september 14th, 2021
OF THE PSYCHEDELIC LEADERSHIP PODCAST
Using Creativity to Find Humor Amidst Our
Collective Crisis with James McCrea
Laura Dawn drops in with artist, author, poet, creative guide, and the brilliant mind behind the popular Instagram account @WordsAreVibrations, James McCrea about creativity, psychedelics, Eastern philosophy, and the need to find humor and laugh during our collective existential crisis.
The psychedelic journey is the sandbox or training wheels for the experience of life and death.
About This Episode:
James McCrae is an author, poet, creative guide, and meme-artist based in Austin, Texas. He is the creative genius behind the popular Instagram account @WordsAreVibrations
And is author of Sh#t Your Ego Says and soon to be released: How to Laugh in Ironic Amusement During Your Existential Crisis; the first-ever book published featuring memes and poetry. In his writing and art, he applies the principles of mindfulness and Eastern philosophy to modern life with humor and candor.
In this episode, we talk about the yin and yang of creativity, psychedelics, the necessity of humor and laughter, ritual, eastern philosophy, surrender, leadership, and letting go.
Explored in this episode:
Episode #35: James McCrea Psychedelic Leadership Podcast.
James McCrae: Aloha, what’s up, Laura?
Laura Dawn: Hi, James. We’re making it work; I’m so excited for this conversation.
James McCrae: How’s the rainstorm going there?
Laura Dawn: You know it’s Hawaii so it’s like sunny rain showers and torrential downpours have been kind of coming through. And I think I’m just ready to stop apologizing for the things that I just can’t control in my life. To my audience, I’m like, I’m so sorry for the rain, I live in a tiny home bus with no walls and no door and I love my life and so, it’s part and parcel with the gag right now.
James McCrae: Yes, give people the real authentic story without over-polishing everything. It’ll feel like people have a glimpse of being in Hawaii with you. Although I hear we’re not supposed to visit Hawaii at the moment.
Laura Dawn: These are wild times that we are living through and also just, you know, I was talking to a dear friend who is sick with COVID right now and he picked up on a Pema’s book, Welcoming the Unwelcome, and it was just such a message around. And I turned to Pema through the ups through the downs, I’ve seen you post quotes by Chögyam Trungpa as well. And I know that you’re a fan of that lineage, which has been a huge inspiration in my life as well and I think that that just hits the nail on the head right now is like that, we all have to get good at welcoming the unwelcome and moving beyond the polarization of good or bad, right or wrong, you should be this you shouldn’t be this and all the things and just learn how to sit in the discomfort of it all.
James McCrae: Yes. That’s radical acceptance which I think is one of the lessons that Buddhism teaches us is there’s going to be waves in the ocean, it’s about are you going to resist them are you going to try to go with the flow. And the waves don’t bother you as much when you accept them as they are and I also compare it just to, life is a bit like a movie, people are into talking about the hero’s journey, and Joseph Campbell and mythology and things like that. And the hero’s journey is the full spectrum of experience, it’s not and if you watch a movie, any decent movie is, there’s going to be a spectrum of experience that happens in that movie.
So, anything worth experiencing, and even a life fully lived is going to have a spectrum of experience. And it’s really through the difficult times and the challenging times and facing the unknown that we end up emerging from the night of the soul with a better understanding of ourselves and just being more complete as human beings. So it’s not easy, especially when the times are as uncertain as they are now but I do my best to lean into the uncertainty and dance with life instead of just trying to control it. And that’s every day, that’s a new struggle for me to get to that state of dancing with the uncertainty and the absurdity of life. Instead of wishing, it could be something different that I could control and manage the way I want it to be controlled and managed.
Laura Dawn: I so resonate with that, I’ve been playing with this word swap for the past year around switching out the word control for influence, and looking at how that completely changes my life relationship. I cannot control everything, but I can have influence in particular areas of my life that is helpful, and I just think that we’re just sort of peeling back the veil of illusion of certainty right now because times are never certain we just had been living with the story of certainty. And the reality is, is that there’s never been any ground to stand on and that’s why I resonate with Chögyam Trungpa’ss teaching’s so deeply around groundlessness is because we’re so afraid we spent all of this time, looking for ground to stand on through clinging to relationships to people to places to the things to identify as this is the story of me.
And yet that is a very limiting way to live and that instead of being so afraid of the uncertainty, it’s the void where everything emanates from, it’s the source of inspiration; it’s the source of creation, that it’s not horrifying. And it is, in moments when we experienced profound groundlessness, like the loss of a loved one or the passing of a relationship or when I went through the volcanic eruption and it’s those moments of like, severe groundlessness that we connect to ground within ourselves within our being. That it’s the paradox of it, there is a sense of ground in the eternal aspect of who we are and connecting to that place, I feel like is what we’re being called to do right now.
James McCrae: There’s almost like salvation to hitting rock bottom, in a way like my favorite quote from him, I’ll paraphrase it. But he said, the bad news is that you’re falling, it like basically into the abyss, there’s nothing to hold on to, there’s nothing to grab on to, that’s the bad news but the good news is, there’s also no ground. In other words, there is nothing to hit, we’re always falling free-falling into kind of the abyss of life, so to speak, and there’s a certain surrender to accepting that. And when I’ve hit rock bottom, at various points in my life, whether it’s financially or just emotionally or whatever it might be, that’s when you truly learn to let go completely, because you have no other choice. And that’s where grace comes in when we can reach that point of surrender. So, I try to do my best to reach that point of surrender every day, even if I don’t necessarily need to let go because I’m not in a state of crisis. I think when I can do that regularly; I can just flow so much better throughout life on day-to-day.
Laura Dawn: I feel like we need to flex this muscle of letting go in micro amounts daily, I kind of feel like that around grieving too. It’s like, we need to sort of like press the pressure release valve around the grief of what we’re moving through on the planet right now and practice all the little ways of strengthening this muscle of letting go, that helps us through those big times of transition that we all go through in our lives where letting go is incredibly hard. And I consider psychedelic space those realms, journeying with plant medicines to be like an advanced training ground for making contact with groundlessness those experiences of like, wow, I am in the void here, there is nothing to hold on to, and being sort of forced to let go to make peace with death to make peace with impermanence.
