Travis Cox: Ecopsychology and Psychedelics

The newest episode of our university podcast, ‘Mindful U at Naropa University,’ is out on iTunesStitcher, Fireside, and Spotify now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features special (returning) guest Travis Cox, PhD. Join Cox, chair of the Ecopsychology Department at Naropa, to discuss psychedelics and ecopsychology in an academic setting with an interdisciplinary approach.

play-iconTravis Cox: Ecopsychology & Psychedelics

“I feel like we’re pretty good at Naropa with this nondual, “oh, I can hold these two things in my head — in one way, I could see how they’re opposites. And in another way, it’s like two sides of a coin.” Right? And so I want to talk about the individual and talk about the collective and so, individually, we are going through so much right now,” Cox says.

“Having gratitude for everything that we have, helps us have some mental health and to be in a good space–a good headspace– in order to do this work, and then grief work. Malidoma Some is a spiritual teacher who came to Naropa some time ago, I think, maybe in the 90s, 2000s and was just, like, flabbergasted that our culture doesn’t really have very many grief rituals, especially community grief rituals, and — and so, he kind of mirrors Joanna Macy, and we have the Joanna Macy Center at Naropa, who is saying, like, when we don’t have those grief rituals, then those feelings get stuck inside of us and we spend so much energy pushing them down. That actually if you just stop pushing them down, take part in rituals that allow you to move through that grief, not only have you liberated that grief energy, which Joanna says is actually the care that you have for the world, like why you are so like sad is because you love the world. And so can you then grieve what you need to grieve, but then use that energy to then actually do something and you also have the energy that you’re no longer pushing something down. You can use that energy to like do something in the world.”

About TravisCox, PhD

Chair of the Ecopsychology Department at Naropa University

Trustee, Elected 2019

PhD, Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University
MA Philosophy and Religion, California Institute of Integral Studies
BA Philosophy, Central College in Pella, Iowa

About

Dr. Cox’s interests and research are about the intersections of social movements and social justice, education, metaphysics, environmental philosophy, agriculture, and deep sustainability. He earned his PhD at Iowa State University in sustainable agriculture, a Master of Philosophy and Religion, with an emphasis in philosophy, cosmology, and consciousness from the California Institute of Integral Studies, and a Bachelor of Philosophy from Central College in Pella, Iowa.

For the past seven years, he has taught environmental humanities for the BA and MA programs in sustainable living at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and was co-director of the Bachelor of Arts program for two years.

Full transcript

 

Travis Cox

Eco Psychology & Psychedelics

TRT 58:27

 

 

[MUSIC]

Hello, and welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions — Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement.

 

[MUSIC]

 

David:

Hello, and welcome back to another Mindful U podcast. Today I’d like to welcome back Dr. Travis Cox. Travis teaches in the Eco Psychology program at Naropa University. And last time Travis was here was almost four years ago to the day, which is very exciting. I literally looked it up at our last podcast, it was like, so close to four years. We’re like four years in two weeks or something.

 

Travis Cox:

Ok.

 

David:

And last time he was here, we talked about sustainability and our approach to ecopsychology. And today, we have another idea — topic that we are really excited to discuss about. We are going to talk about our relationship to nature, psychedelics, and the environment around us. And how we engage with each other and how we interweave to these different elements. And so with that, I’d just like to welcome Travis to the podcast. So thank you for joining me today.

 

Travis Cox:

Thank you for having me back David. It’s — it was so much fun the first time and then this time, I think it might even be a little more fun in the sense that we get to talk about all those things and psychedelics.

 

David:

Yeah. And what’s interesting, too, is we sort of mentally earmarked a note to come back to speak about the thing we’re talking about. And here we are —

 

Travis Cox:

Right.

 

David:

Four years later doing exactly that. This is really awesome. So I’ve noticed, Travis, your career path has like a multidisciplinary trajectory. You seem to have collected degrees from multiple institutions that share the same ideological path. You have a BA in philosophy, a MA in philosophy and religion, and a PhD in sustainable agriculture. And I sort of envision you on a journey of exploring self and consciousness and then discovering the planet along the way. And my question to you is, what was your initial interest when taking these specific degree paths? And what is your interest now?

 

Travis Cox:

Huh, yeah, that’s great. Yeah, I mean, initially, it was — in my undergrad, I just liked thinking about stuff. Like I didn’t know that there were still people who did philosophy, like I just kind of thought it was like, old dead white guys in robes. You know like, 2000 years ago,

 

David:

How do you get a job with thinking?

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, right. And so that like — and that’s what I had to tell my mom, when she asked that question. After I said, I was gonna be a philosophy major, you know, oh, well, there’s — there’s medical emphasis, right. So they — they will, you know, make decisions around cases, in terms of what a doctor maybe shouldn’t or should have done? Or, you know, like, is this treatment plan ethical? So I was like, okay, well, there is careers that are associated with it. But then I kind of got disillusioned with consensus reality after graduating with my BA. And I found you know my master’s program, which I think it was the — the tagline and then the marketing was something along the lines of, do you want to be a part of the changing the trajectory of the entire human project or something like that? Where I was like, um actually yes, please. And so —

 

David:

Such a big title.

 

Travis Cox:

Right? It was huge. Well and that’s the thing is like the program was in philosophy, cosmology, and consciousness, right, which can incorporate everything. And it really did try it. And there was a lot of like, philosophy and religion. Then I went on to sustainable agriculture in the sense that I was thinking about, okay, so if there was a guy in Manhattan, who lives in a box, he walks down to the subway and gets in a box, goes across town to go up and work in a cubicle, like how would we ever get that person connected back to the natural world, right, when they live in such an artificial world, or human-constructed world, I should say. And then I was like, through food, right? Like they have to eat at least right now, like every day like, and that comes from the earth. And so that’s why I kind of went into sustainable agriculture was to study kind of the philosophy of sustainability in agriculture.

