June 2nd, 2021

Episode #26 of the psychedelic leadership podcast

Ep. 26: Ego Whiplash, Spiritual Bypassing and Psychedelic Integration for Leaders with Dr. Kile Ortigo

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Laura Dawn speaks with Dr. Kile Ortigo about practical integration advice for the leaders of our time and the pitfalls of ego whiplash.

Kile Ortigo, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, certified psychedelic psychotherapist, and founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, where he offers depth-oriented psychotherapy and psychedelic integration services.

In this episode we talk about Kile’s book, Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration where Kile offers a powerful roadmap for integrating psychedelic experiences.

Kile talks about psychedelic integration for the leaders of our time, a term he coined called “ego whiplash”, spiritual bypassing, narcissism, the importance of shadow work and taking the time off for self reflection. Kile also discusses acceptance, how curiosity can only get you so far, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy surrender.

Laura Dawn [Intro]: My name is Laura Dawn and you’re listening to episode number 26 of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast, featuring my conversation with Dr. Kyle Ortego, who’s a certified Psychedelic Psychotherapist and author of the new book Beyond The Narrow Life, A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration.
 
Snippet: This is helpful and I think is in the spirit of these experiences and the medicine is a servant leadership mindset. Being a CEO of her company, leaving a retreat, or being a psychologist, working with someone one-on-one, even though that may be a position of ascribed power in some way, that we aren’t doing it for ourselves.  There’s something bigger than us, or greater than us that we’re engaging with this work. I think that the other important thing. When I think of leadership, it’s not these titles, it’s not these roles but we can all be a leader if we’re cultivating the deeper work. We’re doing the work ourselves of integration or developing a skill set to serve a broader community or purpose. That just by being an example of that work, we are providing leadership and we don’t need any title for that but just to be out there and be ourselves.

I call it ego whiplash, when talking about the integration process, what happens when you chase, ego death, you have it, you have a full-blown mystical experience, and you come back and you’re back in your job, and you got to work. Some so many people become self-appointed shamans or they become integration coaches after one psychedelic journey and that may be their path. And I don’t want to dismiss that but it takes a lot of work and in deeper reflection, about the downsides of doing, whether it’s psychedelics or trying to guide people and some of these journeys and experiences, there are endless levels of nuance and complexity. And I think being able to understand how we can all fall off the path, however, we want to define that is important.
 
I love this conversation with Kyle or Teego; there are some good gems in this episode, especially the second half of this interview where we talk about Psychedelic Integration specifically for leaders, regardless of what domain you find yourself in. So, we talk about acceptance, curiosity, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy surrender which I found interesting. And in the second half, when we focus more on the topic of leadership, we dive into the topics of Spiritual Bypassing and Shadow Work, as well as the importance of taking time for self-reflection. We also talk about narcissism and I commented on how we have a very negative view of narcissism in our culture these days and I wanted to include a little note here about what sparked that comment for me.

I recently listened to an interview with Tammy Simon on her podcast Insights at the Edge that I just love. And she interviewed Keith Campbell, on The New Science of Narcissism, which offered a broader and maybe a more balanced perspective on this topic and I won’t get into all the details here but I’ll include that episode of Insights at the Edge in the show notes. But in essence, we can see all of these personality traits like a spectrum, we want to fall somewhere in the middle because being too high, but also being too low on some of these traits, like openness or agreeableness or neuroticism can have advantages and disadvantages. And so I just wanted to mention this to prevent this mentality of just making these blanket statements like, that’s bad. And yes, we do need to be mindful and aware of the amplification of neuroticism, which does happen for some people when working with psychedelics. But I also want to just bring that balanced perspective here and I love this term that Kyle coined called Ego Whiplash. And I just love how words and concepts like this can help us become more aware of the drawbacks of working with psychedelics and what we need to pay more attention to.

And so I highly recommend checking out his book Beyond The Narrow Life. I love that title, published by Synergetic Press and I love that team over at Synergetic Press and I want to give them a big shout-out here because they’re doing awesome work. And they also offered a special discount just for you, our listeners of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast to receive 20% off the book with coupon code live free, and I’ll include that in the show notes.  So, I’m keeping this intro pretty short today but my heart is feeling full and inspired. And my three-month micro-dosing mastermind program is off to an amazing start, and it’s keeping me super full right now, and FYI, I’m still calling in a full-time Executive Assistant.

So please reach out to me if you feel called to explore that possibility. Through my website, live free Laura de.com and on my website, you can also access some amazing resources, as well as some awesome freebies, like my free playlist for Psychedelic Journeys and Beyond and my free eight-day micro-dosing course. I’m going to leave you with a song called Help Us Love by Mikey Pauker, who’s a dear brother on this path, and Yohana OneHeart. And help us love our shadow sides, help us love all parts of ourselves within the full spectrum of what it means to be human and I think that’s great advice for integrating our psychedelic experiences to bring a lot of loving-kindness and self-compassion to ourselves on this path, on this journey, and I think that’s the key.

If we want to learn how to love our neighbors and love other people who trigger us, for example, I think it starts with ourselves but don’t be too obsessed with loving yourself because that would make you a narcissist, just kidding but not really. Without any further ado, here is my wonderful conversation with Kyle or Teego who offers wise integration advice for the leaders of our time.

Laura Dawn: Welcome, Kyle Ortego, this is so nice to have you here on the show today. Thank you so much for joining me.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: It’s an honor to be here. I’ve started listening to the podcast and I’ve appreciated a lot of the topics, conversations, what you’re putting out there, some critical conversations that we’re all meaning to have about this space, and just the world at large right now.
 
Laura Dawn: Thank you, that means so much to me and I haven’t covered the topic of Psychedelic Integration especially from your unique vantage point, so I’m looking forward to this conversation. And so you’re a Clinical Psychologist, you’re a certified Psychedelic Psychotherapist and founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, and you also recently just published a book, I think it’s coming out this month by Synergetic Press, and big shout out to all the folks that Synergetic Press, it’s such a wonderful crew over there and your book is called Beyond The Narrow Life: A Guide For Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration. It’s quite the title, Kyle. So why this title and what does it mean?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: It’s interesting for a lot of authors and I’m one of them, is you write a book, it could be 50 100,000 words, and coming up with the titles, the hardest part, out of all of it. And that one was when I came up for my final chapter which was Beyond The Narrow Life, my publisher liked that and I thought once they recommended it as the main title because that was the destination of this journey that I had set up for the reader. And there are a few different layers of meaning which are appropriate when we talk about psychedelics and existential thought, I think.

Fundamentally meant to me initially was looking beyond a life that’s very narrowly defined and confined in terms of one’s sense of perspective, and possibility, and meaning. And so the final chapter dives into creativity including creative problem solving, symbolic expression, and just what your life can be when all of those training wheels are taken off after you do some of the deeper work. So, that’s a fundamental theme of the book and what the journey is about but we all know with all journeys, you can’t skip to the end, you have to go through the process of unfolding and that’s what the book fundamentally tries to do for every reader.
 
Laura Dawn: There’s so much I want to dive into here and you talk about the reader as a hero. So, going through this journey, reading through the book to arrive at this end chapter Beyond the Narrow Life, so what do you mean by the reader as a hero?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: The hero is an archetype. So thinking about Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, those are two theorists that have influenced me. So, when we talk about archetypes, we always have to have this caveat that we’re talking about, a form without strict content. There are many different types of heroes, there are many stories of heroes, and there are many ways to be a hero as an individual in our world, so the first and most fundamental that applies to everyone who I was speaking to in the book is the reader, the protagonist of a story. And from an existential perspective too, we are the authors of our story, our life choices, and then what unfolds for us, so emphasizing that sense of agency and individuality, was a big part for me.

But when we think about what a hero is, in its more fundamental core, I think, at least how we talk about it and most of our societies are the hero is someone that protects their community, they protect people that they love, they care for and they do so in a variety of ways. But primarily, the fundamental core hero from Joseph Campbell’s work, at least is not someone by the end of the story, at least that’s fighting for their motivation, or causes that are very much driven by the ego, or success, or pride or things like that. They’re fighting for something larger, something more meaningful, and something that does help others.
 
Laura Dawn: That’s beautiful. I find it so fascinating that just a few years ago, we never heard anyone talking about plant medicine integration, psychedelic integration, and now it’s becoming almost part of our common vernacular, it’s amazing to see, in a sense, the way the movement is growing up and maturing and taking more responsibility around how we can integrate these experiences into our everyday lives. And it’s nice that now we’re sort of all coming out of the closet and meeting in the light and having these open conversations. I know for a long time, I was very alone in my process around integration, I had to cultivate my integration practices and as my listeners have heard me say before, and my mind likes to think in Venn diagrams. And so a huge influence, in terms of my integration has been Eastern philosophy and Pema children is one of my primary teachers, and I hear her voice in my head all the time.

And it’s been such a big influence, not just for my integration, but the work I do with other people and she always says, the spiritual journey, in essence, is going from narrow mind to open mind. And so to me, there’s just such a strong overlap with even that body of wisdom and transpersonal psychology, and the way that we move beyond our narratives to think bigger, and which has motivated me to go back to graduate school and get this degree in Creative Studies, and change leadership and looking at the overlap between Creative Problem Solving and Psychedelic. So, I love that you’re taking this from a slightly different angle but what were some of your big influences here? If we were to pop up a Venn diagram here, what big circles would be on the table?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I love that you bring up that image because it guides me all the time because I had such wide interest as well and there are so many different opinions out there about everything, including what psychedelic integration is, what’s the role of psychedelics in the individual journey versus community? And I like to the indigenous versus science, that’s a big one that we’re having some important critical conversations about too. So, I do think of a Venn diagram and I like to place my bets on those places that there’s overlap, where there are many different pathways to get to a similar conclusion, one of those examples that I know you’ve talked about, I think, in your podcast before is interconnectedness. How do you deny interconnectedness from any of these different angles, even if we go from a strictly materialistic conservative science point of view? 

But I think that was the challenge of writing this book right now, is there are a lot of opinions out there, there are a lot of controversies, and there are different ideologies about even just the nature of reality itself and places that I think we can find overlap, but that’s hard. There’s a lot of ambiguity that we have to tolerate when trying to navigate these various worldviews and perspectives and for me, types of readers, that’s very much something that I do in my clinical practice, too and I think, just by mere exposure from a variety of people, we begin to have these conversations.

But what I was trying to do in the book is not make some argument about the fundamental nature of reality, or say that psychedelic integration means you do step 12345, like some people like to do, while recognizing that’s helpful to have a structure, even if it’s a structure that you fight against or you argue against sometimes that’s part of the creative process itself. So, I think science was important to me because I’m a Ph.D. doctor in Clinical Psychology and science was so much a part of our training, at the same time as art was important in the therapeutic process itself.

It’s not that you throw treatment manuals at someone, and they automatically get better by trying to weave in some of the perspectives of science, what are some of the places that we can have some level of confidence about what we know about the nature of reality, while also recognizing that there’s a lot of mystery out there to play with? And I think that’s where the creativity came in for me as an author, and why it was fundamental, or writing the book and helping someone go through these journeys that they are a part of that process too, I didn’t want to take the perspective of, here’s this psychologist, or here is this guy telling you what reality is or what a psychedelic integration is, but here are some ideas and exposing people to a broad swath of perspectives and things that have been helpful for me. And then ask the questions, how does this apply to your life? That’s why I start with cosmic awareness. What is the sheer magnitude of the cosmos and space and time mean to you as an individual living now?

Going to that question is more important than explaining the quantum theory to a reader but it’s that relationship that I think is built over time that we build with ourselves and others. So the overlapping circles, depends on what are those other circles for me and the reader, it was cultivating this very special relationship through writing, and why I tried to think of myself as being just another person along the path with them, not the expert coming in but helping guide as I’m learning from them, too, that’s how I do my clinical work. So, that’s how I wanted to do my writing as well.
 
