August 10th, 2021
OF THE PSYCHEDELIC LEADERSHIP PODCAST
What it Takes to Lead & Launch an Unprecedented Venture In the Psychedelic Space with Joshua White
Laura Dawn speaks with Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Fireside Project, Joshua White, which operates the first-ever national peer support line specifically aimed at helping people navigate psychedelic experiences on what it takes to lead an unprecedented venture in the psychedelic space.
About This Episode:
Holding a vision for something that doesn’t yet exist and taking inspired action to transmute that inner vision into reality is true creative leadership.
Joshua White had an idea to launch the first-ever Psychedelic Peer Support Phone Line in the US and dedicated himself to making that vision a reality.
He is now the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Fireside Project, which operates the first-ever national peer support line specifically aimed at helping people navigate psychedelic experiences. Fireside has now been featured in major publications like the Rolling Stones Magazine, Forbes, and has prominent people like Michael Pollen tweeting about his support for the project.
Joshua deeply believes in the power of peer support and in the role of support lines as key components of an equitable community mental health ecosystem.
In this candid conversation, Joshua shares what it takes as a leader to launch an unprecedented project and the key importance of holding a “bigger than you” vision to get you through the tougher times.
Explored in this episode:
Episode #33: Joshua White Psychedelic Leadership Podcast.
Intro: My name is Laura dawn and you’re listening to episode number 33 of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast featuring my conversation with Joshua White, who is the founder of a nonprofit called the Fireside Project that just launched the very first psychedelic peer support phone line in the US.
Snippet: And peer support, as I’ve gotten deeper into it is a very psychedelic idea but it’s psychedelic because, for me, one of the central teachings of psychedelics is our interconnectedness and the non-hierarchical nature of what it means to be human. And so pure support is people supporting people in a non-hierarchical way, we have this great saying at Fireside Project, check your credentials at the door. I think that it is so important to cultivate your vision, while also doing the deep work to understand what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses. And then once you have that deep understanding, figuring out how you can draw people to you who can help complement your weaknesses and can help support you through that. So, I think everyone is at a different place in their journey. I think that that self-knowledge is vital and hopefully what that vision includes is making the world a better place. For me, there’s no greater motivator than actually wanting to help create a more beautiful and interconnected world. If you believe that your vision can help bring about that world that can be like a North Star for you.
Laura Dawn [Intro]: I am so excited to be sharing this conversation with Joshua White about the Fireside Project, which is essentially a peer-to-peer support hotline for psychedelic support. So, whether you are tripping and in current need of support, or you want help integrating a psychedelic experience from many years ago, you can call Fireside. So the number is 62 fireside, but they just launched their app, which makes it infinitely easier to remember how to reach them. So, if you happen to be in an altered state of consciousness, you can just open the app and there are two button calls or text. So, if you’re a leader in the psychedelic space or not, I encourage you to follow them on Instagram at fireside project and download the app and also help spread the word. And what I truly love about this conversation is that it’s all about holding a vision for something that doesn’t yet exist, and then taking inspired action to effectively transmute that inner vision to make it a reality and this is what I live for. It’s also a central and core theme of my Psychedelic Leadership Mastermind Programs, you know what it means to hold a vision and then make that vision a reality, which is inherently a creative process.
And I just love talking to and connecting with other people who are also doing that in the psychedelic space. Because honestly, it does take quite a tremendous amount of focus, dedication, and even a special kind of spiritual devotion to successfully get startups like this one off the ground. And I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life and it does require a certain kind of mindset to navigate all the ups and the downs that certainly go along with launching new projects. And that’s why it’s so important to befriend and connect with other people who are also navigating similar terrain, which is why Joshua White and I have become such dear friends and we like to remind each other of the importance of having people in your corner who can celebrate the wins with you. And just as importantly, offer that bigger picture perspective in those moments when you feel like giving up because those moments do happen. Or when things are going sideways and it’s beyond your control or your influence and those moments happen to or when you say something ridiculous as I did on someone else’s podcast this past weekend, the first person I messaged was Joshua, to help coach me through those moments of like, holy shit I feel like I messed up that interview.
And this is why we need friends and allies because it’s incredibly difficult to get significant projects off the ground all by your lonesome and honestly, why would you want to. And as you’ll hear us chuckle about in this episode, the first time I hopped on a call with Joshua about Fireside, he reminded me that we first connected on a dating app, think it was Bumble like some years ago. So we had a good laugh about that, amongst other things in this episode, like our shared fondness, and not-so-secret crush we both have on Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris. And at one point in this episode, I asked Josh about what one of his co-founders would say about his leadership style and what it’s like to work with him. And he thinks about it, he gives this answer but then after we wrap up the conversation, while I was still recording on the back end, he was joking about what Hanifa, one of his co-founders would have said. And we were just cracking up about that at the end and so stick around if you want to hear the additional behind the scenes clip, which Joshua said, I could leave in and include, so I got his permission and, yes, we had a pretty good chuckle at the end of the episode as well.
