Welcome to the Conversations on Healing podcast, where host Shay Beider speaks with renowned healthcare leaders, practitioners, and thought leaders to explore the world of wellness, the incredible powers of self-care, and what it truly means to heal today. Join us on this journey to become more whole healed and connected.
Hello everybody. Thank you for tuning into the Conversations on Healing podcast. I’m host Shay Beider, and joining me today is Dr. Michael Sapiro. Dr. Sapiro is a clinical psychologist, psychedelic psychotherapist, and is also working on a new book for the Mayo Clinic, which we’ll talk about in today’s conversation. He is trained by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, also known as maps and is faculty at the eSalon Institute as well as a fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Michael is an integrative psychologist at the Boise Ketamine Clinic where he offers ketamine assisted psychotherapy sessions for first responders, veterans and community members. He’s also an integrative coach and consultant with Seal Future Foundation and Sabbath Foundation, helping former Navy Seals and other special operations team members recover from combat exposure with using psychedelic assisted therapy and integration coaching. In today’s conversation, Michael and I touch on a wide variety of topics centering around authenticity, truth and unconditional love, and how these practices really as core practices help us to heal.
Michael also shares some of his work combining psychotherapy with psychedelics and how trauma can manifest very differently for certain populations such as first responders. We discuss the effects of compartmentalization and how psychedelic medicine paired with psychotherapy can help people work through some of the numbness and separation that can be felt. Michael also discusses some of the research that’s being conducted at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, including some fascinating work around consciousness studies and mental time travel techniques that can actually help to bring wisdom to both our past and future selves in forming the present moment. We also touch on and discuss the weight of ancestral trauma and kind of cultural traumas that affect people’s lives and understand the role that epigenetics plays in the way those traumas are passed down in lineages. This episode is really unique in that we go in a variety of different directions and cover a lot of fascinating topics, so I think there’ll be something valuable for everyone that’s tuning in. So let’s go ahead and get the conversation started.
Welcome, Michael. I’m so delighted to have you on the Conversations on Healing podcast.
Dr. Michael Sapiro Thank you so much for having me. It’s good to see you again, actually.
Great to see you too. I was pondering over which direction I wanted to take to kick off this conversation, and I kept coming back to some values that you had articulated to me are so important to you, and those are truth, unconditional love and authenticity, and I thought what a lovely place to start our conversation just to ask you why are those particular values so important to you?
Yeah, I love that. Just go to the heart of the matter together.
I’m a psychologist, I’m a meditation teacher, I’m a psychedelic psychotherapist, and I do a lot of healing with a variety of populations for long time and after all the work it seems those three things keep popping up in my work in terms of what’s the most vital message for oneself and what’s the most potent medicine we can take for healing and growth? Unconditional love seems to be the most powerful medicine we have to give ourselves first and foremost, something we struggle generally to do, but once we start doing, we have this access to really powerful internal medicine to apply like a salve to the wounds of our lives and the hurts and the pains and the grief. So unconditional love is what we’re all seeking from other people. It’s what we wanted from our parents, what we wanted from our lovers and our spouses, and it hurts when we don’t get it. So when we learn to give it to ourselves first and foremost, we have what we need and then it becomes much easier to start giving it to other people like children and people we work with and our spouses. So I’ll just start with unconditional love as the most powerful medicine. I can talk about the other two, but I didn’t know if you wanted to come in and chat with me about that.
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that interests me in your sort of personal philosophy is how the work that we do on ourselves or within ourselves also has planetary implications or consequences. And so that practice of unconditional love for oneself then also has a ripple effect to everyone in our lives. And I think you could say the same for the values of truth and authenticity, that in honoring our own truth, we’re also supporting others in doing the same and being authentic. We’re actually allowing others to feel that authenticity and maybe to wake up more into their own authenticity. And so each of these has both a personal and kind of a planetary or social dynamic, and so I’m interested in how you navigate those different sides of it.
I think for the listeners, I want to make clear that this is actually a very practical medicine, unconditional love and truth and living authentically because in new age thinking these things are beautiful words and people might not really understand that it’s a practice day-to-day practice that we get up and reflect on. We practice internally, we practice offering externally. So I’m talking across the board in healing as in medicine, psychology or therapy, even physical therapies, energetic healing therapies. The idea of unconditional love is so important because we often carry shame about who we are or we are so insecure about ourselves or we don’t think we deserve to get better to have healing. We often sabotage ourselves when trying to get very treatments that cure us. And so on my level when I work with people and I often see them sabotaging the treatments we’re doing or hear from my primary care colleagues, Hey, this patient is not taking their medicine, can you work with them and figure out why?