Laura Dawn: So, how do you define psychedelic integration? What’s your definition?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: From a very basic standpoint, I think it’s helpful to start there is just bringing to life the lessons or experiences that you receive during a psychedelic journey and it’s an art of translation, I think, fundamentally, and translations always imperfect. So for some people, especially those having a very profound mystical experience that integration process depends on what their life is like already, like before and immediately after the journey. And I think I’ve spoken to some people who believe that integration happens naturally and organically after having a powerful experience and I think to a certain extent, that’s true. But I also have spoken to people who’ve reached out to me for integration support and their problem is they had a beautiful sense of interconnectedness and deep meaning, and it opened their eyes to possibility and so nothing about the journey itself was challenging.

But the challenge was, they worked in this job that was not meaningful to them or was about material success and so that was the work of integration was figuring out this conflict, and what the implications of this experience were for them. But like a lot of people, this person ended up canceling or not showing in the first meeting and I never heard back from them again, which happens that it’s scary to think about integration that challenges one’s worldview and life circumstances but that’s one example of how it applies. But it’s always unfolding. I think that is something that wouldn’t be too controversial to say that there are people even after having hundreds of psychedelic journeys, who’re still integrating that first experience which is so powerful for them, but it is a meaning-making process too, I think in a practice.
 
Laura Dawn: Right, meaning-making and that I think, is the process of what it means to be alive. And I love a lot of what Charles Eisenstein has to say about that and the conversation that we had on the podcast was interesting about going through the journey and then having to face life and going from this very interconnected experience to this world of separation and this world of disconnection that we live in. And so I’m curious as someone who supports people through integration, where do you balance the take your time in making big decisions, going through the psychedelic journey, and then being like, I need to quit my job. Where do you support people in slowing down in the process and following through with the actions that they know intuitively that make the most sense for them to step into the right relationship with their lives?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: These recommendations that we all have about not making impulsive decisions are critical, when it’s also balanced with using that energy, that knowledge, that insight to good effect and I think that taking the time is obvious here. But what that means is time that you’re actively reflecting on and working with, whatever that move is that you’re trying to make, whether it’s realizing a relationship, not as connected and deeply satisfying a right for you, to have I not tried yet to improve the relationship? I’m a therapist, so I might recommend couples therapy, or doing some deeper work on communication, see if something salvageable there because it’s often not that we get the conclusion in a journey or experience but we get illumination about something that’s not quite working.

But the time to reflect and use our minds, those cognitive abilities to the good effect of trying to think about the pros and cons of making a move, how you might do it. And then let’s say, that initial impulse to break up or to quit the job was the right one, after doing this reflection, then the time is used to plan, so that you reduce the likely harm to yourself and others by making that move, making that next step. So, it’s not necessarily about changing the final decision, but how to approach it so that you improve the likelihood of a successful watching-off, or then you might have a relationship or something that’s not working for you anymore.
 
Laura Dawn: So in addition to all of the basic recommendations that most people make around integration, which is; take your time, get rest, eat healthily, sometimes I recommend that people don’t just jump back into their sort of, quote-unquote, everyday reality, maybe take a little bit of spaciousness before, if you let’s say, go to an Iosco retreat for 10 days, have a halfway house before going back home that could be one recommendation. So, in addition to sort of all of the foundational basics, what would you say, let’s put a conceptual roadmap on the table here, what’s a framework that you’re suggesting, working with your clients, and in the book that people can sort of get a good tangible sense of through this conversation?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Well, the book is the most structured because it’s written with chapters, all these things create that sense of safety and linearity and the process is very nonlinear, so I think we can go there. I structured it in terms of three main phases for the entire journey, and the first was expanding awareness and I had metaphorical allies and attitudes for each of those arcs and the attitude there was one of curiosity, so to help us expand our awareness, we need to work on cultivating that sense of curiosity. And the second was confronting the deeper existential trials of initiation, these deeper questions that we all have to face as humans and they deal with impermanence, death, casualty loss, the interconnectedness versus isolation, loneliness, alienation, and finally versus meaninglessness or absurdity, how to navigate those in that attitude to help with those deeper questions and to avoid spiritual bypass was one of acceptance. And then the final arc was integrating the insights into one’s life and to a broader sense of self-capital, self-thinking from young and his model of individuation, primarily and the attitude that was cultivated through those three chapters is one of wisdom by putting all these insights into practice, and recognizing the endless nuance in it.

So, that’s my model for integration and I used it and created it because it parallels the phases of the hero’s journey for your readers or listeners that know that Joseph Campbell’s work, and it also paralleled the phases of psychedelic psychotherapy. So, I like having all those overlapping circles since we were talking about that earlier, and where that is a little bit different than probably most models of integration is that most models of integration are focusing on the third phasor what happens after the ceremony but I think this is cyclical; it’s not a linear process. So, for people who’ve had multiple journeys or haven’t had any journey at all this work of integration, what we’re calling psychedelic integration is available to all of us and it’s a journey that we can repeat. And going into these deeper questions and coming out the other side, putting whatever gems that we found into practice.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that. I don’t know if you tuned into the solo episode I did just on cultivating the mindset of curiosity because I think that is such a big way that we train our minds to think bigger that is beyond the narrow life, that is narrow mind to open mind, it’s the bridge. And we can draw upon questions that help us to engage in that sense of curiosity and wonder, open-mindedness, open-heartedness and I think we need that, especially right now through this time of separation and polarization and division. So, let’s go into the second category, the second phase. I also love this term impermanence. I did episode number four, on bowing at the altar of impermanence, let’s talk about this.

You are the founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, you cannot I’m sure go through that exploration without making peace with this fundamental reality of impermanence, so let’s talk there. What are some of the suggestions that you’re encouraging people to take action around, maybe questions of inquiry that people can lean into, any direction you want to run with that?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I know for my practice, that existential exploration is just such a big bucket and for most people, I say, you come to see me, it does involve questions around relationships, either that alienation they have or lack of true intimacy with others, usually those things are connected themselves, loss, but more often than not a lack of meaning and life is what the lack of purpose, that’s what is a part of their presenting concern. I came to existential thought when I was pretty young but what I like to highlight that has become important is that a lot of people assume existential thinking and these existential dilemmas and questions are leading people to nihilism.

And the existential fight is not about nihilism, it rejects nihilism for the most part, which is a giving up, a complete unhealthy surrender. So what I think has been helpful for me is thinking about these in terms of trials, these are things that we all do confront in life, we all have to face the loss of the people that we love or connected to, we all have to think about our mortality, that sets the stage just from a temporal standpoint of time, we have finite time, we don’t know when our time is up and that’s scary for most of us if we’re being honest about it.

But if we were to confront that and bring that into our conversation, and what we do for the day, what we do for the week, the month on the years, then I think it shifts our perspective from our self and trying to avoid thinking about these scary things, to opening up to possibility as all these themes are connected to me, and I think they are for other people, but maybe in different pathways. Perhaps it’s the loneliness that is that initial spark of exploration that if you can trigger that, then they go into these questions of what is a meaningful connection. What is a meaningful relationship? How do I get there? And then we can get into the practicality of it. So, I think if we confront these things with some sense of courage, it’s not that fear goes away but to have some courage about it and to question, to bring in that curiosity again, as we explore, then we will find things that we will have to think about and realize that we’ll have to accept, so that’s why acceptance was such an important attitude there. Because curiosity can take us so far, but sometimes it fails, in the toughest of times, with a loss that is just too deep. It can bring us part of the way.

I think having some understanding of what it is that we have to accept about a loss, or about not knowing what the fundamental nature of reality is, or what our life’s meaning is, is there only one path to finding life’s meaning or not? I think that’s when we begin to open up to all the areas of life that we do have agency, we do have a sense of play that we can create something, and that sense of possibility, I think is where it naturally evolves.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that you just framed that as like curiosity can get us only so far because we can get lost in what is the purpose, and why am I here and even that can be very disorienting if we just get sort of stuck in curiosity and moving beyond curiosity, trans curiosity, is like looking at acceptance and making peace and you also referenced unhealthy surrender, which means that you also have a framework around healthy surrender. So, I think that there are all of these additional sorts of components that we need to look at, that curiosity might start the journey, but acceptance, making peace with life is a big part of that. And so how do you encourage people who are in that sort of arc of the hero’s journey, what are some of the anchor points that we can draw upon to help us sort of draw meaning to bring greater fulfillment and purpose into our lives?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I think what happens sometimes for people who are feeling losses for some time, they might have taken on the mantle of someone else’s sense of purpose or meaning, they emulated the heroes or their favorite models, ideas, even mythology, religion, and it didn’t quite fit, or there is some mismatch there. But I think what I see and what is something I do with all my clients is bring in this exploration of one’s values, things that feel intuitively right and true and important, especially when we can explain them away.

So, being able to put aside our thinking mind sometimes and go into our heart, and our intuition is part of that process for me. So the acceptance, though, is the Serenity Prayer, I think that one’s a nice one and it’s used a lot and people who have addiction issues, it’s fundamental in AA but there’s some version of that, that I think is in a lot of wisdom, teachings around the world but finding that line between what we need to accept and what we have to ask the agency to change is critical. And I think when I said, unhealthy surrender, I’m thinking of avoidance, like some form of avoidance, like giving up your sense of responsibility, for whatever reason because it feels a bit more comfortable, not to take action or not to try to create change, which inertia is a real thing, so the presence of it and lack of it.

So this is something that modern psychotherapy has confronted explicitly to be that avoidance can reinforce these negative behavioral patterns and prevent us from growing and expanding and finding that sense of agency again. So these personal values are the compass that we can follow when we’re trying to navigate this terrain of things that we are outside of our control and things that we might have control or influence on and the things that we have control and influence with. So, in a relationship, since I use that as one example earlier, we only have influence over how we phrase something, how we communicate our feelings, our needs and we can be the best expert at communication, might say, you can be a psychologist who does this with their clients and it’s still challenging, but even when you do it at an expert level, the person has to respond, it’s a give and take.

So, communication is a good example of that but all these life decisions, I think this just dances back and forth. And they’re the question of like, are a healthy relationship or not, is one where you try it out? You try on these different ways of communicating actively trying to open up, be more authentic to take some risk, build some intimacy and trust, and then if the other person just isn’t there yet, they can’t respond in that way. Then the question goes to can I accept that there are limitations, or do I need something more? So, that’s how acceptance I think plays out in one of those examples, it’s a common thing in my work as a psychologist, is relationship challenges.
 
Laura Dawn: Interesting and their notion of healthy surrender versus unhealthy surrender make me think of this notion in Eastern philosophy around healthy non-attachment, like holding it lightly versus being detached and it’s so nuanced, it’s tricky.  It’s the topic of spiritual bypass, it’s just so nuanced and so tricky. I want to talk about spiritual bypass in a moment but before we get there, I’m just curious, like, speaking to this topic about leadership.  So people who are working with psychedelics, and we know now, so many people are stepping into this space, working with psychedelics, whether they’re leaders in the psychedelic space, or whatever domain that they find themselves in, especially for leaders. What do you think are the key things that people should be thinking about in terms of psychedelic integration for all leaders, regardless of what domain they’re in?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I do think spiritual bypass is one of those, so we’ll talk about that. So I think understanding spiritual bypass, understanding avoidance of complexity and nuance, I think to be a leader in this space, probably accounts for most spaces, you have to be able to dive deeper into complexity. And not knowing that curiosity, again, is so helpful with that and recognizing that there are pieces of the puzzle that all of us have, and the people who may not be in a leadership position, but they have a lot more information that you don’t have, even though you may be the leader of a company or retreat, it’s respecting that difference and that this complexity offers so many opportunities for all of us to be involved. I think with leadership in psychedelics, there are so many controversies going on as psychedelics become more mainstream, and capitalism and indigenous culture versus Western culture.

