Spirituality, Psychedelics, and Psychotic Risk: Ryan Jay Beauregard and the Zendo Project

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Ayahuasca-inspired painting by Howard G. Charing, via Flickr Creative Commons

By Lydia Laurenson

Mar 20 2017 / / 1:15PM PST

“As a culture, our ability to hold paradox is missing.”

This interview is part of the Spirituality X project.

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Ryan Jay Beauregard

I met Ryan Jay Beauregard at the Burning Man Festival in 2016, where he was helping run the Zendo Project. The Zendo Project creates safe spaces for festival attendees experiencing psychological or psychedelic overwhelm. If people at the festival have a hard time processing their psychedelic experiences, then they can go to the Zendo Project to receive peer counseling and support.

Ryan Jay Beauregard

When I met Ryan at Burning Man, he told me that the Zendo Project also receives people going through major spiritual experiences. Sometimes those experiences are attached to psychedelic substances, and sometimes they aren’t. The Zendo Project also works with Festival Medical and Security to offer support for mental illness issues.

Before I get into the interview with Ryan, it’s worth noting that some thinkers believe mental illness can be part of spiritual awakening. For example, the Czech psychiatrist and consciousness researcher Stanislav Grof has written extensively about his belief that “many conditions which are currently diagnosed as psychotic and indiscriminately treated by suppressive medication are actually difficult stages of a radical personality transformation and of spiritual opening.”

This comes up when people talk about mental illness and spiritual practice. Meditation, for instance, is widely considered harmless — and yet meditation can lead to various types of mental illness. Here is a self-reported story from a meditator who had a psychotic break, and here is an article about Willoughby Brittain, a U.K. psychiatrist who researches “the dark night of the soul” that can result from meditation.

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