Esalen at Irvine
As a consequence of all this meditation, I just never got around to exploring psychedelics. I kept asking about it, and thinking that maybe some day I would – but there was always a swell coming in, work to do, tests to study for, and fun to be had.
I was lonely for people to talk to about meditation, so in my spare time between classes, working, homework, and surfing, I started my own college, actually, just a club on campus, called Experiential Workshops: Esalen at Irvine, and had teachers from the Esalen Institute in Big Sur come down to UCI on weekends and give workshops.
The idea for Esalen at Irvine came from guy by the name of Chuck, who I've lost track of. In the Fall of 1968 he showed me the Esalen catalog, and how you can just use the University's phones to call Esalen, get the phone of the workshop leaders, then invite them to come to UCI. We did this together in 1968 and 1969, then he left to do something, and I carried on. Thank you Chuck, wherever you are.
The Esalen catalog was and is still gorgeous – you can look around here.
One day the accountant for the student body organization – the ones who are elected - walked by and said, "You should form a club. Then we can give you money to pay for stuff, posters and whatever." I filled out a form, went outside and got a couple of friends to co-sign, and there we were, Experiential Workshops was now a club, and was given an office, a desk and a phone. So really, the whole thing was handed to me on a silver platter.
Most of these workshops involved meditation in some way: we would dance and then meditate, or paint and then meditate, act out our dreams and then meditate, or do body awareness exercises and then meditate. This turned out to be fantastically enriching for me, as it opened up a vast universe of enriching activities that were worthy in themselves and also dramatically enhanced my meditation experience. I bonded deeply with many of the teachers. They often stayed at my house, and then they would invite me to come visit them at Esalen and work in the garden as an exchange. I am still friends with some of these people, and when I am doing sessions, I often use evolutions of techniques they taught me.
Setting up the club was my solution to the problem that I couldn't afford to take even one workshop at Esalen. The cost for a weekend workshop would have been more than my monthly income. But I found out that I could just flip through the Esalen catalog, find an interesting-sounding workshop, and call the workshop leader and ask him or her if they would be willing to come to UCI and teach a weekend workshop. They almost always said yes. Then I would make one phone call to reserve the a big room. The facilities were free – we had wonderful rooms available to us – and I would charge the students $10 for a weekend, and with 20 participants we could pay the teacher $200. They rarely complained about such a low fee, and almost always agreed to come back again and again. It was ridiculously easy to set up the workshops – a couple of phone calls and then I would send a flyer over to the publicity department at the university, and they would make hundreds of copies and put them everywhere.
UCI had a ghost campus look to it, visitors said. It was built to be huge, a regular 30,000 student UC campus, but it was new, only a couple of years old, and in 1968 there were only a few thousand students enrolled. What this meant in practice is that the administrators were actively encouraging "student culture," any kind of club, activity, all that stuff that real universities have. That meant that almost anything I could think up to ask for, they'd instantly give me. Once I ran out of money from workshop funds to pay for something, like the airfare of one of the Esalen teachers – some students didn't pay, or something. So I wrote a memo and the undergraduate president, who I think was Ferdy Massimino, had the treasurer reimburse me. Sometimes the teachers would come, stay at a nearby hotel, and without asking me, send me the bill for their room. The student union would help me out, all I had to do was ask.
This was the time of student protests of the Vietnam War, and this was another reason I got anything I asked for. It was so surprising to everyone to have this student basically running his own college, quietly, and once every two months he would say, "I am stuck here with this bill for $40, can you help me out?" or "I need 100 of these flyers on meditation printed up by Friday, can you do it?"
One evening I set up a lecture for Roy Eugene Davis, a meditation teacher who is a disciple of Parmahansa Yogananda. It was in the large room we used for many events, and about a hundred people came. Roy gave a beautiful talk, and then said, "Let's close our eyes and meditate," and sat in silence for fifteen minutes or so. My girlfriend Joyce (different Joyce than mentioned above) came to the lecture and we sat in the back row. Joyce is a very pure being, smart, spiritual and very funny. During the meditation, Joyce went into a realm of radiance and joy. She was sitting to my left and I could feel her resting in luminous bliss. Roy asked for questions after the meditation, and then came straight over to Joyce and introduced himself. He said to her, "I could see that you went into samadhi. Do you realize how deep into meditation you are going? Can I serve you in any way?"
Joyce gave him a beautiful smile and said, "Thank you, I am doing well."
She paused and then said, "My feet are on the path."
