‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

“Spaceship Earth” Documentary on Biosphere 2 Premieres at Sundance Film Festival

Last weekend, some of our authors, John Allen and Mark Nelson, along with publisher, Deborah Snyder, attended the premiere of this long awaited film at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Audiences gave standing ovations. The film is based in part on the memoir by John Allen, Me & the Biospheres, and includes extensive interviews with authors Mark Nelson and Sally Silverstone, both authors of our next book, Life Under Glass, a second edition of the account they wrote while living inside.

“Spaceship Earth” unravels the compelling tale behind Biosphere 2 — the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built, comprised of seven biomes within a three and a half-acre closed ecological unit. Each biome was a carefully created replica of one of the various ecosystems on Earth. The film spans a fifty-year history of the small group of individuals who embarked on this extraordinary venture. Directed by Matt Wolf, Produced by Stacy Reiss (The Eagle Huntress).

Spaceship Earth Crew at Sundance 2020

The Directors and producers with the Biosphere 2 team at the Sundance Film Festival 2020.

Costing $200 to build, Biosphere 2 was complete with a tropical rainforest, a grassland, a coastal desert, and even a coral containing ocean. From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers across different scientific practices, called ‘Biospherians’, began a two-year-long experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the structure with the aim of studying how the environments would evolve, and if they could sustain human life. But just how wild experiment come to be? 

Chronicling back to San Francisco in the early 1960s, “Spaceship Earth” traces the journey of artist-engineer John Allen and his group of like-minded, free-thinking friends who set about making the earth a more sustainable place through theater, art, and ecologically driven projects. Together, the group formed the avant-garde theater troupe, the Theater of All Possibilities, mixing together noetics, science, and ecology with experimental theater. 

The group went on to establish several other projects including Synergia Ranch, an intentional community in New Mexico focused on ecology, architecture, and art. With Synergia Ranch as their headquarters, the group started to scale into even more grandiose projects, founding the non-profit organization the Institute of Ecotechnics (IE). IE’s main goal has been the development and application of innovative approaches to harmonizing technology and the global biosphere.

The team embarked upon constructing their own hand-built sailing vessel from scratch, starting a sustainable forestry project in Puerto Rico, and even an art gallery in London. Their far-sighted scope ultimately led to their most inspirational project — Biosphere 2.

“Synergia’s members hungered for knowledge and were always looking to one-up themselves, under the philosophy that life could be playful and meaningful if you were open to all possibilities. So in the late 1980s, Allen and his band of visionaries embarked on their most ambitious project ever: the construction of a biosphere that would sustain the lives of eight crew members for two years without any outside interference.” — Matt Patches, “Spaceship Earth uncovers the goodness hidden in the debacle of Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 was built as an educational apparatus to study planetary workings by replicating all of earth’s (Biosphere 1’s) fantastic diversity, and observing how it evolved in a closed system. Beyond this, the Biospherians took the premise of ecological collapse seriously, wanting to develop a harmonic balance between ecology and technology, potentially suitable to colonize space. 

A Testament to the Power of Small Groups  

Ultimately, the story behind Biosphere 2, and the many initiatives driven forward by the Institute of Ecotechnics serve as a testament to the power of small groups. Wild dreams of envisioning a better world do not have to be cast-off as an idealistic pastime, but rather they can become an even wilder reality when put into an actionable plan. 

A Beacon of Planetary Stewardship 

Today Biosphere 2 continues to serve as a beacon of hope with a message grounded in harmonizing human actions with nature. One of the most crucial insights that we can draw from the Biosphere 2 project is that we already live in a closed ecological system, Biosphere 1, the Earth!  

We can re-empower ourselves with the knowledge and know that what we do as individuals makes a difference to the outcome at large. In the words of Buckminster Fuller:

“I’ve often heard people say: ‘I wonder what it would feel like to be onboard a spaceship,’ and the answer is very simple. What does it feel like? That’s all we have ever experienced. We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth.” 


What Reviewers Said About Spaceship Earth 

“The film’s larger frame is something more spiritual, an innate quest for knowledge and adventure whose principal crime was naiveté. Operating outside the usual government and academic realms for such projects, the Biosphere 2 personnel weren’t prepared for the extent to which they’d be scrutinized and dismissed for that independence. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials as well as interviews with all surviving participants, “Spaceship” is an involving, oddly poignant tale that should have broad appeal to those on the lookout for distinctive documentary features.” — Dennis Harvey, “‘Spaceship Earth’: Film Review for Variety


Books on Biosphere 2

Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2 

Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2In today’s world, where the problems of climate change, pollution and ecological destruction become ever more pressing, we often tend to forget about the things which have already and are still being done for the environment, in attempts to align man with the natural world.