There’s so much and that’s why I was so excited to talk with you because I just feel like we just share so many sorts of core areas that were just so interested in and looking at the overlap of those areas. And one of the things I wanted to ask you was, I’ve been following Words are Vibration for a very long time now; I love the work you do. You speak to things that I think about all the time in this way that I’m just like, wow, he just said the thing that I’ve been thinking and I love that about you. And I saw you put out I think it was a post or in your story saying okay, I’m starting to speak on more podcasts now and so I’m kind of curious, considering that, words are vibration, I feel like everyone has a message that sort of a vibrational frequency that’s imprinting the field. What is your core message that you’re stepping out with right now? And why now in terms of speaking on podcasts?
James McCrae: Well, I’ve been speaking on podcasts for a little while now, my first book came out in 2017. And that was with Hay House and is called Shut Your Ego Says, and I started being invited to podcast after that book came out and you know, at the time, I wasn’t ready because I think I was like, trying to promote a book and I was trying to put on the mask of this author and talk about my book. And I wasn’t yet comfortable, just speaking totally freely and just naturally with the people that I was being interviewed by. And then the podcast started coming back up just over this past year when I got really into creating memes, and that’s where my Instagram started to blow up because it turns out people like memes quite a bit they like sharing them. And I tap because I’ve always been a writer, I’ve always been a poet, and just a creative person in general and my whole life, I’ve kind of been balancing, you know, create the visual arts, I used to be a painter, I went to art school, with writing. And I’ve mostly been a writer, but I’ve also been dabbling with the visual arts my whole life and with memes, and with Instagram, in particular, it’s a great way to bring those two together.
So anyway, when I started creating memes and writing more poetry, during the pandemic, because, honestly, I was looking for new ways to communicate, that regular language just didn’t suffice. It’s like the world has been in such a state of uncertainty and crisis and confusion and absurdity that it’s hard to write about what’s happening in the world without taking a specific side, I’m a conspiracy theorist, and I’m going to tell you what’s going on. Or the experts say this and you should believe it, and here’s why everyone seems to be taking the side. And I didn’t want to do that, none of the sides felt right, or, at least didn’t resonate with me. So I had to develop a language through poetry and mediums, just to communicate the nuance and the absurdity of everything that was happening. And ultimately, all of this creativity was, I was downloading it through these various mediums and I ended up putting them together into a compilation and that’s my new book that’s coming out soon. And it’s a book of poetry and memes and it’s the first-ever book of memes that are being published.
So, that’s why I’m requested to my followers to be on more podcasts, just to help to promote that book and to tie it back to your question around my core message. I’ve been creative, my whole life and it’s not always easy in our society, to declare yourself to be an artist. That almost seems like saying, you’re an artist is almost some kind of a fancy, exclusive club, that only these kind of like, trust fund painters, or something can claim. And I think that we’ve lost this connection with art and creativity, and the new way of kind of being creative is maybe to start a business or to do something like that. And what I want to do is just to help awaken the inherent Creative Artists within all of us, and to kind of rediscover what creativity can do, because I think we’re all, you don’t have to be an artist, or writer or a painter to be creative. I think we’re all creating every single day of our lives I think being alive isn’t, is inherently an act of creation. We create our relationships, we create our careers, we create our friendships, we create our home environments. And on a deep level, we’re co-creating with the universe to manifest our experience of reality, in and of itself. So, I just want to bring our attention back to our inherent creativity and also do it in a way where it’s funny, and it’s light and it’s easy because I think one of the most important abilities we can have in this day and age is to take a step back and laugh at the absurdity of the universe. I think there’s not enough laughter happening in the world right now.
Everyone’s kind of in a state of crisis, but how can we find our humor in the crisis and that’s why my book title is How to Laugh in Ironic Amusement During Your Existential Crisis because ultimately, reality cannot be as serious as we’re making it. And you tied this into psychedelics and I agree with your point there where the psychedelic journey in many ways is like a sandbox or training wheels for the experience of life and death. You go on a journey, you go deep into the trenches of your subconscious, and sometimes what you find is scary and not fun and seems dangerous, perhaps, but then you find your way out of it. And then when you find your way out of that place, you end up reaching a new place that is more expansive and filled with meaning than where we started. So, it is just kind of like training people to go through that night of the soul, to teach them that there’s light at the other end of the tunnel. And therefore, once you’ve done that, it’s hard to take life overly seriously because we know that all of our problems and all of our challenges in the day-to-day that seem big, in the grand scheme of things, they’re just part of the journey. And holding on to them and taking them too seriously is just going to put a weight on our shoulders.
Laura Dawn: Yes, I so appreciate that, we are just in such deep resonance in terms of your message, and just what I stand for to is like, taking ourselves less seriously. And when you have those, you know I’ll never forget some of my first silicide’s and journeys where I could just really zoom out and look at the expansiveness of the universe and look up at the sky and see the cosmos and just like the irony of just how much I took my life, so seriously, if you cannot laugh in those moments, and it’s just it’s so illuminating. Just that it is so important in our lives, yes, they are incredibly important we are a walking, talking, living miracle and yet at the same time, it’s completely unimportant. We are just going to move through, we are going to be soil back in the ground so soon so, what are we doing with our time here? And if you’re not enjoying it, if you’re not laughing every day and finding the humor in it, then like, what’s the point? And that’s one thing I love about my mother, I inherited her sense of humor, and she loves to laugh and I love that about her.