Well, when someone doesn’t love themselves, they’re more likely to stop taking meditations, forget the protocols, or just ignore the treatments altogether because it’s a subterfuge. They’re going inside and going, you don’t really deserve it. And so if we correct for that, if we apply unconditional love to the insides of ourselves or to the children that we were didn’t get it, we start taking care of ourselves more frequently and more often. So we’re like, I’m going to eat that better diet because I care for myself. I’m going to stop or reduce smoking. I’m going to take the medicine I need to because I don’t want to be hurt in the long run. And then we start applying those kinds of ways of thinking externally, well, I do want to be around longer. I do want to take care of my environment and other people. We start having shifts that we can apply to the collective and to our planet. So that’s why I start off with how practical unconditional love really is not just a spiritual word that sounds really cool. It’s a dedicated practice to our wellbeing that then transforms the way we see and treat other people environment in our planet.
And I know in your work as a clinical psychologist, you actually view things like depression and anxiety as symptoms of a misalignment with the soul and kind of what the soul yearns for. And I wanted to explore that a little bit more with you, Michael, because in the work that I do through Integrative Touch and with our therapeutic approach, Integrative Touch therapy, which is like a group-based kind of intensive for deep healing work when a big shift or transformation needs to occur, a lot of what we find when we get into what is the underlying sort of root of illness or any kind of dis-ease in our lives, it often is some sort of a misalignment or mis kind of communication or attunement with what’s happening at the deepest level, which is sometimes called the soul or kind of spirit self. And so I’m curious how you see this in your work with things like depression and anxiety, how that manifests.
Well, we can start with the concept of authenticity, and the opposite for me, which is living a misaligned life, living other people’s values or other people’s truths. That means our parents, our caregivers, our teachers, our clergy, women and men. The culture itself gives us all kinds of messages of how we’re supposed to be, think, act, and behave. And some of those are really health-based and mindful and appropriate when we think about treating people in ways that are beneficial rather than harmful. But a lot of the messages are just not about us. Our parents’ messages are often about our parents, not about us. So when we’re getting messages about who we’re supposed to be from our caregivers or parents, we start internalizing ideas that are not native to our own soul, that are not for or about us. And we grow up trying to live in those living up to those values or ideas, and we’re always feeling like, I don’t feel like myself, this isn’t right for me, but I’m going to do it what I was taught, or I want to belong, or I want love from somebody, so I’m going to do it anyway. And that’s really depressing. We’re literally depressing our soul’s voice or the heart. We can just say the heart or intuitive heart that has a voice that’s unique to ourselves. It says, that’s not right, or this is right. And then we go, no, be quiet. You want dad’s love. Be quiet. Just do what your dad says or just do what mom says or whatever. And then all of a sudden we’re living other people’s lives for us and we have this misalignment, and that’s depressing. It’s anxiety producing. We feel nervous. We feel anxious and afraid instead of settling into what’s authentic for us. Now, of course, that doesn’t happen when we’re children or even young adults. We have to discover who we are over time, but we want an environment and a community that says, go ahead, find yourself, live up to your true identity, become that woman, become that man. And so I find most of my clients are struggling against living up to other people’s ideas, and then that’s where depression and anxiety most likely arise from. I really treat that misalignment and help people discover and listen to their own heart’s values, their hearts, desires, hearts and tension, and we live into that, which is the truth. When I say truth, it’s what is your own heart long for? What does it want to express? How does it want to express itself? So now authenticity and truth come into play in therapy. We want to live our own truths, and once we do, we start feeling much healthier, lighter. We’re more playful, we’re less likely to take other people’s stuff on. We’re more likely to set boundaries and say, no, that doesn’t work for me. Thank you, but no. I just read a post on New York Times looking at people who are dating over 60. And you would think a lot of people are struggling in that age, but what they’re finding is people are settling into who they are and going, I’m not going to play games. I’d rather be alone. I’d rather be with my dog than play a game with someone to try to get them to like me. They can like me for who I am or I don’t need them. I love that, and I wish people who are younger would end up doing that more often going, this is who I am. I don’t want to acquiesce to others’ needs that way or others’ idea of who I should be. So that’s where authenticity and truth really play into healing and growth from my perspective.
You may have heard or read in Gabor Mate’s work, he talks about this tension between authenticity and attachment and how particularly as young children, if we feel that in being our authentic self, we’ll lose those core attachments because we’ll be judged or there’ll be a loss of connection, especially with our primary caregivers that will sort of submerge that authentic self and that to some degree in any relationship we’re navigating a little bit that tension between those two. I think it’s an interesting consideration to think about because we have such a core need for attachment and connection to others and relationship, part of being a human being is being in relationship with other human beings at the same time finding that balance where we hold that inner authentic self and value that very dearly and yeah, it’s an interesting dance to figure out.
Absolutely. And it’s the parent’s responsibility, ensure safety to ensure healthy values are, but then what are healthy values? This is a tricky thing that I work with parents on. You want the child to discover things for him herself as well as then create a healthy boundary for them so they’re not going to get really hurt. So the way I look at this, and I don’t remember where I heard this metaphor, but I love using it. We have a pasture for horses and we want to let them be free, but there are gates there fences to keep them in. But as children age, I’m going back to children now, we extend the pasture as they’re teens. We let them go a lot farther out, but there’s still a fence way out there that if they cross, you’re like, dude, that’s not okay. You’re going to stay in now. We’re going to work through this. But we want to give them a lot of space to discover who they are and their voice and their passions, and it is a balance for parents. I work a lot with parents on how to create healthy boundaries while letting them discover who they are at the same time letting the kids discover. And that can be very scary for parents to do that for a lot of reasons. So we want to invite healthy attachment styles, but that’s on the parents to do that. That’s not actually on the child to do that. It’s on the parent to create healthy boundaries, ensuring healthy attachment styles. And so mostly what I work on is the parent’s own stuff, and then we go into healthy parenting behaviors rather than start with, how do I do this with my child? It’s like, how do you do that with yourself? How are you feeling scared with yourself to let yourself express yourself? Where are your own boundaries? Are they super rigid like your parents or caregivers made for you and you’re struggling against that? It really comes down to ourselves and then how we relate to our children. But yes, it’s a dance for sure.
Another area of your work that I would like to touch on is something that you’re fairly well known for, which is your work in psychedelic medicine and psychotherapy. And currently you’re writing a book for the Mayo Clinic on psychedelic medicine. And so I want to share, I would love for you to share, I know you are very focused also on helping vets, first responders, police to deal with some of the PTSD that arises in those professions. And so I’m curious about what you are seeing in terms of the value of psychedelic medicine, particularly for trauma.
Okay, so there’s a lot here, so maybe we could, what do you want to talk about?
There is a lot. You’re writing a whole book on it.
What I’m writing about is psychotherapy, psychedelic psychotherapy. What do I do in the room when someone’s on a medicine like ketamine, and how do I help them navigate a psychedelic state in a way that’s therapeutic to address their therapy goals? So that’s one aspect of what I’m doing work on is the psychedelic psychotherapy aspect. And then we bring in populations like police firefighters, wildland fire, department of Corrections, and then combat veterans who I also work with. So that’s its own work that’s really distinct from working with civilians, even though working with trauma seems to be kind of standard across the field. We’re working with nervous systems, we’re working with ideas of safety, feeling safe within ourselves, how do we relate to other people when we’ve been traumatized? But first responder trauma is very specific to the work they’re doing and how often they’re putting themselves in danger for our benefits, for civilians benefits. And they’re not all ending up with PTS or PTSD, but all of them have a very particular way of being and living when you’re in the face of danger, chronically day in and day out, and then you’re doing shift work and then you’re not getting sleep. So it’s very complex. So I guess I’d like to put it back to you out of all the things I just mentioned, which I’m excited to talk about any of those things. What would you like to chat about?
Well, I think why don’t we take it in two parts. So let’s first talk about how psychotherapy can be used in partnership with psychedelic medicine, so that, as you were saying, it could align with the therapeutic goals that a client has. So what that can look like, and also what people would look for in a provider if this is something that they were interested in exploring. How do you find someone who’s highly qualified in this area would be another question I think our listeners would be interested in.
Yeah, so there’s a lot of different types of therapy with psychedelic medicine, and we’re seeing it in research where, let’s say we’re looking at psychedelic medicine for depression or smoking cessation or end of life issues. So someone who has cancer, let’s say it’s stage four cancer, and they’re taking psilocybin to help themselves deal with the oncoming death, their own death. And sometimes we just give the medicine to a person and their own inner wisdom, their own innate healing intelligence, as we call it, works with the medicine in a therapeutic way where you’re not having a third party come in and do a lot of therapy with the person. That’s one kind of therapy. There’s other kinds of, I would call it therapeutic work with medicines, ceremonial work. People go on retreat and in a large group they take medicines. And in that large group, they’re having psychedelic experiences with a guide or a shaman perhaps who doesn’t really interfere with the person, but they might be singing songs on the side. They might be playing music, they might be doing energetic work, kind of like reiki, but they’re not doing psychotherapy. That’s another type of, I would call it therapy. And then what I do is psychotherapy. So I’m literally sitting with a person who’s taken, let’s say psilocybin, if we’re in a place that’s available and legal or I’m in the ketamine clinic and somebody has been given a dose of ketamine through intermuscular injection or through IV, and that person and I are actually doing psychotherapy the whole time they’re on medicine. And my job is to help them navigate their exploration of their psyche, which is deep inside themselves, the layers of their consciousness from their awake consciousness, the one we’re using to talk to each other, to their more subconscious and unconscious states, which we access through psychedelic medicine. And I also help them navigate the consciousness of the cosmos of the universe, images, metaphors, symbols and signs that come from the universe around us that come into us. And then what happens when an ancestor visits? What happens when a spirit visits, whether they’re true or not true, whether it’s imagined or actually legit is not my business. My business is how I help a person navigate those states or experiences for the sake of their wellbeing, for their sake of their healing and growth, because all of those experiences in the psychedelic state are relevant to our healing and growth, and my job is to help them use it therapeutically. Not a lot of people are trained on that yet. This is fairly new. I’m not the first one to do it, but I do have the honor of writing about how I’m doing it in every session, what it looks like when a therapist is engaged and when a person shares those things, like my grandmother is talking to me now, she’s saying, please help heal our line of women who have been abused throughout the entire our history of ancestors. How do we use that to help heal someone in real time from their own abuse as a child? How do we help heal the relationship with their mother who abused them? How do we help having the grandmother come in, think the ancestral line of trauma? All of these things are occurring in real time in therapy, and my job is to help them navigate that and use their own wisdom to come up with some kind of transformation for themselves. That’s an example.
Wonderful. And I want to go a little into the part two of this side of first responders and the work that you’re doing there. And I’m curious, because you said that you are clear that this sort of population of firefighters, police, these people that are on the front lines trying to help us protect us military folks, that you are seeing very unique characteristics or dimensions to the type of trauma that they’re experiencing. And so I’d love to hear what you’re seeing is standout for you in terms of being different or unique from other types of trauma that people experience in the community at large. And then also what you’re noticing is distinct in terms of the healing process for first responders.
I might start there first. Sure. Honestly, it’s my favorite population to work with. When we think of heroes, and I know they don’t enjoy that, but really when someone runs into a burning building, for our sake, that’s pretty heroic. It’s pretty not self-serving really. When you think of altruism, it’s giving, and I don’t know if I truly believe in that concept because we’re always serving ourselves in some way as well. But when first responders are the first to show up to an emergency or a critical incident where most of us would run away, but they’re actually going toward it, that’s a heroic act. But there’s a cost to that. There’s a cost to that on a nervous system and on the way we show up, they show up as parents, everything tends to turn into chronic stress and chronic safety issues. So for one of my police officers who goes into a movie theater, they’re habitually looking for people that they might’ve arrested or people that might pose a threat to the theater. That means their nervous systems are never offline. You can’t just go to a carnival, to a movie theater, to Disneyland, without chronically being on guard for threat and danger. And that is so harmful to the nervous system, to the cardiac, to the heart, to the lungs. I mean, you’re chronically putting stress in your body even when you’re off duty. That is something civilians don’t actually understand that the stress of a first responder carries through most of their career and into retirement. There’s really specific issues about being tribal. They’re very tribally, mind oriented. So the brother and sisterhood of first responders is a very strong one, and when they near retirement, there’s a threat loss of that. So I’m working on that level of what happens when they’re leaving, and we’re addressing all of this in psychedelic therapy. It’s incredible because it comes forward. Most first responders don’t have a chance to talk about this. They don’t even talk about this to each other because the stigma of mental health, if you say you’re struggling, you’re weak. That’s the old school of first responder life. The new school is of course you’re going to struggle. Of course you’re going to have trauma reactions in your body. Let’s not stigmatize it. My job is to de-stigmatize it within themselves and in the community in which I work, when I pair that with psychedelics, the beauty of psychedelics, it dissolves the ego’s control we have over our waking consciousness. So when most first responders only come in when they’re really struggling to see me, they’re finally able to admit they’re struggling, but their soul and their heart and their body’s been saying it for years, and we get to address that. Why wouldn’t you say this years ago? Well, I didn’t want to be. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to show I was weak. So finally, when on a psychedelic, they can hear their own soul and their heart and their bodies very clearly, and they’re able to talk about it. And then there’s the issues of what do you do when you see death on a chronic daily basis? You see babies who have been hurt or killed. What do you do with that when you’re the one to talk to the parent about that you have to compartmentalize to show up and be of service, but your inner humanity is crying out for the deaths you’ve seen for the traumas you’ve seen for the domestic violence you witness for the suicides you witness. Most of us don’t ever have to think about these things. First responders think about them every shift. And so that eats away at their humanity. They’re compartmentalizing closing it down to be on a shift. My job is to open their hearts back up because they’ve closed down. And the consequence of closing down, you don’t get to experience joy. You feel numb. You feel completely distanced from your children’s laughter. It becomes just stimulation rather than a joy. So I’m bringing the heart back into first responding for them so that they could go home and be with their kids and their spouses and really enjoy themselves. The psychedelics get their alpha ego out of the way. So we can just get right to the point.
And obviously there’s another whole element to this conversation, which is systems redesign, right? Yeah. Because of exactly what you stated, that the old view is suck it up, otherwise you’re weak. Just be strong, shove it down, get through it. But we know actually that makes people much less successful in these roles. They end up quitting. They have so many interpersonal issues that they’re not as functional. They take it out at home sometimes on their families. They take it out sometimes on the people in the community. There’s all sorts of terrible side effects from running the system that way. And so I think the other part of this dialogue is how do we completely reframe these systems to say trauma is a given in these roles, so let’s integrate all sorts of support, training, therapy around the people who are giving in some ways, so valiantly of themselves to put themselves in positions that are tremendously stressful and difficult. How do we actually create a sustaining system that gives them some of the support that they need to actually succeed in helping us in these ways that we are asking them to do in society?