The 2009 Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Biography/Memoir, Me and the Biospheres is the definitive autobiography of John P. Allen, inventor of the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built and one of the most luminous minds of our time. Contained within a magnificently designed air-tight glass and steel frame structure, Biosphere 2 covered three acres of Arizona desert and included models of seven biomes: an ocean with coral reef, a marsh, a rainforest, a savannah, a desert, farming areas and a micro-city. Eight people lived inside this structure for two years (1991-1993) and set world records in human life support, monitoring their impact on the environment, while providing crucial data for future manned missions into outer space. Anyone concerned with the current world trajectory will identify with Allen’s uplifting account of the most ambitious environmental experiment ever undertaken. Humorous and Whitmanesque, Me and the Biospheres is a tribute to the ingenuity and dauntlessness of the human mind and a passionate call to reawaken to the beauty of our peerless home, Biosphere 1, the Earth.
 

APRIL 2020

Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship Learned from Two Years in Biosphere 2

What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for Biosphere 2? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

In Life Under Glass, crew members, Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson with co-captain Sally Silverstone present the full account of those two remarkable years. From the struggles of growing their own food, to learning how to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere, the general reader is offered a rare glimpse into how a group of dedicated researchers managed to surprise the world and fulfill their dream. In this updated edition, a new chapter reflects on the legacy of Biosphere 2 and the state of related scientific progress. Other crews will come and go, but no one else will face the risks, the uncertainties, and the challenges that this new breed of explorers did on Biosphere 2’s maiden voyage. Here is the fascinating story of how it all appeared—living under glass.

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Peyote, Its Perilous Past and Prospective Future

Peyote, Its Perilous Past and Prospective Future

What is Peyote?

Peyote, scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, is a small, spineless cactus native to North America, populating the vast desert thorn scrub that runs from the southwestern United States into north-central Mexico. It is commonly known for its psychoactive properties. Among its many alkaloids, peyote contains the naturally occurring chemical compound mescaline which has the ability to induce brilliantly colored geometrical visions. Classed as a controlled, Schedule I substance in the United States, Native Americans have had to fight hard for the sustained use of their sacred plant.

The sacramental use of peyote is the oldest known religious practice on the North American continent. By way of example, there are three archeological specimens of peyote that were discovered in the Shumla Cave in Pecos, Texas which have been radiocarbon dated between 3660 and 3780 BCE. Petroglyphs in the area adorned with peyote motifs have also been dated to the same period. Thus, the cactus has been used by indigenous groups in Northern Americas for millennia, being an integral part of the cosmology of Huichol peoples of Northern Mexico as well as the Native American Church. 

Reflections on a Perilous Past 

Despite being given such reverence by indigenous peoples and the NAC, peyote has been extremely misunderstood by outsiders for centuries. Since their arrival in the New World in the early 1600s, Spanish colonists set about replacing native religions with Catholicism. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, and missionary priest wrote about peyote: 

“Those who eat or drink it see visions either frightful or laughable… it stimulates them and gives them sufficient spirit to fight and have neither fear, thirst, nor hunger… It causes those devouring it to foresee and predict; such, for instance, as whether the weather will continue; or to discern who has stolen from them…”

Upon coming into contact with peyote in Mexico, the Spanish colonialists considered it to be an anti-christian, “diabolical root” in direct opposition to the integrity of the Catholic faith. The Inquisitor General ordered Christianization at the point of the sword, and plants used in native rituals were condemned. In 1620, an official order was issued by the Inquisitors declaring that “no person of whatever rank of social condition can or may make use of the said herb, Peyote” as it was considered to be an “intervention of the Devil.”           

Spanish Imperialists brought death and disease to Northern Mexico and with this its inhabitants fled, scattering south and west. One group, the Tarahumara Indians, made their home in the remote hills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is believed that their successors gave rise to the Huichol or Wixarika, who are the only remaining indigenous group in Mexico that continues to use peyote as a ritual sacrament.

The Native American Use of Peyote

Peyote Drummer

‘Peyote Drummer’ Via Museum of Photographic Arts Collections

Meanwhile, north of the border the European colonization of America had begun. Over the span of a couple of centuries, the Native Americans saw their buffalo food supply deliberately wiped out, with each tribe experiencing its own genocide, land seizure, displacement, and removal to reservations.

Acclaimed ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes, was among the first few Westerners to study peyote. In 1936, Schultes made his way to Oklahoma to study the ritual use of peyote among the Kiowa Indians. 

The Kiowa, a tribe of warrior people, frequently fought with neighboring tribes, sometimes making long-distance raids as far down as Mexico. It is thought that the Kiowa first came into contact with peyote in the mid-1800s through the Tarahumara Indians and other tribes who had fled south, finding a safe haven in the Sierra Madre. 

Anthropologist Wade Davis writes of the Native American’s connection to peyote in his book One River explaining that “peyote offered the Kiowa and the Comanche an astonishing affirmation of their fundamental religious ideas” in a time when their ways of life were disintegrating.

