As people’s stress levels start to increase, more people feel the need to clear their heads. This is where plant medicines come in. Otherwise known as psychedelics, plant medicine is a powerful tool to help you reach your goals by removing your egoic thoughts. Join your host Catherine Kontos and her guest Jonathan de Potter in this conversation about how to use plant medicine effectively. Jonathan is the Founder of Behold Retreats and he is elevating the consciousness of leaders around the world. Get into the proper level of consciousness today!
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Reaching A Different Level Of Consciousness With Plant Medicine With Jonathan de Potter
This is going to be interesting. Jonathan de Potter is the Founder and CEO of Behold Retreats, a bespoke wellness service that facilitates journeys of self-discovery and transformation, supported by the scientifically proven benefits of plant medicine therapy. Jonathan, welcome to the show. I’m so excited to interview you.
Thank you so much, Catherine. It’s great to be connected and I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Plant medicine, I’ve been hearing so much about it. I studied Neuroscience in university so this is something that really interests me and the benefits to it. Here where I am, psychologists and psychiatrists are using it medically so it’s not like this thing that, “Let’s have some fun with some drugs.” It’s something that could change and alter your life, from all the studies that I’ve been reading and all this stuff that I’ve been seeing as well. I’m excited and interested in talking about this topic and how it can benefit people, especially during a retreat experience. Please tell me what your experience has been and what made you shift into this world of psychedelics?
Everyone can be any person that they want to be. It just depends on who they want to be and getting clear on that.
I love that you used the term plant medicine as we kicked off because the word psychedelics, it’s got a little bit of a hangover, an association from the 60s. Plant medicine is such a beautiful way to frame this work. My story winds back a couple of years ago and I was living in Hong Kong at the time. I was “living the life” as a corporate management consultant leading a team of about 120 people and I was ticking all the boxes in terms of what one might describe as a modern successful life. I reached a point where I recognized that the next promotion, next client or deal wasn’t going to bring me any incremental improvements, joy or quality of life.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror one day, I was an atheist at the time and thinking, “This can’t be it. There has to be something more to life.” That in essence was what triggered me to take a year off. I took a year and traveled through South America for the majority of that year. As part of that, a couple of friends came and joined me in Peru.
We went through what was a couple of the most challenging days of our lives there in an Ayahuasca retreat and that began me on a spiritual journey on my own personal and spiritual development and opened many doors and benefits over the years. It’s a humbling and learning journey and I’ve made so many mistakes along the way. As I learned more about the mistakes that I was making, I became inspired and motivated to help others find an easier path and a more beneficial path than the one that I walked.
Is this what motivated you to start your business? Tell me about your company a little bit and what it does.
We work predominantly with leaders, executives and what we call forward thinkers. We try to get to people who are high-impact and people who are in a position where they’re ready for a big personal shift, transformation, healing and maybe they’re ready to deepen their spirituality and elevate their consciousness.
We do group retreats as well as private retreats. For most of our clients, we take a more holistic approach to this work. We don’t just do the week retreat but we actually do three weeks before the retreat to help them prepare and we do three weeks after the retreat to help them integrate the experience because these are very powerful experiences.
The three weeks beforehand, we help our clients get clear on their future selves. Each and any one of us can be any person that we want to be, it depends upon who we want to be and getting clear upon that. When we get clear upon that then we can begin to surface, “If that’s your future self then what are the limiting thought patterns, beliefs and behaviors that you’re currently facing that are keeping that future self away from you now?”
We coach our clients, we have therapists as well and we help them do the mental and emotional work to understand the patterns of mind that are not serving them and understand the emotions that they need to be willing to release out from the physical body. We teach them those tools ahead of working with the plant medicine so that when they step into the ceremony and when they start working with these powerful tools, whether it’s Ayahuasca, Psilocybin or 5-MeO-DMT Bufo, they’re prepared. They know what it is that they’re trying to achieve because they know what their future self is and they know these tools that they need to work with in order to get the benefits they’re looking for.
Someone can be fearful of what can happen because we’re taking a drug to alter our consciousness. Has there ever been something that could hurt someone? I’m sure people are thinking, “I’d like to try this. This sounds interesting but can I be hurt instead of the opposite, which is what we’re trying to achieve.”
There are many layers to answer that. The first thing that I would say is that safety is first and foremost in terms of how we serve our clients. This ecosystem has exploded over the years. When I first went on a retreat, there were about fifteen retreat centers that one could choose from so I chose the best retreat center that I could find at the time. Now, there are about 250 retreat centers so the number of options that are out there has exploded.