 

And so then I went through there into teaching in a sustainable living program, and that was cool. It’s totally like what you were talking about. It was like other people who are interested in transdisciplinary issues. And so we had you know, a policy person, a botanist, a green builder, green energy. I was the philosopher, and that was great. Then got into ecopsychology. And then when you are asking me, you know, what I’m interested in now, still sustainability. But it really is like, in terms of psychedelics, you know, the timeframe that we have to make these radical social changes, is rapidly decreasing like it’s rapidly shrinking the timeframe that we have. And then at the same time, which is making this even more challenging, the polarization is increasing. And people’s like worldviews are calcifying. Right? It just so happens that to me, and the research that I’ve done, you know, around the effects of psychedelic medicines, that it breaks those up, that like, I mean, that’s — that’s why they are so efficacious for like, let’s say, addiction or depression or things like that, because it actually reconfigures your brain to start new patterns of behavior. Well, that’s exactly what we have to do in terms of sustainability. And so I think it’s more than synchronistic that like there’s this resurgence of psychedelics at the same time that we need to take drastic action, you know, to save the planet.

David:

One thing that Terence McKenna talks about is like, we’re trying to do a u-turn in a battleship with an ore.

Travis Cox:

Right, right.

David:

But what’s interesting is, I think you’re right, it’s like our window of shifting what we need to shift sustainable wise, is shortening. But at the same time, psychedelics, are those radical interventions that, you know, can change your mind in like, a couple seconds. That literally that can change your character makeup very quickly. So they have the ability to really be super impactful.

Travis Cox:

Yep.

David:

Instantly. You’re instantly able to see what doesn’t serve you and what does and what serves the world and what serves social engagements and politics and blah, blah, blah — all the things.

Travis Cox:

Yep, there’s a story that always sticks with me from Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind, where he talks about there’s a woman who, you know, would smoke cigarettes and while she was on a psilocybin journey, I believe, she had this vision of herself as like this gargoyle — like this crusty old gargoyle, she just quit smoking. And it’s just like, I mean, you know, if you juxtapose that against all of the quit smoking aids right now, like, you know, they have maybe 50%, maybe 70%, at best, like efficiency rate, right? Like that they actually work. Whereas like, that woman stopped on a dime, and just changed her life. Like, it’s amazing.

David:

Yeah, it’s pretty powerful.

Travis Cox:

Right.

David:

So it seems like we’re kind of getting into it. So our talk today is about eco psychology and psychedelics. But before we start, can we just get a brief refresher of what eco psychology is and how it impacts us? Because you’re kind of like the master.

Travis Cox:

Right. Well, and the funny thing for me is like, I kind of just stumbled into eco psychology. Again, my background is in sustainability. And so I was working with some colleagues around well is sustainability really just like solar panels and organic agriculture. Yeah, that is a part of it. But it’s also like — I said, it’s like changing the entire human project, or at least, you know, Western civilization, you know, industrial civilization, northern civilization, however you want to characterize it

David:

Produce, consume — consumer culture.

Travis Cox:

Yeah, exactly. So then we came up with something called deep sustainability. You know, we wrote a little white paper about it, that you can Google. But then when I really started pursuing that line of thinking, turns out that’s just ecopsychology, right? And so like ecopsychology — my little shorthand that I like to use is that we have this perceived disconnection from the natural world. But we can overcome that. That perceived disconnection has had negative consequences for the planet, right, the climate emergency that we’re in, but it also has negative consequences for us. It affects our mental health to not be in relationship to the natural world. And so then when you start to actually study that disconnection, because that disconnection is the key to ecopsychology, you start to recognize that we’re not just disconnected from nature, we’re also disconnected from our true selves, right? Like, you know, our passions and who we are as human beings. We’re disconnected from each other, right? Like we don’t have the social relationships that we used to have even let’s say 50 years ago, and then we’re disconnected from something larger than ourselves. And, you know, that can take any form depending on your beliefs, whether it’s like God or source or the ground of being or the universe right like ecopsychology is really trying to reconnect to ourselves, to each other, to nature and to being itself kind of.

 

David:

Okay, I like that. Oh man, it’s so interesting to hear you say how disconnected we are. And I agree with you. And at the same time with all the technology we have of connecting ourselves together, you know, you talked about like, 50 years ago, we’re not as connected to people as — as we could be. But yet, we have the ability to talk to people from like high school, or elementary school still. We — we are so connected. And we also are so connected to vast amounts of information at any point. But yet we don’t feel that connected. And I’m just finding this, like, we have the ability to, but we’re not consciously choosing to.

 

Travis Cox:

Right, well, it’s totally that — I mean, that’s another part of ecopsychology, right? Is the — what’s the worldview or set of beliefs that inform your relationship to these other beings? Right. Well, if we have a capitalist relationship, and by that I mean used based, right, because the root word of capitalism is capital, and what is capital if it’s a forest, a stack of gold, an idea, or a bunch of humans? Like, what’s the commonality among those four very disparate things? Well, in capitalism, the commonalities that you could use all of those things to make more capital. You cut down the forest and make a bunch of money. You could use — invest the gold in a company, and make money off of that. You could use the people who are just standing around to help you cut down the forest, right, you have an idea, and you can sell that idea and somebody else. So when we have a use based relationship with things, that’s what we’re going to get out of it, right. And so even right now, like I would put forward that we have, like a use-based relationship with technology. And while I do believe that there are things inherent in technology, you know, that where they can be used for something, and not necessarily for something else, right, like, we don’t have solar powered bombs, and we don’t have nuclear water heaters, in our — in our houses. So there’s things about technology that actually lend themselves to some things rather than others, it’s still the mentality that goes into how you use it, dictates the relationships that we have with it.