Legal Battles and the Native American Chruch

Jerry Patchen, a Texas attorney, and contributing author to our publication Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs has represented the Native American Church and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensed peyote dealers (peyoteros) harvesting and selling peyote to the NAC for over forty years. 

During his career as a lawyer, he fought on the frontlines of the peyote wars, providing pro bono representation to Indians that were being charged with the serious offense of possessing a controlled substance. In his paper, “Reflections of the Peyote Road with the Native American Church – Visions & Cosmology” he expands upon his journey, helping to protect and secure the legal status of Peyote for use by Native Americans in NAC prayer services. 

To learn more about the legal trials and tribulations faced by the Native American Church watch the video below, in which Jerry Patchen reflects on his career and shares his personal experiences with the Native American Church.

In 1912, the Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to lobby for a federal law prohibiting peyote. This law was passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate. An Oklahoman senator was swayed by his Indian constituency, persuading his colleagues to vote against the bill. Following this, the Native American Church rallied the support of several anthropologists, ethnologists, and ethnobotanists in their fight to save their sacred medicine. Among them, Richard Evans Schultes had presented a vast bibliography as well as the insights from field research with the Kiowa. Finally, the U.S. Senate Committee accepted their conclusion that peyote was not a “habit-forming drug” and is used as a “religious sacrament”. 

The efforts to prohibit the use of peyote ceased for three decades until the beginning of the 1960s countercultural movement in the 1960s where baby boomers discovered psychedelic substances and wanted to “turn on, tune in, drop out” en masse. Alarmed by the potential dangers of psychoactive substances, the U.S. government enacted The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, in which peyote was included in the drugs classified as Schedule I substances. Read more about psychedelics and the 1960s counterculture.

Patchen helped create and draft a plan of petitioning the U.S. Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and to revise the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) to expressly include peyote. The strategy succeeded with both Acts eventually being passed. Thus, the listing of peyote as a controlled substance does no longer applies to the sacramental use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church. Later, this legislation played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit the religious use of ayahuasca. Patchen reflects that:

“Without the tenacious commitment of the NAC, there would be no legal use of Peyote or ayahuasca in the U.S. today”

What does the Future Hold for Peyote?

Donna Torres Lophophora Williamsii

Lophophora williamsii by the botanical illustrator Donna Torres

In recent years, the greatest threat to peyote is its paucity and decreasing numbers. A convergence of factors such as illegal poaching, overharvesting, and conversion of its natural environment into agricultural land has led to a severe decrease in wild populations, making it a vulnerable species. 

As early as 1995, American botanist Edward Anderson noted the change in peyote populations in his paper entitled “The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis?”. Anderson theorized that the greatest threat to peyote was not the peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally permitted to collect peyote to supply the Native American Church. In general, peyoteros are considered to be good conservationists, harvesting sustainably with the knowledge that their livelihood depends on stable populations of the plant. 

Rather, Anderson identified the two most serious threats to peyote as “root-plowing [for agricultural purposes] and the locking up of ranches to the peyoteros” with most land being privately owned. Thus, a tension exists between land-owners and peyoteros who have to take out costly leases to harvest the peyote enclosed in private land. What’s more, is that it has become more and more difficult for distributors to gain the legal approval they need to collect peyote to sell to the Native American Church. A 2018 article by Daniel Oberhaus, stated that there are currently “only four peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally able to collect peyote.”

Beyond this, the number of people consuming peyote globally exceeds the plants’ ability to regenerate. Since the 1960s, New Age psychedelic tourists have been drawn to the plains of Northern Mexico seeking visionary experience. This trend has also been amplified by the fanfare surrounding today’s psychedelic renaissance, with a renewed interest in the therapeutic potentials of visionary plants. This psychedelic tourism has inevitably has impacted the availability of peyote for the Huichol.

Peyote is a fragile species liable to become endangered. The plant itself is extremely slow-growing, taking many years to reach maturity, and people are harvesting it in a very negligent way. When harvesting is done sustainably, the top of the root hardens but the plant does not die and is able to produce more peyote in the future. If poor harvesting techniques are used, the entire plant dies. 

To learn more about how to harvest peyote sustainably, check out this video uploaded by anthropologist, Bia Labate, interviewing Dr. Martin Terry from the Cactus Conservation Institute


More about Jerry Patchen

Jerry Patchen contributing author to the Ethnopharmacologic Search of Psychoactive Drugs -- PeyoteJerry D. Patchen, contributing author to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, is a Texas Attorney with four decades of experience litigating civil and criminal cases. Patchen’s work includes forty years of pro bono representation of the Native American Church (NAC) on behalf of American Indians to secure and protect their rights to religious freedom. Serving as an Officer in the NAC, he represented individuals charged in various states with possession of Peyote, winning every case. He also represented the Peyote dealers in Texas, who are licensed by the Texas DPS and DEA to dispense Peyote to Indians. Throughout his representation of the NAC Jerry, his wife, Linda, and their three children participated in Peyote meetings with Native American elders for decades.


Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017)

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Box SetCertain plants have long been known to contain healing properties and used to treat everything from depression and addiction, to aiding in on one’s own spiritual well-being for hundreds of years. Can Western medicine find new cures for human ailments by tapping into indigenous plant wisdom? And why the particular interest in the plants with psychoactive properties? These two conference volume proceedings provide an abundance of answers.

The milestone publication, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

Buy Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

In Loving Memory of Psychedelic Pioneer and Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass

Above: Ram Dass, late 60s, from “Birth of a Psychedelic Culture”

Forever Remembering Ram Dass

Psychedelic pioneer, countercultural icon, spiritual teacher, and Synergetic Press author Ram Dass passed away last month. He peacefully departed from his body on 22 December 2019, at the ripe age of 88 surrounded by friends and loved ones at his home in Maui. 

Without a doubt, Ram Dass was one of the most symbolically representative figures of the countercultural consciousness revolution that took place in the 1960s and 70s. From formidable Harvard professor, LSD researcher, and right-hand man to Timothy Leary, he helped to initiate the psychedelic era to later becoming the spiritual teacher known world over as Ram Dass. 

Born Richard Alpert in April 1931, he graduated from Tufts University in Boston, earning a doctorate in psychology at Stanford, and becoming a high-flying professor of psychology at Harvard University. In the early 1960s, Alpert worked together with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner at Harvard University, emerging as a figurehead in the countercultural scene. 

Higher Consciousness at Harvard

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary & Ralph Metzner

Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, and Ralph Metzner

It was under Timothy Leary’s influence that Richard Alpert came to have his first psychedelic experience. Leary had experienced psilocybin mushrooms in Mexico, holding that the experience revealed more about human psychology than he’d spent his career learning. Alpert found himself intrigued by Leary’s description of the mushroom, and soon enough an experiment had been arranged. Alpert describes his first experience with psychedelics as extremely powerful, bringing about an ego-death, dissolving the image of himself that he’d spent his career working towards. Reflecting on his dissolving identity, he said:

“‘Well, I guess I don’t really need that anymore’ and I sat back and relaxed. And the minute I said, ‘I don’t need that anymore,’ the figure changed and it was somebody else. I sat forward and there I was again, except now I was the young cosmopolite. My ‘cosmopoliteness’ was sitting over there; alright, well I guess I can do without that. Sat back. And in a sequence, all of my social roles went by— ‘loverness,’ ‘wise man,’ ‘kind person—all of my roles. With each one, I said: ‘Okay, well too bad about that one, there it goes.’”

In 1960, Timothy Leary ordered psilocybin from Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland, with the aim of investigating how different manners of administration could generate different experiences. Richard Alpert, alongside Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner (who passed away last year), collaborated with figures like Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg in order to carry out research into human consciousness, which later became known as the Harvard Psilocybin Project. 

Soon the Harvard professors began to include LSD in their experiments. Although psilocybin and LSD were both legal at the time, their research was considered to be highly controversial and its legitimacy was questioned by the faculty at Harvard, leading to Alpert and Leary being jointly dismissed in 1963. 

Learn more about LSD, it’s history, and how it was first synthesized.

Birth of a Psychedelic Culture

Unperturbed, the unorthodox Harvard trio relocated to an estate in Millbrook, New York, offered to them by heirs of the Mellon fortune, in order to continue their research. Alpert and Leary went from being academic to legendary counterculture icons, forever changing a generation of Americans with their explorations into the usness. 

An illuminating conversation between Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner is presented in our publication, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, Harvard, Millbrook, and the Sixties, in which they shine light on these radical experiments, and provide an understanding of the history of the sixties.

CLICK HERE to read Ram Dass’s and Ralph Metzner’s reflections in this last chapter of their memoir on a decade of experimentation with psychedelics and pioneering the science of consciousness research with their colleague Timothy Leary.

The Trap of Getting High 

Psychedelics were undoubtedly the catalysts that led Richard Alpert to India, seeking a more permanent form of enlightenment. The awakenings induced by psychedelic substances never lasted for long, and Alpert longed for a way to maintain and integrate expanded states of consciousness. Disillusioned with the experiments at Millbrook, Alpert traveled to India in 1967 in search of a more enduring experience of enlightenment. In India, he became the devoted disciple of the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, tenderly known as Maharajji. It was Maharajji who renamed Alpert as ‘Ram Dass’, meaning “Servant of God”.