So I also want to know, if you like these kinds of episodes, where we’re focused on people launching projects in the psychedelic space because conversations like this inspire me, but I want to know if they inspire you too. And I’m always looking for new ideas and ways to do things differently and after we wrapped up our conversation, Joshua mentioned that he’s been doing a lot of interviews lately, but this conversation was different because I focused more on leadership and the entrepreneurial aspect of the project. So, I want to know what you think I’d love your feedback and I’m also starting to think about what season two of the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast is going to look like. And so I’d love to know what some of your favorite episodes have been so far and so feel free to send me a message on Instagram at livefreelaurad, or get in touch with me through my website at livefreelaurad.com where you can also swipe some of my free resources, like my four playlists for psychedelic journeys and beyond and my free eight-day micro-dosing course.
And I’m super excited that I’m going to be doing a pretty big overhaul on my website over the next couple of months. And I’m separating the psychedelic leadership ran under its domain and so there’s going to be a lot more freebies and resources and recommended programs coming your way very soon so stay tuned for that. And as I mentioned, at the end of this episode, Joshua White sits on my advisory board for a nonprofit that I’m getting very close to launching called Grow Medicine. And so I’m going to be sharing much more about that in the weeks and months to come as well. Alright, I’m going to leave you with this song called Thank you for the People by Riverbear Medicine and just I love this whole album. It is super sweet. And I chose the song, Thank you for the People because as I said, and as we all know, the people we surround ourselves with, really what makes life worth living, and it makes launching big projects like the Fireside Project and the Grow Medicine project that I’m working on significantly more enjoyable, and we can’t do it alone. Alright, that’s it for now, without any further ado, here’s my conversation with Joshua White, co-founder of the Fireside Project.
Laura Dawn: Where should we start? Shall we start that we first met on a dating app? Maybe we should start there.
Joshua White: You start wherever you would like.
Laura Dawn: That’s so funny. I love what a small world that we live in. Okay, let’s just dive in amazing that you’ve launched the first US psychedelic hotline, Fireside Project is blowing up right now. Let’s start there. Welcome, Joshua, please tell our listeners. What is the Fireside Project?
Joshua White: Fireside Project is a nonprofit that operates the psychedelic peer support line. So, we offer free and confidential emotional support peer-to-peer support by phone and text message to people who are having psychedelic experiences supporting others having psychedelic experiences, and to are exploring the meaning of past psychedelic experiences, whether they happened last night or several decades ago.
Laura Dawn: Wow. That’s amazing and it’s the first of its kind and it’s amazing that right now, we’re witnessing just the expansion, the incredibly rapid expansion of the psychedelic space and so you’re doing something completely new and novel and also very necessary. So, how did you come up with this idea where was this idea birthed?
Joshua White: The idea was birthed at the start of the pandemic but the inspiration for it goes back many years. About 10 years ago, I was going through a psychedelic awakening and realizing the central role that psychedelics could play in my life and healing, and making the world a better place. At the time, I was practicing law and began to explore a career transition from law to psychology with the hope of eventually working as a psychedelic therapist. And so as part of that exploration, I had a couple of impactful volunteer experiences. One was working for the Zendo Project, providing in-person psychedelic peer support, and then the other was for a nonprofit here in San Francisco called Safe and Sound that operates the top line, which is a support line for parents with young children.
And one of the many things that make that support line so powerful, is that at the end of every incoming call, we would offer our clients a follow-up call the next week. And so we built these multiyear relationships with clients, many of whom I’m fairly sure could not have afforded actual therapy. And so even though we weren’t providing therapy ourselves, the conversations, in my experience, were very therapeutic and so from that experience, I developed this belief that support lions are a radically underappreciated component of a thriving mental health ecosystem. At the start of the pandemic, I was feeling depressed as so many of us were, and felt like I wanted to make that career transition that I hadn’t made before, and do something beautiful and massive for the psychedelic space that was consistent with my skillset.
And then it struck me I was on I was still volunteering at the time for the same support line and I thought, hey, we should do a support line for psychedelics. And one of the focuses should be on creating an inclusive equitable, psychedelic space, since the world is suffering, the world is finally waking up to the pervasiveness of institutional racism, structural racism, and many of the groups that have been hit so hard by these systems of oppression have been excluded from the psychedelic space. So, when we think about how to create a psychedelic space that honors the core teaching of medicine, in my view, which is the interconnectedness of all things, we have to try to create a psychedelic movement that nurtures that, and the Psychedelic Peer Support line was born.
Laura Dawn: Snap, I love it. That was a great job, Joshua and you are the embodiment of psychedelic leadership. Psychedelic leadership can mean so many different things, but to be able to have a vision for something that doesn’t yet exist and translate that vision into inspired action and making it happen and making it come alive. It takes an enormous amount of effort, what do you think would be some of the key things that you’ve had to overcome in the initial phases of launching a project like this?
Joshua White: I would say that the preparation for launching Fireside Project took about 43 years, which is how old I am. I’ve spent 15 years or so in therapy, doing deep inner work on myself. Learning how my mind works and how my mind operates I also spent 17 years as a practicing lawyer, I’m primarily doing litigation, I was able to draw upon all of those skills, and so many more to start Fireside Project. For me, the most important thing though, especially at the very beginning, but truly always is humility knowing what I know, and knowing what I don’t know. The list of what I didn’t know was a mile long and the list of what I did know, related to starting a nonprofit was very short and I think having the awareness that I knew so little, was impactful.
I think about this funny experience I had several years ago when I was applying to work at a law firm. And I asked one of the people interviewing me; do you have any advice for me? Which by the way, I highly suggest that people ask that question more and when I asked that question to this particular lawyer, I was not expecting anything useful in response. I thought he was going to say things like avoiding securities litigation but he looked at me very seriously and he said three things. The first network, two develop your skills, and three, confront your demons, we each have something inside of us that is holding us back from achieving our fullest potential and unless we dive deep and understand what that is, it will hold us back. So, I took that advice to heart along with the advice of so many other mentors, when creating Fireside Projects.
Laura Dawn: Wow, that’s amazing. I love those moments that just punctuate the stories of our lives and that make an impact plant a seed that bears fruit in a time where we’re We don’t expect it. So that’s amazing, and so how many people are on your team, I’d like to also give a special shout-out to Hanifa. She is one badass woman, so amazing that she’s been supporting this project as well. What’s the total team count?
Joshua White: So, there four co-founders, including myself, there’s Hanifa Nayo Washington, as you mentioned, Adam Rubin, who’s our Support Line Director, Nicholas Lassen, who is our Chief Technology Officer and we just hired an amazing woman, Katie Bourque, who is our Operations and Outreach Director. We also have, at this point about 45 volunteers and supervisors who are the people on the Psychedelic Peer Support Line. I also have an advisory board of I think at this point, it’s 21 people. We just most recently, were honored to add Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and I also just have so many mentors, in this process, I’m a very methodical thinker. So, at the very beginning of this process, when the idea first fluttered into my brain, I’m very into creating Google Docs this is part of how my strange mind works. There’s a doc for that is one of the things we say within the Fireside Project and so I made a list of every single person who I know and had ever met, and then started writing out what their job was and what their skill set was and then started grouping people. And pretty much I was just looking at that list the other day; I think I’ve spoken to pretty much everyone on that list and received advice and help in one form or another.
Laura Dawn: My gosh, can we just take a moment to acknowledge that we both have a big crush on Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and that this is what we talk about in private. You guys like legit, Joshua, and I send WhatsApp voice memos about our crush for Robin Carhart- Harris. So if you’re listening, Robin, we love you. He’s just so crushable he is.
Joshua White: He’s crushable, years ago, when I started awakening to the role that I wanted psychedelics to play in my life. I’m a psychedelic research nerd at heart and my friend Christine and I have this group in San Francisco called Psychedelic Passage where she and I would do a deep dive into different peer-reviewed research articles. We would talk to experts, and then we would like to present the article to whoever happened to show up at the public library that day.
Laura Dawn: You are such a bigger geek than I thought you were, my gosh I love it.
Joshua White: And so it just seemed like month after month, we would present articles by Robin Carhart-Harris, reading the neural correlates of the LSD experience. And then I think the article that changed it all for me, which was the Entropic Brain by Robin Carhart-Harris, I can’t stop thinking about it. And I think about there’s this beautiful YouTube video when Richard Feynman is asked, “Now that you know so much about what makes the flower bloom does it make you appreciate it any less?” And he said, “My gosh, absolutely not. My appreciation for the flower deepens exponentially.” And I think for me, the same is true with psychedelics, understanding how it can be that these molecules embed themselves in our serotonin receptors, causing blood flow to our default mode network to plunge and then pure, unfiltered reality streams in that’s pure magic. And not only did Robin help illuminate those processes for me, but he does it in the most beautifully written way. I didn’t know that peer-reviewed research articles could be beautiful to read until I started reading Robins’s work.
Laura Dawn: I had no I mean the Rebus model and Rebus just for listeners are relaxed beliefs under psychedelics, it’s one of Dr. Robin Carhart’s primary models that I feel like was such a huge game-changer in the field, and I reference it all the time. I’ve read that paper probably like 15 dozen times and it’s amazing to see the way that psychedelics help loosen our models of reality. And those windows of heightened mental flexibility where we can ignite change that there’s more plasticity, that there’s a loosening of our grip over beliefs and who we think we are, and what we think we’re capable of which is at the heart of psychedelic leadership. How psychedelics can help us leverage these experiences to think bigger. And you’re doing that so well, where you’re holding a vision for what you want to create, and you’re going for it and that takes gusto, it takes courage and it takes vulnerability. So many people are afraid of launching new projects for fear of failure, and all the things, my God, what are people going to say? Are they going to judge me? But you’ve had so many people come around to support you and to lift you and your whole team in this process.
Joshua White: We’ve been very fortunate. I think it’s saying a testament to the vision and the need for this in the world. I don’t believe for a second that the idea for Fireside Project originated in my brain. I think, somehow the universe chose us at Fireside Project to bring this vision to the world and to create a world where every person is seen supported, and understood during their psychedelic experiences for free. And by appear, I think this is needed now more than ever and from the moment Fireside Project began, it’s just been imbued with serendipity at every single phase, whether it’s how I met Hanifa, and how I met Nikolai, and how I met Adam, to the date that we happen to go live with our website, which was October 28th, 2020.
