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    Joshua Bloom ICEERS interview

    From the United Nations to the Sahara: Joshua Bloom’s Advocacy for Environmental Preservation and Indigenous Wisdom


    Joshua Bloom has been a dedicated ICEERS volunteer for years. He has a passion for microbiology, genetics, and the therapeutic applications of psychedelics for treating substance use disorder and PTSD. He captured key moments at the United Nations Human Rights Headquarters in Geneva and the World Ayahuasca Conference in 2019. After earning a Master’s degree in neuroscience and psychology, Joshua pursued freelance photography to explore global cultures and consciousness and founded the project Reality in Bloom.

    Joshua Bloom currently lives in Switzerland with his family and works in IT. He is also an avid marathon runner. In April, Josh ran the grueling 250-kilometer Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara desert of Morocco as a fundraiser for ICEERS and the Brazilian non-profit RAIN Reforest. He is passionate about building intercultural alliances, environmental preservation, and working together in service of Mother Nature to support future generations. Our organization is deeply grateful for his efforts and will be cheering on his ongoing endeavors.

    ICEERS interviewed Joshua Bloom after his accomplishment to learn more about advocacy work for plant medicine, what it was like to complete the ultramarathon, and his hopes for the future.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

    Can you share more about your work documenting ICEERS events and how your interest in photography has shaped your understanding of the issues you care about?

    I met the co-founder of ICEERS, Ben De Leonen, around eight years ago at a conference in Italy where he gave a lecture and presented a documentary he filmed about iboga use in Gabon. I interviewed him. A few months later he invited me to be the photographer at the United Nations Indigenous Rights Week in Geneva. It was an incredible event, which had a profound impact on what I felt I needed to direct my life more towards. There was one extremely powerful thing that happened, which I feel obliged to share. Benki, who is one of the leaders of the Ashaninka tribe, whose territory straddles Peru and Brazil, got up on the podium and addressed the whole auditorium. It was filled with ambassadors and Indigenous tribal leaders from around the world in their traditional clothing. He got the whole auditorium to stand up. Half the people were in suits. He started to chant in an ikaro and it was extremely powerful. Everyone was standing with their eyes closed and their hands on their heart. I felt like this is where we need to be, collaborating with Indigenous people because they’re the only ones on the planet who live in harmony with nature.

    The Western lifestyle is damaging the environment to the point it’s not going to be repairable. This is why I’ve continued to work with ICEERS over the years. I believe in their vision, and support projects that they’ve set up like the Ayahuasca Defense Fund. They helped many people out of sticky situations, many of whom lack the financial means to get necessary legal support. Some of them are from tribes that may not speak the language or have very little knowledge of the way these legal proceedings work. The Ayahuasca Defense Fund has been pivotal in helping a cause that I feel strongly about.

    Following that, I was invited to be the photographer for the World Ayahuasca Conference in Girona. It was an incredible conference. People from around the world attended. There were many tribal members as well, which was important. Everyone was mingling and sharing their personal stories about how ayahuasca has helped them, their families, and the communities at large.

    How does this journey to run the ultra marathon in an intense desert environment connect with the broader advocacy you have for environmental sustainability and Indigenous rights?

    I did a recent podcast where I mentioned that ayahuasca has been an incredible sacred medicine for me to heal on many different levels. Integration appears to be lacking in the psychedelic therapy modalities, specifically the disciplinary methods to enforce ways to integrate what is learned during the experiences. People might go to a retreat and be filled with so many insights, wisdom, and ways to improve themselves, their lives, and benefit those around them even in the natural environment. But it’s too easy to fall back into old habits. Running has been how I maintain discipline and not fall into old habits like negative rumination. I put the mind and the Western conditioning to rest. Ayahuasca has been an incredible way to decondition from the Western mindset. Ultrarunning is extreme pain and suffering. But it also really helps to let go of the mind and our conditioned ways, reach higher potentials, and release attachments to distill our deepest core values.

    My entire life has been focused on nature and it has always been my ultimate passion. Looking back, I was sidetracked especially through adolescence and being faced with all the turmoil and choices. The Western conditioning in today’s modern age has screens everywhere and many digital distractions. Removing ourselves from attachment and listening to the heart is getting more difficult. That’s what running does for me. I feel like it goes hand in hand with the plant medicine work.

