Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Max Ingersoll - Story of Self

Hi, I'm Max, co president of the Harvard psychedelics club, I'll tell you a little bit about why I care about it and why I'm involved in the mission behind the organization. Throughout my adolescence growing up in Cambridge, I dealt a lot with depression, and a feeling of overwhelm. I worked super, hard to succeed, and I reached this point in my sophomore year where I got really sick from burnout from pushing myself too hard. Dealing with this was really difficult for me: just being in that burned out state feeling really apathetic and not having much will to live. From there, I decided that I needed to figure out a better way to live. In the meantime, I went around to different doctors and mental health professionals, and I felt unseen in what I was going through. I was bothered by the static nature of the diagnosis of depression, which did not acknowledge the greater nuance of what I was dealing with and the ways in which I was contributing to it. This made me frustrated as I was like, “it’s not just that, like, there's, there's deeper stuff going on here.” I felt really dissatisfied with that whole experience and began reading and learning from different spiritual traditions and I consider that the beginning of my spiritual journey.

I made it through high school and after I graduated, I went around, and I did around three-and-a-half months of silent meditation, at various retreat centers in Central Massachusetts, Upstate New York and Northern Thailand. Additionally, and in tandem, I also experimented with and worked with psychedelics to help heal myself. Through those experiences, I really learned to understand my depression as not this flat static thing that is like put on me, but rather part of who I am more holistically. I learned to see it instead as my sensitivity, and understanding how it's one part of the same system that also enables the things I love most about myself, like my ability to connect deeply with people, feel the world deeply, and to be creative. When I saw how that was just another side of the same coin, or how it was part of a larger system, I was able to make large steps in accepting myself more fully and finding more balance in that regard. These experiences brought me a lot of confidence and whetted my appetite for learning more about spirituality and psychedelics.

Additionally, I was also able to be parts of communities, and feeling deeply connected to other people. Feeling seen and appreciated in a way that I never felt before in these communities showed me what was possible when it comes to group culture and I felt the immense value in that. I realized that this is kind of what it's all about for me in the end: wanting to be in community with people and feel seen and appreciated and respected. 

From this point, I kind of came into Harvard. Freshman year in Harvard Yard was a very different experience than a meditation retreat, and I felt alienated in many ways. It felt really painful to be in that environment, with the intense set of expectations and general culture of striving. The general culture of elitism and a competency. I felt these values seep into my perspective and that scared and stifled me. 

When I arrived at Harvard, it's such an elite place, and they're all these amazing other people around me that I always want to show that, oh, yeah, I belong, like, I know what I'm doing and I noticed this in my peers too. I began to notice this phenomenon and call it A Culture of Competency. Firstly, when transitioning into an elite environment like Harvard, people often feel imposter syndrome: I questioned whether I belonged and felt insecure about my position at Harvard. Because of this insecurity, each moment became crucial in proving to myself (and others) that I belong. To do this, I felt the pressure to regurgitate and say what will definitely receive validation and not necessarily engaging creatively with the material out of the fear of looking incompetent. It was sad for me to see how in the dominant culture of this incredibly talented student body, people generally were generally scared to be creative because of a fear of not being accepted. I found that this led to low levels of authenticity as people were often performative and would not be express vulnerability, and this led to me feeling disconnected from people.

I believe that creativity comes from digging deep into oneself and trying out new things. This along with opening up to trying out new ideas and new experiences, and opening one up to the possibility of looking stupid and failing. This fear is deep and it feels existential, like if I look, if I look stupid here and then like, no one will accept me or feelings like that. It sounds kind of silly, on the surface, but it's a really visceral feeling and something that was a challenge for me.

For three of the six years between 7th and 12th grade, I went to a project-based school called NuVu, and while there I worked on over 40 group projects and became intimately familiar with the design process of brainstorming, prototyping, iterating, and presenting, and I wanted a space to do this kind of work at Harvard.

When the opportunity to become copresident was presented to me, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine these two vacuums in my life: and I set out to work to create a deep community based on trust, vulnerability, and authenticity, that would support me to face my fears and add richness, joy, and depth to my life at Harvard as well as an opportunity and cause for which we could work on many interdisciplinary projects in support of.

This page has paths:

Contents of this path:

This page references: