Michael shares his experiences at Eleusinia. Michael spent his life in service and this shaped his emotional practices of living in the world. In this story you’ll hear how Michael walked back into self compassion and into a state of let go that left him laughing like a child again. Listen here or on Apple Podcasts.
Tawnya: You have made it to the Psilocybin Podcast with Tales from Eleusinia, a unique science-based psilocybin retreat based out of Mexico, that not only focuses on brain health and wellbeing, but actually specializes in pain management. I am your host, Tawnya, the medical director.
Come along and join us as we break down the latest in psychedelic research news and the inner workings of this amazing experience.
I’m so excited to introduce to you this the next guest who shares his story. Michael is this power house of a giver. Someone who lives a life of amazing service from the beginning. The way he lived his life in service started to dictate how he emotionally spent his wellbeing in the world. This story is unique in how he found himself. You’ll love this! Enjoy.
Michael. Thank you so much for coming to the show. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and the work that you do?
Michael: Sure. I appreciate you having me.
So I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I run a national nonprofit. The focus of it is caring for the prevention, the intervention and treatment of children who experience or are at risk for child abuse. It’s been a career that I’ve been a part of for the last 10 years. Prior to that, I served as the executive director for an organization that sent surplus medical supplies and equipment to impoverished hospitals in developing countries. Before that I worked for a nonprofit caring for people with disabilities, and that all started after I spent about two years in Guatemala, caring for children in an orphanage.
My background has always been in developed in faith. I was raised Catholic in San Jose, California. I ended up going to Seattle, Washington, where I pursued my undergraduate degree. It was there that I had an opportunity to travel overseas and spend some time in Kenya and Uganda working with different orphanages and health clinics. And that really kinda reshaped where I thought my life was going to go and directed me towards a life of service and, and eventually in the nonprofit sector.
Tawnya: Wow. So you’re like a, a major giver from the get go. And that has still created the professional life that you’re living today.
Michael: Yeah. When I was in high school, I went to an all boys Jesuit college prep. And one of the mottos of what we were taught was to challenge everything, to find the real truth in whatever it is that’s being presented to you. But then the other element was service to others. And it was something that really stuck with me. And when I went overseas to Africa when I was in college, I actually had a lot of biases and reluctance to go that I didn’t recognize until I was over there. But then when I was over there, I really got to see the difference in culture and then the difference in community and the difference in people. And I fell in love with giving back and serving and being part of a community and trying to make the world that I’m living in a little bit better for others.
Tawnya: That’s beautiful. And so you were a recent guest at Eleusinia, and part of your experience here was also to support a good friend of yours.
Tawnya: Did you have any other reasons why you wanted to come?
Michael: Yeah. I learned about Eleusinia from a friend of mine. It was his wife that brought forward that he was coming, and upon speaking with him and her it felt as if it was an opportunity, perhaps for me to come and support him on the journey that he was going to be looking to explore while he was here. So yes, originally the intention in the first place was to come out, explore if there was going to be any benefit for me, but really be here more as a support element for my friend.
As I learned more about Eleusinia prior to coming, I knew there were parts of me that could really benefit from this experience as well. Stuff that I was working on at home with my own individual therapist, but never really prior to that had thought that an experience like Eleusinia was something that would come into my purview as far as a way of helping me address some of the trauma that’s gone on in my past.
And it was interesting, because when we had our session with the macro-dose, I was really anticipating what that experience was going to be like for me, but I couldn’t get past the support element that I felt that I needed to be for my friend. I felt very protective of him and wanting to make sure that he was okay. And he had a really big experience, and his experience came out in ways that were very uncharacteristic of how he normally is in everyday life, which brought forward that concern element for me even more.
Coupled with the fact that there were a number of other people here that were also having very big experiences at the same time, I found my natural tendency to hold back focusing on my experience, what was going on with me and plugging into, let’s just call it the “trauma” that everybody else was going through. And that’s been very reflective of who I am and who I’ve been in my life. I tend to put myself on the back burner and put everybody else in front of me.
