I once asked my physical trainer begrudgingly “how long am I supposed to workout for exactly?” His answer was an immediate “for the rest of your life.”
This is the line of reasoning, albeit uncomfortable, that holds true for my mental health.
My journey in accepting and ultimately being response-able (responsible) for my health is a lifelong commitment. The “psychedelic trip” was merely a starting point, not the destination.
My first psychedelic experience was purely recreational. I wanted to see what hallucinations were all about through my dilated pupils. My limited anecdotal knowledge on psychedelics was supplemented from hearsay, wikipedia, and Joe Rogan. Somehow, from a friend of a friend of a friend of a hopefully reputable dealer, I managed to get my hands on some magic mushrooms.
Hauntingly beautiful visuals aside, experiencing psilocybin opened my curiosity even further about altered states of consciousness and ultimately towards its medicinal benefits. Tripping out was one thing, but thinking about psychedelics as a healing tool was a different venture altogether. But I didn’t know where to start. It was overwhelming.
There is no map to guide the curious through psychedelic therapy. The current pseudo-legal framework in Canada — called SAP (Special Access Program) isn’t fulfilling the needs of severely ill Canadians to access their medicine.
Yet, psychedelic clinical trials are burgeoning with statistically significant results (see MAPS – Treating PTSD with MDMA assisted therapy). We are in dire need of robust solutions to our mental health. Despite the latency of a legal framework by the government, psychedelics may be the ultimate humane response to human suffering.
While we wait for our government to catch up, there are those who lead the way, namely two avant-garde psychonauts within the Asian community. This first part of my conversation is with the co-founder of Sisters in Psychedelics, Bea Chan.
Bea was born and raised in Surrey BC. Growing up she recalls being mocked by kids about the shape of her eyes. The “slit-eye” and ching-chong jeers were the racist taunts of the good old days (this is a pain I can recall all too well, even in my forties.)
“Most, if not all, minorities, women, and gay people…know that strain of loneliness well. Of walking into rooms where you are the only one of your kind.” David Goggins – Can’t Hurt Me.
Bea’s mom was a Chinese tiger mom, as such, she recalls being an obedient child. Her weekends consisted of piano lessons and Chinese language school. Although cannabis in Vancouver is considered a teenage rite of passage, Bea only smoked weed a couple of times.
Bea did what most dutiful Asian children are programmed to do: go to school, excel and excel some more to finally secure a great career. Yet despite following the Asian prescription to success, a gradual dissatisfaction with corporate life grew.
Bea experienced a tipping point of dukkha in her life. She quit the corporate job and bought a one-way ticket to Asia, searching for a deeper understanding and connection to her heritage and ultimately to herself. The quest for her roots led her to unearth something much deeper — her introduction to the mycelium.
During her travels in Pai, Thailand, Bea drank a mushroom shake. Her first magic mushroom experience was a very mild one, so she tried again (Bea realized later that her body had a much higher tolerance for psilocybin.). Her second experience was riskier as it involved a palm-sized amount of mushrooms along with a cocktail of MDMA and cannabis. Bea used the word “sketchy” and feeling “greasy” during our conversation of her early experiences. This made me chuckle. Psychedelics was an experience to check off on her life’s “to-do” list.
“I was curious. I was able to check that off my bucket list and I moved on to something else.”
That something else, ended up being a deeper relationship with plant medicine. As the pandemic hit, Bea wasn’t ready to go back home. She traveled to Mexico instead as the country was open to international travelers. It was there that Bea immersed herself in the knowledge and wisdom of like-minded people and teachers, learning about the intentional aspect of a psychedelic experience. An Ayahuasca ceremony amplified her inner work.
Another notable experience she recalls fondly is her visit/pilgrimage to Huautla de Jimenez, Maria Sabina’s hometown, where she attended a mushroom ceremony. This experience wasn’t what she had envisioned.
“I didn’t get the experience I wanted but I got what I needed, as the saying goes”.
Whatever you receive during a psychedelic experience is deeply personal. I would describe it as understanding a message in a unique language that is intelligible only to you, that you didn’t know existed. The beauty of a psychedelic experience is quite comical in a way.
Coming back home the integration of her psychedelic experience helped Bea find healing within herself and her familial relationships. A growth in one’s compassion muscle is a common altered trait of a psychedelic experience.
Bea started leaving messages of love to her mom and brother. She came to understand why there was a lack of emotional well-being growing up. Bea’s grandparents lived through the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). Her grandmother remembers running away from Japanese soldiers. Her grandfather was thrown in jail for being a teacher. Under the communist regime that followed, her mother developed a survival mentality where she wondered if there was enough food.
Generational and cultural gaps aside, Bea remarked that the word “Psychedelic” at its best is translated in Chinese as a hallucinogen with negative connotations (another translation Bea came across for psychedelic was “rising spirit”. Le mot juste!)
Although it was bizarre to describe her experience with mismatched words, her mom noticed the change in Bea’s demeanor. She encouraged Bea to have more of these ceremonies.
Integrating her psychedelic experiences into her life is a daily affair. As she prepares for the upcoming summit this September for Sisters in Psychedelics, her hope is to amplify and “elevate the feminine presence and invite more diversity into the psychedelic space”. The organization she co-founded with Dana Harvey puts an emphasis on local Vancouverites.
She recognizes Vancouver is in a special bubble when it comes to plant medicine. Indeed, there are even magic mushroom dispensaries open to the public.
As a final parting thought, I asked Bea what she hoped to see in the near future. More representation, she said, as we both lamented the lack of mentors in our respective psychedelic journeys. As a true entrepreneur, Bea is working to pave the way for the next generation.
For more on Sisters in Psychedelics, check out their webpage here and their upcoming summit happening this weekend