Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and I’m really honored to have as my guest for this interview, Stan Groff. Many of us owe our existence at this conference to the work that he pioneered in the 50s and 60s without really even knowing that we do. He’s such a pioneer in the research and the healing and transformative potential of non-ordinary states of consciousness. His groundbreaking theories influenced the integration of western science with his brilliant mapping of the transpersonal dimension. He’s one of the founders and chief theoreticians of transpersonal psychology and received an honorary award for major contributions to the field of transpersonal psychology. So really, thank you for doing this Stan.
Dr. Grof: Thank you for having me.
Rick: Yeah. And you wouldn’t believe that this guy is 85 years old. I was eating and talking and carrying on with him last night and he is clear as a bell, absolutely interested in all the stuff that’s going on around him. Fire dancers last night, he was getting there, taking pictures of the fire dancers. Boy if I am as clear as you are when I’m 85, half as clear.
Dr. Grof: I’m 84.
Rick: Oh, 84. No wonder. [Applause]
Rick: Anyway, whatever you’ve been doing it’s had a good effect on you, obviously. And so let’s hear about what you’ve been doing and how you got started doing it.
Dr. Grof: Initially, I had no idea that I would go into psychiatry. I was very interested in painting, drawing. I wanted to work in animated movies. And just before I made the commitment to work in the film studios in Prague a friend of mine handed me introductory lectures to psychoanalysis by Freud. And I started reading it in the evening and I couldn’t put it down. I read through the night and within two days I decided it’s not going to be animated movies. I’m going to be a psychoanalyst. And in Czechoslovakia and most other countries you have to have a medical degree or psychological degree. So I had to enroll into the medical school and then started working as a student volunteer when I was in my fourth year. And this was the time when LSD came to the psychiatric clinic where I was working. This came from Sanders Pharmaceutical Company with a big box full of ampoules and LSD-25. And there was a letter that said this is a very interesting investigative experimental substance which was discovered practically by accident, you know, the laboratories of Sanders by Dr. Albert Hoffman who actually intoxicated himself when he was producing it. He did the whole story and Albert Hoffman synthesized it in 1938 as part of a study of ergot alkaloids. He took the lysergic acid and was adding different side chains. And so LSD was 25th derivative. And there are three major, or there were at the time, three major indications. One was gynecological bleeding, contraction of the uterus. The second one was sort of opening the arteries in the brain for geriatric population. And the third one was migraine headaches.
Rick: You mean he was hoping to treat all these things with LSD?
Dr. Grof: No, this was ergot alkaloids, okay? And he was trying to create another derivative that would be more effective and less side effects. So LSD was number 25. And so he synthesized it in ’38 and he sent it to the pharmacological studies and it came back not particularly interesting substance. Research discontinued. And those of us who knew Albert heard the story again and again. He said he continued adding some other side groups but he couldn’t get rid of this LSD 25. He said they must have overlooked something. He had this inner drive and after five years it was so strong that he decided to do another sample, send it back for better examination and of course they wouldn’t have found anything in rabbits and rats. But it just happened to intoxicate himself when he was making it. He started feeling strange. You know, there were waves of emotions, seeing colors, distorted shapes and he thought he was going crazy. And then when he came down and got maybe two and a half hours, he felt there had to be some better explanation. And so he decided to test it. And two days later he took, he said being a very conservative person, I took just a miniscule, just an infinitesimal dose or what I thought was a miniscule dose and the dose was 25% of the dosage of other ergot alkaloids. This was 250 micrograms. I don’t know how many of you relate to the dose but when we were working with LSD this was like a high dose. You had to prepare people, usually men and women sort of sitting and then keeping people overnight. Anyway so he took it, he prepared his work for the day. He thought maybe every half an hour he would close his eyes and see if anything was happening. Of course in 45 minutes his state came with vengeance. He couldn’t work. He asked his assistant to take him home. And this was 1943. It was wartime so there were restrictions for using cars. And so people were using bicycles in Basel. And there’s this great description of Albert bicycling through the streets of Basel, 250 micrograms. And so he came home and felt terrible. He felt he was dying. His neighbor was a witch and was hexing him. So he asked the assistant to call the doctor. When the doctor came he was not dying anymore. He now went through experience of birth. He was now a newborn with wonderful feelings, feeling that a lot of his problems were sort of washed away. And this was the beginning of another phase in his life. So then he sent this report to his boss. And the boss happened to have a son who was a psychiatrist in Zurich. And so he did a pilot study and published it. And this became overnight a sensation. And now SENDOS was sending it to different research institutes, universities, even individual therapists. And they were saying, “Would you work with this because we feel it could have some relevance for psychiatry, for psychology.” And they actually gave two tips in this letter. They say, “We feel that this could be used as experimental psychosis.” You know, you would give it to “normal people.” You would do all kinds of tests before, during, and after. And you would see what’s happening in the body when the psyche is so profoundly affected. It’s always great to have a model in science. But then there was a second tip that kind of became my karma or destiny. It said it would also be possibly used as a kind of unconventional training tool that psychiatry psychologists could take it and spend like six hours in a world that seemed to have some similarity with the world of their patients. And I was at that time sort of disenchanted with psychoanalysis, of course. I became one of the early volunteers. And I had a session that just changed my life professionally, you know, personally in a few hours.
