for [MAPS] and I support and I speak at fundraisers for MAPS and I’m totally on board of supporting those guys to move forward with what they’re doing. So we talked about research. We’re talking about treatments here, right? And certainly it’s a wonderful thing that those approaches are now touching the people who need it a lot.

I was just talking at, where are you Raquel? So Raquel Bennett organized a wonderful conference. She’s a very high-level specialist in ketamine and organizes this ketamine conference. I was there speaking and gathering with colleagues, and it was very interesting to see how a medicine like ketamine can really save lives. Literally, people who are suicidal can be saved. People who are extremely anxious because of life-threatening diagnoses can be rescued by it. People who are deeply depressed can also be helped with a psilocybin experience.

So these approaches and this treatment of intense pathology in 10 states are amazingly potent and amazingly useful and absolutely necessary. We’re not we’re not questioning any of this. My approach or my angle, because I’m not a doctor and I’m not a researcher and I’m not a scientist, so I’m not in that field or in that orientation. My approach is consciousness. My approach is looking at health and looking at well-being from a bit of a different angle which is less about pathology and symptoms and more about holistic health. What creates health and what creates well-being? How do we have to create an equilibrium between different parts of ourselves? That’s what I’m trying to explain in the book.

What balance do we create in our state in order to have optimal health? We can wait to be sick and then do something. We can deny our self the attention that we deserve until we have a pathology or a symptom. We catch cold or we have a gut problem. We have migraines or we have stress and we can treat it when its present. And things happen, you know, if we have a life-threatening diagnosis, of course we can benefit from a treatment. Or if we have a chemical imbalance and we become suicidal we can get ketamine that can help us. So, I don’t mean to deny those moments where we can go to the to the doctor. We have an infection we go to get antibiotics because that will save lives. It’s not to deny that, but I’m looking at the bigger picture of health. I like to say that because when one of the grandmothers from Brazil was living in a jungle and she was a Santo Daime grandmother, from that practice, the ayahuasca practice. We were talking about plenty of things and she said, you know, the purpose of healing is to restore health. It’s not to treat disease. Because that’s the same word, healing and health. So it clicked for me. It did it did something to me too. It echoed my idea of “How do we support health?” And I think that we support health by looking at our lives and being aware. Having a level of consciousness and mindfulness and awareness of how we are on these different levels of being.

I think also we are accessing a deeper level of health when we ingest medicines. The purpose of medicine is to create a bigger, deeper, more thorough experience of our inner functioning, our physical functioning, our emotional functioning, our energetic functioning, our spiritual functioning, our relational functioning, how we are with the land. Also, how do we resonate? How do you feel? How do we feel one with the land? How we are the land. Not in relation with, but we are the land. So when we take medicine, we are really seeking an internal look to see what is the matter. What is the matter? I used to say the mushrooms go into you and do the diagnosis. They travel through you and kind of scan you, and they go all over your body and they check. What’s the matter? And what’s the matter will be you might have a matter in your in your ovaries, or you have a matter in the back of your neck or you have a matter in your gut or in your heart or you have my matter in your in your sadness. Or you have a matter when you are disconnected from the divine. Or when you lost connection with a family member.

So those are your illnesses and so the mushrooms goes there and brings it to your face, like, “This is your illness.” By knowing your illness, you resolve your illness, you deal with it, you treat it from within yourself. The mushroom helps you see the truth. She used to say, “The light of truth, the light of understanding.” So you understand yourself, you see your truth, and by seeing that the light of this consciousness cures you, literally. It’s your inner consciousness and your inner clarity that will actually bring about healing, your flow, and your acceptance and your understanding. And once you get things inside yourself, then you are touching healing which is not to deal with a pathology. You just holistically hold your inner process in a different way, understanding the intricacy of why, when, how, what it was that was blocked. It’s a deep process of understanding and of clarity and of looking at your functioning from knowing and from compassion.

Maria Sabina has a fabulous saying, “It is a matter of clarity, it is a matter of tenderness,” at the end of a big poem that she was saying during a mushroom ceremony. And that’s what it is. We have clarity and have tenderness and that’s what healing is. Really about knowing and holding and understanding and having compassion for what we go through. These medicines that provide treatments, they provide medicines. This is medicine. The ancient ones, or the people in the Ohlone territory. I live in the Ohlone territory, near a hole, a grinding stone on my forest land. So, I’m very aware of the presence of the spirit, of the Ohlone, daily. We are aware of that and the ancient ones, here or in Mexico, in the Amazon, they use these this substances for doctoring. They didn’t have doctors and they knew they had had herbs and all kinds of knowledge. They were curanderos, they knew of the herbs. But you can go to Lapland or you can go to Africa. They use what the Earth gives for healing. This is what they’re doctoring, and so we call this medicine because they treat us, not so much like western medicine treating symptoms, but they address the whole person that we are, and that is very much medicine.

