#214  Plant Teacher Medicine: learning from the Elder Plants with Dr Simon Ruffell

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Bridging the world between modern medical science and ancient plant teachings to bring us into contact with plant elders in a grounded and authentic way.

For this time around the dark nights of the winter solstice – at least in the northern hemisphere – we’ve been exploring more of an inner landscape – being reflexive with Nathalie and Della, and before that, exploring the living myths of our land and how we can ground them in our current reality with Angharad Wynne. And this week, we’re heading inward and outward, travelling to Peru with Dr Simon Ruffell, psychiatrist, ayahuasca researcher and student of Shipobo curanderismo.

Since 2016, Simon has been working closely with Indigenous communities in the Amazon basin, exploring the effects of ayahuasca and the role of ceremony and spirit in healing. As you’ll hear in the conversation that follows, Simon manages to bridge between the world of western science and the older world of indigenous spirit with extraordinary integrity, humour and a grounded. commitment to the traditions he’s learning that feels wholly authentic. He’s experiencing the depths of ancient teaching and exploring the leading edge of modern science, delving into epigenetics, the microbiome and neuroplasticity. As we rest in the cusp of the dark nights, that time of reflection and renewal, I wanted to bring you something that felt as if it spoke deeply to the ethos of Accidental Gods, and I couldn’t imagine anything better. So people of the podcast, please welcome, Dr Simon Ruffell.

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your guide and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility. And at this time, around the dark nights of the winter solstice (at least in the Northern hemisphere) we’ve been exploring more of an inner landscape. Being reflective with Nathalie and Della, and before that exploring the living myths of our land and how we can ground them in our current reality with Angharad Wynne. And now this week, we’re heading inward and outward, travelling to Peru with Doctor Simon Ruffell, who’s a psychiatrist, an ayahuasca researcher and a student of Shipibo Curanderismo. Since 2016, Simon has been working closely with indigenous communities in the Amazon Basin, exploring the effects of ayahuasca on many different levels and looking at the role of ceremony and spirit in healing. As you’ll hear in the conversation, Simon manages to bridge between the world of Western science and the older world of indigenous spirit, with extraordinary integrity, with humour and a grounded commitment to the traditions within which he is learning.

Manda: He’s experiencing the depths of ancient teaching and at the same time exploring the leading edge of modern science, delving into epigenetics, the microbiome, neuroplasticity, all the real cutting edge stuff in medicine and science. And as we rest in the cusp of the dark nights, that time of reflection and renewal, I wanted to bring you an episode that felt as if it spoke deeply to the ethos of Accidental Gods. And really, having just finished this conversation, I couldn’t imagine anything better. Simon has such integrity, such authenticity, and such a depth of personal knowledge of where we are, our place in the world, and our connection to the elder spirits of the plants. So people of the podcast, please do welcome for our last episode, please welcome Doctor Simon Ruffell.

Manda: Simon. Welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. Thank you for being in the UK and for joining us. Where are you now? And then shortly you can tell us where you’ve been.

Simon: Brilliant. Thanks, Manda. No, it’s a pleasure to be here. I am back in not so sunny London.

Manda: Ah, right. Yes, but the seasons are breaking down. A couple of weeks ago it felt like winter, but now it feels like March or October. And it’s not.

Simon: That’s true. I feel like I’m in some kind of tropical storm here, in a sad looking cloud.

Manda: Yes. Never mind. The Gulf Stream is breaking down, at which point we’re at the same latitude as Russia. It’ll be a bit colder, in which case, you definitely want to be heading off to sunnier climes. So we are talking to you as a friend said that we should, that’s our bottom line. She said you need to talk to Simon, he knows all about plant spirits in a way that is honouring and is not culturally appropriating. Because that seems to be one of the big questions that we have now, is tech pros from California go off and do ayahuasca and come back and they’ve become even more right wing than they were when they went. Their libertarian-ness has been amped up by working with the plant spirits and now we’re going to design apps that will destroy the homeless and other useful things. And it would be really, really good, because this is clearly a field that’s growing. It’s hit more general awareness than it had before you were born, when I was exploring these things. And nobody else, nobody knew how to spell it, nobody knew what to say. And it was a very quiet, small subset of shamanic work. And now now it’s mainstream ish, for a given definition of mainstream. So you are our go to expert of someone who really understands what’s going on, who is working with integrity and with depth, and is bridging across to Western culture. And you’ve just come back and I thought it’d be much more interesting than asking how you got into this. We’ll get to that, I’m sure. Just to ask what is most alive for you just now, having just come back from, I’m guessing, a very different experience to the trauma culture of Western weird civilisation. How does it feel to have done that and what does it bring up for you?

Simon: Mhm. Mhm. What is most alive for me right now? That’s a really interesting question. I think the thing that is most on my mind at the moment is the clash between two paradigms. The clash between the traditional way, at least the traditional shipibo way, which is the the community of people that I work with in the Peruvian Amazon, and understanding the world, understanding the universe and the way that we understand it in the Western scientific world, which is my background. And this has been a a growing thing that’s been on my mind. Originally I trained in Western medicine. I’m a medical doctor, a psychiatrist. And when I first arrived in the Peruvian Amazon and heard these notions about plant spirits, like many other Westerners, especially those from a scientific background, I immediately jumped to the conclusion or thought I knew better. And thought, well, you know, these these indigenous people are talking about plant spirits, but, you know, it must be metaphor or it must be theology. And immediately from the beginning started in that step.

Manda: Like you do.

Simon: So that was 2015. And then over the last eight years, I continued conducting research and spending increasing amounts of time with the shipibo in the rainforest and started training in Shipibo Curanderismo. And was quite painfully faced with the possibility that maybe it’s not theology, maybe it’s not metaphor. And before we get into whether or not plants spirits are real, what’s most alive for me is in many ways I don’t think it it even matters that much what your beliefs are. But it is interesting that we live in a time when everyone talks about, especially in the so-called psychedelic renaissance, ethics and reciprocity. And what’s most alive for me right now is giving indigenous people that we work with the respect of not assuming what they say is metaphor. And contemplating the idea that what they might be talking about in terms of spirituality and in terms of spirits could in some way potentially be true.

Simon: And when we begin to think like that, that changes everything. That changes the way that we approach research, that changes the way that we potentially approach healing, that changes the way that we think about the entire nature of the universe. And so that that is what’s most alive for me right now.

Manda: Magic.

Simon: Yeah, magic.

Manda: Gosh even with that, there are so many avenues that I want to go down. Let’s stay with the moment, because I do want to go back and how did you, as a psychiatrist first end up in the Amazon. But we’ll park that for the moment because we’re going with aliveness. And I don’t want to cross boundaries that you can’t cross because you are training and there will be things that cannot be said in an open mic, and I completely get that. When we get to that, just just say so. Have you experienced plant spirits that you would consider to be real? Question one. And question two, how do you bring that reality, because I’m assuming the answer is yes, frankly; how do you bring that reality with you when you come back to the trauma culture where such things are much harder?

