Altered is an international conference that aims to elucidate concepts surrounding the nature of consciousness.
Scheduled to take place in Berlin, Germany on the 3rd and 4th of November, Altered seeks to unify individuals from various backgrounds and disciplines to discuss academia, art, and spirituality.
The organizers of this event, Amit Elan and Dax DeFranco, are extremely passionate about psychedelics and the potential that they have to bring about change in those who experience them. Due to the illegality of the substances at this moment however, there is still a substantial amount of work that has to be done to dissolve stigmas associated with psychedelics and their users.
They believe it is important for gatherings like this one to exist in order to foster camaraderie amongst those whom are already in the know and dispel any antiquated ideas that may have embedded themselves into public perception.
This excerpt is taken from the Altered's mission statement:
"As we are bombarded with news intended to overwhelm, demoralize, and instill fear and hostility, often times amidst our own personal crises, it is now more important than ever to come together to acknowledge and examine the deep sympathetic interconnectedness we all share. Within crisis lies a unique opportunity for individuals and communities to self-reflect, evolve, and improve."
Here, we discuss the event, it's purpose, and their unique perspectives on altered states.
Prox: Please talk to us about the purpose of Altered 2017 from your individual perspectives. Why is it important to have these kinds of gatherings? How do they impact the public perception of the people that attend events like this one?
Amit: I think the purpose of doing an event like Altered - first of all, for us it may seem like it’s so obvious because we’re so obsessed with the topic and we’ve been following the psychedelic renaissance for years.
It’s so close and impactful in our lives, so it could seem like there’s nothing new to bring to the table, but I think it’s really quite the opposite. I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg in this field and it’s actually important information that I feel is our duty to pass on to the larger public, the mainstream, and the collective psyche of the humans on our planet. I believe that it is very potent in helping the world become a better place, solving issues, and getting people closer to their hearts, to nature, and to each other. Learning from ancient wisdoms.
It’s benefited me so much in my life and changed my whole way of living and seeing things, creativity, and connecting with other humans. Therapeutically - it’s helped my physicality. I think there’s so much potential, it’s like an obvious tool to be making such a good shift and growth and healing that I think it is really needed on our planet and among our populations.
That’s one of the reasons that it’s important to have these conferences as well as connecting people together that are exploring these realms.
Dax: Altered is schizophrenic: it wants to be everything at once and sometimes in challenging, contradictory ways. Amit and I have had some intense conversations about the concept and direction and atmosphere and vibe...all of that. We want every type of weirdo to come and get weird with us, but in the end we’re coming from different places. That’s not a bad thing, and it hasn’t even been a difficult thing - it’s been really a lot of fun because there’s so much energy that you find in this crashing together of ideas. It’s the Alchemical coincidentia oppositorum - all of these maddening, mutually exclusive ideas existing together in the same time and place, and something’s got to give, and it’s often times been our expectations of what is possible for the two of us to get done.
Regarding why I think it’s important - there was an article or podcast I found about a year ago about "coming out of the psychedelic closet". I grew up in a tiny town on the East Coast in the United States, and it was an incredibly closed-minded and homogenous place that was a perfect breeding ground for a fear-based worldview. I was racist. I was homophobic. I was ardently anti-drugs. I was generally a very unpleasant person. I moved away for university, and then continued moving and between traveling and psychedelics, I was exposed to all sorts of new people and experiences. When you don’t know any queer people or people of color, it’s easy to stick to an ignorant stereotype because it’s never challenged. You need to be open to accepting that some of the narratives you’ve taken on might be wrong, but psychedelics help with that. That to say, there are people across our society who have used and benefitted from psychedelics, but until recently they did so in secret. When you’re the only person who’s experimented with x, it’s hard to talk about it or make it a part of your identity, but the more people that do, the less pressure and fear others feel to identify that way. Altered is a gathering of a community, and it’s friendly and loving and fun, but there is no getting around the fact that it’s very much a political thing.
Prox: Berlin is an interesting place to hold this event. Why was Germany selected as the country to hold the conference?
Amit: I think it’s less about Germany and more about Berlin. All of our crew has gathered together from around the world, we’re international, and I see Altered as an international, borderless collective that happens to be having a conference in Berlin this year. Berlin is definitely a great location for this because of the eclectic mashup of different types of people that all fit the scheme for this kind of event, so rather it’s the witchy occultists, psychedelic academics, research-y laboratory chemists, or the queer shamanic scene, festival peeps, techies, clubbers, there’s a lot of all of these scenes, and there's a lot of events of this sort that feed spiritual growth and experimentation. It’s mainstream here to be a psychonaut or an explorer of the astral planes. Berlin has this super accepting vibe and energy to it where every freak can be themselves. People are respected for their uniqueness. Feels like the right place to do a gathering like Altered.
Dax: Berlin is becoming my home. I’ve lived in several cities around the world and none of them feel as deeply comfortable to me as Berlin does. The average person in Berlin does not give a fuck about things which don’t concern them, and that’s an excellent atmosphere in which to hold a conference about altered states of consciousness and the magickal, creative, cultural, political and personal aspects that they can address. There are plenty of conferences and events about the brain chemistry of all this, that’s interesting and important and (becoming) socially acceptable, but that’s not my world and that’s not where my mind gravitates. What I want and what we’re doing might be taboo elsewhere, but in Berlin we have the amazing privilege of worrying about it being too tame.
Prox: How does your differing skill-sets contribute to the fluidity and success of this occasion? Is Altered possible without your unique visions?
Amit: I think me and Dax bring in a lot of different perspectives into this project which makes it a multi-dimensional organism. Speaking for myself, I come from a bunch of different directions: visual arts, performance art, dance and body-voice work and coming from the world of creativity, experimentation and improvisation.
I believe that is very much connected to all my psychedelic and altered state experiences.
When I was 11 I was already fascinated/obsessed with the whole world of lucid dreaming and learned the techniques of how to access the subconscious through dream and meditation. Something in me as a kid was so enchanted by the idea of altering that I sought out and tried anything I could get my hands on.
My earlier psychedelic phases were within the queer rave underground scene in Tel Aviv, the queer scene was very open to that and that’s where I learned what it means to be a psychonaut. Later on, since most of my life I’ve been dealing with physical issues - I have an autoimmune disease, Crohn's, and I was dealing with all types of anxieties when I was younger which led me to look through the therapeutical potential of all this. I’ve been practicing yoga since I was a kid cause I grew up in a hippy environment, so the combination of the therapeutical healing side and plants and shamanism and ceremony - that was something I'd been exploring also for a long time and at some point in my early 20’s. I was looking for ways to make a big shift and change in my life and it got to quite an extreme point early on. Then I got to the whole plant medicine world, I started working with Ayahuasca and that just completely shifted my whole existence from one side to the other - which made a huge shift in my symptoms and lifestyle.
I was at a retreat with Gabor Mate and his amazing crew for a few weeks last December in Mexico, and since than have become close with Tanya Mate (his daughter in law and pioneer in the field of integration therapeutic work with Ayahuhasca) and guided by Gabor and Tanya through my own personal process over this last year and directed into the jungles of Peru to Puccalpa to do a month of an Isolation Dieta with an incredible 70 year old Shaman woman named Maestra Ynes. Their contemporary-psychology/traditional shamanic combo approach to working with emotional trauma and disease made a big impact on me, and strengthened my calling to go in the direction of learning psychedelic therapy.
All that said is to explain that at Altered my fantasy is to bring in all those dimensions. With an openness to new ideas and experimentations.
Performative and creative mixed with the therapeutical personal growth work with the medicine, working with voice, sound, improvisation, going crazy, working with vulnerability, fear, shame, shadowy, sharing, creating safe, ritual space. I know it sounds like a chaotic mash up of too many things but I really feel these different approaches complement each other and serve a holistic perspective.