And what do I need to do? Or what can I do to care for them or to provide or protect them? Even at my own detriment. And I was thankful that after a small period of time doing that, Jessica and others finally gave me a sense of permission to be able to let go of my friend and everybody else, in a way that allowed me to feel comfortable trusting that they had him, that they had them. Then I was able to kind of put in my own AirPods, kind of leave everybody behind me and situate myself in front of the mountain, so I couldn’t see or hear their experience.
That was when I was really able to plug into my own experience. And upon plugging in, it was a beautiful moment. I saw a lot of shapes and geometric patterns and faces and angelic representations that made me feel very happy and very peaceful.
And then I also had a moment where my own trauma and my own issues came before me. One of the challenges that I have been dealing with over the last couple of years centers around the passing of my grandmother, who was essentially like a third parent to me. I was born in New York, and when we relocated to California, both of my parents needed to work two jobs each, which meant that there wasn’t anybody that was really home for me, and then eventually my younger sister as well. And so my maternal grandmother came out from Puerto Rico and she helped take care of me. And we became very, very close. And most of my childhood experiences that I reflect back on and think about involve her and the love that we shared. And one of the things that we would do every night after dinner, is we would make popcorn. And then I would go up to her room and I would lay down with her in her bed and we would have popcorn and we would watch her Novellas and we would laugh and we would joke and sometimes talk shit. And, I mean, it was just a wonderful person in my life. And when I graduated college and I moved to Guatemala, I really thought that I was going there and that was it. I was just going to let that experience in Guatemala and caring for the children at the orphanage, just guide whatever the next path was for me in front of me.
And when I received word that she was calling sick and her condition was getting worse and they didn’t know how much longer she was going to live, that’s what brought me back to the States. And I came back really thinking, I just spent a couple of years caring for 33 children and we built a school and we built a church and we expanded programs and services; caring for my grandmother obviously is not going to be that hard. And I was wrong.
She suffered from TIAs (transient ischaemic attacks) and I couldn’t get her to just stay down. I couldn’t get her to just relax and I wanted her to just stay still because she was safe. And any time that I would turn my back and she would get up and she would do something, she would bruise herself or she would injure herself. And I felt this challenge of, I can’t keep you safe. And it just grew this real sense of failure in the biggest ways inside of me. And then we ended up putting her into a convalescent home, near where my parents lived so we could visit every day. But I didn’t realize how strong that sense of failure was inside of me. And then when she was getting towards her latter days, she was on life support and there really became a decision. Do we keep her alive or do we let her pass? And it was a really hard moment, especially for my parents. We had a priest that was there to give last rights if that was a decision that we needed to make. And I remember my mom crying at my dad and not knowing what to do. And and they looked at me and they’re like, Michael, what are we going to do? What do we do here? And it felt very much like the decision was being placed on me, and I made the decision to let her go.
It was the hardest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life. And it followed a period of time where I felt like I failed her so badly that I just bottled all of that emotion down. I’m half Puerto Rican, half Italian outta New York. So we’re very loud, passionate, assertive people. Crying has never been a comfortable emotion for me to experience or to witness. So typically it’s always come out in anger and frustration. And so oftentimes, from that point forward, there would always be like, Michael’s so angry, he’s so aggressive, he’s so assertive. What’s going on?
And it would be the littlest things at times that would trigger me. And then as my children were born and my family was growing, the last few years I’d be sitting on the couch and for no reason at all I would just start tearing up and crying. And because tears and sadness is such a difficult emotion for me, I would bottle it up and then I would try to release it in other ways. Activities or whatever, but I could never escape the sadness. The sadness was always there.
And so eventually, after speaking with my friend found the courage to find out, go speak to a therapist and talk about it. And for about the last 18 months prior to coming to Eleusinia, that’s what my therapist and I have been working through and talking about.