And we talked about this in my mastermind program too, it’s like the capacity to invoke the sacred goofball, and like, be able to bring levity and humor to all of it. And I just, I love the humor piece and so I yeah, I there’s so much that I resonate here. And also, I wanted to share that when I was in elementary school, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bernie Browns work but she did some amazing research showing that about 80% of people had some teacher or some influence in elementary school that planted like a negative belief that influenced and negatively influenced their path for them into their adulthood. And about 50% of the 80% was related to creativity and I had that experience too and then the teacher told me that I’m never going to be creative because I could not draw and I still have anxiety around putting pen to paper to this day. So, I had to go through a huge process of rewriting my narrative around what it means to be creative, that I’m creative, by definition of being alive that because I cannot paint or draw, and because it still brings me to tears, to put pen to paper that way, because I’m so horrified of like, what I’m going to be staring at, that there are so many other narratives around creativity, and that it’s imperative that we rewrite that narrative. When we look at creative thinking and creative problem solving is one of the most essential mindsets, toolsets of this time that we’re living in, that like actually, creativity is essential for moving through these times of change.
James McCrae: Absolutely. Because we need to create a new world and that means that we have a lot of creative thinking ahead of us to find new systems, to live in, and to find new stories to tell a new song to sing and create a world that’s on the vibration level that we want it to be. And I think that to your point, I think creativity has been too connected to perfection in people’s minds, for me, creativity has nothing to do with perfection like creativity can be raw and rough and imperfect. I mean, look at some of the most celebrated artists like you could look at Jackson Pollock and he was throwing paint on a canvas. I just saw this contest that someone had where they have had a bunch of people create art based on a frog. And then 1000s and 1000s of people voted on, which was the best depiction of a frog and the second-place winner was this immaculate color pencil drawing of a frog it was very detailed and very, just very well done but the first place winner was this ridiculous little stick figure of a frog, that he was so far from being perfect but there was a character to it that people loved and they voted for that above the perfect frog.
So, look at memes, I wasn’t an okay art student, I wasn’t an okay, graphic designer, I wasn’t the best but a meme doesn’t have to be designed perfectly. I think a lot of the best memes are a little bit sloppy they’re a little bit pixelated, they’ll just there’s something a little bit rough around the edges about them and people resonate with that more. So for me, creativity is about experimentation and finding your process there’s no right, one way to do it. There’s no like, I’m not a very good technically skilled drawer but I’ll do like illustrations with stick figures and if the idea is good, people will like it. So, I think a lot of people are, as you said, kind of afraid to express their creativity because in school, they weren’t the most technically skilled people and neither was I. But I think that’s missing the point where it’s about experimentation, and having fun, and discovering new things. And whether it’s beautiful, or I love punk rock music and punk rock music is raw and edgy and imperfect and that’s why it’s great so.
Laura Dawn: I think it’s also about coming into our authenticity, too, it’s like what you’re describing is like this culture that we live in, that’s just so perfectionistic and so appearance oriented, and like, can I be this image and yet the rawness, the rough around the edges is learning how to find peace with our authentic selves, with our capacity, even the other day, it’s funny, I posted something on Instagram that was inspired by you and your feed. And I drew it on a piece of paper, and I was, my God, my writing is terrible, the whole thing but it is a healing process, in and of itself it is a healing process. And the idea behind what I posted was good it was this iceberg and it was, this is what you see and it was I’m being a jerk. And then the iceberg underneath was this is what you don’t see I’ve been traumatized, I don’t know how to handle emotions, and actually, it did well and it’s not about the likes or not likes, but it was just like my own process to putting pen to paper and being like, okay, I can accept myself through this process that my fear of drawing is also my path of healing.
James McCrae: I love that. Yes, I think creativity as a path of healing is beautiful, because it’s learning our power as magicians I mean, people say humans are created in the image of God. That’s kind of like a thing in the Bible. Well, what does that mean in the image of God? What is God, first of all, what does that mean? Well, God is the Creator that’s what God is, you can call it a million different names but God is the source of everything around us, the primal source of action of creation that leads to all of this. So, if humans are made in the image of quote God, what could that mean? Other than we also have the capacity to birth new worlds from our source code. So, for me, creativity and spirituality are very much linked and connected.
I’ve tried many kinds of spiritual rituals and practices over the years I studied Buddhism, became a teacher in Kundalini Yoga, and did a lot of Kundalini meditations as well, plant medicine, things of that nature. And I’ve settled into accepting that creativity is a spiritual path unto itself and my spiritual ritual is, every morning sitting down with a notebook, and trying to tune into the voice of the universe and seeing what the universe is trying to tell me in that particular moment. And it might be a great idea, it might not be there are certain days when nothing comes at all but showing up to put me in that position to receive what it’s trying to come through me for my hat is a spiritual practice unto itself.
Laura Dawn: That just made me think of another thing that used to say, Shogun, I can’t say say’s because he’s not on this plane anymore but he says “The path of awakening is inherently the path of befriending yourself.” And there’s something so rich and deep about that, and it’s subtle and incredibly profound and I have contemplated this over the past 15 years. And I feel like it keeps sort of penetrating new depths in my being, and that is when we start talking about creativity is in and of itself a spiritual path. And letting go of the self-judgment, the self-criticism, the shame, the guilt, the not good enough, the perfectionism, all of that is like contracting away from opening to befriending ourselves. And I don’t think we can learn how to befriend other people or have compassion for other people until we can accept ourselves and befriend our human beings for who we are.
James McCrae: Yes, and people online will ask me, how I’m so comfortable putting myself out there, because I post every day, sometimes twice a day, share my thoughts, regularly and I take for granted that that’s not easy for a lot of people to do. And I’ve been thinking about this, and I think it’s because I write so much I write every day for long periods for years and years. So, I’m just so comfortable with my voice as a writer, because I’m always doing it, I do it in private, I do it in public, I’ll think about an idea for a long time if I put it out, or I might just have an idea and put it out instantaneously. I don’t overthink when I’m putting out into the world and that’s I think I don’t overthink it because I’m just always doing it and I found that voice. So, the world is suffering right now from a lack of communication, I think that we all have amazing hearts and amazing souls but how do we bring what’s inside of us out into the world?