There are some critical conversations that we’re having I know you have and I appreciated listening to you and your guest’s riff on this stuff. But I think what is helpful and I think is in the spirit of these experiences in medicine is a servant leadership mindset, that being a CEO of a company, leading a retreat or being a psychologist, working with someone one-on-one, even though that may be a position of ascribed power in some way, that we aren’t doing it for ourselves, there’s something bigger than us, greater than us that we’re engaging this work with. That’s not always the case, I think recognizing that, too, as part of this challenge of bringing this concept of spiritual bypass to the broader world is that people can talk the talk, we can talk the talk, I can talk the talk but I need to be able to be critical of my actions and my sense of integrity and authenticity, as I enter into these new relationships with others, regardless of what my position is and I think that’s the other important thing.

When I think of leadership, it’s not these titles, it’s not these roles but we can all be a leader if we’re cultivating the deeper work if we’re doing the work ourselves of integration, or developing a skill set to serve a broader community or purpose that just by being an example of that work, we are providing leadership. And we don’t need any title for that but just to be out there and be ourselves. 
 
Laura Dawn: When we were talking last week, you made a good point about just how you frame leadership, you can lead from the front. Do you want to keep running with that sentence?

Dr. Kyle Ortego: I have a lot of stories in my life where I like, this is from high school that I got introduced to this model but I don’t remember anything about that week. It was a leadership week that I grew up in the south and in the south, we have boys state and girl state and there you get to nominate for them. I think they are teachers for your leadership ability and then you go and at least in Arkansas, it was going to listen to a lot of politicians talk about being leaders, which isn’t always, the right model necessarily that we’d want. But the one thing I remember about that whole week was this model of leading from upfront within and behind as three types of leaders. The leading upfront is what most of us think about is the charismatic leader, the CEO, the person giving the TED talk, and they’re trying to inspire, to direct and that’s a traditional at least in the west form of leadership. Leadership from behind is more like a shepherding, so it’s someone who may be a part of a team or a community, they have a sense of the vision but the leadership style is to help the team work through the issues or set the task and work on executing them.

And then the leader from behind is just gently guiding when necessary but it’s a bit more hands-off. Leading from within is being actively a part of the team, part of the community and you’re working on your piece of the puzzle that you’re passionate about, or something that speaks to your skillset and those qualities of authenticity, I talked about meaning these personal values, like you’re cultivating those in this setting, whether it’s work or another type of community and you’re supporting others who are doing the same thing. Not the same thing as you are, but following their path and so you’re helping, encouraging them, you’re leading by example but you’re ideally in a group of people where you’re all feeding off of each other’s positive energy and learning and talents and coming together, and not needing to be told what to do either from a front or behind. I appreciate that model probably the most.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that. And so do you think that one person can learn how to embody all three leadership styles and that’s the most beneficial is to learn how to draw upon the right one at the right time?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I do think generally in life, that’s a helpful strategy is to get a lay of the land and try these different hats on for yourself. There’s a part of this, that’s just personality too, what would play to your strengths. But if you want to be a leader, then I do think it’s helpful to have an understanding of how others can be leaders in different ways than you are. That we need to match these different styles with our personalities, the problem that we’re working on, our cultural context that we’re in, and our co-workers, colleagues, and friends, and family. So, I do think it’s nice just to know, even if you don’t try on all those different hats, which would be great if you could, just so that you can respect and see leaders who are doing it in a very different way than you are.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that. And so for people who are leading from the front, and might have more of a tendency towards ranking a little higher on the scales of narcissism, and we can also have healthy narcissism, it’s not necessarily a fully, quote-unquote, bad thing. I think we have a very negative connotation of narcissism in our culture right now, especially. And I think we are seeing this pattern of people who are higher on narcissistic tendencies to sort of have that quality enhanced after psychedelic journeys. And so there is an interesting place where you know, psychedelics, and leadership can potentially fuel higher degrees of narcissism. What are your thoughts on that, and any words of advice for people to pay a lot of attention, become very aware if you might fall into that category?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I do talk about this a little bit in my book too when talking about the shadow. And there are so many different angles to take. But I would start with a practice of self-reflection and that is hard for people who, like CEOs are busy.  All of us are busy now especially for leading in one way or another, to take some time off so that you can set aside your action steps and in your meetings, and ask some of these more challenging questions about your direction that you’re going in. The things that you think you’re doing well, the things that are more challenging for you, because we all have challenges, we all have character qualities that are double-edged swords.

They work in some ways and they’re very beneficial, and then they can also hurt us and our team, I call it ego whiplash. When talking about the integration process, what happens when you chase ego death, you have it, you have a full-blown mystical experience and you come back and you’re back in your job and you got to work? There are so many people who become self-appointed shamans or they become integration coaches after one psychedelic journey.

And that may be their path, I don’t want to dismiss that but it takes a lot of work and deeper reflection about the downsides of doing whether it’s psychedelics or trying to guide people and some of these journeys and experiences, there are endless levels of nuance and complexity. And I think being able to understand how we can all fall off the path, however, we wanted to find that is important because although in a psychedelic experience, we may feel very special or like a hero for example or part of the cosmos, if we feel like we’re more special than other people, it becomes a dominance hierarchy, I think that’s the ego taking over and telling us things that we want to hear.

There’s a trickster quality of psychedelic sometimes and I think that’s why a community around integration is helpful because we can see how other people are confronting these complexities and see some examples, unfortunately, to have people struggling. And we’ve seen that with the QAnon Shaman is one example that’s been out there in the news earlier this year and I don’t know his full story, from what I’ve heard, he didn’t seem like an awful narcissistic guy all the time, no one is, always, more one way or the other. But it’s easy to go down a path that’s more violent or destructive or harmful to society, even when we think we’re doing something right.
 
Laura Dawn: It just requires a tremendous amount of humility, which isn’t always easy. We have these big experiences and then it’s like we just want to like champion psychedelics and we’re seeing so many people do that right now. And it’s just amazing to see the way that psychedelics are having such a big influence on our culture right now and we do have to just hold it with just so much humility and groundedness and it’s not always easy to do that. So, I think the community is a big piece of that and just having people that we trust to give us honest reflections to help check ourselves and grow in our communities, I think is essential. Let’s talk about spiritual bypassing, how do you define it? And let’s dive into it.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Spiritual bypassing it was coined by John Wellwood, he was a Psychologist and Existential Buddhists, thinkers, and teachers too. And in its broadest form, it’s using spiritual concepts or ideas as a temporary or less than a temporary way to cope with some deeper distress or pain or difficulty confronting the darker side of life or community or the cosmos, if we want to expand out all the way. And some examples that we hear in spiritual and psychedelic communities is, it’s all love, all is one. It’s these concepts like interconnectedness, that I think are fundamentally true oftentimes, but then they become some platitude or some way of escaping difference, or harm that’s done indiscriminately because to certain people in a community for looking at interconnectedness.

So, I think confronting spiritual bypass is part of what Shadow Work does and that’s another term that gets thrown around, a phrase Shadow Work. But I think having an eye on what the shadow is, at least in theory, and then seeing some examples is one way to do that. The shadow is just that which we don’t know about ourselves, or about society or nature, that’s a non-judgmental way of looking at the off and things are in the shadow because there is some judgment, like even going all the way out to the problem of evil. How do we confront that? And so in that example, all is love, yet we live in a world where there’s so much violence and not only murder but assault, there’s so much pain that is not a manifestation of love, at least how we think about it every day.

So, when these phrases or these ideas are used as a way to skip over the deeper work, the harder work, we do play with complexity and nuance and challenge and ambiguity and not knowing, I think that’s where we get into trouble. And that’s why like a self-ordained shaman is probably not the best way of going about that model because we do need to recognize that our egos are always active, no matter how many ego death experiences we might have had, that we assimilate some of these ideas in ways that are easier to hear or if it’s not easier to hear it, it works already with our pre-existing belief system and worldview.
 
Laura Dawn: It’s funny, as you were starting to talk about the spiritual bypass, my mind just drew a big circle with spiritual bypass overlapping with Shadow Work, it’s just where my mind went and then you mentioned Shadow Work. So, I mean, there’s so much to say here about this, we could probably talk for hours just about this topic but, I think it’s helpful for people to remember that anything can be used as a method to move away from, rather than make contact with. You can meditate for 20 years as a very powerful tool for spiritual bypassing and just even recognizing that is profound, and just mind-blowing in a certain way. So, if it’s in the shadow, though, if we’re doing it unconsciously, if we’re moving away unconsciously, how do we start to bring the content of the shadow into the light? Do we need psychedelics for that? Is it a process of inquiry? Are there questions we can use? What do we do to start getting ourselves on the path of looking at what’s in the shadow?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Really important question I will say, no, we don’t need psychedelics to do that but that’s, true of most things. People don’t need psychotherapy to do that and it’s helpful. I think what we do need when it comes to Shadow Work, is other people and they’re always involved because the shadow is first and foremost, once it’s formed, projected onto others. So, any form of othering in black and white thinking about groups of people or a specific person, that’s a clue I think, to look into your shadow.  What is it, that you’re projecting onto them or that you see in them that is also speaking to some underlying insecurity or place of hidden motivation that you have in yourself?

And that’s a hard question to ask and grapple with but it’s one that I think is important. It’s not that the shadow stops getting projected onto others. I think that’s just such a well-worn path, it’s one of the ways our ego can protect itself, that having some compassion for yourself and other people about that is important. If you can have some compassion for yourself, then you can recognize how you might be suffering, or you might have a fear that you’re holding or self-doubt, and that you’re trying to escape that. But if you cultivate this compassion for yourself, and then that would expand to other people, you can begin to do some of this deeper exploration about what your shadow is, how it shows up, and then how other people’s shadows show up and what may be projected onto you too, right outside.
 
Laura Dawn: I want to get there in a second, but give us a concrete example. So you’re saying, projecting onto other people, so concrete for example, how do I know that my shadow is surfacing? I am saying what, to someone else?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I would say even before you say something to someone else if you’re watching TV, or you see something on social media, or you see a clip of a politician that thinks something very different than you if you have this physical embodied response of agitation, anger, frustration, even hate outrage, that those are probably good signals to pick up on before you say anything. And of course, live a situation with someone you might be saying something already before you even notice those precursors.  So hate is one example I think it’s the most uncomfortable to talk about, especially when we’re discussing issues around love, interconnectedness, but it is one of those human emotions and attitudes that can develop over time, too. So, that’s a relatively extreme example.

But, let’s say you’re at a psychedelic conference, and various speakers are coming up on stage, and then there’s someone that comes up, maybe you knew them before, maybe you don’t, and they’re talking and there’s something that’s just unsettling to you about what they’re saying, or how they’re saying it. And it’s not just an intellectual thing, Shadow Work isn’t just intellectual, it’s primarily emotional. And you notice this agitation, this intensity of response to you, you look to your neighbor, they may be having a fine time, or it may be a completely neutral conversation or topic or presenter. So that’s a sign to you if you’re having a different reaction than other people, doing some reflection about what is it that they’re triggering in me? We were talking about narcissism earlier, are they talking like they’re an expert? Is that triggering something in me about not wanting to come off that way? Is there a part of me that is jealous or envious of them having this state of the mind? Now, these are the types of questions and maybe an example that fits with that.
 
Laura Dawn: That’s great. I was waiting for you to use the word trigger, you used a whole bunch of other words, and then you didn’t quite use the word trigger yet.  I was thinking in my mind, and that’s also very similar to I don’t know, if you’re familiar with Pamela’s teaching, well, it’s actually choking him Trump of rubbish is teaching on Shampa. And Shampa is the trigger, it’s like how we get hooked to this pre-verbal. The Eastern philosophy for me is fundamental, it just relates to pretty much everything else that we see out there, or at least the way it works, in my mind anyway. But this notion of Shampa is like how we get hooked, it’s pre-verbal, it’s this tightening that we feel, and the more that we pay attention to that I think that’s also a helpful roadmap towards Shadow Work. It’s sort of the entry and we want to immediately cover over it and bolt and push it away, I’m justified, come on! That person on the stage is saying things, this is irresponsible. I’m justified in what I’m saying, we cover over it, in all these ways but it is the entry point.