Coincidentally, only five days before the November o3rd election, when Oregon in DC, decriminalized psychedelics. That was pure luck or was it luck, and then, a week later, my former boss at the San Francisco City Attorney’s office, Scott Wiener, tweeted that he was going to be introducing a bill to decriminalize psychedelics in California that was a total coincidence. And so I texted Scott, and I said, “Hey, Scott, I saw your tweet. I just started this nonprofit and we have a launch panel in a week on November 17. Do you want to be on it?” And so literally, three weeks after we launched, we had a launch panel with Rick Doblin, Julie Holland, Scott Wiener, Brad Bergh, myself, and Hanifa. It just felt like pure magic from the beginning.
Laura Dawn: Amazing. And speaking of popular tweets, Michael Pollan tweeted out to support the Fireside Project, you got to drop in with Michael Pollan, and also where else? Gosh, you’ve been written up in the Rolling Stones, where else?
Joshua White: We’ve been pretty fortunate. We had an article in Rolling Stone, Esquire, Forbes, and several other places. It’s just, it feels like an idea whose time is now and a project that the world needs, we are at this inflection point in the psychedelic movement, if you want to call it that and I think it’s a time where there is those in need for different visions, we have one vision, which is that the only people who will have access to psychedelics or people of privilege are people with insurance. That’s one vision for the world and the companies, maybe own patents on psychedelics and can keep those medicines from the broader world.
But then there’s another vision and I think Fireside Project, in my opinion, embodies that vision, which is that every single person, regardless of privilege, regardless of their background, can have access to free confidential, peer support. And peer support as I’ve gotten deeper into it is a very psychedelic idea it’s psychedelic because, for me, one of the central teachings of psychedelics is our interconnectedness and the non-hierarchical nature have what it means to be human. And so peer support is people supporting people in a non-hierarchical way, we have this great saying and Fireside Project, “Check your credentials at the door.” And so that’s the vision that we embody and I think that there’s a real need for it now.
Laura Dawn: My gosh, I love this so much. Okay, so now I’m curious, though, about your stance on people tripping alone at home, and his education for how to have a safe journey at home part of the mission?
Joshua White: Yes, so our mission at the Fireside Project is to help people minimize the risks and fulfill the potential of their psychedelic experiences in different ways. One of them is the operation of the peer support line, one of them is by supporting and conducting psychedelic research, and another is through public education. So, a core part of our mission is to make sure that people understand how to prepare for a psychedelic experience. And on the Psychedelic Peer Support Line, we can only support people during and after psychedelic experiences but we are developing an educational platform right now where we will provide free materials and training to people so that they can understand what is safe preparation look like?
Laura Dawn: Have you received any criticism from people in the space being like, wow, maybe you should check yourself and you’re being pro journeying alone, and this needs to be on a therapist couch?
Joshua White: I haven’t quite received criticism in that direct way. What one piece of feedback that I have received from several people that I respect very deeply is that Fireside Project through the Psychedelic Peer Support Line is creating this massive platform that has a lot of reaches and that a lot of people will see? And then it’s very important, because of the size of that platform that we’re not suggesting to people that because we exist, they can just not prepare for a psychedelic experience take psychedelics alone and that no matter what happens, we’ll be there for them not. So, I think the advice has been, look, you need to use the power of this platform to impart to people how to think about preparation for a psychedelic experience, how to trip sit for others, and also how to integrate so and that is something that we are trying to work on.
Laura Dawn: That’s amazing. And so let’s talk about numbers and what is it looks like? How many months have you been in operation? And how many phone calls have been coming in and are the volume increasing? What have you noticed?
Joshua White: Yes, so we’ve been in operation for about three and a half months, we launched on April 14th, 2021, just in time for bicycle day and we have had about 550 conversations so far, it’s been a mix of conversations by phone and text message. And the call volume is slowly but surely going up, it takes time to get people to not just raise awareness of what we do, but then also take that additional step of reaching out to us. We will be coming out with an app on August 4, I assume this podcast will launch after that. So if you’re listening, please download our app, which is available on iPhone and android and the idea there is it’s easier to remember an app than it is to remember a number buried in your phone. Within the 550 conversations, we’ve had, we are we’re seeing about 40% of them for people who are actively having psychedelic experiences and about 60% for people who are integrating psychedelic experiences.
One of the first studies that we’re doing at Fireside Project is a partnership with UCSF that’s exploring the risk reduction potential of the Psychedelic Peer Support Line. And so what we did was we co-wrote a post-call survey with our partners at UCSF that is sent to people about 24 hours after every conversation, asking questions like might you have gone to the ER might you have called 911? Did we help deescalate you from psychological distress? And the numbers that we’re seeing are very encouraging about the risk reduction potential that we play. I think that potential is going to go up in California, for example, decriminalized psychedelics, and as this wave of decriminalization sweeps across the country, it’s important that jurisdictions, that companies, that everyone thinks about risk reduction alongside decriminalization.
The way that I like to articulate it is like decriminalization without risk reduction is irresponsible. One of the most common types of calls that we get is from people who maybe learned about psychedelics from good trip Netflix, or a Michael Pollan book, and didn’t expect that it was going to be hard. Psychedelics don’t cure us in the same way that taking a Tylenol cures a headache, it’s deep, powerful inner works, as you know so well. And unless there’s that expectation, it can be risky psychedelics are powerful tools they have radical healing potential and because they’re so powerful, there’s so much work that has to be done around preparation, and support during an experience and integration of it afterward.