These are very difficult and important questions. You have to have buy-in from the chiefs, battalion chiefs or police chiefs. You have to have buy-in from the captains, the line sergeants who are with their men and women all day long watching. You have to have buy-in from administration, which is very difficult when they’re tied into politics. When you being given that job is dependent on your relationship to the city and what’s the city believe about first responder mental health or not. Do they give money? Are they seeing trauma as a risk or they see it just as something on the side? We needs to need to push away and give them alcohol. Just go back to drinking. That’s what you always did. Why doesn’t it work for you? So how do we convince the cities? How do we convince the chiefs and the captains, they’ve been on the line, they know what it’s like, but when the culture says, shut up, go drink, go home, come back tomorrow, or whatever, when that’s the paradigm, we have to shift all of that. And I’m doing it two different ways. One, I’m working on large scale projects, working with chiefs and captains and lieutenants, working with the systems, and then I’m also working with the dudes on the line because the more they’re coming in, the more their brothers and sisters are seeing, Hey, you’re different. What’s going on for you? They’re like, I’m going to therapy man. Dr. Mike is legit. He understands us. He’s working with me. Here’s what I’m feeling. It’s really word of mouth that gets all my first responders to me. And on the other side, I’m actually working with the university to create wellness programs for police agencies throughout California, University of California, San Diego is partnered with post peace officer standards and training to create wellness programs where we’re bringing in mindfulness, we’re bringing in martial art type of training, not just for tactical use, but for inner wellness use. And when you have post, which is an educational system that trains officers and a university that can bring in technology and the latest science on wellbeing, now we’re having a university supporting law enforcement officers. So it takes a whole culture shift and it takes a whole village of people to go. We care about our officers and our first responders to make a difference. So I’m working on both of those sides with the lion and on the system. You can’t just do one.
And some of this is part of that $4 million grant that you’re a part of to create police wellness programs throughout the state of California, correct?
Yeah, that’s exactly right. Post had money where our department applied and we had some really innovative ideas how to work with police. The way, some of the ways in which I’m working with them, my police officers do HeartMath, they do cranial sacral massages, they do meditation with me. Some of them go to ketamine treatment. It’s legal. It’s not illegal as long as Ketamine’s prescribed, which it is. And so they do yoga, breath work, HeartMath, reiki, cranial sacral. All of these things are a part of the system my officers are using to help themselves go from complete red line stress where many come because they’ve been in a gurney themselves, they had AFib issues, they have issues that they’re like, I thought I was fine. I’m like, no, you’ve never been fine. You’ve just ignored all the signs and you’re compartmentalizing all those traumas till now they’re like, oh, there’s a whole system of care I need to do for myself as an officer. And we’re seeing incredible, incredible changes. And they’re still doing their shifts. It’s not like they’re less efficient, they’re more efficient at their work. They’re not burning out.
Yes, absolutely. And probably more attuned with the people that they’re serving because they’re not having to compartmentalize in the same way, and that numbness isn’t there to the same degree. So that would create a different level of respect and connection I would imagine with people that they’re interacting with in the community. Another part of your world and your work, you doas you do so many different things, Michael, that I want to get into a little bit is your research. And I know you’ve practiced as a research fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and it sounds like you’ve done some really fun work in the field of consciousness, something around mental time travel and unconditional love. It seems like quite a topics, and so I thought I would just kind of open it up for you to share with our listeners some of the interesting research projects that you’ve been involved in and what some of the outcomes that you find kind of fascinating that have emerged through that work.
Sure. So for any of your listeners or viewers who are unfamiliar with the Institute of NOETIC Sciences, which is noeticc.org, and we go by Ions Institute of Noetic Sciences, I believe in 1973, Edgar Mitchell was an astronaut who went to the moon, and as he was coming back from that mission, had an experience which we would call Samadhi. In the yoga world, the idea of all boundaries and barriers between self and universe are dissolved, and you’re completely absorbed into life just as it is, not as human being, not as Mike, not as male, not as astronaut, not as you, but just you are a part of the whole fabric. He had this coming back from the moon spinning in the capsule he was in, and he went on to study consciousness. He went on to study what is this human consciousness that in the beginning seems to divide? There’s me, there’s you, there’s Canada, there’s America, there’s Mexico. We seem so different. Yet truly as human beings and as universal beings, there’s something that pervades all of us equally. And he wanted to study what is transcendent and consciousness is transcendent. So he opened a institute that studies the various aspects of consciousness that are well beyond what we normally think is scientific, like telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, pre sentiment. The idea that you know something in the future that’s coming, an idea you get and you’re like, wow, that really happened. I had this idea or a dream and it came to fruition. How do we study that? How do we measure that? So I’m a part of a group of scientists, academics, and also practicing mediums and really interesting folk who look at these kinds of phenomenon that we all have. If you’ve ever had a thought about a friend you haven’t heard about for years, you haven’t thought about for years, and that friend calls you or texts you, and you’re like, dude, I just thought about you. I haven’t thought about you forever. You can call that a coincidence or you call it a synchronicity. And if you’re more attuned with the universe in this way, you’re more likely to have these synchronicities happen more often. And so part of my work is helping people tune in beyond their limited sense of self to the greater relationship to the universe. And that happens a lot on psychedelics as well as people who are meditating more often or in flow states more often like artists and martial artists and athletes. And so I’ve been invited to a lot of really cool research programs and studies. One of them, which you were mentioning, is by my colleague and friend, Julia Mossbridge. So anybody who wants to look up