Now, here’s my question for you. Pema always jokes about when you start working in the community with other people, where it’s like, I see you’re Shampa. So it’s like, I see your Shadow Work, but how as either a coach, a colleague, a leader, a friend, who’s seeing shadow come out of somebody. Any suggestions for how do we hold space for that?  It’s like, I see your shadow that’s coming out of you right now. But how do we do that in a way that’s not public shaming, that’s not detrimental but supportive for everyone’s learning and growth and transformation?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: One of the things, you spoke a lot about internal family systems therapy, or in any other guests, any point
 
Laura Dawn: Well, I had Jim Fadiman and Jordan Gruber on talking about Symphony of Selves which has a lot of overlap, but I haven’t had anyone specifically from IFS come.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: So well, I’ll just say internal family systems therapy is been used a lot with MDMA therapy for PTSD but it was developed outside of that. And the quick version of the model is that there are different parts of ourselves and they have different relationships with one another and one of the strategies of internal family systems from the therapeutic model is to ask permission, from the parts of ourselves, let’s say that protect our parts of ourselves, to speak more directly to the exiles, which I frame as their version of the shadow in IFS. So when we’re doing that work with ourselves, we can ask permission from the other parts of ourselves that have the defensive armor up and like ready to fight or project to asking like, Can we lay those arms aside and then work with whatever the exile is. But that process of asking permission, from someone is important because it’s important to respect someone else’s agency and their emotional state.

If this is a close friend of yours that’s in a community, then you can have a one-on-one conversation and still say, I’ve been noticing something and I wonder if it’d be okay for us to talk about, and I’m doing so from a place of caring about you, and wanting to support your mission, or whatever it is that you’re hoping or our mission, something that’s bigger than the two of us. So working within the relationship is critical. You have relationship capital that you can use when having these more challenging conversations. But I think too when we’re thinking about giving feedback to someone else, we still have to start with that question. Is this about me? Is there something that’s triggering my insecurities? And the answer could be yes. And you’re also seeing something that would be helpful to work with and to speak to, but it’s coming in from a place of compassion and respect.

People can feel that and oftentimes, as long as they’re not a complete psychopath, they’re going to have shame that gets triggered and shame is not helpful if we act out of that shame or avoidance of the shame we get defensive again, we shut down and the projections just go back and forth. It’s not a productive conversation but if there’s a real development of that attitude of compassion, respect seeing yourself in the other person in a way that builds empathy and connection, then I think that’s felt and then you can have a real one-on-one conversation. If you’re coming from a place of superiority, that’s not going to go well, I think we know this. But it’s important to recognize that we’re just not built as humans to be completely open to that sort of model and feedback from someone else. Even if we nod our head and say, yes, we’re listening because they’re in some external position of power, doesn’t mean we’re internalizing and grappling with that feedback taking and growing from it.
 
Laura Dawn: It’s at an advanced training and advanced practice to be able to sit in a conversation with someone where you’re either giving or receiving feedback that is difficult to give or receive. It’s the mastery of our biology to stay calm and centered and it also is, for me the definition of narrow mind to open mind, how we stay in the middle of the discomfort without bolting, without going off anywhere, we just notice, my heart rate is going faster right now. Okay, just noticing, but without it just spiraling into this whole trigger warfare between you and the other person is an advanced practice and, I’ll just say when I was joking earlier, when Pema would say, I see your Shampa, or I see your shadow, then she would say, not that way, don’t do it that way, and so I didn’t say that part like that, that was crucial to the way that you offered is very grounded, and a good approach for receiving feedback.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: And humor is important, I can’t forget humor. It’s the social glue, it’s the lubricant for being able to play with some of these things and if you too, like all of us, I tried to open up with some of my clients, sometimes when it’s therapeutically helpful to share how I’ve also struggled with something maybe I’m seeing in them or how it was hard to get feedback around that. And my initial reaction, like, all these ways of normalizing that this is just human experience and muck, that’s part of living in the world now. And it doesn’t have to be shame or rejection that’s a part of this. A lot of it, I think, often is clarifying one’s intentions and how one was thinking they were coming off, or just how one was.
 
Laura Dawn: I appreciate you invoking humor because I think that it’s such a big component for all of this journey, we could hold it so seriously. But then when you just look at it, this life is so fucking hilarious, and all of us and we hold so tightly to our sense of this is who I am, this is my sense of identity. It’s hard to not journey with medicines and laugh at ourselves, and how we do this and how we’re just also human in that process, so thanks for bringing that up. One more question before we wrap up here. But I just want to get to the other end of the narrative arc and what are some of your intersections between creativity, creative thinking, creative problem solving, and psychedelics because that’s such a topic that’s so dear to my heart? How are you framing that? How do you think about that? And what are some key takeaways that especially leaders can run with here?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Well, it’s another thing too, I kind of lucked out when I was a kid going to a public university, small town, Arkansas, and we had a talented program that was all focused on creativity. And I realized when I got my Ph.D. that was pretty unusual. A lot of these programs are focused on achievement, you just take more advanced classes and do more tests and things like that. But what I learned in that course, over the years that we focused on critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving. And I think he’s talking about creative problem solving and some other podcasts and I love that approach because it’s a way creativity can be practical and have a real impact. And for people who are trying to solve real problems that we’re facing in this world, usually, they’re very complex problems and we need to have a way to systematically explore, clarify the problem, but then explore all the different ways we can go about solving it in an ongoing live way.

But recognize, too, that those solutions can cause more problems than maybe they’re worth, we have to see the shadow of that process of being solution-focused too. But creativity, thinking outside the box sometimes if you’re in places like Silicon Valley, that’s where my practices are, where everyone’s about thinking outside the box and disruption, like sometimes being creative, to be more conventional, it’s all contextual about where you’re at. But we need to bring those higher capacities of the human heart and mind to bear because we are facing some deeper existential crises collectively, like global warming and climate changes are the ones that I think about the most.

But that’s part of it and that’s going to speak to certain people if they have that kind of leadership mindset that classic archetypal hero instead but for many others, the creativity is a creative appreciation and expression. It doesn’t have to go to an expression, at least in thinking about art, but I love supporting artists and creative people in that way but everyone can appreciate something that’s symbolically meaningful to them. 

I have a film studies background and so that was my gateway to Yun and Joseph Campbell and psychology in a deeper, transpersonal way and I don’t make the film, I just watch a lot of films and I appreciate the narrative structure, the stories, the underlying meaning, that some time is very personal to me, other times it is speaking to something that we need as a society, a collective. So, the benefits I think of in the last chapter, in particular, are where all the training wheels come off. This is where you get to go out in the world and play and a lot of the play can be played for play sake, and about enjoyment, cultivating that appreciation of life and being engaged in a lot of it has a role to play for our broader collective in our future. And we need to step up and do so from a place of love.
 
Laura Dawn: I don’t mean to keep putting you on the hot seat here but just like two more quick questions. So, leveraging the windows of mental flexibility, I’m so passionate about rewriting the narrative, and that’s what I’m focusing my master’s project on is looking at how can we leverage psychedelic experiences to think more creatively? So, the post-psychedelic journey was maybe in the afterglow, or have heightened states of mental flexibility, what are three questions, tools, techniques to help people to think bigger, think more creatively.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Part of this is going to be personal to me. So, I love journaling and I love drawing and I do encourage that with people and we see this in holotropic breathwork. It’s part of the ceremonies now to do the mandala drawing at the end of obsessions. But since I use the word translation to talk about psychedelic integration earlier, I think that’s helpful, how do we translate whatever it is about the experience we had, the emotions we had, the feelings that we had into the present moment? And that may be something completely different than what happened in the journey itself but came through this stream of consciousness download to be a certain drawing that then becomes the next tattoo that symbolizes for you something about doing Shadow Work, or how to ascend to play a more important and central role in society.

So, I like to think about creativity in a divergent way, I do something opposite of what your habit is. So, if you normally journal, then try drawing instead and avoid using all words. If you only draw, then journal, if you do yoga, and that’s part of your integration process, you should probably do yoga still, it’s a good practice to do. But how can you do something new and different? And that mindset of play is a helpful one to have in this because I know so many people get into this critical minds, I’m an awful drawer, I can’t write or my handwriting’s crappy, they’re all these judgments come in and if you can notice those and do it anyway, then I think you’re on the right path of growing and expanding.
 
Laura Dawn: 
Great, yes, we talk a lot about that in graduate school, just the simplicity of what it means to defer judgment and why we’re all so bad at that. We’re so in the box. So critical, we can’t and you’re just even putting your guard down. deferring judgment is just a practical tip and suggestion as well, so thank you for mentioning that. Three words come to mind when you think of the notion of Psychedelic Leadership. 

Dr. Kyle Ortego: Heart. [Inaudible 1:09:45] and joy. 

Laura Dawn: Beautiful, I love it. I love hearing people’s responses to this question. It’s been a joy. I’m asking everyone now on my podcast, what they think of that and that’s beautiful. Any question that I did not ask you that you wish I did ask you before we wrap up?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I think how to use the book is a fun question for me, I wrote it in a way to be very interactive and co-created by the reader. But I think in my experience reading other books, it is fun and even more useful if you’re doing it with at least one other person. As you’re having parallel journeys, and choosing your activities and having experiences and coming back together and expressing what you learned, what feelings you had and it’s a way of respecting, and having a sense of all in other people, and our interconnectedness and our unique qualities and experiences. So, I think that would be one recommendation I would have for folks.
 
Laura Dawn: Great. Wonderful. I love that and any last words, parting wisdom that you would love to leave our listeners with today, Kyle?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Well, I thank you for creating this podcast and having these important conversations, and I just can’t imagine all the interesting listeners that you have, recognizing no matter who you are, where you’re at, you have something to offer and if you can accept that, then the possibilities are endless.
 
Laura Dawn: Beautiful. I love that, open to possibilities. Let’s all stay open to possibilities Beyond the Narrow Life, that’s what it’s all about. I love that name, you nailed it on that one. Good one. All right, Kyle, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure. 

Dr. Kyle Ortego: It’s been fun. 

Laura Dawn: Hi, friends, thank you so much for tuning into another episode of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast. I have been learning so much on this journey, and I’m so grateful that you are choosing to walk alongside me on this path. If you’d like to be in touch, please feel free to reach out through my website livefreelaurad.com or send me a message on Instagram at @livefreelaurad. I’m also on Clubhouse at, you guessed it, livefreelaurad and I’m hosting weekly micro-dosing rooms every Tuesday from 6 to 8 pm PST on all topics related to micro-dosing. I co-moderate rooms on the weekly psychedelic deep dive with Robbie Bent, who I featured in the last episode and we bring amazing guests on to the Monday night talks as well. So, lots happening in the Clubhouse space.

Please feel free to connect with me there and if you’ve been enjoying this podcast, I’d so appreciate it, if you could share it with a friend or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or please leave me a review on iTunes. I just found out that my podcast is trending under the entrepreneur category. I guess there’s no psychedelic category yet but with the way things are happening in the movement, maybe that will change pretty soon, but I’m trending on the list. So, if you leave me a review that would help my rankings. I’m going to leave you with this song called Help Us Love by Mikey Pauker and Johana OneHeart. Once again, my name is Laura Dawn and you’re listening to the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast. Until next time,
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Laura Dawn [Intro]: My name is Laura Dawn and you’re listening to episode number 26 of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast, featuring my conversation with Dr. Kyle Ortego, who’s a certified Psychedelic Psychotherapist and author of the new book Beyond The Narrow Life, A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration.
 