 

So I totally see how we could be using these same connective technologies to actually bring us closer together, as opposed to the way that they’re being used now, which is, you know, in polarizing ways that are pushing us kind of further apart. Right. So it’s — it is connected to eco psych. And I certainly don’t mean to disparage the technologies because I’ve had a woman who just graduated from a philosophy program in the Sorbonne, who reached out to me to talk about eco psychedelics, and I had a gentleman in Canada, you know, reach out to me. And so there is a way in which this idea is kind of coming up in the world, like people are trying to connect ecology and psychedelics, and again, nature-based peoples throughout time have connected those two things, you know, always but there are people in this dominant culture now who are connecting those things. And so the only reason they found me is A) because they just googled eco psychedelics, and then I pop up. So they have the capacity to google it and then be they have the capacity to reach out to me. And so now we’re starting this little network of people who are interested in these kinds of things. It’s amazing.

 

David:

Yeah, and there we go, using tools of connection to bring, you know, like a narrative to come out.

 

Travis Cox:

Yep.

 

David:

So you know, we as humans can feel — like we as humans feel so small, and also so powerful in relation to the earth. We have this, like, we’re so big, or we’re so small. What do you think our role is on this planet? Like, what are we supposed to do here? Is it like an individual progression of finding enlightenment and becoming ultimately conscious? Or is there some symbiotic relationship between human planet and ecosystem with an eco psychology lens? What are we doing here?

 

Travis Cox:

Right, right, right.

 

David:

What’s going on? It’s not for capitalism. Is it?

 

Travis Cox:

Right, right way to put me on the spot. Well, the answer is 42. LAUGHS. It’s funny, I kind of wrote a little bit about this in one of the chapters of my dissertation where I don’t think it’s the, you know, when you gave me the choices, the first one was this kind of individual or enlightenment one.

David:

You can choose any choice you want, by the way, those are example —

Travis Cox:

Right. I think the second one was close to what I would say. The first one, you know, I’m certainly interested in enlightenment or like, growth and self awareness. But there’s ways that that can be individualized that I think, just recapitulates kind of the problematic aspects of like, you know, especially the individualism that we have in America, right, like, I’m just gonna — I’m just going to become enlightened and get the heck out of this place. And I don’t even have to care about my relationships to other people. There’s a lot of spiritual traditions, where actually what happens when you, you know, rise in that — those levels of self awareness is that you start to rethink what you mean by self. And that becomes larger, right, to encompass the beings that I’m in relationship with, for my food and my air and the water, right. And then it can even rise to, you know, this awareness that it’s like, oh, there’s this, the largest sense of self that I have is being itself. So like, there’s a level where I’m you, David, and you’re me, right? Like, so then it becomes less individualistic, and somebody like Thich Nhat Hanh is going to talk about interbeing, where it’s like, actually, because there are levels where we are all interconnected, you can’t really have this individualistic enlightenment, because you would never be able to get past the part, being interconnected with everybody else, the lowest common denominator. We all have to evolve together. There’s that part of it, but then there’s also for me, and this is what I wrote about in my dissertation, there’s a way in which there’ll be some problematic aspects of this that we could talk about a little bit later if we needed to, but, you know, there’s something called TEK — T-E-K, traditional ecological knowledge, where, in the past, the environmental movement has been extremely white, and even discriminatory against indigenous peoples in ways where it’s like, oh, we’re going to protect this — this nature right here. And so we’re going to kick the indigenous people out in order to create this nature preserve, not knowing that those peoples have been in relationship to that land for thousands of years, right. So there’s this growing awareness in science of giving credence to traditional ecological knowledge. And so those people know that we can have beneficial relationships, and even evolutionary relationships with the natural world. And so I think, you know, this dominant culture that is facing an existential crisis is coming to realize that that’s maybe one of the purposes of us being here. And that’s why we’ll need to change our ways in order to embody that purpose. It’s like, you know, if conscious self awareness is an experiment that Gaia has undertaken, and when Empire came into the picture, that seems to have put us on a path that leads to destruction. But I think we’ve also gained some knowledge along that path that then we can bring back with us when we become a symbiotic part of the planet again, right? Like, I’ve heard stories, and then I’ll be quiet, but people are trying to reverse desertification. And there’s a way in which the natural world would do that on its own over the course of hundreds, if not thousands of years. But with human intervention, we can reverse desertification in a decade, right? And so like, there’s a way in which we can be not only — certainly not a negative presence on this planet, in terms of our relationship to all the other beings, and not even just a neutral one, but we could be a beneficial or benevolent presence on this planet.

David:

Yeah, I can get with that. I feel like we’ve science’d things so much that we know how to make things beneficial in their growth process and their healing process, in their developmental process to accelerate it faster than nature can. But when we go against it, we can also really run it into the ground way quicker than nature would. And it’s almost like it’s more toxic in the way that we do it. Just real quick, what is that desertification thing that you just said?

Travis Cox:

So it is — you know, there’s examples of through human history of people having a negative impact on the landscape that then turns what might have been a forest into a desert, right? So like one of the — so yeah, like one of the earliest myths that we have in western civilization is the Epic of Gilgamesh, I think it’s a Sumerian myth. It talks about how, where the country of Iran is right now, used to just be a cedar forest. And then like, we, you know, humans chopped them all down and now there’s a desert there and so but there are ways that we can reverse that.

David:

Yeah, Gilgamesh is like a creation story to compare to, like, Jesus Christ and God and all that stuff.

Travis Cox:

Right.

David:

So, you know, we’re thinking about psychedelics, and we’re thinking about drugs, and we’re thinking about the impact of the earth and our consciousness and how it affects us. But one thing I’m thinking about is what is the relationship and function of these psychoactive plants in the ecosystem? And are they psychoactive to other plants or animals around them — like do essentially plants get high off plants.

Travis Cox:

Right, right.

David:

You know, like because we think about our relationship to plant medicine and the world and the earth, but what about the plant relationship to the ecosystem?