Simon: Have I experienced plant spirits that I consider to be real? I think the way that I would broach that question would be to say that maybe my perspective on reality and what is real has changed. What do you define as real? I don’t think it’s necessarily that helpful to think of what’s inside and what’s outside. Is there a plant spirit that’s as real as a human that exists outside of us? I think of things now to be more one. It’s all consciousness. Is it inside our mind? Is it outside of our mind? Does that really matter? 

Manda: It doesn’t matter. It really I would say not, no it doesn’t. No.

Simon: And so are plant spirits real? I mean, I think that would depend on your perception of reality and what you think of as being real. Have I experienced things in consciousness that have influenced me, that the Shipibo communities have told me are spirits and entities? Yes, for sure, for sure. But if we’re defining it like that, I would argue that most people have in some way or another. Maybe it’s just a different way of thinking about it.

Manda: Okay, let’s go down that avenue then. Then I’d still like to know what you do when you come back to the UK, but that, because that seems to me quite a crux of where we could go as a species. Let’s take a step back and frame things and see if we share a frame. I had a conversation on the podcast recently with Alnoor Ladha, and we were talking about trauma culture versus initiation culture. He was riffing off Francis Weller really, that indigenous cultures are cultures of initiation within which reality is fluid. That’s not what Alnoor said, but I would say that our perceptions are other, and connection to the web of life is a given. And as any individual grows and evolves, they are led through certain initiatory processes. Alnoor quantifies those as requiring a contained encounter with death, such that we come to the edge of ourselves, discover who we can be at that edge, and then emerge into a culture that celebrates that emergence as real.

Manda: My assumption, listening to you, is that you’re working with initiation cultures and that they will celebrate your experiences in the same way they would celebrate the experiences of anybody within their culture. And that therefore there is support for those experiences. I’m hearing that the word real is problematic, but having validity within our own worldview and our own framing, such that we can make real world decisions based on what we’ve experienced, that will then have impact on how our lives progress. Which I would say at the bottom line is how we could measure these things. If it influenced you and your world improved, your sense of self became stronger, then it doesn’t matter if it was metaphor, frankly. I don’t think it is, but it wouldn’t matter. And if there’s a commonality, if you can share that experience with somebody else, the chances of it becoming metaphoric are commensurately less. If people are having those experiences in Western, in what Alnoor would have called a trauma culture, there is no support, there’s no holding. And I guess you, in your early days as a medical psychiatrist, would come up against people who were having what in an initiation culture would be considered shamanic experiences and in our culture are considered insanity. First, is that fair? And second, is that what you meant when you said most people have had these experiences?

Simon: Mhm. I’m not sure it’s what I meant as in thinking that people with psychosis are having experiences with entities. In my experience actually working with Shipibo Curanderos, sometimes they do say that and sometimes they say that somebody who’s suffering from, they wouldn’t use the word psychosis, but they would describe those things as entity encounters. But I’ve also come across, in times when they’ve made a distinction and said, no that’s not an entity encounter, that person is um..

Manda: Just losing losing their grounding. 

Simon: Exactly, exactly. And then, uh, yeah. It’s interesting when you’re talking about people coming up in these shamanic initiations with these earth shattering experiences. And then how do you integrate that into your life? I mean, I experienced that massively when I was first starting off. And I had a good four years of going back to the jungle, and having these experiences and then explaining it away through neuroscience and the brain being a highly advanced predictive mechanism. Until it just became more and more difficult to explain it through that lens. And I ended up just shifting my viewpoint. Mainly at the time to help protect my own mental health, because I was just almost becoming more and more confused. And at the time I was working at King’s College London, and I would have these experiences in the jungle where I would try and explain my experiences through the lens of neuroscience. And the people around me were kind of look at me and say, well, you know, maybe you’re just ignoring what’s actually happening right in front of you. And then I would leave and I would go back to working as a psychiatrist in London and working at King’s College London and be thinking, well, maybe we could explain some of these things through energy and entity encounters. And the few times I did mention that there were a lot of raised eyebrows, obviously. 

Manda: As I was about to ask about that, yes. How does that go down in the medical profession?

Simon: Not well, in mainstream medicine. I mean, interestingly, I was surprised that there were quite a few psychiatrists I spoke to that were open to this kind of thing, and they were usually people who had either had their own experiences, their own anomalous experiences, that they couldn’t explain. Or close family members had. Or some psychiatrists who are from South America. And when I spoke to them about it, they had this kind of innate understanding that perhaps there was something else going on. And some of them even offered me words of warning and caution when I was delving into this world.

Manda: Oh, don’t go too deep! You might fall off an edge you can’t come back from.

Simon: Yeah, I wrote a systematic review looking at the pharmacology of how ayahuasca works, kind of like theorising how it might work. And one of my supervisors, this fantastic guy from Brazil, gave me a word of warning and said, Just be careful, because you might think you know what’s happening with ayahuasca. But you probably don’t. And that’s really all he said. And that was really the beginning of my experiences with ayahuasca, and that really stuck with me. To have that open kind of mind and heart. But now I only work with ayahuasca. I stopped working for the NHS a few years ago. But when I was working, in the NHS and also I’d started training in Shipibo Curanderismo, I found, just to maintain my own sanity, when I was in the jungle I had my Shipibo cosmology hat on and would understand experiences in that way. And then when I came back to working in the UK, working in London, working in hospitals, working with my patients, I had to just put the psychiatric medical hat on.

Manda: Otherwise you’d go crazy.

Simon: Exactly. Yeah.

Manda: You’d compartmentalise your brain. Right, yes, I remember that. Not not to the same extent, but when I was a veterinary anaesthetist, you just have to go with the science sometimes. And then I always found, particularly anaesthetising horses who are basically trying to die at the moment they hit the floor, there’s a grey area where you can dream into the space. And there were some students where they’d go why did you just, I don’t know, turn the isoflurane down? And you’d go, The dream was becoming dodgy. And some students would just totally freak. And some students would go, okay, all right, you know, we get that it’s okay. And yeah, it’s a different order of magnitude to what you were experiencing. But I remember that compartmentalisation of there’s what we do here and there’s what we do here, and they blur into each other if you’re very careful.

Manda: So let’s take a step or two back for people, because I would really like to explore Shipibo cosmology and find out what it feels like to wear that hat. But let’s see how you got there, because you sounded quite a standard, you know, well trained, very good I’m sure, Western medical mind. And yet you ended up in the jungle, which is not your usual trajectory for a career in psychiatry. So you must have had some interest or some opening. What was it that led you there in the first place?

Simon: Yeah for sure. I mean, I was definitely open to this stuff and these ways of thinking before ending up in the Amazon rainforest. But I feel like almost through that shamanic training, through a better sense of a word, it’s been a lot of unlearning. Unlearning what I thought was the truth about reality. And for me, I’d been working in the NHS for a few years. And I specialised in psychiatry and I absolutely loved psychiatry. It’s not that I didn’t love it. I loved working with my patients. I found it absolutely fascinating and I used to really enjoy getting up and going to work and seeing who I was going to meet and exploring the depths of people’s minds. And you know, what happens when things go wrong and then how do we help them? But that was the issue, is how do we help them?

