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From Outwardbound to Inwardbound:

Inwardbound co-founder Rob Ó Cobhthaigh’s Story

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I like to say that I do this work because I have to, from a place of my own lived experience.

Not because it is something theoretical I read about in a book, or because it has become recently fashionable. It is the healing path that I have walked. Since my first psychedelic experience in the foothills of the Dublin mountains almost 30 years ago, psilocybin has played a vital role in my life.

I write this in 2024 from the perspective of my experience facilitating and guiding as a psychedelic assisted therapist with the Inwardbound Institute in the Netherlands between 2018 and 2023. Personally, I guided over 700 people through their psychedelic experiences, from preparing for the experience, the psychedelic retreat process to post-retreat integration.

Over time, the team involved in this process grew larger, involving a  dedicated and incredible team of psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and holistic therapists, but in the early days, I took on a significant part of the responsibility and role for the psychological processes of the clients who came to our retreats. At times, it was incredibly challenging for me personally as a therapist, and for the team, but from this experience, I remain more convinced than ever of the power of psychedelics to heal and the capacity of psilocybin, in particular, to reconnect people to themselves, each other, and the natural world. I know, from the feedback and testimonials we have received, than in this time we  have helped a lot of people, and changed many lives for the better.

Inwardbound’s Core Vision

Our original core vision at Inwardbound  has remained unchanged since  I co-founded it in 2018 with Darragh Stewart has been to provide a platform to facilitate people’s self-exploration, to a safe and legal container for this process, in a supportive, non-judgemental and transparent way; to promote inner transformation, personal breakthroughs, self-growth, creativity and inner healing; to re-connect people to themselves, to each other and to nature; to be world leaders and pioneers in the field of psychedelic therapy; to contribute to the evolution of global consciousness.

Our purpose has been to reconnect people to themselves, to each other and to nature; to facilitate people’s healing, trauma release, exploration of the unknown, non-ordinary states of consciousness or shift in perspectives and to  promote the exploration of inner creativity and personal development. We want to raise consciousness to create a better human experience, to create community and contribute to the debate on the safe use of psychedelics through contained  psilocybin retreats.

During this time, we have held people as they process some incredibly challenging experiences through the incredible power of psilocybin. We have facilitated the healing process of direct survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Descendents of survivors of the Armenian genocide and Holocaust. Officers of the US Navy Seals with combat PTSD from Iraq and Afghanistan. Survivors of the legacy of state sponsored torture in the Middle East. Survivors of child abuse and incest.  Survivors of terrorist bombings and shootings in 1980s Northern Ireland.

Heavy stuff. It’s affected me deeply, at times. How could it not? And yet…. I am astounded by the innate human capacity to heal. No matter how challenging life can be, human beings have an astounding ability to heal. And despite all the heaviness, the grief, the sadness, life is beautiful, light and full of joy. I am amazed at the courage of people to face their deepest fears, to reconnect to themselves, to speak of the unspeakable. I am amazed by innate human intelligence to heal, and the power and vast intelligence of psilocybin. I am humbled by the mystery of this work, and the courage of those who come to sit with the mushroom for healing. I am humbled by the  great mystery and sacredness of this world. There is so much we do not know, and may never know.

At Inwardbound, our approach to psilocybin assisted psychotherapy can be described as in the broad tradition of Dr Stan Grof, the great pioneer of psychedelic assisted therapy and transpersonal psychology, and cartographer of the psyche. We believe in the wisdom of the inner healer,  and that human beings have an innate capacity for healing, rebirth and transformation. Sometimes people may need help in reconnecting with their own inner healer. Sometimes it may blocked by trauma or challenging  life experience. But is its always there, waiting to be rediscovered.

At Inwardbound do not work within the pharmaceutical, bio-medical, clinical model of psychedelic assisted therapy. We work in a 5 day group retreat setting, with a programme of preparation and integration.

As a rule we do not work with very sick people, emotionally, physically or spiritually. Nor with those suffering from very serious addiction, or those in severe crisis. While recognising the deep need for spaces for people in those categories, they need more care and holding that we have capacity to hold and may be more suited to the medical model.

We work with what one of my teachers calls the walking wounded– the majority of human beings who I believe can greatly benefit from this work.

The majority of individuals don’t neatly align with psychiatric diagnoses outlined in the DSM-5, such as treatment-resistant depression, a requirement for participation in clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of psilocybin in treating various mental health conditions. Both approaches—the clinical medical model and the group retreat models of psychedelic  assisted therapy—have their merits. It’s important to note that expressing the need for both is not intended to disregard the medical model or those dedicated to it. I firmly believe in the significance and value of both approaches.

Engaging in therapeutic work with psilocybin may not be suitable for everyone. We emphasize the usual contra-indications, and recognise that as the field develops more contraindications may become apparent. Our approach is client-led, always emphasizing that clients approach us voluntarily; we never exert pressure and conduct thorough screening. Numerous healing modalities, such as Holotropic Breath-work, can be nearly as impactful as working with psilocybin. Additionally, various other modalities, like hypnotherapy, offer alternative avenues for accessing the unconscious mind.

From our experience, psilocybin assisted therapy works best for people who have a long history of inner exploration. Those who have experience of many healing modalities, therapies, and those who are interested and open in exploring their inner worlds. Those with an attitude of curiosity and openness.

My core beliefs

 As the psychedelic renaissance progresses and the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy expands, there is a risk that these sacred substances may be perceived as commodities controlled by a select few with vested interests motivated only by profit.

I  believe: that psychedelic-assisted therapy, when done in a safe manner, has the potential to change the world for the better, that psychedelics such as psilocybin are the shared birthright of humanity, belong to no-one, and as such by educating others we would like to reach and help as many people as possible, that the core value of healing should always be service to others, that psychedelics are sacred medicines of the earth, and deserve our respect, that we are custodians of these sacred medicines, not their owners, and therefore have a duty to educate others in how to work responsibly with psychedelics in a safe and therapeutic way, that psychedelic healing practised in a safe way should be accessible to all, not just the privileged and wealthy.

I believe that the therapeutic use of psilocybin extends beyond a mere biochemical reaction in the brain, although the biochemical reactions in the brain are significant and important. For optimal therapeutic benefits, a robust therapeutic container, including a strong therapeutic relationship, is crucial. While acknowledging the significance of the biomedical field, I also see the tremendous value of working with psilocybin in a sacred retreat setting, particularly with individuals who do not have diagnosed psychiatric issues.

A movement is underway to regulate the use of psilocybin within the biomedical model. While clinical trials are crucial for advancing the field, they have, up to this point, involved relatively small participant numbers. Therapists at the coalface, such as myself, who have been actively engaged in the practice of psychedelic-assisted therapy for many years in the retreat model, have a responsibility to educate and inform the mental health community about the potent therapeutic potential of psilocybin.

I also believe in the risks of psychedelic assisted therapy,  when misused or abused in the potential for harm to be caused, even with good intentions.  I believe,  therefore,  in the importance and necessity share the experience and insights I have gained with others,  in order to prevent the inevitable pushback that could occur if the substances are not used responsibly.  Let us not make the same mistakes as the 1960s and 1970s.

My background

 I often wonder how I ended up doing this work.  It sometimes feels like a miracle,  because it was never part of a long-term plan. I never envisioned myself in the field of psychedelic- assisted therapy.  In many ways, apart from the great pioneers of the 50s and 60s, there was no field,  so we had to reinvent, or remember it.

I spent my formative years on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland, born in 1978.  Growing up in Knocklyon, on the fringes of Dublin, back then ours was one of the last houses before the fields the stretched all the way to the Dublin mountains. Its a beautiful place, when not burdened with overfamiliarity,  with many trees and parks. The majority of residents in my parents’ generation were first-generation migrants from the countryside to Dublin, pursuing the middle-class dream. Not too long before, Ireland was grappling with poverty under the stifling influence of the Catholic Church, and for my parents’ generation, relocating to Dublin, England, or America symbolised progress.

I never really felt like I belonged there. Growing up, I always felt like an outsider. When I was old enough to ride a BMX bike, I would ride across the estates and fields as far as I could, exploring further and further each day into the unknown.  Even at an early age, I was seeking to explore the boundaries of my known world.  From an early age, I spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring the world around me. I have always been someone who pushed the limits of what is possible. Maybe I always felt most comfortable on the edges.

Looking back, I have always been an explorer of the unknown.

My english name is Rob Coffey. Rob Ó Cobhthaigh in gaelic irish. In the 16th century, before colonisation, Ó Cobhthaigh was the name of a heriditary, brehon family in the area around Uisneach in County Westmeath.

As a child I read voraciously.  At a very young age mythology and fairy tale captured my attention, in particular the stories handed down from ancient Ireland. The great warriors Fionn mac Cumhaill and Cúchulain. The  gods and goddesss of our ancestors: Macha, the Morrigan, Brigit, An Dadga, Lugh Lamhada, the light bringer, and Aengus Óg, the god of love.

I grew up close to the Dodder river- and as a child I would follow it up towards its source in the Dublin mountains. There, escaping the conformity of the housing estates, I would find the magic of ancient Ireland. Glenn na Smól, it was called, the Valley of the thrush, named in irish mythology as the hunting grounds of Fionn McCumhail and the Fianna. This is the land I grew up on, on the banks of this river.

I read of the might of our ancestors who roamed the sacred land of Ireland at a time of magic and mystery. The fair maidens who seduced the warrior princes, the poet harpers who weaved enchantment over their audiences, the wild women and druids who lived in the woods. Somehow I felt more at home in the stories of ancient times, than in the grey concrete estates that were springing up on the fields of the Dublin mountains.

Magic still pervades the land of Ireland.  You can hear it in the place names, in the beautiful places names of the Irish language. Like Sanskrit, Hebrew , Quechua and Aramaic, Irish holds the vibration of the land and the ancestors.

In many ways, growing up the new suburbs of the fast growing city, I felt a rootless refugee from my ancestors places in rural Ireland. As my friend and Irish language scholar Henry Rowan put it:  “An ancient language indigenous to a land, like Gaelic in Ireland or Welsh in Wales, has a strong affinity with the energy and resonances of the land on which it is spoken,  and with the soul essence and energy of people speaking that language or of people whose ancestors spoke the language”. We had in Ireland in a few generations, lost our connection to the Irish language and to the land.

Despite my adventurous and outdoorsy nature, I was also an academic and intellectual child. While my childhood, in some aspects, was  a happy one with lots of time spent outdoors engaging in activities like hiking and fishing, my father faced significant personal and mental health challenges. Due to the chaotic family situation between the ages of 8 to 12, I sought solace in books. During this period, I immersed myself in reading voraciously and obsessively. At that age, I became a profoundly introverted child.

A few years later, my interests broadened to include adventure sports when, at the age of 12 or 13, I was introduced to white water kayaking by one of my father’s friends. White water kayaking swiftly became an obsession, dominating nearly two decades of my life. At 19, I set out on a journey to the Zambezi River in Africa, renowned then and now as one of the greatest white water rivers in the world. Serving as the proving ground for generations of whitewater kayakers, I travelled there in 1998 with the goal of becoming a river guide. Working on the Zambezi River proved to be an educational immersion into an entirely different world. It was, in some ways, an incredible and idyllic existence—living my dream at the age of 19, kayaking the best white water river in the world every day, and getting paid for it. It was also an education with a steep and harsh learning curve.

Throughout my twenties, whitewater kayaking became the focal point of my life.  I kayaked with many of the best in the world at that time, world champions and legends of the sport, represented Ireland in extreme kayaking competitions, and completed first descents of rivers in the north of Norway and Iran. I kayaked some of the most challenging whitewater rivers in the world, from the White Nile in Uganda to the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, the Bakhtiari in Iran and the Indus in India. During this time I also trained as a mountain guide, and led groups on 6000m expeditions to Kilimanjaro, Peru and the Himalayas.

To fund my travels, I started working at a further education college in Dublin, teaching Outdoor Adventure Management. I dedicated over a decade to this role, as an Outward bound guide, working with young adults and teenagers, managing risks, and guiding them in adventurous environments to foster personal growth and development. During this time, I gained insights into risk management,  leading groups in challenging environments, learning to navigate fear, and understanding human behaviour under pressure.

 It also proved to be an incredible education for me in many ways, albeit often challenging. Waking up in the dark early mornings, especially in the middle of winter in Ireland, four days a week, to embark on river trips or mountain hikes, presented its challenges. However, this experience held immense value for me because it instilled the importance of hard work, perseverance, focus, and team building. Additionally, it provided insights into leadership, resilience and success and failure. During this period, I acquired numerous skills that I feel are directly relevant to the field field of psychedelic assisted therapy.

