TRANSCRIPT – Integrating Entheogenic Experiences | Julie Megler

[EN10] Julie Megler
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JM: Hello, this Julie Megler and you’re listening to EntheoNation with Lorna Liana.
LL: Hello visionary people of EntheoNation. This is Lorna Liana and I’m here today with Julie Megler who is a board certified family medicine and psychiatric nurse practitioner. She’s in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area offering mental health services and integration of non-ordinary states of consciousness. Julie has spoken at a variety of conferences including Psychedelic Science 2013 and co-authored book chapters on the topic of the Therapeutic Uses of Entheogens.
So Julie is joining us today to speak about the importance of integration after your entheogenic journeys and some of the challenges that people can come up with when they are experiencing entheogens and then going back into their daily lives in the “real world”. So thank you so much Julie for joining us today. I’d love for you to share with us who you are, what you do, and how you were able to carve out such a unique profession for yourself that involves the integration of non-ordinary states of consciousness?
JM: Oh wow. Yeah so let’s see here; where to begin? [Chuckles] So my name’s Julie, as you mentioned, and I’m a nurse practitioner. I mostly work in mental health right now, although I do hold my license both in family practice and psychiatry. Essentially I first started off working in an emergency room after I finished grad school and I really saw the gap in medicine between the mind and body. It’s totally separated into psychiatry and medicine and the two don’t overlap each other.
So I went back to the psychiatry degree, and at the same time kind of came across MAPS and had read an article about how to become a psychedelic researcher. And the thing that they said was, number one: get your license. So I got my license and got some experience in the ER, got the experience in psychiatry, and really wanted to weave these two worlds together.
LL: Wait, so question for you: you can get a license as a psychedelic researcher?
JM: No, no, no. Not a license as a psychedelic researcher, but it was kind of like MAPS had put in one of their bulletins a list of things to do so that what would legitimize yourself and if you wanted to get into this field, how to get involved, essentially. And so the first thing to do is get credentialed, like finish your schooling so that when you are wanting to enter this field, people will respect your opinion and what you’re saying about the research, rather than you just being some random person who’s talking about entheogens. You’re somebody who’s obviously licensed and well educated and is really looking at the pros and cons and looking at the research and the facts.
LL: So what licenses are available? Are we talking about clinical licenses? Or are there licenses available to you, you know, non-medical personal?
JM: Yeah so for me I pursued the clinical license route. So I have my nurse practitioner license. But I think there’s also space for the non-clinical route, which I think is really important to emphasize because right now a lot of the research and the movement is really focusing on how can this be used to treat illness or some sort of pathology like PTSD? And the fact of the matter is that there is a lot of, as Bob Jessie would say, “healthy normals” who also want to be exploring their consciousness.
So it shouldn’t just be about the pathologizing and the clinical side, but then also for the sake of exploration and lifestyle changes and whatever it may be. So, I think in addition to the clinical route, getting something like a PhD and being affiliated with the university can also be really helpful.
LL: Okay, okay interesting. So you went ahead and got your license, and then what happened?
JM: So I got my license and then after working in the ER I moved out to San Francisco with the intention of knowing that in Detroit there probably wasn’t going to be a whole lot of opportunity but in the Bay Area there was a lot going on. So I moved out here about three years ago and got the psychiatry portion of my license at UCSS and then went to Psychedelic Science, but that was 2011, and didn’t know anybody and kind of just slowly from there started to meet people and get involved in the community. And then the next thing I knew, like a year and a half later I happened to be invited to speak at the conference because I was really at the time interested in how Ayahuasca could be used to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
LL: Wow okay. That’s really interesting. And so what have you discovered around the use of Ayahuasca and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
JM: Well essentially in the articles that I wrote I speak a lot about how one of the things that gets disrupted in PTSD is memory formation. So the short term memory, the part of your brain that sees or senses that there could be a danger in the environment never gets associated with the meaning. So like a long term memory of, “Oh that feels like a threat, but that’s actually not going to kill me,” never happens. So they’re stuck in the short term memory of, “That’s a threat. Oh dear, my life is on the line right now.” So people are constantly in this perpetual fear state.
And that Ayahuasca helps activate our emotional centers in our brain, so that you can take some of that unconscious material and put meaning to it so that that long term memory can eventually be made. It’s also very similar to a well-known form of therapy for PTSD, which is exposure therapy where people are kind of slowly given the stimulus so that they can start to see that it no longer is a threat to them. And so it also comes along with some of the same risks that exposure therapy can, in terms of re-traumatization. So it can be a delicate matter and it really depends on where people are and how extreme their symptoms are and whether or not something like Ayahuasca would be appropriate, versus starting off with something like MDMA therapy.