Rick: The strobes? Is that that one where you had LSD?
Dr. Grof: I described it a little in my talk. This was combined with a stroboscopic light. It was an enormous, you know, cosmic, mystical experience. So when I came down I was just so impressed that I’ve stuck with psychiatry. And this is by far the most interesting thing you can do as a psychiatrist. I had some experience with psychoanalysis and there was no comparison, even retrospectively. And I spent seven years in psychoanalysis. And I loved every minute of it, playing with my dreams and finding sort of deep meaning in each slip of my tongue and so on. But if you ask me, did it change you? I said, well, you know, I changed. But seven years is a long time. It changed anyway. And there was no convincing evidence for me. There was no kind of connection to what I was doing on the couch and any kind of changes. If you ask me, did this year’s first LSD session change it? I said, well, you know, I was one person when I walked in in the morning. And then somebody else walked out of that room. I was no question what did it. And so that was the beginning. I say my passion, my profession, my vocation. For 60 years I have done very little now professionally that would not be related in one way or another to non-ordinary state.
Rick: Yeah. Boy, a friend of mine who lives in an ashram in the Himalayas wrote me about a year ago, said I should interview. And there’s one little sentence that jumps out at me here. He said, the more you expose yourself to his writings, yours, the broader his intellectual universe reveals itself to you. And I have that feeling with you that you’re this kind of vast reservoir of, you know, possible points of discussion. And I want to make sure that we extract from it the most salient and interesting and important points that we can possibly talk about in 45 minutes or so that would have the greatest benefit and impact on our audience. So guide me along as we do this so, you know, I don’t ask irrelevant questions that waste your time. But with that in mind keep telling us the story of your progression but let’s keep in, let’s sort of have as our goal take away points that people listening can use to transform their own lives. Okay. So that’s not really a question.
Dr. Grof: But what’s the question.
Rick: Yeah, I guess. So, well, I mean, I took LSD first in 1967 and it was a real eye opener for me. You know, I mean, the main realization being that the world is dependent upon how we perceive it. It’s not like everybody perceives it the same. Having, you know, been up all night tripping, went into a donut shop in the morning and I was just astounded to see that the donut selling ladies were seeing a very different world than I was. And I thought, that’s it. You have to change your consciousness. You don’t just change the world. You have to change your perspective. And yet, within the course of a year, I had been arrested twice and dropped out of high school and my life was a mess. And I realized that if I continued that way I was going to destroy it. So, consequently, well, even then, LSD was illegal and all other drugs are illegal. And probably you would say that it’s too bad that there’s this blanket prohibition of them because if they were used responsibly, which I hadn’t been doing really, they could be of tremendous therapeutic value. So, talk about that.