Dax: I tend to stay behind the scenes and Amit is out on the prowl doing all the smooth-talking and negotiating. I’m a programmer as a day job, so while this sounds weird, I guess it makes sense: I really enjoy the challenge of effectively organizing data. So I do that - send emails, make spreadsheets, tweak budgets and do calculating - and Amit handles a lot of the more creative aspects. We each do a little of everything, actually, but we bring it all together and try to make it fit - and that process has been...this is also super nerdy, but it reminds me of a quote from Spinoza: "Sed omnia praeclara tam difficilia quam rara sunt." - "Everything great is as difficult as it rare." We’re both on this 24/7 and pushing our idea of what to do and how to do it, so it’s been challenging but extremely satisfying and fun.
I organized last year’s conference by myself and learned a lot, found it to be a very enjoyable process, but I had hit a wall in terms of how big I could go alone. This year, it’s really been a rollercoaster. Amit had expressed interest in teaming up last year, but he had just come back from studying in Peru, we both were going through some difficult times personally, and from March to May we kicked around ideas but were both hesitant to really commit. Once we decided to really go for it, it was immediately out of our hands - we just became the zookeepers of this entity that we unwittingly birthed and have been rushing like madmen since that time to make sure it gets the food, water and cuddles that it needs. I think it exists as it does through a union of what we both wanted individually. If it were just Amit running things, it would be very different, and likewise if it were just me. Altered is possible but it would be a different sort of baby.
Prox: Can you talk to us about some of the activities and speakers that you have lined up? What was the thought process behind these selections?
Amit: I think our choices came from a place of being eclectic and answering a bunch of different needs, remembering that we have a body and a spirit and that we are multi-dimensional beings, not just floating minds that only need intellectual food and research data - we also invited some people from the creative, body-mind altered states of consciousness world to balance the research.
Giorgia Gaia for example is introducing new horizons regarding DMT and Ketamine, new definitions of what reality could actually be. Questioning the old ideas.
Not being afraid to be critical, talk about taboos, or talking about topics like death, crisis, danger and the so called darker sides of psychedelic culture.
Dax: When I organized Altered last year, I made it a point to not make it about psychedelics - it was explicitly about “altered states of consciousness.” This year “psychedelics” is in the tagline, but we’re still very broad in what we’re including and I’m extremely proud of that. We have neuroscientists, astrologers, designers, authors, students, dancers, mycologists, care workers...the list goes on. Like I said, it’s quite schizophrenic, and there’s definitely a danger of madness or irrelevance. We’re a bit like two little boys who try to cook something and we want to add every ingredient we can get our hands on. Altered isn’t delicate fine dining, it’s an all you can eat buffet made by cranky 80-year-old chain-smokers who refuse to wear hair nets.
Prox: Does it still surprise you how much you can learn from these gatherings? Have there been any cultural shifts and/or developments since Altered began?
Amit: I think it’s a tiny microcosm of the people who know anything about psychedelics and know the potential and how to use and respect them, and that’s one reason why there’s reason to have these gatherings and create new ones. So it doesn’t surprise me at all. This is a field that has infinite information. Every single DMT trip for me has an infinite never-ending well of data that you download in like 10 minutes and everything single time you do it, it’s like you've just been catapulted through many lifetimes, dimensions and universes.. I think it’s just getting started and there's so much more to discover.
Prox: How have psychedelics impacted you? What are some of the more subtle changes you’ve noticed in regards to your craft and mind-states since your first sessions?
Amit: I feel like I became softer and more compassionate, understanding, open, patient, interested and more excited, appreciative, grateful and feeling connected to life. It shifts a lot of things on the micro and the macro. It taught me to appreciate and be able to remember how exciting and amazing it is that I’ve got the opportunity to be alive.. I realize, with the help of psychedelics, that’s not a given, it’s a present. I got lucky, I got this opportunity to be alive, with of course all the shit that brings with it. I feel like psychedelics help me be happier and more loving towards myself as well as others, and just like, so appreciative that I have a physical body, this vehicle that I can do whatever I want with - I can dance with, I can swim with, I can have sex with, eat with, do so many things and that I have a mind and a spirit - connecting me to spirit.