Manda: We throw pharmaceuticals at them.

Simon: Sure. And I don’t just want to bash psychiatry either. Like there there’s some aspects of psychiatry like psychotherapy that work very well for a lot of people. And sometimes also I’m not anti-medication; sometimes medications are required. But psychiatry is a bit of a joke compared to the rest of Western medicine. Many of the drugs that we use haven’t really been updated for the last 50 years. Or if they have been, they’re just reformulations of pre-existing drugs.

Manda: So they can carry on with a copyright.

Simon: Yeah, something like that. And so after working in psychiatry for a couple of years, I was just like, okay, well, I’m just going to have a bit of a break. And we’ll see what happens and re-evaluate everything. So I set off and I went to quite a lot of different places and actually, it’s an amazing story. I was in Guatemala and I was staying in a hostel and I was in this cafe, in this hostel, and I was just there by myself and sitting in this cafe, and there was a man on the other side of this cafe, and I had a really strong, intuitive feeling to speak to this guy, but I had no reason to. And so in the end, I just kind of bit the bullet and thought, you know, I’m just gonna speak to him. And if he thinks I’m weird, that’s fine. I’ll probably never see him again. And I started chatting to him and it turned out that he’s originally from Namibia and then grew up in South Africa, and he was based in the Amazon rainforest and was training in Shipibo Curanderismo. And at this point, this is like eight years ago, I was 25, 26. We were the same age and we started training at the same age as well. So there aren’t really grades in Shipibo Curanderismo, but if there were, we’d be kind of the same level of training.

Manda: You still know this person?

Simon: Oh, yeah. I’m training under him now, he’s my maestro. And so we started talking and found that we were both studying medicine and  were exchanging experiences of working in our different fields. And he was telling me all about ayahuasca and these experiences that he’d had and the way that he treated his patients. And I was just completely fascinated. I’d always been really intrigued by anomalous experiences, you know, what are they?

Manda: Anomalous experiences, even the name! 

Simon: Anomalous experiences you know, in parapsychology. These things that when you speak to people about it, most people have experiences with them or they know someone who has. But then everyone just kind of like Pooh poohs it or ignores it. And this guy seemed to be saying, no, this is legit. This is real. You can train these skills and not only can you train them, but you can use that training, that energy, to help other people. And so he invited me to come down to Peru with him to drink ayahuasca. And so I went with him and I did an ayahuasca retreat and it was just incredible, you know, it was just absolutely incredible. And when I was there, I was really thinking, oh, man, I wonder if there’s a way that I could continue exploring this path and just see where it leads, maybe do some research. And then the man who owned the retreat centre that we were based at, the Ayahuasca Foundation, he happened to be there, and he told me that he had these plans to build a research centre. And he said that, you know, these these plans have been appearing to him. He felt like it was the right thing to do. But there was just one problem; he didn’t have any doctors or any researchers. But he felt that they would come, you know, he just had faith that they would come.

Manda: And there we go!

Simon: Like, how about it? So I went back to the UK and I spoke with a very close friend, Nige Netzband, who’s a psychologist. And we were discussing potential ways that we could research ayahuasca and we could study this. And so we designed a study and we actually self-funded this first study. And I was hoping that it would be an opening into this world and that maybe that would lead to a path in this world. But I think I actually realistically thought that would be ‘that time that we did some research into ayahuasca’, You know, like that was interesting. Fortunately, that study actually did get quite a lot of attention and then after that I got invited to come down to King’s College London, to work on some psychedelic trials there. And I continued doing the research into ayahuasca as well, going back and forwards to the Amazon rainforest whenever I could. And fortunately we got some more funding. We got some funding from the Medical Research Council, which is part of the UK government. And I ended up, after continuing the research for another five years, I started doing a PhD into Amazonian ayahuasca and mental health, which I finished a couple of years ago.

Manda: Tell us a little bit about that. Who’s mental health, particularly?

Simon: So it was the participants who were attending ayahuasca retreats at this centre.

Manda: Western people or local people?

Simon: So there were a few Peruvian people who were on the retreats. But normally with these retreats, it’s largely a Western population. That’s just the way it is. The same with research, the same with psychedelic research. It’s a particular demographic. It’s normally kind of middle class Western, not always, but usually white. That’s kind of the way it goes. It’s a bit of an issue and it’s kind of ironic actually, seeing that the indigenous and traditional use of psychedelics is extremely diverse.

Manda: And isn’t that demographic.

Simon: Yeah, yeah. So these are people who were were coming down to the Amazon rainforest and we did a number of studies looking at different mental health outcomes. So we were looking at the effects of ayahuasca on personality, common mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, general well-being. And then we also, interestingly, we did the the first ever study to look at the effects of any psychedelic on epigenetics, on epigenetic change.

Manda: Tell us about that.

Simon: Yeah. So it’s super interesting. Epigenetics is the study of the way in which your genome, your DNA changes its expression based on your environment. So we’re experiencing epigenetic change in our genome as a result of everything we do in our environment; as a result of diet, as a result of stress, as a result of where we live, pollution, you know, all of these kind of things. There are especially big changes if you undergo a traumatic experience or some kind of a life changing experience. But there are studies that suggest, the evidence is sketchy, and it’s a relatively new and somewhat controversial field looking at epigenetics. But some studies that suggest that epigenetic change is passed down through generations. So there are studies looking at survivors of the Holocaust and people who survived the Dutch famine in World War two. And it seems that there’s some evidence we need more research, where there’s some evidence suggesting that those epigenetic changes could be passed down through generations. And rat studies based in labs actually suggest that that continues for about 13 years until the genome kind of resolves or kind of goes back to to where it was before.

Manda: Does it spring back? I didn’t know that one. So you could have 13 years of change and then it kind of reverts to type, so to speak?

Simon: Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure that it reverts to type. I imagine that the effect of that just…

Manda: Evolves into something else.

Simon: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So we started looking at epigenetic change. And this was a preliminary study. We were only looking at three genes, and we did find that there was a change in expression of one of the genes, a gene called the sigma one receptor, which is involved in many things. 

Manda: What are the odds against? That’s amazing. Wow.

Simon: Yeah, it’s really interesting. 

Manda: What does Sigma one do? 

Simon: It does lots of stuff. It’s involved in Immunoregulation. It’s hypothesised to be involved in traumatic memory recall, which is something that we were particularly interested in, because in that study we were looking at childhood trauma and whether or not people with childhood trauma experience greater changes as a result of drinking ayahuasca. But one of the most interesting things I found from this study was actually when we were discussing the results with the Shipibo curandero that we work with in the jungle, Don Rono, he’s a fantastic man. He’s super interested in all the science, and he’s one of the core members of the research team. And we try as best we can to include him and the other curanderos we work with at every stage of the research. So when we’re thinking about what we want to research, he’s part of an indigenous advisory board that we set up, and he suggested looking at whether or not humans could interact with plant spirits. And I was like damn, how do you look at that?

