An invitation by the Grofs, and some lessons

  • You are never too old to explore

  • Don´t fear death

  • Play it wild 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.

No one is too old

I am not sure how I should formulate it, without giving too much away. Maybe, this is a way: 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

  • 50 micrograms : concert dosing

  • 100 micrograms : psycholytic dosing

  • 200 micrograms : a full trip

Stan Grof took up to 1250 micrograms.

Don't take psychedelics lightly : have your personal sitter

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.

The closest I came was one hour during which I saw devil's emissary showing himself in the workshop leader... .

That gave me an idea how it must feel to be schizophrenic, but I am stable enough to have kept the arising fear under control.

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: there was never a serious health or psychological incident with 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 dying and rebirth, in all eternity. Yes, that can happen: the sense of time can get lost, and spending billions of years dying and getting reborn into death is perhaps no fun.

Stan advised my partner that one should fully release into dying in order to truly benefit of such experiences. In theory that's of course fine, but if subjectively it goes on for trillions of years, following this advice may be a bit tricky!

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!) during this time, was physically agitated and tried to throw the Ayahuasca bucket through the room. Eventually, with the help of up to 4 assistants close by and occasionally gently restraining him, he calmed down.

He continued the remaining day in peace. At the end of the 3-day retreat he declared himself to be a changed person, highly valuing his panic experience, and praising the support he had got.

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. 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. 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, and he eventually landed in a psychiatric hospital for a few days. He got a Holland-wide ban on drinking Ayahuasca by all providers, so as not to endanger himself again, and in order to not alert the authorities.

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.

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.

However, his idea of large groups is different from my experience. That is because also in the large groups, he sais, one needs an individual sitter or accompanying person, plus trained therapists and doctor.


Holotropic Breathwork - an example

A thought on...