The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Stan Grof

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Stanislav Grof, M.D., (, Professor of Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, one of the founders and chief theoreticians of transpersonal psychology, and a psychiatrist with more than 60 years of experience in research of “holotropic” states of consciousness, a large and important subgroup of non-ordinary states that have healing, transformative, and evolutionary potential. It was transcribed and therefore might contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the interview here or by selecting any of the options below.

#347: Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond


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Tim Ferriss: Stan, welcome to the show.

Stan Grof: Thank you very much, Tim. Thank you for having me.

Tim Ferriss: It’s such an honor.

Stan Grof: And before we start, I would like to thank you for everything you have been doing for raising consciousness on this planet. It’s been amazing. And it’s a great honor and pleasure for me to be on your show.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, thank you so much. I could not be more excited to be speaking with you right now. And we said hello via video just a few moments ago. And I certainly have only become more excited to have this conversation because of our introduction, Jack Kornfield, one of the sweetest humans I know. And I have many questions and many topics. So thanks, of course, to Jack for making the introduction. And by this time, people would have already heard some of your biographical information that I would have read. But I suppose we should start maybe at the beginning and ask you how you first became interested in psychedelics.

Stan Grof: Well, the situation was I became initially very excited about psychoanalysis. And as a result of it, I went to medical school. And in my fourth year of medical school, I was going to the psychiatric department already as a volunteer to get some sense for the discipline. And this is where we got, from Sandoz, a supply in pills of Delysid, of LSD. And it came with a letter talking about the history about the famous self-experiment of Albert Hofmann and the bicycle ride and all that. And they were asking us if we would like to experiment with the substance and let them know if there was any legitimate use for it in psychiatry and psychology. And my preceptor, Docent Roubicek, who was very interested in LSD, but he didn’t have time to sit for six or eight hours with his patients, with the experimental subjects. So he was using several of us as gophers. We were sitting in these sessions, and we were keeping the records.

So, I actually started my exposure to LSD already by 1954. But unlike at Harvard, students were excluded. So I couldn’t have my own session until I graduated from the medical school. And by that time, my appetite was whetted. So I was sitting in these sessions of psychologists, psychiatrists, artists, and hearing all these fantastic stories about the experiences that they had. But I had really no access to it.

Tim Ferriss: What application were you looking at initially? What was the structure and expectation?

Stan Grof: Initially, it was just a phenomenological research that’s giving it to different people and seeing what it does. I don’t know if you can imagine now, when there are a lot of publications and other kinds of publicity, what it was like for us when this substance fell into our laps. We had absolutely no idea what it would do from session to session. We didn’t know where it would be going with our patients in our own sessions. So it was quite an exciting adventure. I spent several years actually doing two sessions a day. I would get up early, I’d do a session. And about 2:00, I started another one. And I had a department where I had 18 beds. And all the patients were getting LSD, so they were really familiar with the states. And all our nurses had training sessions. So by 2:00, I could pass the person who was coming down from an LSD session to this team of nurses and patients.

And I could start another one. And I was sitting in all of those sessions the whole time, unlike some other places where – for example, Hanscarl Leuner. He was actually leaving the experimental subjects alone. And they just had a bell where they could call the nurse when they were in trouble. But I was so excited about what was coming. And I realized this is going to change psychiatry, psychology.

Tim Ferriss: What was it about those early experiences that led you to that conclusion, that it would change psychiatry and psychology? And maybe just before we get to that – and I want to talk about your first experience as well. But how many total sessions have you directly or indirectly been a part of or supervised in your life, would you say?

Stan Grof: At this point, it would be like four and a half thousand of LSD sessions. But I was working with psilocybin, also. We were working for a while with the tryptamine derivatives which actually came from Budapest, from our neighbor, Dr. Szara, Stephen Szara and Dr. Boszormenyi. They were the ones who actually developed a whole group of the tryptamine derivatives, DMT, DET, DPT. I don’t think they had, at the time, the methoxy DMT, which seems to be the most interesting one.

Tim Ferriss: And the initial feeling that you had or the initial excitement that you felt, this could change psychiatry and psychology, why was that? What did you see that made you come to that conclusion?

Stan Grof: Well, the initial was this approach which could be called search for toxin X. The way LSD came to us was that it’s a substance that can mimic somehow a psychosis. We call the initial sessions experimental psychosis. It was called hallucinogen, a psychotomimetic. And so the excitement was that we have a model of something like schizophrenia or the other kinds of psychosis. And this made a possibility of creating a model, which it’s always great to have a model in science. So give LSD to “normal subjects,” and they would spend six to eight hours in a world that seemed to be like the world of our patients. And so my initial research actually was laboratory. I wrote one of the early papers on the role of serotonin in psychiatry. And the initial research was we had a group of 40 people, including ourselves, mostly professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, biologists, and so on. And we had a protocol.

We would invite these people for a day to the research institute. We would do really scientific work. We were drawing blood every hour on the hour, collecting samples of urine, doing psychological tests and electrophysiological investigations. And then we had one day when we brought schizophrenic patients who were matched by age, by gender, by IQ, and so on with our experimental subjects. And we were looking if these values of these psychological and physiological, biochemical tests would converge with the values in schizophrenics. And then something amazing happened. I found that there was incredible, I would say, inter-individual/intra-individual variability.

So you give the same substance in the same dosage under the same circumstances, under the same lousy set and setting which we had, and each of those people would have different experiences to the point that some of them called it the moments that they get between the tests, it was like a self-analysis, like a drug-assisted psychotherapy. Others were just unpleasant physical symptoms. Some of them had paranoid episodes or became hypomanic. And for some of them, it was that even under those circumstances they had got glimpses of ecstatic states that were very mystical. And the same intra-individual variability. If we took the same substance at different times, this phenomenology was completely different. And at that point, I realized this was not psychopharmacology.

We were not doing pharmacology because if you do pharmacology, you have to have some idea what you are getting. If you give people apomorphine, you expect that a lot of them will be vomiting. If you give them a hypnotic, you expect them to sleep, whereas here, we had no idea what would happen. So I realized we were doing something much more interesting. We had a catalyst that made it possible to explore the depth of the human psyche. I realized people were not having LSD experiences; they were having experiences of themselves. But they were coming from depths that psychoanalysis didn’t know anything about. And so at that point, I just lost completely interest in this laboratory approach, and I took it to clinical work. And I started giving to my patients in a psychotherapeutic context.

Tim Ferriss: When did you have your first personal experience? And what did you take? And how much did you take, if you recall?

Stan Grof: This was actually 100 micrograms. It was on the 13th of November, 1956. So I was from ’54, ’56, I was sitting for people. But it was a little more complicated because my preceptor, whom I mentioned earlier, he was very interested in electroencephalography. And at the time LSD came, he was the one who received it from Sandoz. So at the time when it came, he was interested in something that’s called driving the brainwaves and training the brainwaves which –

Tim Ferriss: And this is using EEG?

Stan Grof: Well, it was exposing people to a very powerful stroboscopic light of different frequencies and finding out if the brainwaves in the suboccipital area, which is the visual cortex, if the brainwaves would pick up that frequency, if you can drive or train the brainwave. So the condition for us having the session with him, we had to agree that we would have EEG before, during, and after, and that we also will have our brainwaves driven in all those sessions. So what happened between the third and the fourth hour when the session usually culminated, Dr. Roubicek’s assistant came. And she said, “It’s time to drive the brainwaves.” So she took me to a little room. I laid down. She pasted all these electrodes on my head and then brought a gigantic strobe, put it above my head, and then turned this thing on. And in the next moment, there was light like I had never seen, I couldn’t even imagine existed.

My only concept there was, “This is what it must have been like in Hiroshima where the thing went off.” Today, I think it was more like Dharmakaya, the primary clear light from Bardo Thodol – from The Tibetan Book of the Dead – that we see at the moment of our death. But what happened is my consciousness was catapulted out of my body. I lost the research assistant. I lost the clinic. I lost Prague. I lost the planet. And I had the feeling that I extinguished in the form that I knew myself but also the sense that I somehow became everything there was. I became all of existence. As you know, you must have heard it quite a few times, that these states are considered ineffable. When you start trying to describe them, you find out that we just simply don’t have language. Our language is developed to communicate about things from everyday life.

And in my later experiments, some of the sophisticated patients actually tried to use language from cultures that knew something about consciousness, like using from Hinduism, from Tibetan Buddhism, from Daoism. So they were talking about nirvikalpa samadhi, savikalpa samadhi, kensho, satori, using terms like maya and so on because we simply don’t have technical terms for these states. So these experiences of mystical states are full of paradoxes. Paradoxicality is one of the characteristics. So you can have the feeling that you became nothing. But by becoming nothing, you actually became all of existence. So I was in this incredible state. And then as she was continuing working with me – it was unfolding – she had a protocol. So she started from two hertz – which is two frequencies per second – took it up to 60. And then she kept it for a while in the alpha range and the theta range, the delta range.

And then she turned it off. And while she was doing this, at a certain point, I actually went from this sense of being everything, of being in the universe, in the astronomical universe or actually being the universe. There were things happening for which, at the time, I didn’t have names. But then later I read about the big bang and the black holes and the worm holes. And so this was something in that category that was happening to me. I actually had the feeling again that I was not only in the universe, but that I actually was the universe. And then as she turned it off, then my world started shrinking again. I found the planet. I found Prague. I zoomed in on my body. But there was a major problem because my consciousness was actually circling around my body. And I had difficulties aligning my consciousness with my body.

So, at that point, it became clear to me that what they were teaching at the universities about consciousness as a product of the brain simply was nonsense. Consciousness was something cosmic, and that the brain somehow is a moderator for that – but it’s not generated in our skull. And then finally, I managed to align that. And I came down in a very ecstatic state, very impressed what just happened. And right there, I decided if I’m a psychiatrist, this is by far the most interesting thing I can do, working with these states. It just overshadowed psychoanalysis like a – I was not interested in psychoanalysis anymore. I was interested in exploring the psyche using these states.

Tim Ferriss: So you’ve, at this point, dedicated more than six decades to studying non-ordinary states of consciousness which is – I think we’ll probably talk about this. That is a term or a phrase you prefer over altered states of consciousness. But you’re alluding to, perhaps, a definition of consciousness or how you think about it now. How do you think about consciousness at this point? You said that it’s mediated or moderated by the brain but not generated by it. Based on these experiences, the experiences of others you’ve supervised, everything you’ve seen and experienced and studied up to this point, how do you think about consciousness now? Are there any other aspects of it that you’d like to describe?

Stan Grof: Yeah. Well, I’m very close now to Ervin Laszlo who is this brilliant systems theorist and philosopher of Hungarian origin but living in Pisa in Italy. And he has a series of books where he is addressing these problems. He’s the only one that I think found some way of scientifically describing what is happening to us. And he has a book called What is Reality? where he actually goes through these different experiments that we have related to consciousness and argues: what are the observations that we have against the idea that consciousness is local, that it’s inside of our brain? And he moves through it that consciousness is more transpersonal, that in non-ordinary states, you can have experiences of consciousness of other people. You can have experiences of becoming members of a different species, and not just animals, but also plants and so on.

So he moves from that from the consciousness being local to consciousness being transpersonal. And then he brings even arguments against that and concludes that consciousness is cosmic. And that would be my present understanding. Consciousness is simply an integral part of existence. It cannot be reduced to anything else, let alone the neurons in the brain. So this is also supported now, of course, by many people from quantum relativistic physics. And, for example, Stuart Hameroff initially thought that maybe it’s the so-called tubulus and the mitochondria in the brain that might be the place where some quantum processes generate consciousness. And then later, he took it back. And he says now, according to him, consciousness is simply a property of the universe that can be traced back to the big bang in the form of protoconsciousness.

Tim Ferriss: There’s a term that people often associate, of course rightly, with you in association with consciousness. And that is holotropic states of consciousness. And I’d love to jump into that because – and also, just as a side note for people listening who are wondering what the applications of these non-ordinary states might be or how they’ve been utilized, it appears to me that there are many, many different ways to utilize this. There’s certain multiple Nobel prizes associated with it: Kary Mullis, Francis Crick and the co-discovery of the double helix. And then there are well known entrepreneurs and so on like Steve Jobs. But what does holotropic refer to, a holotropic state of consciousness?

Stan Grof: Thank you. It’s a great, great question. Well, I have so far been – or we have been using the term non-ordinary states of consciousness which is better than what British and American psychiatrists are doing calling it altered state. And I really dislike that term, although it was coined by a good friend of mine, Charlie Tart, because it suggests somehow that there is a correct way of experiencing ourselves and the world. And that’s somehow disturbed. I always have to think about veterinary medicine. We talk, “We had our dog altered.” So I feel too much respect for these states to call them altered. And even the state non-ordinary is really not accurate because there are many non-ordinary states that have not the properties that the holotropic states would have.

So I use that term holotropic for a special large subcategory of non-ordinary states that have healing potential, therapeutic potential, that have, according to my experience, transformative potential, that have what we call heuristic, H-E-U-R, which means when you work with these states, you run into a lot of paradigm breaking observations that challenge the whole way of thinking, not just in psychiatry but in relativistic science. And then I believe they also have evolutionary. In other words, I think they would – if people would systematically use them, I think we would almost become another species. People work through a lot of figuration. It’s replaced by compassion. They have the experience of tremendous ecological sensitivity. They discovered that we are deeply embedded in nature and that we cannot do anything to nature that doesn’t damage us. They start seeing violence as an unacceptable way of solving problems.

They have a sense of being actually global citizens rather than being Czechs or Russians or Americans. They start seeing themselves very much the way it happened to the astronauts who had the possibility of actually seeing the planet from the moon or from space. So this is my term that I coined because I realized that psychiatry does not have that kind of distinction. So I coined it myself. It’s a verbal hybrid. It’s a neologism, as we call it, that comes from the Greek language where hólos means whole and trépō, trépein means moving in the direction of something. I usually refer to the word heliotropism. Helios means sun, and heliotropism is the property of plants to always orient themselves towards the sun, always follow the sun. So literally, this means moving toward wholeness.

When I use that term, there’s usually somebody who says, “What do you mean moving toward wholeness? Aren’t we whole already the way we function in everyday life?” And I would have to say “No.” On the basis of my experiences, we have been using only a small fraction of our experiential potential when we are in the ordinary states. So maybe I’ll just give a few examples of holotropic states so people have a sense what I’m talking about. So one category when you would find states that I call holotropic would be the initiatory crisis of shamans. The career of most shamans begin by a spontaneous experience of traveling into the – a visionary experience of traveling into the universe, traveling into the underworld first.

They have the experience of being exposed to some ordeals. They experience a lot of emotional, physical pain. And they experience annihilation and then experience of psychospiritual death/rebirth that’s followed by this journey into the supernal realms. And in this initiatory journey, they heal themselves typically. Anthropologists call shamans the wounded healers. And they also learn how to heal. So when they then manage to come back, and they ground a session, they use holotropic states in their healing. When they heal, they either go into a non-ordinary state or they induce them in their clients, or both shamans and clients get into this holotropic state. So that’s a major category. The second one is what you see in so called rites of passage. This is the term that was coined by Dutch anthropologist, Arnold van Gennep, that’s G-E-N-N-E-P, who studied many native cultures.

And he found out that they all, at that time of important biological or social transitions, perform very powerful rituals. And they also induce these holotropic states in different ways. Many of those cultures, even with psychedelic plants or psychedelic materials. In some others, using sonic technology – drumming, rattling, and so on – physical pain, stay in the desert, stay in the high mountains, stay in a cave in the arctic ice and so on. And if you study these, the people experience psychospiritual death/rebirth very much like the shamans in their spontaneous initiatory journey. Now the third important category were the ancient mysteries of death/rebirth like the Eleusinian mysteries or the Isis/Osiris mysteries in Egypt or the Sumerian mysteries of Inanna and Dumuzi. And also, there were Mesoamerican mysteries of Xibalba, the Mayan, and so on. So all these were inducing these holotropic states for healing and transformation.

And then also, all the major religions developed what I call technologies of the sacred, different forms of yoga, different schools of Buddhism, from Theravada to Zen, and Vajrayana Daoist exercises, in the Christian tradition: Hesychasm, the Jesus prayer, or the exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the various cabalistic exercises. So those were all methods that were designed to take people into these holotropic experiences for the purpose of having a mystical experience, having a spiritual experience. And of course, we have now modern technologies, so to say, to induce holotropic experiences. We have now pure alkaloids from the psychedelic plants. We have mescaline from peyote. We have psilocin and psilocybin from the Mazatecs. We have now the ibogaine from iboga from the African bush and so on. And we also have now the tryptamine derivatives, DMT, DPT, and then methoxy DMT.

Those are active in ayahuasca and in the different snuffs from the Caribbean and also from this toad that’s now becoming very famous, the Bufo Alvarius. These are secretions from the parotid glands and from the skin of these toads. Very, very powerful, very important psychedelics.

Tim Ferriss: So let me pause for one second. I’m not going to lose track of the train. And I have a number of different questions. But since you brought it up, a mutual friend of ours, different mutual friend had suggested I ask you about toad. And you just mentioned that it could be or is important. And you mentioned methoxy DMT which, in this case, often referred to as 5-MeO-DMT. What are your thoughts on this particular compound? And then why is it important if it’s important?

Stan Grof: Well, I think because it has not really been explored scientifically unlike psilocybin or LSD. But we have enormous amounts of information from either semi-legal or illegal, underground experiments which were happening during those years when psychedelics were not really explored scientifically. But we have an amazing book by Ralph Metzner, which is called The Toad and the Jaguar. Ralph traveled all over Europe and in United States visiting these groups that were using it, either using some illegal loopholes or doing an underground research. And he wrote this book where he collected that information in a way that could become a basis of scientific research. Now, what is fantastic there is that this substance creates a very short – within an hour, which is within the time of one psychoanalytic session, you can experience significant transformation, even spiritual opening.

And the substance is methoxy DMT. I have in my book, When the Impossible Happens, a chapter which is called, “The Secret of the Toad of Light.” There are churches in the American Southwest that are actually using it as a sacrament called Church of the Toad of Light. And I took a fairly large dosage which is more than is usually used. This was my first time when I didn’t know the dosing, and it was estimated 25 milligrams. Today, you would use five or ten. And this was, by far, the most powerful psychedelic experience I’ve ever had. And within seconds, it took me out of my body. There was nothing biographical, no birth experiences, nothing archetypal. I was just facing this incredible source of light, for the lack of a better description. It was beyond anything I could imagine, in terms of the brilliance, the incandescence that it had. But I also sensed that there was this incredible creative intelligence going beyond any dichotomies.