Dr. Grof: In an ideal world, if you were writing the laws and designing therapeutic approaches using LSD, and we’ll also talk later about holotrophic breathwork, how would you see therapy using those tools being practiced and what outcomes would you see from it? Well, you talk about the experience of the donut, which means that you did it with your eyes open, at least when this happened, with the donut. So, it’s very interesting for artists, you know, the changes of the environment. I have in my new book, Understanding the Modern Consciousness, Understanding of Art, some examples how it can change your perception of the external world. But there you get the mixture of what you see out there and then what you are projecting. The real journey starts when you keep your eyes closed. In other words when we do it therapeutically you do it with eye shades, you do it with headphones, with music, and then you just get messages, just pure messages from your unconscious. And then it becomes an extremely important investigative tool. I compared it in my early writings to a microscope, to a telescope. I mean, you can study certain processes which you cannot study unless you would work with people where the unconscious opens up spontaneously. But psychiatrists don’t do it. We put people on tranquilizers rather than study what’s coming out of these spontaneous episodes. So, anyway, we had like a telescope or a microscope. And so I initially started, I think for about two years, we were doing laboratory studies. What happens in the body? We would bother people in these LSD sessions, drawing samples of blood and having them pee every hour and you know, psychological tests and so on. And we were doing it to ourselves as well. And those are very different kind of experiences. But then I noticed something really amazing which was incredible inter-individual and intra-individual variability. So if 50 people take LSD with the same dosage under the same circumstances everybody would have completely different session. And if you take it repeatedly each session will be different. And I realized at that point we were not doing pharmacology. We would not have pharmacology if substances would respond like LSD. You have to know somehow what you want to achieve. You want to have people to throw up. You give them apomorphin and a significant number of them have to throw up as a result or sleeping pills, you know. So, you have to have some sense what’s going to happen. With LSD you had no idea what’s going to happen. Anything could happen but nothing had to happen. At that point I realized we were studying the psyche. We were studying the psyche with a powerful catalyst. At that point I took it back to the clinical work and sort of doing it. We could give a whole series of sessions, usually medium dosages. One of my clients called this–we were doing onion peeling of the psyche, going layer after layer. And so you could get a sense of what is the content of the different layers, how things are interconnected, how the unconscious content relates to symptoms at which point you start moving the symptoms. They intensify or they disappear and so on. And I brought into this work my medical study and my psychoanalysis. And according to Freud, the newborn is a tabula rasa. There’s not supposed to be anything that precedes birth. The psychological history starts after you’re born. And that proved to be a very poor tool for this kind of work because nobody that I worked with would stay in that playground defined by Freudian analysis. They started moving into really scary areas, feeling they are trapped and they were dying and going crazy. They would never come back. And then getting the insights that the only logical explanation is they must have been back to their biological birth. So I had this tremendous challenge to accept the fact that there is a record of birth because according to my teachers this couldn’t be the case because the brain of the newborn was not supposedly mature enough. It was not what’s called myelinized. And so this meant to do observations that were in serious conflict with what these authorities were saying. If you are a medical student or a sort of fresh-baked psychiatrist you have a lot of respect to authorities. Those people have written books and so on. So I would start questioning my sanity and my observations. It took quite a while, including my own experiences where I said, “No, it’s there. I mean, it’s up to the neurophysiologist to find where it’s recorded. There is a very highly organized organ, the brain of the newborn. Maybe it’s in the subcortex. Maybe it’s in the spinal cord. Maybe it’s in every cell of the body.” Because we knew also from biology there is something like protoplasmatic memory and so on. And so I sort of became comfortable with this and able to… People said, “Oh, I’m dying.” I said, “Let yourself die. This is not real dying. This is going to be part of a rebirth process. Let’s go. Let’s do it.” And I was doing this myself as I was working with people. But then just as I got sort of comfortable with birth, then it started going beyond that. And we started seeing past lives and we started seeing archetypal experiences, people going into collective unconscious and so on. And so I realized, “Okay, I have this new tool. And if you have a new tool it opens up new areas of studies. So I’m going to map this.” So I started mapping where people were going. It took about three years to get together this extended cartography where I felt comfortable that at least not specifically but each major category of experiences was on that map. And so this is a new map you see for psychiatry. This was not a new map at all. This was actually a very old map because there were elements of it that were like part of shamanic sort of geography. A lot of it was overlapping with the great spiritual philosophies of the East, you know, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and so on. So I realized this was a rediscovery of some very ancient maps of consciousness that we have sort of rejected somehow and even ridiculed during the industrial evolution. What happened 300 years ago is that major discoveries were made through reason, through science and it was turning into technological advances and started to change the world. And there was this tremendous excitement about what the reason can do. And I don’t know how many of you know that this time, Notre Dame for a number of years was renamed, was the Temple of Reason. So suddenly reason was the most powerful sort of tool that we have and then everything that was not rational was labeled as irrational, as a kind of embarrassing leftover from dark ages, from the childhood of humanity. Now we are sort of rational beings with a scientific world view and so on. And so the error which was made is to confuse what is not rational with what is irrational. So the mystics are not irrational; they are trans-rational. The mystic doesn’t have–if they completed their transformation process, they don’t have problems of crossing the street and going, you know, get their dinner and so on. They can function rationally but they had experiences of certain dimensions that other people have not experienced. And if you discover a new realm you have to somehow expand your cartography. So when, you know, in the 15th century when Columbus discovered the new world people had to expand their world view. Or when we started doing, you know, astronomical explorations, our understanding of the world is expanding. We have to sort of add that new knowledge.
