As humanity sits on the cusp of a new paradigm that moves beyond strict materialism and into a holistic understanding that includes subtle forces and the subjective experience, we find ourselves needing to have new conversations that bring together multiple disciplines to achieve a higher order of understanding. While this sounds like a lofty undertaking, the upcoming International Transpersonal Conference in Prague (ITC 2017) aims to do exactly that.
Held in Prague 25 years after its historical and highly successful first iteration, ITC 2017 will bring together an incredible cross-disciplinary array of luminaries including Stanislav Grof, Alex and Allyson Grey, Luis Eduardo Luna, Rick Doblin, Charles Grob, Rachel Harris, Amit Goswami, and many others. By bringing together psychedelic experts, transpersonal psychologists, quantum physicists, indigenous shamans, and social activists, this conference is sure to nurture an incredibly enticing meta-conversation about our latest understandings on the nature of reality, and how we can move toward integration and unity.
Psychologist and psychedelic researcher Rita Kočárová is the program coordinator of ITC 2017, and we reached out to her earlier this month to speak about the purpose behind the conference and what we can look forward to as participants.
Thank’s so much for speaking with us, Rita! Tell us about how the idea for ITC 2017 began.
In the very beginning there was an idea by Stanislav Grof to do a transpersonal conference again in Prague. There was one very successful conference in Prague in 1992. When Stan said it is worth it to do it again, we gathered together to make it happen. We see this conference as a 25-year follow up to the first ITC in 1992. We decided last year to do something in the transpersonal area with the Czech Transpersonal Society, the Holos organization, the Czech Psychedelic Society and the Club of Budapest with Czech speakers and participants. It was successful, so we decided to do an international one. We are including lots of different perspectives, so it’s not just psychedelics or transpersonal psychology but includes all disciplines related to the transpersonal experience, the true nature of consciousness.
Why do you think it’s important to have so many different areas coming together in a nexus like this?
For me personally, it’s been super enriching because I was already really focused on psychedelics and shamanism, but through this conference I started to learn more about how rich this transpersonal area is. A lot of these disciplines don’t communicate very much between each other. There are exceptions- some people are shamans and transpersonal psychologists at the same time, but very rarely are shamans and psychologists connected to quantum physics, or to the philosophy of consciousness. I think it is a super unique opportunity to share different perspectives, not just on the nature of consciousness but in how we perceive reality. These different disciplines are bringing in a new paradigm that is not mainstream yet, but you can see it emerging in physics, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and so on. This movement has already been growing for a few decades, but is still not widely accepted on the academic level. This new paradigm continues to emerge because we are realizing that there are still so many phenomena we experience in everyday life that we are not able to explain by current methodologies and current science.
When it comes to studying consciousness, and especially altered states of consciousness, it’s almost as if we have been trying to learn about the ocean just by measuring the temperature and depth. We don’t see all the fish, the life, and the light in there. We feel handicapped in some ways that we don’t have the scientific tools to measure those things yet, but we are on the verge of developing them. First we need to accept that our current model is insufficient, and learn to value other ways of getting knowledge such as direct experiences. It’s not just about psychedelics of course- we all can cooperate with one another, and help and learn from each other across disciplines. All of us are trying to educate others and make these new perspectives more accessible and more accepted.
In many ways, it does seem that psychedelics are leading the charge in this paradigm shift, as research is showing the power of these subjective experiences to create lasting, measurable changes in people’s lives.
I think that psychedelics can help a lot in all the transpersonal movements. At the same time, I’m still frustrated at times by the current science. I will use an example which I heard from Stan Grof, as I resonate with it. I find it kind of funny that we can only accept that psilocybin can cause a mystical experience because of the research that a university publishes with a few carefully selected subjects. Right now, millions of people know that psilocybin causes mystical experiences; just ask any psychonaut who has used it! I understand the value of that research, but it is funny that we need to spend millions of dollars and have this trial to make that claim accepted.
It is, again, a problem of the scientific paradigm. Evidence can be like a dictator, and the most important thing we underestimate is experienced-based knowledge, which can often be much more important. We can have a shaman, for example, that has experience with thousands of different people and thousands of his own psychedelic experiences: should we really consider him less authoritative than a scientist who has perhaps never even tried psychedelics, but gave 15 carefully screened people a questionnaire? When you really look at the primary studies, we realize they are not really telling us all that much, and that we need to go deeper.
My intention is not to criticize science- it is not an accident that I am also a dedicated scientist- I just wish the knowledge coming from other sources could also be accepted with the same respect and have its value acknowledged by the mainstream, and also academia. I want us to be able to critically approach any subject in this world, to question even what is considered to be indisputable truth.
Those are some salient points. Is there anything else about ITC that you’d like to share?
I just would like to share how excited I am that we achieved this vision of bringing together different people from different cultures, from shamans to researchers to other experts. I’m really happy for that and think it’s very important to share this variety of perspectives.
Therefore I’d like to sincerely invite everyone to join this historical event! There will also be a few hours of open space, an opportunity for everyone there to be part of the discussion and share their opinions on how we might proceed in the future.
We are very grateful to Rita for speaking with us about ITC 2017 and for helping to put on such an incredible event.