LL: Interesting. Great. So you presented at this conference and you’re currently in a role where you work with people to help integrate non-ordinary states of consciousness. How did that come about? And what kind of – who comes to you and what kind of experiences have they typically had?
JM: Yeah so how I got there? I got to this role very much by having by having to work through my own integration experience. I had a really intense experience about two years ago just before the Psychedelic Science Conference and it was working with a pretty challenging plant known as Toé and it’s often an admixture to the brew Ayahuasca.
LL: It’s also known as Datura, right?
JM: Correct. I’m not sure if it’s Brugmansia or Datura, or different literature, but they’re in the same family.
LL: Oh I see. Okay.
JM: And it’s used to bring out visions in the Ayahuasca brew, but it’s also a very potent plant. It works for an extremely long period of time. Erowid has it listed actually as a deliriant, not even as a psychedelic. And it was a very challenging experience that was very confusing. And it wasn’t necessarily just the experience itself, but a week later when I was home in the U.S I was very confused. All of a sudden I felt like I’d had an experience, I’d been introduced to realms that I had no context of understanding for, and I didn’t have the community of people to kind of help me through that experience.
And I had been in San Francisco for under a year at that point in time and I had friends that were doing entheogenic work, but there’s a different way to – you’re exposed to different realms with different sorts of entheogens. And this had definitely shot me into a realm that was much deeper than anything I had experienced before or any of my friends or peers had experienced before. So it was… Go ahead.
LL: Can you describe some of these realms?
JM: You know I think when you’re being exposed to the spirit realm you realize that there might be forces that are beyond your understanding or control. It’s very non-ordinary, it’s not something that’s tangible or things that you can put your hand on that you see living day-to-day. And so then of course on top of that, being a nurse practitioner and working in a very western scientific model, which has no capacity or space for entities that may be living and existing in other realms without it being considered delusional. [Laughs]
I was also very conflicted and confused because obviously I knew that I wasn’t delusional but that I’d had a deep experience that had exposed me to things that I just didn’t quite understand.
LL: When you were in the realms, did you feel safe? Did you feel a presence of the spirit of the Toé? Or did you feel adrift and having to navigate on your own?
JM: I would say I definitely felt a strong presence of the plan teachers. So I very strongly felt Ayahuasca and Toé, and that was actually the evening where I learned about tobacco – mapacho – and it’s as and ally. But I was ill-equipped. I was so young in my plant experience. I didn’t really know how to use them, so there were definitely times as the hours went on – cause it was a very long journey. It was about 18 hours – that I was exhausted and didn’t have the focus and didn’t really know how to access them. So I did start to feel kind of alone and ill-equipped to be in that realm.
And then time post, that seemed to be a re-occurring theme of all of a sudden feeling like, “Oh wow, I’m in this space but I don’t actually have the resources to feel supported in this space when I’m journeying there.”
LL: So then what happened? You were working through this integration experience yourself, and did you connect with the community of people in the Bay Area to help you?
JM: I did, and so I definitely discovered and learned a lot of great resources in the Bay Area. I was lucky enough to find a therapist who is doing entheogenic work – actually two of them. Kind of held different sides of it, which was really helpful and useful as well as getting affiliated with ERIE and getting to know those individuals in the community. And then at the end of the day my partner Larry, who’s one of the co-founders of ERIE, was a huge piece of my integration process.
LL: So tell us what ERIE is again?
JM: Oh so ERIE stands for Entheogenic Research Integration and Education. It’s a non-profit organization based out of the San Francisco Bay Area. So they hold probably about at least once a month or twice a month a series of lectures and gatherings for people to come together and learn more about these realms and meet people that are also doing pure integration circles as well.
LL: Okay so now you’ve then started to get more experience in integration and doing and holding space for integration for other people through this work with ERIE. Is that correct?
JM: Through my work with ERIE and my own private practice as well. So yeah it’s been my experience, I’ve just really learned the need for community and support. There’s a lot of exploration, there’s a lot of emotional content and material that comes up for us, so I always tell my clients that the five important things to being in balance health wise is mind, body, spirit, community, and environment. So what could I do to help people support those five aspects and the importance that community really plays in that role. And so by wanting to e a resource for others in the same way that I was able to find resources to help support myself through my integration process.
LL: So the kind of people that come to you for support, what are they typically going through and how do you help them?
JM: Yeah so I wouldn’t say all of my clients are having entheogenic experiences, probably a small portion of them, maybe 25% of them. But the other things that my entheogenic experiences really taught me was it really teaches you how to sit with your own discomfort, right? And the challenging things. So a lot of time these are people who are having a lot of anxiety or depression and there are parts of themselves that they’ve been afraid to take a look at or face. Whether or not it was an old memory from childhood or traumatic event, a bad relationship, attachment issues so maybe the parents being not there for them in the ways that they needed as a child, which shows up later in your life in your relationships as an adult.