Rick: So you said it took you about three years to map out the thing reasonably well. Can you describe that map to us a little bit?
Dr. Grof: The what?
Rick: The cartography of, you know, the psyche and of trans-personal states.
Dr. Grof: Yeah, well, the cartography, new cartography, shared with traditional psychology, psychiatry, the sort of biographical, postnatal, recollective level, what happens to you after you’re born. But there were two major realms which had to be added. One is that I call perinatal. Peri means around in Greek, and natalis means pertaining to birth. So there’s a record of experiences that happened to us before birth, during birth, and then immediately following birth. And I actually found four experiential matrices when people were regressing into birth. Then the very distinct kind of constellations of experiences characterized by specific emotions, by specific physical feelings and each of them represented also a selective opening into the next level which was trans-personal or the collective unconscious. So let’s say you would experience yourself as fetus in what I call the second matrix which is stuck in the womb, the uterus is contracting, the cervix is not open, and you lose linear time. It feels like this will never end. And you can also be now tapping from the collective unconscious experiences of people being in dungeons or in a concentration camp or in a torture chamber on the Inquisition or being in a war where they are victimized, have no way of fighting the enemy. When you get to what I call the third matrix, when you are now–the cervix is open and you’re moving through it, the images would be, for example, images of revolution. Enough of the oppression now. We are going to mobilize ourselves and we are sort of–defeat the tyrant, the oppressor, and we will all breathe freely again. And if you come out, if you are reborn, then the images from the collective unconscious would be end of war, victory in revolutions.
Rick: So I’m not sure that I completely understand and maybe some people listening won’t too, so let me throw in a question here. So are you saying that through perhaps LSD use under research conditions that people remembered the birth process and that these various experiences of torture and revolution and this and that were accompanied, that memory at various stages of the process of being born? Is that what you were saying?
Dr. Grof: It’s like you’re tuned into a whole field which has a certain archetypal quality if you think about archetypally and within that field you can get some sample of experiences from your childhood, from your infancy, and then a specific perinatal matrix. Let’s say if it’s an archetype of a victim it will take you to the second matrix when you’re stuck in the womb. If it’s the third matrix then it’s the movement out. And then you get also maybe elements of mythology. So for example, when you have the second matrix you might get images from the Greek underworld.
Rick: These images are images people are getting as they’re on LSD having these memories of the birth process. They’re getting images of the Greek underworld and this and that.
Dr. Grof: I wouldn’t even call it memories because it’s actually reliving. You’re reliving it. You’re back there. Maybe an even better way is that you’re transcending time rather than tapping some kind of memory that’s from the brain.
Rick: So what is the significance of the fact that these archetypal images are associated with various stages of the birth process? Why is that? I mean…
Dr. Grof: You have to ask…
Rick: Ask God.
Dr. Grof: You have to ask somebody else. Science can much better answer the question how rather than why. So we have described a lot of the mechanism, how it happens, which things go together and so on. Then also the fact that the matrices seem to be a major source of psychopathology. This is a reservoir of very difficult emotions, very difficult sensations, physical sensations, pain, choking, and so on. So in connection with postnatal experiences it can sort of feed various emotional psychosomatic problems. And if you reverse it, if you go back and you now relive it there’s a major, major therapeutic effect. So things like claustrophobia, things like depression, feeling in a no-exit hopeless situation. There’s a pocket of violence, which is the response to the choking and to the encroachment of the uterus and so on. So working with those perinatal energies is a major, major therapeutic impact. And also I believe now that the reason that we have the world we have, if you look what’s happening in the Middle East, the Holocaust, the Stalin’s archipelago, what the Chinese did to the Tibetans and so on, those don’t come from problems with nursing or toilet training or seeing your parents having intercourse in the bedroom. This is a heavy duty, intense emotional and physical energy. So the sources of that kind of violence seem to be from birth, from the hours that we spent in the birth canal. And then further beyond it, I haven’t yet mentioned, there’s a vast domain that we call trans-personal now which is the collective unconscious, both historical and archetypal. So there are archetypal sources of that kind of violence. There is the archetype of apocalypse or the twilight of the gods, the Ragnarok, the Nordic. So what we see manifested in the world does not come from our childhood, from infancy. The war or violent movement that sweeps the whole nation. Those are forces that you cannot explain by psychoanalysis.