How can we communicate it? How can we communicate through people that love us? How can we communicate with people who don’t love us? How do we communicate with people we disagree with? You can only express what you have the language to express what you know how to form words around to package a message and ship it to others. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you need to know how to put together an argument in the form of words and express that into the world. And don’t worry if you’re a poet; don’t worry if you’re YouTuber who’s just great at talking. Just find that voice within you finds what’s your angle in this huge global conversation? We’re all having, what’s your contribution? What’s your point of view? Don’t worry about it being so polished and perfect, just get familiar enough with yourself and practice writing in a journal so much that you just know what you stand for. And when you know what you stand for, you won’t overthink it, you’ll just put it out into the world and that’s how you can start engaging with other people and get feedback from people and then make it better because it’s always an ongoing process. It’s never finished, we’re always you know, perfection is a myth. So, just put yourself out there and kind of improve as you go.
Laura Dawn: I’m so curious to ask you about this because, in my mastermind, I have 32 people, this is a huge conversation, people are so afraid of stepping out. And even you know, I’m working mostly with leaders in the psychedelic space and psychedelics are somewhat, still fringe, but depends on who you hang out with. I’m like, yeah, psychedelics are still fringe to some people, but it’s hitting the mainstream, I do want to talk to you about your experience and relationship with psychedelics. But since we’re still on this topic, people are afraid of putting themselves out there for canceled culture and getting shit thrown at them, and people disagreeing with what they have to say. And that’s why I always encourage people to connect to their bigger, why, like, why are you doing this? And when you connect to a bigger than you vision, people are going to probably criticize you but you can hold your seat in the center of it when you’re connected and rooted in that why. And so I’m curious, what advice do you have for people who are so afraid of putting themselves out there because of fear of criticism? And I’m also curious to know, what do you stand for? What are you anchored in and your why?
James McCrae: So, it’s tough you know, I’ve gotten my fair share of criticism online as well, like everyone else, I think that’s the first thing is just like, don’t be afraid, or try to avoid any criticism. Because I don’t care how, I could write a poem that’s just like, beautifully worded, and just very simple and just very inspirational, one person will find a reason to not like it, and they’ll let me know. So, even if I get overwhelmingly positive feedback on something that I create and share, there’s going to be some people that just, they don’t get it, they’re misinterpreting you, they have some specific experience in their childhood that leads them to come to a different conclusion, for whatever reason. So, you’re going to have people that disagree with you, that challenge you and the bigger your platform is, the more of those people you’re going to have, the bigger you are, the more haters you’re going to have, plain and simple. So, the first thing is, do not worry about people disagreeing with you do not worry about haters, they’re going to be there but they don’t have to be there in a major way.
Like, I get very little negative feedback, even though I’ll always remember the negative feedback more than I remember the exponentially greater positive feedback that I get. So accept it, I think you need to speak out loud to learn the parameters of your voice, and what your audience is looking for from you. So you kind of need to mess up a little bit before you can figure it out because I try to push in different directions just to see where my playground is, where my boundaries are. So, I’ve had times where I’ve gotten maybe a little bit too political, like to specifically political, I’m not a political person but I follow politics as much as the average person, so I have thoughts and I would share certain thoughts and at times, I’ve expressed thoughts that were maybe too liberal for certain conservatives and they would get mad at me, other times, I would share a thought that was too conservative and the liberals would get mad at me. So I’ve got it on every side but the point is, you’re doing this for your benefit to help yourself, learn, and grow.
So you need to learn where your parameters are, I learned that playing in the world of politics is not for me, and I might gently touch on a political idea here and there we, for the most part, I stay out of that I kind of tested it, I got feedback, I learned that’s not my playground. So, it’s all about trial and error, you don’t learn you only learn from doing you only learn from putting it out there and seeing what works. And sometimes I’ll have a post that I create that I know is a little bit edgy, and I know certain people are going to be offended by it. And I’ll post it anyway because the people that aren’t offended by it are gonna resonate with it even more; they’re going to be so happy that someone said it. And I might get it, some people being like, hey, and I expected that but you have to choose if you’re going to, if you’re going to do something that a lot of people love, you’re automatically assuming the risk that some people are not going to love it. And listen in the world of social media, that kind of thing works, if a message is too flimsy, and too wishy-washy, in no particular way doesn’t have any teeth, no one’s going to love it. So, you do have to accept a certain amount of pushback from some people, if it’s an idea that you agree with.
Laura Dawn: Okay, so we kind of touched on this briefly when we dropped in last week, but they’re you posted something that got kind of a lot of attention around it. I think you took down the post, I think you posted it on a Whim at Night; when you get harsh criticism, what’s your internal dialogue look like, sound like? Because I think that there’s this place where we get overly concerned, and we’re like, my God, we’re getting debilitated by worrying what other people think. And I think that on the other end of the spectrum that also doesn’t feel centered is like, well, fuck everyone I don’t give a shit about anyone. I think that there’s a middle center there, that we aren’t just doing this for ourselves that we have this bigger vision of why we’re doing what we’re doing. And so when you receive that criticism, I’m so curious, how do you talk yourself through it? Because I’ve been through cancel culture moments, and it was hard, I was like, damn, this is like, intense to hold space for. So, what does that look like for you?
James McCrae: You nailed it back to Buddhism, the middle way, that’s always coming back to the middle way, not being too extreme in either way. Because the two extremes would be you either, you get negative feedback, you delete the post immediately, and then you pretend it ever existed. Or you say, F all of you, I’m going to double down on this and start getting in fights in my comment section to defend my point of view, I don’t do either of those things. So, I listened to the feedback I’m getting, so, there is criticism that you should take to heart and listen to and internalize and keep in your consideration, and there’s the feedback that is just completely, honestly, they’re missing the point entirely, and you can’t even listen to it because you have to self-reflect on what you posted, and where the criticism is coming from. I’ve had times when I posted something with the pure intention that it was funny and it was just misconstrued as being maybe for example, disrespectful to women, for example.
And times like that I’ve grown as a person, because I’ve taken the time to sit with it, and fully understand the point of view where that criticism was coming from because it was something I wouldn’t have maybe even noticed at first. But then if you get enough kind of similar feedback, you can kind of reflect on it and grow from it and be more careful in the future about your wording. Because sometimes, I might have a joke for a meme that, you could phrase these in a million different ways, there’s an idea but the specific language you’re using can be anything. So, it’s almost like every time you post something and you get feedback, you’re sharpening the blade of your communication because you learn how to phrase things and like Words are Vibrations. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I’m just much more careful with how I word things because I know how people might interpret them.