One of the things I learned that was most applicable to psychedelic assisted therapy was having to deal with fear. What I learnt about fear from my time in the mountains and on the river has some relevance to the field of psychedelic assisted therapy.

On the nature of fear

I spent most of my life, decades, managing risk, leading groups and dealing with fear on river and in mountain environments that could be described as high risk environments In those environments, fear was always present. Sometimes low intensity fear, sometimes high. Sometimes the risks were only perceived, sometimes very real.  A few things I have learnt about fear from my years on the river.

First, that fear is contagious. As human beings we are social animals. Which is why, in environments or situations where fear is present, most likely that fear will spread throughout the whole group like wildfire. If you are feeling anxious, a good question to ask is is this anxiety mine, or am I picking it up from someone else or the collective?

The second is fear can be False Expectations Appearing Real. As human beings, we sometimes tend to catastrophes, to jump to the worst case scenario. In extreme sports environments, focusing on the positive desired outcome ( where you want to go), not on the worst case scenario (where you don’t want to go) is always preferable, while still being aware of and realistic about the potential risks.

This is true in life, as on the river. The energy goes where the attention flows. For this, mindset, visualisation and positive affirmations are very helpful. The right amount of fear, not too much, nor too little, can help attain flow state and peak performance.

Fear is not always an enemy. The right type of fear can be an ally as it sharpens the senses and concentrates focus and attention. Fear sometimes protects you from making bad decisions.

Knowing the difference between fear to overcome (fear as an enemy), and fear as a deep intuitive knowing which wants to protect you (fear as an ally), is an important skill to learn. One I learnt the hard way.

We all feel fear. It is an essential part of the human condition. I never trusted anyone on the river who said they had no fear. The only people who have no fear are those who have not yet learned the potential negative consequences of their actions, or those who do not care. Such people are a liability to themselves and others.

Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to feel fear and to overcome it, when appropriate. Knowing when to walk away from a rapid, and when to decide to run it, was an essential skill to learn. Perhaps the most important of all.

The same applies to psychedelics. Navigating fear is an important part of working with psychedelics. It is important to know when it is appropriate to take them, and even more importantly, when not to take them. And equally important, when working in a therapeutic role, is knowing how to help our clients navigate fear.

The healing power of nature- Outwardbound

During my tenure as an outdoor educator and adventure therapist, my approach to working with people in the outdoors underwent a significant transformation. In my early twenties, I was intensely self-focused, striving to achieve the highest level of sports proficiency possible. I pushed both myself and others hard. However, as the years unfolded, I evolved into more of a facilitator role, taking a step back and allowing others to step into their full potential and power. This shift is a skill I deem crucial for working in the psychedelic-assisted therapy space.

One of the most impactful trainings I ever underwent was a facilitation course conducted at Sport Coaching Ireland by Liam  Moggin. Liam possessed an incredible gift for teaching people how to facilitate. A key takeaway from the year-long course was the emphasis on “it’s not about you. Its never about you”.

Although Liam conveyed this within the context of sports facilitation and coaching, I find it equally applicable to the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy.  Whether serving as facilitators, leaders, guides, or therapists, the core principle remains: it is never about us. It is always about our clients—empowering and facilitating them to become the best versions of themselves. This is a crucial reminder for anyone working in this field. I often hear Liam’s voice reminding me, in moments when I begin to forget: “its not about me.” My approach to outward bound and adventure therapy evolved over the years from ‘doing in nature’, to ‘being in nature.’

In many respects, one could characterise my years on the rivers and mountains as my own personal therapy. I carried numerous unresolved emotional wounds from my childhood, stemming from a challenging family situation. My family of origin grappled with the echoes of ancestral Irish trauma, which runs deep in Irish society- the legacy of centuries of colonialism, disempowerment, abuse and addiction.

When I speak of trauma, I am not speaking theoretically, or about something I read in a book. I am speaking from my own lived experience. I did not come to this place as some planned career move,  or because it has recently become fashionable. I came to this place because I had to. I walked the path of healing because I had to, and I came to work with psilocybin originally to heal myself. My life path has been to heal the ancestral shame and trauma I inherited, and I have found plant medicines and psilocybin to be the most effective way to do that.

