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An invitation by the Grofs, and some lessons

  • You are never too old to explore

  • Don´t fear death

  • With substances be daring but safe

I got the most generous present from the famous Stanislav Grof and his wife Brigitte: two hours of his time over a coffee, brownies and talk about various relevant things. Holotropic Breathwork included. This post mentions a few.

I also received a signature for the two volumes of "The Way of the Psychonaut", in German.

Stan Grof and his wife Brigitte are two of the most wonderful, generous (with time and advice) people I ever met. If it had been possible, I would have embraced Stan and Brigitte with all my love in it. Thank you, Covid - not :-( We had to be careful.

The breadth of Stan Grof´s life and his memory for people is astonishing. He met thousands and thousands of people, and he remembers them. Here an example :

As a guest present, I had selected one of the wonderful new translations of Tibetan Bön books , translated by Daniel P Brown and Geshe Sonam Gurung. That´s because I knew that Stan is interested in Tibetan Buddhism.

And I had participated in one of Daniel P Brown´s retreats, which gave me a unique insight into the overlap of psychedelic experiences and deep meditative experiences. That overlap has long been a key interest of Stan.

I asked Stan, whether he had ever heard of Daniel P Brown, who is one of the most astonishingly broad-minded and effective living meditation teachers (edited: Dan Brown died in April 2022).

Stan´s reply:

"Yes of course! I remember 3 days of a holotropic breathing retreat ca 50 years ago that Dan took with us. This was before he turned to Tibetan Buddhism. How is he? "

That date was around 1972. I was not even out of school yet.

Edited 2024:

Maybe Stan, after all, didn't remember everything. As I later found out, he had been Dan Brown's boss at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, in the late 1969s. There, Dan Brown had, as student, assisted in research with LSD and MDMA to assist the dying. None of them probably knew, that the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center was co-financed by the CIA, as part of MkUltra. Dan Brown reported this later.

No one is too old

One major lesson I brought back: there is no need to stop being a wild explorer at 90+. Not even after a heart attack.

It doesn't kill you

I have read Christopher Baches`s "Diamonds from Heaven". This book describes his 20 year long experimental LSD trips on high doses.

Bache´s high doses included doses of up to 700 micrograms. They led him into the deepest experiences of heaven and hell. Don't try this at home!

For comparison, here is one of the traditional dose-classification systems:

  • 10-20 micrograms : microdosing / subperceptual or so

  • 50 micrograms : concert dosing / increases aesthetic enjoyment

  • 100 micrograms : psycholytic dosing / for therapy sessions

  • 200 micrograms : a full trip

Now this: Stan Grof took up to 1250 micrograms. But then, maybe there is an element of getting used to it. Amanda Feilding, the other very senior LSD research pioneer, once said that she now "microdoses" with 100 micrograms. And, she said, why waste a good opportunity to feel something.

Don't take psychedelics lightly as private user : have your personal sitter

With the upcoming licensed models for psychedelic-supported therapy, there is not much risk if any:

You lie on the couch for 6 hours, blindfolded, headphones on, with a male and a female therapist sitting close by (probably bored like never before as all the real work is up to you). Then you leave (hopefully) as a transformed person.

The following therefore refers to what's known as underground, or private use for self-therapy or self-exploration.

Here, the Grofs advise to be very careful with the use of psychedelics.

A key advice was to always have a dedicated "sitter" (someone who watches over you during a session) .

For me, this was good advice to not be overly careless. During my 14 ceremonies, I never had a seriously threatening or destabilising experience. So I tend to be a bit less concerned than I should.

The closest I came was one hour during which I saw the devil's emissary showing himself through the workshop leader. But one part of my mind kept control of it, letting me know that it was entirely an illusion. A good preparation for my later meditation practice!

That single experience gave me an idea of how it must feel to be schizophrenic.

My experience with psychedelics is limited to group ceremonies with Ayahuasca. I paricipated in groups of between 30 and ca 70 people. All in all, I met ca 160 participants during 16 days of ceremony. The ratio of staff to participant always was ca 1:6 (one sitter to six participants). So, the Grof recommendation of a 1:1 ratio was never met.

But maybe I was just lucky: throughout these years there was never a serious health or psychological incident with a lasting impact.

However, one person had a rather negative experience which caused him to end the 3-day retreat after the first day: he had experienced an uninterrupted cycle of death and rebirth, in all eternity.

But Stan advised my partner that one should fully release into dying in order to truly benefit of such experiences. The benefit: a loss of the fear of dying and death. Psychedelics for palliative care will be a standard use case.

In theory, total surrender is of course fine, but if one knows that at a felt level this state could be never-ending following this advice may be a bit tricky and requires courage.

Another participant, a young Italian of perhaps 23 years, had a panic attack when the mind-altering effect of Ayahuasca set in. He continued to shout "Ayuda!" (Help!) , was physically highly agitated and tried to throw the blue Ayahuasca puke-bucket (thankfully still empty) through the room. Eventually, with the help of up to 4 assistants close by and occasionally gently restraining him, he calmed down eventually praised the experience.

Here is the only truly serious problem case I came across personally. I met one ceremony participant who only acted as sitter/assistant. He never took Ayahuasca during the sessions. He told me later, that he had had a psychotic episode some years ago during a ceremony. He had experienced enormous physical strength and dexterity, such as the sudden ability to perform handstands and walk on his hands. The problem: this experience of unusual strength and dexterity did not end with the ceremony. Instead, after the ceremony he continued to demonstrate this unusual strength behaviour in public, becoming grandiose and out of control, and he eventually landed in a psychiatric hospital. He then got a Holland wide ban for Ayahuasca.

Note: in 2019, Ayahuasca ceremonies were banned in Holland after 20 years of legal use. This measure was directed against the wave of "living room shamans" that by then had cropped up. That doesn´t mean though that they stopped, but they are happening in the underground, between trusted people.

Large groups create a special field

Stan Grof has run holotropic breathing groups of over 400 people. These groups create a field, he sais, that amplify the effect of holotropic states.

I never had a solo experience. And, I am not interested in one. For me, expanded states are connected to groups and the deep transparency of all those souls / minds / consciousnesses sharing one physical and then one mental space.

My group experiences is between 30 and 70 people. I cannot even imagine the energy of 400 people.


Holotropic Breathwork - an example

Vojta, A. M. (2022, February 26). I Tried The Natural Alternative to LSD. Here’s What Happened. Medium.


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