Manda: How do you study that? Yes. How do you study it in a way that you would get a PhD for it, because you could study it in a Shipibo way, no problem at all. How did you?

Simon: So with that one we looked at nature relatedness, which is the way in which you interact with your environment and you interact with plants. And so we’re using scales that it’s not just how much do you identify with nature, it’s asking things like do you feel at one with nature? Do you feel that you can communicate with plants in some way? You know, things like that. So he came up with that idea, which was one of the other studies that I did in my PhD. But when I spoke to him about the epigenetic change, he wasn’t at all surprised. And his response was to say, oh, of course, that’s cleaning familial lines. Which is exactly what he does in the Shipibo ceremonies. According to Don Rono, according to Shipibo cosmology, a lot of the cleaning takes place in in ceremony. And they energetically, working with spirits, clean traumas that have occurred from your family, going back through generations. And so there are these nice intersections between science and shipibo curanderismo. They’re few and far between, but I’m hoping that with the work that we continue, that we will be able to explore more of them. It’s a really fascinating area and we’re continuing to look at that actually in our most recent studies.

Manda: So hang on, just give us a jump of you’re not a medic anymore. You’re not working in the NHS, but you’re still coming backwards and forwards to the UK. How do you hold body and soul together now? What’s your your role?

Simon: Sure, sure. So I have a few roles at the moment. I’m co-founder of the charity Onaya Science, which is the charity that we set up and that researches plant medicine, specifically ayahuasca in the Peruvian Amazon. Trying as best we can to do that in partnership with the indigenous curanderos that we work with. But then I also have an organisation called Onaya Health as well, which is currently designing courses that combine the fundamental principles of spirituality and link that in with the psychology and psychiatry. And those courses are really in preparation and integration courses, for people undergoing spiritual experiences. And then we’re also starting to run these kind of Onaya retreats, which is combining the two worlds of science and spirituality.

Manda: So you’re wearing both of your hats, both your cosmologies. You bring them together. How do you do that without going mad, Simon? 

Simon: No, I don’t think I’ve managed it. 

Manda: That was a serious question. That was actually quite a fundamental question. How are you going to teach people? Because I try and do this all the time. How do you help people anchor experience that effectively blows the walls off their world, and you presumably have something in a microdot in the second page of the health warning that goes, you know, this is a one way valve; once your world has been blown apart, it never comes back together the same again. And this is a continuous process. And in the end, the only thing that you can rely on is that your world is going to keep blowing apart. And that’s not a comfortable thing in the West where we’re all told that reality is this rigid box, and it’s going to stay the same way forever. How do you help people negotiate that?

Simon: Yeah, for sure. It’s a really good question. And I think for me, one of the main challenges in that area is accessibility. And not just in terms of who can actually get to the Amazon or experience psychedelics. That’s not really what I mean.

Manda: Though that is an issue.

Simon: That is an issue. Yeah, that definitely is an issue. There’s definitely a certain kind of person who ends up undergoing those experiences at the moment. But it’s more how do you make that information accessible and digestible to an audience that aren’t used to that? And for me, you know, it took at least four years of being completely immersed in that culture, before I began  to really take it seriously and to be open to it. And so in those courses, we’re really trying to break break it down to the fundamentals of spirituality. So I’m trying not to focus too much on Shipibo cosmology. For a couple of reasons. One, I don’t want to just rip off the Shipibo way of thinking. But two, in my experience, as soon as you start talking about the word spirituality or shamanism, what does that mean? I mean, shamanism actually refers to a very specific kind of practice that takes place in Siberia, but it seems to be this kind of layperson’s terme.

Manda: I think the terme has evolved. I think we could say now it’s basically indigenous earth based spirituality, isn’t it? But then that could be animistic. You could just call that animism. So yes.

Simon: Yeah for sure. So it’s trying to to break it down into kind of easily digestible ways of thinking, which is easier said than done. But you’re quite right, when you undergo these experiences not everyone, but for a large proportion of people, you have these earth shattering experiences. And this definitely happened for me. And you can experience something called ontological shock, which is when your  worldview has been challenged, it’s been challenged by another worldview. And then you can either work through that and integrate it into yourself, and you can learn from those experiences, or it’s just incredibly anxiety provoking and can be incredibly confusing. And that’s really what we’re trying to kind of solve and to help people work through, with those courses. And the courses they include  coaching and lots of lectures and practices and exercises. 

Manda: Exercises designed to help you have the experiences? Or exercises to integrate experiences that you’ve had elsewhere?

Simon: Yeah, more to integrate and how to deal with the experiences when they’re happening. Literally what to do in ceremony. Like what do you do practically in ceremony if you’re undergoing an experience that you don’t know how to deal with, like how do you how do you navigate the space? 

Manda: Yes. Right.

Simon: And when you speak to Shipibo Curanderos, they’ll give you a fantastic explanation of how you do that. But to somebody from the West who’s first introduced to these psychedelic experiences, that won’t make any sense. Or it might do for some people but for a lot of people it’s too many pegs above on the ladder. You know, you can’t make sense of it. So it’s about trying to trying to make those fundamental things which are present in many different spiritual traditions and trying to make them accessible to as many different people as possible.

Manda: So can we unpick this a little bit more? Because I’m really interested in this. I hope everybody listening is. But frankly, this is my podcast we get to do what I’m interested in. I have found myself bouncing up against a number of people’s conceptual boundaries, particularly around the word spirituality, which can often be conflated with authoritarian, patriarchal religion. And just trying to get spirituality and the things that you were taught at school are not the same thing. So I’m assuming you get through that quite quickly. And then I’m still trying to understand, are you getting people coming to your courses who have had an ayahuasca or similar experience, and just didn’t know how to integrate it? And you’re in a way providing the same support that would be present in an indigenous culture so that you come back and there are people to help you integrate? Or are you kind of pre aligning their worldviews so that they have a framework to work with when they then go and take the ayahuasca or both?

Simon: It can be either, I mean, ideally the way that the courses are designed, it’s roughly eight weeks long. But ideally you would do the first four weeks before you go, the preparatory weeks. And then you would have the experience in the middle, and then you come back and then you do the final four weeks. But then there’s also ongoing community support after that as well, so that you’re not left high and dry.

Manda: Ah, I wish this had been around in the 90s. Wow. Okay. All right. And how many people have gone through this? Or is this still in the planning stage? 

Simon: Oh no, we’re hoping to release it early next year. 

Manda: Might be there. Okay.

Simon: That woud be great.

Manda: So in terms of explaining to people, how do you get people who have, whether we like it or not, been socialised and raised in a Western mindset, which has a certain framing that really doesn’t allow for plant spirits? How do you phrase things so that it begins to make sense? How do you begin to build the pegs? Because it’s that layer of layer and layer. You can’t just jump from here to here without conceptual bridging. How do you build the bridging? I’m not asking you to give us the whole course, but I’m just really interested in your internal process because you didn’t have someone building the bridging. You just had life shattering experiences and then came back and tried to explain them to your psychiatric colleagues, which must have been an entertaining process. But presumably the Curanderos were helping you to integrate before you came back. And had they had practice at helping Western people integrate? Did they know how to talk you through the I realise this is not part of your world, but here’s our world; welcome to it gently. Or did they not?