Laura Dawn: Interesting. Can you speak to any phone calls that were like, wow, we were not expecting that?
Joshua White: One of the things that surprised me is the number of conversations we’ve had with people who interacted with an unethical or abusive facilitator. I don’t know the number offhand but there have been numerous examples I spoke to one person several weeks ago who called from an Ayahuasca ceremony. And the shaman had left, literally left the ceremony, two hours in, and this poor person was alone with their first Ayahuasca experience ever. Thank goodness, they knew about the Psychedelic Peer Support Line, I don’t know what would have happened to this person if they hadn’t found out about us.
Fortunately, they did and the conversation highlighted for me, the kind of yin and yang of our mission, minimizing the risks and fulfilling the potential of a psychedelic experience are two sides of the same coin. And so by supporting this person and creating a safe container that the shaman had failed to do by abandoning this group. My sense was that safe container that we were able to create, help the person do that deep inner work, and come to some powerful realizations about their life that ironically, were related to being alone and feeling abandoned. It’s not ironic but, ironically, the abandonment by a shaman created the space for this person to do deep work into their struggles with aloneness.
Laura Dawn: My goodness, yes. It’s so shocking, the horror stories I’ve heard as well and it’s so unfortunate and just holding the prayer that we collectively move in the right direction with ethical integral space holding. So, thank you for doing that work as well, that’s amazing that you were there for that person. So, how are you training your volunteer?
Joshua White: We are lucky to have one of the most gifted trainers who I’ve ever come across in my life [inaudible 33:21] been, Adam put together a 36-hour training that our inaugural cohort went through what let me say a moment about what Adam’s background is. So he spent six years I believe, working at White Bird, which is a Crisis Center in Eugene, Oregon, as a full-time crisis worker and telephone crisis support worker, he also when he wasn’t working at White Bird, he has gone to almost 50 festivals across the worlds putting together his risk reduction crew. So a lot of festivals don’t have Zendo, for instance, there and so Adam would put together train, and supervise risk reduction groups at festivals and I’ve never come across a more gifted teacher than Adam and so the training that we put together focuses on active listening. It has components around how to support someone during integration, how to support someone during a psychedelic crisis.
Then there’s also a powerful segment of the training that was created by Hanifa, which is called Culture of Belonging. That’s a phrase that she has developed and the focus of that component understands how systems of oppression live within us. How can we identify those systems? And how can we work to liberate ourselves from those systems, and that work has a direct impact on the type of support that we can provide to all varieties of people who reach out to the Psychedelic Peer Support Line, but then even beyond that initial training, I think that we provide a full year of training.
So once a person completes that initial training, then they spend a period shadowing others on the support line, listening to supervisors and train volunteers take calls, then it switches and the supervisors will listen to the volunteers take calls and then we have a sort of a skills checklist that the volunteer works through over the year. So each volunteer connects to working a four-hour-per-week shift for a full year so it’s 200 hours a year of psychedelic peer support. I think it’s one of the best training opportunities ever to exist in the psychedelic space in my humble opinion. Not only that I drink the Kool-Aid I mixed the Kool-Aid but the demand for working on the support line has been overwhelming I think it’s a testament to just how beautiful the work is and how fantastic a training opportunity there is. We’ve had over 400 applicants for our inaugural cohort. So, I like to say it’s harder to get into the psychedelic peer support line than most universities.
Laura Dawn: Wow, that’s amazing. And so people are filling out applications, and you’re reading applications and choosing people.
Joshua White: Yes, so we initially have been opened five days a week, for a total of 52 hours. So Thursday through Sunday, three to three Pacific and then Monday, three to seven Pacific, in October, we’re expanding to 12 hours a day, seven days a week so 84 hours. It’s a pretty big expansion and I think it’s just going to allow us to reach so many more people. It’s heartbreaking, on a Thursday, to see just how many calls and text messages we missed when the line was closed, and I think when someone reaches out to us and the line is closed, I’m just not sure if they’re going to call back in a couple of days, I think the expansion will help us cast a broader net and reach more people.
Laura Dawn: My gosh, maybe you should record a very specific kind of message that’s very soothing. So, people call and hear it’s like we’re not here, but we’re here for you in spirit take a deep breath in. I think that might be interesting. Or if you’re here, listen to this recording if you’d like to stay on the line, and which I’m curious like, okay, so let’s say someone calls in, they’re having like a severe meltdown. How do you support someone like that?
Joshua White: Well, so the first thing is that every person who reaches out to us speaks first with a connector, who’s almost like a receptionist, and that person’s job is to see what are we dealing with here and what are the needs that this person has? And then that connector will connect the caller to a volunteer, the idea there is we want to make sure that if someone is in a state, as you just described, they don’t have to wait. So, if all of the volunteers are occupied on integration calls, the crisis call would take precedence. And our focus is to meet someone, wherever they are, and to create that safe space for them. Often, the first thing that happens in a call like that is to emphasize to the person that they’re not alone anymore, that we’ll stay with them as long as they need. Some of our conversations have lasted two or three hours with people throughout their psychedelic experience or a big part of their psychedelic experience.
