Women gather to talk about sex, suffering, psychedelics

Originally appeared at: http://www.marinij.com/lifestyles/ci_16391365 THE THEME OF the fourth annual Women’s Visionary Congress, set for Oct. 22 through 24 at the Noetic Sciences Earthrise Retreat Center between Petaluma and Novato, is “Sex and Psychedelics: Limbic Resonance and Deep Thrills.” It’s a provocative, intriguing title, to be sure, but it’s also one that may not do complete justice to the seriousness of the conference, a weekend of presentations by mostly women healers, scholars, activists, scientists, artists and others from across the country who study psychoactive substances and psychedelic drugs for spiritual and healing purposes. Although there will be some men speakers, the gathering is focused primarily on women in the field, providing them with a rare forum. “I had traveled to conferences where these issues were discussed, and I couldn’t help but notice that there were very few women speaking at them,” said conference founder Annie Oak, a journalist, filmmaker and Silicon Valley businesswoman. “I thought that was rather odd because I knew a lot of women who were doing this work, and I asked myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to bring some of these women together whose work was not getting the respect and attention it deserved? Wouldn’t it be great to have a weekend when they all presented their work?'” The first conference, held at Wilbur Hot Springs in remote Colusa County in 2007, was considered a success, attracting some 80 participants. “It was clear to me that there was a real desire within the community concerned with these matters to hear more from women,” Oak said. “Everyone had such a good time, it became clear to me that this was something unique and should be continued.” With two other women, she formed the nonprofit Women’s Visionary Council to help her organize what has become an annual event. In February, the women also will host their first “psychedelic love ball” in Berkeley. One of the conference’s scheduled speakers is Alica Danforth, who has worked on a study using psilocybin (magic mushrooms) to ease the anxiety of cancer patients and people facing the end of their lives. There also will be discussions of the ongoing studies using MDMA (ecstasy) to treat war veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I think we’re looking at a new era, a time when people are looking at the therapeutic potential of these substances,” Oak said. “And I feel there is a real desire among women in particular to talk about these substances because it’s such a taboo discussion.” Artist Martina Hoffman, whose fantastic paintings were used for posters and promotional materials for the conference, will lead Saturday sessions on visonary art along with her artist husband, Robert Venosa. In keeping with the gathering’s theme, another Saturday afternoon session, “Sex and Psychedelics,” features Sasha Shulgin, who is credited with popularizing ecstasy in the late 1970s and early 1980s for the treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. With his wife, Ann Shulgin, who will join him in the discussion, he has coauthored a pair of books on psychoactive drugs. “The other half of the story is that we use sex as a way to reach states of altered consciousness, to reach for bliss, to blend with the cosmos, and psychedelics are another way to a similar state,” said Carolyn Garcia, one of the conference organizers. “The heightened state of awareness from sexual activity and from psychedelics run a close parallel in the body. We’re trying to smoke out this discussion by making room for it on our schedule, and by putting the provocative title on the conference we’re hoping to attract people who really want to study this stuff.” Garcia, ex-wife of the late Grateful Dead icon Jerry Garcia, is also known as “Mountain Girl,” a nickname from her hippie days as one of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, LSD pioneers immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” She’s titled her Saturday afternoon talk “Furthur,” after the Pranksters’ psychedelic bus. “I just happened to land in Palo Alto when I was a teenager and met up with the Merry Pranksters, who staged the Acid Tests,” she explained. “LSD was little known then. So we took it upon ourselves to help people outside the psychotherapy community connect with deeper states. Now the psychedelic community is trying to help mainstream psychedelic psychotherapy. It has a Buddhist flavor of service. The compassion movement is going global now. There are a lot of people who care deeply about stopping suffering.” An article about an upcoming conference at the Noetic Sciences Earthrise Retreat Center set for October 22nd, which will be the fourth annual Women’s Visionary Congress. This year the focus is on sex and psychedelics and the conference will include distinguished speakers such as Alica Danforth, Sasha Shulgin, and others.