I couldn’t say if it was demonic or divine. There was just off the scales that I had – and then coming down from that experience, I actually had the feeling I was dying. But the feeling that I was – not from life into dying, but from a place beyond death into a dying body. And then after a while, it became clear that this was not really dying, it was just the experience of dying. And for quite a while, I was in a situation where I was in an absolutely blissful kind of state. And I was having visions of streams of my past life experiences where I had feeling of dying and being killed in different situations. My body was acting out. The agony. There was shaking, twitching. Psychologically, emotionally, I was in absolute bliss. And then coming down for a week, I was in a state in which I would like to live.

We were, at the time, living at Esalen. We had a deck overlooking the ocean. And this was the time when I was handwriting my manuscripts and giving it to a secretary and then having to edit it. And in that week, I was doing editing of my manuscript which I could do perfectly lying in the sun there. And then I felt I would take a little break. Again, within seconds, I had the feeling of just oneness with the whole environment, oneness with the world. And then I would open my eyes, and I could continue editing. But then, of course, the consciousness of the industrious civilization came back to do workshops, travel. So I didn’t stay in that state. But my meditations became much, much, much deeper. And it was not difficult to get into some version of that state just through meditation.

So I think this would be an amazing substance to try for practical reasons because you will not find a psychiatrist like myself in the ‘60s and so on sitting for six hours with their patients. But they could certainly do a one-hour session with the methoxy DMT. And I think significant therapy could be done within this very short tense. It’s also, according to Ralph Metzner’s observations, it’s a substance where the experience ends very cleanly. There’s no lingering on. So there is a very powerful experience but also a good closure. So this is my experience with methoxy DMT. Now, of course, it’s very, very popular. For example, we had the Transpersonal Conference in Prague. And there were lectures about it. And, of course, there were people who had access to the toad material, to the excretions or secretions of the glands. So it’s becoming a very, very popular substance right now.

Tim Ferriss: You mentioned therapy a few times in describing your experience with 5-MeO-DMT and the potential within a one-hour window or something like that to provide therapy if someone were sitting for someone experiencing this. I want to tie that in to a comment that you’re very famous for having made. And I think it was in your first book in 1975, Realms of the Human Unconscious, in which you mentioned that LSD could become for psychiatry what the microscope was for biology and medicine and  what the telescope is for astronomy. What I’m curious about is A) why you say that, but then B) is there still a place for traditional psychoanalysis or psychotherapy in combination with some of these psychedelic compounds?

Because it seems to me that perhaps some of the value that people derive from these experiences or don’t derive from these experiences is dependent quite a bit on what happens beforehand and what happens afterwards. But I’d just love to hear you clarify what you mean by LSD becoming for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and the telescope is for astronomy and then B) if therapy still has a place in combination with these experiences.

Stan Grof: Yeah. Another wonderful question. So let me tell you what happened when I lost interest in this laboratory research and took it to the clinic. You mentioned in your interview with Michael Pollan there are these two forms of using LSD and other psychedelics, the psycholytic and the psychedelic. The psychedelic is using large doses, fully internalized with headphones, eye shades. And the method that was used mostly in Europe but also by some American therapists is called psycholytic, which is dissolving the psyche, dissolving the tensions, conflict in the psyche and so on from – lysis means dissolution. And so I started it with using medium dosages, maybe 150, maybe up to 200 at the beginning.

And what happened was absolutely fascinating because – and so intensification of the symptoms that the patients were having – but then the process automatically took us through the different layers of traumatic experiences that were actually underlying that disorder. And layer after layer. then I came up with the concept of COEX, system of condensed experience where each symptom had history, has a series of layered experiences behind it. And so it was a process of exploring the different layers of the psyche. One of my patients call it onion peeling of the psyche. Another one called it chemoarcheology. So you could really explore the different layers of the postnatal-biographical level. This is what Freudian analysis is about. But the problems didn’t stop there. Then each of those COEX systems also had a contribution from the trauma of birth. So even if we are using these lower dosages as we were going on, it took us to birth.

And that point, sadly, people started experiencing that they are trapped, they are caught, they are in a situation of no exit. They had the feeling they’re getting crazy, they are dying, and so on. And my psychiatry and my psychoanalytic training did not prepare me for that kind of thing. And it took while of including my own experiences to realize there was a powerful record of biological birth in there. So what we activated actually, in the psyche, was what I call now self-healing intelligence of the psyche. You see, the process spontaneously while talking was taking us to the sources of psyche emotional and psychosomatic symptoms. It also created automatically a mapping of the psyche. So for a while, I was just collecting these reports from my own records and people’s descriptions of their sessions.

And I was putting it on a map, creating what I thought was a new map for psychology which would be the result of the fact that we had absolutely new tool like a microscope opened up this whole underworld or microworld which we didn’t know existed and telescopes discovered new galaxies that the astronomers didn’t know about. So I felt we were discovering the depths of the psyche. So in that sense, it was like a microscope or a telescope. But it also was the self-healing intelligence that emerged out of it.

Tim Ferriss: And do you find –

Stan Grof: Now when I finally got the map to get out

Tim Ferriss: Oh, no. I was just going to say – please continue. I was just going to ask about if there are adjunct therapies or things that you would add to the pre-psychedelic experience or post-psychedelic experience. But I don’t want to interrupt your train of thought.

Stan Grof: Well, I just – couple of sentences. So the new map which I created which I thought was new had the biographical level which it shared with psychoanalysis and current psychiatry because however much Freud was criticized, psychiatry accepted his idea that the newborn is a tabula rasa, is a clean slate. There’s nothing of interest to a psychologist, psychiatrist that precedes birth. And this was a major discovery. There is a powerful, powerful record of birth. And when you become aware of that fact, you have to radically change, transform thinking in psychiatry. So this new map or map that I thought was new had the biographical level that it shared with current psychiatry. But then I had to add the level which I call perinatal which is related to birth. It’s a record of birth. And then it opened up further into the level that I call transpersonal now.

And there’s a greater overlap with what Jung described as the collective unconscious, the historical and the archetypal unconscious. But you see, when I had the map, I realized this was not a new map at all. Actually, a map that, in different forms, has been around not for centuries but for millennia. I started seeing the connection to the great spiritual philosophies of the east, of Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Sufism, and so on, and even the shamanic maps. There was a lot of overlapping with the shamanic cartography. So I haven’t forgotten your original question about psychoanalysis. Now the problem is that psychoanalysis has this very narrow map limited to postnatal biography and to the individual unconscious which is just barely scratching the surface of what the psyche really is.

So, if you would do psychoanalysis, you would have to expand the conceptual framework very radically because otherwise, if you would get to something like perinatal experiences or transpersonal experiences, you would not have any map if you used just Freudian psychoanalysis. So it’s not the question of the technique. In my understanding, Freud was actually on the right track. He was asking questions like, “Why do we have hysteria? Why do we have phobias? Why do we have obsessive compulsive neurosis? Why do we have perversions?” and so on. He was tracing it back. But unfortunately, his map was very superficial. He did not have access to the perinatal level and to the transpersonal level. So he ended up with conclusions that then sometimes seemed absurd, like suicide is killing the interjected bed breast of your mother and so on.

And then there was a tendency just to move away completely and not ask the questions about etiology. Freud’s genius was trying to understand, “Why do we have certain kinds of symptoms? Why do we have anxiety? Why do we have depression? Why do we have suicidal tendencies?” and so on and was looking for a rational understanding for this. But he took it only not even half way. Had he had access to the perinatal level, he would have gotten a much more convincing understanding. “Why do we have different forms of depression? What does it mean when people want to kill themselves in a way that is nonviolent as compared to people who have the tendency to commit violent suicide?” and so on. So if you expand the cartography and you add the perinatal level and the transpersonal level, you can continue this psychoanalytic work, actually, and get some reasonable, quite convincing answers.

Why do we have certain kinds of symptoms? Why do they cluster in what we call syndromes and so on? And it also opens up new, radically different approaches to psychotherapy which would have to be experiential. If the roots of emotional problems are not just postnatal but also perinatal and transpersonal, you cannot reach it by talking. You would have to actually use experiential psychotherapy of the kind that started in the ‘60s, developed within humanistic psychology.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s go directly to that. And I certainly have – we’re going to come back to When the Impossible Happens. We’re going to come back to many different pieces of your past experience and more recent projects. But this experiential psychotherapy, in an ideal world based on all of your experience, what would that look like? What would the format look like?

Stan Grof: Well, we are talking about psychedelics. So one would be psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy when people would have sessions. And then you would use talking, helping them to integrate, helping them to understand. So there would be focus in the therapy would be on the experience, but also it would be, at the same time very much what it was for Freud. It would be exploration of the psyche, getting to know the dimensions of the psyche, the different levels of experiences and so on. But now, we have powerful non-drug experiences that can actually take you to those levels, to the perinatal level, to the transpersonal level.

So, my late wife Christina and I developed what we call holotropic breathwork where you use very simple means, which is faster breathing, some powerful evocative music, a certain kind of body work, and then we also use art, we use a mandala drawing and sharing groups, and people have access not just to the postnatal biographical level but also to the perinatal and to the transpersonal level. So there are both pharmacology and non-pharmacology ways of accessing these levels that have the deepest roots of emotional and psychosomatic problems.

Tim Ferriss: So I’m really glad you brought up holotropic breathwork which is, as you mentioned, a non-pharmacological or non-exogenous way of inducing these holotropic states which I’ve experienced three times in different workshops for holotropic breathwork. And I went into it – I’m not going to lie to you – skeptical, as someone with psychedelic experience that it could achieve anything comparable. And I was really stunned by just how powerfully you can induce these non-ordinary states using breathwork and what I observed in other people in the rooms as well, many of which were skeptical as I was at the time.

So two questions to dig into both the psychedelic- or entheogen-assisted and then the holotropic breathwork. What psychedelic materials in what dosages would you potentially be using with what frequency? Would it be once a week? Twice a week? Would it be determined by the patient? Would it by psycholytic dosing? Or would it be psychedelic dosing? How would you think about that piece of the puzzle?

Stan Grof: I wouldn’t do psycholytic therapy, although I very much value the information that I got from it, the self-healing intelligence of the psyche, the COEX systems, and just discovery of the dimensions that are on that expanded map being taken to the perinatal level and then to the transpersonal level. I also have a lot of interesting observations. If you read Realms of the Human Unconscious, a lot of it is about trying to understand how and why the world is changing under the influence of LSD or some other psychedelics. I became fascinated that people saw me at different periods of the obsession as different things. They saw me as a jaguar. They saw me as Hitler. They saw me as angel. They saw me as a supreme judge. Or they look around at the treatment room, and sometimes they had the feeling that they are on the death row, sometimes cabin in the Pacific, sometimes it was a bordello, and so on.

So I did the kind of Freudian work on it trying to understand how it condensed different levels of the material. So I got a good understanding of the dynamics of the postnatal biography. But I also found out that it was not the most effective way of getting therapeutic results. So then already in Prague, I increased the dosages. I started using music and the headphones, eye shades. And this is how we did the whole research at Spring Grove, the American research when I came to the United States. There, you can have very, very powerful transformation within six to eight hours of the high dose. But you don’t have any idea why that happens. You don’t understand the mechanism of the change. It resembles the material that [David] Rosen described when he studied the experiences of people who did suicidal jumps from Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge.

He found that people who survived it, which is about 1 percent, they usually survived it unscathed, and they experienced powerful transformation within the three seconds that it took to fall from the railing to the surface of the water and then maybe about eight minutes in cold water before they were rescued. Again, powerful, powerful changes that you wouldn’t achieve by years of psychoanalysis. But there was no understanding what would happen. Now, with this history of the psycholytic therapy, I have now some idea about what is happening in these high dose sessions but in a very condensed, very rapid way.

Tim Ferriss: By high dose, what does that generally mean?

Stan Grof: Say it once more.

Tim Ferriss: By high dose, how many micrograms would you generally be using?

Stan Grof: Okay. I would probably use now – a dosage is like 300 or even 400 micrograms which might be, in some instances, not very frequently, might be a challenge, the management of the session. But you generally get much more powerful transformation, also cleaner. Actually if you use smaller dosages, there is a tendency sometimes to actually activate what happens. And people have more of a chance to resist it if there are areas that they don’t want to go into. So I consider the high dosages, if proper management to be more effective therapeutically. So I would use now the smaller dosages if we continue the exploration of the psyche. That’s where lower dosages are suddenly very useful. And I’m very sorry that this is not happening with psychedelics in this new renaissance, that we don’t continue the Freudian work where we are trying to go to find what the roots are, trying to understand the etiology.

Now, in this later DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, they moved completely from any question of etiology. They now just describe the symptoms. They use what they call neo-Kraepelinian approach. Emil Kraepelin was the person who did the first diagnosis in psychiatry at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. It was dementia praecox which was the original name for schizophrenia and manic depressive disorder. Those were the first two diagnoses in psychiatry. And what he did, he just simply described the symptoms that these patients have. And now, the tendency in psychiatry is to go to the neo-Kraepelinian, like in the DSM, you don’t ask the questions, “Why do we have depression? Why do we have suicidal tendencies? Why do we have different psychosomatic disorders?”

It’s just simply describing the symptoms. And I think there is tremendous field of discovery which would be doing individual cases like, initially, in psychoanalysis you had I think about 1,500 psychoanalysts all over the world who were seeing their patients, and they were describing what they observed. And it was published in journals and so on until they ended up with a psychoanalytic understanding of emotional and psychosomatic disorders to find in Otto Fenichel’s book The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. So we need to continue that kind of work. This would be something for psychoanalysts to do, to continue Freud’s exploration of the psyche, trying to understand the psyche, understand why we have symptoms and syndromes but not keeping it just on the postnatal level.

Tim Ferriss: By etiology – I think that was the word that I heard earlier – is that the exploration of the why we experience these things?

Stan Grof: Just causes. Yes. The causes. Why do we have that? So Freud had the concept of the development of the libido, the oral phase when the central feedings are associated with nursing and the passive oral, and then the active oral when the infant starts biting, has the teeth and so on. And then it moved to the anal phase, the time of toilet training and then refined toilet training which had to do with urination. That was the urethra stage. And then he talked about the phallic stage which was the stage where the focus is on the genitals and the clitoris in girls and the penis of the boys and where you have the Oedipal complex and the castration complex and all those things. It was very, very way of thinking, but it didn’t go deep enough. So you ended up with very unconvincing interpretations.

But no, I have tried in my books to continue and see how you would understand in a much deeper way why do we have these things, why do we have depression and different types of depression, suicidal tendencies, why do we have symptoms like a headache and many neurotic patients have problems breathing and so on. Where does that come from? Why do we end up with psychosomatic pains for which there is no organic finding? So if you expand the cartography, you can really get a much fuller understanding. Freud, at a certain point, when he discovered the individual unconscious, he compared the psyche to an iceberg. He said what we thought the psyche was is just a surface. It’s like the part of the iceberg that’s showing above the surface. And psychoanalysis shows you also the submerged part of the iceberg. Now, if you now bring psychedelics, you have to change the simile or the metaphor.

You would have to say what classical psychoanalysts discovered is just barely the surface. It’s the part of the iceberg that’s showing for psychoanalysts. And there is this enormous part of the psyche that remained hidden even for traditional psychoanalysts.

Tim Ferriss: So let me ask you this –

Stan Grof: So Joseph Campbell – let me just say one sentence which I cannot resist. Joseph Campbell you know is a wonderful mythologist with this incredible Irish humor. He put it differently. He said: “Freud was fishing while sitting on a whale.”

Tim Ferriss: You have seen so many things, experienced so many things. Let’s just call it roughly 4,500 different sessions. You’ve thought of all these different modalities. Looking at my very, very limited personal experience and what I’ve observed in other people, I’ve certainly seen, as you have, some incredible examples of transformation, people who have seemingly resolved chronic depression or anxiety disorders, eating disorders and experienced incredible healing that seems to have a persistent effect after experiencing these deep, psychedelic states. I’ve also observed not a small number of people who collect interesting drug experiences or psychedelic experiences but don’t seem to experience or resolve any deeper healing. What do you think separates those two groups? And how can you increase the likelihood of real, deep healing occurring?

Stan Grof: Well, extremely significant is the concept of set and setting. That means who gives it to whom under what circumstances for what purpose? That makes a big difference. I have seen people who have taken LSD 100 times, and they didn’t discover that it had something to do with their own psyche. It was like going to the movies. They kept their eyes open, and things were floating around. People were making funny faces, like a curious, kind of interesting experience, but had no idea that the way they perceived the environment is actually a result of the projection from their own unconscious. So one major difference is do you keep your eyes open and walk around, let alone driving cars, what people have been doing and so on or doing it in the raves where it’s an open place where people don’t know what they are taking and the police might – they know they do something forbidden.

Police might show up. This is the worst possible set and setting. So you increase tremendously the risk of these experiences. And you reduce the potential. So that’s important. So if you come with an intention, self-exploration, healing – for me, for my first LSD session, it became a spiritual quest. Every one of my experiences – I had about maybe 140 eidos psychedelic sessions over the years. It might seem like a lot, but it’s extended over a period of 60 years. So if you look at that much, it’s not that much. So that is extremely, extremely important. What is your intention? Is this serious intention or self-exploration, self-healing? Is it part of your spiritual quest? Or are you doing it for kicks because it’s a funny, weird experience? There’s also something that Huston Smith said which was very interesting. There was this whole discussion about instant or chemical mysticism.

When we saw in the early LSD sessions that people had mystical experiences, then this whole question of chemical mysticism came up. What is it? What are we watching? And there was lot of groups of people who were these hardcore, naturistic scientists who said, “Well, here you have it. What the mystics think are some kind of deep insights into ontology and cosmology, it’s nothing else but the aberrations of body chemistry. So so much for mysticism. So much for spirituality. It’s all chemistry.” And there was another group that was saying, “No. What is happening, there is a very special group of chemicals that can induce mystical experiences. Those are sacred substances. Those are sacraments. Those are sacred medicines,” and so on. So they took, basically, the position that the shamans of native cultures took who were using psychedelic plants like teonanacatl, the flesh of the gods and so on.

The plants, either would eat this, or they mediated access to eat this. And there was this position also. The third position was the mystical experiences in use by psychedelics are phenomenologically indistinguishable from those that are described in spiritual literature. But they don’t have the same value to have really valuable mystical experience, it has to be a result of prayers, of meditation, or it has to come as a grace. There’s no way you can take a pill and experience God. So people like Meher Baba and so on, they’re very, very negative. A guy called Zaehner, a British theologian and so on. So this put it in the court of spiritual teachers to say, “Are these valuable or not?” And there was disagreement.

