The traditions around plant medicine — whether it’s based in ayahuasca, psilocybin or San Pedro cactus – are thousands of years old, but that doesn’t mean the path to healing is a straight line for every participant. The experiences themselves can be transformational, leading to significant improvements in quality of life, but they can just as easily be overwhelming and confusing, limiting their overall impact.
Jonathan de Potter and his team at Behold Retreats are looking to bridge that gap, designing holistic, plant medicine programs that are tailored to each participant’s needs and preferences in order to ensure lasting results. Part of this is done through education, ensuring that everyone is ready to understand and process what they’re about to experience, and part of it involves follow up to make sure that the benefits of treatment don’t fade after the retreat is over and everyone goes home.
We recently talked with Jonathan about what his company is doing differently than most plant medicine retreat providers and what he sees coming next for the industry.
Psychedelic Invest: Let’s talk about Behold. What’s the idea you’re going after?
Jonathan de Potter: The model that we’re adopting was born out of my own first ayahuasca retreat experience, which was my first foray with psychedelics of any source. That was about four years ago now, and I felt that I wasn’t adequately prepared nor adequately supported going into or coming out of that experience.
I went in a bit of an angry atheist and I came out something substantially different. And what I say to people is that over the course of the retreat, which was fantastic, there were probably about 15 big things that came to me of which I probably properly integrated perhaps two or three of them.
There was a real loss of potential there, between the downloads that came and the big “aha” moments and my ability to actually convert that into sustained improvements in my everyday life.
Having spoken with friends and other people who have done their first experience — jumped on a plane and gone down to do a big retreat in Europe or in Central or South America — their experiences reflected mine in that much more subsequent work was actually required after the fact because of the lack of focus, particularly on the integration side. There’s also recognition that they got whacked pretty hard [by the experience] because they weren’t adequately prepared in term of really understanding what they were signing themselves up for. Some of the simple practices around breathing and grounding so that, as things get more intense, they can keep themselves with at least half of one foot in reality.
But these retreats are fantastic. They’re transformational for people who are able to afford them, but they really require a therapeutic wrapper around them. What we’re doing is bringing those two elements together. Our mission is really to deeply understand the individual — their needs, their goals, their preferences, where they are in life – to really understand the best kind of treatment for them. Are they suitable for plant-based medicine? If they are then what would be the right plant medicine for them? And then who would be the right therapist for them? What would be the right retreat experience based upon their budget, how much time they’d like to spend, etc.
We are a bit of a concierge service for that end-to-end experience, kind of a “retreat as a service,” to use some horrible tech language.
PI: Given that your first psychedelic experience wasn’t necessarily as fulfilling as it could have been. What does a therapist bring to the table that changes that?
JdP: Great question. Let me give you a few examples of things that I came out of the experience with. Some were real softballs like, “Oh, you have such a great relationship with your parents, here are recommendations ABC about how you could really take your relationship with your parents to the next level.” That’s great, that’s beautiful, and it’s easy to integrate that into action.
But then, going in as an angry atheist and seeing these entities, feeling surrounded by things from another world, what do you make of that? How do you begin to integrate that back into your life, because it’s identity shifting?
I did identify quite strongly as an atheist for many years and then having this sudden shift over just a few days, it requires some good guidance. I think these retreat centers have a lot of great people at them, but they’re not there with you over a sustained period of time. They’re there with you just for the period of the retreat.
The other element that I would bring into this is what I would describe as a reverting to your norm.
As you come out of your retreat and you fly back home, all of a sudden you’re surrounded by all of the conditions that were surrounding you pre-retreat. But who you are before your retreat and who you are after the retreat are typically quite different people. It’s very easy to revert back to the person that you were before when you’re surrounded with your wife or your screaming children and your work pressure and all of the conditions that shaped your everyday life.
By working with therapists what we see is that people can really do a lot more in terms of having a channel for sharing what’s arising post retreat and receiving guidance around how to navigate as they come back into their everyday lives and are tempted to revert to the character that they’ve been for X years.
Really our intention here is about maximizing the benefits to the individual. Some people come to me and say, “well, I’ve done 100 plant medicine retreats,” and my first reaction is “oh s**t, you’ve missed something.” I don’t think that’s the right answer for nearly anyone, just trying over and over again. That’s not going to work.
PI: Is that why it’s so important to educate people before they go through these experiences?
JdP: Go listen to 10 people’s stories on YouTube in relation to their ayahuasca experience, including the guy who completely lost it and had seven people dragging him down as he was trying to sprint through the jungle. It’s great that plant medicine is getting a lot of attention, but it’s also like, “slow down, let’s take the time and the energy to take this seriously.”
Again, it just comes back to being prepared. Starting a meditation practice so that you can come into that retreat experience very centered, very focused and ready for the biggest boxing match of your life.
PI: How is the market for this right now? Demand is rising, more people are aware of the options plant medicine has to offer. What are you seeing?
JdP: I’d say that under the global circumstances that we find ourselves in, people have been invited to turn within more than they might have before. I would say the significant silver lining around coronavirus has been that people have been put into a circumstance where they are looking within a bit more strongly than they would have in the past. And with that comes this emergence of a desire to improve the quality of everyday life.
I am not a silver bullet psychedelics guy, I think there are many ways and modalities that can lead us to improvements to quality of everyday life. But certainly, this topic is getting a lot of attention and certainly a lot of people have been drawn to it. I think there’s a real upswing at this time.
PI: Where is Behold holding retreats right now?
JdP: We have a number of retreat centers that we partner with, and we also host private retreats. In my opinion, a retreat can be a bit like buying a car — you can spend $10,000 and have a really nice retreat, or you can spend up to a million dollars for the experience. There’s not really a limit and there are substantial differences to the way that the work is done, as well as the benefits that can accrue.
But actually there’s a huge role played by the healers that generally goes underappreciated. There’s a general understanding that the healers are playing a very fundamental role at an energetic level during the ceremony, but that tends to get pretty passed over if you read any of the major publications. So, for those people who do come through Behold we do channel a small percentage of them who are in a position to do so toward some really exceptional healers.
For me personally, I probably did 10 or 12 plant medicine retreats, and I was making incremental gains along the journey. I was very happy with those incremental gains because they were significant to me at the time.
But the moment that I found a husband and wife therapist who do this at a very different level the benefits that were made available to me though working with them became very clear. It was very difficult for me to overcome the financial challenge, if I’m to be perfectly honest, but I trusted them as humans and overcame the normal hesitations and old world issues with lack of abundance.
PI: It’s always interesting that with all of the different structures that exist around plant medicine now, there’s really no substitute for the human side of it.
JdP: And it’s not just a human side in the sense that like these are some really nice people who really know cognitive behavioral theory and the Jungian map and all of that. This is really energetic work.
I don’t claim to be any sort of an expert in this space, but when I benefited from people who really understand the energetic aspects of this and they are working directly with you on a one to one basis, the words that came to me with tears streaming down my face was I’ve never felt so helped in my life. I’m not someone who accepts help easily, but it was just a transformational moment. It was beautiful.
PI: The flip side of this line of discussion is that some of these retreats have a reputation for being very expensive for regular people to access. Do you see at some point where plant medicine can be more accessible?
JdP: Absolutely. 100%. I sleep very well at night for the reason that by doing this work we’re helping people become far more heart-centered and other-oriented. That’s absolutely critical to our acceleration as a species.
Our overarching purpose within the whole world of retreats is to play a role in moving our planet to a more peaceful, sustainable, and abundance filled place. That is absolutely the mission.
For more information about Behold Retreats visit behold-retreats.com.