And then I also work with people who are working with entheogens as well. So when I’m working with them it’s much more structured around the entheogenic work, so going through preparation and what sort of – setting intentions, and after they have their experiences, coming back to me and then us kind of discussing the intention and how the themes that came up in their journeys may have related. And then kind of developing a model for, “Okay, so what practices do I need to develop in my life so that the insights that I got from that experience I can actually apply to my day-to-day life and my continued growth and transformation?”
LL: Interesting. The people that come to you for support with entheogenic experiences, are they working with a variety of different entheogens? Or primarily with certain ones like Ayahuasca or san pedro, for example?
JM: I would say in the Bay Area what I see mostly people working with Ayahuasca and mushrooms and some LSD and MDMA. But I’d say the majority of the work is for Ayahuasca and mushrooms.
LL: That’s interesting. And why do you think they’re coming to you after those experiences with these two plants?
JM: I think that, I mean Ayahuasca’s a very potent entheogen, so I think her more so than some of the other plants really can kind of again, just as I had experienced, introduce people to realms they didn’t previously have a context for. Or bring up even more content in kind of a much more intense way than some of the other entheogens can. And then there’s also, with the plants and the fungi I find there’s much more of a plant-teacher quality. So there’s this feeling of an entity, a spirit behind the plant, versus things like MDMA and LSD and more of the chemical compounds don’t have as strong of a teacher presence. So I think that’s one of the reasons why people for those substances.
However, I do want to put in a little bit of disclaimer because a friend of mine recently pointed out to me is that the chemical compounds don’t have a teacher behind them, or is it because they don’t have as much history behind them? They’re new as within the last 70 years or so, so maybe the qualities of the teacher behind them haven’t had the time to evolve and be discovered, versus plants that have been around for thousands of years, which I appreciated the idea of there actually being an entity behind even some of the chemical compounds.
LL: Yeah, you know, that’s really interesting. I can say that personally I’ve never experienced any feeling of there being a teaching or guiding entity around chemical compounds, myself. I don’t know, but I mean certainly in the shamanic world because in that paradigm living creatures, plants and animals, all seem to have some type of like wisdom. And the indigenous people, when they interact with the plants and animals they often have, there is some type of exchange of information and sometimes it’s an exchange of information where by the plant or the animal is teaching the human something.
So that goes back a long, you know, centuries, millennia. So that’s a really interesting way of looking at that. You know, what do you think about some of the phenomena that’s happening that a number of us in the Ayahuasca communities have noticed, which is, there seems to be a lot of – a lot more groups that are springing up that involve either shamans. Gosh, you know, my friend Robert Tindall who’s the author of “The Jaguar that Roams the Mind” and “Shamanic Odyssey”, refers to them as “drive-by shamans”. [Laughs]
Or even people that are western ayahuasqueros that are going down to Peru and training for some time and then coming back and opening up their own circles. Do you think that the reason why you might be receiving a number of people for your services is because those ceremonies are not being held in a solid enough way for those individuals to feel like they’re getting the support from the communities around those particular servers?
JM: Yeah. I think there’s two ways that I look at it: I would definitely say that there are a lot of groups coming up. I don’t have any objections to western people getting trained because I’ve come across a few that really hold a really beautiful and solid container. It’s more of how well of a container they’re holding. And then there’s also this cultural context of traditionally the communities didn’t need to – the entheogenic communities, they didn’t necessarily need to focus on integration. Because integration was inherently part of the culture. It was part of the day-to-day life, it was part of your family network.
So we’re bringing entheogenic use into a culture that doesn’t have that. So we need to create that because now there’s a demand, there’s more people out there who are thirsting for these experiences and they’re going out and they’re looking for them. And so perhaps the people that are holding the circles are coming from a background of communities that already have an integration in place, so they’re not necessarily aware of the need here for that. As well as, and to some degrees there is a division of labor and the fact that there’s so much that the shaman can do, and the Ayahuasca can do, and then there’s other things that people need to step into a role for because it’s kind of like, as a nurse practitioner I can’t be specialized in everything. I need to have my focal areas and I need to know my strong points, or what are my strong points? So I don’t want to say that it’s any one thing. I think all those aspects play into why there’s a demand right now.
But I will say that the demand is there and the need to hold a container that may not have been there or create a cultural context that doesn’t exist within our cultures. Definitely what my big drive has been is also one of the big drives for ERIE and how ERIE got founded.
LL: So what are some useful tools that you recommend to help, that folks can rely on to help navigate altered states?