All the Tibetans, for example, that I’ve known and actually been around some of them, when they had sessions, they all valued it very much as something that is accelerating your spiritual development but just cautioned that this is very powerful, that this is to be done very, very carefully. On the other hand, Zen Buddhists usually had difficult experiences with psychedelics because you’re not supposed to pay attention to what’s happening. It’s called Makyo if you just talk your past life experiences. You’re supposed to sit through it and cut into the no mind place. It’s very difficult to have 300 micrograms and not to pay attention to what is – you just cut through it to no mind place. And then this is – I’m back now to Huston Smith. Huston Smith had a – unlike Meher Baba or  Zaehner – had actually experiences. He came to us to Baltimore for a session.

We had the possibility of giving sessions legally to people who were ministers, doing pastor account counseling and so on. I actually was in one of his sessions. So he knew what he was talking about. And he said the chemically induced mystical experiences are phenomenologically indistinguishable. This was already shown in Pahnke’s Good Friday experiment in the Marsh Chapel, the Boston University. Very famous experiment –

Tim Ferriss: Right. The Good Friday experiment –

Stan Grof: – that you – yeah, I know you talked about in your discussion with Michael Pollan.

Tim Ferriss: And just to define very quickly – I apologize – for people who are listening: phenomenological or phenomenology, that’s the subjective reporting of experience.

Stan Grof: Yes, the subjective. If you look at the subjective experiences of people who had been through LSD or psilocybin and you compare it with what you read about in spiritual literature – so that’s phenomenologically indistinguishable. But he said, “But the value would be very different depending on the set and the setting.” He said if, let’s say, you have a situation. There is a party in Berkeley. And the way it was done – and there would be fruit punch. And a joker comes with a handful of sugar cubes laced with LSD. People think they are drinking punch, and then they’re out of their gourds. There is nobody who’s holding the kite string and so on. Even under these lousy circumstances, sometimes it can happen that people would have mystical experiences. But it would be completely out of context. They would not know what to do, would have difficulties to integrate it and become a kind of – they’re like the alien enclave in their life.

If it is somebody who is a spiritual seeker who reads literature, who is doing systematic meditation, and then now hears that this could accelerate, and he would do the sessions in a proper set and setting, the context in some kind of a reverential attitude, then would do then afterwards, after the sessions, some reading and continue working on it in meditation, this could become really a powerful catalyst of a spiritual journey. And I think that’s the correct answer.

Tim Ferriss: So you’ve mentioned seekers and a number of names. A friend of mine recommended – I don’t even know this name. And I’m maybe ashamed that I don’t – but recommended that I ask you about your experiences with Swami Muktananda. And I don’t recognize that name, but I thought that this is as good a time as any to perhaps bring it up if you can answer that.

Stan Grof: Yes. He became quite an important figure in our lives. I met him first about 1965 when he was on his second tour around the world. He was the head of the Siddha Yoga movement. During the first trip around the world, he was actually accompanied by Ram Dass and by Werner Erhard. And again, my late wife, Christina, she came to one of his early sessions. He came to Honolulu. And she became a devotee of his. And so when we connected, she wanted me to meet Muktananda and arranged this darshan with him in Oakland. And I described this experience and some later experience again in a couple of chapters in the book When the Impossible Happens. And it was very interesting. I was very reluctant to go. I was not a guru person. I was not somebody who would be at the feet of somebody. I had the feeling that ultimately, it was between me and the cosmos and so on.

But we had about 20 minutes waiting for that darshan. And at that point, she told me that he was a Shaivite, which is a follower of Shiva. And I had some of my most powerful experiences in my sessions with the archetype of Shiva [in] various ways. And this changed my feeling about this. It would be inter find somebody I knew that Shaivites are using all kinds of means, including bhang, hashish, and so on. And also datura. It’s a very highly experiential group. And so this changed suddenly my attitude for this interview. And I walked in. And he was sitting there with a red ski cap with dark glasses holding a wand of peacock feathers scented with sandalwood oil and he wore a lughi, which just looked like a nightshirt. And he beckoned me to come. “You sit here,” the chair just by him. And he turned my head and took off his or shifted up his dark glasses, which he very seldom did.

And he looked into my eyes like he was an ophthalmologist. And the first thing that he said is, “You’re a man who has seen Shiva.” He said, “This is very good.” And this just blew my mind. I just finished describing my experiences with Shiva and the fact that this was a very important figure. And the first thing that he says is, “I can tell you have seen Shiva.” And so we had this long interview where I actually asked him about soma, which I was fascinated by. This is the psychedelic plant which was used in ancient India and was described in Rig Veda. About over 100 stanzas in Rig Veda are dedicated to soma. It was a plant, and it was a beverage that was produced. And some of the descriptions show just a powerful psychedelic. Half of us is on earth, half of us in heaven. We have taken soma. So we knew that that was a powerful psychedelic. But the secret was lost. And so I asked him.

And he said, “Oh, yeah. On my birthday, the Vedic priests come down to Ganeshpuri, and they do a soma ceremony. And you can come as my guest. I will introduce you.” And then he died before we could actually do it. So to make a long story short, then we were walking out of this room, and he was standing at the door. And he looked at us and said, “You come to our intensives. We have two intensives on Kashmir Shaivism which is a Mahayana branch of Buddhism that started in Kashmir when, in the eighth century, Rashi had a vision of some rocks near Srinagar. And he went there and exposed some vegetable cover. And there were inscriptions carved in the rock that became then the Shiva Sutras. This was like the bible of Kashmir Shaivism. So he said, “Come. This is on Kashmir Shaivism.” He looked at me and said, “This may be very interesting for you.” And so of course, we did.

And when I listened to the swami who started describing what Kashmir Shaivism was, I had the feeling that he was stealing sentences and paragraphs from an article which I had written, I think 1969, which was called Psychedelic Ontology and Cosmology Observations from LSD Sessions. So the interesting question: What is the common denominator between experiences that people have with LSD, this strange substance that Swiss chemists discovered in Switzerland and something that was found written on the rock in Srinagar in the eighth century?

And so then we started going to these intensives whenever we were near to Muktananda. And then we actually did a large transpersonal conference in Bombay or Mumbai – so it’s 1982 – which was on ancient wisdom and modern science, bringing together spiritual teachers and people from the new paradigm. So it was like Fritjof Capra and others. It was our history.

Tim Ferriss: Well, we’ve mentioned the title, When the Impossible Happens, a few times. I figure we might as well jump into it and discuss certainly, perhaps, the reasons for writing the book but also some of the stories. Well, I would love to hear some of the stories, and I would imagine people listening would love to hear some of the stories as well.

Stan Grof: Well, Tim, what happened was that our house in Mill Valley burned down in 2001. And I lost my whole referential library. So it was difficult to write books like I used to, where you have to refer to people’s work and take passages of it and so on. And so I decided to write a biography. But my life has been pretty intense, pretty rich. So the question was what do I select. And then I decided to select observations and experiences from my life that current materialistic science would consider to be impossible. “This is not possible if the materialistic paradigm is accurate.” So I selected them. So it’s a selected selection of these stories. And about one third of this is dedicated to amazing synchronicities that I have experienced in my life. And some of the synchronicities were actually related to Muktananda. So there are two chapters of it describing what happened between us and Muktananda.

Tim Ferriss: What is a synchronicity?

Stan Grof: Well, a synchronicity is something that Carl Gustav Jung brought to the attention of western scientists after hesitating for 20 years, collecting for 20 years observations because he realized this is undermining the cornerstone of materialistic science where the basic principle is linear causality, that what we experience is a chain of linear causality. Everything that happens has a cause and has an effect. And this works in western materialistic science with the exception of the cause of causes, what caused the beginning of the universe. We don’t go there very frequently because we don’t have any good answers for that. Now what he showed up that there are situations where there’s a meaningful correlation or connection between something that’s an intrapsychic event like a dream or a vision or a psychedelic experience and something that happens within the material universe or what we call so-called objective reality, consensus reality.

Now this should not be happening. Our psyche should be reflecting the material universe which is out there. It should not get into a kind of playful interaction with it. So let me just give you a couple of major examples from that book. I am referring to the experience that I had with Joseph Campbell, again, great mythologist, greatest mythologist over the 20th century, probably of all time. And he used to come regularly to Esalen and do workshops. And he went to our workshop, months-long workshops, and so on. And we were doing some workshops with him. And in one of these workshops, he was talking about Jung. He was a great supporter and very enthusiastic about Jung. And he mentioned synchronicity. And somebody didn’t understand it and said, “Joe, could you explain what synchronicity is?”

And he first gave this official definition of Jung’s – this is a meaningful connection across time or space between an intra-psychic event and something that happened in the material world.” But he says, “I will give you an example.” He said, “We were living in downtown Manhattan on the 14th floor of a high rise building. And my office had two sets of windows. One was overlooking Sixth Avenue, which was nothing interesting, like many streets in Manhattan. But the other set was overlooking the Hudson River. And that was a beautiful view. So these two windows were open all the time. The others, they’re open just for cleaning. Nobody was bothered to open those windows.” And then he said, “At the time I was working on the first volume of what was supposed to be a world mythology, and it’s called The Way of the Animal Powers. And that first volume is about shamanic mythologies of the world.”

And then Joe said, “And then I was working on the chapter about Kalahari Bushmen. These are bushmen living in the Kalahari Desert. And he said that in their mythology, a major heroic figure is Praying Mantis. And so my desk was covered with papers and pictures related to the mantis and the Kalahari bushmen. And there was Laurens van der Post’s book about his childhood when he had a bushman nanny. And Laurens van der Post described how this nanny seemed to be communicating with the praying mantis. They were having conversations, and with the movements, the praying mantis seemed to be responding to her. And then set in the middle of this work, I suddenly had this totally irrational impulse to go and open one of the windows that we never open. And I stuck my head out and turned it automatically to the side.

And there, on the 14th floor of a high rise building on Manhattan, there was a great specimen of a praying mantis climbing up the building,” and turned his head toward Joe. And he said, “I took a close look. And the way van der Post described it was true. There was something that made the praying mantis look like a bushman.” Anyway, so that’s his story. So it’s possible to imagine that somehow, praying mantis got into Manhattan. Somebody has it as a pet or whatever and it got to that place. But that, in itself, is not very probably happening. But the fact that it happened in such a way that, at the time when Joe’s head was filled with thoughts about praying mantis and so on, and he had this irrational impulse to go and open the window that he never opened, and he looks out and right there is a praying mantis and actually turns toward him and gives him what he felt was a meaningful look, that’s pretty mind-blowing synchronicity.

So, Jung hesitated 20 years before he presented it, 1951, in one of the Eranos conferences. And it was presented together with a talk by Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum physics who was first Jung’s patient and then a very close friend. Let me just quickly give you another example which is the most mind-blowing synchronicity from my life. This happened during our first trip to China, where we were bringing transperson psychology and holotropic breathwork to China. And we did a holotropic breathwork workshop in Jinan, which is the birthplace of Confucius. And we were having dinner, and one of the participants came to me and said, “Stan, I had an experience about you in my dream last night.” And I said, “What was it?” And she said, “It was my great grandmother who showed up and told me that we have an important stone in our family for generations, and that stone should go to Dr. Grof.”

So she actually brought it. She was holding a beautiful, beautiful blue velvet bag and opened it. And it was a fossil nautilus ammonite, that are the ancestors of the nautilus. Very, very beautiful fossil. Now, the interesting thing was that it was picked up at the top of Mount Everest. I didn’t know at that time that it’s possible that – this is a marine mollusk, you see? So it comes from the bottom of the ocean, and during the creation of Himalayas got to the top of Mount Everest. Now what is interesting about this that when I started transpersonal psychology, International Association of Transperson Psychology and the series of international conferences, we were thinking, “What would be the proper logo for the international transpersonal association?” And we came up with the chambered nautilus which is a beautiful piece of sacred geometry. So for decades, we were using it on the stationary.

It was on all the programs of transpersonal psychology. So here we are bringing transpersonal psychology to China. And a great grandmother shows up in the dream of a woman who actually was called Meng, which is the Chinese name for dream, and tells her to bring me this fossil nautilus which was taken from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the highest mountain in the world. And according to the estimates, the Himalayas were born about 50 million years ago, during the collision of the tectonic plates. So this was at least 50 million years old fossil nautilus and a symbol of the International Transpersonal Association. So of course, the Chinese press didn’t describe how great the holotropic breathwork was. But they all focused on this incredible synchronicity.

Tim Ferriss: Are there any other stories or phenomena, experiences that are difficult to explain in that book or outside of When the Impossible Happens that are related to psychedelic sessions?

Stan Grof: Well, there are, of course, experiences of the out of body experiences and near death experiences where people who are in a state of clinical death, cardiac death, or even a flat EEG have experiences. They might be watching the procedure from the ceiling so that when they were brought back to consciousness, they are able to describe the procedure. There is one case where this was happening to a woman who had to be frozen because they needed to get to the tumor at the base of the skull. And so she had flat electroencephalogram. And at the same time, this is the most detailed description of the surgical procedure that we have where she was able to draw the instruments that they were using and so on.

So, there are many, many of this. And we had a couple of those experiences with our own cancer patients. So one of them is described in the book. There is one chapter which I called unorthodox psychiatry where people experience healing in connection with experiences that wouldn’t make any sense to current psychiatrists.

Tim Ferriss: What would be an example of that?

Stan Grof: So there was one situation where we had a five-day workshop at Esalen. And a woman came who had, for the last two years, had had very bad depression which a psychiatrist would consider to be what’s called endogenous, which, of course, doesn’t mean anything. Endogenous means generated from within. But the characteristic is that it’s worse in the morning. So she got out of the bed, and it took her a couple hours before she managed to brush her teeth and get dressed properly and so on. So she had two sessions with us which we had in the five days at Esalen. And they were pretty powerful things from childhood. And she was reliving her birth. But Friday, in the morning, which was the last day she came – and she actually experienced some intensification of these feelings. So we asked her to lie down. We had a different program for that morning, the conclusion of the five days.

But it was clear that we had to do something. So she laid down in the middle of the room. And we just told her just to go with the experiences. She didn’t even do more breathing. And she, again, completed the little something with the experience of biological birth and then went into this very strange series of movements where it just looked like praying or worshipping something. She’d end up in a sitting position. And then this monotonous chant, repetitive chant came in a language that we did not understand. And this was going for quite a while. And then it ended. And she laid back. And she was just completely blissed out, in an ecstatic state. The group was reacting in a strange way. People were ending up in lotus positions, some of them crying for unknown reasons. And we had a Jewish psychoanalyst from Buenos Aires participating in this particular five-day workshop.

And he came to us, and he said, “This is fantastic. Do you understand what happened?” We said, “No.” He said, “She was chanting in perfect Sephardic language, the Ladino, which is a medieval mixture of Spanish and Hebrew. And it happened to be his hobby. He knew the Sephardic language. And we said, “Wow.” We asked him, “What was she singing?” “She was singing, ‘I am suffering, and I will always suffer. I am crying, and I will always cry. I am praying, and I will always pray.’” Now this episode finished these two years of the exogenous depression. We saw her then a couple of times at conferences. And the depression never came back. So the idea of healing pretty bad depression by singing a Sephardic prayer, it’s a pretty unusual sort of therapeutic mechanism.

Tim Ferriss: What do you make of that? Yeah. How do you explain that for yourself?

Stan Grof: We’ve seen a lot of this kind of thing. Powerful healing happens in the holotropic breathwork through mechanisms that we don’t understand. I saw before, working with people who were in psychoanalysis, so on, the opposite, that people, after years of psychoanalysis, they got to the point where they can give you lectures, why they have the problem, how is it related to early cannibalism and the toilet training and Oedipus complex. Only the problems don’t change very much. So you have the option either to have very little result with what seems to be intellectual understanding or a result where you have no clue what is happening.

Tim Ferriss: And that particular experience with the Sephardic chanting, that was following breathwork but not using any type of dosing of any type of material?

Stan Grof: No. We were careful not to bring anything into the holotropic breathwork sessions because the structure is completely different. The timing of the breathwork is different. It’s about three hours. And the type of music that we use – so it would not be great set and setting. It’s not structured for a psychedelic experience. And actually, this would disturb – we had one situation actually where somebody who had a black belt took it going into our workshop at Esalen without telling us and ended up in a pretty aggressive situation. And it just very disturbed the whole session. We had a hard time bringing him down.

Tim Ferriss: That sounds terrifying.

Stan Grof: It’s just a matter of principle. It wasn’t illegal, but it just does not work well in the context that’s created for holotropic breathwork.

Tim Ferriss: If you had to answer the question – and there might not be an answer to this or there might not be an affirmative answer to the question that someone posed to me which was they hadn’t experienced holotropic breathwork, and they asked – but they did have a lot of research experience with psychedelics. And they asked, “What psychedelic at what dose is most similar to the effects or the experience of holotropic breathwork?”

Stan Grof: Well, it would be more something in the category of MDMA in that the holotropic breathwork can create visions, visual experiences. But it’s not that common as it is in LSD or in mescaline where you can have really fantastic fractal displays of colorful images and so on. And the whole session could be very visual. In the breathwork, it’s more like an MDMA where you have something that’s almost like on the interface between vision and vivid thought and so on.

Tim Ferriss: And if we were to look at another subjective experience that’s reported with decent regularity with psychedelics, specifically entity encounters – and this seems to be frequently reported with ayahuasca or smokes –

Stan Grof: Say it once more.

Tim Ferriss: Entity encounters, encountering entities that one believes to be separate from themselves. It seems to be quite common with ayahuasca or smoked DMT, NN DMT specifically. Have you seen this in breathwork? And also, do you make any attempt to interpret what these things mean? Or is it really left to the person experiencing it to integrate it or to heal through such a perceived encounter with something that exists independently?

Stan Grof: Well, this was described, of course, with peyote, the mescalito, and also very common with ayahuasca and then Pachamama, the mother and so on. The only time I had it was in an ayahuasca session where there was a sense of – actually, that’s not true. I had it once in an early LSD session where there was a presence. There was an energetic presence. I didn’t see a figure, but there was also communication which was telepathic, which was without words. This was very strange because this was at a time when we had closed boundaries. We couldn’t even initially travel to Russia, let alone to the west. And there was this kind of entity appearing in my LSD session. It was like a genie almost, asking, “What would you like your life to be like?” And I said, “I would like to see the world. I would like to understand psychosis.” This was the place I was in. “And I would like to have a job that’s not a 9:00 to 5:00 job.

I would like to have some kind of a freedom.” And the answer was, “Okay. But your task is to bring spirituality to eastern Europe and to Russia.” I said, “Now I really did it. Now I’m flipping out. I can’t even travel to Poland, and this is promising me I can see the world.” But then, of course, it happened. Developing transpersonal psychology, it became very, very popular in Russia. And then 25 years ago, bringing transpersonal psychology to Czechoslovakia, actually. So that was a fascinating synchronicity again. And then I had one in the ayahuasca session where, also, this was very intense. But it was guiding my session, was telling me what I should look and how I should handle it.