What’s interesting is that if you go to any retreat aggregator in this space, what you’ll find is that universally, all of the retreats are being rated as five stars so that tells us a couple of things. 1) It tells us that people are having very deep, profound and positive experiences. 2) It also tells us that people are not able to discern quality and this was a large part of my journey.
I was going around to these different and best-rated retreats that I could find. Different medicines and different locations around the world and because I didn’t know what good looked like, I wasn’t able to distinguish between them. I now recognize that in fact, all of those that I went to was not working at the highest level in relation to what is possible with this work.
I don’t say that to be negative and judgmental. I genuinely believe that most of the people who work in this space are genuinely doing the very best that they can. It’s just that this work is very complex because we’re dealing with the human condition, trauma, overwhelm, stress, mental, emotional, energetic and physical. All of these elements are coming together with these very powerful medicines so it’s very important that we do high-quality safety screening.
We do a very in-depth screening for mental, emotional, as well as for physical ahead of inviting clients to our retreats. It’s also very important that the practitioners who are doing this work, that they have a very strong grounding, basis and preferably decades of experience doing this work. There are many aspects to this work in terms of taking care of people mentally and emotionally. Preparing them for the journeys, facilitating the actual plant medicine journeys themselves and then helping them make sense out of what are these powerful and amplifying experiences.
Is it a seven-week program?
I love the fact that you have the pre-retreats, the retreat and then the post-retreat. All retreats should be made that way to get the full benefits of the transformation that you’re going to experience not only during the retreat but even afterward to hold on to that transformation because it’s very easy to go back to our habits. It’s very important that people do have a program in place like you do before to understand why are you doing this retreat, what are your goals and then to experience that transformation, which is incredible. Especially with plant medicine, I haven’t done it.
I can imagine what it would do even for me and then have the follow-up afterward to make sure the person’s okay and that they’re on track. It’s like being the parent and nurturing that person. They’re like a butterfly and they’re coming out of their cocoon. I love the fact that you do have a seven-week program. What does your team consist of that is involved in this? Who’s the team?
Before I answer that, I want to build upon what you said there because it’s so important. These medicines really respond to intentionality. The more deeply we anchor our understanding and belief in that future self then the medicine is able to respond to that. It’s able to reciprocate to that deeply held intentionality and so preparing for that mentally, physically, emotionally and energetically ahead of the retreat, plays such a strong role in people getting the benefits from the actual ceremonies themselves.
I say to clients that my belief of this work is it’s 80% mental and emotional work, which is what sets up the 20% with plant medicine to be as transformational as it can be. The piece that I often add to that is psychedelics or plant medicine in itself isn’t necessarily positive, it’s neutral. Look at any psychedelic scene or community, it doesn’t reflect those communities, God bless them and the energies that you or I might aspire to. It’s not that plant medicine or psychedelics in itself that’s positive, it’s how we use this tool that makes such a fundamental difference.
Through my years of mistakes, what I recognized is that I wasn’t doing the mental and emotional work because no one was guiding me. No one was telling me that I needed to do this workaround these retreats. Intuitively, I felt there was something that was missing. I wasn’t getting the deeper breakthroughs that were available and it’s because I didn’t know my own mental and emotional blind spots because, by definition, they’re blind spots and we need someone else to mirror our ego structure to help us see the things that we need to see.
As I started working with a coach then I was able to zero in on those blockages that I had and in the ceremony target my efforts and breakthroughs in relation to the ego structure versus things that are bypassing. 1) We have coaches and therapists on our team. 2) Retreat facilitators so the people who bring the people together are really energized by bringing a great group of people together, keep that energy throughout the course of the week, which you and I know isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
You then have the actual what we might describe as medicine men, shamans or healers. Those are the people who are doing the specific medicine work. There’s a much broader infrastructure that comes together around that in terms of the whole team, the cooks, chefs and the people who may be out doing the horseback riding on one of the days, etc. That’s a bit more retreat-specific but that gives you a bit of a flavor in terms of the team that comes together in order to serve our clients.
What does a day or a few days of this experience feel like and look like? For someone who wants to have a better idea to visualize it, what would they be experiencing on a typical day?
We typically do one-week retreats and we would do 3 or 4 ceremonies over that duration. As I mentioned before, we predominantly work with three medicines, Psilocybin, Ayahuasca and 5-MeO-DMT. For people who are brand new, Psilocybin might be a good and easier place to start. Ayahuasca is a very powerful experience. The underlying molecule is a DMT, Dimethyltryptamine, also known as the spirit molecule and then we have 5-MeO-DMT, which is recognized as 4 to 6 times more powerful than Ayahuasca.