To quote Carl Jung: “I learnt..that only..the physician who feels himself deeply affected by patients could heal. It works only when the doctor speaks out of the center of his own psyche..In the end, only the wounded healer can heal and even he, in the last analysis, cannot heal beyond the extent to which he has to heal himself”. I agreed with the sentiment of this, that you can only accompany people as far as you have gone yourself.

My family dynamic was marked by an abusive and toxic home environment, with my father struggling with alcoholism and serious personality and mental health issues for an extended period. My father has grown up in the late 1940s and early 1950s in a very abusive home situation, which had damaged him. We forget, now, how damaged and cruel Irish society was in those days, broken by centuries of colonialism, the terrible legacy of the famine, and the brutal control of the Catholic Church. I came to work with psilocybin through my own journey to break my own ancestral trauma. By walking the path of self healing, over time I learnt to accompany others on their healing path.

Coping with this tumultuous chaotic and unpredictable home environment, whenever life became overwhelming  I often resorted to escaping to the river. In a typical response, I occasionally self-medicated with alcohol. In the typical Irish way, nothing was spoken about, and my pain was shrouded in shame.

Overall though, my spent years on the river were filled with happiness. I had incredible friends, a great tribe, and an amazing, healthy lifestyle, despite the absence of financial abundance, as money has never been my primary motivation. As long as I had enough for the next plane ticket, I felt content. It is also true to say that I harboured many unresolved demons from childhood that I had not been willing or able to confront. This phase in my life came to a head around 2008 after witnessing many serious situations on the river, seeing too many people get hurt, including myself.

Whitewater kayaking is an incredible sport, but if you engage in it for long enough and at a high enough level, you will see a lot of things. I witnessed too much: severe injuries, drownings, and near-drownings. Having experienced a few serious injuries myself, I reached a point around the age of 30 when I realised that my enjoyment of the lifestyle was coming to an end. I had fallen out of love with the river. (You can read more about that time in my life here)

The Path of the Wounded Healer – Inwardbound

The loss of my tribe and spiritual connection to the river led to a dark night of the soul which lasted several years. Though it pains me to say it, for about 5 years I was lost, my tribe scattered all around the world. For much of that period, I felt isolated and alone in Dublin, seeking connection in all the wrong places.

The real catalyst for my spiritual awakening and personal growth was an incredibly painful heartbreak in 2009.  I had fallen very deeply in love with a woman in Dublin. We travelled together to Maui, Hawaii for the summer.  On returning from having an ideal time together, she broke up with me. This led to one of the most painful heartbreaks of my life.  I would say this was the beginning of a process of painful but necessary inner transformation. I realised that I needed to heal and change, and so began a lifelong quest of inner healing and self development. As part of this inner transformation I began exploring different healing modalities, initially yoga, jungian psychology and meditation, and later plant medicines and entheogens such Ayahuasca,  San Pedro, Iboga, 5 meo DMT and psilocybin.

I remember a powerful moment of change during a surf trip to Nicaragua in 2012 or 2013. On paper, my life seemed perfect—I was living the dream, on a surf trip in Central America. However, deep down, I was miserable, sensing that something essential was missing. I remember sitting on a beach in El Salvador, reading “The History of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell. Upon finishing the book, a magisterial tome on the pinnacle of Western rational materialist philosophy, I felt profoundly alone and lost.

Somehow, and I’m still not sure how, as I was very resistant, I ended up at a meditation centre on the shore of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, where I began a month-long meditation and yoga retreat. There were no plant medicines or substances involved, only a regular study program of meditation, yoga, and metaphysical teachings. During this retreat, I experienced a major spiritual awakening, realising that I was connected to everything and everyone. I understood that what had been missing from my life was a spiritual connection to something greater than myself. Unconsciously, I had felt this during my years on the river, but since then, I had lost that sense of connection, which is why I felt so lost.

At the end of the summer, upon returning from Guatemala to Ireland, I realised that life would never be the same. One of the messages that became remarkably clear to me during the meditation retreat was the imperative need to embark on the healing path by becoming a psychotherapist. So, despite having no prior experience in psychotherapy, I enrolled in one of the most rigorous and challenging psychotherapy training programs in Ireland at the Turning Point Training Institute.