JM: I would say the number one tool that I’ve learned is really listening to your intuition, not ignoring it. My biggest learning curve is, is that my intuition would speak up to me, I would second guess it. I would kind of be like, “Oh you’re over reacting,” or, “No I don’t trust it.” And then the end of the day when I ignored my intuition when I would get myself into trouble. Like for instance, I’ll give you the example of my Toé experience. My intuition told me not to drink a third time. [Both laugh] And it was offered to me because I naively had asked it, for like a while earlier I’d asked for it. And now when I look back it was like I ignored my intuition, and that was a really hard lesson of getting to learn about the importance of intuition, but it’s there. It’s a mode of our body communicating to us that we’re not as used to being sensitive to. So really kind of developing that.
The other thing I would recommend is really getting to know your allies and how to use them in those spaces and developing a relationship with them. And I don’t know if I can really specify what or how an ally is, because everybody’s ally is a unique relationship that they develop themselves. So it could be a plant ally, as I mentioned mapacho earlier today. For some people they have spirit animals, the particular animal that they can connect with in that space that may help bring in some wisdom or assistance for you when you’re navigating these realms.
And then the last one I would say is present moment awareness. The monkey mind can really take you all over the place, and that again relating back to that Toé experience, is one of the things that really was challenging for me was that, as the evening and morning drew on, I was exhausted and my mind was just everywhere. And that was working against me, versus really learning how to come back to my center and just kind of let any thoughts drift in and out and really working in deep meditation. Again, present moment awareness has also been one of the greatest tools that I’ve learned to develop since that experience because I realized how crucial it can be and how important it is in day-to-day life as well.
LL: Wow yeah. Those are three really great pieces of advice, thank you. So we’re coming about to the end of our interview time, and I’d love to leave you with a couple of my favorite questions. So first is, what was the most far out visionary experience that you’ve had, and what did you learn from it?
JM: You know, going back to that Toé experience, that was definitely the most far out visionary experience I ever had. It was interesting for me – I’ve accessed that same space a few times since, but I feel like when I’m working in really deep entheogenic spaces, the beginning of it is like super intense and very visual and stuff coming up like things that you need to process. And then all of a sudden they get like popped up into this higher realm, and it’s all of a sudden it’s very still and it goes on for infinity in every direction. Up, down, 360 degrees around you. And that can be a really terrifying place, because there’s a world of opportunity to explore there and really sit with the plant teachers and see what they have to show you. But it’s also terrifying because you don’t know what the realm of possibility is. So there’s a fear, there’s an inherent I think human fear that comes up with not understanding the environment.
So for me in that Toé experience, it was really beautiful because I got to actually just explore it. I called it “mental gymnastics”, I felt like I got to do backflips and fly around and just play in it. It was like I had done all this work earlier in the journey, and then I got to get into this space where I could like have recess. I could just run around and play like a little kid. And so I keep on going, occasionally, probably 10 or so times since then have gotten the opportunity to enter that realm again.
And I’m still getting to know it and familiarize myself with it and not be scared of it when I get to access it and I’m really excited to keep on exploring it because I think that there’s quite the world to be explored out there, once I kind of learn how to get my anchor and not feel so – I refer to it as feeling like I’m travelling without gravity, like where you’re just kind of confused and you don’t know which way’s up. So it’s kind of learning how to get more oriented in that space so I can use it more productively.
LL: Okay wow. So last question, how have visionary states of consciousness helped you to connect with your purpose and your true calling?
JM: You know, I think again it’s what you learn about yourself and the more you – you can’t necessarily bring to others the work you haven’t done yourself, right? So the visionary states have really, really shaped my clinical practice. They’ve taught me a lot about like, again as I mentioned earlier, sitting with my own discomfort and sitting with my own discomfort allows me to help assist others in learning how to sit in their discomfort as well as me being able to tolerate sitting there with them, to hold that for somebody.
And it’s also taught me a lot about empathy because even though with my clients I may not have had the same experiences they have, the visionary states have brought me through a series of tests and challenges, so I know and I can relate what it’s like to have that sort of struggle, or what it’s like to work through it. So all the self-exploration, and compassion, and love, and patience I’ve learned through myself with my visionary states it ties into what I’m doing now because now I get to continue to do that work on my own for myself, but then also help others, assist them in learning how to discover that for themselves.
LL: Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your stories. I’d love to ask how we can best stay in touch with you Julie?
JM: The easiest way to get ahold of me is probably by email. My email is juliemeglernp – as in “Nurse Practitioner” –
LL: Thank you! You have a beautiful day now.
JM: Thank you, you too.
LL: Bye-bye.
JM: Bye.