Rick: So you’re saying that world events such as wars and Armageddon, I mean the Holocaust and what’s happening in Syria.
Dr. Grof: That happens when you mobilize these deeper levels in the psyche that psychiatry does not recognize.
Rick: So these are like representations of archetypes in collective consciousness. That’s what we’re saying. And sort of like a boil on the skin is a representation of some impurity in the blood or something. So we realize that. And so how would we purify the blood, so to speak? How would we purify collective consciousness so as not to have these symptoms cropping up?
Dr. Grof: Well, fortunately, we have ways of dealing with these contents in the unconscious, but it will not be talking on the couch. You will not talk out your birth. So you would have to move to experiential therapies. Psychedelics would be a tool par excellence. You can access those energies and you can process them and you can do it with breathwork. Some of the shamanic techniques can get you there.
Rick: Because it would have to be done on a mass scale, would it not, to effect some significant change in the whole world?
Dr. Grof: That’s the problem. I have seen it happening in many, many people individually. Now, whether this could be done on a large scale and if we have enough time to do that, I don’t know. But I think it’s probably the only hope that we have to transform somehow humanity. The history of humanity is all violence and greed. Now we have incredibly powerful weapons and we have still a mentality of the Stone Age. We are not doing it with sticks. Now we are doing it with nuclear weapons. So unless we find ways of identifying the problem and tools to change it, we are not going to make it as a species and we take a few species with us. If you look at things like what happened in the Gulf, the Mexican Gulf, the oil spill or in Japan or Chernobyl, it’s not even war, it’s just accidents of how we live in that area.
Rick: 150 to 200 species go extinct every day. So eventually, I guess, you got stymied by legalities and your use of psychedelics as a therapeutic tool, and you came up with holotropic breathwork as an alternative. Is that a fair snapshot, a summary of what ended up happening?
Dr. Grof: Yes. We get to a situation where we did not have the–I went to a place called Esalen Institute to write a book and I was doing workshops, trading it for a place to stay and a room and board. And people were not happy with me and with Christina, we were doing it together. They said, “Well, it’s great to hear about all these fantastic experiences but can’t we do something? Don’t you have something on the side?” And I said, “Well, Esalen people would not be happy. I would be doing things that are illegal.” And then we started thinking, “What can we do?” And I had some memories from the psychedelic work that became very relevant. Initially when we were doing psychedelic sessions we had no idea how the session will end. Sometimes it ended like with Albert. People sort of felt reborn and this was the beginning of a new phase in their life. Sometimes it wasn’t so great. Sometimes it opened up a new area and it didn’t complete in that session. And so initial strategy was you have to wait 10 days because there is a certain biochemical tolerance. If you take LSD the next day you don’t get the same kind of a reaction. So you wait 10 days, and we ran another session and prayed, hoped that it’s going to end up better. And then a couple of things happened. I remember the first patient was coming down. He was extremely angry. The drug was wearing off. He was really very furious and a pain in the shoulder. And he said, “Could you go and do something with my shoulder? If I could get through that I would feel better.” I said, “Well, we’re trying.” So I go and push him and said, “Not enough. Okay, not enough.” My thumb was like this. And then finally he started sort of growling. He started coughing. He started screaming and moving, shaking. And we did it for a while and he was relaxed and was fine. And the next time it was nausea, a female patient coming down, terrible nausea. I said, “Where is it?” I sort of pushed a little and this projectile vomiting would come. And within minutes she was in a great place. So I realized that we can do something to actually help the integration of the session. And so I started doing it routinely. We do it now in the breathwork sessions. And as I was doing it several patients started breathing fast. It’s called saccadic breathing. And it’s actually used in some spiritual practices like Bhastrika and Siddha Yoga.
Rick: It happens spontaneously too. It happens to me almost every day when I meditate. The breathing starts.