Snippet: This is helpful and I think is in the spirit of these experiences and the medicine is a servant leadership mindset. Being a CEO of her company, leaving a retreat, or being a psychologist, working with someone one-on-one, even though that may be a position of ascribed power in some way, that we aren’t doing it for ourselves.  There’s something bigger than us, or greater than us that we’re engaging with this work. I think that the other important thing. When I think of leadership, it’s not these titles, it’s not these roles but we can all be a leader if we’re cultivating the deeper work. We’re doing the work ourselves of integration or developing a skill set to serve a broader community or purpose. That just by being an example of that work, we are providing leadership and we don’t need any title for that but just to be out there and be ourselves.

I call it ego whiplash, when talking about the integration process, what happens when you chase, ego death, you have it, you have a full-blown mystical experience, and you come back and you’re back in your job, and you got to work. Some so many people become self-appointed shamans or they become integration coaches after one psychedelic journey and that may be their path. And I don’t want to dismiss that but it takes a lot of work and in deeper reflection, about the downsides of doing, whether it’s psychedelics or trying to guide people and some of these journeys and experiences, there are endless levels of nuance and complexity. And I think being able to understand how we can all fall off the path, however, we want to define that is important.
 
I love this conversation with Kyle or Teego; there are some good gems in this episode, especially the second half of this interview where we talk about Psychedelic Integration specifically for leaders, regardless of what domain you find yourself in. So, we talk about acceptance, curiosity, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy surrender which I found interesting. And in the second half, when we focus more on the topic of leadership, we dive into the topics of Spiritual Bypassing and Shadow Work, as well as the importance of taking time for self-reflection. We also talk about narcissism and I commented on how we have a very negative view of narcissism in our culture these days and I wanted to include a little note here about what sparked that comment for me.

I recently listened to an interview with Tammy Simon on her podcast Insights at the Edge that I just love. And she interviewed Keith Campbell, on The New Science of Narcissism, which offered a broader and maybe a more balanced perspective on this topic and I won’t get into all the details here but I’ll include that episode of Insights at the Edge in the show notes. But in essence, we can see all of these personality traits like a spectrum, we want to fall somewhere in the middle because being too high, but also being too low on some of these traits, like openness or agreeableness or neuroticism can have advantages and disadvantages. And so I just wanted to mention this to prevent this mentality of just making these blanket statements like, that’s bad. And yes, we do need to be mindful and aware of the amplification of neuroticism, which does happen for some people when working with psychedelics. But I also want to just bring that balanced perspective here and I love this term that Kyle coined called Ego Whiplash. And I just love how words and concepts like this can help us become more aware of the drawbacks of working with psychedelics and what we need to pay more attention to.

And so I highly recommend checking out his book Beyond The Narrow Life. I love that title, published by Synergetic Press and I love that team over at Synergetic Press and I want to give them a big shout-out here because they’re doing awesome work. And they also offered a special discount just for you, our listeners of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast to receive 20% off the book with coupon code live free, and I’ll include that in the show notes.  So, I’m keeping this intro pretty short today but my heart is feeling full and inspired. And my three-month micro-dosing mastermind program is off to an amazing start, and it’s keeping me super full right now, and FYI, I’m still calling in a full-time Executive Assistant.

So please reach out to me if you feel called to explore that possibility. Through my website, live free Laura de.com and on my website, you can also access some amazing resources, as well as some awesome freebies, like my free playlist for Psychedelic Journeys and Beyond and my free eight-day micro-dosing course. I’m going to leave you with a song called Help Us Love by Mikey Pauker, who’s a dear brother on this path, and Yohana OneHeart. And help us love our shadow sides, help us love all parts of ourselves within the full spectrum of what it means to be human and I think that’s great advice for integrating our psychedelic experiences to bring a lot of loving-kindness and self-compassion to ourselves on this path, on this journey, and I think that’s the key.

If we want to learn how to love our neighbors and love other people who trigger us, for example, I think it starts with ourselves but don’t be too obsessed with loving yourself because that would make you a narcissist, just kidding but not really. Without any further ado, here is my wonderful conversation with Kyle or Teego who offers wise integration advice for the leaders of our time.

Laura Dawn: Welcome, Kyle Ortego, this is so nice to have you here on the show today. Thank you so much for joining me.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: It’s an honor to be here. I’ve started listening to the podcast and I’ve appreciated a lot of the topics, conversations, what you’re putting out there, some critical conversations that we’re all meaning to have about this space, and just the world at large right now.
 
Laura Dawn: Thank you, that means so much to me and I haven’t covered the topic of Psychedelic Integration especially from your unique vantage point, so I’m looking forward to this conversation. And so you’re a Clinical Psychologist, you’re a certified Psychedelic Psychotherapist and founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, and you also recently just published a book, I think it’s coming out this month by Synergetic Press, and big shout out to all the folks that Synergetic Press, it’s such a wonderful crew over there and your book is called Beyond The Narrow Life: A Guide For Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration. It’s quite the title, Kyle. So why this title and what does it mean?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: It’s interesting for a lot of authors and I’m one of them, is you write a book, it could be 50 100,000 words, and coming up with the titles, the hardest part, out of all of it. And that one was when I came up for my final chapter which was Beyond The Narrow Life, my publisher liked that and I thought once they recommended it as the main title because that was the destination of this journey that I had set up for the reader. And there are a few different layers of meaning which are appropriate when we talk about psychedelics and existential thought, I think.

Fundamentally meant to me initially was looking beyond a life that’s very narrowly defined and confined in terms of one’s sense of perspective, and possibility, and meaning. And so the final chapter dives into creativity including creative problem solving, symbolic expression, and just what your life can be when all of those training wheels are taken off after you do some of the deeper work. So, that’s a fundamental theme of the book and what the journey is about but we all know with all journeys, you can’t skip to the end, you have to go through the process of unfolding and that’s what the book fundamentally tries to do for every reader.
 
Laura Dawn: There’s so much I want to dive into here and you talk about the reader as a hero. So, going through this journey, reading through the book to arrive at this end chapter Beyond the Narrow Life, so what do you mean by the reader as a hero?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: The hero is an archetype. So thinking about Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, those are two theorists that have influenced me. So, when we talk about archetypes, we always have to have this caveat that we’re talking about, a form without strict content. There are many different types of heroes, there are many stories of heroes, and there are many ways to be a hero as an individual in our world, so the first and most fundamental that applies to everyone who I was speaking to in the book is the reader, the protagonist of a story. And from an existential perspective too, we are the authors of our story, our life choices, and then what unfolds for us, so emphasizing that sense of agency and individuality, was a big part for me.

But when we think about what a hero is, in its more fundamental core, I think, at least how we talk about it and most of our societies are the hero is someone that protects their community, they protect people that they love, they care for and they do so in a variety of ways. But primarily, the fundamental core hero from Joseph Campbell’s work, at least is not someone by the end of the story, at least that’s fighting for their motivation, or causes that are very much driven by the ego, or success, or pride or things like that. They’re fighting for something larger, something more meaningful, and something that does help others.
 
Laura Dawn: That’s beautiful. I find it so fascinating that just a few years ago, we never heard anyone talking about plant medicine integration, psychedelic integration, and now it’s becoming almost part of our common vernacular, it’s amazing to see, in a sense, the way the movement is growing up and maturing and taking more responsibility around how we can integrate these experiences into our everyday lives. And it’s nice that now we’re sort of all coming out of the closet and meeting in the light and having these open conversations. I know for a long time, I was very alone in my process around integration, I had to cultivate my integration practices and as my listeners have heard me say before, and my mind likes to think in Venn diagrams. And so a huge influence, in terms of my integration has been Eastern philosophy and Pema children is one of my primary teachers, and I hear her voice in my head all the time.

And it’s been such a big influence, not just for my integration, but the work I do with other people and she always says, the spiritual journey, in essence, is going from narrow mind to open mind. And so to me, there’s just such a strong overlap with even that body of wisdom and transpersonal psychology, and the way that we move beyond our narratives to think bigger, and which has motivated me to go back to graduate school and get this degree in Creative Studies, and change leadership and looking at the overlap between Creative Problem Solving and Psychedelic. So, I love that you’re taking this from a slightly different angle but what were some of your big influences here? If we were to pop up a Venn diagram here, what big circles would be on the table?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I love that you bring up that image because it guides me all the time because I had such wide interest as well and there are so many different opinions out there about everything, including what psychedelic integration is, what’s the role of psychedelics in the individual journey versus community? And I like to the indigenous versus science, that’s a big one that we’re having some important critical conversations about too. So, I do think of a Venn diagram and I like to place my bets on those places that there’s overlap, where there are many different pathways to get to a similar conclusion, one of those examples that I know you’ve talked about, I think, in your podcast before is interconnectedness. How do you deny interconnectedness from any of these different angles, even if we go from a strictly materialistic conservative science point of view? 

But I think that was the challenge of writing this book right now, is there are a lot of opinions out there, there are a lot of controversies, and there are different ideologies about even just the nature of reality itself and places that I think we can find overlap, but that’s hard. There’s a lot of ambiguity that we have to tolerate when trying to navigate these various worldviews and perspectives and for me, types of readers, that’s very much something that I do in my clinical practice, too and I think, just by mere exposure from a variety of people, we begin to have these conversations.

But what I was trying to do in the book is not make some argument about the fundamental nature of reality, or say that psychedelic integration means you do step 12345, like some people like to do, while recognizing that’s helpful to have a structure, even if it’s a structure that you fight against or you argue against sometimes that’s part of the creative process itself. So, I think science was important to me because I’m a Ph.D. doctor in Clinical Psychology and science was so much a part of our training, at the same time as art was important in the therapeutic process itself.

It’s not that you throw treatment manuals at someone, and they automatically get better by trying to weave in some of the perspectives of science, what are some of the places that we can have some level of confidence about what we know about the nature of reality, while also recognizing that there’s a lot of mystery out there to play with? And I think that’s where the creativity came in for me as an author, and why it was fundamental, or writing the book and helping someone go through these journeys that they are a part of that process too, I didn’t want to take the perspective of, here’s this psychologist, or here is this guy telling you what reality is or what a psychedelic integration is, but here are some ideas and exposing people to a broad swath of perspectives and things that have been helpful for me. And then ask the questions, how does this apply to your life? That’s why I start with cosmic awareness. What is the sheer magnitude of the cosmos and space and time mean to you as an individual living now?

Going to that question is more important than explaining the quantum theory to a reader but it’s that relationship that I think is built over time that we build with ourselves and others. So the overlapping circles, depends on what are those other circles for me and the reader, it was cultivating this very special relationship through writing, and why I tried to think of myself as being just another person along the path with them, not the expert coming in but helping guide as I’m learning from them, too, that’s how I do my clinical work. So, that’s how I wanted to do my writing as well.
 
Laura Dawn: So, how do you define psychedelic integration? What’s your definition?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: From a very basic standpoint, I think it’s helpful to start there is just bringing to life the lessons or experiences that you receive during a psychedelic journey and it’s an art of translation, I think, fundamentally, and translations always imperfect. So for some people, especially those having a very profound mystical experience that integration process depends on what their life is like already, like before and immediately after the journey. And I think I’ve spoken to some people who believe that integration happens naturally and organically after having a powerful experience and I think to a certain extent, that’s true. But I also have spoken to people who’ve reached out to me for integration support and their problem is they had a beautiful sense of interconnectedness and deep meaning, and it opened their eyes to possibility and so nothing about the journey itself was challenging.

But the challenge was, they worked in this job that was not meaningful to them or was about material success and so that was the work of integration was figuring out this conflict, and what the implications of this experience were for them. But like a lot of people, this person ended up canceling or not showing in the first meeting and I never heard back from them again, which happens that it’s scary to think about integration that challenges one’s worldview and life circumstances but that’s one example of how it applies. But it’s always unfolding. I think that is something that wouldn’t be too controversial to say that there are people even after having hundreds of psychedelic journeys, who’re still integrating that first experience which is so powerful for them, but it is a meaning-making process too, I think in a practice.
 