So when I was finally able to plug in and have my own experience, after kind of going through a period of kind of seeing the geometric dimensions and then the angelic faces and so much peace and comfort, I found myself in this cloud. And in this cloud I found a sense of expression to me to let go. And I can recall saying “I’m trying and I’m trying, but I can’t, but I can’t.” And tears just streaming off my face and I’m crying. I was laying on the couch out in front of the mountain and it almost felt like altar for me, and I kind of felt like I’m just sacrificing everything that I’ve been storing up inside of me and trying to let that all go. And then I remember telling myself, to just “catch yourself,” because I felt like I was falling. Just “Catch yourself, catch yourself.” And that eventually got me to a place of calm and peace. And I redirected over to a hammock where I felt like I was in a cocoon. And I didn’t see a face, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I just kept laughing.
And the laughter that I was feeling and expressing felt so much like the laughter that I used to have with my grandmother when I was laying with her in her bed when I was such a younger boy. And it wasn’t like the type of laughter that I feel when I’m out at a pub with some friends or joking around at the gym. It was that kind of childlike laughter that felt so good. And that just brought out the sense of peace and calm and relaxation that I don’t know if I’ve ever felt. But definitely, if I did, I haven’t felt it in a very, very long time. And I’ve been trying to process that since that point in time.
And I had an opportunity the following day to speak with Josefina And we did an energy alignment ceremony, and she helped me understand that the letting go, it’s okay. It was my grandmother letting me know that decision was the right decision, and that I’m in a happy place and letting it go was okay, you don’t have to hold onto that. It wasn’t a failure on your part. And that decision was the right decision. And the laughter that I felt was her and that cocoon feeling that I had in the hammock was like her arms embracing me and hugging me as we were laughing. And that conversation and sharing back and forth between Josephina and I just warmed me up and brought me to a place of peace with all of that, that I hadn’t experienced ever. And that I’ve been trying to get to in the 18 months or so that I’ve been working with my therapist on exploring.
And we finished that ceremony together where she did a blessing over me. And we did some breathwork and when I opened my eyes, everything just looked so vibrant and so bright. And I remember telling her “Everything’s so bright!” And she was sharing with me that that’s my aura that I’ve never been able to see and the beauty of my aura because I’ve always placed so many other trauma, and so many other people, and so many other things in front of me, out of that intention to serve, that I’ve never been able to look at my own light. And I’m so thankful for, for that moment and for that experience.
Tawnya: Wow. So it really did, literally, bring to light that redirection and reflection. Do you think that you have the capacity to take that home, and does it look like you may move to work with psilocybin in the future because of that event that happened to you?
Michael: Absolutely. Part of the way I’ve always been running my life to avoid some of the stuff that I’ve been bottling down is to just keep going and going and going and going. And right now I’m running a national nonprofit. I’ve got my own consulting practice on the side. I’m currently studying for my doctorate. I’ve got a family that I’m responsible for. So keeping my life busy has just been my M.O. It’s what I’ve always done.
Coming to Eleusinia helped me to understand the need to care for myself, the need for self-care and self-love. And that I can’t try to replace self-care and self-love by focusing exclusively and totally on service to others and caring for others. I’ve got to spend some time appreciating the blessings and the gifts that have been given to me in my life, as well as appreciating who I am as my own individual self. And slowing things down and not feeling like I need to always be achieving or doing in order to feel value. That there’s value in just being able to be.
And I do believe that staying with the mushroom experience is going to help me continue to channel back into that and focus on that. I’m excited to cultivate my own in an effort to feel that connectivity between creating and then experiencing that creation.
So that is one of the things that I’m really looking forward to, and then sharing that experience again, continually with my friend, as I know that this is something that he wants to continue carrying forward as well. So continuing to share and bond together, and grow together, and heal together in that way, as well as the community of relationships that have come, not just from those that were with us on this particular retreat, but those that have come before us and those that will come after us.
Tawnya: I wanted to ask you about that. Do you feel closer to the friend that you brought? Or that you guys came together? Do you feel like it was an expanding experience for you to witness each other move through that?
Michael: Absolutely. I mean, he and I have been very close friends for more than 30 years. So we know each other very well, and we’ve got tons of stories and experiences over the years. This is completely different and new because unlike the typical adventures and trips and experiences that we do, this opened up elements of vulnerability that we typically don’t get into when we’re together.