Tim Ferriss: And that’s not something that you observe in breathwork very often?

Stan Grof: No. No. Initially, I wrote that I consider psychedelics to be non-specific amplifiers. And it would have to be modified. Actually, all psychedelics can take you to the areas which I described in that cartography. You can experience something from child’s sufficiently important, emotionally. You can relive your birth. You can have prenatal experiences, even – I almost hesitate to say that – reliving your conception, identifying with it on a cellular level with the sperm and the ovum. You can have past life experiences. You can have archetypal experiences. It can take you to the collective unconscious and so on. So the cartography applies to all of them. But there is a different style in which it’s coming. Let’s just talk about more visual, less visual and so on, more emphasis on physical feelings or on the emotions. And certainly, MDMA or some of the other entheogens, they are shifted whole spectrum towards the positive.

There are very few people who have bad trips on MDMA. MDMA is very dangerous physiologically but very, very easy for most people to handle psychologically, emotionally. But then I discovered this element in ayahuasca that there’s very frequently the imagery of the Amazonian jungle or the anaconda snake is coming in a kind of a Roto-Rooter cleansing, jaguars, images of jaguars. So there is some kind of a selectivity foot from the collective unconscious is actually prevalent in those sessions.

Tim Ferriss: Do you have any opinion of or experience with microdosing of different psychedelics? Is that something you’ve administered to people? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. It’s become a topic.

Stan Grof: I had had quite a few of the 25 micrograms for hiking or swimming in the ocean or something but just enhancement of the perceptual experience of the world. But I haven’t experimented with the small – I had lots of very interesting experiences inside of the sessions and then particularly coming down from the sessions when I was in a state that you might be experiencing on lower dosages. But it was at the end of a high dose session rather than an experience, per se.

Tim Ferriss: What did you experience at the tail end of those sessions?

Stan Grof: What were they?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. What were those experiences at the tail end of those high dose sessions that were interesting?

Stan Grof: Well, they were all kinds of psychological insights. A lot of the things that I’ve been writing about were combinations of what I saw in the patients and then getting insights and understanding, even in the high dose parts of the sessions when I hit some difficult places like, for example, existential despair, feeling there’s no meaning in life, absurdity of life, and so on which very frequently happens during your living of birth, when you get to what I call the second perinatal matrix which is the stage of birth where the uterus contracts, but there is no opening. The cervix is not open. So you have the feeling of total existential despair, total bummer. There’s no meaning. Everything’s absurd. We go from nowhere to nowhere. We come to this world naked, crying, in pain, without any possession. And this is how we’re going to end, no matter what you do in your life or with your life. Those are really heavy kind of experiences.

So, I had some of those experiences when either there’s a suicidal impulse or even suicide would not be solution of trying to get out of that state. And so when I was hitting some of these places in my own sessions, I would have a parade of my patients where I would suddenly see, “Oh, this is where he was,” or, “This is where she was.” But then when I was bringing just my training as a psychiatrist and things that I’ve read, I realized I was sitting there listening to what they were saying. I had no clue what they were talking about. But I got really full, experiential understanding by finding those places in myself.

And this is also interesting about this large map of the psyche, that each of us has all those things. It’s not a question of whether you are a psychiatric patient or no. If you go deep enough, you find all those elements within yourself. If you are dealing, you are processing the hours in the birth canal, you find the whole psychopathology there, all the emotional problems, all the psychosomatic symptoms, the choking, the nausea, the headaches, the pains, the psychosomatic pains in the body. People frequently tell me they found Hitler inside, they found Stalin. You discover the shadow aspect. So the human personality is a little different from what’s described by mainstream psychiatry.

Tim Ferriss: You and your late wife Christina coined the term “spiritual emergency.” And she founded in 1980 the Spiritual Emergence Network, SEN. Now I’d love for you to explain what that means but then also, if you could touch on the differences, if there are any, between spiritual emergencies that are naturally occurring, let’s just say, or what people might view as the onset of schizophrenia in the late 20s or something like that versus those precipitated by psychedelics.

Stan Grof: Well, that concept came from the work with psychedelics and with the breathwork. When you realize that people in these situations would have experiences like of death/rebirth, destruction of the world, recreation of the world, past life experiences, and so on. And I very early discovered that if you have bad trip, there’s no good way of terminating it. The worst thing that you can do is what’s done routinely which is calm with tranquilizers. When you give tranquilizers to people who are on a bad trip and then keep them on maintained dosages, this prevents any kind of resolution. If somebody has a bad trip, that means that they are dealing with a difficult aspect of their unconscious. And when it’s coming up, it’s coming up for healing. It’s not just that the drug created this horrible experience. So the way you do it, you have to tell people that you are in an LSD session, “This is a time limited thing. I’m going to be here.”

And then when something remains unresolved, you do some body work and some emotional work to bring it to a good closure. People can benefit from these bad trips. So I realized very early that when people had difficult experiences, the last thing I would do is to combine with tranquilizers. And so I saw many of the situations where people experienced what they would be hospitalized for in the psychedelic session. And if we stayed with it, it actually was a major healing, major transformation. So then the obvious answer was, “Should we treat it differently just because it happened without fast breathing or because it happened without psychedelics?” No, we just applied to that other category of spontaneously emerging experiences of this kind. Now, what is necessary for having this kind of understanding, you have to have the large map. The psyche is not just the postnatal biography and the Freudian individual unconscious.

There is the record of these hours of birth, of the anxiety, of the physical discomfort and also, the amazing aggression, the fury that is generated in the fetus who cannot breathe and is subjected to all those torsions and so on. So if you have a map that includes that, and if you have the map that includes the collective unconscious which – psychiatry has not accepted the Jungian idea that we have also the collective unconscious as a regular, germane part of our unconscious. Both the historical part of the collective unconscious and the archetypal. So having visions of archetypal beings are being taken to archetypal domains like hell or paradise, those are common experiences in the breathwork or in psychedelic sessions. So this just gives you an idea this is a stage that you can work with the way you would work with people in a psychedelic session.

Tim Ferriss: So that’s a perfect segue. Let’s take as a hypothetical situation an alternate world where the psychologists and psychiatrists have accepted the collective unconscious and have this larger map. Someone is brought to a hospital by their family because they seem to be having what the family believes to be a psychotic break, whether it’s schizophrenic or however it might be diagnosed currently. They’re brought to the hospital. If a doctor or psychologist had this larger map, what would the intervention or diagnostic process look like, potentially?

Stan Grof: Well, people usually ask me – when I say that the concept of spiritual emergency, if there are any professional psychiatrists, psychologists, they say, “Can you give me differential diagnosis?” This is what we did in somatic medicine, a differential diagnosis. If people have infection, you want to find out what infection, “What are the differential diagnoses? What is the differential diagnosis between different kinds of diabetes?” and so on. So they would like something like that for spiritual emergency which you cannot do because the psychosis is not – this is not a medical diagnosis. In the exception of the organic psychosis, we cannot really make the diagnosis. We don’t have any findings in the cerebrospinal liquid. We don’t have any findings in the blood. We don’t have any finding in the urine where we can have a litmus paper, put it in the sample of urine.

Since it comes out green, it’s schizophrenia. Basically, to diagnose these different so-called psychotic states by the fact that people have experiences and behaviors the current model cannot…but part of those symptoms, which are used as being an important diagnostic truth for psychiatry could be, for example, people have the experience of death/rebirth or destruction of the world, recreation of the world. They have experiences that seem to be past life experiences. So those are all absolutely normal elements in the human unconscious but understood really, if you want, in the Grofian, Jungian way. The psyche is infinitely larger than mainstream psychiatry ever considered. It’s more like the description that you find in the great spiritual philosophies of the east, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism.

They have the real maps of the psyche because they were focusing for centuries on systematic exploration of the psyche in a very similar way in which we do science. They were describing certain procedures that you have to follow, certain forms of meditation. They would collect the descriptions of those experiences, discuss, write about it and so on. So it’s a systematic exploration of the human psyche. These couches were not interested in technology. So they are nowhere close to what we are in terms of the understanding of the material world.

But they’re way ahead of us in terms of understanding of consciousness and the psyche. And it’s very humbling for somebody like myself, having professional training and being through a stage when I thought what the shamans are doing, these other primitives in the jungle somewhere, illiterate and so on. We have our scientific approach which is behaviors or psychoanalysis. If you have the experience of these tools that the shamans have available, you develop a lot of respect to that I think.

Tim Ferriss: So related to that –

Stan Grof: But especially since it has to be harnessed. And that’s not an easy task in the industrial civilization. First, you would have to change the paradigm, which is a difficult thing. You probably know that the shift from the geocentric system to the heliocentric system after Copernicus published his body Revolutions of the Planets, it took over 100 years. And the resistance, it was not just the church. The resistance was coming also from the universities where there were all kinds of arguments why the earth cannot be round and rotate around the sun and so on.

Tim Ferriss: For you personally, how has your experience of your inner world changed over the last 60 years or after you had your first psychedelic experience? So you have that experience, and you go on to have all these experiences. What does your experience of your inner world look like? How has that changed?

Stan Grof: Well, I was an atheist. This goes back to a little scandal in our family when my parents fell in love and wanted to get married. It was in a small Czech town. And my father’s family had no religious affiliation, and my mother’s family was strictly Catholic. And so the church refused to marry them because my father was a pagan by their definition. And this created a lot of turmoil. It almost seemed like it would not happen until the solution came. My mother’s parents made a major donation to the church. And then suddenly, they relaxed their standards and they allowed that. And they had a business on the main street. And so when the wedding happened, they could roll out carpets across the street, stop the traffic to take the carpets to the altar so the guests could go from the altar all the way to the house and have a banquet there. And my parents got so upset by this that they decided not to commit me or my brother to any religion.

We should make our own decisions when we come of age. So we actually had classes of religion. But for me, it was always a free hour. I would go for a walk or read a book. Or if there was ever playing soccer somewhere, I would join them, being glad that I had this extra time. But also, I was a very curious creature. I was also missing – this was called I think paradisian morale or something like this were the classes. And they were being taught something that I was missing. So I was a little ambivalent about it. But then from this kind of background, I went to medical school at a time when it was a Marxist regime. We were controlled by the Soviet Union. So we really got a pure materialistic doctrine. You can’t get more materialistic than that. So it was my first LSD session that just changed that.

And I was one kind of person in the morning and another walked out of there in the evening. I was really basically open to the mystical world when I saw that that was a much deeper understanding than anything that my former training provided. So the paradox – which I was aware of it when I was coming down as a not believing but a mystical person. I differentiated quite a bit spirituality from religion. I never became religious in any way. I became very spiritual. And I realized the paradox. The divine comes to me in a experiment in a Marxist country induced by this substance from a Swiss chemist. But I thought I was stuck in psychiatry. And I was at that point not very excited about psychiatry.

Coming down from that session, I felt, “If I am a psychiatrist, this is by far the most interesting thing I can study.” So if you look at my professional career, there’s nothing those 60 years that I have done that would not be in one way or another related to these holotropic states. That became what I said was my passion, my vocation, my profession.

Tim Ferriss: Is there any particular synchronicity or experience in any of the holotropic states that you’ve experienced yourself that you find the hardest to explain or the most unusual/remarkable? And does anything come to mind?

Stan Grof: I don’t know. I have so many of them. I think one of the wildest –

Tim Ferriss: You don’t have to pick one. You can choose more than one too.

Stan Grof: One of the wildest ones was actually the first session that I had when I came to Baltimore from Prague. It was a process – my request for the scholarship was first turned down. And then I appealed. And then I had a very powerful psychedelic session with a colleague of mine, a psychiatrist. And this was a major, major death/rebirth opening. And what I experienced, kind of Atman/Brahman experience. And I came back home and in the mailbox was a positive response, I can go to the United States. So within a very short time, I packed. I ended up with 40 pounds of my luggage. I took all my records with me, 25 pounds and 15 pounds of personal belonging. And I was going to Baltimore. And in Baltimore, we had the permission to give sessions to professionals and collect the information from them. And so I had a session. We qualified for it ourselves.

And in that session, I suddenly had the feeling that I was not bound by space and time, that I somehow could get to other places in the world if I decided to. And I wanted to put it to a test. I said, “Can I, for example, get to Prague, into the apartment of my parents?” And so I imagined which direction was Prague and how far and imagined myself flying in that direction. And I experienced flight, but I was not getting anywhere. So I felt there was a problem there. And I was thinking about it. And then I realized that I was limited by the cording of spatial, temporal cording. I believe that Prague is in this direction and a certain kind of distance that I have to overcome. And, “Just imagine that I’m in Prague.” And what happened the next time, I was suddenly trapped in some kind of very strange space where there were circuits or transistors or stuff. And I didn’t know what was happening.

And then I realized I was inside of the television set of my parents. And I was thinking about it. And I had to laugh because I was still holding onto the next element of the materialistic world. The only way you can really see what’s happening in other places, you need a television. You need a camera and a satellite. So I realized I’m not even bound by that. I’m in the world of spirit. I just have to say, “Now I am there,” and I am there. And then at that point, it turned inside out, and I was walking. I felt straight. I didn’t feel I was in a session. And I was walking in that apartment. I heard my parents breathing. And I went to the window. And there on the corner was a clock. And it was showing the six hour difference which I thought, for a while, and I said, “Not a proof.” I knew that there was a difference, that my mind could fabricate that. So how do I prove that this really happened?

And I said that I would go and take a picture off the wall and then check with my parents. And they said, “Something strange happened. We found this painting on the floor. And the nail was still in the wall.” And so I started walking to the – and reaching for that. And then suddenly, I had the feeling that I was gambling, I was playing a roulette with my soul, that this was very dangerous, the feeling that I was getting under the influence of some evil sources. And then I realized how much they warn you if you’re on a spiritual quest from that period where you start playing with this mind over the CDs and so on. And I started seeing images, what I could do if I really have the possibility. I could go and eavesdrop on political meetings in the world. I could get access to scientific secrets and so on. I could go to a casino. I could beat the casino and so on. And I realized there was a real danger from the ego to start playing with the possibility of having this power.

So, I finally didn’t have the courage to do that and also didn’t want to be in a world where this would be possible because if I had the power, then other people had the power. And then the doors don’t protect me. I’m in a world, this wild western. And I didn’t want that proof that this was really possible. And I laid down on a couch where actually, I was coming down from a session before going to Baltimore. And I was laying then. And then this horrible thought came to me. “Maybe I never got to Baltimore. I just fabricated that trip to the United States in my LSD session. I am now coming down from that session. I never left, you see.” So I was like the Chuang-Tzu in that situation. “Am I a butterfly having the dream of being a human? Or a human having the feeling that I am a butterfly?” So I was stuck in that place for a while, but I was not sure whether I was having astral projection from Baltimore or whether I was coming down from that session.

So, that was the wildest one, probably. And of course, in coming back, I was cursing myself. “What a wasted opportunity for a great experiment, the proof of astral projection.” But the fear and the metaphysical fear that I was really losing my soul if I start playing with these kinds of forces.

Tim Ferriss: That last part of that experience in particular sounds terrifying, laying down on the couch in Prague and wondering, like you said, if the entire trip to the United States had been a fabrication. When you came out of that experience, how long did it take for you to realize that, in fact, you were back in the United States?

Stan Grof: Oh, that probably was in eight hours or so I was absolutely clear.

Tim Ferriss: Back to calibration?

Stan Grof: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: If you were starting your career – just a few more questions. You’ve been so generous with your time. But if you were starting again right now, and you were a promising young scientist, you could research anything you wanted – let’s assume that all of these compounds are legal – what would you focus on? What type of studies would you want to do or what type of research would you want to do?

Stan Grof: Well, one of the problems with this renaissance is that a lot of this is repeating things which we were already done, like the cancer projects are great, but we did it to the point that when we ask for more money for continuing the research, they say, “You have already proved it. Now it has to go to the hospitals, and it has to be used.” Also, this wonderful study at Johns Hopkins is just a more sophisticated and methodologically better Walter Pahnke experiment, which had some flaws, certainly. But I would love to see this now going to the research of creativity, to bring biologists, quantum relativistic physicists, and see what they can do. As you know, we have indications that the whole development of computers was closely connected with use of psychedelics. People like Doug Engelbart and even Steve Jobs and all these people made it absolutely clear.

There’s a statement that all the people, the men and the women who developed virtual reality, were acidheads. And this is now understood. There is a possibility of loosening somehow the blocks that we have in problem solving because we are stuck with a paradigm. Thomas Kuhn wrote a fantastic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, showing that the history of science is not a linear development where we started from not knowing anything and then each generation added a little of the observations and there were more and more accurate hypotheses and theories created so that what we have now of the understanding of the universe is the best understanding there has ever been at any time in any society. And he showed that it’s a joke, that the development of science breaks into these distinct periods.

And each of them is governed by what he calls a paradigm, a way of looking at the world, certain basic metaphysical assumptions, beliefs, ways of what are relevant areas to research, how do you do research, how you evaluate it. This is all paradigm types. So the examples, of course – I already mentioned the shift from geocentric to the heliocentric system. There was one revolution in chemistry where they had phlogiston chemistry where there was this royal substance of phlogiston. And then when people like Dalton or Lavoisier came with the idea of atoms, people had problems because they didn’t believe in phlogiston anymore. Now, we laugh when we hear that. And then, of course, the first three decades in the 20th century, the physicists had to go through this incredible conceptual cataclysm moving from Newton first to the theories of relativity and then to quantum physics that even Einstein, who initiated it, couldn’t accept until his death.

So this is the question of paradigms. So I believe that we are now in the period of paradigm shift in relation to consciousness and the human psyche that’s comparable in the nature and scope to what the physicists had to experience in the first three decades of the 20th century. And then, in a sense, it can be seen as being complementary to the changes that already happened in the understanding of matter. The quantum physicists who are my friends had no problems relating to my observations. It was mostly the resistance of psychiatrists and psychologists – so one more thing. So there is the situation that Kuhn described, that during the time when you have science dominated by a paradigm, the scientists do what he called normal science, which is problem solving within the context of given parameters.

It’s like playing chess. If you play chess, you have to follow the rules. You can’t suddenly take an inconvenient figure and throw it out of the chess board. And then he describes what happens then when observations come to challenge the paradigm, how it’s rejected initially. People are called crazy, or it’s called fraud or whatever. And then when it keeps coming, then finally the realization there is a problem. And then the wilder theories come. And at first, they are rejected. And then after a while, the new paradigm emerges and is accepted by the scientific community. And then history is rewritten because now you have new heroes, people who already saw it centuries ago the way we see it now. But what I would like to add was then Gregory Bateson added another thing.