Laura Dawn: Right, meaning-making and that I think, is the process of what it means to be alive. And I love a lot of what Charles Eisenstein has to say about that and the conversation that we had on the podcast was interesting about going through the journey and then having to face life and going from this very interconnected experience to this world of separation and this world of disconnection that we live in. And so I’m curious as someone who supports people through integration, where do you balance the take your time in making big decisions, going through the psychedelic journey, and then being like, I need to quit my job. Where do you support people in slowing down in the process and following through with the actions that they know intuitively that make the most sense for them to step into the right relationship with their lives?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: These recommendations that we all have about not making impulsive decisions are critical, when it’s also balanced with using that energy, that knowledge, that insight to good effect and I think that taking the time is obvious here. But what that means is time that you’re actively reflecting on and working with, whatever that move is that you’re trying to make, whether it’s realizing a relationship, not as connected and deeply satisfying a right for you, to have I not tried yet to improve the relationship? I’m a therapist, so I might recommend couples therapy, or doing some deeper work on communication, see if something salvageable there because it’s often not that we get the conclusion in a journey or experience but we get illumination about something that’s not quite working.

But the time to reflect and use our minds, those cognitive abilities to the good effect of trying to think about the pros and cons of making a move, how you might do it. And then let’s say, that initial impulse to break up or to quit the job was the right one, after doing this reflection, then the time is used to plan, so that you reduce the likely harm to yourself and others by making that move, making that next step. So, it’s not necessarily about changing the final decision, but how to approach it so that you improve the likelihood of a successful watching-off, or then you might have a relationship or something that’s not working for you anymore.
 
Laura Dawn: So in addition to all of the basic recommendations that most people make around integration, which is; take your time, get rest, eat healthily, sometimes I recommend that people don’t just jump back into their sort of, quote-unquote, everyday reality, maybe take a little bit of spaciousness before, if you let’s say, go to an Iosco retreat for 10 days, have a halfway house before going back home that could be one recommendation. So, in addition to sort of all of the foundational basics, what would you say, let’s put a conceptual roadmap on the table here, what’s a framework that you’re suggesting, working with your clients, and in the book that people can sort of get a good tangible sense of through this conversation?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Well, the book is the most structured because it’s written with chapters, all these things create that sense of safety and linearity and the process is very nonlinear, so I think we can go there. I structured it in terms of three main phases for the entire journey, and the first was expanding awareness and I had metaphorical allies and attitudes for each of those arcs and the attitude there was one of curiosity, so to help us expand our awareness, we need to work on cultivating that sense of curiosity. And the second was confronting the deeper existential trials of initiation, these deeper questions that we all have to face as humans and they deal with impermanence, death, casualty loss, the interconnectedness versus isolation, loneliness, alienation, and finally versus meaninglessness or absurdity, how to navigate those in that attitude to help with those deeper questions and to avoid spiritual bypass was one of acceptance. And then the final arc was integrating the insights into one’s life and to a broader sense of self-capital, self-thinking from young and his model of individuation, primarily and the attitude that was cultivated through those three chapters is one of wisdom by putting all these insights into practice, and recognizing the endless nuance in it.

So, that’s my model for integration and I used it and created it because it parallels the phases of the hero’s journey for your readers or listeners that know that Joseph Campbell’s work, and it also paralleled the phases of psychedelic psychotherapy. So, I like having all those overlapping circles since we were talking about that earlier, and where that is a little bit different than probably most models of integration is that most models of integration are focusing on the third phasor what happens after the ceremony but I think this is cyclical; it’s not a linear process. So, for people who’ve had multiple journeys or haven’t had any journey at all this work of integration, what we’re calling psychedelic integration is available to all of us and it’s a journey that we can repeat. And going into these deeper questions and coming out the other side, putting whatever gems that we found into practice.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that. I don’t know if you tuned into the solo episode I did just on cultivating the mindset of curiosity because I think that is such a big way that we train our minds to think bigger that is beyond the narrow life, that is narrow mind to open mind, it’s the bridge. And we can draw upon questions that help us to engage in that sense of curiosity and wonder, open-mindedness, open-heartedness and I think we need that, especially right now through this time of separation and polarization and division. So, let’s go into the second category, the second phase. I also love this term impermanence. I did episode number four, on bowing at the altar of impermanence, let’s talk about this.

You are the founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, you cannot I’m sure go through that exploration without making peace with this fundamental reality of impermanence, so let’s talk there. What are some of the suggestions that you’re encouraging people to take action around, maybe questions of inquiry that people can lean into, any direction you want to run with that?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I know for my practice, that existential exploration is just such a big bucket and for most people, I say, you come to see me, it does involve questions around relationships, either that alienation they have or lack of true intimacy with others, usually those things are connected themselves, loss, but more often than not a lack of meaning and life is what the lack of purpose, that’s what is a part of their presenting concern. I came to existential thought when I was pretty young but what I like to highlight that has become important is that a lot of people assume existential thinking and these existential dilemmas and questions are leading people to nihilism.

And the existential fight is not about nihilism, it rejects nihilism for the most part, which is a giving up, a complete unhealthy surrender. So what I think has been helpful for me is thinking about these in terms of trials, these are things that we all do confront in life, we all have to face the loss of the people that we love or connected to, we all have to think about our mortality, that sets the stage just from a temporal standpoint of time, we have finite time, we don’t know when our time is up and that’s scary for most of us if we’re being honest about it.

But if we were to confront that and bring that into our conversation, and what we do for the day, what we do for the week, the month on the years, then I think it shifts our perspective from our self and trying to avoid thinking about these scary things, to opening up to possibility as all these themes are connected to me, and I think they are for other people, but maybe in different pathways. Perhaps it’s the loneliness that is that initial spark of exploration that if you can trigger that, then they go into these questions of what is a meaningful connection. What is a meaningful relationship? How do I get there? And then we can get into the practicality of it. So, I think if we confront these things with some sense of courage, it’s not that fear goes away but to have some courage about it and to question, to bring in that curiosity again, as we explore, then we will find things that we will have to think about and realize that we’ll have to accept, so that’s why acceptance was such an important attitude there. Because curiosity can take us so far, but sometimes it fails, in the toughest of times, with a loss that is just too deep. It can bring us part of the way.

I think having some understanding of what it is that we have to accept about a loss, or about not knowing what the fundamental nature of reality is, or what our life’s meaning is, is there only one path to finding life’s meaning or not? I think that’s when we begin to open up to all the areas of life that we do have agency, we do have a sense of play that we can create something, and that sense of possibility, I think is where it naturally evolves.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that you just framed that as like curiosity can get us only so far because we can get lost in what is the purpose, and why am I here and even that can be very disorienting if we just get sort of stuck in curiosity and moving beyond curiosity, trans curiosity, is like looking at acceptance and making peace and you also referenced unhealthy surrender, which means that you also have a framework around healthy surrender. So, I think that there are all of these additional sorts of components that we need to look at, that curiosity might start the journey, but acceptance, making peace with life is a big part of that. And so how do you encourage people who are in that sort of arc of the hero’s journey, what are some of the anchor points that we can draw upon to help us sort of draw meaning to bring greater fulfillment and purpose into our lives?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I think what happens sometimes for people who are feeling losses for some time, they might have taken on the mantle of someone else’s sense of purpose or meaning, they emulated the heroes or their favorite models, ideas, even mythology, religion, and it didn’t quite fit, or there is some mismatch there. But I think what I see and what is something I do with all my clients is bring in this exploration of one’s values, things that feel intuitively right and true and important, especially when we can explain them away.

So, being able to put aside our thinking mind sometimes and go into our heart, and our intuition is part of that process for me. So the acceptance, though, is the Serenity Prayer, I think that one’s a nice one and it’s used a lot and people who have addiction issues, it’s fundamental in AA but there’s some version of that, that I think is in a lot of wisdom, teachings around the world but finding that line between what we need to accept and what we have to ask the agency to change is critical. And I think when I said, unhealthy surrender, I’m thinking of avoidance, like some form of avoidance, like giving up your sense of responsibility, for whatever reason because it feels a bit more comfortable, not to take action or not to try to create change, which inertia is a real thing, so the presence of it and lack of it.

So this is something that modern psychotherapy has confronted explicitly to be that avoidance can reinforce these negative behavioral patterns and prevent us from growing and expanding and finding that sense of agency again. So these personal values are the compass that we can follow when we’re trying to navigate this terrain of things that we are outside of our control and things that we might have control or influence on and the things that we have control and influence with. So, in a relationship, since I use that as one example earlier, we only have influence over how we phrase something, how we communicate our feelings, our needs and we can be the best expert at communication, might say, you can be a psychologist who does this with their clients and it’s still challenging, but even when you do it at an expert level, the person has to respond, it’s a give and take.

So, communication is a good example of that but all these life decisions, I think this just dances back and forth. And they’re the question of like, are a healthy relationship or not, is one where you try it out? You try on these different ways of communicating actively trying to open up, be more authentic to take some risk, build some intimacy and trust, and then if the other person just isn’t there yet, they can’t respond in that way. Then the question goes to can I accept that there are limitations, or do I need something more? So, that’s how acceptance I think plays out in one of those examples, it’s a common thing in my work as a psychologist, is relationship challenges.
 
Laura Dawn: Interesting and their notion of healthy surrender versus unhealthy surrender make me think of this notion in Eastern philosophy around healthy non-attachment, like holding it lightly versus being detached and it’s so nuanced, it’s tricky.  It’s the topic of spiritual bypass, it’s just so nuanced and so tricky. I want to talk about spiritual bypass in a moment but before we get there, I’m just curious, like, speaking to this topic about leadership.  So people who are working with psychedelics, and we know now, so many people are stepping into this space, working with psychedelics, whether they’re leaders in the psychedelic space, or whatever domain that they find themselves in, especially for leaders. What do you think are the key things that people should be thinking about in terms of psychedelic integration for all leaders, regardless of what domain they’re in?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I do think spiritual bypass is one of those, so we’ll talk about that. So I think understanding spiritual bypass, understanding avoidance of complexity and nuance, I think to be a leader in this space, probably accounts for most spaces, you have to be able to dive deeper into complexity. And not knowing that curiosity, again, is so helpful with that and recognizing that there are pieces of the puzzle that all of us have, and the people who may not be in a leadership position, but they have a lot more information that you don’t have, even though you may be the leader of a company or retreat, it’s respecting that difference and that this complexity offers so many opportunities for all of us to be involved. I think with leadership in psychedelics, there are so many controversies going on as psychedelics become more mainstream, and capitalism and indigenous culture versus Western culture.

There are some critical conversations that we’re having I know you have and I appreciated listening to you and your guest’s riff on this stuff. But I think what is helpful and I think is in the spirit of these experiences in medicine is a servant leadership mindset, that being a CEO of a company, leading a retreat or being a psychologist, working with someone one-on-one, even though that may be a position of ascribed power in some way, that we aren’t doing it for ourselves, there’s something bigger than us, greater than us that we’re engaging this work with. That’s not always the case, I think recognizing that, too, as part of this challenge of bringing this concept of spiritual bypass to the broader world is that people can talk the talk, we can talk the talk, I can talk the talk but I need to be able to be critical of my actions and my sense of integrity and authenticity, as I enter into these new relationships with others, regardless of what my position is and I think that’s the other important thing.

When I think of leadership, it’s not these titles, it’s not these roles but we can all be a leader if we’re cultivating the deeper work if we’re doing the work ourselves of integration, or developing a skill set to serve a broader community or purpose that just by being an example of that work, we are providing leadership. And we don’t need any title for that but just to be out there and be ourselves. 
 
Laura Dawn: When we were talking last week, you made a good point about just how you frame leadership, you can lead from the front. Do you want to keep running with that sentence?