Travis Cox:

Right? That’s an awesome question. I don’t — I don’t know enough about the neuroscience of it, to know if those compounds would have an effect on plants, you know what I mean? But again, they’re doing amazing research right now on the symbiotic nature of forests, like trees and forests, and how they like — different tree species will care for each other in terms of like, oh, my roots go down deeper and they spread wider, and I’ve got access to water, whereas your roots aren’t as deep and wide. And so I’ll go ahead and pass some water over to you — like our roots. And yeah, it’s like, amazing. It’s seriously amazing. But then in terms of like animals, Terence McKenna and even Paul Stamets now openly talk about the stoned ape theory. Right?

 

David:

I’m on that boat. I’m on the stoned ape theory boat. Yeah, of course,

 

Travis Cox:

It’s definitely possible.

 

David:

How else can we biologically explain the growth of our consciousness in like — biology cannot explain the expansion of our brain? It just doesn’t. Unless an intervention of some psychoactive plant or —

 

Travis Cox:

Right, right. So I want to come back to that, because I really do like Stamets position on that. But then there’s also studies that have been done with, I’m almost positive that it’s — there’s that earth based tribe, there’s a — there’s an indigenous tribe of people who would hunt with dogs, and they would give dogs psilocybin and that the outcomes of their hunts, when the dogs take psilocybin is better. And they think it’s because like, it allows them to have a more intense experience, especially, you know, dogs and smell like — like they smell, I don’t remember, like 30,000 different things or something like that. And so like, by opening their consciousness, they’re somehow able to do a better job while they’re on mushrooms, right? And so — so there’s ways at least, you know that some mammal species can actually have a psychedelic experience in the same way that humans can. But then what I love too especially about your question about what Stamets talks about is, you know, what if the psychedelic experience, especially on psilocybin, is a form of interspecies communication? It is like the mushrooms talking to the hairless monkeys that are, you know, Homo sapiens sapiens. And like eco psychology is super interested in — in interspecies communication. And so this is just another facet of that, but it’s one that I think — I think is way more experiential, especially for people who’ve been so disconnected. I mean, for me to say to some of my students, like go have a conversation with a tree, you know, if they’ve been born and raised in the suburbs. You know —

 

David:

What do you mean — what does that mean?

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, right.

 

David:

Talk to a tree?

 

Travis Cox:

Right. But it’s pretty easy to talk to a lot of people who’ve had some psychedelic experiences, who had no problems, talking with a tree, and then actually having the tree talk back, right. And so, again, you know, Western empirical reductionistic, materialistic, you know, science — mechanistic science wants to say there’s no way that the tree could talk back, but there’s a lot of earth based peoples who would say like, yeah, they do and you don’t even need mushrooms to be able to hear them. You just need to be, you know, plugged in.

 

David:

Man, trees don’t shut up.

 

TRAVIS LAUGHS

 

David:

They’re just yelling the whole time. Like, I love you. Here’s some shade. What’s up?

 

Travis Cox:

That’s right. Here’s some oxygen. Yeah.

 

David:

So okay, I want to speak to one thing you’re saying. So how this tribe gives dogs psychedelics, there was actually a study done by a scientist who realized if you give maybe a gram — like a gram of psilocybin or smaller, like a, maybe between like a micro and a gram, a heroic dose is five grams. So you know, it’s like a fifth of like a huge, huge dose. It’s still kind of small, you could probably act normal go to work and do your thing. But it actually — it gives you more visual acuity. So how I think about it is like say we are vision non glasses wearing people — we’re both glasses wearing people. So our vision is kind of screwed already.

 

Travis Cox:

Right, right.

 

David:

But non glass wearing people’s imagine that your visions 1080P — 1080P pixels like standard HD on video or Netflix or whatever. But then if you eat a little bit of mushrooms, it turns into 4k. So it’s like your detection of shapes and colors — your eyes are essentially seeing more reality than if you didn’t eat the mushroom.

 

Travis Cox:

Right. Right.

 

David:

So I have this thought of, we’re not really experiencing the full presence of this earth or consciousness or experience, until we kind of step into the psychedelic realm. And it feels so foreign to us. Because it’s like, we don’t live in that realm, essentially. And it’s like we chemically have arrived to this place where we’re just like, oh, shit, this is always here. It’s never not here. It’s just — like the trees talking. Trees are always being trees. But until you’ve opened yourself up to receiving that message, it’s like you don’t hear it.

 

Travis Cox:

Yep, it’s totally true. One of the biggest — one of the biggest flips in my brain that happened for me, like, and I guess it was two part. One was, you know, I worked with a friend of mine, Daniel McQueen, at medicinal mindfulness. And I took a psychedelic sitters class there. And one of the things that he really talked about is like, look, we — not only are we not a psychedelic society, like we, for the last, you know, 70 years — 50 years, our society has been openly antagonistic to altered states of consciousness, right? And so we have, like, even, you know, me as a 40 year old, I’ve internalized a bunch of shame around it. I was like questioning my experiences, are they legitimate in terms of a tree talking to me, or me having the voice of God in my head, right, like that kind of stuff.

 

So first, I had to get over my internalized shame and doubt around like the actual experience. But then in that Pollan book, again, they have a neuroscientist that is talking about how, if you want to be scientific about it — it’s actually the altered reality. And I say that using my, you know, air quotes.

 

David:

Air quotes, everybody.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, right, is actually our waking consciousness. So that like, what our brain does, naturally, is takes in a huge amount of stimulus and perception, and then unconsciously selects like, it’s not like we’re sitting here thinking, do I want to perceive that, you know, leaf flickering in the window right now? No, I don’t. Like it doesn’t happen on a conscious level. So unconsciously, our brains selects for us out of all of that information — a very limited information. And that’s what waken consciousness is. And then there are some neuroscientists who say, so then when you take something like psilocybin mushrooms, and you have all of these crazy perceptions, again, not necessarily that, you know, the picture that you’re looking at is actually melting, you might have taken a heroic dose at that point, and you are a little abstracted from reality. But our brain actually takes in purely more of the stimulus than a waken consciousness. So, you know, there are neuroscientists who are just like, actually, what everybody in our dominant culture thinks of as normal, is more of a trip relative to what’s actually out in the world than when you take psychedelics.