Simon: I think this is one of the main issues and one of the main gaps that I’ve found at the moment. Because there are some other courses that exist in preparation and integration courses for psychedelic experiences, but they seem to fall in at least from what I’ve seen, in to either one of two categories. They’re either in the biomedical model, so that’s what we see in terms of the lab based research. Maps do quite a good job of bringing it. So Maps are the multidisciplinary association for Psychedelic studies that are doing the research into MDMA psychotherapy for PTSD. And they do a good job of bringing these kind of fundamental spiritual concepts into their prep and integration. But a lot of the other psychedelic trials and the ones that I’ve worked on as well, they seem to be firmly rooted in the biomedical model, which is okay, but you’re missing a massive component. According to the Shipibo you’re missing the main thing. You’re just going in blind.

Manda: Yeah. I would have said.

Simon: Then on the other side, so the way that the Shipibo Curanderos approach it and some of these other courses, the Curanderos are, you know, they’re fantastic, but they’re coming from their worldview. Which is awesome if you’re involved in that worldview and you have an understanding of it. And the other courses that I’ve come across can be super new agey, and there’s nothing wrong with that either, but the terms that we’ve been talking about; spirituality, shamanism, these things; that will put off a huge number of people. And normally the kind of people that actually need the support because they won’t know how to deal with these earth shattering experiences. So where I see, my role or the most work that we need to do, is bridging that gap of bringing in the science. Because it fits together and in many ways, the shipibo Curanderismo it’s a science, like it is a tried and tested method and extremely effective. 

Manda: And tested over a very long period of time and honed until you get it right. It is exactly what science is.

Simon: Exactly. Much older than Western science. You know, it’s at least hundreds of years, probably much longer, probably thousands at least. So I think that by combining those worlds, kind of like showing where the science is and, you know, real science, like peer reviewed academic journal science. But making that accessible and then also bringing in the aspects of spirituality, not just shipibo, but  fundamental spiritual practices, so that it’s taken seriously. And I think that that will help the most amount of people with these kind of experiences.

Manda: Right. Because they’ll take seriously the peer reviewed science, and then you can layer the other stuff. You talked about fundamental spiritual concepts. What for you are the fundamental spiritual concepts?

Simon: I mean, that’s a difficult one to answer. I think you talk a lot about being connected to the web of life, about letting letting life flow through you, about calming your mind and about being at one with whatever you want to call it. Whether you want to call it the universe, whether you want to call it energy, whether you want to call it spirit, whether you want to call it just a calm, meditative state where you’re in flow. Like that, for me, is the the core of spirituality. And that’s what we’re trying to get across on those courses. 

Manda: Okay. And are you able, you talked at the top of the show about Shipibo cosmology. Can you say a little bit about how that layers on top of.. So let’s assume that we understand that connecting to the web of life is a thing. And we have some idea that, you know, centring, grounding and being peaceful inside is an integral part of that. But then I am assuming quite a lot of layers beyond that. Are there any of those that you can share without approaching boundaries that you don’t want to?

Simon: Yeah, absolutely. This stuff is no secret. There are aspects of  Shipibo traditions that some Curanderos prefer not to talk about, but the cornerstone of Shipibo Curanderismo is plant dietas. That is the shamanic training for a better sense of a word. And this is something that do go into in those courses, but it’s more if you’re interested, we can speak about the specifics of this, but it’s a specific path that you might choose to follow. And in those processes, it involves usually going into isolation, a lot of fasting and trying to communicate with the spirit of a plant that the shipibo have deemed to be a master plant. An enlightened being in some cases. And so you’re connecting with that energy and what’s actually happening is, the way it was described to me which I find quite a helpful way of thinking about it, is that when you finish the process of plant dieta, you become almost like a mutant. You’re fused with the energy of this plant, and it’s incredible. You go through the period of the plant dieta when you’re connecting and you’re communicating and it’s amazing.

Simon: You feel the impact, you see the impact in your ceremonies and in your dreams and you form this relationship just like you would form any kind of relationship, through communication, through getting to know this energy, this entity, whatever you want to call it. And you have this process following that where it’s almost like you’ve now given birth and you have to care for this being which is inside you. And then that continues for a lifetime, but certainly when you come out of dieta, you’re extremely sensitive. So you have to be very careful with what you eat, everything that you kind of intake into yourself. And that includes conversations, film, music, all of these things.

Manda: Wi-fi, social media. I mean, the things that weren’t a problem even in our culture 50 years ago. And for thousands of years were not even an option. Yeah, it must be very interesting integrating. Even when I did it in the 90s, you know, there was no such thing as social media. There wasn’t even broadband. I mean, integrating back into consensus reality must be a very delicate process. How long do you give yourself? Sorry, I interrupted, but you can carry on with the rest. How long do you give yourself to integrate back in?

Simon: Yeah, it’s an interesting one. And this is another area where you get a bit of a paradigmal clash. So whenever I’m in the jungle, Don Rono will say, ah, just do a three month dieta. It’s quite a long time, Rono, I don’t know if I can just kind of go offline for three months. Then when you finish that dieta, it depends how long the dieta is, but they say try and maintain everything for at least two weeks afterwards, ideally longer, which all this time builds up. But then in the jungle, to the curanderos, a three months is nothing. It’s a short dieta, you know, we go into dieta for years. So there is a bit of a clash between the two. For me, I normally try to do at least 1 to 2 weeks following the dieta where I calm everything down. But it’s tricky. It feels a little bit like running the gauntlet when you get back to London, you’re trying to avoid everything that could be  damaging.

Manda: But even airports. Airports are living hell even when you’re in a normal kind of state of mind.

Simon: Oh airports are the worst!

Manda: I don’t know how you do it.

Simon: Yeah, it’s super tricky. But with all these things, I think, you do the best that you can do. That’s all you can ever do. And then it’s about constant communication. 

Manda: With the plant? Communicating with the plant that you have connected with?

Simon: Sure. So if something begins to go wrong, say that you do a fantastic dieta, you come back home and you immediately get into an argument with your partner. One thing that I was taught was communicate with the plant. Like you would a baby, explain it’s okay, it’s not your fault. Like, this is me, it’s okay. And the way that it was explained to me by the Shipibo Curanderos is that the plants, they sign up for the human experience, and they want to experience life as part of the humanity and to help us in any way that they can. So they know that there’s going to be difficulties, they know that this stuff is going to happen, so giving that as an offering as well. So saying, I’m really sorry, this is part of my human experience of trying to live with someone else and it’s challenging. It’s challenging.

Manda: Yes. That’s so interesting. With my own practice, I’ll talk more offline about that perhaps.

Simon: Sure. Yeah.

Manda: Gosh, that completely derailed me. But that sense of something arising as an offering and then of us being able to offer all that we are. Every part of the texture of me, this is what I offer and it’s okay for that to be the offering. It’s so contrary to what we imbue from Western teaching, I think. And that was a real shift for me, of the understanding not only that that was okay, but that that was actually desired and good. And it’s huge.