So, I’m trying to maximize the impact of the posts while also minimizing the potential for it to be misunderstood because most of the negative feedback I get it’s not because they disagree with what I’m saying it’s because it’s being misunderstood. So I try to minimize the potential for anything I post to be misunderstood, that’s, that’s the most important if you don’t agree with what I say, that’s different, that’s fine, you don’t have to agree with what I say but as long as I’m saying it in the way that it’s being communicated effectively. So, just to summarize certain feedback, it’s important to internalize to grow from to become a more skillful communicator as a result of, and some feedback if they’re missing the point or it’s just not relevant. And if it’s me, I’ll just delete it, if someone who has a mean post that is just not in good spirits, I just deleted and move on and I have to block someone, I’ll do it. But it’s a delicate balance and you only learn your parameters by jumping in and doing it and making mistakes and then getting better because of your mistakes. But you got to get in the mix, you got to get your hands dirty a little bit and have some people unfollow you and then grow from there because you won’t learn what works for you unless you do it yourself.
Laura Dawn: Yes, I think it’s so much discernment around like, what’s mine here and what’s not mine? I’ve had those experiences where I was like, okay, because I’m fundamental, I’m a white woman, there is nothing that I can say do or anything that’s going to shift this person’s attack on me because that’s their worldview. So it’s like, certain areas that I’m like, okay, I can just do the best that I can, I want to be a good human, I want to do good on this planet. So, what’s mine to own? What’s not mine to own? Where can I do better? How can this be a place of self-reflection without shutting down my voice and my creative channel and without hiding and being like, well, I don’t want to be attacked so I’m going to crawl into the cave and never come out and I’ve had those moments of, my God, I’m just going to just not do this anymore? But I feel that to create change, we do have to push the boundaries. Otherwise, we’re just operating in the box and if we stay in the box, nothing is going to change. So, we need the people to be able to be at the forefront being like, okay, this is new thinking; new thinking is going to get pushback. So, I’ve seen you post about psychedelics and plant medicines. How does your audience react to that? And I’d love to get into your relationship with psychedelics and how they’ve played a role in your healing, your growth, and your creativity. Let’s go in that direction.
James McCrae: Honestly, I’ve never got any negative feedback on the topic of psychedelics. I think we’ve reached a tipping point in America, of acceptance, at least acceptance in terms of being curious. And having, D stigmatizing it because there’s been at this point, there’s been enough research, there have been amazing success stories and there have been respected academics and authors and medical professionals that have taken up this work. And I think that’s what’s been the biggest difference is it’s not the people leading the psychedelic conversation in 2021 are not radical hippies or Timothy Leary Esque figures that are saying, burn down the old world, and we’re all going to just lay in the field and do acid and everything’s going to be okay. That rubbed people the wrong way surprise. Now, we have Michael Pollan and Rick Doblin and groups like maps and other psychic other research, organizations and medical approved it administration of ketamine and psilocybin and things like that, and it’s been proven to help with PTSD or addiction.
And we’ve learned that these substances do not have the same negative side effects and repercussions as heroin or cocaine or, frankly, even alcohol, they don’t tend to be habit-forming, or have some kind of residual side effect, in fact, personally, after a psychedelic experience, I usually want to distance myself for a long time before I’m ready to jump back in so it’s almost the opposite of, heroin addiction in that sense. So I think that I think that now is the time to go public in a way for psychedelic leaders, because people need it, and I do think it’s, it’s going to be an important contribution to the healing of the world, I do, because people are starting to drop out of society, either by force or by choice, people are either getting, like, losing their jobs, and they don’t have anywhere to turn or else they’re realizing that they don’t want to be tied to an office dedicate their whole life to a cause that they don’t even believe in, and people are starting to reevaluate their priorities and start to look for new ways to live into, just operate as a society.
And people are starting to turn to psychedelics and I think that the more people that are in a position to speak about it, from a place of experience, and knowledge and research, and people, you can trust teachers and leaders in the space. I think these people are going to be hugely important moving forward, because we don’t want people just to be jumping into the role of psychedelics, without knowing what they’re doing. As you know it’s very powerful and unless you have the right guides, and mentors, and facilitators, you might not have an optimal experience. So the plants themselves are hugely powerful and they’re great teachers in their own right but we also need the space holders and facilitators to be part of that process, because that’s part of the healing as well as having the right set and setting and having the right trusted people around us to make sure the medicine is working as it’s meant to. So, I think we’re ready for it, as I said, I’ve never got any the fact, I posted just something today about it, about psychedelics, just in my story, nothing too major, something that I found.
And then I started getting people messaging me asking me my advice on what to try because they’re curious about getting up just even trying psychedelics for the first time, so people are ready, and the more trusted space holders we have, the better. And for me, they’ve been a guide, they have been tying into creating creativity, I’ve always been writing and creating but once I started doing psychedelics and kind of tapping into that space, it’s given my work, much greater depth than it would have had otherwise because that’s what it does to us as people. It shows us the depth of our subconscious, the collective subconscious, and helps us see the reality that we live in from a different point of view from a more expansive point of view. And the more you can tap into the depth within us in our creative work, the more people are going to relate to it on a deeper level. We can only touch people as deeply as we’ve gone into ourselves. So for creativity, I think it’s a prerequisite I think, almost for very conscious, deep creativity, because it gives us a familiarity with the landscape, so to speak.
Laura Dawn: And so how often do you journey and I’m curious, do you work with psychedelics specifically in a framework as a tool for creativity. Do you also get it ideas while you’re journeying or are you just noticing, a couple of days after your journey where you’re more creative or maybe like quieter and more in the clearing of the channel phase? I’m curious about that.