At that time, the Turning Point Training Institute was overseen by a formidable matriarch named Kay Conroy, one of the pioneers of psychotherapy training in Ireland. It was a rude awakening, a highly challenging and process orientated training with no where to hide. I recall sitting in a process group on a cold, dark Friday evening in January, discussing some of the most difficult and challenging topics imaginable—sexual abuse, shame,  incest, and trauma.

I found myself questioning why I was there, contemplating the possibility of being somewhere beautiful, on a river somewhere warm, far away. The temptation to run was so strong, but I’m immensely glad that I resisted, and completed my psychotherapy training. I remain forever grateful for that training program, even though it was incredibly difficult at times.

The journey to becoming an accredited psychotherapist in Ireland is long and arduous. Many times, I considered quitting, but I persevered and fulfilled all the requirements. Over an eight-year period, I became an accredited psychotherapist with the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).

Simultaneous to undergoing my psychotherapy training, I began training at the Irish Center for Transpersonal and Shamanic Studies, Dunderry Park,  under the mentorship of Martin Duffy. I consider Martin Duffy to be one of my great mentors and teachers, a man of great integrity and wisdom. Martin trained directly under Stan Grof , Dr Ivor Browne and Michael Harner, some of the greatest teachers of transpersonal psychology, psychedelic-assisted therapy and shamanic studies in the world. Additionally, he has his own deep connection with the ancestral Irish spiritual traditions of the land of Ireland. Over a decade, I graduated as a transpersonal therapist and shamanic counsellor under Martin’s guidance. He was also my personal supervisor for many years as a psychotherapy trainee, and I owe him a great deal. I would not be doing what I am today without Martin’s training and guidance.

Martin himself worked with the great Irish psychiatrist Dr. Ivor Browne, who was a pioneer of LSD therapy in San Francisco and London in the 1950s, and with ketamine in the 1980s in Dublin when he was the Chief Psychiatrist at the Eastern Health Board. Dr. Ivor Browne was a maverick and, I would say, a truly great man. I had the privilege of getting to know him personally when when he was running a regular meditation group every Tuesday in Dublin City near where I lived. So, I had the privilege of spending plenty of time in the presence of someone who is truly a great man, in many ways a man before his time. Even though he was in his late late 80s or early 90s at the time, his wisdom, compassion and wicked humour radiated when in his presence.

In his book “Ivor Browne, the Psychiatrist: Music and Madness,” he speaks of the concept of trauma stored in the body as ‘the frozen present,’ which involves unprocessed emotions. This concept received very little attention from the psychiatric profession at the time. However, his work paved the way for the later work of Dr. Gabor Mate and Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk on trauma. In the 1980s,  recognising the importance of his work Dr. Stan Grof came to Dublin to collaborate with Dr. Ivor Browne.

My first experience with psilocybin

My own journey with psilocybin began almost 30 years ago when, as a teenager aged 17 or so, I hiked with some friends from our house to the foothills of the Dublin mountains in Glen na Smol, the valley of the thrush near Tallaght, to pick psilocybin Semilanceata, the liberty cap. I distinctly remember having no idea what we were doing, walking up to the foothills of the Dublin mountains to the sheep fields, and finding a huge abundance of psilocybin-containing mushrooms. It was around Samhain or Halloween, a time when the veil is thin. A few days later, with some friends, I accidentally took a huge dose of mushrooms—several hundred psilocybin-containing mushrooms. This was a time before the internet, so we had no idea about dosage or set and setting. As the fireworks of Halloween fired around us, I found myself having a profound spiritual experience in the fields and housing estates around my home.

I will never forget the power of that first psychedelic experience. I remember connecting to the entire universe, seeing the stars in three dimensions, and connecting to the trees, woods, and land around my home. I woke up the next day knowing that I would never be the same again. I also remember sharing that first psychedelic experience with my dear friend Colm Quinn, one of my best friends at the time.

Our first psychedelic experience together was incredibly beautiful, but the second one not so much. We made the mistake of taking the mushrooms and getting on the night bus on a Friday night into Dublin city centre with all the other teenagers drinking and partying. As the mushrooms kicked in, we immediately got off the bus and spent the rest of the night just trying to get home.