During his time in India, Ram Dass gave his guru a hefty dose of LSD, curious to see how Maharajji would react. However, it had no impact, and the holy man was unaffected by the drug, telling Ram Dass that one could take a drug and “stay in the room with Christ for only a few hours instead of living with the Lord.” It was this notion that led Ram Dass to make his life about spiritual practice, his relationship with psychedelics taking a backseat. 

We Wouldn’t Be Here Now without Ram Dass

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Ram Dass’s ‘Be Here Now’

Ram Dass was a major harbinger of the New Age movement, and after returning to America, long-haired and bearded, Ram Dass devoted himself to the path of selfless service, making Maharajji’s teachings his work, eventually becoming considered a guru himself.

“A guru only exists to serve his devotees, that’s the only reason for his existence. And seeing him in the physical form is only another part of the dance and another part of the illusion.”

Upon returning from India in 1971, Ram Dass distilled his spiritually enlightening experiences, publishing his seminal book Be Here Now in which he imparts the teachings of his guru Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji. Be Here Now was perhaps Ram Dass’s most influential work, and it continues to be exceptionally resonant for generations of spiritual seekers, having sold over two million copies since it was first published. In a sense, the book made novel Eastern spiritual and philosophical ideas palatable to the Western mind, propelling the New Age discourse on mindful awareness, positivity, and higher consciousness. 

No Stranger to Death

An experienced psychonaut, Ram Dass knew the terrain of ego-death intimately, having co-authored The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner to guide people through experiences of ego-death encountered in the psychedelic experience. 

Beyond this, in 1997, Ram Dass suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side, unable to find the words which before had flowed so fluidly. Going from being fully independent to being dependent on others, and having to learn how to speak again, he described the stroke as “ego-shattering”. Emphasizing the importance of “being here now”, Ram Dass viewed death as a reminder to live more fully, encouraging us to be in the moment and remember that our souls transcend space, time and the transient existence of the physical body. 

In the past, he had spoken of his acceptance of death. Last year, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine he was asked how he’d come to this acceptance. In response, he shared: 

“When I arrived at my soul. Soul doesn’t have fear of dying. Ego has very pronounced fear of dying. The ego, this incarnation, is life and dying. The soul is infinite.”

A Word from Michael Gosney, Synergetic Press, Associate Publisher

“It was an honor to have known all three of the main characters in the Harvard Psychedelic Club. The first was Timothy Leary, who I befriended in the early 90s during his final Chaos and Cyberculture phase when he appeared at several of our Digital Be-In events in San Francisco, and we held parties at his house in Bel Air during the Digital Hollywood conferences. I met Ram Dass at Tim’s 75th birthday where he made a theatric entrance with a gigantic bouquet of roses, symbolizing his love for Tim and the end of their estrangement at the time.

Ralph Metzner and I met in the late 90s with his participation in the Digital Be-In, and in 2003 I organized the after-party in San Francisco for his groundbreaking conference on Ayahuasca. The following year Ram Dass finally made our spirited cyberculture event when we held a Ram Dass discussion circle moderated by Wavy Gravy at Digital Be-In 13 (May 29, 2004, Memorial Day with themed “The Transparent Network”).

I have long been fascinated by the respective roles these three iconic figures played on the world stage. Timothy took the celebrity visionary path and continued to hack mainstream culture in various ways. Ralph never stopped working as a serious consciousness researcher and became the guide of guides, leading the neo-shamanic movement and helping to set in motion today’s psychedelic research renaissance. Richard Alpert in becoming Baba Ram Dass took the path of spirit, and starting with his classic transmission Be Here Now, translated age-old principles for a new generation of seekers looking for deeper insights into life than the prevailing materialist paradigm offered. His many books, seminars, and organizations (such as Seva Foundation and Hanuman Foundation) were all products of his commitment to compassion. Before his passing, he initiated the Be Here Now Network an ongoing resource from his core circle of teachers.

Although I never had the opportunity to know Ram Dass as I did the other two, events and people seemed to keep us connected, including friends who managed his tours before the stroke constrained his travel, friends who made the beautiful documentary Dying to Know, and my work over the years with Synergetic Press, which in effect began with a launch party for Birth of a Psychedelic Culture edited by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner at the legendary Anon Salon venue in San Francisco.

The last time I saw Ram Dass was in 2016 when he wheeled up to the table at the wedding of mutual friends in Maui. Although his energy was limited that day, he took the time to come and join in the celebration and bless the event. All in attendance felt that signature loving vibration.

Thank you, dear brother, for all you contributed to our shared journey through these remarkable times. Onward into the subtle realms…”

 

Psychedelic Conversations with Author Don Lattin

Psychedelic Conversations with Author Don Lattin

Confessions of a Psychedelic Journalist: A Conversation with Don Lattin & Kat Snow

Join veteran journalist Don Lattin, and KQED Science senior editor Kat Snow at 7:00 PM, January 16th 2020 at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, for an insightful conversation traversing Don’s long, strange trip of a career investigating and writing about psychedelic substances . 