Dr. Kyle Ortego: I have a lot of stories in my life where I like, this is from high school that I got introduced to this model but I don’t remember anything about that week. It was a leadership week that I grew up in the south and in the south, we have boys state and girl state and there you get to nominate for them. I think they are teachers for your leadership ability and then you go and at least in Arkansas, it was going to listen to a lot of politicians talk about being leaders, which isn’t always, the right model necessarily that we’d want. But the one thing I remember about that whole week was this model of leading from upfront within and behind as three types of leaders. The leading upfront is what most of us think about is the charismatic leader, the CEO, the person giving the TED talk, and they’re trying to inspire, to direct and that’s a traditional at least in the west form of leadership. Leadership from behind is more like a shepherding, so it’s someone who may be a part of a team or a community, they have a sense of the vision but the leadership style is to help the team work through the issues or set the task and work on executing them.

And then the leader from behind is just gently guiding when necessary but it’s a bit more hands-off. Leading from within is being actively a part of the team, part of the community and you’re working on your piece of the puzzle that you’re passionate about, or something that speaks to your skillset and those qualities of authenticity, I talked about meaning these personal values, like you’re cultivating those in this setting, whether it’s work or another type of community and you’re supporting others who are doing the same thing. Not the same thing as you are, but following their path and so you’re helping, encouraging them, you’re leading by example but you’re ideally in a group of people where you’re all feeding off of each other’s positive energy and learning and talents and coming together, and not needing to be told what to do either from a front or behind. I appreciate that model probably the most.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that. And so do you think that one person can learn how to embody all three leadership styles and that’s the most beneficial is to learn how to draw upon the right one at the right time?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I do think generally in life, that’s a helpful strategy is to get a lay of the land and try these different hats on for yourself. There’s a part of this, that’s just personality too, what would play to your strengths. But if you want to be a leader, then I do think it’s helpful to have an understanding of how others can be leaders in different ways than you are. That we need to match these different styles with our personalities, the problem that we’re working on, our cultural context that we’re in, and our co-workers, colleagues, and friends, and family. So, I do think it’s nice just to know, even if you don’t try on all those different hats, which would be great if you could, just so that you can respect and see leaders who are doing it in a very different way than you are.
 
Laura Dawn: I love that. And so for people who are leading from the front, and might have more of a tendency towards ranking a little higher on the scales of narcissism, and we can also have healthy narcissism, it’s not necessarily a fully, quote-unquote, bad thing. I think we have a very negative connotation of narcissism in our culture right now, especially. And I think we are seeing this pattern of people who are higher on narcissistic tendencies to sort of have that quality enhanced after psychedelic journeys. And so there is an interesting place where you know, psychedelics, and leadership can potentially fuel higher degrees of narcissism. What are your thoughts on that, and any words of advice for people to pay a lot of attention, become very aware if you might fall into that category?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I do talk about this a little bit in my book too when talking about the shadow. And there are so many different angles to take. But I would start with a practice of self-reflection and that is hard for people who, like CEOs are busy.  All of us are busy now especially for leading in one way or another, to take some time off so that you can set aside your action steps and in your meetings, and ask some of these more challenging questions about your direction that you’re going in. The things that you think you’re doing well, the things that are more challenging for you, because we all have challenges, we all have character qualities that are double-edged swords.

They work in some ways and they’re very beneficial, and then they can also hurt us and our team, I call it ego whiplash. When talking about the integration process, what happens when you chase ego death, you have it, you have a full-blown mystical experience and you come back and you’re back in your job and you got to work? There are so many people who become self-appointed shamans or they become integration coaches after one psychedelic journey.

And that may be their path, I don’t want to dismiss that but it takes a lot of work and deeper reflection about the downsides of doing whether it’s psychedelics or trying to guide people and some of these journeys and experiences, there are endless levels of nuance and complexity. And I think being able to understand how we can all fall off the path, however, we wanted to find that is important because although in a psychedelic experience, we may feel very special or like a hero for example or part of the cosmos, if we feel like we’re more special than other people, it becomes a dominance hierarchy, I think that’s the ego taking over and telling us things that we want to hear.

There’s a trickster quality of psychedelic sometimes and I think that’s why a community around integration is helpful because we can see how other people are confronting these complexities and see some examples, unfortunately, to have people struggling. And we’ve seen that with the QAnon Shaman is one example that’s been out there in the news earlier this year and I don’t know his full story, from what I’ve heard, he didn’t seem like an awful narcissistic guy all the time, no one is, always, more one way or the other. But it’s easy to go down a path that’s more violent or destructive or harmful to society, even when we think we’re doing something right.
 
Laura Dawn: It just requires a tremendous amount of humility, which isn’t always easy. We have these big experiences and then it’s like we just want to like champion psychedelics and we’re seeing so many people do that right now. And it’s just amazing to see the way that psychedelics are having such a big influence on our culture right now and we do have to just hold it with just so much humility and groundedness and it’s not always easy to do that. So, I think the community is a big piece of that and just having people that we trust to give us honest reflections to help check ourselves and grow in our communities, I think is essential. Let’s talk about spiritual bypassing, how do you define it? And let’s dive into it.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Spiritual bypassing it was coined by John Wellwood, he was a Psychologist and Existential Buddhists, thinkers, and teachers too. And in its broadest form, it’s using spiritual concepts or ideas as a temporary or less than a temporary way to cope with some deeper distress or pain or difficulty confronting the darker side of life or community or the cosmos, if we want to expand out all the way. And some examples that we hear in spiritual and psychedelic communities is, it’s all love, all is one. It’s these concepts like interconnectedness, that I think are fundamentally true oftentimes, but then they become some platitude or some way of escaping difference, or harm that’s done indiscriminately because to certain people in a community for looking at interconnectedness.

So, I think confronting spiritual bypass is part of what Shadow Work does and that’s another term that gets thrown around, a phrase Shadow Work. But I think having an eye on what the shadow is, at least in theory, and then seeing some examples is one way to do that. The shadow is just that which we don’t know about ourselves, or about society or nature, that’s a non-judgmental way of looking at the off and things are in the shadow because there is some judgment, like even going all the way out to the problem of evil. How do we confront that? And so in that example, all is love, yet we live in a world where there’s so much violence and not only murder but assault, there’s so much pain that is not a manifestation of love, at least how we think about it every day.

So, when these phrases or these ideas are used as a way to skip over the deeper work, the harder work, we do play with complexity and nuance and challenge and ambiguity and not knowing, I think that’s where we get into trouble. And that’s why like a self-ordained shaman is probably not the best way of going about that model because we do need to recognize that our egos are always active, no matter how many ego death experiences we might have had, that we assimilate some of these ideas in ways that are easier to hear or if it’s not easier to hear it, it works already with our pre-existing belief system and worldview.
 
Laura Dawn: It’s funny, as you were starting to talk about the spiritual bypass, my mind just drew a big circle with spiritual bypass overlapping with Shadow Work, it’s just where my mind went and then you mentioned Shadow Work. So, I mean, there’s so much to say here about this, we could probably talk for hours just about this topic but, I think it’s helpful for people to remember that anything can be used as a method to move away from, rather than make contact with. You can meditate for 20 years as a very powerful tool for spiritual bypassing and just even recognizing that is profound, and just mind-blowing in a certain way. So, if it’s in the shadow, though, if we’re doing it unconsciously, if we’re moving away unconsciously, how do we start to bring the content of the shadow into the light? Do we need psychedelics for that? Is it a process of inquiry? Are there questions we can use? What do we do to start getting ourselves on the path of looking at what’s in the shadow?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Really important question I will say, no, we don’t need psychedelics to do that but that’s, true of most things. People don’t need psychotherapy to do that and it’s helpful. I think what we do need when it comes to Shadow Work, is other people and they’re always involved because the shadow is first and foremost, once it’s formed, projected onto others. So, any form of othering in black and white thinking about groups of people or a specific person, that’s a clue I think, to look into your shadow.  What is it, that you’re projecting onto them or that you see in them that is also speaking to some underlying insecurity or place of hidden motivation that you have in yourself?

And that’s a hard question to ask and grapple with but it’s one that I think is important. It’s not that the shadow stops getting projected onto others. I think that’s just such a well-worn path, it’s one of the ways our ego can protect itself, that having some compassion for yourself and other people about that is important. If you can have some compassion for yourself, then you can recognize how you might be suffering, or you might have a fear that you’re holding or self-doubt, and that you’re trying to escape that. But if you cultivate this compassion for yourself, and then that would expand to other people, you can begin to do some of this deeper exploration about what your shadow is, how it shows up, and then how other people’s shadows show up and what may be projected onto you too, right outside.
 
Laura Dawn: I want to get there in a second, but give us a concrete example. So you’re saying, projecting onto other people, so concrete for example, how do I know that my shadow is surfacing? I am saying what, to someone else?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I would say even before you say something to someone else if you’re watching TV, or you see something on social media, or you see a clip of a politician that thinks something very different than you if you have this physical embodied response of agitation, anger, frustration, even hate outrage, that those are probably good signals to pick up on before you say anything. And of course, live a situation with someone you might be saying something already before you even notice those precursors.  So hate is one example I think it’s the most uncomfortable to talk about, especially when we’re discussing issues around love, interconnectedness, but it is one of those human emotions and attitudes that can develop over time, too. So, that’s a relatively extreme example.

But, let’s say you’re at a psychedelic conference, and various speakers are coming up on stage, and then there’s someone that comes up, maybe you knew them before, maybe you don’t, and they’re talking and there’s something that’s just unsettling to you about what they’re saying, or how they’re saying it. And it’s not just an intellectual thing, Shadow Work isn’t just intellectual, it’s primarily emotional. And you notice this agitation, this intensity of response to you, you look to your neighbor, they may be having a fine time, or it may be a completely neutral conversation or topic or presenter. So that’s a sign to you if you’re having a different reaction than other people, doing some reflection about what is it that they’re triggering in me? We were talking about narcissism earlier, are they talking like they’re an expert? Is that triggering something in me about not wanting to come off that way? Is there a part of me that is jealous or envious of them having this state of the mind? Now, these are the types of questions and maybe an example that fits with that.
 
Laura Dawn: That’s great. I was waiting for you to use the word trigger, you used a whole bunch of other words, and then you didn’t quite use the word trigger yet.  I was thinking in my mind, and that’s also very similar to I don’t know, if you’re familiar with Pamela’s teaching, well, it’s actually choking him Trump of rubbish is teaching on Shampa. And Shampa is the trigger, it’s like how we get hooked to this pre-verbal. The Eastern philosophy for me is fundamental, it just relates to pretty much everything else that we see out there, or at least the way it works, in my mind anyway. But this notion of Shampa is like how we get hooked, it’s pre-verbal, it’s this tightening that we feel, and the more that we pay attention to that I think that’s also a helpful roadmap towards Shadow Work. It’s sort of the entry and we want to immediately cover over it and bolt and push it away, I’m justified, come on! That person on the stage is saying things, this is irresponsible. I’m justified in what I’m saying, we cover over it, in all these ways but it is the entry point.

Now, here’s my question for you. Pema always jokes about when you start working in the community with other people, where it’s like, I see you’re Shampa. So it’s like, I see your Shadow Work, but how as either a coach, a colleague, a leader, a friend, who’s seeing shadow come out of somebody. Any suggestions for how do we hold space for that?  It’s like, I see your shadow that’s coming out of you right now. But how do we do that in a way that’s not public shaming, that’s not detrimental but supportive for everyone’s learning and growth and transformation?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: One of the things, you spoke a lot about internal family systems therapy, or in any other guests, any point
 
Laura Dawn: Well, I had Jim Fadiman and Jordan Gruber on talking about Symphony of Selves which has a lot of overlap, but I haven’t had anyone specifically from IFS come.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: So well, I’ll just say internal family systems therapy is been used a lot with MDMA therapy for PTSD but it was developed outside of that. And the quick version of the model is that there are different parts of ourselves and they have different relationships with one another and one of the strategies of internal family systems from the therapeutic model is to ask permission, from the parts of ourselves, let’s say that protect our parts of ourselves, to speak more directly to the exiles, which I frame as their version of the shadow in IFS. So when we’re doing that work with ourselves, we can ask permission from the other parts of ourselves that have the defensive armor up and like ready to fight or project to asking like, Can we lay those arms aside and then work with whatever the exile is. But that process of asking permission, from someone is important because it’s important to respect someone else’s agency and their emotional state.