Rick: And there’s about 10% to 15% of the people have spontaneous episodes of hyperventilation. It brings a lot of symptoms. There’s a book by Fried called Hyperventilation Syndrome showing all the diagnosis that people get as a result of faster breathing. Because it’s not the breathing. It starts bringing up things from your history, psychosomatic history. So when the patient started doing the saccadic breathing they told me that the breathing brought them back into the session. The drug was wearing off but the breathing suddenly intensified. It started bringing things from the unconscious. So I knew that there’s some connection between faster breathing and bringing up things from the unconscious. So this is what we started experimenting with at Esalen. We started sort of people lie down and do faster breathing. We’re playing some music. And we found out that people can have powerful experiences. And then there was one session where we had 46 people. And people come to from Esalen all over the world like South America, you know, Australia, Europe, and so on. And I was working in the garden and I threw off my back. And there was just no way I could imagine going to work with people, you know. We had a big king-size bed and Christina moved on one side. I was just like getting a dagger. What are we going to do, you know, 46 people. We can’t send them home. So we said, well, we’ll let them do it together. We’ll just sort of walk around and be supervisors, you know. We’re going to just tell them what to do. And the session was such a success that we never did it differently. Not only, you know, just about everybody in the room had powerful sessions. But the sitters told us how they enjoyed it, what an incredible privilege it was to be there in such an intimate process with another person, how much they learned. And so this was really the beginning. We didn’t do it differently since that time. Christina’s father was a musician so she became the one who developed the initial concept of music. We started going to anthropological archives where native cultures develop sound technologies, you know, chanting or drumming or rattling and so on, that is designed to induce an unordinary state, to get people into a trance. I was thinking about it when we were dancing around that fire, you know, how many people were already sort of almost in process. So these cultures used this technology not to entertain people like our artists we entertain people but they were looking for what works. So they empirically developed drumming rhythms that can change the synchronization, desynchronization in the brain. This has been tested in laboratories, like Michael Harner did it in the laboratory.
Rick: Mickey Hart wrote a book called Drumming at the Edge of Madness, Drummer for the Grateful Dead.
Dr. Grof: And so we then combined the breathing and this kind of evocative music. And then when the breathing itself does not complete, then we go to the body work. We ask people what is happening in their body and then we do something to intensify it, all the tension there and then ask people to express emotions or let their body do whatever it wants to do. And then we do it until there is a closure to that process.
Rick: I’ve heard criticisms of holotropic breathwork that it’s just hyperventilation, but I’ve read so many accounts of profound, dramatic experiences that people had in transformations and everything. So, you know, we won’t even spend any time talking about those criticisms. And obviously, from what you’ve just described, it’s more than just breathing. It’s also associated with music and some kind of physical intervention and manipulation.
Dr. Grof: And then we do sharing in groups and then mandala drawings. People draw also.
Rick: So what kind of outcomes do you see?
Dr. Grof: A powerful non-drug technique.
Rick: Yeah. Proof of the pudding is in the eating. What kind of results have you seen? Just some cases in point.
Dr. Grof: You see, I have not had a chance to do this in a clinical setting. All my psychedelic work was done in a clinical setting. We had studies where you have the — actually, in the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center the condition of the National Institute of Mental Health was that we would have a group of people who evaluate the results who had never taken LSD. Because the idea was when you take LSD, your judgment is not sort of reliable anymore.
Rick: You’re biased, yeah.
Dr. Grof: So we had one group that saw the patients that they put in questionnaires and stuff. Then the past passed the patient to us. All of us had psychedelics. We felt unless you take psychedelics, you have no idea what you’re working with. And so this was a condition. It was part of the training. But then we saw the patient after the session a couple of times. And then the follow-up, the evaluation was done again by the group with these virginal minds. And the results were quite amazing.
Dr. Grof: And with the breathwork, we see major, major healing, major changes. And there are some people whom we trained who have the possibility of being in a clinical setting. We never mixed it with therapy. We don’t use diagnosis, anything. We just have — a group of people gets together and they have an agreement that they go through self-exploration. And we just work with whatever comes up. You know, people have cleared asthma. I’ve seen 15 cases that a renal disease disappeared. You know, the circulation problems. Circulation in the fingertips and all. Yeah, sometimes even you have skin eruptions happening because there’s cell-fed circulation. And behind it is a bioenergetic blockage that opens up and the circulation opens. Psychosomatic pains can be, you know, a combination of the breathing and bodywork and expressing the emotions which are behind it, you can clear, you know, chronic pains. Sometimes you can do a lot of work even on pain which was originally due to trauma. Even if it’s already healed structurally you have still pains in that. And part of it is like withheld energy. So part of it can be handled again by breathing and bodywork. You can release chronic pains.