I was just kind of reviving that a little bit, that the theme of consciousness as a layer of access, what I talked a lot about in my book. Consciousness medicine is a big a big topic. Medicine is a big topic, consciousness is huge topic, and I don’t mean to be an expert in consciousness. No expert in medicine. But there’s layers of consciousness, there is consciousness like — What do I know about myself now? How am I functioning on these different levels of my person? On my physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, my being the Earth? How am I functioning? What is the level of my awareness of my awakened eyes and sensation? This level of consciousness, as Deepak Chopra says, the air you breathe has nothing to do with anything, it just is. You don’t have to define it. You don’t have to put it in a certain definition. Everything is consciousness. Everything is infused. But consciousness, we are consciousness. It’s like you can replace consciousness with the Divine or God or Spirit, great spirit. We are an expression of that.

So, I believe that if we grow consciousness, that’s why I chose that title. Actually, my daughter chose the title, not me. It was really her dream. She woke up and she said, “I know the title of your book!” I said, “Okay good because I don’t know what it is!” I think that it’s true, that the way we heal is by being conscious on this level, and on the vast level, on the resonance with and awareness of our functioning. On the resonance with the larger picture. That leads to this amazing aspect of this medicine work, of this substance work, which is what we’re presenting at conferences, because we’re looking at ketamine as a psychedelic experience. And what is the benefit of such a dimension for healing? Why is there a benefit in disappearing as a human being to become invisible, and really dissolve into the air? You know, what’s up with that? How does that help us? Like I said, it helps because the less human you are, for a moment, the more you can regroup as a better human being. So, the idea is to really disappear, really dissolve and an intense level of mushroom can do that, ketamine definitely will do that. The dissolution of the of the of the “I” consciousness, the dissolution of what we identify in being, the dissolution of our reality and our incarnation is really what we’re after, right? I mean, we’re really after “Who am I if I’m not this? What exists beyond this?”

The Mexican people in the tradition of the mushroom, as well as other traditions, but I know this more, is the relation ancestors with the dead. People have the Day of the Dead, you honor Day of the Dead because when you go into the mushroom, that’s where you go. To the other side where you don’t exist in the body form. So they have great relationship with the dead as alliances. Julieta always said, before you eat mushroom, call your dead. Line them up. I have to make my list of my dead people so I can call them all before the journey. She said they’re going to be there for you, but you have to call them, you know, they’re just they’re kind of waiting. You have to call the dead people and then they show up for you because they live in the space that you’re going to be exploring and they’re going to guide your hand because they know the way around and you don’t. We can always all get disoriented, even years after practicing these journeys.

So the idea, or the reality, is that when we are eating mushrooms or when we are taking ayahuasca or especially those substances that really dissolve your ego structure. Peyote and San Pedro are a little different because you know you are here and you see reality, and you feel reality differently. But in those medicines when you are really not there anymore, the place of spirit is restoring your soul’s wellness. It’s like the layers of stuff that cover the beauty and the shining and your soul. Those layers get killed off in the place of spirit, when your identity and your body is not there. And so then, the idea of expanding spirit is to come back as human beings. To come back and to bring back from that place the message of spirit, the message of eternity, the message of unity, the message of oneness. That there’s no separation, we’re all one soul. This is spirit. This is all consciousness. And so then we are one, and then we come back with those messages. We are creating healing, we are creating wellness, and we are creating hopefully a different world and a different society. A different relational field and a different sense of prayer, a sense of sacred. So this is why we go into the world of spirits. Not because we want to get high and it will be fun, but because we have a job to do while we’re here.

And the job of being incarnate is tough. It’s tough relationally. It’s tough with Karma and all these stories of trans-generational trauma. It’s tough with the state of the planet. It’s tough because there are people with fear that create war and greed. It’s tough to be an emotional body. You know, I hate it when I go into mushroom and I feel like “Oh gee, all over again, the violence of my emotions!” It’s very boring! There’s something beautiful about the tenderness of my heart, but there’s also something like “gee, here I am again.” Being beyond that is a great thing, and the issue is to bring it back.

So then we’re talking about the big theme which is integration. Integration is a big word and it’s not always very accurate, not very well spelled out. It’s a beautiful word which means bringing it in the body, bringing it together, imbibing it, physicalizing it. Acting the things you found out there. It’s not complicated but it’s complex, and it’s subtle, and it’s multi-layered. You can read more about this, I’m not going to describe integration, but it’s a very complex multi-step process of really bringing back the messages.