    You have expressed how near-death encounters and experiences in altered states of consciousness have played a role in shaping your worldview. Could you elaborate on how these experiences have influenced your perspectives on nature and consciousness?

    Other than experiences with plant medicines and psychedelics, I’ve had several near-death experiences. One time, it felt like I passed beyond for several hours and was just pure consciousness. Then I slowly came back. The one continuing, consistent theme in all these experiences is that I felt reset and reborn. There was no fear and I had clarity of mind. From that position, it’s so obvious what matters and what to dedicate our lives towards. Many of the goals of ICEERS and RAIN Reforest, which I also ran to support, really resonate with me. I feel unwavering in my beliefs which are congruent with those two organizations.

    Did you enter any moments of transcendence or altered states of consciousness during the race?

    I did. I went out there seeking that kind of experience. But it didn’t happen as much as I was hoping for because you’re just so focused on the mission and the objective is to get to the finish line and then relax. But I never really relaxed because it was so uncomfortable in camp because it was boiling hot the entire time. There were sand storms and it was like a sauna during the day. It was very uncomfortable the entire time. I had no cravings for creature comforts. Other people said they couldn’t wait to have McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, or cold beer. I wasn’t craving anything.

    The third day was 85 kilometers and took 20 hours to complete. A few hours from the end, I started to hallucinate. I was running on a flat, dry lake bed. I could see hills and giant sand dunes in front of me. I was running around them. Then I’d shine the headlamp as I passed them at night, and there was nothing there. It was completely flat. I found that quite interesting.

    The day after, I completed the long stage, about a 43-kilometer run. It was the hottest day. It reached 49 degrees, maybe even hotter. I hit the sand dunes and it melted me. I felt my brain was cooking. I reached the top of one, and I was wobbly and nearly passed out. Then I had a moment of clarity and my vision went weird. I saw a bright light. Then I felt blessed and connected to my son. Tears were streaming out of my eyes. I felt myself holding his hands. So that was the only real thing I craved the entire time, to hold my son. He’s now five years old. So I used that as fuel. After that point, I decided to run the whole way as fast as I could. So that gave me motivation. But I felt that in a moment where I almost collapsed. It was like the mind and all thought was stripped away. I felt pure consciousness and it gave me a second wind. I guess I reached what I was seeking. It showed me the vast majority of our attachments are illusory and unnecessary. It showed me what really matters.

    Given your diverse background in the natural world, science, and tech— how do you see the intersection of traditional plant medicine and modern science evolving in the coming years?

    Psychedelic therapy has gained momentum in recent years. It looks like it’s going to become a huge industry. I worry about the approaches, how the medicines are administered, and how the subject or patient will undergo these potentially life-changing experiences. I don’t feel like clinical settings could ever be as deep and meaningful as the shamanic approach, but that’s my personal opinion.

    The shamanic approach has age-old traditions. Shamanism has been in every ancient society across the world. If you go very deep in a psychedelic experience, it shatters all kinds of material beliefs, or has in my personal experience. I am concerned about whether the modern medical approach will be sufficient to support people in that kind of setting. Perhaps a combination where they draw inspiration from shamanic traditions would be a more holistic way to make that happen.

    You worked at a drug and alcohol rehab clinic. How do you see plant medicine fitting into an alternative treatment modality for substance use disorder and harm reduction?

    First of all, it would have to be different from the current format of mainstream medicine, which is a model that requires continuous treatment, and often daily doses of medication for several months or even years. Shamanic plant medicines don’t seem to be able to dovetail with that because often people do one or a few retreats or ceremonies. You’d see people go through rehab, primary, secondary, and tertiary, which takes more than a year and costs a lot of money. Then they’d be clean and healthy and go back into society. And more often than not, they’d reach rock bottom again and come back.

    I worked at the rehab clinic for two years, and that’s how I got into shamanism and plant medicine to begin with. There were a couple of clients who were using ibogaine and ayahuasca. They seem to be almost miraculously cured in a very short space of time. That’s how I started researching that route. A family member was in the US Navy and Marines for most of his life. He has what doctors have deemed as untreatable PTSD. I was very interested in how to help him. That got me in touch with many people working in the field of psychedelics, such as Rick Doblin, Dennis McKenna, and various shamans. And after that, it was a series of synchronicities, as often happens when you’re on the right path.

