Traditional plant-based medicine has been around for thousands of years, celebrated for its natural healing benefits. Over more recent years, the stigma on psychedelic substances has drawn controversy over what’s safe, and what’s not recommended for the faint hearted. The experiences can be transformational, bringing life-changing breakthroughs—although, there are still a lot of questions in the air, due to its limited research. Jonathan de Potter at Behold Retreats aims to bridge the gap, by curating tailor-made retreats, guided by ancient wisdom and modern science.
The retreat recently launched its bespoke entheogen plant medicine service—the first of its kind. Guests are invited to facilitate their journey with Behold Retreats, using plant medicine in countries where it’s legal, including ayahuasca, psilocybin, or the San Pedro cactus. The programmes include education, preparation, retreat, and post-integration support with a qualified coach or therapist. We speak to Jonathan de Potter, the founder of the cutting-edge, plant-based medicine retreat.
Tell us about your life before you founded Behold Retreats. Upon reflection, I would say my life was too city-centric. I’ve spent most of the past 10 years in Hong Kong, China, and Bangkok, consulting multinational companies on their digital strategy and transformations. It is and was fun, fast-paced work, although it is easy to become a bit disconnected from yourself. The “next thing” quickly becomes the norm in your life— the next client, the next sale, the next project, the next team to support.
You find yourself spending a lot of time running around between cities, between clients across town, and meeting colleagues. Even with efforts to stay healthy and intentions to do good—to help companies and people—it’s
easy to get sucked into routines that keep you feeling productive, but are disconnecting you from yourself, from others, and from the natural world. Like so many others during Covid-19, these days my commute for Behold Retreats is within the house and I am spending more time on my own personal development, and out in nature.
What was your first healthy holiday experience? I like the term “healthy holiday”, and although while what we are offering to our customers is certainly healthy, I’m not sure I would describe entheogen medicine retreats with this language.
Such experiences are intensive, deeply immersive, and introspective work, and require a real commitment to understanding yourself better, and being willing to make changes to improve the quality of your everyday life. My first experience was with two friends in the beautiful Sacred Valley in Peru. Although I was apprehensive and under-prepared, the experience was nothing short of transformational. If I am to be honest, I went into the experience as a bit of an angry atheist and emerged as something else. I was shown a lot of things about my mental patterns and behaviours, and how I was keeping myself from my own full potential. To say it’s a humbling experience would be an understatement. Such work has often been referred to as “decades of therapy” in a single week, which certainly reflects my own experience.
Who do you admire professionally, and why? Michael Jordan, but not for the reasons people might think. Not many people know that at one point in his life he was the underdog and failed to make the basketball team in high school. But he didn’t give up—he practiced every day to become the best basketball player of all time. In a very real sense, Michael Jordan embodied the belief that if you improve yourself, you can improve those around you, and therefore the world.
He also had that slightly mischievous glint in the eye, which I think we all recognise as “I’m having fun”. Nothing will ever be perfect, but it can be improved, and we should have fun along the way. We adopt that kind of thinking at Behold Retreats as well.
What was the incentive behind opening Behold Retreats? The motivation is the same as an increasing majority of new businesses—to help people. I grew up in Hawaii, where alcohol and so-called ‘bad drugs’ are normalised. Given all of the negativity that I saw from these substances, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to try them. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I overcame my skepticism to try Ayahuasca, and I was absolutely astounded by the improvements available to my own health and wellbeing. I would have said I was doing “good” or “very good” before, and so incredibly surprised that things could be even substantially better than they already were.
The narrative around these plant medicines has been all wrong. Gratefully, the ancient wisdom has been preserved, and modern science from Harvard, John Hopkins, and NYU, amongst others, is quickly turning this conversation back in the right direction.
For Behold Retreats, our approach is to facilitate our guests’ own decision-making process to find the right plant medicine, the right coach/therapist, and the right retreat experience. For those who do want to take this work seriously, we are here to play the support and guidance role along their journey. When people invest themselves and take their growth seriously, it is astounding to witness the improvements that can be made to everyday life.
Who would these types of retreats suit? The people who can benefit are those who do their own research and ask themselves “could I benefit from this?”, and find a “yes” response within. The decision to work with plant medicine is a deeply personal one, and Behold Retreats is not in the business to push a service—it is 100% to pull. If you feel the calling, it may be right for you. If you don’t feel the calling, it’s not right for you. Customer safety is at the heart of what we do, and so there are people that need to be screened out for various physical and psychological reasons. With those caveats, I would say that the overwhelming majority of people can benefit from plant medicine, as evidenced by the breadth of research that we see from leading universities.
With plant medicine, researchers are seeing ground-breaking results on a range of mental health disorders, and also seeing big improvements in healthy people. There is also a lot of plant medicine research ongoing in palliative care, to support people in their acceptance of the dying process. Canada has just approved psilocybin use for exactly this purpose.
What do you hope guests will take away from their stay? Each plant medicine ceremony is unique and often described as “ineffable”—indescribable. Plant medicine has this incredible ability to show us the things that require attention in our lives, and make clear the changes we need to make. But making those changes is up to us—so the thing I would hope that guests take away would be that they have clarity on the changes and that they have the determination to implement and uphold the changes.
Upon returning home, it’s super easy to become who you were pre-retreat, and that’s why we pair our clients with a coach/therapist to help them hold themselves accountable for the changes they want to make in their life. I always like to say “I hope that when you’re back home, that you find yourself smiling if you’re ever stuck in traffic”. The state of peace is available within—it is not dependent upon any external circumstances.
What sets this resort and the retreats you offer apart from the rest? While plant medicine has been around for thousands of years, the ecosystem to serve urban cultures is still nascent. We work with the highest quality practitioners, safety standards, and beautiful retreats in legal locations. There is a lot of underground work, but there are significant risks and downsides to going underground. For anyone considering this option, we would encourage you to do your own research first.
What is an interesting routine that you do daily that sets you up for success? Meditation and yoga—taking care of your mind, and your body, and the interconnection between the two. Plant medicine is a powerful tool to raise consciousness and improve lives, and to move us towards more sustainable healthy practices. Any day without meditation is an opportunity missed. And I’ll close by saying I can’t possibly have imagined myself saying that five years ago.