For over forty years, Don Lattin has written about the social, spiritual, and political aspects of the psychedelic drug movement as a newspaper reporter, freelance journalist, and the author of four books of narrative nonfiction.

In the 1970s, as a young reporter working in the East Bay, Don broke one of the first investigative stories about the US Army’s past efforts to use LSD as a hostile interrogation tool. He also covered the first local campaign to legalize marijuana in the United States—a political movement that continues today in ongoing efforts to decriminalize the use of magic mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca in cities and states across the nation.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as a staff writer and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, Don wrote extensively about various cults, sects, and new religious movements including a generation of spiritual seekers inspired by psychedelic drug experiences in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Lattin’s most recent book, Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, builds upon his previous investigations, presenting a broad survey of the psychedelic renaissance, covering almost all areas of this resurgence, placing emphasis on the particulars of how psychedelic substances are being used for therapeutic as well as spiritual purposes.

Listen to Don’s previous interview on the KQED Radio. 

Buy Tickets Here

The “Post-Prohibition” Era of Psychedelic Substances 

It is safe to say that we find ourselves approaching the “post-Prohibition” era of psychedelic substances. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted “Breakthrough Therapy” status to psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, as a treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD). Psychedelic substances are once again establishing themselves as therapeutic modalities, promoting both spiritual and psychological insight. In the closing chapters of Changing Our Minds, Lattin reflects on this changing paradigm:

“What is most striking about the psychedelic future is how much it looks like the psychedelic past. If today’s vision becomes tomorrow’s reality, it will be possible – sometime in the 2020s – for regular people struggling with depression, addiction or other psychological woes to seek help from therapists using psilocybin or MDMA as treatment tools – just like people could do back in the late 1950w with psilocybin and in the early 1980s with MDMA.”

Don Lattin young

Don Lattin

Psilocybin mushrooms are being decriminalized in various cities and states across the US, including Denver, CO, Oakland, CA, and Chicago, IL. It is forecasted that psilocybin, alongside many other drugs, will follow marijuana’s trajectory from illegal to medically approved to decriminalized to eventually being legalized. 

Moving beyond the first wave of psychedelic exploration, and the backlash of prohibition that ensued as a reaction to what happened in the sixties, we find ourselves in a wholly new era. We now see a massive resurgence of legitimization, with psychedelics being ‘rebranded’ or rather repositioned within the public mind, due to the growing body of scientific research that continues to highlight the psychologically beneficial aspects of these substances. Psychedelic substances are not only being used for those who suffer from mental health conditions, they are increasingly being used for the’ betterment’ of well people. However, Lattin wisely cautions:

“Psychedelic plants and chemicals are not for everyone. They affect different people in diverse ways, depending in large part on one’s intention and the setting in which these drugs are taken. But, in sometimes subtle and other times dramatic ways, they often inspire awe and wonder, providing the heightened insight and meaningfulness one may also find in dreams or religious excitation.”

Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy 

Changing Our Minds by Don LattinChanging Our Minds is one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date books on psychoactive substances, their socio-cultural trajectories of use over time and their place in contemporary society. Lucid, well researched and written, Don covers the global movement of scientifically-grounded exploration of how psychedelic drugs – such as LSD, MDA, MDMA, psilocybin, ayahuasca, ketamine, and many others – have been utilized to treat conditions like PTSD, depression, addiction, and end-of-life anxiety.

“Changing Our Minds expertly explores the healing and spiritual journey catalyzed by psychedelic psychotherapy through the courageous voices of those who are pioneering the study of these treatments. An essential read for those interested in the expanding field of psychedelic research for therapeutic and spiritual uses, this volume lands at a crucial time during the re-emergence of psychedelic research as we approach the mainstream, scientific acceptance of psychedelic psychotherapy and the reintegration of the legal use of psychedelics into Western culture.” — Rick Doblin, PhD., Founder & Executive Director of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies

Learn More About Changing Our Minds

California Institute of Integral Studies LogoAbout California Institute of Integral Studies

California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) is an accredited university that strives to embody spirit, intellect, and wisdom in service to individuals, communities, and the earth. CIIS expands the boundaries of traditional degree programs with transdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and applied studies utilizing face-to-face, hybrid, and online pedagogical approaches. Offering a personal learning environment and supportive community, CIIS provides an excellent multifaceted education for people committed to transforming themselves, others, and the world.

Stay tuned with CIIS public programs & updates for similar events @CIIS_sf

 

More About Don Lattin


Don Lattin, author of Changing Our Minds

Don Lattin is an award-winning author and veteran journalist. His five previously published books include The Harvard Psychedelic Club, a national bestseller that was awarded the California Book Award, Silver Medal, for nonfiction. His feature articles have been published in dozens of leading magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle, where Lattin worked as a staff writer for twenty years. Additionally, Don has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, where he holds a degree in sociology. His most recent book, Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy, was published in 2017.