It’s not only do the scientists believe in that paradigm and are committed to it, but they believe that it’s an accurate and exhaustive description of reality, per se. Not a map. Not the best way we can currently organize the observation that we have. It is a definitive description of how things are. And this is called a confusion between the map and the territory. People like [Alfred] Korzybski and then Gregory Bateson was very, very big about it. And Gregory was laughing about it. He says, “If scientists make errors like that, it can happen that one day, they come to the restaurant and they eat the menu instead of the dinner.” The relationship between a paradigm and the territory that it describes is very much like reading the menu.

Tim Ferriss: So I’ve had this question I’ve wanted to ask this entire conversation since we first started speaking. And well, let me just get my facts straight before I ask it. Are you currently 87? Is that accurate? What is your current age?

Stan Grof: First of July, I just was 87.

Tim Ferriss: 87. Well, happy belated birthday.

Stan Grof: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Tim Ferriss: And you are remarkably, incredibly sharp, incredibly energetic, more so than some 20-somethings I know. What do you attribute that to? And to what factors? Were both of your parents sharp their entire lives? I’m 41, and I would love to have half the energy that you do. So to what do you attribute that? It’s really just mind-blowing to me. I’m so inspired just trying to absorb some of the enthusiasm and energy that you have in this phone call.

Stan Grof: I think part of it is that I’m really, really very, very deeply committed to this idea of these holotropic states, to bring them into psychiatry, to bring them into society. I had a lot of meetings with Albert Hoffman who would talk about new Eleusis, to create a situation where these are integrated into social fabric, they are socially sanctioned, that we can use it the way ancient Greeks, the Eleusis mysteries. You probably know this was done for 2,000 years in Eleusis. So they had to offer something pretty impressive to keep the attention of the ancient world. And the list of people who have been initiates in these mysteries, it reads like who was who in antiquity. It includes Plato, Aristotle. Cicero wrote about it. Marcus Aurelius, Pindaros, all these people. So we all say the Greeks are very talented, beautiful art, beautiful science, and great ideas.

The fact that so many people every five years had some powerful experiences puts it into somewhat different perspective. And Albert Hoffman and Gordon Wasson, the one who brought the mushrooms from Mexico, from the Mazatec Indians, and Carl Ruck, a Greek scholar, they wrote the book Road to Eleusis when they found out that the key to these mysteries was kykeon, K-Y-K-E-O-N. And they found out that this was a psychedelic potion which was made of ergot, very similar to LSD. So if you can imagine so many people every five years in that small world had psychedelic experiences, that it could have had some impact on the culture. The last time when we were in Eleusis, there was a guide. And there are the ruins of the telesterion, which is the building where this was happening. And it’s a gigantic building. And I asked, “How many people were having these experiences here at a time?”

He said, “At least in the last stage, three thousand people every five years were getting this dose of this.” So when I read Plato now, I don’t see him facing in the academies saying, “Let me see how the world works. We have not just this, but there’s this level with the archetypes and so on.” This is something that you can experience archetypes in psychedelic sessions. So these are all – all the philosophy was inspired by psychedelic experiences.

Tim Ferriss: What do you think humanity needs most right now in your opinion?

Stan Grof: What does humanity –?

Tim Ferriss: Big question. Yeah. What do you think humanity needs most right now?

Stan Grof: What we need?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. If there’s any particular type of change or shift that you haven’t mentioned.

Stan Grof: Well, I think the monastic, materialistic paradigm I think is really destroying this planet. We have lost experiential spirituality that people have really the experience, don’t have spiritual experiences which are non-denominational, which are non-chauvinistic, non-sectarian, which are universal, all-inclusive, all-embracing. So people who have these direct spiritual experiences, they don’t experience division in the world. What happened with the great organized religions is that they unite people who are willing to see it the same way and worship the same way but at the same time, divide the world because they set it against another group which have taken different archetypes and different ways of worshipping.

So, then you have a situation where, “We are Christians, you, all other guys are pagans. And we really have to convert you or there’s really not a good place for you here,” or, “We are Muslims, and you guys all are infidels. Let’s go. Let’s have sacred war against the infidels.” We have Jews [saying], “You are goyim,” and so on. And then you have even these kinds of divisions within the same religion. There’s centuries of bloodshed between protestants and Catholics. And you have the same with the Sunnis and the Shiite. They’re killing each other, destroying their own temples. These are not religions that will help us in this situation in the world. But this is very different with spirituality, which is really taking everything in. And it changes consciousness in a way that people embrace the ecological movement.

They realize we have to treat nature in a different way because we are so vitally embedded and tangled in nature, that we will not use nature as commodity or something that should serve us at the expense of destroying our environment. There’s nothing that’s more important for us. We are biological creatures. We need air. We need water. And we need clean soil where we are growing our food. It’s so so suicidal, so self-destructive to destroy the basis on which we depend as – there should not be anything keeping the environment supporting life, no economic profit, no political, no military author. We should really realize that we are in the same boat. And whoever is destroying the environment is destroying us.

Tim Ferriss: And there are many places people can find, of course, your writing and more about you:;. I’ll link to all of this in the show notes for people so they’ll be able to find that at And I certainly recommend that people check out your books, including When the Impossible Happens. A friend of mine who’s involved in scientific research recommended I read The Cosmic Game. And I’m wondering if before we wrap up, maybe could you share one more story, any story to folks out there who are wondering if there might be more to the story than just the purely material hyperrational, materialistic worldview? There might just be more to the story. I’m wondering if there’s anything else that you can share. I remember coming across the pig goddess story. There are so many to choose from. But I don’t know if –

Stan Grof: Yeah. Let me do one that I think has a larger kind of importance than just mentioning one clinical story. It’s also a story from When the Impossible Happens, and it has to do with the experience that I had in a peyote ceremony. So when I came to the United States, I heard about peyote. And I never had a chance being in Czechoslovakia, not having the possibility of traveling to have the peyote experience. So I was very, very interested in that. And we had this program for professionals, one of the programs at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. And one of the persons of the persons who came was Ken Godfrey who was the psychiatrist at the VA hospital in Topeka, Kansas. He was, himself, Native American. And his wife was Native American. And he was running a psychedelic program in Topeka. But he didn’t have anybody to sit for him. So he came for his own session.

And I sat in his three psychedelic sessions. So we became very, very close. And so when, after his last session, we were talking, I said, “Ken, is there any possibility you can get me into a Native American church ceremony?” And he said, “I will try.” And then he called in a few days and said, “I talked to the road chief. And you can come, and you can bring four of your friends.” So anyway, we got into the airplane and flew to Topeka and then drove into the middle of the Kansas prairie there. And there were these teepees. And the ceremony was being prepared. And we had to go through a clearance. They wanted to find out what kind of people we were. We had to tell them about ourselves. And we got just a lot of aggressive comments from them about how white people came, and they have taken their land, they have killed their buffalo, they have killed their warriors, they have raped their women, and so on.

And so there was almost like an encounter group. And as we were going on, they were finding out that we were okay and one after another, that we can participate. And at the end, there was just one very dark, solemn man who wouldn’t have any of us. We were pale faces, and that was it. He’s not going to have us in the sacred ceremony. And then he got into a lot of peer pressure. It was time to start, and people say, “Come on. Let it go.” And so he did say yes, but it was really no. And I was in the teepee. I was sitting across him. And then the peyote buttons were passed. And then it started coming on. And he was really radiating like a laser beam toward me. The hatred and everything was amplified, of course, by the peyote. And we were doing the rounds when you pass a staff and a drum. And every time you get it, you can say something. You can sing a song or invite people to do something or make a confession or whatever.

But you can also pass. And every time it came to him, he would grab it and push it. And he just would not participate. And so we did all these rounds. And we were going through the last round where everybody can say something. And Bob Leihy was another LSD therapist from Maryland working with us, Helen Bonny and her sister – Helen Bonny was our music therapist – and Walter Houston Clark, who’s a very famous professor of religion. And so as we were doing the last round, Walter Houston Clark gave this almost masochistic kind of a speech. He said “how wonderful it was for your brothers and sisters to take us into the sacred ceremony after what we have done to you. We have killed your buffalo and your warriors and raped your women and taken your spirituality.”

And then somehow, I don’t remember exactly the context, he mentioned me and said, “Especially Stan here, who is so far from his native Czechoslovakia.” And suddenly, when he mentioned that, it was like a lightning hit this guy. And he started shaking. He got up, he threw himself into my lap, put his head into my lap. Tears were running out of his eyes and snot out of his nose. It became like one of our workshops, doing close work with people. And everybody was watching. Nobody knew what was happening. And this was happening for a while. And then he got up and went back to his place, sat down, and then not talking, just sitting there. And there was a lot of pressure, psychological pressure, people wanting to know what was happening. And then he said, “I have to say something horrible. I thought you were all Americans. I didn’t know Stan was from Czechoslovakia.

“The Czechs are not known as your archetypal raiders of the wild west exactly. So I treated him as if he were an American. And I hated him through the whole ceremony. And it’s just more than I can take.” Then, while sitting there and it was clear that something more was coming. And then he said, “But it’s worse than that. During the Second World War, I was drafted in the American Air Force. And I was personally present in the air raid on his city. It was five days before the end of the war. There was an American attack on Pilsen that destroyed the automobile factory there and damaged Pilsen. So he said, “He stayed home, but I went, and I killed his people. Our roles were reversed. And that’s just too much for me.” And then he got up. And he went to the four Americans there and embraced them. And he said, “You are not my enemies. You are my friends.”

He said, “We are all in the same boat. If we hold the old grudges, we all die. We are all children of Mother Earth, and we have to really learn how to live with each other and how to love each other.” And then he ended, and he said – well, they believe in reincarnation. So “Well, for what I can say, when this was happening, I might have been on the other side.” And we were still under the influence of peyote. So we were all crying and embracing each other. And that was beautiful. A reconciliation was amazing. I actually told that story at the end of the International Transpersonal Conference in Prague when I was bringing transpersonal psychology back to Prague because we had all these European nations that had all kinds of grudges and really didn’t like each other. We were occupied by Nazi Germany for six years. And a lot of people killed, ended up in concentration camps.

Then we had years of communist – so nobody liked Russia. None of the people from the eastern European countries like either Russia or Germany. We had Germans and Jews there. And what was amazing, that we did a large holotropic breathwork before the conference at the pre-conference workshop. And it was amazing how within two days, some of these boundaries were melting and people embracing each other and sitting for each other. And when people were owning their own emotional problems, it actually activated the best in other people. And in spite of language difficulties and so on, there was really a change of the atmosphere from all these antagonisms that were certainly in the air at the beginning.

Tim Ferriss: What a wonderful story.

Stan Grof: So anyway, that’s my story. I call it lesson in forgiveness.

Tim Ferriss: I think we could all use lessons in forgiveness, not only towards others but towards ourselves. And I really want to express gratitude and thanks, certainly for the experiences that I’ve had which have been informed by your writing and people who have indirectly or directly been trained by you in some respects and to thank you on behalf of, no doubt, many people who are listening who have had similar experiences.

And I’m very cautiously optimistic about this renaissance that we’re witnessing. And hopefully, we won’t repeat some of the same mistakes that appear to have been made. But the social circumstances are so different. And I really appreciate you taking the time today. I certainly hope this isn’t our last conversation, but I want to be respectful of your time. And we’ve gone for quite a bit already today. Is there anything else that you would like to say to the people listening or ask of them before we end this particular conversation?

Stan Grof: Well, maybe repeat what Carl Gustav Jung said and that I would really, certainly endorse, that it’s important that we live our life not just by responding to what is happening outside of us but spending some time in some kind of focused self-exploration. And that can lead to inner transformation. So we live our life as a synthesis of what we see outside and what comes from within. You would say you get lessons from what he called the Self, the higher aspect of our personalities. So part of the problem of the industrial civilization, we lost this tradition of, if you want, of psychonautics. All the other groups of humanity, way back probably into the paleolithic, they were using these holotropic states for healing, for transformation, for the main vehicle for ritual, spiritual life. They were using it for lot of practical things as an inspiration for art and so on.

So, I see this renaissance that is happening now not just as correcting of these really terrible administrative, legal mistakes that were done that stopped the research for 40 years, a return to the research. I see it also as the possibility of the industrial civilization to join the rest of humanity that always was combining somehow the inner spiritual experiences with whatever they were doing in the external world.

Tim Ferriss: Well, thank you so much, Stan.

Stan Grof: So again Tim, thank you so much for everything you have been doing. And thank you for this opportunity to share some of my life with your listeners and with you.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, it’s such a pleasure. And I can only aspire to contribute in some small way. And I’m excited to see what you do from this point forward. And you seem to have as much energy as ever, traveling around the world, doing what you do. And I hope we can have many, many more conversations. But for today, I want to be respectful of your time, since you do have so many things going on. And I will certainly, in the show notes, to everybody listening, link to everything we’ve discussed, all of the books, the different websites, foundations, and so on. And you can find all those Stan, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.

Stan Grof: Again, it was a wonderful – it’s great to have an interviewer who knows what we are talking about. It doesn’t always happen. This was one of the great ones. Thank you so much.

Tim Ferriss: I really, really appreciate it. And to everybody listening, keep your mind open and look outside but also look inside, as Stan mentioned. And until next time, thank you for listening.

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Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond (#347)


Stan Grof (right) with the legendary Albert Hofmann (left), the first person to synthesize LSD.

“I realized people were not having LSD experiences; they were having experiences of themselves. But they were coming from depths that psychoanalysis didn’t know anything about.” — Stanislav Grof

Stanislav Grof, M.D., ( is a psychiatrist with more than 60 years of experience in research of “holotropic” states of consciousness, a large and important subgroup of non-ordinary states that have healing, transformative, and evolutionary potential.

Previously, he was Principal Investigator in a psychedelic research program at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, and Scholar-in-Residence at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.

Currently, Stan is Professor of Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, CA, and conducts professional training programs in holotropic breathwork and transpersonal psychology, and gives lectures and seminars worldwide. He is one of the founders and chief theoreticians of transpersonal psychology and the founding president of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA).

His publications include more than 150 articles in professional journals and books like Psychology of the Future, The Cosmic Game, and Holotropic Breathwork, among many others.

In this wide-ranging interview, we cover many topics, including:

  • Some of his main takeaways after supervising or guiding ~4,500 LSD sessions
  • The place and role of “wounded healers”
  • Limitations and uses of traditional psychoanalysis and talk therapy
  • Holotropic breathwork and some similarities to MDMA
  • Stories of odd synchronicities and the seemingly impossible
  • Stan’s strangest personal experiences on psychedelics
  • What Stan believes humanity most needs to overcome: division and destruction

I hope you’ll enjoy this in-depth conversation with Stan Grof!

#347: Stan Grof, Lessons from ~4,500 LSD Sessions and Beyond

Want to hear another episode that explores science and psychedelics? — Listen to my conversation with Paul Stamets, an intellectual and industry leader in the habitat, medicinal use, and production of fungi. Stream below or right-click here to download.

#340: Paul Stamets — How Mushrooms Can Save You and (Perhaps) the World

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The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron

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Please enjoy this transcript of a special episode with James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron, in which they answer questions from my book Tribe of Mentors. James (@jimcameron) is the record-setting writer, director, and producer of The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. He is also a deep sea explorer, who set the world’s solo deep diving record of 35,787′, and also the founder of The Avatar Alliance Foundation, which tackles issues of climate change, energy policy, deforestation, indigenous rights, ocean conservation, and sustainable agriculture.

Suzy (@suzymusing) is a noted environmental advocate, mother of five, and the author of OMD: The Simple, Plant-Based Program to Save Your Health, Save Your Waistline, and Save the Planet, and the founder of the OMD Movement, a multi-pronged effort to transform eating habits and the food system. She is also a prolific founder of businesses and organizations that include Plant Power Task Force, focused on showing the impact of animal agriculture on climate change and the environment, and MUSE School, the first school in the country to be 100% solar powered with zero waste and a 100% organic, plant-based lunch program. As an actor she has been featured in more than 25 films, including The Usual Suspects and Titanic.

This transcript is of the full, uncut Q & A, which you can listen to here. It was transcribed and therefore might contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!


Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.


You are welcome to share the below transcript (up to 500 words but not more) in media articles (e.g., The New York Times, LA Times, The Guardian), on your personal website, in a non-commercial article or blog post (e.g., Medium), and/or on a personal social media account for non-commercial purposes, provided that you include attribution to “The Tim Ferriss Show” and link back to the URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.


No one is authorized to copy any portion of the podcast content or use Tim Ferriss’ name, image or likeness for any commercial purpose or use, including without limitation inclusion in any books, e-books, book summaries or synopses, or on a commercial website or social media site (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that offers or promotes your or another’s products or services. For the sake of clarity, media outlets are permitted to use photos of Tim Ferriss from the media room on or (obviously) license photos of Tim Ferriss from Getty Images, etc.

James Cameron: Well, haul off, baby.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Well, Tim, first of all, we want to say hi. And when we first met you, we were all flying around in the parabolic flight with –

James Cameron: Oh, Elon Musk and a bunch of other crazy folks doing somersaults in zero G.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Super fun. Super fun.

James Cameron: So hey, Tim. Thanks for having us on the show. We’re honored to be here –

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. Really, really excited.

James Cameron: on the podcast. Do you still call a podcast a show? I guess.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. The Tim Ferriss Show.

James Cameron: Oh. Well, then I guess if it’s called the Tim Ferriss show, then it’s gotta be a show.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Exactly. So here we are. All right. So our first question that we’re going to answer: Besides your own, what is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

James Cameron: Well, we give a lot of books as presents because we’re always evangelizing and proselytizing for plant-based nutrition, for the environment and sustainability and things like that. Suzy, every year, makes up a gift bag on a theme. But usually, the theme is around sustainability. And there are always some books in there. So we give out a lot of books.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Thousands and thousands and thousands of books.

James Cameron: Right. So the publisher of The China Study, for example, probably noticed a big uptick in sales about the year that we decided to send all our friends The China Study and Forks Over Knives. I think this happens a lot with plant-based eaters, that they become like born again Christians. They want to share the good news with everybody. So they become insufferable for the first year or so.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yes. We were, definitely. And people would see us coming, and they would turn around and run the other way.

James Cameron: Yeah, waddle the other way. If they follow our advice, they could run.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Exactly. But I think we’ve gotten a little more tactful in our approach. I think the other book that I’ve been giving out a lot is The Cheese Trap by Dr. Neal Barnard.

James Cameron: Sure, because you hear so much. So many people say, “Well, I think I could do it. I could give up meat. Yeah, no problem. But I don’t see how I can give up cheese.”

Suzy Amis Cameron: Oh, it’s the hardest thing to give up.

