Episode 68 - Charles Shaw (Soul in the Heart of Darkness)
This week we go deep in part two of my epic four-hour conversation with documentarian and gonzo journalist Charles Shaw – one of this show’s most requested return guests.

In part one, Charles laid out the map of the problem: a world in crisis, an age of epidemic trauma and addiction. In this episode, we get into his self-experimentation with sleep deprivation to understand the hallucinatory reality of America’s homeless, his journey of healing and recovery working with entheogens and military veterans, and how facing and embracing our darkness with humility and courage may be the only way we can prepare ourselves to make a meaningful contribution to our world. 

Get ready for a heady brew of grit, dark humor, grief and relief, and the luminous truth that awaits us on the other side of suffering…

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Part One:


Charles on Youtube & Vimeo:



“Meeting The Self You Aren’t,” excerpts from my talks with Charles on the 2010 Light & Shadow Tour:


In October and November 2010, I traveled to thirty cities across the United States with journalist and documentary film-maker Charles Shaw on what we called "The Light & Shadow Tour." Half our time was spent filming interviews for his documentary about the War on Drugs and prison industrial complex; half our time was spent engaging audiences in deep discussion on the role of what psychologists call "the shadow" in personal and cultural transformation. 

The shadow is the part of ourselves so profoundly disowned that it shows up not as a quality of the self, but a trait of other people - not a choice that we are making, but a fate that imposes itself upon us. And to whatever degree we continue to refuse acknowledgment of our shadows, we remain the desperate victims of life instead of its joyous collaborators. 

It isn't easy to write a new story of the self - and to constantly re-write that story, when new truths come to us in the form of disarming companions, rude awakenings, and other surprises. But it is the work set out before us, if we are to live as whole people and give the most of ourselves to the birthing of a new and better world.



- How seeking validation for his work made him miserable, but he moved through the crisis and the victimhood into a new sense of completeness;

- How service to other people in the trauma and addiction healing process as an intake and integration facilitator at ibogaine clinics accelerated his own healing;

- The puzzle of figuring out how to use psychedelics as part of the healing process for people with diagnosed mental disorders, for whom the action of psychedelics is still poorly understood;

- The homelessness and drug addiction situation in San Francisco, a city in crisis and an “open-air asylum”;

- How he took a personal journey into the insanity and delusional states of America’s growing homeless population through a gonzo journalist’s approach of firsthand speed use and sleep deprivation (up to nine days at a time, under clinical supervision);

- What he learned from three years of intense work with entheogens about the experience of death and the emotional process of moving through epochal transitions;

- Hanging out with the “shadow people,” the characteristic hallucinations that externalize our own repressed internal voices when we start to lose our minds;

- Our resistance to treatment and medicine, because keeping things the way they are is easier, because healing is an ordeal that challenges our identities;

- Getting to the heart of the inquiry of “Why am I doing what I’m doing, here?” and “What do I WANT?”

- What it is to lose touch with the young and hungry, eager and determined artist that we used to be and then to find it in a painful retrospective, and to realize it was because we were out there seeking validation, hustling, instead of giving our lives to the work;

- Is the conversation to identify the problem, or to critique by creating and move toward solutions?

- How do we even TRY and turn the global conversation toward concerted action for positive and universal (planetoid) change?

- We manage to sneak some Blade Runner 2049 in there…

- Aging and growing older in our culture, which nobody wants to talk about;

- A Luke Skywalker-esque critique of now-institutional festival culture;

- The Pluto Transit (!!!);

- Hungry Ghosts;

- Going into the heart of darkness with veterans on ayahuasca and understanding what teamwork can do for psychedelic healing;

- His dialogue with ayahuasca about visiting his late sister in the underworld, and how he found his peace with her passing;

- Dodging the psychedelic messiah complex;

- The astrology of Jesus and Piscean martyrdom;

- How study of the archetypes inform our passage through the phases of our lives;

- The truth about how being a prophet is a difficult, unappreciated act, not this glamorous role we imagine it to be;

- How his film The Plastic People, on Tijuana and the deportation crisis, led to sweeping reforms in Mexico and pissed off countless Trump supporters on Netflix;

- The challenges of documenting the secret history of the ibogaine underground;

- The futility of protest in the postmodern information warfare landscape;

- What Charles thinks was REALLY going on at Standing Rock, and how it’s related to the infiltration and disruption of the Women’s Movement;

- How the government collects and processes intelligence on protesters and other political dissidents;

- Can you have fun and still effect social change?

- How learning the surprising hidden story of his own family changed how Charles thinks about identity and the human condition;

- Big Mind Process and listening to the voice of “The Damaged Self”;

- And more!



“I thought I was doing the right thing the whole time. I thought I was fighting the good fight. But at some point, you have to ask yourself why you keep ending up in the same situations.”

“We are way too liberal with our use of the word ‘insane’ in our culture. Most of what people call insane is just plain suffering. End of story.”

“Power is power for a reason. You want to take that shit on firsthand, you’re going to get hurt. A lot of young people don’t realize that.”

“Healing’s an ordeal, and that’s the thing: most people check out too early. They actually make a decision on some level to just rather live their lives in dysfunction and unhappiness and keep repeating patterns and cycles rather than go through it, and go through the ordeal… Healing Land requires a stay in Shadow Land. If you want to heal, you gotta go through Shadow Land first.”

[With homeless delusional behavior] “The drugs aren’t the problem, it’s the lack of sleep.”

“Hoffman tested the acid, Shulgin tested the MDMA, I tested the insanity.”

“Even Elon Musk cannot save the world, and frankly, I don’t think he’s a very palatable human being to begin with, but people love him and he’s kind of a sacred cow and you can’t criticism him, but I say ALL these billionaires are shifty and you can’t trust any of them.”

“I’m not very good at killing myself. I should probably STOP.”

“I don’t have to know how to do it right to know you are doing it wrong.”

“Being a prophet means you’re never going to experience the things other people experience in life…it means you’re going to be alone and your whole existence is defined by your alienation from the status quo. But if you can accept it…”

“Anybody who thinks there aren’t informants in the Native American community does NOT know the history of the Native American community.”

“What is healing all about? So much of it is about accepting shit you can’t control.”

“I’m not saying I’m better than anyone. I’m unique. I serve a unique function. And right now my unique function is to try to make the people that are the least understood in our culture more understood. I can do that. And I’ve sacrificed everything – my life, my body, a family, stability, everything – in pursuit of this, now across my fifth platform, the fifth group of despised subcultures. And I’m just going to keep going until we get to all of them. I may put the brakes on when we get to pedophiles – I’m not sure I can make an argument for that – but I study the people that do. Because it’s all about compassion. It is ALL about learning compassion.”

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