Rick: Both with psychedelics and with holotropic breathwork when I think about it, when I hear you talk about it, I think about the fact that we have a subtle physiologyno t just our gross physiology, that, you know, we can examine through autopsies or something. But there’s this whole system of nadis and shushumna and chakras and all this business. And I’m sure that there’s a lot going on with all that. I mean have you tried to define what these practices do in terms of… Have you tried to sort of map that against the knowledge of Kundalini Vidya, for instance, you know, with the whole subtle physiology?
Dr. Grof: This is very real. This is not a Hindu or Chinese fantasy. I mean meridians and chakras. I mean in an unordinary state you can experience that subtle energy body. So when I talked about renal, when people have renal disease, when they breathe, they develop tetanus. And if you continue to breathe then it resolves and suddenly the energy comes through. And you get an energy field that you can touch. It’s like playing with a ball of energy. And you can experience that your energy field is way beyond the surface of your skin. So you see these maps of nadis, for example. The yogis talk about 72,000 of nadis. I don’t know how they counted it. But they have the three major. You have the shushumna and the ida and the pingala. And this is all this. You can experience your chakra. This is not some kind of a fantasy that somebody has. And sometimes you can experience the energy flowing in chakras, through chakras and nadis. And sometimes you can experience the meridians.
Rick: I think I know the answer to this question. But if LSD were legal now would you still use it in conjunction with holotropic breathwork? Or do you feel like holotropic breathwork has proven so effective that you wouldn’t even need to use it?
Dr. Grof: Well, if you have LSD, I wouldn’t use it in combination with the breathwork.
Rick: But as another modality.
Dr. Grof: As I mentioned it historically, I would use breathwork if the LSD session is not properly closed. I would not give people LSD and then have them breathe. Because if you want bigger reaction you just increase the dosage.
Rick: No, I just mean it’s another tool in your toolbox.
Dr. Grof: But it’s a great tool. The breathing is a great tool to close the session properly, to reach good integration. I would love to have, you see, if I had the legal situation, I would like to have a center where all these things would be available. And you would have Qigong or yoga meditation in the morning. You could have Gestalt there. You could have holotropic sessions there. You could have MDMA. You could have mushroom, psilocybin. You could have LSD. And then choose. People could experiment and see what’s best for them. There are people who would do holotropic breathwork but they wouldn’t approach psychedelics with a 30-foot pole. And sometimes when they do some inner work with the breathwork then they would be ready. They already feel comfortable with non-ordinary state and they would lose that fear.
Rick: With spiritual practice, you know, meditation and yoga and stuff, usually the hope is that with enough of it there will be a permanent transformation such as awakening or enlightenment. Something that is not just going to be intermittent or wear off after an hour or two. In your mapping of transpersonal states and all, do you include something akin to enlightenment? And in terms of your own life, you’ve been going at this for 60 years or something. Your day-to-day experience, how would you describe it? Do you feel that there’s been a permanent shift that’s the basis of how you operate 24/7? In other words, a higher state of consciousness but that’s been stabilized?
Dr. Grof: Well, you know, there’s a difference between an experience and a state.
Rick: Stages and states.
Dr. Grof: You can have powerful spiritual experiences, psychedelic experiences or breathwork in meditation and it will be very, very vivid when you are in that state. But then it starts sort of subsiding. And in my own experience what never changes is once you get this alternative understanding of reality, philosophically, scientifically, never, I would never be able to go back to what Fritjof Capra called the Cartesian-Newtonian. I have just experienced and seen too much that I know that’s not what the world is like. Now, being in that perception in which you got this information, stay there, that’s a whole other problem. And we live in a culture that makes it very, very difficult to maintain that kind of consciousness because of all the temptations that come, not the last being the digital technology. It simulates almost like spirituality. You would have to be very advanced to be able to see what’s happening on the other side of the world. And here you can look at your iPhone and you can talk to people in Australia and so on. So there are all kinds of cars and movies and the temptations of this. So you understand why people go to this cave or they go to an ashram. Actually the people who came who were very highly developed in India for example or in Tibet, they didn’t do that great when they came into our culture when there was sex and money and power and so on. There were quite a few scandals.