The underlying molecule is also referred to as the God molecule so very powerful experience. It’s easier as an experience than Ayahuasca even though it’s recognized to be more powerful than Ayahuasca. The ego itself just really has no chance with 5-MeO-DMT so it’s a very powerful non-dual experience. Depending upon the medicine that’s being worked with, we tend to have quite a bit of space within our retreats so we don’t pack out the schedule too much.
It’s important to have plenty of time for resting, reflection and journaling around these powerful plant medicine ceremonies. With Psilocybin or 5-MeO-DMT, we would typically do the ceremonies during the day. With Ayahuasca, you tend to be quite photosensitive so we do the ceremonies at night. Starting around 7:00 PM and goes for 4 to 6 hours. It would be roughly the same for Psilocybin and with 5-MeO-DMT, it’s a very powerful, timeless but short experience. It’s 10 to 20 minutes in human time, as I often refer to it.
Over the space of the retreat, we would do some yoga, meditation, often some nature hiking depending upon the location, maybe some horseback riding, might go down to the beach if there’s a local beach and paint ourselves up in clay. It really depends a little bit upon the retreat but we like to leave plenty of time around the ceremonies themselves for people to integrate, do some sharing circles and get to know each other better as well.
Psychedelics or plant medicine in itself isn’t necessarily positive, it’s neutral. It’s how we use this tool that makes such a fundamental difference.
How do you see this working for corporate people? I did notice through reading about you that you do use this in the corporate world as well that people are coming to you. I’m wondering even if athletes would really benefit from this.
The NHL, NFL and UFC are looking at this as a potential treatment option for a TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, which is quite pervasive, unfortunately, in those three sports. We’ve hosted a couple of people from the same team but we haven’t done any corporate retreats yet. There are risks, as you might recognize. There is a lot that’s happening underground, that we know of. It’s still a little bit early for most companies For companies who are smaller in size, more progressive and international, there’s a market but I also think it’s sensitive.
We have heard stories about people being pressured into participating in these types of ceremonies, by virtue of the fact that their CEO or maybe a couple of members of the leadership team are super excited about it or want to go do it as a team, which is not so beautiful. It’s very important that if, us and when corporates or companies are considering doing a leadership retreat or a retreat that’s done in a way that honors the individual decision-making, whether or not they’re ready for this to work. The whole team is brought on a journey together regardless of whether or not everyone’s doing the actual plant medicine work.
That I see is very important as this work does enter that world because it can be a very powerful tool for people who are in leadership teams, in particular, to get the ego out of the way, re-energize, reset a vision together, get excited about ten X goals and be creative in terms of their vision together. Once we get the ego out of the way, it’s amazing what human beings can do together.
From what I’ve been reading also here locally where psychiatrists are using this, they’re using it on people who are suffering from depression and anxiety that nothing else has worked and they’re seeing them be healed through using plant medicine. That’s what makes me so interested in it because this is something that a lot of people suffer from and if this is something that can help them finally. Being depressed and having no more hope as to anything helping you is very sad. They feel hopeless and now there’s something happening that can help them.
Psychiatrists, professionals and the medical world is recognizing this. That’s what I find amazing about it and that’s why I’m so intrigued by it. I can imagine someone who is looking to heal trauma, especially, to unleash that and get it out of them and experience this. I love what you’re doing. It’s something the people are going to start looking into a little more. They’re hesitant at the beginning because they don’t know much about it and you are playing with the brain. In the end, that’s what it is so people are like, “Do I really want to go down that route?”
There are a few things that we can talk about in relation to that. The first thing I’d share is that the way that we have defined mental health in the current paradigm is completely flawed. What we’ve done is we’ve set the bar for mental health at such a low level. What we’ve said is that anyone who’s below that level needs to go get help. There’s a need to go see a doctor, a psychiatrist or maybe go on a plant medicine retreat and then that will get them back up above this bar and at that point in time, they can get back to work and carry on living life.
Everyone that’s above this bar is fine, they can just carry on and that’s fundamentally not it. The way that I see this now is that everyone is at a level of consciousness and everyone can improve their level of consciousness. There is no upper bound to that. If I wind back five years, I was doing good in life. By any modern definition, I was doing well but I now see that I was really sick. There was so much room for improvement in the quality of life and cognition but you could not have convinced me under any rational agent. I thought that everything was good in my life from an outside-in perspective.
