Interview with Erica Siegal of The Zendo Project

THE AWARE PROJECT IS EXCITED TO HOST ERICA SIEGAL AND BROOKE BALLIETT AS OUR NEXT SPEAKER AT THE PSYCHEDELIC AWARENESS SALON. 

Q: What drew you to psychedelics?

A: Psychedelics have the potential to be a huge catalyst for both personal and spiritual growth. As a clinical social worker and researcher, I am open to anything that can facilitate growth.  Psychedelics can be an excellent tool for expanding your mind, understanding yourself, exploring the ego and healing past trauma.

Q: How did you get involved with The Zendo Project?

A: I started volunteering with MAPS and The Zendo Project in 2013 while working at a community mental health center in Santa Cruz, CA. I met a few people who worked at the MAPS office and I thought The Zendo Project was a great addition to the festival community while providing services such as harm reduction, education and sitting with people who are having difficult experiences.

Q: Can you tell me more about The Zendo Project sitting program?

A: At transformational festivals and events, we provide a safe space, 24 hours a day, for people who are having difficult experiences, whether under the influence of altering substances or just feeling overwhelmed.  The Zendo Project is committed to providing guests with someone who can be a source of support and a safe space.

Q: How do you feel about the current popularity of psychedelics?

A:  The current increase in popularity of psychedelic use represents a shift in our society that we’re seeking for deeper answers and better healing.   We make sure to provide guidance and support for volunteers at The Zendo Project and have a through application process to ensure our volunteers and sitters are passionate about and have the ability to provide support.  We also have supervisors who can provide support to volunteers who are having challenging experiences while sitting with guests.  With experimenting with any mind-altering substance, there are always inherent risks.  However, psychedelics can be an incredibly heart opening experience and can amplify the feelings of connectedness already present at festivals. The Zendo Project aims to minimize harm to people who would otherwise be hospitalized from these difficult states. It is truly a community resource.

Q: What safety recommendations would you provide to people who choose to ingest an illegal substance?

A: With any experience, safety is the highest priority.  We work along side festival medical organizations to ensure there is accessible medical support provided, when needed.  To anyone who chooses to ingest an illegal substance and is having a difficult experience, Zendo is a great place for people to go and receive support.

Q: How do you see the Zendo Project developing in the future?

A: The Zendo Project is currently a project that is supported by MAPS, a non-profit that is focused on the medicinal and therapeutic use of psychedelics. We charge a fee to festival producers which covers the cost of our services at the event. In the next few years, we hope to provide more community education so community members can provide better support to friends who are having a difficult experience. Currently we provide services for about 6 festivals a year, (Envision Festival in Costa Rica, AfrikaBurn in South Africa, Lightning in a Bottle, Burning Man, Symbiosis Gathering and YouTopia in the United States). In addition to expanding the festivals we attend we want to expand community education, provide resources and expertise, including talks at places like Aware Project.  The Zendo Project is also working on a training and certification program for people to gain more expertise and provide services in their own communities. We would also like to work more closely with medical organizations to train their staff on psychedelic harm reduction techniques, and with festival producers to see how we can provide support and training their staff at festivals if The Zendo Project is unable to provide services.