Dr. Julia Mossbridge, she’s a genius in so many domains, AI, time travel. And so she proposed a study to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of creating a technology that helps people connect to their past selves and also to their future selves.So connecting to yourself over time for the sake of your healing. And then she created technology where we use an app where we can talk to ourselves, and later that message will come back to us sometime in the future to give us some kind of support, encouragement. My part of that was to help create a mental technology, a meditation that where we go back into our past and we bring our current self with our wisdom, our love, our compassion, and we bring that part of ourself to the part of ourself in the past that was struggling and suffering the most when it needed our love but didn’t have it, and we were left alone or scared or we were being hurt. And so what I do is train people to go back in time and take our current loving self with us. We bring unconditional love for the part of us that was traumatized, and then we measure the differences in ourself. Now, how do we change now based on the work we do with ourselves in the past? So I want you all to think about that for a moment. If you go back into your past and bring unconditional love to the part of you that struggled or was traumatized, and you give that self love, attention and nurturance, does that actually have an effect on your wellbeing now in the present? And studies have shown that it does have a positive outcome, wellbeing outcomes, and then we can connect to our future selves as well. Have any of you pictured yourself in the future looking back at you, encouraging you to step into your better self, into your more healthy self? You can do that anytime you want. It’s a little hard to visualize at first, but then you can see yourself. I have a pretty healthy relationship with the future, Mike. When I’m struggling in the present, my future Mike says, here’s what I want you to do, do these things. And I start doing those things, and all of a sudden I’m becoming a version of my future self that I would never have been had I been stuck in my present dilemma. It’s fascinating. So I’ll leave you with it.
Yeah that is, that’s fascinating. Just to contemplate that research design is interesting. You said wellbeing. So what are some of the tools, or I don’t know, what types of tests are you doing to show changes the outcomes in these things?
Well, we’re still in beta testing. So we spent two years, we had pilot groups and focus groups working with us on doing this meditation and seeing the differences in wellbeing. You can have lots of measures. You can have trauma measures, depression measures, anxiety measures. You can make simple surveys happen. You can take physiological data measures. There’s all kinds of measures you can use in studies and people who are, anybody who does research, there’s a whole wealth of measures you can take. So we created this meditation and we created this app and website. So we’re combining technology with ancient wisdom of the wisdom traditions, like meditation, combining those. And then we took that into Cook County Jail in Chicago, we actually had permission to take our website, and we brought a facilitator who was one of our developers of the website and learned from me how to do these facilitated meditations. And we brought it to a group of about 12 men who were in Cook County Jail, and we help them have a relationship to their past while they were using once a week, our website, because they’re not allowed to have phones, but they use the website where they recorded messages to themselves, loving messages to themselves to encourage staying positive. And you can imagine being in Cook County jail is a difficult place to be. So this is a real time experience with people who are struggling with their own identities, with maybe things they’ve done in the past or with the traumas that caused a harm to them from which they reacted and did behaviors that hurt others or hurt themselves. We’re using this in real time with a population that really needs love for themselves. And so we did that for, I thought it was, maybe it was 12 weeks, I don’t remember exactly. And we took qualitative measures, qualitative data. What were your changes? Asking questions, getting a sense of the subjective changes. And we also took some measures too, pre and post evaluations. So this is something we’re using in real time in the world with people who are suffering and need it the most. So even though it’s crazy ideas, we’re actually making it practical.
Yeah, it sounds like you are.
So Michael, since this is the Conversations on Healing podcast, and you’ve described in our dialogue today about a lot of healing work that you’re doing with many different types of people, I’d like to ask you directly about your own healing experiences and what you have learned when you sit with like, wow, in my own life, what have I learned about healing or what have been my experiences that have helped me to transform my understanding of what it means to heal or how we heal? What comes to mind for you when you reflect on that question of what you’ve learned about healing from your own life and experience?
My first answer is it’s never ending. It’s never done. How am I supposed to answer that? Life is difficult. I’m neurotic. I have anxiety, I have trauma. I made lots of mistakes in my life. I’ve acted out of impulse. I’ve crossed boundaries. I’ve also been hurt terribly and been traumatized and tormented. This is life for everybody. Healing is loving myself through it all. Healing is for me, recognizing my impulse to run away or to hide or to isolate, or to use drugs like I used to do. And then going, do you really want to do that? Or can I tolerate the discomfort and pain I’m feeling now. Healing is being loved by my partner and wanting to push her away. I don’t think I deserve it. But going, Mike, you do deserve to be loved without chaos. Healing is forgiving my parents for the way they brought me up and the mental torment they put me under because of their life circumstances, but not taking it on anymore. like it was not my fault because it’s not my fault how my dad was. It’s not my fault. I don’t need to take that on. I mean, this is real life. I’m living real life. So healing for me was doing a lot of drugs and then learning meditation, and then sticking with meditation and letting the drug habit go down, letting the meditation have it go up, learning over time to stop shaming myself and instead start encouraging myself. It’s easy to shame and go toward pity. It’s much harder to encourage ourselves. So that’s a huge part of my practice when I start spiraling into shame, catching it and going, that’s not how I want to spend my day. I’d rather encourage myself. Healing is knowing I’m burning out because I’m pushing myself too hard and stopping and resting, taking time off. Healing is playing instead of taking on another job going, no, I’d rather go camping than do that weekend retreat. Yeah, it’s super cool. I can do a retreat with Navy Seals, but I’m exhausted. How about I go camping with my girlfriend instead, or just do gardening with my dog? Healing is practical for me. I’ll leave it at that.