The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now

The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now

Leaders, Educators and Activists take Climate Change Seriously in Puerto Rico

No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here & NowOn October 30, nearly 300 people gathered together to take part in the one-day symposium No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now at the Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The event was jointly organized by Thrity J. Vakil, FLS, director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry & Rainforest Enrichment Project (Eye On The Rainforest), with Christian Torres Santana, Director of the Parque Doña Inés, and Cristina Cabrera, an environmental consultant and project manager.

The idea for a meeting in Puerto Rico on the reality of climate change emerged at the World Ayahuasca Conference in May where Synergetic Press exhibited and a number of our authors presented. Deborah Parrish Snyder, publisher, and her Institute of Ecotechnic colleague, Thrity Vakil, and Synergetic author Sir Ghillean Prance, saw at that gathering a powerful display of what a community of like-minded individuals can accomplish across different cultures and languages. Deborah “left the conference with the unmistakable sense that many movements are gathering, stepping up to the front-lines of action.”

Thrity is one of on those people operating on the front-line, and with Ghillean’s agreement to come to Puerto Rico and speak, she went immediately to work bringing together in four months thought-leaders, scientists, researchers, and ecological defenders from across the Island and many disciplines. They met to understand what is known, and develop better ways to support healthy agricultural production, sustainable forestry management, adapt and minimize the environmental and socio-economic impacts from the dramatic changes in climate we are seeing around the planet.

 Sir Ghillean Prance, a world expert on the botany and economic uses of neotropical rainforests, has conducted extensive work in the Amazon as Director of the Institute of Economic Botany and VP for Science at the New York Botanical Garden. He is the Director (Emeritus) of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK. 

Sir Ghillean Prance Sir Ghillean Prance presenting “The Biological Evidence for Climate Change. Ghillean began collaborating with the Press and Institute of Ecotechnics in the 80s as the Rainforest Biome Designer at the Biosphere 2 project and is editor of White Gold: the Diary of a Rubber Cutter in Brazil (Synergetic Press). “[/caption]

His talk, entitled “The Biological Evidence for Climate Change,” focused on examples of biological climate-change indicators such as those occurring in the phenology of plant-flowering times, bird migrations, and rainfall cycles, the movement of flora toward the poles and to higher elevations in mountain biomes, and the bleaching of coral reefs. His talk opened and closed with the concept of value, first through what is called quantitative ethnobiology, in which the value of various species to local or indigenous cultures is assessed, and the impact of climate change on that value, and in his closing remarks by the imperative to link environmental impact to specific nations or regions of the world: what is the value of a person or society in relation to the consumption of resources by that person or society on a global scale (that of a U.S. citizen versus that of a Bangladeshi citizen, for example)? Dr. Eben Wood’s Report on the symposium

No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here and Now

Symposium organizers, Christian Torres Santana, Cristina Cabrera, & Thrity Vakil with Sir Ghillean Prance

View Panel Discussion Online

“It is too late to stop climate change, there is a lag time. We should try and stop it, but you can recognise that when driving a speeding car on a wet road you can apply the breaks, but you’re not gonna stop immediately. We also have to deal with the effects of climate change […] agriculturally, in terms of vegetation, it will effect the trees we plant, and the trees and trees that we plant as the answers to what we do. But the ice in Antartica and Greenland will continue to melt for centuries. And the fact that is going to happen means we really need to start to think ahead. We should get a pass because while we triggered this and we have 7.6 billion people, humans have never experienced this before. Sea level has not been higher than present for 120,000 years. But just to set the stage when I say we need to think about in terms of program and practice how top be resilient and adapt which are two different things to me.

Resilient is to prepare for recovery from an event or operate through an event by better design. Adaptation is what you do to the changing baselines of temperature, sea level, and changing rainfall.”  —John Englander, panel moderator, oceanographer & Founder and President of the Rising Seas Institute

Interested in learning more? Check out the FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM Links: 

  1. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Intros by Christian Torres Santana, Cristina Cabrera, & Thrity Vakil.
    Speakers 8.40am to 10.40am : Mr. Ernesto Luis Diaz, Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez, Minuette Rodriguez Harrison, Hon. John Clendenin, Ms. Nancy Woodfield Pascoe, Dr. Frank Wadsworth
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/794825720965381/
  2. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speakers 11am to 12.30pm: Dr. Chris Nytch, Dr. William Gould, Sir Ghillean Prance.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/532064507617292/
  3. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Panel Discussion 1.30 to 2.30pm: Sir Ghillean Prance, Mr. Ernesto Diaz,
    Hon. Larry Seilhamer,  Dr. Elvira Cuevas, Fernando Lloveras.
    Speakers 2.30 to 5.30pm: Dr Ariel Lugo, Dr. Katia Avilés-Vázquez, Dr. Pablo Méndez Lázaro, Agro. Christian Torres Santana, Brenda Torres, Dr. Jess K. Zimmerman, Katherine González, Edgardo González, Dr. Fernando Abruña.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/779423005825855/
  4. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speaker 5.30 to 6.00pm: John Englander.
    6.00pm Wrap-ups and Thanks.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/1134579966751986/