And then another thing that happens, and I think this speaks to just how powerful peer support is, is that the caller will ask the volunteer, I’m tripping so hard on LSD right now, or whatever it is, have you had an experience like this? And to be able to say, yes, I have, there’s almost in my experience, this palpable sense of connection that is formed at that moment and the idea like that’s what peer support gets, it’s harnessing your own lived experience and sharing that lived experience with someone else so that they know that they’re not alone with their own experience. It works in other contexts, whether you’re a military veteran, a paraplegic, whatever it is, there are peer support works and I think it’s particularly compelling in the psychedelic context.
And from there, it just goes wherever the medicine takes it, we like to say that we’re not guides, we have no agenda other than to create a safe space and to trust the process and to take ourselves out of the way so that the person can see whatever is coming up for them. I love the Stan Grof quote, “Psychedelic search of the mind with the microscope is to biology and the telescope is to astronomy.” And so there’s this alchemical moment, I think that happens when someone can turn towards their psychedelic experience with compassion and curiosity, and see what’s coming up for them. But that kind of turning towards, in my experience is helped by being in a safe container.
Laura Dawn: Amazing. What would you say is like a percentage of people who call in as a result of micro-dosing rather than macro-dosing?
Joshua White: Well, so I should say that necessarily we don’t ask people, what they’ve taken. Or what their dose has been? If it comes up organically, then we’ll know, I think we’ve had at this point about two dozen people who have called in, who thought they were micro-dosing and ended up almost macro-dosing are kind of going a little bit above what they had anticipated. So, I hadn’t thought that you were at the panel with James Fadiman I had never before the support line thought so much about micro-dosing and risk reduction but in fact, I think paramount importance to preparing and knowing your dosage.
Laura Dawn: Yes, measure your dose; you all don’t just nibble the mushroom chocolate and download my free eight-day microdosing course because I cover that education for you. Save you from accidentally overdosing when you’re going to a meeting and need to be present and grounded. Okay, amazing. I just love what you’re doing I love everything about this conversation. So your four co-founders, is that right?
Joshua White: Four total including me.
Laura Dawn: Okay. And so how do you lead with four co-founders? Is there one person who like, is designated as like, taking the helm? How do you guys self-organize?
Joshua White: Well, I’m the Executive Director and I like to think that I’m the leader of the organization, we’re, I think, an amazing group together because we all have such distinct skill sets and we all are lucky enough to communicate very well together. Some of the best advice I received that I’ve kind of taken to heart was from my friend, Oliver, who you know who’s the Director of Fiscal Sponsorship at Social Good Fund, which is thinking deeply about what the mission of the nonprofit is and imbuing that mission into every single thing that you do. The mission is like the North Star it’s why you’re doing what you’re doing heaven knows that one does not do work in the nonprofit space for the money. And so I think, articulating what is that mission and adhering to that mission with a religious zealousness almost is, I think, the orienting principle that I’ve tried to share with the others within Fireside Project. And I also just try to lead by example, we’d like to say in Fireside projects, that we sort of, we have our head in the stars, but our feet on the ground, we have, I think there’s a real rigorousness with which we approach every single thing that we do and I try to lead by example, and how we approach everything.
Laura Dawn: Amazing. I kind of want to put you on the spot and ask you like, where have your blind spots been? Where have you been like, snap, okay, I can improve my leadership style in these way growth edges, anything you want to speak to about that?
Joshua White: I have a lot of work to do when it comes to learning how to fundraise. I think that one of my growth edges, I appreciate that question has been cultivating an awareness that everyone has a different pace that they work at. I like to move forward in a very deliberate and some might say too fast in a way. And I think a big part of being a leader for me is trying to understand what is each person’s style? How do our styles harmonize? And how can I move us forward as an organization towards growth, with an awareness of each person’s different working styles? I think that’s been a central challenge for me. I think another challenge for me has been the importance of zealously pursuing our mission, while also cultivating balance in my own life, and communicating to those on my team that they must cultivate balance in their own life for the first.
So when I started Fireside Project, I’m in love with to-do lists and so I have my master to-do list and at the top, it’s still written there, it says, have you pushed this as far forward today as you possibly can? And so for many months, if there was more to do, I just wouldn’t sleep until I had done it because I felt like and I still do feel like, this is my calling, this is why I’ve been put on this earth is to bring this project to the worlds. And so over the last few months, I think I’ve had to focus on well, okay, I still believe that’s true and balance and sustainability of growth are vital. And so there’s been a transition there that I’ve had to focus on because I couldn’t work on this. If I had infinite energy, I could work on these 24 hours a day but I know that that would not be good for the project, it would certainly not be good for my teammates.
Laura Dawn: Well, we’ve talked a lot about this and that’s why I appreciate our friendship is that we can be each other’s cheerleaders. And so I recommend for people listening who are launching big projects in the space, have just like the peer support line, have peer to peer, be in a cohort with other people who can cheer you on who you can celebrate your wins with who you could be like, okay, I need a little bit of support right now. And dealing with burnout, and overworking, and overwhelm. These are real things that we need to learn how to manage and permission to slow down permission to pause, permission to breathe. It’s so important because if we want these projects to go for the long haul, we need to take care of ourselves and fill up our cups first and foremost. Okay, Joshua, three words that you would say that your teammates would label your leadership style. What would Hanifa say about your leadership style in three words?