Yeah. And I’m also curious because I know you’ve shared that your family also had an experience of being directly impacted by the Holocaust, and so I wonder too, how you’ve come to understand the relationship between such an enormous magnitude of trauma and then how that trickles down into families and into the very personal lives that we all live, and then also how it moves through. It’s not like that just happened, and then it affects the whole line, the family line. And so I’m interested in what you’ve come to understand about healing from that lineage perspective with collective traumas like the Holocaust.
Sure. Yeah, I heard it sucked bad. It kept, what are we going to say? It’s one of the worst things in history along with lots of other oppressive and murderous and hateful experiences humans go through that are still continuing around the world. So Jews are not alone in their suffering. And it was one of the worst things that continue to perpetuate down the line through what we know as epigenetics, the way our genes are coded and come online through the generations. I think there’s data that tell me if this is true or not. I read it in a book, I thought, what’s the book called? It didn’t start with you, mark Lan, I think it is. And I think he talked about your mother’s, you were in your mother’s egg while she was in your grandmother’s egg. Is that, I don’t know if that’s factually true, but if that is true, and he quoted some studies where they found that to be true, that means that I was in the Holocaust in some way because I’m not different from my grandmother’s DNA, I have my grandfather’s on both sides and my grandmothers on both sides that filtered through my parents into me. We’re not really separated the way we think we’re separated. So I don’t know if what I said is true or not, but I did hear that and it fascinates me. That is what epigenetics looks like when you look at lineage. I grew up safe in a Chicago suburb dreaming of Nazis having nightmares. I grew up with night terrors. There’s no reason I should have that kind of traumatic response as a child. And those dreams were not my dreams. They were my grandmother’s dreams, and my cousin had them, and my sister had them as well. While we were all very safe taking care of where we grew up, I did speak to a whole group of returning pilots and servicemen and women from the one 24th fighter wing of the Idaho National Air Guard after they came back from a combat deployment. And I talked to them about the importance of sharing their experience with their family. And I don’t mean the gruesome experience. So I worked with a fighter pilot of an A-10 warthog who would go and fire rounds. And in combat, I’m not saying give those kinds of grueling details, but you do want to let your family know what’s going on for you because it gives context to the behavior they’re witnessing. And so I grew up without the context of the behavior. So my grandmother freaked out all the time when we were coughing. I was like, why is she being crazy all the time? She’s yelling at me for coughing. Well, it turns out any sign of sickness in Auschwitz, you’d just be murdered immediately because you’re not useful to the Nazi camp. So my grandmother had to show great health, otherwise she would be killed. So coughing meant killed. So when she hears a grandchild cough, she can’t just turn that off and go, oh, poor kid has asthma. She’s like, shut up. Be quiet now. That’s crazy making for a child who doesn’t understand. His grandmother’s not insane. She’s just deeply traumatized, and that’s how it looks. So when I teach this, what I teach is to understand how what we’re demonstrating without stories is traumatizing to our kids and to the lineage of our family. What we want to do is be really open and honest and be like, our experiences sucked. They were traumatizing. They were extraordinarily deregulating for us, and we need to know that. So for our listeners on my YouTube, you can look up inner-wild transformation. That was the talk it gave to the servicemen and women. And you can get a little bit more detailed about how I talked to the military about epigenetics and sharing these stories. So I mean, we could have a whole podcast on this, but that’s a little bit of how I teach people.
You are your ancestors. You literally are your ancestors. And our job is to not live their responses, do our own healing, and let their responses pass through us without us acting it. Okay, I feel it. I see it, but that’s not mine. I’m not going to act like my grandmother acted. That’s not for me to do. But when Mike has his own trauma responses, I take care of it. You got to learn the differences. It’s very subtle and you have to learn how to discern what’s mine and what’s my family’s, but they are distinct and different.
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And when you think about how you would define or describe what healing is, well maybe I’ll just ask you that question, given a number of things that you’ve already communicated with us so far, in your own words, how would you define or describe what healing is?