Manda: So I asked you right at the top, how were you, how did you cope when you came back to the weird culture that we’re in? And the answer is you’ve got the plant inside you. Probably more than one by now. And so the big question that seems to come up a lot around the edges of this is we’re in a meta crisis; it looks from the outside, from the inside, actually, as if the entirety of humanity is busy powering off the edge of a cliff. And this is not a good cliff. And it could take an awful lot of other species, not just including the plants with us. And I’m wondering whether your plants or any plants are offering any guidance on this? That would be a really nice thing.

Simon: For sure. One interesting thing that I heard the anthropologist Jeremy Narby say, so he worked with the Ashaninka, which are another indigenous community similar to the Shipibo. And they also do dietas and they actually diet animals as well as dieting plants. And one of the questions that he immediately had for the Ashaninka was, why? What’s in it for the plant? Like, why would the plant want to fuse with us and help us and work with us? And this Ashaninka elder said to Jeremy Narby, that the plants are an old species, they’ve been on the planet for however many millions of years. And humans, humankind is an adolescent species. 

Manda: Yeah, five year olds, mostly.

Simon: It’s like we’re having our adolescent teenage rebellion now, though. Is like we know what we should be doing, and we’re getting burned, hopefully, in order to learn. And this Ashaninka elder elder said to Jeremy Narby, well, the plants are elders and they recognise that we’re an immature species. And so just like an elder would help a rebelling teenager in a functional community, that’s what the plants are doing to. They’re trying to help us, they’re trying to guide us. Is there any specific guidance? I mean, I think we can look back to the research and we can look back to the research we’ve been doing. So what are the effects of ayahuasca? Some of the research we’ve done has been looking at plant dieters as well. People undergoing these plant dieters. What do we see? We see that people have higher levels of self-compassion. We see that people are working towards resolving their childhood trauma. We see that there’s less anxiety and depression. There’s more connection with nature. People are more aware of that. They have a greater understanding, and they want to protect nature. So perhaps that’s one of the ways that the plants are guiding us in, in all of these, in all of these specific domains.

Manda: Yeah. How do we move that at scale, though? That’s been my big question since the conversation with Alnoor. If we are a trauma culture and we want to move to being an initiation culture, it might be that we need to reach quite a lot of people quite fast. That’s an interesting question. I mean, the plants may not have that sense of urgency and scale, and maybe my sense of urgency and scale is wrong. I’d be quite happy if it was, to be honest. So yeah, I don’t know.

Simon: The way that I see it is at the moment, it seems like the world, Earth, whatever, the planet is sending out the white blood cells. There seem to be many different things that are happening. And plants, ayahuasca, all these things, my perception is that that is a white blood cell. But there are many of them coming out now.

Manda: There are. Yes, you’re right.

Simon: And it’s just up to us to find the spiritual path that resonates with us and then make those changes in ourselves and in the wider community.

Manda: Yeah. Brilliant. Brilliant. Thank you. So you’ve got this course coming out 2024, we hope. And there will be a link at some point. Possibly not by 27th December when this goes out .

Simon: Hopefully there will be. It will be a motivation.

Manda: We’ll put it in there. Excellent. What else? Where do you see or where do you feel, where do you and your plants feel is ahead on the road for you in the next months and years.

Simon: I’m not entirely sure. There are a few interesting things going on at the moment. So I’m also involved in some research based at the University of Melbourne which is looking at botanical formulations. It’s not ayahuasca, but it takes inspiration from ayahuasca. So it’s using Syrian rue and Acacia. So Syrian rue has the monoamine oxidase inhibitors in it that prevents the breakdown of DMT. And that’s normally the role that the ayahuasca vine has. And Acacia has the DMT it’s a source of DMT, like many different plants. And when you combine them together, you get a similar effect to ayahuasca. But if you remove ayahuasca from its traditional context and there are many different traditional contexts, I think you have something else. You know, you have some kind of botanical formulation.

Manda: It’s different. The plant spirits are different spirits. This feels to me like this is quite a Western reductive chemicalized… Anyway what’s happening? How is it going?

Simon: It’s going well. It’s going well. So we’ve started doing these randomised controlled trials in Melbourne with an organisation called the Psyche Institute. And we started off looking at healthy volunteers, the effects of this, they call it Aussie auscar in Australia.

Manda: Oh, of course they do. Brave and happy volunteers, though I’m not sure I’d be running to the top of the line to go ‘Hey, we don’t really know what this does, but it might be a bit like ayahuasca. You might vomit for weeks, but we don’t know. Give it a try?’.

Simon: There’s actually lots of people who have been really happy to do it.

Manda: Oh, really? Wow.

Simon: But it’s interesting. It’s another way of broaching it, because instead of having a curandero, you have a psychotherapist.

Manda: A bloke in a white coat. 

Simon: Yeah, yeah. Like some kind of guise. But it’s fascinating because the results that we’re getting from those studies are, they’re impressive as is usually the case with psychedelic research. But I spoke to Don Rono about this, I kind of said, well, Rono, what do you what do you think about this? What do you think about these studies? Are you happy to go ahead with them? Or would you rather that they didn’t happen? Or do you think it’s completely pointless? Like, what do you think? And his response was super interesting. He said by all means, go ahead with them. Like, absolutely and they’ll probably be better than the pharmaceuticals that you have at the moment. But without a curandero there to guide you, what you’ll get is illusions rather than the truth. And it could be confusing. Which is really interesting. And then it begs the question are psychedelic guides equipped to deal with that kind of work? I mean, obviously I imagine most of them are not going to be moving energy within these therapy sessions, or at least not knowingly.

Manda: Not knowingly, not consciously. They might be shifting all kinds of things. It scares me witless, I have to say. But brave people. Because you don’t know. Unless you have worked with those plants for years and you can hold a sane conversation with them in the midst of balancing a whole ceremony, which is a big thing. And how are you going to know if they need help or if they need you to do something? Or if, I don’t know, the West of the circle has just fallen apart and you’re going to have to do something, which is translating it into my language. But if you haven’t got that relationship, how? It could be really interesting. And the most interesting version of interesting.

Simon: Oh for sure, for sure, for sure, for sure. It almost feels like we’re at the beginning of creating a new tradition. Like some kind of new way of working with plants. A way that we used to have, probably until we, you know, got rid of all of our European…

Manda: Until we became a trauma culture.

Simon: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so perhaps it will be a way to reawaken that way of working. I guess my concern with it is that, not so much with the studies that we’re doing based in Melbourne, but with the so-called psychedelic renaissance in general, is if you do remove the spiritual aspect. And people are beginning to move towards non-hallucinogenic psychedelics. There seems to be the new thing in research, where you give somebody a similar chemical that induces neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new connections. And if you do that without a spiritual container and you’re just giving people these medications, do we not just have another serotonin agonist? Is it not just, not quite the same, but it’s following the same reductionistic biomedical model that we already have.