 It was not a good experience. Colm went to a very dark place, and I distinctly remember him asking for my help at the end of the night, asking me not to leave him. For my own well-being, I had to leave him. I did not have the skills to stay with him and support him at that time. Those first experiences left a lasting mark on me and set the course for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, Colm was not so lucky; his perception was that his challenging psychedelic experience unlocked latent psychological problems, troubling him for the rest of his life. Whether genetic or otherwise, Colm struggled with severe mental health problems that became more acute as his life progressed. We drifted apart, and I didn’t see him, apart from at Christmas, for many years. Through his mental health problems, he became addicted to prescription medications, which eventually led to his tragic death. Colm drowned in Blessington Lakes in 2016, despite being a champion swimmer as a teenager.

Just before his death, he told me that he felt the challenging psychedelic experience he had with me decades before had led to his ongoing mental health challenges. In fact, he felt he had  Hallucinogen Perceptual Perception Disorder (HPPD), a rare condition which meant that he never came down from his psychedelic experience. My own recollection of those times was somewhat different. I remember him  returning to normal life,  but struggling with mental health challenges that worsened over time. Either way, this experience left me with a very strong sense of the power of these substances, their potential for healing and growth, but also the potential to cause harm. I find it ironic that decades later, I now hold space for people in a way that I could never hold for Colm.

Apart from my early teenage experiences with psilocybin, I moved away from psychedelics for many years, and drugs were not part of my life in any way during my kayaking years. It was only in my 30s when I began to explore psilocybin again, although my profound awakening was with ayahuasca. I had been living on the incredible island of Maui in Hawaii, doing a yoga teacher training and a Vipassana Meditation Retreat.

I was incredibly clear and open when I got the opportunity to sit with ayahuasca on some beautiful land in the rainforest on the side of Haleakala Volcano in Maui. Perhaps because I had just come off yoga teacher training and also had just completed a Vipassana Meditation Retreat, it was to this day still one of the most powerful ayahuasca experiences I ever had. Feeling a direct revelation and downloads from the universe, learning things that I had no way of knowing, getting information directly from Source in a way that I rarely experience since. Under those magical Hawaiian skies, my life was changed forever. I had already been on a mystical path for a number of years due to my experiences in Guatemala, but plant medicine opened up a whole new way of being. I returned to Ireland after the summer, reborn.

My dark night of the soul

However, as anyone who goes through great initiations or rites of passage into new states of consciousness knows, the process of integration can sometimes be very challenging. Initially, I found it very difficult to integrate my new way of being and new levels of consciousness into my daily life. I was still working in a college in Dublin, teaching outdoor education, but  I had changed. I was not the same person as I had been before my experiences.  I found life very difficult, and isolating, in those years.

Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the rivers of peace or the high road to the soul’s satisfaction”  Joseph Campbell- The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I definitely walked the path of suffering for years, before I consciously choose the path of beauty.

 However, over time I connected with and found my tribe. “Find the others,” Terence McKenna said, and I did. I connected with an incredible group of people interested in exploring spirituality and consciousness, and eventually found myself living in a large country house outside of Dublin. The group of people that I connected with had a deep interest in plant medicine, shamanism, and over time, we began experimenting with with psilocybin, sweat lodges, ayahuasca, and other methods of achieving altered states of consciousness.

During this time, I began holding space with psilocybin. I’m deeply grateful for that time and for my friends, who, despite the challenges, laid the foundation for what later grew into InwardBound.

It was also during this time that I first tried 5-MeO-DMT, the most powerful of all psychedelic substances. I’ll never forget that first experience; nothing can prepare you for its power, catapulting you into samadhi, God consciousness. After inhaling this substance, I suddenly felt like I was part of God, being part of the universe in an experiential way. It was also, for a moment, one of the most terrifying moments of my life, before I broke through to bliss and unity consciousness.

I also came away from that first experience with an incredible respect for the potency of these substances, having witnessed the chaos and confusion that surrounded the 5-MeO-DMT scene. I also saw the potential harm that can be caused to people experiencing psychotic or quasi-psychotic spiritual emergencies.  I saw the danger of narcissistic inflation in the facilitators who became addicted to the power that came with it. While I’m grateful for this “God molecule” and the profound shift in consciousness it brought for me at this time, my personal belief is that psilocybin is a gentler path, more grounded and connected to the earth, just like the mushroom itself.