Well, we do ancestral healing. So I have done ancestral healing for my grandmother. I’ve put her and my grandfather on altars. I’ve prayed, I’ve wished for their wellbeing. I’ve gone in the past and imagined what it would be like. And it’s an awful experience, by the way, just imagining what it would be like to be my grandmother in Auschwitz. I mean, it messed me up. Just really sincerely feeling that seeing her family killed in front of her, doing the things she had to do to stay alive, and the body she carried. I mean, I don’t mean to be too explicit, but this is real life. And I don’t want to trigger our readers, I mean, excuse me, our listeners. So I’ll step back from that. But when I really sat with that, it was traumatizing just thinking of that. So I then did the work for my own body, but then I did the work for my grandmother too, who I was imagining being with and feeling it. I light candles. Jewish people have rituals. You can use rituals from your own tradition or borrow from other traditions. We can do ancestral work. And in psychedelics, we do that a lot because they often do come and appear and say, can you do this for me? Or I’m still here, or it’s pretty extraordinary when we get to touch and be with our ancestors and then we have to do our own work. Discerning the difference, like I said, between what’s my grandmother’s fear, like unreasonable fears that would come up in my own mind are not my fears versus what is my fears and from my traumas. And then I do my own healing work. You see my hands coming to my heart and belly regulate my nervous system, have compassion for my struggles, support myself. So I would say both ancestral healing and personal healing is called for every human being on Earth. Quite honestly, if you’re Irish, if you come from the Congo, if you’re indigenous from South America, every tradition has oppression and where people have committed atrocities against them, that needs to be taken care of. And it comes through the way we live and think and behave, and we have to do our own work too.
Well, Michael, as we bring our conversation to a close, I know that one of the most important messages that I’ve heard you say that you want to share is that each one of us is worthy of love no matter what, that each one of us is worthy of love no matter what. And I also know that through your work, you inspire people to ask themselves how they can love themselves more. And also to think about how can this be turned into a daily practice? Because you were saying this isn’t just some kind of out there philosophical concept. These are actually daily practices. And so I’m curious about some of the ways that you’ve learned to teach others to train yourself into that level of inner love, a sense of self-worth as a practice on a day-to-day basis. So any insights you want to share about that would be great.
Well, first is to recognize for all the listeners or viewers to recognize what’s your relationship to yourself? How do you talk to yourself on a daily basis? How do you treat yourself? Do you do behaviors that you know hurt you, but you do anyway? Why would you do that? It’s not a judgment. Why would you do that? Why are you doing that? Reflect on that. So the first thing is, what’s your relationship to yourself? Are you punishing or encouraging? Do you shame or support? It’s that simple. It’s not easy. What I’m saying is very simple, but not easy. It’s that simple. Do you punish yourself or are you encouraging yourself? Do you punish yourself as a way of motivating or are you encouraging yourself to do better? So just reflect. And then when you realize what you’re doing, make a choice. Are you worth treating yourself better than that? Are you worth supporting yourself? Because your whole life depends on how you treat yourself. Your health depends on that. For the most part. We don’t choose the traumas, we don’t choose the diseases we get generally, but we do choose how we treat ourselves from day to day, moment to moment. Am I about to be angry or can I calm myself down with breath and get some clarity? I don’t want to stay in an angry state. I want to stay in a state that’s more relaxed, where I have more mental power to make better decisions where I’m caring for myself rather than putting myself in a state of anger, shock, dismay, pity. I want to go toward love, compassion, support, encouragement. I think about these things all the time for myself, and then I’m literally like, I’m asking you to consider, this is how I teach people. And week in, week out, we’re checking in with ourselves. How am I doing with this? And then your behavior starts to naturally change. It’s super simple, but very difficult to practice. So we want teachers, colleagues, mentors, therapists helping us along the way. Nobody does this alone. We literally can’t do this alone. So get people to help you, support you, ask for support, ask for help, you’re worth it. That’s what I’d say.
Great. All right. Well, I just want to give you a chance, if there’s anything else that feels important to put forward in this conversation on healing before we say I do.
Yeah. I mean, we were kind of super serious. This is all serious stuff, but I dance a lot and I watch a lot of comedy. My real suggestion to everybody is to fucking play, have fun. Stop being so serious. Shit is serious. Life is very dance in your kitchen while cooking. Watch some standup comedy. If you’re watching news, please cut that out. Look up standup comics on Instagram. If you’re going to scroll, at least make yourself laugh while you’re scrolling. Go play with your kids or your lovers or your best friends. Really, the seriousness is a chronic disease we have, and I know we were super serious, these topics are, but go play. You’ll feel so much better. Draw, be silly. Go to nature. Nature is the best medicine outside of unconditional love. So the truth is, I’d like you to play in nature. Make yourself silly more. If not, silliness is a great medicine. So I’ll leave you with that.
Those are great closing words. Play more, have more fun, and be silly.
Yeah, it’s a good antidote to the seriousness of what we were talking about today. It’s a balance. So bring the balance in of play and silliness. Yeah.
Great. Yeah. Well, I want to thank you, Michael, for having this conversation with me and taking time to share some of your work and things that you, the insights, what you’ve learned from working with so many people who were helping both you to grow and you are helping them to grow. So I appreciate your offering, what you have to share with everyone today.
It’s my pleasure and I hope it just makes somebody smile and also think deeply. I’ve done my job, so thanks for having me on.
Great. Thank you.
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