As manager of the Zendo Project, Ryan Beauregard is part of a team that supports music festival-goers who are, in short, trippin’ balls. More specifically, the Zendo Project describes itself as “a supportive environment and specialized care designed to transform difficult psychedelic experiences into valuable learning opportunities, and even potentially offer healing and growth. In turn, our work reduces the number of drug-related hospitalizations and arrests.”
Beauregard joined the Zendo Project after four years of volunteering at festivals including Lighting in a Bottle and Burning Man, huge gatherings known for being spaces where people play with their consciousness by taking drugs and partying. But according to him, just because the use of psychedelics are common at such events, it doesn’t mean these environments are particularly supportive for such a trip. In other words: Huge, hectic music festivals don’t hold the same kind of peaceful space as say, a psychedelic experience chaperoned by a shaman. That’s where he and Zendo Project come in.
My journey to this work comes from my own psychotic break, for a lack of a better term. When I’ve talked about this experience with some people, they’re like, “Oh, that’s just a spiritual awakening. No big deal.” Basically, I was involved with an Ayahuasca community and went to Peru to do 10 days of Ayahuasca and other plant medicines in 2008. I didn’t sleep for three or four days, and this sleep deprivation only compounded the effects of the psychedelics, resulting in a journey off into my own multidimensional space for about a month and a half, two months. After that, with the help of friends and family, it took me another two or three months to fully integrate back into reality.
Later, I was participating in some workshops at a festival — sessions about permaculture and different rites of passage — and met Sara Gael, director of the Zendo Project. At the time, I had no idea this kind of work existed. I was like, “Shit, that’s a thing?!?!” And so, I enrolled in my first psychedelic harm introductory course in 2013. Soon thereafter, I was thrust into the scene with Zendo at Bicycle Day and some other pretty big festivals.
This is how it works: We have somebody in front of our tent acting as the greeter — or the guardian of our space — who welcomes folks inside. The greeter also acts as our information booth, because it’s not uncommon that people notice the tent and think it looks fun, providing us with an opportunity to explain what we do. Other times, people are checking themselves in or bringing friends to the space. It’s not a medical thing where we’re out in the field looking for people who need us; it’s totally self-selected and consensual. Once inside the tent, we match up each guest with a sitter who usually offers them one-on-one support — as well as water, blankets, a fan and a bed.
Another important part of what we do is acknowledge whatever reality people say they’re experiencing. When people who are heavily tripping have to deal with law enforcement or medical personnel, they usually experience a lot of contradiction. The person tripping is like, “I’m God!” or “You’re the devil!” and the police officer or medic will invalidate that reality by telling them that they don’t know what they’re talking about, which only creates a lot of mistrust. Instead, we approach these folks wherever they’re at. It’s more like, “Let’s start here and go from here.” We make people feel valid.
The language typically used when dealing with folks who are high is to help them “come down,” but we don’t say that. Because whether someone is on mushrooms, LSD or any other psychedelic, there really is no down. If people were able to just “come down,” they would. This, however, is a neural process that has to do its thing. So instead of trying to stop that experience, we try to figure out what it’s all about. We go through it: “Is this something about your childhood? Is this something about your relationship? Is this something about the way you see yourself each morning?”
The term psychedelic means mind manifesting, so ingesting them can trigger subconscious things we don’t realize we have going on and bring them to the forefront. A lot of overwhelming emotion comes up — whether it’s joy, anger or grief. Psychedelics also can also evoke repressed memories and emotional trauma. It can feel both channeled and out-of-control, so we create a safe space where you can sail around without feeling hurt. Looking back, I wish I could have had a different landing zone and such well-rounded care during my own psychotic break.
Sometimes a new person comes into the tent who’s super expressive or in need of a lot of care, and another guest who’s been relaxing a while is like, “I don’t want to be part of this guy’s process; this is intense. Let’s go see some lights and dance.”
And that’s totally fine. We have a great sense of humor about things. We don’t laugh at people in a mean way when they’re acting beyond “normal” emotional boundaries; we laugh at all that we take seriously in our own lives. That said, we’ll also hold hands or hug people when that’s what they want as part of our nurturing and support. We’re just not available for a cuddle party or anything like that.
I don’t think people do more drugs when they know we’re going to be at an event, but I do think they feel less anxious to know that if something does happen, we’re there for them. At many of the festivals we don’t attend, there are usually high people being arrested or sent to the hospital when they don’t need to be. We provide a space where the stimuli is reduced. You can have some peace and quiet unavailable throughout the rest of the festival experience and feel less overwhelmed.
The thing is, most people taking psychedelics at festivals are just looking to have fun. They’re not always ready for some deep internal introspection, but often times, folks leave the Zendo tent with more of a reverence for psychedelics as medicine rather than something purely recreational. As a community, we want people to know that psychedelics can be life-changing when they’re done recreationally, but they can also change your life in a way that involves some deep emotional recalibration.
To that end, people will often come in crying and apologize over and over again for doing so, especially men. From my perspective though, it’s like, “Sweetie, this is okay. Holding this shit in for five years isn’t okay.” But if it’s forgiveness they truly need, they can apologize, and we’ll accept their apology. It’s usually not about that, though. They’re mainly getting in touch with this part of themselves that needs to breathe. Overall, we create a space where people can deal with the shadowy aspects of themselves — the unconscious aspects.
We see tripsitting as creating a relationship. We set boundaries, like not allowing any sexual conduct, but within those boundaries, we allow people to access things culture denies us. It’s really freeing. We call it a divine state when people begin running around screaming, “I’m God! We’re all God!”
Instead of telling them that they’re wrong, we let them do that for as long as they want to. We need more of those people in the world anyway.
—As told to Tierney Finster