James McCrae: So, lately I’ve been more microdosing, I’ve been micro-dosing psilocybin recently. I haven’t gone on a deep journey in a while, I’ve been doing psychedelics for not even 10 years yet, maybe eight years ago, I had my first experience. And I’ve done Ayahuasca I think six times, I’ve had deep psilocybin, journeys, maybe 10 times, so not an overwhelming number of, experiences because, again, I feel like, after I’ve done one, your integration is so important, you need to because there are so many lessons with each experience that I want to integrate them before jumping back in. For me, it’s a clearing the channel sort of thing when it comes to the creative process, with some exceptions I think microdosing LSD can help write for me too, sometimes.
But in the deep journey space, creativity has a yin and yang and the Yin is kind of preparing the soil of your consciousness for ideation and the Yang is producing the work and executing it and experimenting and putting it out there. For me, psychedelics are very much not in the Yin category. I’ve seen people in Ayahuasca ceremonies bring notebooks, and I’ve seen them writing during the experience, I would not recommend that, not that it’s harmful, there’s nothing wrong with it. But I just promise you that you’re not going to write anything good I can pretty much guarantee you, you’re not going to write anything good, because you’re so lost in the sauce, you might get a download that two months later, you’re able to express in your writing. Microdosing is different, especially for me LSD, because LSD is a little bit more kind of…
Laura Dawn: A little more cognitive.
James McCrae: A little more cognitive, exactly. Anything important writing-wise, I wouldn’t use any substances for but like, cannabis is good for me for creating memes and stuff like that, where it’s just more kind of fun and I’m not trying to write a book, I’m just creating some Instagram content, cannabis is good for that. But in terms of the psychedelics and the deep journeys, it’s a time to kind of clear out all the clutter that’s in your head so, you can be an open channel to receive for weeks and months after the experience. So it puts you into that space where you’re going to start downloading ideas but I recommend giving it space and time and not trying to write you’re poem in the middle of an Ayahuasca journey because it’s just doesn’t lend itself well to the execution part of creativity.
Laura Dawn: Yes. There’s so much I resonate with there and just like the deep cleaning of the channel, I was just interviewing Dr. Simon Ruffell, who does Ayahuasca research. And he was like, Ayahuasca is like deep spring cleaning for the mind, and it is a way that we set ourselves up for the long haul to be able to be that clear, open channel, I’m curious in terms of, in between deeper journeys, and just in daily life, what are some ways that you lean into the Yin? The open vessel, the clearing of the channel, rituals that you have either on a daily or a weekly basis, or practices that you engage in, whatever that is because I think there is this, in our culture, this very young energy, always doing putting things out there productive, but we do have to balance that out with the receptivity, emptying of the vessel to receive and that’s where the mysticism of creativity comes into because it’s like, we’re connecting to something so much greater than ourselves it’s coming through us and so yes, I’d love to talk about rituals for clearing that channel, keeping it open.
James McCrae: Yes. I agree, I think that, for me, the best creativity is, comes so effortlessly and it’s just like a download. I like to think that I’m partnering with a spirit, a guide, a muse, you can call it whatever you want, to me, any label you give anything that’s in the spiritual world is just a metaphor. People talk about angels and spirit guides, and this and that, God itself herself; call it whatever you want but I don’t think you should take any of those terms, literally. They’re all just metaphors for something that we just don’t have the language to articulate and understand but I feel like I’m working in collaboration with something outside of myself, or maybe it’s my higher self, or whatever it is and my job in the creative process is to essentially become clear enough channels, so I can receive information and downloads. So, I don’t force anything, I mean, if I’m writing a book, you might have to sit down and just kind of knock it out at a certain point, because that’s just a big project but for the most part, in creativity, I’m not trying to force anything, I don’t have an agenda, I don’t have a message I’m trying to communicate, I just try to open my channel as much as I can, and receive and listen, I call it listening to the space between my thoughts.
Because my thoughts are like, okay, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, my creative process is getting out of my way and it helps that I’ve been meditating regularly for many years. So, if you’re not a big meditator, I would recommend it because you’re going to have thoughts, it’s about just not getting attached to them and just let letting yourself sit and seeing what comes through, instead of, doing something with the clouds in the sky, you’re just trying to wait for the light to poke through from behind the clouds and the clouds are your thoughts but the sun behind the clouds is really where the inspiration is. So for me, it’s nothing fancy, I just sit down with an open notebook and just check in with myself to see what I’m feeling. See, what’s kind of on my mind, what is the universe been trying to teach me recently? What are the lessons that I’m currently learning, and I check in with myself, because I think that we often think that we are having our own experiences, but I think that we’re more connected as a collective than we think we are.
And the things that we’re dealing with more often than not, I see other people dealing with the same things that I am, when you kind of get down to, to it. So that’s super important for me, it’s just becoming an empty vessel and letting it flow through me and as I said, some days, I’m a lot comes through some days, nothing comes through, but it’s about just showing up and if it’s there, it’s you’re going to be there to receive it because I think that often ideas if someone doesn’t grab it out of the ether, someone else might come along and grab it, I think ideas have a life force of their own in some ways people talk about thought being potentially a real thing that exists on an electric energetic level. Well, if that’s true, then we are tuning into ideas that have a life of their own, and we’re just trying to birth them into the world. And to me that’s what’s great about being human that’s what makes us human is we can literally tap our consciousness into the unknown of the ether of the universe, and using our intuition and our we can find inspiration and tap into ideas that we can then birth into material reality. To me, that’s the definition of magic, that’s alchemy.
Laura Dawn: Exactly. And creativity because we’re holding a vision of what is possible that doesn’t yet exist in this reality and we’re transmuting it condensing it and making it manifest in this world and it is magic. And I think the more that we play in that narrative, the more fun it is, and the more awe-inspiring it is, and the more just like holy shit, I’ve had those experiences so many times that’s more my creative process in deep, deep journeys, where it is this like dynamic balance between, praying and listening, putting out visions and also receiving a vision. And so I’m in this dialogue with my plant teachers and with the universe that it feels like, I’m also getting this deep clearing of my channel but very many times I’ve had very clear visions come through, and then the integration is like playing with transmuting that vision into reality on this physical plane. And it’s like, wow, this is fun, look at that, wow, that idea only existed in my mind and now I’m birth the retreat center and created a physical space for people to come and I think that’s the larger arc of how I relate to psychedelics in terms of creating and you just totally hit that same feeling is its alchemical transmutation.
James McCrae: Yes, it’s amazing, and it has to be fun, it has to play because that’s the language of creativity, if you’re trying too hard to force the universe to give you an idea, that’s not how it likes to play. It wants to play with someone that’s has an intention and has a purpose, but is not attached to any particular outcome because the best ideas that I have, like all laugh when I get the idea because it surprises me as much as anyone else. After all, I didn’t expect that it came through me. And that’s when I know it’s a good idea because I know I didn’t come up with it, I caught the ball that someone else threw.
Laura Dawn: And I love that. So, you mentioned journaling before and meditation and quiet contemplation are so essential. Any other rituals that you have for people to help inspire their creativity, their process, their creative flow?
James McCrae: Yes, I think it’s really important to have guides and influences, whatever medium you want to work in, a lot of people are writers because writing is such an important skill so, that’s like a good one to focus on. Read a lot of different writers, what kind of work do you want to write, whether that’s research-based work, or poetry, or storytelling, or first-person narrative, do a lot of reading in that area. I’ve learned so many tricks from different writers; it could be something big, where they’ve inspired me to help inform my philosophy of the world. Or it could be something small, I love the writer, Joan Didion she doesn’t give away anything about her philosophy of the world, she keeps her cards very close to her chest but she is one hell of an editor of her work. And she can just craft a sentence that’s just kind of just perfect and she’ll just know how to end a chapter in a way that just hits.
So, I learned a lot from her just in terms of structuring and sentences and chapters. So I’ve learned so many different things from different guides so it’s important to immerse yourself into whatever work you want to do. So that’s one thing I would recommend and then another thing is just to experiment and this is more on the Yang side is like, using action to produce something. But when I create all, sometimes I’ll do a drawing, sometimes I’ll do a poem, sometimes I’ll do a meme, sometimes I’ll do like a mini little, just a short little essay. I’ve experimented with all these different forms, I might get an idea well it’s just going to be a better meme, or is this going to be a better poem? How can I take the play dough of this unformed idea and craft it into something and that’s playtime, that’s your sandbox to plan and try different things, experiment, try things that don’t work. Go in an extreme in this direction and then go on and extreme in that direction, try to make it a story, try to make it a joke, play around with your ideas and how you’re trying to communicate them, and learn what works best for you.
Laura Dawn: Playtime is so essential, I love that. If you had to choose one book that has been like your companion Guide to Life, you know, because you mentioned authors and what is one or two of your key books that you have gone back to have like, these are essential, essential texts to read. I love that you’re grabbing them right now.
James McCrae: I’ll give you a couple. These are books that have more informed my kind of spiritual philosophy. Here’s the first one, this is the Tao Te Ching and this was estimated to be written 2500 years ago and Taoism is, comes from ancient China, and it was the kind of standardization of ancient Chinese shamanism so no one knows how far these ideas go back because even this book, which is 2500 years ago, was informed by much older forms of ancient Chinese shamanism. This is a very small book, but there’s so much wisdom packed into every single page and it’s written almost like poetry, where you can like meditate on a certain sentence for a long time because there are so many different ways of looking at it. So, that’s informative, both my spiritual outlook as well as my poetry because it does such a good job and kind of crafting these ideas. This is another one this is Be Here Now by Ram Dass, another very famous book.
This is great because it’s very much illustrated, you can see here if you’re watching the video all the cool illustrations that come from that, and that was a book that it’s credited to Ram Dass, but these are the teachings of the Neem Karoli Baba, who Ram Dass lived within India and he gave all these talks. So, this is kind of transcription of some of Ram Dass, his talks that he gave in the early 70s based on the teachings of Neem Karoli Baba. So, it’s an incredibly Baba’s book But it was channeled and it came through Ram Dass who ended up being kind of, the student that helped bring Neem Karoli Baba’s work into the global spotlight. But those are a couple that comes to mind that just or so you can read them again and again and keep getting new things because they’re both speaking from a place of so much depth, that you can just read them again and again and never quite get sick of it.
Laura Dawn: I love that I feel that about Pema Chodron audio Noble Heart. Have you heard of that one? Have you listened to that?
James McCrae: I haven’t listened to it but I love her work.
Laura Dawn: I have listened to that so many times and the same with Getting Unstuck, which catalyzed huge, profound change in my life. I would say just as much as plant medicines. Pema Chodron has played that role for me. I want to ask you, where are you meeting your growth edge right now in your life?
James McCrae: My growth edge?
Laura Dawn: Yes. Do you have a place where you’re leaning into the discomfort?
James McCrae: Yes. I’m trying to get comfortable with just not knowing what’s going to happen next and trusting that when I’m in alignment with myself and an alignment with my purpose, that the right things will fall into place. I’m trying not to force anything that doesn’t feel like it’s in alignment with nature and that’s hard because we’re taught as a society if we want to make money, you need to hustle you need to go work hard, you need to push, you to push yourself, you need to push other people And I’m trying to deprogram that from my mind right now and just almost as I do with my creativity, I’m kind of getting in alignment with myself and waiting for the ideas to come and guess what they always come. So, what I’m doing now is how can I apply that on a bigger level to my life where I’m in alignment with doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And trusting that the right opportunities, the right funding, the right people, will show up when they need to show up without trying to force it or being afraid that it won’t work.
Laura Dawn: I love that. I think that’s why we’re so aligned and I’m so resonant with your message, because there’s such a deep root of Eastern philosophy there, it’s that balance between making it happen and letting it happen, intending and surrendering. There is a time for Yang and there’s a time for Yin, and I’m so fucking over this hustle culture narrative, I’m so over it. I have to be present all the time and I noticed that in my mind, and I was talking to my mom the other day, and she was like, do you look at that inner voice that tells you that you have to be doing all the time, it’s fear-based. And I was like, that is true it is fear-based.