Roy's presence was extremely gentle and respectful. There was clear, strong masculine spiritual energy coming off him. He seemed as if he had defined himself, taken a stand as a Westerner. He glowed with the decision – "I am a man, I love Yogananda, I love meditation, I love the wisdom of India, and here we are in America and we must find our own way." There was something deeply honest and respectful about him, and awake.
I had put a box, "donations," near the door and collected quite a bit of money. The room held a hundred people, and many came from the communities around the university – Roy was famous. After the talk, I offered him the box of money and he looked shocked. "No, I can't accept that," he said. "This was a free lecture."
"Well, what do I do with this money?" I asked. There was over $50 in the box.
"Put it to some good purpose," he said.
That box sat in the desk in my Experiential Workshops office in the Student Union at UCI for months. I wouldn't touch it. One day the student protestors shut down the university in a big Vietnam war demonstration. They wanted to use my office to camp out in and use my phone to coordinate with other UC campuses. I thought, "Aha, here is a good use for the money," and I gave them the box and they ordered pizzas for everyone. Then I split and went surfing.
We had workshops every other weekend from the middle of 1968 through 1969. One day Arnie Binder, an extremely alert psychology professor, was standing looking at all the flyers on the bulletin board for the workshops. Gestalt Therapy, Structural Integration, Sensory Awareness, Jungian Dreamwork, The Psychological Dynamics of a Fairytale, and Psychosynthesis.
He said something like, "Holy shit, you really have dozens of students spending their weekends taking these workshops?"
I said "Yeah, and some people take two workshops a month, four every quarter."
He said, "Well, they should get course credit for that."
I went over to Arnie's office and we worked out the technicalities of me giving grades to students taking the workshops. The only thing he did not like was that the students had to pay $20 a weekend for the workshops. That offended him. "They are already paying tuition," he said.
Soon I was giving 20 to 80 or so grades per quarter. At some point, Arnie started the Social Ecology Department. I went to the initial meetings with him, where he pitched the idea to the Academic Senate and listened to them object. He was dealing with enough resistance just getting his idea through, and then I, unthinkingly, had posters put up all over school for the Esalen at Irvine courses. The poster said, THE ECOLOGY OF AWARENESS. Social Ecology 199. Arnie got teased terribly over that by all the other professors, but he never backed down. He stood behind me up all the way. The Social Ecology department grew and grew, and when I came back from my meditation teacher training, I became a student in that department. Arnie was so lucid as a teacher that I can still remember his Research Methodology courses. Link to Social Ecology's site.
One day I got a phone call from a student of Marshall Ho, a Tai Chi teacher who lived in Los Angeles. He said that Marshall wanted to come to UCI and teach. I said yes, and set up a meeting. Marshall came down with Laura Huxley, Aldous Huxley's widow, who I think maybe he was having an affair with. They looked like they were having a fabulous time, anyway.
So we set up a Tai Chi class. I didn't know what Tai Chi was, but they said "it's meditation in motion," so I said great, let's do it. Marshall had great physical energy and sparkle. He was 60 perhaps, and very vital. The class met in the middle of the big lawn right in the middle of campus. People would come and eat their bag lunches and watch us.
The park in the center of UC Irvine, now called Aldrich Park
In 1968, Tai Chi was pretty exotic. Marshall taught one class a week, and on certain weekends. His student Gary – his last name was something such as Grossbeck – taught another class, and they made me, unwillingly, teach class also. After a few months – it may have been nine months of studying with him, he had me teaching the Short Form. I kept resisting because I did not feel authorized. He liked the way that I was a meditator, and energy sensitive, and that when I did Tai Chi, I could follow the energies and almost make up Tai Chi on the spot. I could improvise Tai Chi moves and respond extremely quickly to him when he wanted to demonstrate. He would sometimes ask me what I was seeing and feeling and hearing when I would do a certain movement.
Marshall Ho'o and SK Gatts
Marshall had beautiful energy dancing around him at all times. He was alive with enthuasiasm and generousity. I feel enormous grief right now that I did not see him after 1970. This was because I was so involved in TM, and TM was gradually becoming a fundamentalist religion, obsessed with Purity, Lineage, and Obedience, and fear. The Tai Chi he taught me has been one of the three or four great things I have ever learned, and it was tragic for me that I put it aside for a few years. For the last 30 years, I use it every day, and use some aspect of Tai Chi in every one-to-one session I do, every class, and even in ordinary conversations. I watch the hand gestures people make as they talk with their hands, and I interpret the movements using Tai Chi-derived insights.
Link to a site selling a video that appears to be of Marshall Ho'o. Another link to a site selling a different video.