Manda: Because what happens if you’ve just created neuroplasticity, what do you do with that neuroplasticity? Unless somebody really sorted and can from the inside, I’m feeling my heart doing weird things as we were saying this and I’m thinking okay, I would establish the three pillars of the heart mind, I would build on that. But that’s hard and if you can do that, you’re probably not needing to take the psychedelics in the first place. So what do you do with neuroplasticity without a spiritual container? That’s a serious question. I have no idea what the answer is. 

Simon: It’s an interesting thing. I mean, many things cause neuroplasticity, it’s not just these treatments. I do completely agree with you. What will that look like? What will this new paradigm look like? I think it raises a lot of ethical questions as well. I was speaking to my friend Ben who runs ICEERS, which is an organisation that helps indigenous rights as well. And he works very closely with many different indigenous communities and he was reflecting that for many indigenous communities, now that they’re aware of the psychedelic renaissance, it’s raising concerns for them. And what for many people did seem to be this groundbreaking way that we’re going to hopefully restore mental well-being and reconnect people to the planet in a new paradigm, I think is in risk of becoming medicalized, becoming a part of a capitalist framework. So I think we need to be very careful with the way that we’re approaching these psychedelic studies.

Manda: Yeah. I mean, that’s largely what Ros was saying when we had her on. She’d done the Ted talk on mushrooms, psilocybin. It’s amazing. And three years later she’s going, okay, you need a holder, you need a container. You need to understand containment. You need to offer a lot of support. We’re still in the Disney culture where you want someone to wave their wand and everything is fine. Or take a tablet and everything is fine. Red pill. All I need is the pill and everything’s changed. And everything that a Curandero or anybody else who’s done the work will tell you no, I’m sorry, three months alone in the forest with your plant is the short version.

Simon: Yes, absolutely. And there are some psychedelic guys that I have come across that are fantastic, that I would really trust. But for the most part, I couldn’t think of anyone worse than mainstream psychiatrists,  without additional trainin, to be conducting this kind of work. And I think this is where we need to be really, really careful. There has to be some kind of additional training. I think the ship has already sailed. You know, we need to accept that these psychedelics are out there, clinical trials are happening. We’re beginning to see them in clinics. You know, that’s already happened. So I think now it needs to be how do we equip people properly to deal with these experiences?

Manda: Because you can’t tell the average guy who’s got a doctorate and a string of postdoctoral papers and a white coat and a stethoscope, that he’s not fit to do this. Because he’s not going to hear you and is probably going to ramp up everything just to prove that you’re wrong.

Simon: Absolutely, absolutely. And then one of the other main issues that we have, and we’re seeing this a lot in Australia, where there’s a piece of legislation called Bridging the Gap, which is trying to bring the indigenous peoples equivalent of qualifications into recognition. Because at the moment we have this issue where indigenous people may well be the most qualified people, but if we take Don Rono, for example, and say, this is the best guide you could possibly have.

Manda: He hasn’t got a Phd. He hasn’t even got A-levels.

Simon: Yeah, he doesn’t have anything. He’s trained for 20 years but he doesn’t have any pieces of paper.

Manda: Yeah. He’s done years and years in the forest and we don’t recognise that this is a valid thing to have done. Okay, but they’re trying. Good on the Australians.

Simon: Yeah. Yeah they’re trying.

Manda: Raises Australia in my estimation a lot that they’re trying to do this. I suppose they’ve got people like Tyson Yunkaporta there now going okay I did get your PhD, I did write the book. You will expletive deleted listen now, because you don’t understand. So OK.

Simon: Absolutely. There is some good stuff going on there. But obviously there are still a lot of issues with indigenous recognition in Australia. But well.

Manda: Anywhere the death cult is the death cult and it’s ramping itself up too. You’re absolutely right that the white cells are out there, but whatever is the antithesis to the white cells, I don’t know, the myeloma is also doing its thing. And it feels to me like it’s a race between the white cells and the whatever it is that, I don’t know, septicaemia that’s happening.

Simon: Yeah. It does feel like that. Yeah.

Manda: But you are also right that there are lots of, I see it as a landscape with lots of little fires springing up, and it would be nice somehow if we could bring all the fires together. 

Simon: Absolutely. That’s the next big job, if that’s at all possible, to bring those fires together.

Manda: Yeah, but I don’t think we’ll do it without help from what I would call the web of life. And you would probably call your plant spirits. But it seems to me that somehow, if whoever has the capacity to connect can connect and ask for help with that wider connection, I find and this may not be something that you want to put out into the world, but I find that when I go to what I work with, with an idea, provided it’s not just coming out of my head and my own insecurities, but, you know, ‘I think this might really help. Can we do this?’ There’s often a ‘oh, yeah, that’s a really good idea. Yes. We needed you to ask. Yeah. We have not got the agency to make that happen’. Sometimes you get the ‘you have to do this’ and I go, okay, I’ll do it. Write a book. Right. Writing a book now, guys. But most of the time I go up the hill and go, I think this would be a good idea. And they’re like ‘Yes, yes!’ So put energy. Give us your energy. Give us that essence of you, flowing through in a way that isn’t draining you, but flowing through so that we have something to work with. And yeah, we’ll go for that. Is that making sense? From your cosmology also?

Simon: Yeah, absolutely. 100%. I think the way that I perceive it is that it’s 100% whatever you want to call it, energy, the web of life, letting the spirit flow through you. But it’s also 100% you. And so I had this with my PhD, like I didn’t want to do a PhD. Like after finishing med school, that was like the last thing I wanted to do.

Manda: Sit down and write 60,000 words. Yay!

Simon: But then I kept getting, for a better sense of the word, kind of intuition, messages in ceremony, just in general. Just do this. And then the doors flew open and before I knew it, I was doing it. But I think, you know, there’s a potential pitfall there as well, because you can slip into the trap of blaming it on something else, blaming your decisions on something else, having an external locus of control. It wasn’t me. It was the energy, the plant spirit.

Manda: Yes, exactly. The plants made me or the spirits made me. And you can become very passive if you’re not careful.

Simon: Absolutely, absolutely. And then also not take responsibility for anything, for any of your actions. And so the way that I’ve been taught about plant spirits is that they are 100% you. They return you to being the most you that you can possibly be. And so when you get told to write a book or do a PhD by the plant spirits, that’s you. That is more you than it could ever be. It’s 100% them and 100% you.

Manda: It’s the bit of you that’s totally connected.

Simon: Exactly, exactly, exactly. Yeah.

Manda: Ok Yeah, yeah. Breaking through all the boundaries, all the bits that aren’t connected to go okay, this is what we need to do. All right. That’s interesting. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’m realising that we’re at the top of the hour, which I can’t think where the time went. That went way too fast! There were so many other things to talk about. When are you going back? You haven’t been back in the UK for very long, have you?

Simon: No, I’ve been back for a week. 

Manda: Are you still jet lagged?