This is where some of the neuroscience is so important in relation to this work. The National Science Foundation did research that showed that a typical person has between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Almost all of their thoughts are egoic thoughts so I, me and my 95% of the thoughts are repetitive so they’re the same thoughts over and over again. For most people, 85% of those thoughts are negative. We think a lot, we think only about ourselves, we think the same things about ourselves and mostly bad things about ourselves.
There’s a sickness of the mind that is so deeply entrenched that most people when you share those statistics with them, they don’t even recognize that those statistics apply to them. The media is like, “That’s so sad that other people have that,” and then say, “I should’ve done this, not that,” and you’d go, “You just said you should have done this. You’re beating yourself up at that moment.” We have these negative self-parenting patterns that are so deeply entrenched and a hangover of what we saw from our parents, how they spoke to us, how we spoke to ourselves or some childhood trauma.
Some negative self-belief around us not being good enough or us not being lovable and that stuff runs deep for everyone, unfortunately. What this work represents is healing a lot of that early childhood trauma and overcoming the hangover from those things that are taking shape in our brains and damaging us in terms of quality of everyday life.
We only use 10% of our brain, supposedly. Does this stop into an extra percent?
I would frame it slightly differently. These medicines are neuro genetics so they do grow new neurons in the brain, which used to be thought impossible. That’s one of the things that are beneficial. The other thing that it does is it dampens down the default mode network of the brain. The default mode network of the brain is what allows a high degree of compartmentalization so if you’ve ever met someone who says, “I love my wife,” and he’s cheating on his wife, that’s an example of a physically compartmentalized brain.
Those are two incongruent thoughts that are coexisting within a single consciousness. That shouldn’t be possible. When people have these experiences and you dampen down this network of the brain then what you can see in an MRI scan is a massive degree of interconnectivity between regions of the brain that normally don’t communicate. This reconciliation that takes place across the brain is what leads to these realizations or these breakers, “I can’t say this thing,” and then go do this other thing because it’s not consistent with how a human being should live. That’s a large part of what leads to the healing and the realizations.
They’ve done studies before and after MRI like scanning or anything to see there’s a new synapsis. I love this topic so much.
You can see this in the brain if you do an MRI scan when Psilocybin is active, the challenge and the opportunity are to keep that degree of interconnectivity. Unfortunately, post-retreat, people are like, “I feel so great. I’m amazing,” and then three weeks later down the road, everything’s exactly back to normal. That’s why it’s so important to know what you’re trying to rewire in your mind.
You can go and have a whole bunch of rewiring done and then what tends to happen is that we’re overusing a very small subset of neural pathways. The reason for that is we’re all overwhelmed and stressed by the overwhelming complexity of modern life and so as an energy-efficient response to how overwhelmed we are, we begin to use patterns of thinking in order to deal with all this complexity.
We all know people in our lives that are so patterned in their thinking that if we were to present them some new piece of information, we already know how they’re going to respond to that. They’ve lost their neuroplasticity, deterministic in their thinking and lost their brain function in essence, which is terribly sad and so when we know and recognize the patterns of mind that are no longer serving us then we can step into the ceremonies.
We can have this rewiring take place and have a much higher chance of being able to overcome these deeply entrenched neural patterns that are overused the day by day and begin to reinforce and use these new pathways that we know are possible and are more of a reflection of who we truly are and our brain’s true capacity as opposed to just the overwhelm.
Just like we need exercise every day to build muscle, it’s the same thing with the mind. You want to strengthen that synapse or that connection in order for it to bypass eventually the one that you don’t like that’s keeping you in the bad habits. People don’t understand that it’s a daily thing and daily practice. “I’m not going to eat that chocolate,” you have to say it every day and after six weeks, which is where new habits are formed, you’re not craving that chocolate anymore.
You don’t even care for it anymore where before you’re like, “I have to have that chocolate.” I’m putting it at a different level so people can understand that this is how it is with what you’re doing and with anything mental. You have to practice it before, during and after the retreat and you have to continue doing it.
It’s a discipline and eventually, it becomes your thing. You don’t even realize that you’re doing it anymore because it’s your daily routine or habit now that it has been newly connected and strengthened enough for you not to have to go back to your innate ways of bad habits. For someone who’s experienced in one of the drugs, pick one whichever one you feel is for a beginner. What would they experience during those 10 or 20 minutes? What would that feel like for them?