His experience in particular was so big. The only way that I could probably characterize it it’s 180 degree difference from who he normally is every day. From what he was saying from the way he was behaving. Everything. A complete 180. Another way of looking at it, it was almost as if you turned him inside out. Because what came out was everything that was inside that you don’t ever get to see. And that’s what I expressed to him when we were talking afterwards, as chaotic, for lack of a better word, as that experience was, it was beautiful because it was an expression of everything inside of him that you don’t ever get to see. And it’s probably very, very difficult to articulate with words. And I was honored to be a part of witnessing that and seeing not just the beauty of his inside come out, but the transformation and healing of all of that that has begun. It’s not over, but it begun.
And at the same time, being able to have my own vulnerability be shown and expressed, and feeling safe in the ability to do that. I think that’s definitely brought us closer. I’m expecting probably a lot more conversations between he and I as we’re continuing to unpack and process.
Tawnya: Did your therapist that you’ve been working with know you were coming?
Michael: Yeah. I told her prior to coming. It was interesting because she’s had interest in exploring that both for herself as well as for her practice. And so I know she expressed, I can’t wait for you to come back because I want to hear all about that experience.
But now it’s just how do I continue to unpack and process what came, because for me it wasn’t just the healing some of the trauma and guilt that I felt related to the final moments with my grandmother, it’s how those moments led into the way that I process emotion and I process thoughts and I respond and behave.
Because even coming here, if my friend wasn’t coming here, I probably wouldn’t have come, because it would’ve felt too selfish to me to take the step forward and separate myself from my children and from my work and from my responsibilities, I’m going to come to Mexico for five days on a retreat. Something I never would’ve done alone because I would’ve felt that was selfish. ” I’m abandoning my responsibilities for five days.” And “I could have used those five days differently.” I mean, I could have taken my children somewhere fun and had an experience or something to that effect. I wouldn’t have done it. So, why wouldn’t I have done it?
I need to continue to learn that self-care and self-love and working on things that allow me to connect are not selfish in a bad way. They’re, they’re selfish in a necessary way. Those are some of the things that I want to continue to work on going forward. And when I’m starting to have moments of sadness, or I’m starting to have moments of grief, or I’m starting to have moments of guilt, what is a better way of being able to identify those and address those than trying to occupy that with busy work, with activIty.
Tawnya: Wow. So you feel like you’ve seen this whole spectrum, and I feel like I’ve got the honor to meet you. And I see the full spectrum of, on one hand, a super powerhouse and an extraordinary giver, and also that incredible protector. And then opening up to this opportunity to listen to different cues, instead of going in that loop and not having this other side of the shore.
Michael: Right. Exactly. And I know there’s going to be that temptation to fall back into the normal pattern of you still got work. You still got family, you still got school, you still got all the stuff in front of you. But now I see the road. I see the path that I need to be taking in order to live the best and most elevated life that I can. I’m going to need help and support to walk down that path. I can’t do it by myself. And that’s a big thing for me to say, because I am very much of a, “I’ll do this on my own. I got this, there’s nothing that I can’t do” kind of tough guy, bullshit. And this is very much a no, I need to take these steps to walk down this path. And I know there are people that will walk this with me. I just gotta make sure that I continue to stay courageous enough and vulnerable enough to ask and to say, “Hey, I need some help down this journey. Will you walk with me?” Knowing with confidence that there’s people there that will.
And I know that there’s going to people there because I’m hoping to see this continue to grow and enhance my life. I know there’s going to be people are going to be like, “He’s different. There’s things about the way he is behaving or he is thinking that are different than what we’re used to.” And I’m looking forward to those moments, because I’m looking to those moments as opportunities to share the experience that I’ve had coming to Eleusinia, the experiences I had leading up to Eleusinia, and hopefully what is transcended after, in a way that hopefully will benefit them. And so, I still have that element of service. But not losing sight of the fact that I’ve got to also care for myself.
Tawnya: Oh, that is so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.
Michael: Oh, thank you for allowing me the opportunity. Appreciate it.