Joshua White: It’s hard to guess what Hanifa would say.
Laura Dawn: Or anyone on our team?
Joshua White: I think she would probably say methodical, bold, and unkind.
Laura Dawn: That’s good, I like that strong and soft. Strong, resilient and soft, and kind at the same time, that’s a great balance. And then do you process together? Do the four of you sit down and hold counsel? And then do you get caught in like over processing cycles? Or do you keep that nice middle balance of healthy process, not under processing, some communities love to over process, we know it?
Joshua White: Well, I can only speak to my perception, which is that there’s a nice balance, I do feel like we are very comfortable being vulnerable around each other. And we are an emotional support line and I think that we do provide each other with like, a lot of emotional support. I think what’s nice is that we have this great chemistry as a group before, but then we also have fantastic individual chemistry. I talked to Hanifa almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day, Adam and I are like, have built a wonderful friendship together where we can support each other. So, I think for me, it’s been a nice balance and it’s beautiful I feel incredibly fortunate for this group of people has come together.
Laura Dawn: Amazing. I love it. Okay, three words that come to mind when you think of the notion of psychedelic leadership.
Joshua White: Interconnectedness, compassion, and visionary.
Laura Dawn: Okay, good. I like that. I’m putting you on the spot like this. And what are you reading right now, the most influential book in your life?
Joshua White: Well, in fact, I’m reading an incredible book by Dr. Kyle Ortego, called Beyond the Narrow Life. I’m interviewing him in a few days on the clubhouse, this is a newly released book, and I’ve just been blown away by it, Kyle or Dr. Ortego. It’s this sort of beautiful mix of, well, let’s say, I would say it’s sort of imbuing the preparation for the integration of a psychedelic experience with young in principles and the principles from Joseph Campbell, Hero with Thousand Faces, but doing it in a relentlessly practical way. So I love it and he just writes with this humility that I just love.
When I think of other books, everything by Ron Das and everything by George Saunders think he’s one of my favorite living writers. He’s this antidote to cynicism, so he’s written several books, Lincoln in the Bardo, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline but he also has this beautiful commencement address. So, I’m a commencement address, nerd, and Porter and he delivered the most beautiful commencement address that I’ve ever heard that actually came out in a book and I bought several dozen copies and just give it out to people. And it’s about the importance of kindness and his prose just seems to radiate like it’s backlit with this love for humanity and this ability to see past our I think, like, ego-based conflicts into what I think is like at the heart of each person, which is love.
Laura Dawn: Very psychedelic ethos, beautiful. And for those listening if you haven’t yet listened to episode number 26. I did interview Dr. Kyle Ortego for the podcast and it was titled Ego Whiplash Spiritual bypassing and Psychedelic Integration for the Leaders of our Time. It was a great episode.
Joshua White: I loved that interview it was awesome.
Laura Dawn: Awesome. Okay, is there anything else? Any other hot seat questions I want to put you through the wringer here in What’s the number?
Joshua White: So, it’s 62fireside, so it’s 6234737433. But by the time you hear this; you will have to remember that because you can download our app. And we designed it with someone tripping in mind and so when you open up the app, you’ll see two buttons, call and text and they’re big buttons. So, no matter how hard you’re tripping, you should be able to find the floating button and press it to reach out to us.
Laura Dawn: Parting wisdom for people listening to this who are also holding a vision for a project that they want to get off the ground in the psychedelic space or beyond the psychedelic space that has an impact on our communities and humanity.
Joshua White: I think that it is so important to cultivate your vision, while also doing the deep work to understand what are your strengths, and what are your weaknesses. And then once you have that deep understanding, figuring out how you can draw people to you who can help complement your weaknesses and can help support you through them. So, I think everyone is at a different place in their journey. I think that self-knowledge is vital. And I just think it’s just so important to believe in your vision, there are more difficult days, far more difficult days, I wish this is my experience, then like I don’t want to say good days but like, you know it’s just so hard so often and what gets you through it is the faith in your vision. And hopefully what that vision includes is making the world a better place. For me, there’s no greater motivator than actually wanting to help create a more beautiful and interconnected world. If you believe that your vision can help bring about that world that can be a North Star for you through the challenging days when no one responds to your emails or returns your phone calls, or tells you they love your idea and then doesn’t give you any money.
Laura Dawn: Right. Yes, I love that. And I’m grateful for those of you listening I’m also launching the Grow Medicine Project, which I’ll be talking about much more on the podcast. But Joshua White is also sitting on my advisory board and has been just instrumental in helping me put all the pieces of that puzzle together. So, you’ve been such a good friend on this journey and I was recording in the beginning when I said that we did first meet on a dating app. I’m probably going to leave that in just so you’re okay with that. You know and hey folks, you can meet cool people on a dating app. So, open your mind it’s possible.
Joshua White: Be open to all forms of connection. Some of my best friends are people who I met on a dating app and actually, one of the advisory board members is someone who I met on a dating app. So, dating apps can be an amazing way to just meet people with whom you have a nice connection and you don’t know where it may lead.