 

David:

Yes, oh, my God, one of my recent thoughts have been like, our brains are meant to constantly flow chemicals in our brain to drug us, which makes us feel normal. So we can live this what we’re calling reality in this moment, but I think when you take more plant medicine stuff, it actually shows you what actually is going on. And the thing is, is like, I don’t know, if we can handle that on like a day to day though. You wouldn’t be able to like, call your mom, if that’s like the case, or take care of your family, or do the things that you need to do on a daily basis, which it might be important to your life. But in the ultimate scheme of eco psychology, maybe not. You know, it’s almost like you can feel the color and light refraction in your eyeball. And it’s like, everything becomes so more vibrant. And it’s overwhelming.

 

Travis Cox:

Right. It certainly can be. And the thing that you say, too, is like, well can we do this and still function in our daily lives. I mean, I’m pretty sure that most earth based cultures that have psychedelics in their culture, don’t do them all the time anyway, right, like there’s like, you know, kind of like a reset, right? Or it’s like ceremonial, but there’s also a way in which, if you have a relationship to those beings, and I’d love to talk about that, at some point, like, again, even the word medicine to me is like, an abstraction because mushrooms are living beings, right, that we would have a relationship with. Even LSD is like, based off of ergot, right, which is a fungus. And so, MDMA — I just found us out, you know, within the last couple of years, MDMA is synthesized out of sassafras. Right? So like, they have like, these organic routes to them. But even if you were doing those occasionally, I really feel like that you would question the society that we have set up. Right, like so that, you know, the dominant society that we have — a colonialist, let’s say patriarchal white supremacist, militaristic society is it is problematized, by the fact that like, if you take these substances, start asking these questions, realize the kind of, you know, relative nature of time, realize that you’re in relationship to all of these other living beings, you start probably questioning, why do I need to be here at exactly this time? You know? Or like, why do I need to have everything accessible to me all the time? So like, yeah, if you could fall, if you can fall in love with a tiny little patch in your backyard you know for six hours, you start to realize that maybe you don’t need all of these things all the time — that everything doesn’t need to be accessible all the time.

 

David:

Yeah, we’re such a, like an anxiety based people — feeling like we need to fill time. It’s weird to think to like, I remember being young and being stuck somewhere, you just kind of just hang out. But nowadays, you can just get lost in your phone. And start scrolling and scrolling.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah.

 

David:

You know.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, I know. I went down the Union Station in Denver recently, and like, just like sat and people watched, I still have a flip phone. So I don’t get to scroll through mine — through it. It can be such an amazing thing to just watch other humans navigate the world, right? And we just like, people don’t do that anymore. Watch — watch other people just exist.

 

David:

For sure. So do you think nature knows there are these conscious expanding plants that humans use to change their chemical makeup? Do you think this was like an ultimate plan of theirs? Or is it just randomly that nature just kind of makes something that is endogenous to our brains, helps us see something a bit different, alters what we call reality? Is there some way of figuring out how psychedelics became part of the human experience?

 

Travis Cox:

Right, right.

 

David:

I don’t know, I don’t think we like went into it thinking this is going to be an experience. We went into it thinking like, oh, is this a form of food? Oh, no. That’s something.

 

Travis Cox:

Right. That’s an awesome question. And it’s — it’s a huge philosophical one, right? Like, in the sense that it would be especially again, given in dominant culture, you know, the purview of modern science. I think some people would answer, no, that there’s absolutely no way that it’s anything but random chance that like, or natural selection that, you know, these mushrooms came about, and they had this effect on people, right, like, but seems to me, like when you take mushrooms, or LSD or ayahuasca, or that you have a first hand experience that there are larger intelligences at work in the universe. And so if that’s the case, like, it’s certainly possible that like that, there was some conscious intention whereby, you know, you take this species of chimpanzee and this species of mushroom, and all of a sudden, you know, there’s a — there’s a relationship there that is, like beneficial to the both of them. And that’s what I would believe. And then the other thing, too, is, as it relates to eco psychology, the — I think eco psychology at its root is just kind of like bringing animism back into the dominant culture or Western culture where animism used to be the dominant religion in the world, right, let’s say, you know, 2000 years ago, maybe, you know, earth based people had relationship with the beings that were alive around them. And they — and they live their life, with the understanding that those are living beings, and they have their own intelligence. And so we, let’s say, starting with Descartes, just for the fun of it, have like, decided to take consciousness and stick it only inside human heads, right? And so part of eco psychology and psychedelics to me is just this recognition that like, oh, yeah, there’s — the, our planet is filled with innumerable, I mean that literally, like beyond trillions of beings that are alive and have some form of awareness and like psychedelics really tap you into that.