Jim was totaly low-key, with wry good humor going at all times. He doesn't need to be the center of attention, but he sees everything and is usually the smartest guy in the room. If you ask him what's happening, he will tell you the straight truth, briefly and well-formatted. I was amazed. The only way you actually can tell Jim is so smart is that his moves and speech are so elegant. He focuses attention exactly on the salient thing, effortlessly. You only notice later that he gave you such clean, useful information that he must be good. Here is a link to an interview, and it sounds like him. Almost every word Jim said to me in 1968 still rings true, clear and beautiful. Really useful information.
Jim taught workshops based on Psychosynthesis, by Roberto Assagioli. The techniques he taught us were so simple and beautiful that all the students were amazed. We did not know much about Esalen-type teachings, in those days, but we could tell when we were in the presence of a highly skilled teacher giving us the very best that he had, in the way you know, say, when you are in the presence of Jimmy Hendricks. When we would say, "Wow, that is great stuff," he would wave Assagioli's book around and say, "I'm just a guy who has read this book." Jim taught one of the first Ecology of Awareness workshops that the professors teased Arnie Binder about. What we did was at the beginning of the quarter, Jim came down and taught a weekend workshop to orient the students. During that first weekend, they would pick a direction for their studies over the next 10 weeks. There were a series of workshops – your basic Gestalt, Body Awareness, and Rolfing workshops – and each student would pick what they wanted to focus on and specialize in, read about, and write a paper on. I only know one person out of the 20 or so that were in the workshops that quarter – Richard Yenson, who later became an shaman and psychotherapist.
One odd phenomena is that people who experiment with drugs tend to be much more interesting to talk to than meditators. As mixed a blessing as psychedelics are, one thing they don't do is turn people into boring zombies. A tragedy of meditation in America is that so many do become boring zombies – as if they are selling insurance. They meditate with the tone of making insurance payments to guarantee a place in heaven. Of the entire group of people I started meditating with in 1968, quite a few are still meditating and are in guru cults. The occasional drug takers were much more interesting and colorful, perhaps because their souls had not been stolen by fundamentalism. Jim Fadiman, for example, was an early psychedelic researcher. Jim's wife, Dorothy Fadiman, had wonderful LSD stories to tell.
Stan Grof, who I met in 1969, was extremely interesting and lively. Because of my little "Esalen at Irvine" project, I was invited to a conference in San Diego, at the Kairos center. So there I was, a 19-year old college student, at a meeting with people who are all in their 30's and 40's and 50's, with Ph.D.s and M.D.'s, the leaders of the Human Potential movement in the United States. I was sitting at the bar in the main building, drinking carrot juice, when the guy next to me introduced himself, hi, I'm Stan Grof. Hi, I'm Lorin, I said. He asked me what I did and I told him, and I asked him what he did and he said something like, "I do research on the clinical applications of LSD, and do psychedelic therapy."
Later I found out that we were sharing a room. Stan showed up at the bar in the evening, this time with two smiling buxom babes, one on each arm, saying, "Let's party!" There is no doubt that if I had spent one more minute around Stan that I would have become an LSD devotee. And I have no idea what that path would have been. Probably it would have been great, but I actually have no idea at all.
Stan radiated a legendary amount of life force and sheer joie de vivre. He was hearty, shimmering with joy, sparkling. I really wish I had spent more time with him, but just knowing him a little raised my bar for what a teacher is. THAT is the thing to go for, I thought: a full-on intellect, full-on explorer, fully into the subjective, and totally alive and available for life's adventures.
Stan's personality was just like the skit on Saturday Night Live, in which Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd did "Two Wild and Crazy Guys from Czechoslovakia" – I can't find much of a link to the skit, but here they are:
Stan was totally unlike most of the Californians at the conference, who mostly acted serious, trying to put on some gravitas. Stan was impressed with how incredible life in California is, how much life there is to be lived and how little time. Let's go party!
As for me, I attended the afternoon session, and then at the end slipped out and found a lawn, and did Tai Chi for 45 minutes. Then I did a brief set of yoga asanas, then I sat under a tree and meditated for 40 minutes or so. That was my typical practice in those days. Two hours later I walked back into the meeting room, totally refreshed and with an absolutely empty head. Just clear as the sky, and everyone was still sitting around networking.
During the 60's and 70's I would occasionally meet people who were intensely awake to life, who loved California with their entire being, and they were always recent refugees from Eastern Europe. It is as if California is so wonderful that if you born here, you are born spoiled and can't get it. Only people from the other side of the world really know.
I met Stan at Esalen a few years ago, and he was still radiant, and still looked like he was having more fun than anyone except me.