Let’s talk about the powerful one, if you don’t mind because that’s the 10 to 20-minute one and it’s fun to speak about. That’s the God molecule, Bufo 5-MeO-DMT. It’s gaining a lot in popularity because it’s a cleaner medicine so it’s not hard on the physical body. There’s no bucket required as is the case with Ayahuasca. This medicine is smoked and it takes effect within 5 to 10 seconds. Reality itself breaks apart as we know it in front of our very eyes. During a breakthrough experience, we are joined with the universe so it’s a complete non-dual experience.
Subject-object, time and space are no more. We experience oneness with the universe and we can validate for ourselves that we are, in fact, part of the universe. The illusion of the separate self is just that, an illusion. It’s a very powerful experience. Once people understand that they tend to be able to 1) Release a lot of lower-level emotions. 2) It deepens their meditation practice. 3) They’ve seen the light, as it were and so it has a deep impact in terms of our understanding of self where we are not our minds and our bodies.
Returning the mind in particular to its rightful place in the hierarchy of self is super important. In modern culture, we are so overidentified with our minds. We think of ourselves as our minds and we’re not that. We’re something that’s much bigger and much more exciting. Giving people that experience that say, “This is what you really are. You’re way up here.” A mind is a beautiful tool that you have that sits in your head and you want to continue to use that and make it better but it’s not who you are. What you are is much bigger than that.
Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the most beautiful experience that can be had.
Can it become addictive?
These are very powerful experiences and there’s a lot to bring back, embody, make sense of and integrate into self before we feel like going again. Even doing three ceremonies over the space of a week is a considerable amount of work. That’s why it’s important to take a day between the ceremonies and bring it all back, bring it all down, do a lot of journaling, sharing, integration, work and maybe some breathwork.
That we can really ground ourselves and make sure that as we’re peeling off more of these layers of shame, guilt, fear, grief, apathy, pride, envy and anger, we’ve all got many layers of all of these emotions trapped in our physical body. As we’re releasing these layers of these emotions, we’re taking the time to anchor this new understanding of ourselves before we go again into another ceremony. They’re not addictive. You do hear of cases of people who begin to use these medicines as an escape.
I always encourage people to make sure that each of these experiences is so profound that it should be serving as a new foundation for an improved quality of life. If that’s not taking place and there’s more medicine work then pause reflection, reconsideration is an order. With some of our clients, I always say there are plenty of people out there who have done many years of plant medicine ceremonies and retreats. It’s even become part of their ego like, “I’ve done 150 ceremonies.” You’re still full of negativity and judgment. Within 30 seconds of a phone call, you’re complaining about this and that. It’s like, “Let’s take a step back.”
This isn’t about plant medicine anymore, it’s about improvements to the quality of life and so long as we keep that at the front and center of these experiences then that’s what honors the work. That’s what honors human beings because they should not be treated flippantly. When it is then the medicine responds in kind. There are plenty of people out there who are doing more of these plant medicines and psychedelics. Unfortunately, not everyone is taking it seriously.
I’ve spoken with many smart professional people in high places who have done this in the wrong context and completely disassociated from the experience and/or had traumatic experiences. They were at their friend’s place on Thursday and the friend was like, “Have you ever tried this?” “No, I haven’t but I’ve been meaning to,” “Let’s do it.” It’s not the right container for this work. It’s steep and sacred work. We’re talking about reaching places that have been spoken about by the mystics through the ages. Acceleration of these experiences is available to us and so treating these with the utmost respect and care is important.
Where are your retreats being offered?
Everyone is at a current level of consciousness and everyone can improve their level of consciousness. There is no upper bound to that.
Most of our work we do in Costa Rica, in Mexico, Netherlands and Portugal and we’ll be reopening in Peru shortly.
Where can people find you? Where can they get more information about you and what you do?
We’re on Behold-Retreats.com. There’s no Book Now button on our website. We like to get to know each and every one of our clients. All of our events are by invitation only so if this resonates, come through for a chat and we’ll see if we’re a good fit. If not, we like to try and put everyone in the best direction that we can. We’re not a fit for everyone but we try to make the best recommendations in the highest interest of the individuals.
Jonathan, this was a very informative and interesting episode. I thank you so much for being here and sharing your knowledge with everybody. I’m looking forward to getting to know more about your retreats and the world of plant medicine. I know more now than I did before and it is a great option for people who want to go that route. Thank you very much for being here and looking forward to getting to know your world a little more as time goes by.
Thank you so much.
- Behold Retreats