James Cameron: And that book is so great at showing why it is a trap, why it’s basically an addiction.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right? So all mammals have naturally occurring opiates in their breastmilk for a reason because it keeps the baby coming back to nurse so that it will thrive. But if you think about a human baby growing from seven pounds to 18 pounds in a year and then you think of a cow growing from 60 pounds to 600 pounds in a year, you’re getting that many more opiates. And you think about – so you’re just having a glass of milk or cream in your coffee. But you have yogurt, and it’s condensed that down even more.

James Cameron: And cheese is condensed even further. So it’s sort of bioconcentrating the naturally occurring opiates.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Exactly. And it’s like a block of morphine. So yeah. Dairy’s really difficult to give up. But there are so many alternatives now, way more than there were six and a half years ago when we went plant-based.

James Cameron: Yeah. Some of the alternative cheeses, they’re nut-based cheeses, cashew-based, and so on –

Suzy Amis Cameron: Miyoko’s.

James Cameron: are getting pretty good. You can cook with them. And they have the same texture and mouth feel, cookability, and things like that. And that’s all just in the last couple of years. I can’t think of a cheese dish that you can’t duplicate pretty well entirely from plant sources now. Of course, you’re not getting your opiates. But then you don’t want to be a heroin addict either.

Suzy Amis Cameron: No, but you’ve got a natural high from eating plants already. So you don’t need it.

James Cameron: Yeah, right. Exactly. It makes up for it. Oh, good, baby. That was nice. Yeah. But in terms of books, I think this is – I think we’re supposed to answer more broadly than just about our utter fixation with plant-based nutrition. Another book that I’ve shared a lot is Sapiens which is an incredible book that’s got nothing to do with plant-based nutrition. It’s just an amazing book. It explains human behavior and why we are the way we are in human civilization from soup to nuts. And I’ve read it now a couple of times. It’s a pretty astonishing book. I’m recommending that.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. I think there’s another book that I recommended so often which was Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive. Her journey of burning herself out and realizing how important sleep and self-care were – and it gives you license to take care of yourself in a world that people think that overachievers are triple-type A, that you need to be that way to succeed. So that’s actually a really good book too.

James Cameron: Well, you do to an extent. But you’ve gotta be able to go the distance. So you gotta pace yourself. And long-term success is definitely about pacing yourself. And if I’m going to loop it back to our favorite topic, no. The kind of energy and stamina and recovery that you get from being a whole food, plant-based eater, it’s what’s gotten me through a year of production. I’ve never done a year of production in my life. Titanic took six months to shoot. And we just finished a year because we did Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 back to back. And that was one solid year of production. And I’m feeling great, whereas before, I’d be completely burned out after a six-month shoot and require a month to recover.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Well, you got sick a lot on the first one. Flus and colds, and –

James Cameron: Yeah. I got sick on Avatar. I got sick on Titanic. And since we went plant-based six and a half years ago, I literally haven’t been sick at all. Like, zero. Not even a sniffle or a cough or a sore throat. Nothing. So yeah. It works.

Suzy Amis Cameron: And certainly, being on the road and selling my new book, I know that it’s giving me an edge to be able to pop back and forth between different time zones and things like that, on top of being a mom of five and running a school.

James Cameron: To truthfully answer the question, you can’t plug your own book though because he said, “What book besides your own…?”

Suzy Amis Cameron: Oh, right. Sorry.

James Cameron: All right. So what’s the next question?

Suzy Amis Cameron: Okay. We’re going to the next question now. How has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success? Do you have a favorite failure of yours?

James Cameron: Oh, well, I don’t think I can answer that question because I’ve never failed at anything. No. Well, I’ve been lucky on my directed films. I’ve only had one that underperformed, and that was The Abyss. That wasn’t a hit. I’ve had produced films that didn’t do well and certainly learned from those. But my film that I would consider a failure because it wasn’t a hit – it was a break-even project. It was quite big in its day. It was considered I think probably one of the most expensive films ever made in its time, although it’s nothing by present standards – was The Abyss which was released in 1989.

And I think I learned some strong lessons from that about the craft of shaping a story in post-production, and maximizing, and even in the writing. I learned from that film that the emotional peak came well before the ending. And then the ending was this ambitious visual overreach. And I think I couldn’t have made Titanic, and Titanic wouldn’t have been a hit if I hadn’t done The Abyss because on Titanic, I kept The Abyss in mind. And I shaped it to have the maximum emotional orchestration to the end of the film and to keep the visual effects in check so that they always served – the storyline served the narrative and served the characters. So it took The Abyss failing for Titanic to be the success that it was I think. I don’t mean commercial success but artistic success, let’s say. So yeah. It’s all a journey. Filmmaking’s a journey. Every film itself is a journey. But then across the films, the metanarrative that runs across the films is also a journey.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right. Well, I think you always hear failing forward. And certainly, when the school that I founded with my sister, Rebecca Amis – we founded a school called MUSE school. And we decided in January of ’14 that we were going to take the school plant-based because it’s an environmental school. And we couldn’t call ourselves an environmental school and still be serving animal products.

James Cameron: Yeah. It’d be like driving a Humvee to work, calling yourself an environmentalist. It just seemed like such a cognitive dissonance to us that we had to stand for something.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. Definitely. So we decided to take the school plant-based and promptly created a mutiny. We lost 50% of our families. And I just thought – I thought the school was going to close.

James Cameron: Yeah. You were surprised.

Suzy Amis Cameron: I didn’t think it was going to succeed. And it was really nerve-wracking. But it just felt like the right thing to do. And ultimately, in the end, we regained our enrollment very quickly. And we’ve now surpassed it. And families move from all over the United States. We even have a couple of families that have moved from out of country to move to Calabasas to come to the school because it’s environmental, because it’s passion- and interest-based learning, because it’s plant-based. So it’s really about trusting your instinct and your gut and doing the right thing, doing something that you think is going to make a difference in life.

James Cameron: But we talked about it before we did it. And I think the final conclusion was, “Screw it. If it tanks the school, it tanks the school. But you gotta stand on your principles.”

Suzy Amis Cameron: Because if you don’t stand for something, you fall for everything.

James Cameron: Yeah, exactly. And the thing is that you approached the problem very systematically. And you set a timetable to do it that was more than a year out. And you brought in speakers. You had a speaker series. And you had town halls and brought the parents in and included them or tried to. When you talk to people about their food, it’s like talking to them about religion or partisan politics. People get very entrenched in their belief systems. And their identity becomes defined by their beliefs. And they’d rather die than be wrong. They’d rather be unhealthy than be wrong. Or they’d rather have their kids be unhealthy than be wrong.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. It’s true. We took 18 months to educate everyone. And we really went at it from every different angle. So we brought in doctors. We brought in climate scientists. We brought in chefs. We brought in athletes. We brought in authors. We brought in animal rights people. And they would spend the day with the children. And then at the end of the day, we would bring the adults in, give them a glass of wine and some beautiful plant-based, delicious food. And even after all of that, we still had pushback.

James Cameron: Yeah. Well, it was seen as a top-down push. And even though you were trying to get buy-in – and I think a lot of that experience probably – if you’re talking about failing forward, not only did the school prosper as a result, but if I can swing this back around to your book, I don’t think you would have written OMD the way you did, as inclusively as you did if you hadn’t gone through that experience because you realized how people are entrenched in a belief system that’s enculturated. We all grew up with it. Our parents taught us. Their grandparents taught them. Meat for strength. Milk for bones and teeth and all that sort of thing.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Well, that’s a good point because what ended up happening after all of the work that we had done to try to educate people and really give them a way into it, our head of school, Jeff King, got very frustrated one day with the parents. And he said, “People, you can give them eggs and bacon in the morning. And you can give them a burger at night. It’s one meal a day. It’s OMD.” And so MUSE –

James Cameron: That’s where OMD came from.

Suzy Amis Cameron: That’s where OMD came from. It was born there. And that’s when I took that idea and wrote a book around the idea of it.

James Cameron: Yeah. Are you down with OMD? Yeah. But it’s great because it’s inclusive, because it understands that people – I think they fall into two categories. You’ve got very close-minded people that won’t even listen, and then you’ve got people that have actually read enough and heard enough to realize that it would be beneficial to them but don’t think they can do it, but are curious about it and maybe want to try it. And the great thing about OMD is it’s one meal a day. And if you make that pledge, not only are you cutting your carbon footprint and your environmental footprint significantly, but you’re starting to feel some delta. There’s going to be some change in the way that you feel, and in your health, and so on. And you get to see how relatively easy it is. And it’s not that big a deal. The fear of it is greater than the actual process of doing it.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Well, I think that that’s why it’s such a – it’s a non-judgmental – it’s not about perfection. It’s just one meal and realizing how empowering it is for one person to be able to make a difference in your carbon footprint and your water footprint. So one person eating one plant-based meal for one year saves 200,000 gallons of water and the carbon equivalent of driving from Los Angeles to New York. And people don’t realize that animal agriculture is the second leading cause of greenhouse gases, more than all transportation combined. So you can make more of a difference for the environment by what you’re putting on your plate than the kind of car you’re driving.

James Cameron: Yeah. Look, electrification of transportation system is critical in the long-run just like changing to renewable energy is critical. But these are things that take time. And something you can do immediately, instantaneously – you don’t have to be able to afford to buy a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid – is change what you eat. It’s very simple. It brings the power back to the individual. Now you know you’re living right with nature, that you’re not one of the millions of people that’s responsible for cutting down an acre of rainforest a second in Brazil which is what’s happening right now to make room for crop land. Everybody thinks, “Why is the environmental footprint so high for cattle?” It’s not what the cattle are eating. It’s not the water that the cattle are drinking so much.

It’s the fact that so much deforestation and misuse of land is taking place to grow crops to feed the cattle, whereas the efficiency factor for humans eating the grains and the plants directly is, depending on where the cattle are growing and who the people are and all that sort of thing, it ranges from 20 to 40 times more efficient in terms of land-use. If everybody on earth eats the way we do collectively here in the US, were to do that and our population continues to grow to nine billion, as is projected by 2050, we need four planet earths. We’re already way into overshoo – we’re already way past sustainability already with the number of people we have and with the number of people that are still not eating the way we do. So there’s a sort of a social justice aspect to it as well, if you think about it. Those people that don’t eat like us can’t eat like us. It will not be allowed by the laws of nature.

There’s a social justice issue to this in addition to the environmental issue and the animal rights issue and all that. So that’s on the negative side. But on the positive side, the thing that’s great about this is not only is your health going to improve. But if you’re an athlete or even just a casual athlete, play tennis, whatever, your performance is going to improve greatly. Got another question there? We rambled all over the place.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Next question: What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

James Cameron: Well, the one recommendation that I hear all the time that’s given to kids and everything is, “Do what you love.” And I would modify that strongly. Do what you love that is also something people will pay you for.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right, which is what you have found out how to do very successfully.

James Cameron: Yeah. Right. I get to do what I love. And I love making films. I love all the things that I spend time on, exploration and all that. People don’t pay you to be an explorer. I can say that. You go do something that you love and make money. Then you go get to do something that you love that people won’t pay you for, like deep ocean exploration because there is no money in that game whatsoever. But what other recommendation? Well, look. The question was your profession or field of expertise. So we know a lot about plant-based nutrition. So I’m going to vector it back to that. There are so many –

Suzy Amis Cameron: Well, I have a certification through eCornell.

James Cameron: Yeah. That’s right. You’re a certified nutritionist. So many bad recommendations in nutrition. And doctors make them all the time. Doctors tell you to build yourself up by eating meat.

Suzy Amis Cameron: It’s not their fault, either. It’s just the way they’ve been trained.

James Cameron: Or not trained because they don’t study nutrition. I was talking to a doctor the other day who’s on a cardiology path. He’s still in university. Said, “How much nutritional training have you had?” because I had said in a public speaking thing they only get about somewhere between an hour and a day total of nutritional training through seven years of med school. And he said, “About an hour.” And so doctors are myth-propagators these days, the myth that you need meat for protein. In fact, interestingly enough, the vast majority of doctors conflate the term protein and meat, like it is one thing. Certainly, meat is a source of protein. That’s about all that’s in it besides protein and fat as opposed to plants being a source of protein and a source of minerals and phytonutrients and micronutrients of all kinds and trace elements and all sorts of stuff.

Suzy Amis Cameron: But people don’t think that protein is in vegetables. There’s protein in Iceberg lettuce.

James Cameron: Where did the cow get it? It’s pretty simple. So the truth with animal proteins is that they’re not – it’s not just that they’re inefficient for the environment and that they come packaged with an awful lot of fat, but that the actual biomolecular structure of the protein is not healthy for humans. And I know there are probably a lot of paleo eaters in the audience for this podcast. And, we all tend to live in a confirmation-bias kind of environment where we seek out the information that confirms what we want to know. But I would encourage them to look into what plant-based nutritionists are saying about meat proteins and what real paleoanthropologists are saying about what ancient humans ate. But we’re not adapted for a diet of meat. We can eat meat. Meat was a killer app back in the ice age when the plants were covered by snow all the time. You could die out if you were a vegetarian.

And when we, collectively, the human species migrated up into northern Europe which was where they didn’t have any competition – there was plenty of competition in Africa. As you started to move up into northern Europe, you got into virgin territory. And that’s why we migrated up there and lost our melanin, got pale-skinned and learned to adapt to the cold and all that stuff. You weren’t going to make it through the winter if you were 100% plant-based which is why you don’t have a lot of gorillas in Scotland. So yeah. It was a killer app. It allowed the expansion of the human species. But we weren’t initially evolutionarily selected to do it. That’s a more recent thing.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Well, I think the other myth too is that men really feel like they need that meat protein in order to be manly. And you just had great success showing Game Changers to your whole crew down on the set of Avatar because it’s full of elite male athletes. It’s got female athletes in there as well.

James Cameron: I gotta just interject. The Game Changers is a film that Suzy and I just executive produced that was directed by Louis Psihoyos. It’s not out yet. But we think it’s going to make a profound difference in this male myth of meat proteins. But anyway, carry on. Sorry.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah, because men believe that they need the meat to be manly. And it’s quite the antithesis. And you saw an unbelievable reaction with your crew. The set of Avatar is actually the first plant-based catered set ever. And so they’re doing one meal a day and saving an enormous amount of water and carbon.

James Cameron: Yeah. We give them great food. It’s about 200 people between our technical team and our production group and so on.

Suzy Amis Cameron: But now, it’s like there’s a line out the door since you showed the movie.

James Cameron: Well, yeah. It was hysterical because a year ago, we went plant-based on the production because we wanted to be the greenest production ever. And we have our own solar power. We have a one megawatt solar power facility on the roof. And the idea was that – I sat the whole team down and said, “Guys, if we’re going to make these films that stand for something about the environment and our relationship with nature, we have to walk the walk. So we’re going to do a green set. And the way to do a green set is the same way Suzy did the green school. So we’re going to go one meal a day. We’re going to eat plant-based for our lunch. And that’s what we’re going to cater.” And it wasn’t a dictatorship. People could always go across the street to any of the many restaurants in the area, fast food joints in the area. It’s in an urban area. We’re not out in the woods.

“But if you want to eat the free food, then it’s going to be plant-based. And hopefully, you’ll see that it can be not only nourishing but fun and yummy. And we’ll have Thai noodles. And we’ll have lasagna. And we’ll have pizza. And we’ll have all the stuff you love. It just will be from plant-based sources.” So they’ve done that for a year. But it dropped down to where maybe we’d only have half attendance at lunch. The day we screened Game Changers – and everybody was asked to show up. We did it on company time. That lunch, they ran out of food because everybody showed up. We had so many converts after seeing that film. And at least 20 people have come to me in the weeks since and said, “I’ve made the decision. I’m doing this. I’m going plant-based.” Or, “I’m going to do a 21-day challenge.” Or, “I’m a week in. And I feel great.” All that stuff.

Of course, it’s all anecdotal. But if we’d thought about it, we could have done a before and after study, a proper scientific study because we’ve got a big enough cohort. We’ve got a couple hundred people.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. Exactly. Well, I know that the chefs are happy with everybody lining up to eat the yummy food. And it is. It’s delicious. Next question?

James Cameron: Next question.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Okay. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

James Cameron: Can we stretch the envelope to six and half years? Because that’s how long we’ve been plant-based.

Suzy Amis Cameron: I know. Well, I was planning on doing that anyway because it’s been – it absolutely changed our lives, not only from a health point of view but understanding the whole mental impact. But it’s also affected what our investments are. And everything that we do, every decision that we make, every request that we have goes through that lens of plant-based eating.

James Cameron: Sure. We built a factory up in Canada. There’s a company called Verdient that makes plant-based proteins from yellow peas and lentils. And it’s one of the largest dry protein processing plants in Canada. So that was an investment decision that was guided by our epiphany.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right. And now, we’re using those plant proteins to actually work with the food center –

James Cameron: In Saskatchewan.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right. In Saskatchewan at the University of Saskatchewan and create food products. So I’m going to be rolling out OMD food products in early ’19. They’re making things like ginger beef and pulled pork and cheeses and pasta sauces and snacks.

James Cameron: Yeah. So there will be a whole OMD line, a whole bunch of different skews on that. So yeah. So it had a profound impact on us. And that was one single change, habit change, behavior change.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right. I know that I have certainly found my purpose in life. And it’s what propelled me to write a book which has completely changed the trajectory of what I was doing. I was going into education and schools. But interestingly enough, it has fed into that because now, MUSE school is being launched worldwide, MUSE Global. And all of those schools will be OMD schools. They’ll all have the same philosophy that we carry at MUSE Prime.

James Cameron: Well, it’s resonated beautifully because the MUSE school cafeteria was voted the greenest restaurant in the world. So apparently, there’s a competition for the world’s greenest restaurant. And all the big snooty, urban, seat to table restaurants all hope to win. And this little, humble, elementary school cafeteria beat them all by like, 400 points because the school is solar powered. And all the produce is grown – or most of the produce is grown on site. And the building was built out of repurposed building materials. It’s like you literally ticked every box just by walking the walk and because it’s plant-based. So it’s got a – a 100% plant-based eater has one-third of the carbon footprint of a standard American diet eater, meaning a meat-eater. So yeah. So you kicked their butts.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. We did. We had had three out of four stars for a long time. But when we went plant-based, it just really jettisoned us out. And we beat the restaurant in Chicago.

James Cameron: We’re not going to name names. But they’re all high end.

Suzy Amis Cameron: No. Exactly. All right. So next question?

James Cameron: Sure.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Okay. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? If helpful, what questions do you ask yourself?