    The issue of preserving Indigenous knowledge and ancestral medicines is complex, especially in the context of globalization. How do you envision the balance between respecting traditional wisdom and promoting a respectable relationship with these medicines in the Global North?

    That’s a difficult question. But what came to mind was the corrupting power of money. I’ve been observing many organizations that are involved in psychedelics. They often have a business model with economic factors and then comes greed and corruption. For me, the tribal way is the closest thing to being in line with nature. It’s not just in line with the natural environment, but also our own inner nature. It’s very difficult to foresee how bringing in big business would affect these pure tribal traditions.

    How do you feel like we can encourage reverence and mindfulness around ancestral medicines, whether that’s through your perspective or in general as a global society?

    It is a very difficult question because it seems like the religion of today is money and social media. People are worshiping material gods and it is the dominating mindset. I would encourage people to change or disrupt that mindset in a way by doing simple things like fasting. Fasting changes your mind in a very short time. Fasting is a simple way of getting in touch with nature and going into an alternative mindset. That’s one way of disrupting the Western materialist conditioning mindset.

    People are so captivated in this day and age by things like superheroes. They might come across an article about Indigenous rights and wisdom and immediately overlook it. I think we need to reach out to the youth. Children should be educated from my son’s age. I let my son be his own person and develop in his own way. But certain values are very important to raise young children with. One for me is being in harmony with nature and supporting initiatives that are in line with a sustainable future for the planet. Indigenous rights and wisdom should be taught at schools from a young age. It should be just as important as teaching kids maths and science.

    You were talking about fasting. Does the idea of eating or drinking water must take on a whole new reality during the race?

    The ultramarathon in the desert was just over a week. I was off-grid, no phone, no screens, nothing digital. I brought my camera to take photos. It was a very simple life. We were focused on the mission to complete the race, nutrition, rest, and recovery. That was it. In the beginning, everyone was super happy, social, and meeting loads of new people. After two or three days, people weren’t talking much. Everyone was so focused. Everyone was in a lot of pain. It was quite comical because, after the day’s run, everyone was limping around and then limping to the starting line the following morning. I was thinking, “We get a run 50 kilometers today, and we can’t even walk 100 meters to the toilet right now!” But it puts things into perspective.

    After that, I had a 10-day holiday with my family who came out to meet me in Morocco. I wanted to remain off grid. I had so many emails, WhatsApp messages, and bills to pay. I didn’t want to go back to it. I was so present, happy, and clear in my mind. This is how we’re meant to be inherently, not constantly bombarded with media and digital stuff. It triggers us to overthink. I feel like the best ideas and the deepest wisdom come when our mind is silent. As I’ve gotten older, I feel like give me wisdom over intellect any day.

    What will you be working on next?

    I want to mention the work of the Institute of Ecotechnics and Synergetic Press, which is the publishing arm. They’ve almost completed rebuilding the research vessel, the Heraclitus. I am helping to support them and it’s for a great cause. They built a research ship to do conservation work around the world, and then it got damaged beyond repair. Now they’re rebuilding it and it’s in the final stages. Then I’ll be going on an expedition to do conservation work, I believe near Colombia. I want to give a shout-out to them and the amazing work that they do. They’re very inspiring.

    I’d also like to give a big shout-out to the guy who made the fundraising video for my marathon, Alex Boethius. I’m eternally grateful to him. He also helped me when I had those ICEERS jobs, I brought him along as the videographer. He did an incredible job at the United Nations and the World Ayahuasca conference. Much gratitude to him for his work and great talent.

    I’ve been involved with people working with Indigenous tribes in the Philippines. That’s where my mother comes from and my dad is Jewish. The Philippines is 98% deforested. I’m very interested in working with Indigenous tribes there on reforestation projects. Maybe there can be a collaboration between ICEERS and RAIN Reforest to help that part of the world as well.


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    Tags: interview , Amazon rainforest , environmental concern , indigenous cultures , indigenous