 

David:

I love that you bring up Descartes. Okay, here’s some wild shit about Descartes. He was on like a — like a war campaign with whatever region he was with. But while — he was like a young man, he was like, 22 or something, before he became a philosopher and all this and he had a dream. And in the dream angels — spirit came to him and said, the world will be measured by numbers and angles and all this stuff. Then science was born out of that thought, but what’s funny is science was born out of a dream from an angel.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah. Yeah. Right. Right. Well, and that’s like so awesome that you bring that up because then we get to go full circle, right? So that one of the crazy parts again in Pollan’s book is the paradox, like, so I’ve had this conversation in other spaces. Like one of the — is there a psychedelic worldview? Lots of people want to say that there isn’t necessarily. Like, you know, Stan Grof is gonna say it’s not a nonspecific amplifier. So it’s like you could take psychedelics and be in a particular headspace, let’s say, and it would amplify whatever headspace you’re in. Hence, Charlie Manson giving acid to people and having them murder people, right? Like, that’s the opposite of like, hippie flower power, right. But I’m still open to the fact that maybe there is something inherent in the psychedelics themselves that lend themselves to like reciprocity or spirituality or ecological behavior. I’m open to it. I’d like to you know see more research. But if there is a psychedelic worldview, I would say it’s paradox, right? And so you just pointed to that, right? So here’s Descartes, who’s the father of modern science, who got the idea from an angels in a dream, which is not scientific at all right? And so then you fast forward to now and in Pollan’s book, he talks about how the paradox of we’ve done scientific studies now, and there’s more — the more spiritual an experience you have, the more efficacious it is, the more effective it is, in terms of, you know, getting over your depression or, you know, helping with your addiction, right. And so it’s like, here’s science, proving that spirituality, the more spiritual it is, the better it is for you. We went from angels telling Descartes to do science. And now science is telling us that, like, spirituality is actually real, and is good for us. It’s great.

 

David:

That’s why I love hearing all these, you know, neurobiologists researching Buddhist practices, and Buddhist thought and religion, and more spirituality, not religion so much, and realizing that intention, and mentality and being is very important in the outcome of the things in which we approach. I love hearing, Richie Davidson talked about how Western culture is so interested in researching what’s wrong with us and not what’s good with us.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah. Right.

 

David:

It’s like, why aren’t we researching goodness? Why is it always about mental health? Because I think researching goodness is combating the negative thoughts that we have in our mental health.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, it’s true. It is like, you know, what you put your attention on grows, right. And so if you’re put your attention on, like, trying to figure out all the bad, not only does that not make sense, like in terms of systems thinking, like, again, you’re only addressing the kind of the symptoms and not getting down to the cure. But then like, you’re saying, hey, if we put more attention on the good things and start to support those, then I think the bad things naturally start to fall away.

 

David:

Yeah. And like you said earlier, it’s an amplifier. So it amplifies what our intention is being put upon.

 

Travis Cox:

Right.

 

David:

So before we started our podcast, you actually sent me a really cool article that you were in. And I read through it, and it was really cool. And I just had a question about it. So in the article that you shared with me, it was called Psychedelic Times, that you believe taking and using psychedelics could help a shift from an unsustainable culture to a more sustainable culture. And I was curious, could you elaborate on that idea, and tell us how these medicines or plants essentially, could actually assist in our development towards a more sustainable culture?

 

Travis Cox:

Right. Yeah. I mean, we talked a little bit about it in the beginning, in the sense that it’s like, they disrupt thought patterns, right. And so then, you know, that’s the most obvious way is just, we’ve been conditioned to be consumers. We’ve been conditioned to believe, you know, that the earth is just dead matter for us to use, right? Like, if we can disrupt that conditioning, then that’s one way of doing it. Again, like I was just saying, I do believe that there is something inherent in spiritual psychedelic experience that lends itself to more sustainable behavior, right, recognizing the interconnectedness, like increasing compassion, right, like those kinds of things, even the animism that you can kind of, you know, see or feel or experience. I think that that helps. Even if somebody doesn’t want to entertain that possibility. Even if they’re nonspecific amplifiers, right? Well, then we can create conditions that allow them after we disrupt that conditioning, to be able to adopt more sustainable ways of being, right, so even if it’s not inherent in the medicine itself. It’s like if you did it out in nature, then chances are, you’ll be able to have a more reciprocal relationship to, you know, the natural world. Let’s say we start doing a little bit MDMA in restorative justice practices. I mean, like MDMA, actually, before it became a club drug in the 80s, in the 70s, it was — when after it was synthesized by Shogun, people were using it in — for marriage therapy, given low doses of it in marriage therapy, because it allows you to be compassionate and open in ways that are like beneficial in terms of, you know, positive social outcomes. And so it’s like, you know what if we were doing — what if we were doing restorative justice practices with just a little bit of MDMA, right? Like, I feel like, if you were to line up, here’s what we have to do in terms of creating a sustainable culture, I think we could very easily also line up oh, and it just so happens that like, psychedelics actually helps engender those things that we’re looking for. And I’ve done it a little bit. I created a poster for a conference at the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education, which is the largest conference on Sustainability in Higher Ed in — in the country. And I did just that, like, tried to go one to one like, look, here’s what we’re trying to do in the sustainability world. And then here is how psychedelics can help.

 

David:

Yeah, man, they have such a power. It’s clearly proven, like, come on, that it works. But yet, there’s so taboo, and they’re so illegal to our steps in working forward, because I remember talking to Jamie, and Sarah, and they were saying how there’s just so many legalities to be mindful of while going through it. And it’s just kind of a shame that that’s the case when it works.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, right.

 

David:

It might even help capitalism, in some sense.

 

Travis Cox:

Right.

 

David:

I mean, who knows.

 

Travis Cox:

But in terms of people with money making more money, it certainly is helping right now. But it might even help reform capitalism in a way that like to make it work for everybody. I am open to that possibility. The legality thing is interesting in the sense that like, even just how much it shifted over the last, let’s say, five years, right? So growing up, if I was somebody who might have done psychedelics in the past, never would I have thought that we would have gotten to this point, right, where we’re like, you know, maybe just years away from MDMA and PTSD and psilocybin and end of life — like it’s just mind blowing to me. But even in the last five years, let’s say, you know, what happened in Oregon, the decriminalization movement in Oregon, that is amazing to me, and that they’ve tied it to like therapeutic uses. That’s super cool. So the de-crime movement is really interesting. I’ve also been in spaces and I’m sure you talk to Jamie about it, where like psychedelic chaplaincy is becoming a thing. And that’s going to be I imagine, less regulated than, like, you needing to use the DSM for, you know, pathologize somebody to then be able to get insurance to pay for a psychedelic therapy. Like, you know, psychedelic chaplaincy could just be like, somebody’s having a crisis of faith. And maybe they do it — they — you know, if it’s decriminalized, maybe they do a journey with their pastor or whatever, in order to like, you know, get that trust in the universe back. And so I’m holding out hope — maybe this will be the last thing I say, when I hold out hope for us having a psychedelic society that maybe is even outside of the bounds of Western medical model, I’m also want to make sure that I’m not being construed as like, Timothy Leary, like where I’m just saying, like, dose the water, and then — and then that’s how transformation happens, because that’s the thing that he did wrong, more than anything else is eschew safety, like just like, not provide a safe container for people to have these experiences and go through these transformations. So it’s like, we have to be — we have to do it safely. But safely, is a lot more than just, you’ve got a therapist, and you’re in a doctor’s office, right? Like we’ve had psychedelic cultures for thousands of years that didn’t use that model.

 

David:

Yeah, we got to be careful of the tricksters.

 

Travis Cox:

Right, right.

 

David:

I mean, like, in some senses, it kind of does feel like it could work if you dose the water supply. But that’s not — that’s not what we’re trying to do. We have to be very responsible and like we as humans, we’re so neurotic now that you got to be very careful with how we — in some people, it doesn’t work. It just really scares them, and they might just want to do the talk therapy or different types of therapy. So it just depends on the person and their psychological makeup and their availability and kinda the direction they want to go. So —

 

Travis Cox:

I totally appreciate you saying that. Yeah, cuz we — I mean, we need to — we need to name that, that it’s like, it’s not for everybody like, we’re certainly not promoting it for everyone. I kind of maybe have thought about it before, but you just, you know, making that statement of like, we’re so neurotic right now it’s like, oh, yeah, like, even if there have been, and continue to be, you know, earth based peoples who have a psychedelic society, there may be something about just how messed up we are, right now that makes it like, oh, maybe we don’t just rush back into this, you know, maybe — maybe there’s work that we have to do before we can even get into the right headspace to be able to have that kind of a relationship. It’s interesting.

 

David:

Yeah. I mean, if you have a bad psychedelic trip, that could cause a lot of trauma, lifelong trauma, you know, like — like, how do you talk about that? These — these aliens abducting you consciously. Like, that’s not fun. So we’re kind of nearing the end, and I just have a couple more questions for you. Our talk kind of has this relationship to psychedelics and our relationship to the earth as well. But I’m also curious, is there a way to promote environmental stewardship without psychedelics? Is there a way to promote a deeper connection, relationship, a deeper consciousness with the earth and with our interaction with it, that doesn’t involve plant medicine or psychedelics? That just involve, you know, like, normal reality, consciousness and different types of work that we do?

 

Travis Cox:

Right. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s one of the biggest parts of the program, the master’s program that I’m in, in eco psychology, is our students get to do a 10 day wilderness solo that includes a three day fasting solo. And so there is a way in which that’s still psychedelic, like fasting is, you know, it’s still — it can induce altered states of consciousness, but it is, you know, you have way more sense of control and agency over like, I don’t like this, I’m going to eat a candy bar than if you do when it’s like, I just took a dose of LSD and I’m two hours into it like, well, good luck, right? Like, hopefully, you have some — hopefully, you’re — you’re smart enough to be well resourced, right, in that space. But it’s even just, I mean, like, one of the fathers of deep ecology, which is an environmental philosophy about nature, connectedness, he talks about one of his experiences that led him to this, you know, deep relationship with the natural world rock climbing, right? Like he — like he was, you know, on the side of a mountain, and then just, like, had the experience — I think he saw a bird maybe, but had the experience of it’s like, oh, my gosh, the mountain and him and the bird and the sky, we’re all one, like, in that moment, right. And so like, one of the easiest things to do is just like, spend more time in nature, right, like, and then, you know, like, I was saying, you know, with our wilderness solo, there are wilderness rites of passage that easily connect you to the natural world and give you these experiences that then lead to environmental behaviors, even just like shifting your thinking. So that — and this is something that some of my new students this year are really pushing in terms of, when you conceive of nature as like, wilderness, then that’s going to be challenging for the billions of people that live in cities, right and might not have access, especially in America based on injustices and social locations. You know that they’re historically marginalized populations that don’t have the same kind of access to that kind of nature. And so even just like shifting your thinking, when you see a dandelion coming through the cracks, right, or when you see like a pigeon, you know, the crazy messed up pigeon, like there are in San Francisco, right? When you see one of those, like that’s like non human nature, that’s a little being that’s trying to get through the world and recognizing it as it is kind of takes you out of this like, human only world. And so it’s all around us. It’s just like learning to see it and then to like — and then choosing to consciously have a relationship to it. Talking to a tree while you’re going on a walk and not caring if people think you’re crazy. Yep.

 

David:

I boop flowers like —

 

Travis Cox:

That’s awesome.

 

David:

People are like, what is that guy doing. I’m like just mind your business.

 

Travis Cox:

That’s right.

 

David:

I can get with that though. Because when we think of nature, it’s this out there thing, but it’s like when did that happen? When did we put it out there because you walk outside, there it is. You’re in it. You did it, you’re here.

 

Travis Cox:

Right. You are it.

 

David:

So I like that idea of shifting, it’s not outside of you, it’s actually you are part of it no matter what. That you are — have the ability to be disconnected.

 

Travis Cox:

Right, right.

 

David:

Very cool. New students, I like it, the new student vibe, that’s always probably fun for you as a teacher to get many different perspectives of how your students feel. And you can almost see like a generational shift of how they think and show up in class. So I just got one more question. It might be a little heavy, but I like the little round off vibe to it. So currently, we are in deep with how the world functions on a political, corporate influence to the degradation of this planet. And with this proverbial climate, how do we shift our individual industrial, political and global habits to not harm or kill but to thrive on this planet? So with what we got going on, like how you just said, shifting, your idea is already feeling like a lighter load in being in conjunction with — or the earth in nature. So do you have any other insights with that? With all the things that you’ve learned, all the things that you’ve gained over timed and taught?