Simon: No. I’m okay now. The next time I’ll be back will be sometime in the new year. We’re doing these super, super interesting studies at the moment, actually, where we’re working with military veterans from the US, the UK, Australia and Canada, and they’re undergoing ayahuasca retreats. Some of them are doing plant dietas as well. And we’re looking at the impact of ayahuasca and dietas, these processes, on their brainwaves. Using EEG before and after ceremonies, so seeing how that changes, you know, the way that their brain’s functioning. Epigenetics; before we looked at three genes and now we’re looking at almost the entire human genome to see which…

Manda: Is this because we now have AI to analyse the data? Because otherwise that’s a data dump that would take you decades. 

Simon: No, it’s because we now have more funding. And then we’re looking at the gut microbiome as well. 

Manda: I thought that was going to be really interesting. But how do you do a control of just eating in the Amazon and not being surrounded by, you know, polluted land? And I suppose the rainwater still has PFAs in them. But how do you control that?

Simon: Controlling it is very difficult. And so initially what we wanted to do was to have retreats where people weren’t drinking ayahuasca and they just do everything that you would do, so all the other treatments. Because ayahuasca is just one part, it’s a fundamental part, but it’s just one part of the shipibo kind of way of treating.

Manda: But then you have very unhappy veterans who aren’t getting to do the ayahuasca.

Simon: And also we didn’t get ethical permission to do that, that got rejected from it.

Manda: Oh that’s interesting.

Simon: So what we’re doing now is what’s called a waiting list control. So the participants become their own control. So we collect their data before they’ve attended the retreats. So that’s how we’re controlling it. That’s a way around it. But it would be it would be much better to have a placebo retreat. And I hope that one day we can get there.

Manda: Yeah, this is probably leaping off way past where listeners want to go, but I’m just curious. Does your gut microbiome not change simply by flying from the UK to Peru and eating food that you get in the jungle, that’s going to be a microbiome change before you see any ayahuasca, I would have thought. Are you taking serial samples so that you can see? Okay, so you’ve got a kind of in-person control.

Simon: I mean that is right. It seems that every other plant that the Shipibo’s in the jungle give you just makes you vomit or gives you diarrhoea. 

Manda: Grand okay, Ok, so there’s constant purging. So your poor little microbiome is struggling to keep up.

Simon: It’s definitely going to change massively. Well I don’t know that, but I would be surprised if it didn’t, because it’s being flushed out.

Manda: That’s interesting. I remember when I took ayahuasca, the spirit or whatever, said quite early on I started to feel sick and it said, you can indulge yourself in being sick for the rest of this if you want, or you can just sit there and get on with it. I thought, okay, if those are the options I’ll do the sitting here and getting on with it, thank you. So actually I was never sick, which is weird.

Simon: Oh, wow.

Manda: Yeah, it probably probably meant I wasn’t doing it right, but. Yeah

Simon: You need to drink more.

Manda: It took me a long, long time not to associate the sound of somebody vomiting with all of that. It’s an exciting and interesting experience.

Simon: It’s really magical.

Manda: It is magical. And you’re doing so much, really, really good stuff. Simon, I’m so, so happy that you’re doing this, and I’m just still coming back in my mind to that you’re sitting in a cafe minding your own business, and you’re already open enough that you feel an instinct to go and talk to somebody who’s now your maestro. And that, that feels really huge. And you know, it sounds to me like the whole of your life hinged on you being able to listen to that. And that for people listening, to take that away. And it feels like what Castaneda calls the cubic centimetre of chance. Do you remember that bit? These things happen where the whole of the world turns on your actions on a moment.

Simon: Absolutely.

Manda: And if you can feel that and go with that. You have no idea where you’re going, but it’s going to be interesting.

Simon: Absolutely. And I think if I could take away one thing from everything that I’ve learned from the Shipibo and this path in general and this whole crazy journey, has been listening. Like listening to everything with openness, like to yourself, to others, to the universes.  Stillness and listen.

Manda: Yeah, and the elders are there to help us. Such a powerful idea. When we think we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, remember that there are much wiser things that are there wanting to help.

Simon: Absolutely.

Manda: This is our last podcast of the year. So I think that’s an extraordinarily good way to send people off into the last few dark nights and then into Hogmanay. Have you got anything else that you wanted to say to people listening?

Simon: I mean, as part of our charity Onaya Science, we are always looking for donations, because we’re almost entirely donation based. And that’s how we manage to stay independent, so we can look at exactly what we want to. 

Manda: There will be a link in the show notes, people. Do you want to just say the website so that people who aren’t near a place to look it up.

Simon: Sure. Yeah. So it’s Onaya actually means sorcerer for the power of good in Shipibo.

Manda: Wow. Okay, so if you want to help sorcerers for the power of good guys;; go and give some money, that would be a good thing. We live in the death cult. Capitalism is still all around us. Do something good with your money. If the other Simon, Simon Michaux is right, he’ll be on next week, we won’t have very much money for very much longer, so give it away now while it’s useful. Right. That feels like a very good ending, and we will definitely put links to anything that Simon can give us into the show. Simon, thank you so much for all that you are doing. It feels so generative and so lovely and so wonderful. And thank you for taking the time to come and talk about it.

Simon: Thank you so much for having me, Manda. It’s been a real pleasure.

Manda: Thank you.

Manda: And that’s it for this week and for this year. Enormous thanks to Simon for the integrity and authenticity of his work, for the breadth and scope of all that he’s doing, and for being such an all round, amazing and wonderful human being. That was such a lovely conversation. I enjoyed every moment of it, and I hope that came across so that you enjoyed it too. And I have put links in the show notes to everything that Simon mentioned. And please, if you do have any spare cash, Onaya Science sounds like a really, really good way to spread the love, to connect, to be part of the change that we need in the world. We can’t all go to Peru and sit in circle and take ayahuasca. But we can help the work that can spread this, that can move it to scale. So that’s it for this year. We will be back next year with Simon Michaux, walking us forward into what could potentially, perhaps should, perhaps might be ahead in the year that’s coming. Because for absolute sure, by this time next year the world will be a radically different place. We are now pretty much in the vertical part of the change curve. What used to be called the singularity, but that seems to have fallen out of favour. But everything is changing very, very fast and the only thing we can be sure of is that the things we used to think we could be sure of, we cannot be sure of anymore.

Manda: So as we sit in this time of reflection still, as the nights are still dark, as we have a chance to look inside, find our balance, consider the year ahead. Have a think of where your heart’s greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need. And if you want to come along to Dreaming Your Year Awake on Sunday the 7th of January, you would be most welcome. And there will be space to ask that very question. And there we go.

Manda: Enormous thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot. To Allan and to Caro for producing all of the podcasts through the year. To Anne Thomas and Jill Coombs for the transcripts through the year. To Faith Tilleray for all of the work that goes on behind the scenes, under the counter, in the guts of the technology that keeps everything moving. And for the conversations, the ideas, the sharing of where we’re at that moves us forward. And then, as ever, for the whole year, a huge thanks to you for being there, for sharing, for engaging. For spreading the ideas and for helping to make the world a different and perhaps more connected place. That’s it for now. See you next year. Thank you and goodbye.

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