James Cameron: So what do I do when I feel overwhelmed? I clean off my desk because when I’m working at a high pace, everything piles up. And just the act of cleaning off my desk, it’s like a reset. It’s like power cycling a computer. It’s a reboot. And I usually find that about half the stuff that’s accumulated, I can throw out. And the other half, I have to put in piles. I have to put them in the right place. So now I’m prioritizing. Now I’m thinking, “Oh, well, that’s still important.” So I think that if you’re a team leader, you’ve gotta get your own priorities straight before you can generate priorities for the team. And I’ve found that whenever I hit one of those moments, I also find it’s great to take a day off or even half a day off. Just force yourself to take a day off not to go play but to just reorganize and just write down the series of priorities or memos to yourself.

And out of that, I typically will generate things that I hand out to my team to give them their marching orders to get us back on track. And it’s amazing how things just pop into focus and solutions present themselves because I haven’t stopped running, I haven’t gotten off the treadmill until that moment to lift my head out of the day-to-day battle, to think about, “Well, how are we going to really win this war?” because something like a big film production is like a campaign that takes place over sometimes a period of years. And if you don’t take a moment out to look at the big picture – so most of the major strategic decisions that I’ve made during the productions of the two Avatar films so far over the last couple of years have come from that down day, that catch-up day.

It’s not about taking a day off or taking a nap. That’s a good idea too. And go swim or play with the kids or whatever. You gotta do that too. But just take a day for yourself with no distractions to just get everything in order. That helps me a lot. If nothing else, I just feel better about it. I come in. There’s a clean desk. “Here’s some memos. You guys go do the work.”

Suzy Amis Cameron: Well, I think we’re really similar on that. I have a tendency to walk through the house and get ridiculously overwhelmed with all the kids and the cats and the dogs and the bearded dragon and the people. And so I always like to go in and just reorganize the house. But I always start with my office as well. And I like to take a big piece of typing paper and write out – I create columns. And I write out all my emails that I need to do and all my calls that I need to do. And then there’s a whole section in there just for household thing –

James Cameron: Lists are good.

Suzy Amis Cameron: and work things and all of those. And I know that the children are learning this as well because when they – of course, they roll their eyes when I walk in and say, “Okay. We’re going to take a clean day, an organizing day. And here are some boxes for giveaways.” They roll their eyes. But in the end, they love it. And they feel better.

James Cameron: Yeah. They get into it.

Suzy Amis Cameron: And they get into it. So it’s the same sort of thing. And taking a walk and then realizing, “Okay. What is the first thing I can do that’s going to get me on that journey towards my goal?” but always keeping that goal in mind of whatever that is.

James Cameron: Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to walk away from it for a second. It’s counterintuitive for us type A types that just bash our heads against the problem all day long, “Boom, boom, boom, boom,” –

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right. We’re triple-A.

James Cameron: day after day. I had an epiphany while I was writing Avatar. I was working down in New Zealand. Office was in the country. And I was just having a – it was just impossible to solve some of the dramatic problems. I couldn’t solve it. I couldn’t fix the script. And I was sitting. And I just walked away. I sat down. Sat outside. And there was a glass cover to the veranda. And I watched this big fly. And he was trying to get out. And he was banging against the glass. And he just kept hitting the glass over and over and over and over because that’s how his little chip was programmed. You go toward the light. You go toward the sky. And he couldn’t get to the sky. All he had to do was drop down, fly three feet sideways, and come out. But he couldn’t process it.

And I thought, “How often am I that fly? How often is there some higher level of perspective that I lack in my chip that I’m missing that is so simple that some fourth dimensional being could look at the problem and go, ‘Oh, you idiot. You just drop down, go over three feet, and you’re out.’” But the fly couldn’t do it. And I thought, “Well, what am I not seeing?” And that’s when I went back to first principles. And I looked at the whole thing from a higher level. I got out of the trenches for that moment. And that’s how I solved the problem.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. I think also, too, is learning when to recognize when you’re hitting that window and also learning to recognize when it’s the path of least resistance because you know you’re on the right path when doors just continue to open up.

James Cameron: Well, that’s true. That’s the opposite. That’s the other thing. It’s important to recognize when things are breaking your way. When you have momentum, when you’re not hitting the glass, you take advantage of it. And you ride that tailwind.

Suzy Amis Cameron: But there’s a difference too. It’s when you know you want to do something and you feel really strongly about it and you have a lot of people around you saying, “No,” and, “You shouldn’t do it,” and, “It’s going to be too hard.” I know it works for you that way. But that just lights an inferno under my butt. It’s like, “Okay. Really? No? Watch me.”

James Cameron: Yeah. I’d love to say that to my team on Avatar. “Oh, well, we shouldn’t do that, guys because that’s going to be hard,” when they know coming in when they sign up that it’s going to be the most difficult production in human history just by its nature where every blade of grass in the entire world that we’re creating is created by somebody, by a computer artist or by some kind of algorithm that’s self-growing or whatever.

You know by definition it’s going to be hard. You’re there because it’s hard. You’re doing it because it’s hard because that’s how you measure yourself against that challenge. And that’s why everybody that’s on the Avatar team is there because they know it’s going to be the hardest motherfucker they ever work on. And they want that. Now, they’ll all go whine about it later and say, “That was the hardest motherfucker I ever worked on.” And that’s why I have this reputation as a cruel taskmaster. But in fact, they’ve all showed up because they want to do that. They want to climb that mountain.

Suzy Amis Cameron: And they’ve learned from it, like the teachers at MUSE. They’re teaching in a way they’ve never – nobody teaches that way. And it’s really challenging. But they learn.

James Cameron: Yeah. The kids don’t like holidays because they don’t get to go to school.

Suzy Amis Cameron: If you could have one gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions, what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote. Are there any quotes you can think of or live your life by?

James Cameron: Yeah. I’m terrible with quotes and that sort of thing. But I think I would sum up philosophically what I would ask people to do, which is to live in a more connected way, to see yourself as part of a big, global system and know that every action you take has a consequence. Every choice you make as a consumer, whether it’s using plastics or using electricity or replacing that iPhone that’s only six months old because there’s a better one, that that has an impact on somebody somewhere or some animal somewhere or some ecosystem somewhere that – when I look at the history of the human race up until now – and this all doesn’t go on the billboard, by the way. I want to try to condense this down. When I look at the history up until now, we’ve been all about expansion. It’s an endless hunger to conquer and expand. And we’ve filled the planet.

We’re like a bacterial culture that rapidly expands to the edge of the petri dish. Well, we’re hitting the edge of the petri dish now. And so everything that always worked throughout human history is not going to work going forward. We’re going to have to have some fundamental change in the way we think. We’re going to have to stop being takers and start being caretakers, or we won’t survive. It’s that simple. Now, maybe it’s 50 years. Maybe it’s 100 years. Maybe it’s 200 years. But it’s not going to go on the way it’s been going on. And we’re going to have to change. And I think it’s a change for the better. It’s a change that’s more empathic. It’s more compassionate. So I guess I would say stop being a taker. Or take less and caretake more. And I mean that very generally, as well.

Think about how decisions that you make and things you do are affecting people in other countries. All those people that are coming up in that big caravan, a lot of them have been displaced by drought. Their farms have collapsed, and they can’t grow their food. It’s not just about drug violence and all that sort of thing, especially in Guatemala. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people on the move from farms that have collapsed due to unprecedented drought that’s drier conditions than they’ve ever had in recorded history and the ability of science to look back hundreds of thousands of years. Well, that’s climate change at work. And if that particular series of droughts is not caused specifically by climate change, it’s a pretty damn good bellwether for what it’s going to look like when hundreds of thousands and then, ultimately, hundreds of millions of people are on the move because of climate change.

So, the choices that we’re making and our energy consumption and our consumption of natural resources and our consumption of foods is impacting other people in other parts of the world. It’ll eventually come back to haunt us with the kinds of political systems that are now taking over all over the world, these protectionist, isolationist, nationalistic, hyper-nationalistic, populist systems that are about closing borders and shutting down and all that sort of thing. I see it all interlinked. And I see it all as a feedback loop that’s just going to get worse and worse. So I would say we have to change this from the inside out, from the way we view the world and our place in it. And so yeah. Stop being a taker. Start being a caretaker. That’s my billboard.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right. When you’re talking about the timeline, the United Nations just came out a couple of weeks ago with a report from the IPCC saying that we have to do something by 2030 to turn things around if we are going to survive on this earth. And one of the things that I really resonate with is the Native American tribes, the First Nations. They always say, “No matter what you’re doing, realize that it’s going to affect the next seven generations.” So just being really conscious in your everyday actions. And tread lightly on the earth.

James Cameron: Yeah. Look, we all struggle to do it. And we don’t want to come off as holier than thou. That’s the thing about vegans in general is they’re all such assholes.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Tell your joke.

James Cameron: Okay. How many vegans does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Doesn’t matter. We’re better than you. Right? So the problem is people tend to reject what we could tell them. But I think the answer to that is to say, “Oh, well, don’t take our word for it. Read the books. It’s all online.” The problem is that people tend to entrench around their belief systems. And now, with digital news the way it is, we can preselect our inputs to support only what we already believe. And so everybody lives in these isolated echo chambers. And it’s all exacerbated by social media and so on. And so it’s really going to be another thing that we’re going to have to just get a whole lot better at as a species and as a society is checking our facts and looking at alternative opinions and especially, look at the facts that the other guys have, if they have any. See, I just did a little confirmation bias swerve at the end there. “Yeah, if they have any.”

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. “We’re going to need you to…” Exactly. All right. So next question. What are you currently most excited about?

James Cameron: All right. I’m not going to talk about plant-based nutrition other than to say for one second that I was pretty hopeless about being able to get a handle on climate change, just looking at it from an energy perspective and transportation and all that. And when I realized the environmental connection from eating plant-based, I got excited about that. But that’s kind of old news because that’s six years ago for us. I guess right now, I’m excited about the Avatar films. I have the coolest job in the world. I get to go in and create a world, an ecosystem populated with creatures and cool characters and do that all day long and live in that fantasy world. So yeah. I’m pretty excited about it.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. So just to piggyback on feeling hopeful – because I am going to talk about plant-based eating. Jim actually has a tee-shirt. And one of the lines on it says, “Hope is not a strategy.” And he’s a doomsday kind of guy. If you watch his movies, they’re kind of end of the world, apocalyptic. And he never used the word hope. And six and a half years ago, we were walking on the beach. And he said to me, “For the first time in my life, I feel hopeful.” And needless to say, I almost fell into the surf. But it planted a seed that the more people we can inspire to eat plant-based, the more we can move the needle on climate change. And it was that seed that was planted that made me think about creating content and writing a book. And I’m most excited about the book because –

James Cameron: About your book.

Suzy Amis Cameron: About my book.

James Cameron: You get to be excited about your book.

Suzy Amis Cameron: So it’s OMD: changing one meal a day for the planet. And it starts out with the education of the health – I worked with a brain trust of doctors. So it’s very, very heavily researched in the medical field around plant-based eating. And then I worked with people from Chatham House and Oxford University and Loma Linda, climate scientist, to help me with the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. And then it’s a guide. It’s a guide of how to do one meal a day or two meals a day or blow up your kitchen like Jim and I did and go cold turkey. It has recipes, shopping lists, meal plans. And I’ll hold your hand. I won’t judge you. It’s not about being perfect. You can keep your burger if you want to. It’s just about one meal a day, OMD.

James Cameron: All right. So I think there was one more question. Is that right?

Suzy Amis Cameron: There’s one more question. If you had a request, an ask or a suggestion for the listeners of this podcast, what would it be?

James Cameron: Oh, I think people that listen to Tim and his guests are looking for hacks to make their life better, to learn how to live in this perplexing world and live better and be smarter. So I think that I would just say read a lot, check your facts, and don’t follow us because we’re so sweet and compelling. Check the facts.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Just the facts, ma’am.

James Cameron: Yeah. It’s all out there. But I would say also, take the – be willing to look outside your confirmation bias bubble. And look, I force and challenge myself to do this all the time, to get outside that bubble. And so whatever your beliefs are, ask yourself 1) where they came from. When did you double down on that? And what have you done to look at it from an objective point of view? And I try to do that as much as possible.

When something comes along that I don’t understand, that doesn’t fit my belief system like – let me just give an example – like Allan Savory’s approach to regenerative agriculture with grass-fed beef and all the claims that were made around that, I looked into it. And I thought, “Wow, maybe there’s something here.” And I went pretty far down the rabbit hole on that and looked at the science on both sides of it and ultimately saw that it wasn’t the right answer. But I didn’t just reject it out of hand because it didn’t fit my belief system.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Right. Well, I think my ask would be to take the OMD pledge and pledge one meal a day or two meals a day or go all in because it’ll help your health, it’ll help the planet, it’ll help the animals, your waistline, and your sex life.

James Cameron: Yes. Not necessarily in that order.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Anyway, thanks, Tim.

James Cameron: Yeah. Thanks, Tim.

Suzy Amis Cameron: This was really fun. And thanks for having us on.

James Cameron: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

Suzy Amis Cameron: Yeah. Thank you.

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James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron — How to Think Big, Start Small, and Change the World (#346)


“Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.” — James Cameron

James Cameron (@jimcameron) is a filmmaker and deep sea explorer. He is writer, director and producer of The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. Both Titanic and Avatar (the highest grossing film of all time) won the Golden Globe for Best Director and Best Picture and were nominated for a record number of awards. Cameron was also at the vanguard of the 3D renaissance, developing cutting edge 3D camera systems. As an explorer, in 2012, Cameron set the world’s solo deep diving record of 35,787′ in the Challenger Deep in a vehicle of his own design.

A dedicated environmentalist, Cameron founded The Avatar Alliance Foundation to take action on climate change, energy policy, deforestation, indigenous rights, ocean conservation, and sustainable agriculture.

He is currently in production on Avatar 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Suzy Amis Cameron (@suzymusing) is a noted environmental advocate, mother of five, and the author of OMD: The Simple, Plant-Based Program to Save Your Health, Save Your Waistline, and Save the Planet and the founder of the OMD Movement, a multi-pronged effort to transform eating habits and the food system. She is also a founder of Plant Power Task Force, focused on showing the impact of animal agriculture on climate change and the environment, founded in 2012 with her husband James Cameron and Craig McCaw. In 2005, she founded MUSE School, the first school in the country to be 100% solar powered with zero waste and a 100% organic, plant-based lunch program. Additionally, she is a founder of Verdient Foods, Cameron Family Farms, Food Forest Organics, and Red Carpet Green Dress. As an actor she has been featured in more than 25 films, including The Usual Suspects and Titanic.

I thought this episode would be a good opportunity to give some air time to discussion of plant-based diets, but even if you disagree with the idea of plant-based diets, I suggest listening for at least three reasons: One, there’s plenty of non-plant talk. Two, as an exercise in patience. I do my best to expose people to different perspectives, and this is no exception. Three, OMD (One Meal Per Day) is worth learning about to understand the discipline that goes into conscious eating and habit formation.

Also not to be missed, James mentions in the full audio that unlike on previous films he didn’t get sick during the simultaneous filming of Avatar 2 and 3, which is astonishing considering, as he put it, that “they [meaning all staff] know coming in when they sign up that it’s going to be the most difficult production in human history.” So how did he do it? He credits it to his new routine, including a plant-based diet, supplements, exercise, etc. I asked him for a sample day, which he provided. You can find James’s super dialed-in daily routine for Avatar 2 and 3 at

Please enjoy!

P.S. And if you want to hear more from Suzy and James, you can find below two bonus episodes published on the Tribe of Mentors podcast.

#346: James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron — How to Think Big, Start Small, and Change the World

Listen to the full set of questions and answers on the Tribe of Mentors podcast: 

Listen to the short episode on the Tribe of Mentors podcast, which features Suzy and James’s favorite failures, bad advice they hear, as well as they are favorite and most gifted books: 

James Cameron & Suzy Amis Cameron — Favorite Failures, Bad Advice, and Most Gifted Books

This podcast is brought to you by Four Sigmatic. I reached out to these Finnish entrepreneurs after a very talented acrobat introduced me to one of their products, which blew my mind (in the best way possible). It is mushroom coffee featuring chaga. It tastes like coffee, but there are only 40 milligrams of caffeine, so it has less than half of what you would find in a regular cup of coffee. I do not get any jitters, acid reflux, or any type of stomach burn. It put me on fire for an entire day, and I only had half of the packet.

People are always asking me what I use for cognitive enhancement right now — this is the answer. You can try it right now by going to and using the code Tim to get 20 percent off your first order. If you are in the experimental mindset, I do not think you’ll be disappointed.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Doug McMillon

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Doug McMillon (IG: @dougmcmillon), president and chief executive officer of Walmart, a company that, if it were a country, would be the 25th largest economy in the world. It was transcribed and therefore might contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the interview here or by selecting any of the options below.


Tim Ferriss owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as his right of publicity.


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Doug McMillon: Is that your fan group over here?

Tim Ferriss: That’s my plant. I hired one person. I’ll give him his $20 later. Thank you for that. So I think we should just jump right into this. What a beautiful location. It’s my first time in Bentonville, and I’ve been absolutely surprised by how tremendous everything is here. I was walking around all last night. I’ve never spent any time in Arkansas, so first of all, thank you for welcoming me here, and I know we have limited time to chat on stage here today, so…

Doug McMillon: It feels like a lot of time, and I don’t do interviews that are very long. That clock says 60 minutes on it. Could we at least start it? I’m used to 15 minutes. I don’t want to be up here that long.

Tim Ferriss: We’re edging in from different sides. I guess you usually do shorter; I do two to 17 hours. So we’ll meet in the middle on this one. I thought we could just jump right into it with a very important question. Can you tell me about the Baitmate story? I do not know the answer to this.

Doug McMillon: The Baitmate story…Does anyone in the room know what Baitmate is? So when I moved into the home office, I’d worked in a store. This was 1991, and I got into our buyer training program at Walmart. I was excited because they were putting me in sporting goods. I got to sporting goods and they gave us fishing tackle. I didn’t know it immediately, but the other buyers were hazing me. As the new person, they said, “On Saturday, at the Saturday morning meeting, you must present an item that you have negotiated a lower price on and reduced the retail price, and in the meeting, you have to explain the item, the price, how many you can sell, et cetera.”

So I didn’t know the first thing about being a buyer. It was literally my first day. And so other buyers helped me, and we found a supplier who makes this product called Baitmate, which comes in several flavors. You spray it on a hard lure if you’re fishing, and apparently, it causes the fish to think it’s more real, and the fish strike the lure because it’s been coated in Baitmate. So it was over $2, we rolled it back to $1.97, we maintained our margin, I memorized everything about the item, and I wrote the rest of the answers on the back of the label. I showed up at the Saturday morning meeting and Sam Walton was leading the meeting, so my level of nervousness went from high to somewhere off the charts.