I talk to my guru-cult ex-friends occasionally and most of them appear to have lost their souls. Really, if you were to meet them you would think some are heavily medicated, not enlightened. Often, they have subverted their wild individuality and sacrificed everything to fit into the constraints of whatever version of Hinduism or Buddhism they are devoted to. They are terrified that they may do or say something that may result in their being banned from the group or falling into disfavor with the guru. It regularly happens that someone is banned, because they doubted that the guru is divine and dared to speak it, or some such thing. Such a person finds out that everyone he or she thought of as lifelong friends now shun him. None of them will ever speak to him again – he is a persona non grata, forever more. I know this sounds improbable, but I hear the same story again and again.
It turns out that when Americans take up the study of Hinduism or Buddhism, they often wind up absorbing orthodox, fundamentalist versions of a foreign culture that they have no immunity to. If the Christian minister down the street said, "You know what? I actually AM Jesus, and you must turn your back on everyone and follow ME, and by the way, sign your house over to me too," they wouldn't fall for it. But if a Lama says the same thing, they have no resistance.
The language meditators use is boring – a mix of undigested, half-understood terms that that have been mistranslated from Sanskrit – detachment, stillness, ego, devotion, path, the mind, the transcendent. My attitude has always been, "Wait. wait a minute. If you are going to have a catechism and enslave yourself with a religion, why not just be a Catholic or a Baptist? Buy local. Why import something from India to enslave yourself with?"
You may have noticed that I speak of meditation in a different way than the usual literature, using sensual rather than spiritual language. Rather than use spiritual terminology, I would rather talk about real human need. I tend to write about being horny, lonely, hungry, sleepy, grumpy, weepy, worried – the Seven Dwarves.
This is partly because it is way too early – like centuries too early – to encase ourselves in a fixed language describing the inner worlds, in the way that the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the teachings of Buddha trap and limit people who study those teachings. The terms they use are so seductive, the shopping malls of the spiritual world, that they seduce Westerners into not doing their necessary inner work, which involves facing what we have here, in the West. My friends are all saying, "Hell, we don't need to learn to cook. We can just order out from McBuddha's. They have chicken-friend McTruths for $3.99, plus a red plastic yogi toy."
I have always experienced that the more you welcome your real inner life when you are meditating, the more your needs will get fulfilled and you will be able to go beyond needing into being lush with inner riches. This is something I think that Asia does not know anything about. As fantastically wise as the meditation traditions are, they really are married to denial and repression. It's a different culture, or universe of cultures, much more ancient than the West.
In the late 60's, in addition to meditating, as part of the Esalen at Irvine program, I studied dance therapy, art therapy, Tai Chi, Gestalt Therapy, Jungian dream work, body and sensory awareness, Rolfing, and Bioenergetics. All my teachers emphasized the same lesson in different ways: "Invite your shadow into the work. The shadow will show up invited or uninvited – and it is so much better to have the welcome mat out. Welcome the dwarves, the parts of yourself you are ashamed of, afraid of, or feel are crippled or defective."
One of the teachers who came to UC Irvine to lead a workshop was Ed Maupin, and the focus was on body awareness. It was magnificent, and taught me things that enabled me to thrive in meditation, and to withstand the intensity of my teacher training over the next two years. I still use those teachings every day. Ed stayed at my house over the weekend, and one morning, before the workshop began, he gave me a Rolfing session. He worked on the outside of my legs, and then asked me to walk around the room. After taking a few steps, I felt better than I ever had in my life. Energy was streaming through me as if I were a fountain. I felt ancient and timeless, brand new and immortal, totally whole and also a complete novice.
As a result of this shadow-welcoming work, I was never afraid to face things in meditation. I learned that if you welcome a feeling of hatred or rage into meditation, then it becomes a roar and a fire that gradually or suddenly transforms into vitality. It's painful, but usually only for a few minutes, and then there is a gift of fresh energy. The life force releases itself from being trapped in the rage, which is usually about a situation that has passed and is in the past. Welcome sexuality. Welcome loneliness. Welcome fatigue. Welcome sorrow. This is also the message of the bhairava tantra, as I was reading it in Paul Rep's book. So I really was blessed to get this integral teaching right from the first breath of my inquiry into meditation.
There was a day, about 8 months into my teacher training, when the pain and terror was so great, I thought "I can't stay in this chair one more second. I will run screaming out of the room." At that point, I had been in total darkness for about two weeks. The room was completely blacked out. At that moment, I saw Ed's eyes – I remembered his kindly gaze as he was working on me, and I just relaxed into my body and the fear passed.
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