These years marked a period of tremendous, rapid transformation for me on a personal level. It was around this time that I also formed a profound connection with a girlfriend who had a deep affinity for the land and ancestral ways of Ireland. Although our time together was relatively short, we shared some very powerful experiences, delving into the sacred sites, ancestral ways, and wisdom of Ireland. I had the privilege of living at a place called Ross na Rí, the Headland of the Kings,  burial place of great high king of Ireland, Cormac McArt, a significant sacred site situated across the river from Brú na Boinne and close to Tara. During this time, I developed, or remembered, a profound connection to spirituality, the land, and the ancestral memory of Ireland.

Some of the most profound plant medicine experiences I had involved connecting with the Shipibo Ayahuasca tradition from the Amazon, particularly with some of the great lineage holders. I had been working as a mountain guide in Peru, leading trips to sacred sites like Machu Picchu and Choquequirao. So over the course of a few years, I did several dietas with the Shipibo, immersing myself in the power of the plant medicine and the great  ancient healing technology of the Amazon.

 Words cannot fully convey the power of the experience of partaking in ceremonies with these great ancestral teachers of the Shipibo, particularly the women, grandmothers who have been holding space with Ayahuasca for, in some cases, 60 years. The profundity and, at times, challenges of these experiences are beyond description. I am forever grateful for these master healers of the Amazon and what they did for me. The dietas with the Shipibo demonstrated to me how deep these experiences can be and how powerful the healing can be through the technology of the sacred. One of the great messages I received during my ceremonies was to reconnect with the ancestral medicine of Ireland—the psilocybin mushrooms, specifically the Liberty Cap.

In Ireland, we have a deep postcolonial legacy of deference to authorities ‘greater’ than ourselves, whether that be in London, Berlin, or New York. We tend to look outwards to the world for validation, instead of trusting ourselves, are rare it is for us to celebrate our own.  When I grew up in Ireland, so great was our collective shame, that telling someone that they ‘loved themselves’ was one of the greatest insults you could give someone. My journey has  been in reclaiming my own trust and strength in myself, for if we inherit our ancestral trauma, we also inherit our ancestral strengths.

My perception is that in Ireland, we have incredible teachers of our own, and a great depth of knowledge and wisdom. I felt it was time for us to reclaim our own power by reclaiming our own traditions and honouring the greatness of the teachers that came from this land. A combination of my psychotherapy education, training in transpersonal psychology and shamanic counselling, plus my own explorations of altered states of consciousness and entheogens, gave me the skills and confidence to begin working with psilocybin.

Around 2017, we attended a psychedelic conference in Berlin, where we learned about the first psilocybin retreats in Europe being organised by the UK Psychedelic Society. Even to this day, I don’t fully comprehend how this unfolded, but alongside two friends, David McNamara and Darragh Stewart, we decided that this was the path we would embark on. Somethings are meant to be, and this was one of those moments in life when it felt like fate intervened.

 I had been organising events in Ireland, including men’s circles, rites of passage and men’s retreats for some years. Reflecting on it, it still surprises me how we took the leap into the unknown and initiated running psilocybin retreats legally in the Netherlands in 2018.

This is how Inwardbound psilocybin retreats began. Alongside others like the UK Psychedelic Society and the Synthesis Institute, we became world pioneers of psilocybin retreats in this new era of the psychedelic renaissance, with all the promise and challenges that entails. At one stage at the peak of the psychedelic funding bubble when some of our fellow psilocybin retreats were getting millions of dollars in capital funding, we were approached by investors with promises of large amounts of funding to expand and grow quickly.

We made the conscious decision to stay small, to grow organically and slowly, to focus our energy on our therapeutic processes, on building our multidisciplinary team and on running the best psilocybin retreats with the best therapeutic outcomes that we could. Like the mushroom itself, the mycelium spreads and grows naturally at its own pace, and while it was tempting to join the gold rush,  I am happy with the decision we made.

We would like, in time, to grow to reach and help more people, but only from a place of integrity and organic growth.  I am beyond grateful to this path and my fellow  team members at Inwardbound in what we have built, and I am optimistic for the future.