Rick: Let me ask a question of the audience, though. I mean, here we have maybe 75 people in the room or something, many of, or if not most of whom have been doing some form of spiritual practice perhaps for many, many years. How many of you feel that as a result of that, you walk around all day long with a very different state of consciousness or a very different perspective or quality of awareness than you would have had had you not been doing all that practice? And it doesn’t just come and go. It’s there all the time. How many? Okay. Look at that. Yeah, so that was the gist of my question is, how do you make it, does it stick? And I’m sure it does. I mean, I know people who have done holotropic breathwork and LSD for that matter who feel like it not only transformed their intellectual understanding of what’s possible but made them a different person irreversibly.
Dr. Grof: Well, it is, you know, it is not easy to maintain that state but it becomes increasingly easy to get into the state. I mean if I would meditate, my mother took me to a group with a man called Paul Brunton who was a, you know, Brunton, yeah, he was a, spent some time in Arunachala with Shri Ramana Maharshi She was writing these popularizing books, also Egypt. And she was a group of the followers, and he would come and do, meditate with them and have a kind of a lecture, kind of a darshan situation. And she took me there when I was 13 years old and I got fascinated. They had, you know, Thakur and Aurobindo and Maharishi there, all the literature. But then we were meditating and I would sit there, oh, wow, boring, you know. So many interesting things I could be doing sitting on my ass here. But now it’s a very, very natural state for me. I sit down and in a very short time I can get into, you know, pretty deep state, which I never could have done without psychedelics.
Rick: And I bet you as a result of everything you’ve done, when you’re eating lunch or sitting on the toilet or whatever else you’re doing that you’re in a different state. And you don’t have to try to be in that state. It’s stick, it’s ingrained.
Dr. Grof: But you can also do something that you do sort of meditation in action. I mean, you can say, now I’m going to be washing dishes with another consciousness or I’m going to eat with another consciousness. Jack Kornfield was a great friend, you know, Vipassana teacher. We’ve done like 37 day retreats together combining Vipassana and this holotropic breathwork. And he does eating meditation. You take a raisin, you know, and then you sort of, you look at it and you think, oh, where it came from, what was it that was growing and who were the people and the sun, you know, and then what it looks like and then you slowly put it into your mouth and you sort of do the first bite and, you know, go through the whole process. I mean, you can do anything in meditation. But normally our life is so demanding that it’s really challenging to stay in that state.
Rick: Well, I think we’ll have to leave it on that note. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. There are so many things, we could probably have a whole conference just with you, asking you questions and having you say things. But this will have to be a taste for people. You have a website stanislavgrof.com which people can go to, I’m sure to learn much more. And is there any other website that you would like to announce?
Dr. Grof: There’s one which is called holotropic.com, which is the one for the holotropic breathwork.
Rick: And that’s spelled H-O-L-O-T-R-O-P-I-C.com.
Dr. Grof: So there you would get all the information. The training that we do consists of six-day modules as we call it. Each of them has a certain kind of theoretical focus and there’s always a lot of individual work. People breathe and sit for each other and then learn how to work with the group. And you don’t have to commit to the training. You can do one and if you like it you take another one or you decide to go all the way. You can take it in any country. We have it now in–we just had a trip with five countries in South America. This was going to teach for the training. Australia has the training. We have it in Russia in Slovenia, Croatia, Spain, a number of places. So if you decide that you would like to experience holotropic breathwork with Russians, we now may arrange–we were in China which was amazing. We had two large breathworks in China. So it’s very interesting to do this with people from other countries. Now, do we have time for a sentence?
Rick: A sentence, please, yes. Go ahead. So we did this very frequently before large international transversal conferences. It’s amazing what it does with people, how boundaries melt down, countries that have grudges against each other, Jews and Germans and us and Germans and us and Russians and so on. We have all a really heavy history. And when people look honestly at their own problems, people move and become sort of helpers. And the bonding that happens in a very short time is unbelievable.
Rick: That’s great. Beautiful. Well, thank you. [Applause]
Dr. Grof: Thank you very much.
Rick: Thank you.