One thing I experienced on Ayahuasca, is that some form of whatever I am has been existing way, way before I was born in this body and also will be possibly existing way after this body dies. I don’t have a specific belief, Hindu reincarnation or Buddhism or heaven and hell, but I definitely had a more abstract sense of remembering or feeling emotions, energetic experiences.. traveling through different realms and dimensions meeting other entities that are not as easy to connect with in the everyday 3D hologram is quite a humbling experience, and helps you get you head out of your own egocentric self centered story.
Psychedelics have been also great teachers for me regarding guidance on my path, giving clarity on what I want to do in my life and how I ought to do it.
I learned I can be vulnerable and how to join forces with my fears, my shadows, my anxieties and that they’re actually my allies and part of my deepest wisdom and they’re my teachers. I think the psychedelics taught me that by putting me face-to-face with my deepest scariest darkest demons and fears time after time, somehow having the opportunity to feel like you’re going to die and finding out you can be with it, contain it and somehow feel safe at the same time. It has made me tougher and stronger but in a very soft and gentle way. It’s subtle and not so subtle at the same time.
Dax: Psychedelics have been hugely influential for me. From when I was a teenager, I’ve loved philosophy, psychology, occult-y sorts of things but it’s very easy to get lost in that and just float around from one idea to the next without ever doing anything with it. Everyone has a sense that they’re not where they should or could be, but I think that for me psychedelics focus that feeling, and help to give it an aim. I came across a quote from The Enchiridion of Epictetus recently that really resonated with me regarding the more subtle lessons I’ve learned through psychedelics:
“It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.”
I feel like I can see what he’s saying spread out behind and before me. There’s many things I blame myself for but I’ve slowly learned how important forgiveness is. I was raised in a Christian environment, and there’s much made of forgiveness - certainly you need to forgive others, and that’s step one of Epictetus’ model - but forgiving yourself is equally important and much less discussed.
I remember McKenna talking about how if you were scared of having a “bad trip” from mushrooms, you should grow them yourself, because to do that successfully you’re required to learn lessons in patience, gentleness, wonder and love - and when you learn those lessons sufficiently, there’s no such thing as a bad trip, only learning experiences which are more or less difficult.
Prox: Is there something you’re looking forward to the most this year? What are you hoping to gain from this?
Amit: Connecting with new people, raving at the after-party, and excited and terrified to use the opportunity to face some of my stage fright fears.
Dax: I’ve been in contact with a lot of interesting people and I’m very much looking forward to actually meeting them. I’m looking forward to meeting and making friends with a whole host of weirdos. I’m looking forward to the after-party!
What I hope to gain is enough of the community’s trust that we can do this again next year on an even bigger scale.
Prox: What is the ultimate goal that you two would like conferences like Altered to lead to? Is it deeper than simply legalizing and understanding psychedelics and their applications?
Dax: The Realization of the Philosopher's Stone and perfect union with the Tao? Is that too much?
I think Amit and I both are just trying to follow what feels right. Psychedelics have been integral for both of us and we want to talk about them. It’s a common feature of psychedelic experiences to be deeply compelled to talk about them afterwards, and this is just a variation on that theme at a higher frequency. Leary’s “Find the Others.” We want to foster interesting conversation between people with common interests who wouldn’t interact under normal circumstances - mashing together urban psychonauts with artists, witches with scientists, shamanics with political activists, clubbers with researchers, we’re trying to be open to anything.
One thing that’s been at the forefront of our planning is fairly compensating all the speakers, while trying to simultaneously bring the price to a level where it’s accessible to everyone who wants to come. This is another coincidentia oppositorum. We have a very active volunteering program and we’re trying to do a lot of bartering for ticket cost reductions so people who can’t fully pay in cash can skill-share to partially trade for a ticket. It’s been a lot of experimentation.
Prox: Final thoughts?
Altered will happen this year on the 3rd and 4th of November in Berlin. For more information about our lineup, theme and ticket sales, please visit our website at: www.alteredconference.com