Now I’d like to talk a little bit more about this process of commercialization. I was recently talking to people who are investing in Compass, out of greed, out of investment. It’s going to be a big pharmaceutical company. “We’re going create psilocybin! We’re going to just extract this, and we’re going to scale it and we’re going to sell it for millions of people and you know what, we even going create this into this!” Hold [on] to your seat. “We’re going to create a pill that doesn’t make people trip!” *laughter* We’re going to strip molecules and people will be treated with psilocybin without the trip!” I’m like, no. And he said, “Isn’t it exciting?” I’m like, no, it’s not exciting. So I stayed Zen. I said, “How interesting, tell me more.” It was a moment to practice. Okay, and so then we have this situation where a sacred medicine like psilocybin, in this case, they’re going to extract psilocybin out of mushrooms and they’re going put it in the pill (which they already do). So they do that and then they give it to people and then they manufacture it in great quantities. And then they have a monopoly for five years and millions of dollars to create a big Pharma company and then they own the whole thing. And I was telling Mike, I was saying, “Well Mike, I’m glad that many people will be treated. I am glad that it could be accessed by people who are really depressed, by people are really anxious, by people who are facing cancer or facing something if it reaches a vast population and if it doesn’t cost $300, like all the treatments, way overpriced like ketamine.”

If it’s the case that people really get treated and there’s a great campaign of outreach so people can get this this medicine, yeah. But, and this comes from a tradition that has been keeping it alive for thousands of years. I don’t think it’s to not look back and give thanks, or some reciprocity, to the tradition that has kept it alive. So you can make your money on the big Pharma and these people can get treated. But that link has to be alive. I think if you can live with yourself and you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that I told you that, and you don’t do anything, good luck! Because that means you live with yourself, with your lack of integrity, because you will have heard it. If you don’t know, it’s different thing, but I looked you in the eye and I told you have to pay back the people. You have to give back something. You have to support them to teach their children this traditional medicine, or you have to do something that perpetuates this lineage in a way that works for them, not for your interest. You have to be in dialogue with these people so they’ll tell you what they need. They’ll tell you they want schools for the kids to learn Mazatec instead of losing their language. Or that there will be some herbology class or some Elders really passing on this tradition of the mushroom to the children. And there would be people collaborating together in the different traditions and how that would be safeguarding this tradition so they can stay alive. Otherwise, who knows, some other people will benefit from knowing this in other parts of the world.

That was an interesting discussion. We did some work together and the morning after he said, “You know, you’re right. We can’t take the sacred out of this.” And I said, “Oh, why?” He said, “We can’t take the sacred out of the medicine.” I said, “Good.” Because you know, it’s not either/or. I think it’s not a bad idea to create treatments. Right? Penicillin was invented. What I’m saying is medicine is useful, it can help people. It’s not like you can’t exist because I need to have my little village, struggling out there in the mountains. It’s not like that. We can work together. It’s not an either/or and we need to bridge those gaps. We need to create a commercialization that will not be eradicating. We need to create a process of dialogue between the companies that make money out of a tradition.

We’ve had so many stories. Wade Davis used to talk about the extraction of curare, you know curare in South America? For you know anti-poison treatment? They took stuff out of the jungle and just made great remedies out of it and never look back to see how these people were doing. And we know that has happened, and it’s not as a society, as a human. A lot of these people in the big Pharma, they don’t care. They don’t really have the morality to think that way. I think it’s our responsibility to keep the dialogue open, to keep informing. I could say well, you know, you do whatever. But I didn’t want to not have the dialogue. I think that it’s partly because they don’t know what they don’t know, and we have to stay open to what they offer the world really and not create another War, another opposition, another separation. Because if we stand for medicine work and we stand for what we learn from the medicine, which is unity, we have to stay united with these people. We have to stay in connection.

What for me was a big teaching moment, and I was thanking him, for myself. I said, you know, this is really interesting, what’s going on here, because I could be totally in opposition to you. But that’s not what the medicine tells me. Medicine is really telling me to stay to stay engaged and to not back down and to not disconnect from you, because you are me too. So how do I how do I weave with you, rather than not. And I felt that was ultimately the challenge

We can call it the securitization, we can call it commercialization, or objectification or you know, uprooting of some substances from their environment. That’s what industrialized nations have done all over the world for thousands of years. I don’t think that’s really going to stop. I think the people who have more consciousness can bridge people between the tradition and the and the commercialized and industrialized world. I think we who are a little more, you know, “here in this world,” but also have a foot in this other region of the mind, and of the of the medicines, we have to keep this bridge so we can we can continue to stand up for for a possible dialogue. They will come, and they will take stuff from the farmers. The people who want to make the money are led by other places besides their heart. So if we keep standing for what we know and what we learn, how to be in the medicine, I think we can keep hopefully this dialogue open. Thank you.