 

Travis Cox:

Right. Yeah, I mean, especially right now. I want it to be in both, and. And that’s what we’re — I feel like we’re pretty good at — at Naropa, right, like this non dual kind of like, oh, I can hold these two things in my head — in one way, I could see how they’re opposites. And in another way, it’s like two sides of a coin. Right? And so I want to talk about the individual and talk about the collective and so like, individually, we are going through so much right now. And sure, maybe we’ve gone through mass extinctions before, we have, not when humans have been on the planet though. Sure civilizations have a collapse before, yes, but they didn’t have a global reach, right, in the same way that like, you know, the capitalist American system does now. And so we really need to give ourselves space to take care of ourselves, like, you know, if we’re awake, the best thing that we can do is to continue to be alive and stay awake in order to be a part of the change. And like right now, it’s like, we’re all overwhelmed with a pandemic. And, you know, a fascist president who encouraged a domestic terror attack on our nation’s capital, right? Like, I mean, one of the ones that, like nobody talks about, but as a philosopher has me going crazy is we made like a monkey human hybrid embryo. And like, oh, it was just a blip in a headline, right? Like, where it’s like, what, who said that that’s okay. Like, did you ask the monkey? You didn’t ask me as a human. So anyway, like, self care is a revolutionary act at this point. But it also — we’ve been conditioned for generations now, to not really take collective action in the way that we used to take collective action. And so you know, to the point where it’s like, oh, hey, David, you want to make a difference? Just change your behavior and your like, you know, the products that you buy? And that’ll be enough? Well, it’s already been shown that like 100 companies create 70% of the greenhouse emissions. And so it’s like, how would anything you and I do in terms of our individual choices actually affect that? Not very much, even if — even if it was consumer based, it’s still just not very much. And so there’s also like political organizing, and I think actually, like being a part of a movement, I think is that — is something that people could do. There’s also — and this is very Naropa, but I’m having lived experiences of it. And so I do have to give voice to it. Having gratitude for everything that we have, helps us to like, have some mental health and to be in a good space, a good headspace in order to do this work, and then grief work, actually, like, you know, Malidoma Some is a spiritual teacher who came to Naropa some time ago, I think, maybe in the 90s, 2000s and was just, like, flabbergasted that our culture doesn’t really have very many grief rituals, especially community grief rituals, and — and so, you know, he kind of mirrors Joanna Macy, and we have the Joanna Macy Center at Naropa, who is saying, like, when we don’t have those grief rituals, then those feelings get stuck inside of us and we spend so much energy pushing them down. That actually if you just stop pushing them down, take part in rituals that allow you to move through that grief, not only have you liberated that grief energy, which Joanna says is actually the care that you have for the world, like why you are so like sad is because you love the world. And so can you then grieve what you need to grieve, but then use that energy to then actually do something and you also have the energy that you’re no longer pushing something down. You can use that energy to like do something in the world. And so as hippy BS as it sounds, gratitude and grief are also huge things that you can do.

 

David:

I want to be careful when we say hippie, because when we say hippie, it’s like counterculture to what we think the actual culture is supposed to be. But this is the actual culture. When we label a hippie, this is how it should be — being compassionate, being accountable, being mindful of our consumption and use and our ways, that’s not fucking hippie. That’s what’s up! That’s what is supposed to be. And I think we’ve been so pushed in a way to think that it’s — it’s so foreign. And it’s so oh, you’re just being a hippie. And it’s like, I’m actually just being direct, honest — loyal to my heart. I’m loyal to the beings around me. I’m loyal to this earth. I’m loyal — making good decisions.

 

Travis Cox:

Right. I love that.

 

David:

Sure, if that’s hippie, sure put a flower in my head.

 

Travis Cox:

Right. Right, right.

 

David:

It’s calling it a day like on that. But —

 

Travis Cox:

No, I love it. Loyalty your heart and loyalty to the earth. I love that a lot. Yeah.

 

David:

And we all love Joanna Macy. That woman has done some beautiful work. I actually had a podcast with her. I flowed to San Jose — or it was, no Berkeley to go hang out with her. And probably one of the biggest moments of my podcast little career.

 

Travis Cox:

That’s awesome.

 

David:

I think you helped with that. I think you helped get me there.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, we got you there. Yeah. Yeah, no problem. Yeah.

 

David:

Man, so with that said, it’s such a beautiful perspective to hear you speak. And I feel like we have like a like mined. So it’s really fun to always speak with you. And honestly, it was really fun to just come back after four years.

 

Travis Cox:

I know, right?

 

David:

We’ve wanted to have this conversation and have it and I really respect your time. And I really respect your knowledge and mindset and the work that you’re doing at Naropa. And thank you so much for speaking with us today.

 

Travis Cox:

Oh, I appreciate you so much, David. Like, yeah, you’re fantastic at what you do. I mean, like, it’s just — it’s so easy to just feel like we’re hanging out. And then I — and then I, there are those moments when you know, when you’re with another person, and you’re building off of each other and you feel like you’re like talking about things that are super important. And every time I talk with you, I get that feeling that it’s just like, you know, we’re changing the world, by just you and I having a conversation about shit we love to talk about anyway.

 

David:

Ah, thanks. Yeah, it’s for our audience too because we have — we have a very beautiful audience that loves and it feels really good to be back podcasting, because I feel like this is where it’s at. This is what we love to do. So, yeah, so thanks you all for listening and we love you so much.

 

Travis Cox:

Yeah, thanks.

 

[MUSIC]

 

On behalf of the Naropa community, thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at http://www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

 

 

 

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