Laura Dawn: Yes, I so appreciate you, Joshua. This was such a great conversation I loved every minute of it. Thank you so much for all the work that you’re doing, brother appreciates you.
Joshua White: Thank you for inviting me and just for, your friendship and inspiration and just ongoing support means so much to me. So, thank you much love
Laura Dawn: You’re welcome. Sweet, that’s great. Alright, friends, if you want to hear the behind-the-scenes clip of what Joshua thinks Hanifa would say about his leadership style and what it’s like to work with him. This is what he had to say. What would she say? Come on…
Joshua White: is just lots of pressure.
Laura Dawn: My gosh, well, you got to keep it fun. You got to keep it fun. So she would say Jewish jokes like you sharing about your crushes in the space.
Joshua White: I do that all the time. I was telling you the funny reflection that you had. We were talking about passion and getting like all of your crushes are guys.
Laura Dawn: That’s okay. That’s okay. Okay, so one other thing so Jewish jokes, crushes, and what else would she say?
Joshua White: Accent, I do a lot of good accents. Like my Nicky Jabez accent from the office. I’ve got my doctor evil accent email [inaudible 56:44].
Laura Dawn: My God, that’s hilarious. Okay, so I just recorded that on the back end in case we want to keep it in there. We might, I won’t do it without your permission, but we might do a little post-recording fine joke.
Joshua White: I’m proud of my accent and Jewish jokes.
Laura Dawn: Hi, friends. Thank you so much for tuning into another episode of the psychedelic leadership podcast. If you’ve been enjoying the show, I would so appreciate it if you could share it with a friend or share one of your favorite episodes on social media and feel free to tag me at livefreelaurad. Also, if you feel inspired to leave me a review on iTunes every Saturday, I am featuring an Instagram account that has left me a review. And so I can include you in my stories and tag your account and if you do leave a review on iTunes, just send me a DM on Instagram at livefreelaurad so that I know it’s you and I can tag your account in an upcoming story. And if you’d like to be in touch with me about anything at all, please feel free to reach out through my website at livefreelaurad.com.
Alright, I’m going to leave you with this super sweet song called Thank you for the People by Riverbear Medicine and I do encourage you to support our medicine musicians I’ll leave a link for their band camp. If you’d like to purchase their song, you can access that link in the show notes. Once again, my name is Laura Dawn, and you’re listening to the Psychedelic Leadership Podcast, until next time.
Joshua White (he/him/his) is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Fireside Project, which operates the first ever national peer support line specifically aimed at helping people navigate psychedelic experiences. Joshua believes deeply in the power of peer support and in the role of support lines as key components of an equitable community mental health ecosystem. Prior to launching Fireside Project, Joshua spent seven years as a volunteer crisis counselor on Safe & Sound’s TALK Line, which provides support to parents with young children. He also provided in-person psychedelic peer support with the Zendo Project. In addition, Joshua has spent 17 years as a lawyer practicing civil litigation and advising public entities. He spent 11 years as a Deputy City Attorney at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, which is the nation’s premier public law office, where he focused on suing businesses exploiting vulnerable communities. In that capacity, he co-taught a nationally renowned clinic at Yale Law School, where he helped students generate and litigate public interest impact litigation lawsuits.
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Laura Dawn rocks her Psychedelic Leadership Podcast with so much style and grace! Her guests are innovative thought leaders and she asks them the most illuminating questions. She shares a wealth of knowledge and inquiry as well as her passion for the arts and music. I always appreciate how LD conducts herself.
Each time I tune into an episode I get chills all over my body! This podcast is my personal new favourite, I’ve expanded my awareness around these topics so much just tuning into these conversations, from each episode I walk away with a new teaching! Im also deeply appreciative of the way Laura Dawn structures her episodes and interviews.
The psychedelic leadership podcast is blowing my default mode network!!! Episodes include revolutionary science, as well as practical steps we can all take to creatively make change to help heal the planet and ourselves. Laura Dawn is an amazing speaker, and most definitely a thought leader.
I am absolutely hooked on this Podcast. Laura Dawn presents her topics and guests in a stunningly beautiful, heart centered format while weaving in the most relevant topics in psychedelics today.
Laura Dawn’s experience and service to the healing journey is a recipe for humanity, through modern science, plant medicine and ancient wisdom is amazing. She attracts the best of the best leaders in the space of science, psychedelics and spirituality, I love every one of her podcasts. Thank you LD!
Wow what a powerful lineup of speakers and guests sharing profound experiences and wisdom. So relevant to our times and not just with plant medicines and psychedelics but with just being a human being in these changing, evolving times. May we all grow together. Thank you Laura!
I’m obsessed with this podcast and I’ve listened to every episode. This is the kind of podcast that has the potential to change humanity if we all listen to these interviews and Laura’s wisdom.
About Laura Dawn
Through her signature Mastermind Programs and Plant Medicine Retreats, Laura Dawn weaves together science with ancient wisdom. She teaches business and thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals how to mindfully explore psychedelics and sacred plant medicines as powerful visionary tools for inner transformation, fostering emotional resiliency and unlocking new depths to our creative potential.