James McCrae: I’ve had a hard time allowing myself just to enjoy myself, on any given day without trying to pack each hour with something productive. Can I allow myself to have fun and to have no pressure and to just be happy doing nothing and just go see a friend with no agenda? These are things that should be so natural to us because this is the substance of life is just enjoying life and each other and ourselves and I think it’s so hard for so many people now just to relax and let go. So, I’m learning to let go and relax and it’s not always easy, but it is rewarding.
Laura Dawn: I’m right there with you. Do you walk? Where do you get your best ideas? For me, I find like walking and movement are a big part of my process. It’s not a part of your process at all dancing movement?
James McCrae: I do all those things; I don’t do them as part of the creative process per se. I know that if I don’t get exercise for a few days, the ideas will stop coming at a certain point because you need to move the energy around. So I love going for runs, I’m doing a static dance thing coming up next week stuff like that is fun, I do yoga and often I will get an idea. When I started doing yoga for the first time, at the end of class, I would always get ideas coming to me, I remember leaving yoga class and just having an open channel of inspiration. In fact when I wrote my first book, it’s when I was just getting into Kundalini Yoga, and I was doing Kundalini Yoga, three times a week and that did help inform the book that I was reading at that time. So yes, you need to move your energy around and when you’ve had a nice workout, or a nice dance or a nice run, or whatever it is, then the body feels it’s too tired to complain so, the body’s just kind of asleep, it’s just kind of resting and you don’t feel antsy, you don’t feel like you need to go and do something you’re kind of you stay put and that that does just help. I think you need to be in a relaxed state for good ideas to come.
Laura Dawn: And also when we think about this alchemical transmutation from all stuff into this 3d reality, it is inherently a movement of energy. And so keeping that channel clear and open and we talk about the open vessel, it’s like sleeping well I know that if I don’t sleep well I am so not at my best that is just such a way to debilitate my creative channel. If I’m not eating well if I’m not taking care of my body and my mind on all levels not getting out in the sun enough and I’m in front of the computer too much, it’s such a holistic practice to nurture the creative channel.
James McCrae: It is, I agree. All those are factors, diet substances, what we’re reading, are we watching the news or reading something spiritual, everything that we input plays a role in what comes out of us. So, I agree, it’s a holistic approach, and everything that comes in comes out, all the crazy stuff of the going on to the news over the past year, I do my best not to tune in, but it was hard to avoid picking up on over the past year. And it’s not mentally healthy to be tuned into so much chaos happening in the world but it did end up fueling a lot of my poetry at the time because the poetry that I have, coming out in my new book, a lot of it is just kind of psychedelic post-apocalyptic visions. And those could only have been written because of all the things that were happening around me in the media, on the internet, in conversations. So, that’s an example of where you can transmute the chaos and the negativity of the news, for example, and channel it into art.
It was still a little bit stressful because I was dealing with really heavy topics, but that ended up fueling the art so you can make art out of whatever you have at your disposal, you don’t have to be like a perfect Yogi and have a perfect lifestyle. I’m saying that stuff is very good. And that’s kind of the path is to take you there but whatever you have going on in your life right now you can make art out of even when I was writing my first book, I had a stressful job in New York City at an ad agency. And that wasn’t optimal to create a creative process but the book is about my ego and I was dealing with all my ego issues every day at work. So, I was able to take those experiences, and transmute them through art and using them to fuel my art. So, whatever you have going on in your life, you can use to feel your art, even if it’s painful art is helps you transform that into something beautiful at the end of the day. So, it’s good to have this kind of these good habits and this good lifestyle, but you can create great art no matter where you are.
Laura Dawn: So true, alright. When is your book coming out? And where can people find you and any closing words that you want to share?
James McCrae: So I’m mostly on Instagram, you can find me at wordsarevibrations and just go to my links there and you can see where to buy the book, you can buy the book now it will be officially released as soon as the production is done. It should be by the end of this summer in a month or two and there’ll be some cool merch that gets released along with it some t-shirts and hats and tote bags and prints. So, there’s going to be a bunch of cool stuff that comes out with that as well as a Spoken Word Album. That’s going to come out in conjunction with it.
Laura Dawn: You do spoken word.
James McCrae: Not every poem that I write is spoken word but some of them and I have never done spoken word before. But some of the pieces that were coming out were just begging to be read because there’s just something about them as I said, there were almost these prophetic visions about the apocalypse that we’re all dealing with. So, I am recording some tracks for those specific poems where they’re just screaming to be read.
Laura Dawn: I’m so excited to promote your book and help share it and read it myself. And I’m just such a fan of your work James McCrae, at wordsarevibrations on Instagram so awesome. Thank you so much for all the work that you do. So appreciate you, brother, so nice to have you on the show, alright.
James McCrae: Thank you so much.
Laura Dawn: Thank you that was fun.
James McCrae: That was fun.
James McCrae is an author, poet, creative guide, and meme-artist based in Austin, Texas. In his writing and art, he applies the principles of mindfulness and Eastern philosophy to modern life with humor and candor.
James is the author of two books: Sh#t Your Ego Says (Hay House, 2017), an autobiographical guidebook for quieting negative self-talk and reconnecting with intuition, and How to Laugh in Ironic Amusement During Your Existential Crisis (Thought Catalog, 2021), a book of poetry and memes about leaving your comfort zone to embrace the unknown.
As a creative strategist, James has led workshops and brainstorms with top global brands (including Microsoft, NBC, Target, Organic Valley, and United Healthcare) to help define their mission, vision, and brand story.
He has written articles on creativity for publications like Forbes, HuffPost, Adweek, Yogi Times, Entrepreneur, and Elephant Journal, and his poetry has been featured in literary journals such as American Journal of Poetry, 34th Parallel Magazine, Thought Catalog, New Millennium Writings, and Musepaper.
On his popular Instagram page (@wordsarevibrations) James shares daily memes, poems, and illustrations that delight and inspire his audience. He also hosts Homesick Alien Club, a podcast that explores the intersection of creativity, consciousness, and culture.
In his spare time, James enjoys practicing yoga, visiting art museums, watching basketball, walking his dogs, and listening to music.
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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.