Gathering Together for a Better Future

In October 2018, the United Nations released an unnerving report warning of the potential impacts of a rise in global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius or more. The special report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was written and edited by 91 scientists from more than 40 countries, analyzing over 6000 studies. 

Findings suggested that if we do not change our global economic systems drastically, continuing to let off large carbon emissions into the atmosphere, we will potentially see food-shortages, wildfires, the mass die-off of coral reefs as well as the beginnings of coastal flooding as soon as 2030. Further, it warned that the areas of the globe most vulnerable to climate change are (1) islands; (2) tropical areas; and (3) densely populated areas. 

The symposium aimed to heighten the level of discussion surrounding the traumas of the climate crisis, bringing together synergistic perspectives necessary for attaining an expansive overview of the social, political and economic impacts of climate change in Puerto Rico. 

It is through this collective discussion on the causes and effects of climate change that we are able to harness the ability to confront challenges head-on and elucidate our future choices, working together in attempts to cultivate a better future. Find out more about what you can do to protect our biosphere and fight climate change. 

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More About Institute of Ecotechnics

Institute of Ecotechnics is an International Non-Governmental Organisation that owns and operates innovative sustainable ecological projects in different biomes worldwide such as the R.V. Heraclitus, or Eye on the Rainforest, among many others. Since 1973, the Institute of Ecotechnics has developed and applied innovative approaches to harmonizing technology and the global biosphere. The field of ‘Ecotechnics’ integrates two complementary fields of study: the ‘ecology of technics’ and the ‘technics of ecology’. The Institute of Ecotechnics convenes international conferences and workshops that bring together leading thinkers, scientists, explorers, artists, and managers.

Synergetic Press’ publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder is a Director of the Institute of Ecotechnics (www.ecotechnics.edu), helping to manage a number of the international conferences it has hosted over the years on global trends and in the field of closed ecological systems.


More About Eye on the Rainforest

Eye on the Rainforest LogoEye on the Rainforest, otherwise known as Las Casas de la Selva is the home of Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry & Rainforest Enrichment Project and is located in Puerto Rico. Its mission is to research and demonstrate the economic use of rainforest land using methods that do not destroy the rainforest ecology. The Institute of Ecotechnics initiated this unique project in Patillas, Puerto Rico, pioneering experiments in sustainable rainforest ecology, through line-planting of valuable timber trees. Nearly 300 acres of the 1000-acre property have been planted with over 40,000 native and exotic hardwood trees with extremely promising results. 700 acres remain as a wilderness preserve for watershed protection, research, and educational ecotourism.

Stay tuned @eyeontherainforest or eyeontherainforest.org 


Recommended Books on Sustainability & Ecology from Synergetic Press

The Anthropocene Book Cover

The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet by Christian Schwägerl

 

 

What does it mean to live in the Anthropocene? In his passionate, first-person global travelogue, Schwägerl investigates this question by visiting some of the last pristine places on Earth, exploring rising megacities and witnessing the devastation of forests and coral reefs. Melding rigorous scientific training with his experience as a journalist, he has covered high-profile political and environmental conferences and interviewed key figures influencing the course of our future. The result is this thoroughly researched, comprehensive overview of our planetary situation and outlook. Schwägerl presents tangible solutions to our global crises and shares his vision of a world that balances ecological sustainability, economic prosperity, political justice, and cultural vibrancy.

What has nature ever done for us

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees by Tony Juniper 

In What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? British environmentalist Tony Juniper points out that we think everything nature does for us—providing water, pollinating plants, generating oxygen, recycling miracles in the soil and much more—is free, but it isn’t. Its economic value can, and has been, measured. And upon realizing what that value truly is we would stop treating our natural systems in a destructive manner. The book contains impactful stories imparting warnings about unfortunate occurrences such as a rabies epidemic that followed the disappearance of India’s vultures (drugs administered to cattle killed the birds, leaving uneaten carcasses that led to an explosion of wild dogs), as well as promising and enlightening tales of how birds protect fruit harvests, coral reefs shield coasts from storms, and rainforests absorb billions of tons of carbon released from automobiles and power stations. As a result of its immediacy, Tony Juniper’s book will entirely change the way you think about life, the planet, and the economy.

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