If this is a close friend of yours that’s in a community, then you can have a one-on-one conversation and still say, I’ve been noticing something and I wonder if it’d be okay for us to talk about, and I’m doing so from a place of caring about you, and wanting to support your mission, or whatever it is that you’re hoping or our mission, something that’s bigger than the two of us. So working within the relationship is critical. You have relationship capital that you can use when having these more challenging conversations. But I think too when we’re thinking about giving feedback to someone else, we still have to start with that question. Is this about me? Is there something that’s triggering my insecurities? And the answer could be yes. And you’re also seeing something that would be helpful to work with and to speak to, but it’s coming in from a place of compassion and respect.

People can feel that and oftentimes, as long as they’re not a complete psychopath, they’re going to have shame that gets triggered and shame is not helpful if we act out of that shame or avoidance of the shame we get defensive again, we shut down and the projections just go back and forth. It’s not a productive conversation but if there’s a real development of that attitude of compassion, respect seeing yourself in the other person in a way that builds empathy and connection, then I think that’s felt and then you can have a real one-on-one conversation. If you’re coming from a place of superiority, that’s not going to go well, I think we know this. But it’s important to recognize that we’re just not built as humans to be completely open to that sort of model and feedback from someone else. Even if we nod our head and say, yes, we’re listening because they’re in some external position of power, doesn’t mean we’re internalizing and grappling with that feedback taking and growing from it.
 
Laura Dawn: It’s at an advanced training and advanced practice to be able to sit in a conversation with someone where you’re either giving or receiving feedback that is difficult to give or receive. It’s the mastery of our biology to stay calm and centered and it also is, for me the definition of narrow mind to open mind, how we stay in the middle of the discomfort without bolting, without going off anywhere, we just notice, my heart rate is going faster right now. Okay, just noticing, but without it just spiraling into this whole trigger warfare between you and the other person is an advanced practice and, I’ll just say when I was joking earlier, when Pema would say, I see your Shampa, or I see your shadow, then she would say, not that way, don’t do it that way, and so I didn’t say that part like that, that was crucial to the way that you offered is very grounded, and a good approach for receiving feedback.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: And humor is important, I can’t forget humor. It’s the social glue, it’s the lubricant for being able to play with some of these things and if you too, like all of us, I tried to open up with some of my clients, sometimes when it’s therapeutically helpful to share how I’ve also struggled with something maybe I’m seeing in them or how it was hard to get feedback around that. And my initial reaction, like, all these ways of normalizing that this is just human experience and muck, that’s part of living in the world now. And it doesn’t have to be shame or rejection that’s a part of this. A lot of it, I think, often is clarifying one’s intentions and how one was thinking they were coming off, or just how one was.
 
Laura Dawn: I appreciate you invoking humor because I think that it’s such a big component for all of this journey, we could hold it so seriously. But then when you just look at it, this life is so fucking hilarious, and all of us and we hold so tightly to our sense of this is who I am, this is my sense of identity. It’s hard to not journey with medicines and laugh at ourselves, and how we do this and how we’re just also human in that process, so thanks for bringing that up. One more question before we wrap up here. But I just want to get to the other end of the narrative arc and what are some of your intersections between creativity, creative thinking, creative problem solving, and psychedelics because that’s such a topic that’s so dear to my heart? How are you framing that? How do you think about that? And what are some key takeaways that especially leaders can run with here?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Well, it’s another thing too, I kind of lucked out when I was a kid going to a public university, small town, Arkansas, and we had a talented program that was all focused on creativity. And I realized when I got my Ph.D. that was pretty unusual. A lot of these programs are focused on achievement, you just take more advanced classes and do more tests and things like that. But what I learned in that course, over the years that we focused on critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving. And I think he’s talking about creative problem solving and some other podcasts and I love that approach because it’s a way creativity can be practical and have a real impact. And for people who are trying to solve real problems that we’re facing in this world, usually, they’re very complex problems and we need to have a way to systematically explore, clarify the problem, but then explore all the different ways we can go about solving it in an ongoing live way.

But recognize, too, that those solutions can cause more problems than maybe they’re worth, we have to see the shadow of that process of being solution-focused too. But creativity, thinking outside the box sometimes if you’re in places like Silicon Valley, that’s where my practices are, where everyone’s about thinking outside the box and disruption, like sometimes being creative, to be more conventional, it’s all contextual about where you’re at. But we need to bring those higher capacities of the human heart and mind to bear because we are facing some deeper existential crises collectively, like global warming and climate changes are the ones that I think about the most.

But that’s part of it and that’s going to speak to certain people if they have that kind of leadership mindset that classic archetypal hero instead but for many others, the creativity is a creative appreciation and expression. It doesn’t have to go to an expression, at least in thinking about art, but I love supporting artists and creative people in that way but everyone can appreciate something that’s symbolically meaningful to them. 

I have a film studies background and so that was my gateway to Yun and Joseph Campbell and psychology in a deeper, transpersonal way and I don’t make the film, I just watch a lot of films and I appreciate the narrative structure, the stories, the underlying meaning, that some time is very personal to me, other times it is speaking to something that we need as a society, a collective. So, the benefits I think of in the last chapter, in particular, are where all the training wheels come off. This is where you get to go out in the world and play and a lot of the play can be played for play sake, and about enjoyment, cultivating that appreciation of life and being engaged in a lot of it has a role to play for our broader collective in our future. And we need to step up and do so from a place of love.
 
Laura Dawn: I don’t mean to keep putting you on the hot seat here but just like two more quick questions. So, leveraging the windows of mental flexibility, I’m so passionate about rewriting the narrative, and that’s what I’m focusing my master’s project on is looking at how can we leverage psychedelic experiences to think more creatively? So, the post-psychedelic journey was maybe in the afterglow, or have heightened states of mental flexibility, what are three questions, tools, techniques to help people to think bigger, think more creatively.
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Part of this is going to be personal to me. So, I love journaling and I love drawing and I do encourage that with people and we see this in holotropic breathwork. It’s part of the ceremonies now to do the mandala drawing at the end of obsessions. But since I use the word translation to talk about psychedelic integration earlier, I think that’s helpful, how do we translate whatever it is about the experience we had, the emotions we had, the feelings that we had into the present moment? And that may be something completely different than what happened in the journey itself but came through this stream of consciousness download to be a certain drawing that then becomes the next tattoo that symbolizes for you something about doing Shadow Work, or how to ascend to play a more important and central role in society.

So, I like to think about creativity in a divergent way, I do something opposite of what your habit is. So, if you normally journal, then try drawing instead and avoid using all words. If you only draw, then journal, if you do yoga, and that’s part of your integration process, you should probably do yoga still, it’s a good practice to do. But how can you do something new and different? And that mindset of play is a helpful one to have in this because I know so many people get into this critical minds, I’m an awful drawer, I can’t write or my handwriting’s crappy, they’re all these judgments come in and if you can notice those and do it anyway, then I think you’re on the right path of growing and expanding.
 
Laura Dawn: 
Great, yes, we talk a lot about that in graduate school, just the simplicity of what it means to defer judgment and why we’re all so bad at that. We’re so in the box. So critical, we can’t and you’re just even putting your guard down. deferring judgment is just a practical tip and suggestion as well, so thank you for mentioning that. Three words come to mind when you think of the notion of Psychedelic Leadership. 

Dr. Kyle Ortego: Heart. [Inaudible 1:09:45] and joy. 

Laura Dawn: Beautiful, I love it. I love hearing people’s responses to this question. It’s been a joy. I’m asking everyone now on my podcast, what they think of that and that’s beautiful. Any question that I did not ask you that you wish I did ask you before we wrap up?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: I think how to use the book is a fun question for me, I wrote it in a way to be very interactive and co-created by the reader. But I think in my experience reading other books, it is fun and even more useful if you’re doing it with at least one other person. As you’re having parallel journeys, and choosing your activities and having experiences and coming back together and expressing what you learned, what feelings you had and it’s a way of respecting, and having a sense of all in other people, and our interconnectedness and our unique qualities and experiences. So, I think that would be one recommendation I would have for folks.
 
Laura Dawn: Great. Wonderful. I love that and any last words, parting wisdom that you would love to leave our listeners with today, Kyle?
 
Dr. Kyle Ortego: Well, I thank you for creating this podcast and having these important conversations, and I just can’t imagine all the interesting listeners that you have, recognizing no matter who you are, where you’re at, you have something to offer and if you can accept that, then the possibilities are endless.
 
Laura Dawn: Beautiful. I love that, open to possibilities. Let’s all stay open to possibilities Beyond the Narrow Life, that’s what it’s all about. I love that name, you nailed it on that one. Good one. All right, Kyle, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure. 

Dr. Kyle Ortego: It’s been fun. 

Laura Dawn: Hi, friends, thank you so much for tuning into another episode of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast. I have been learning so much on this journey, and I’m so grateful that you are choosing to walk alongside me on this path. If you’d like to be in touch, please feel free to reach out through my website livefreelaurad.com or send me a message on Instagram at @livefreelaurad. I’m also on Clubhouse at, you guessed it, livefreelaurad and I’m hosting weekly micro-dosing rooms every Tuesday from 6 to 8 pm PST on all topics related to micro-dosing. I co-moderate rooms on the weekly psychedelic deep dive with Robbie Bent, who I featured in the last episode and we bring amazing guests on to the Monday night talks as well. So, lots happening in the Clubhouse space.

Please feel free to connect with me there and if you’ve been enjoying this podcast, I’d so appreciate it, if you could share it with a friend or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or please leave me a review on iTunes. I just found out that my podcast is trending under the entrepreneur category. I guess there’s no psychedelic category yet but with the way things are happening in the movement, maybe that will change pretty soon, but I’m trending on the list. So, if you leave me a review that would help my rankings. I’m going to leave you with this song called Help Us Love by Mikey Pauker and Johana OneHeart. Once again, my name is Laura Dawn and you’re listening to the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast. Until next time,
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Kile Ortigo, PhD Biography​

Kile Ortigo, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, certified psychedelic psychotherapist, and founder of the Center for Existential Exploration, where he offers depth-oriented psychotherapy and psychedelic integration services. Outside of his clinical work and research, Dr. Ortigo serves on advisory boards of non-profit and for-profit organizations in the psychedelic space. After having publishing several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on personality, trauma, attachment, and technology, Dr. Ortigo collaborated with his colleagues at Harvard, NYU, and the National Center for PTSD to co-author the 2nd edition of Treating Survivors of Childhood & Interpersonal Trauma: STAIR Narrative Therapy, released in June 2020. With support of several psychedelic experts and elders, Dr. Ortigo’s second book, Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration, will be published by Synergetic Press in June 2021 with a foreword by psychedelic luminary and Johns Hopkins researcher and psychologist, Dr. Bill Richards. Beyond the Narrow Life offers a guided journey that explores intersecting themes involving psychedelics, mythology, existential thought, and psychospiritual development. The included activities, meditations, and handouts can support either independent exploration or psychedelic psychotherapy.

Links

https://www.ExistentialExploration.org/

https://www.synergeticpress.com/shop/beyond-the-narrow-life/

https://psychedelic.support/network/kile-ortigo-phd/

Purchase Kile Ortigo’s Book: Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration (Use coupon code “livefree” for 20%)

Featured Music

Episode #26 of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast features a song called Help Us Love by Mikey Pauker and Johanna OneHeart.

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