So I wait at the end of the line at the end until the end of the meeting to present Baitmate to the auditorium full of hundreds of people with Sam Walton standing next to me, and I am shaking, and my hand is shaking, my voice is shaking, but I get all the information out that I’m supposed to remember, and at the end, Sam says, “That’s all well and good, son, but what makes you think fish can smell?”

Tim Ferriss: How did you respond to that?

Doug McMillon: I think I just walked away. I don’t remember having anything pithy to say. I think it was probably awkward because I was so nervous and he was trying to break the ice. But we sold a lot of Baitmate.

Tim Ferriss: Were there any other particular approaches, techniques, or types of training that you received as a buyer that come to mind? I certainly don’t know the first thing about buyer training, but that would seem to be a very important component of what Walmart does. It’s certainly a big piece of it –

Doug McMillon: Yeah, it’s kind of big.

Tim Ferriss: – getting that price down to $1.97 for an important item like Baitmate. What type of training did you experience? Are there any particular memories or stories that come to mind?

Doug McMillon: Most of the learning that you had as a merchant – especially back then – came from the people around you, so it’s really learning on the job and principles coming out like – back then, we didn’t really sign contracts, and we had some vendor agreements to make sure we could pay people, but your handshake was your agreement. I remember that early one, one of my supervisors, a guy named Dave Deibel, emphasized to me that we were about to make a big commitment and the supplier had asked for something in writing, and Dave said, “You need to explain to him that your word and your handshake is the contract,” and it worked.

So you learn things like how you’re working on behalf of the customer, you should be tough but fair, you want suppliers to make money because you want them to be here in 10 years’ time, and we’re going to grow and we’ll need supply. In some circles, Walmart has this reputation of being really tough. I would say we’re tough on behalf of the customer, but we always try to be fair, and if you look at the financial results of our suppliers, they’ve done really well, and P&G still makes more money than Walmart does after all this time, so this has worked out well for everybody, but we do keep on the pressure on behalf of the customer. So you learn how to think on the job, but with some principles behind you.

Tim Ferriss: From what I’ve observed on Facebook posts, you seem to be a voracious reader, and I’ve noticed a number of books, like Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal, that I think was from your 2006 recap, where you took a photograph of books that had been –

Doug McMillon: 2016?

Tim Ferriss: 2016, excuse me – that had had a big impact on your thinking that year. Are there any books that you received from people who have had a big impact on you or that you have given out more than once to people for any reason?

Doug McMillon: There’s that book about Amazon. That one comes to mind.

Tim Ferriss: The Everything Store?

Doug McMillon: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Why do you give that book out?

Doug McMillon: You need to understand what you’re up against. But Team of Teams has been huge. I’m still giving that one out. The truth is – my house is not far from here. If we went over there right now, my stack of books to read is more than knee-high. Right now, I’m behind. I’m trying to catch up. But I’m trying to learn, and we’ve gotten to – Brett, our CFO, is in the front row. This morning, in our officer meeting, we were talking about learning and curiosity because retail is changing so fast, and the business we have today is different than it was a year ago, and certainly than it was five years ago, and it’s going to be different in another year’s time. So we are spending a lot of time trying to learn new things.

So if you looked at my last month and the pie chart of time allocation, you’d be surprised how much of that time was learning about U.S. healthcare, becoming a digital company, and other things than how to be a brick-and-mortar retail store because we’re trying to figure out how to get this company positioned to be here in 50 years’ time.

So in Team of Teams, Stan McChrystal, who’s awesome – we’ve spent time together. He’s been to Bentonville and I’ve been to his place. He talks about a few principles. One of them is shared consciousness. When he was in his role in the military, he took silos that had been around for a long time – Army, Marines, CIA, all of those historic silos – and figured out a way to get them to work together, to get on the same page and know the same things.

Once you have shared consciousness – you know what I know and I know what you know – then you can pivot to empowered execution. Now that you know what I know, I expect you to act without seeking input. Go! Even today, in the officers’ meeting with a few hundred officers, we were talking about what our strategy is, giving people a chance to ask questions, and then saying to everybody, “Andy, go! This is on all of us, not just me, and you now know pretty much everything I know.” So those principles that you can glean from books and things like that are really helpful.

Tim Ferriss: How do you pick books? I think everyone here – whether it’s a stack of books to the knee or just considering all the books that their friends recommend or might see recommended on social media – might feel paradox-of-choice stress about what to read, and you have a lot on your plate. You have a lot of responsibilities. If you think back in the last year to anything you’ve read – it doesn’t have to be the last year – how did you find that book or how did you select that book as something worthy of your time?

Doug McMillon: I bet some of you in the room have the same situation I do. I don’t have a shortage of books because they’re constantly being sent to me. The challenge is filtering through which one you’re going to read next. Right now, I’m about a third of the way through Ray Dalio’s Principles, and that’s because Greg Penner, our chairman, asked me to read it, so it went to the top of the stack. I’m finding that one hard to read, but most of the ones that I’ve been choosing on my own are related to change management and specifically becoming a digital enterprise.

The transformation that’s under way in the world, in business, and certainly at Walmart is largely a data, technology, and automation transformation. Leading through that while still retaining who you are as a company and the DNA, values, and culture that – during the Q&A today, one of the officers grabbed the microphone. Her name is Jodi. Jodi said, “You said it earlier, but I just want to underline it: The thing that will cause us to win is our humanity.”

And, yeah, we need to learn how to become a digital enterprise, but we understand that we’re a company made up of 2.2 million associates, and that human interaction in the future will matter. Yes, automation will do things that the humans might not want to do like mundane, routine tasks at the store level, in a warehouse, or elsewhere, but it’s that personal interaction and sense of community that people will want in the future, and it won’t be just digital.

You see Nextdoor, Facebook, and others that are creating a digital sense of community. As we’re all learning, that has some flaws associated with it. The sense that you can have when you come to a place – we hope it’s a store sometimes – when you interact with others could be special, warm, and safe, and if you can do that while delivering good prices and all the other stuff we’ve got to do, we think we’ve got an advantage.

Tim Ferriss: I did come across a mention of virtual reality in training associates – maybe even executives, I don’t know. Is that currently underway or is that something planned, and can you describe that? I was not personally aware of that.

Doug McMillon: Yes. So a few years ago our U.S. leadership team – Greg Foran, Judith McKenna, and others – took an idea that they’d seen us practice in the U.K. to put training academies in our stores, and now, around the United States, we have about 200 locations dotted around the map – 138 of them, actually – that are in the back rooms of stores. We’ve been able to reduce our inventory and create classrooms. They’re nice classrooms equipped with technology – mobile technology, large screens, really well done – and as you’re getting trained on interesting things, not just how to execute a retail store, but also some soft skills like how to have a difficult discussion using VR.

So if you are a supervisor or leader at Walmart, you probably weren’t trained to coach someone for improvement. You might shy away from conflict, for example. So these VR headsets have an avatar, and if you put one on right now, Tim, you would have a conversation, and at the end of the conversation, when you take the headset off, it would score you and tell you how you did in that conversation. Watching the avatar’s facial expressions and the words that come back – so we’re trying to help people grow for the jobs we have, and as automation happens and some of them go on to other jobs, it helps them prepare for more than that.

But, we also teach people how to do routine tasks. So Ivanka Trump is interested in workforce training, and she heard about the programs we’re doing and wanted to come to a store, so I met her in Mesquite, Texas about a month ago, and we put VR goggles on her, and she stocked our vegetable wall – what we call the wet wall, that’s got leafy greens on it and stuff like that. She scored a 12 out of 20, so we’ve got a little work to do there. But you can use VR in ways that get you off the sales floor, let you have an opportunity to really learn when you’re not interrupted by customers, and we’ll have 17,000 VR headsets deployed by the end of the year for things like that.

Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible. I want to talk a little bit about your personal practices because, of course, you have many responsibilities to other people, but I would imagine at some point, you have to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others and keep yourself focused, which you clearly are. In the Walmart Museum last night, which I found endlessly fascinating – I expected to find it interesting, but I really found it fascinating – I fixated on Sam Walton’s keychain next to his red pickup. There’s a gigantic metal plate about five times the size of a nail file, and in huge font, there’s a huge engraving that says, “Go for it.” I was just imagining how he might have referred to that at different points while making different decisions. Do you have any reminders built into your life or any quotes that you think of often that might resemble that in some way?

Doug McMillon: Yeah. I think that “Go for it” was a phrase we used in one of our annual – we had a theme for the year, and we were growing so fast, and that was really a rallying cry at one point. For me personally, the first thing that comes to mind is a cross that I have in my office. There’s a Sam’s Club member that I met years ago named Martha Hawkins, and we happened to see Martha in Montgomery, Alabama a couple weeks ago. She runs a restaurant, but she’s got an incredible personal story of overcoming a drug addiction and serving others, and we asked her to come to a Sam’s Club meeting and give us feedback on what we could do better for small business owners and restaurant owners.

We don’t rehearse these things, and I’m standing in front of all of our club managers with a group that’s five or 10 times bigger than this, and she grabs the microphone and starts giving her personal testimony. It was awesome. We’ve just been pen pals since then. I’ve been to Montgomery a couple times and eaten at her place, and she sent me this big cross and these wonderful notes about “You’re in this big job, you need support, I’m there for you, I’m going to encourage you, and I’m going to pray for you.” When you show up at the restaurant, she says stuff like, “I’ve prayed all the calories out of the food.”

Tim Ferriss: If that works, let me know.

Doug McMillon: She had peach cobbler that didn’t feel to me like that had been accomplished. There are other mementos, but that comes to mind.

Tim Ferriss: I had read somewhere – let me backtrack. You are clearly very curious, and I think to maintain that level of curiosity, which is certainly necessary for business, you need to sustain a level of humility. There are different ways to do that. A friend of mine who’s been on my podcast, Alexis Ohanian, who is the cofounder of Reddit, was told by a Yahoo executive very early on, “You are a rounding error.” So he put that up on the wall for his entire team to see. It ended up working out pretty well for them.

This may not be true, so please correct me – not everything on the internet turns out to be true, I recently found out – but I’ve read that on your phone, at least at some point – this was in an interview – you had the top 10 retailers from the last five decades. Can you explain why that was or why that is?

Doug McMillon: Retailers grow and die. I’ve been doing this almost 30 years now, which is amazing to me because I feel like in some ways, we’re still just getting started. If you’re a student of retail – I suppose it’s true for other industries, but in retail, they have a good idea, they have a great founder, they start moving, they expand, and then something happens over time. They get complacent, they have too much success, they don’t manage inventory, and they go.

So if you go back and look at when Walmart, Kmart, and Target started in 1962 – Dollar General was the same year – the retailers that had come before them – Sears is interesting to talk about this week – thought they had it. Who are these upstarts? Walmart started in Rogers, Arkansas. Where is Rogers, Arkansas? No one was scared that day when the first Walmart store opened. So you can go away. One of the things that can keep you from going away is an openness to change. That’s the point. So if we were – there are some Walmart people in here, but if you were all Walmart people, and you had a leader up front, and that leader were to say, “The only thing that’s constant at Walmart is…”

Audience: Change.

Doug McMillon: There are some Walmart people here. The truth is we have a consistent purpose that we got from our founder, some values that we share – those are persistent, too. It’s not just change. But that’s the thing that people underestimate about Walmart right now, that it has an ability to change. They think it is going to be what it is right now, and in some cases – I might argue most cases – they don’t understand what it is right now because it’s only been explained to them in the media. They’ve had no personal interaction behind the scenes other than in the stores or online. But they certainly don’t anticipate what it’s going to become, and if we can keep that kind of attitude, we’ve got a shot at surprising people and being here in the future when a lot of people think we won’t be.

Tim Ferriss: So openness to change is a prerequisite to initiating change, but a lot of people don’t get to that second part because change can be really scary. Would you mind talking about any particular scary decision for you and walk us through how you thought about it as you were going through it? That could be a decision or it could just be a difficult or dark moment for you. What I like to do whenever I have these types of conversations is to humanize the person I’m talking to so people who are listening don’t think that – and, maybe this is the case – every time you’ve stepped up to bat, you’ve hit a home run. That can be the impression that some people come away with otherwise. Could you walk us through a difficult time, a difficult choice, and how you’ve experienced that?

Doug McMillon: From this week? I’m just thinking about all the stuff that’s happened in the last two weeks.

Tim Ferriss: Anything that sticks out. It could be from 20 or 30 years ago. Timewise, it doesn’t matter. But what’s something that was truly difficult for you?

Doug McMillon: There are a lot of them, but I guess one of the things that comes to mind is acquisition. Acquiring a company, whether it’s big or small, is not a small decision. There are founders – Andy Dunn is sitting in the front row. Andy founded Bonobos. He’s got a baby, and if he wants to put it in the family, that’s a huge risk for him, and I don’t want to let him down. Then you’ve got Flipkart. We invested $16 billion to buy 77% of a company that loses a lot of money. It sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? And, before that, we did the board and management on, and was a $1 billion run rate and lost money – and still does.

We believe these decisions are necessary for a variety of reasons, which we can talk about if you want to, but once you do it, you take on those losses, you take on those people and responsibilities, and you’ve got to execute that in a way that makes that a really good decision. Boy, we fret over those. We’re moving faster now and taking more risk, but that’s an area where I have a lot of self-doubt. You have a meeting, you hear about the strategy and then you think, “Yeah, we’ve got to do this.” And then you go home that night, you’re about to go to sleep, and you think, “I can’t do that.” And then you get up the next morning and go back through it, and we just iterate to a point where you finally have to make a decision and go for it.

Tim Ferriss: How do you navigate that? I think a lot of people hem and haw and go back and forth on potentially big decisions. What do you say to yourself or ask yourself, or who do you ask questions to gain clarity?

Doug McMillon: Well, it’s collective wisdom for sure, and one of the great things that’s always been true in these jobs at Walmart – people will talk to you. When you’re a buyer at Walmart, you can call the CEO of a company and they will take your call.

Tim Ferriss: They will take the call, yes.

Doug McMillon: And then, in the job I’m in right now, I get exposed to incredible people, and you can use that collective wisdom by asking questions, so that’s definitely part of it. But the other thing that runs through my mind is what do you have to believe? If you want to go do this and this is the calculated bet you’re making, what do you have to believe is true? If, after you think about it, you get to a point where you come back to the same things and you’re convicted that those things are true, then take the risk and go for it.

Tim Ferriss: So this might be too inside baseball, and if we don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, but let’s talk about Flipkart for a second. I think you’ll do fine on Flipkart if a few things are probably true, but very bullish… What did you have to believe to be true for that to make sense?

Doug McMillon: So the first thing is to believe in India. The environment is 1.2 billion people with a growing middle income and a lack of infrastructure. They’ve adopted mobile. They’re moving to digital forms of currency. There’s a lot of change happening there. There are a lot of challenges about governance issues. It’s a very diverse place. It’s not really one country. It’s enormous. We’ve been there for more than 10 years. I’ve been there quite a few times. But do you believe in India? Check.

The second question is what type of business in India? The e-commerce business in India is under three percent of the total business, and we’re certain it’s going to get bigger. So you’ve got a big pie, it’s getting bigger, and you’ve got a small section called e-commerce today. Is that going to get bigger? Yes. Who are the players within that? There aren’t very many. The number has been whittling down. What we’re learning about digital business as an e-commerce business is that it turns out to aggregate business more than it busts it up in some cases, and there are few e-commerce players. Flipkart was one of them.

And then, you get to what is Flipkart? Well, Flipkart is not just an e-commerce business. It’s an ecosystem of businesses. There’s a last-mile delivery component, there’s an e-commerce component related to apparel, there’s a traditional e-commerce business, there’s a payment system called Phone Pay, they’re doing all kinds of interesting things with AI, even designing apparel with AI, so it’s an interesting set of positions in the country, not just a pure e-commerce business selling dry grocery items at a loss. And then you get to the leadership team. How do you feel about values? How do you feel about their capability?

We were really impressed with their ability to solve problems, and we recognize that this is not a situation where the business model is figured out and they’re just going to execute it. It’s a situation where they have a business model and they’re iterating every hour of every day to change it and navigate the market, which is exactly what you need in India because it gets disrupted in so many different ways that you have to be quick, you have to be agile, you have to be on the ground, you have to know the business, you have to be able to solve problems together as a team, and they have that characteristic, and it was that set of things that caused us to say, “We should do this.”

There just aren’t that many opportunities in the world that are that big, and for a company like Walmart that needs to move the needle in a big way, you have to take some big bets, but if you’re going to take that much risk, the reward has to match up, and in the case of Flipkart, it does.

Tim Ferriss: And you have the ability to iterate after that large event, which mitigates some but not all of the risk as well.

Doug McMillon: Yes, and we’re going to learn things in India that we can use in other places, including here.

Tim Ferriss: So if we talk about experimentation and openness to change, for a lot of entrepreneurs who are listening to this who have a 10-person company, they can’t even imagine what it might be like to experiment within, say, Walmart. They might think that it’s like trying to steer a continent. Because I’m personally curious, I would like to talk about Sam’s Club. I grew up going to Sam’s Club, getting in the car and going on a pilgrimage to go to Sam’s Club to get all the things we needed growing up. I recently came across what the Wall Street Journal had called “treasure hunt items,” and this may go nowhere – I’m warning you in advance, I don’t know – but could you please explain what this means?

Doug McMillon: You really don’t know what that means?

Tim Ferriss: I really don’t know what it means. I have a one-line idea of what it might mean.

Doug McMillon: Well, we must not be doing a very good job if you don’t know what it is.

Tim Ferriss: Keep in mind I was going during the Pleistocene Era. This was early, so I may not have come across treasure hunt items.

Doug McMillon: When you go to a Sam’s Club, you should experience great quality fresh food and other items you didn’t expect to see that are affordable luxuries that make it feel like there’s a bit of a treasure hunt. What’s around the corner? When you sell a swing set, it should be special and big swing set. When you sell a cooler, there should be something about it that’s different than Walmart or some other place. A long time ago, when I was at Sam’s, the most extreme example I could remember was we sold a jet during our holiday period.

Tim Ferriss: A jet?

Doug McMillon: Uh-huh. We had a holiday catalog, and we made a commitment for a jet and sold it. We didn’t make a lot of money, but it generated a lot of buzz. But we’ve sold a wine basement; we’ve sold extraordinary travel experiences at $70,000 price points. We sold a cool Harley one time that was $75,000. We bought one, and we told everybody in our ad, “We have one, so whoever gets there first gets it,” and we sold it to some plumber in Indiana, if I remember correctly.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. I can’t just move on from this. So is this like the $200 hamburger with gold leaf on it that you see in almost every major city once a year for driving foot traffic and PR? How much of a jet or the Harley is driving foot traffic versus PR versus other considerations?

Doug McMillon: Those were more PR- and buzz-related, but we didn’t overcharge for it. It wasn’t a $200 hamburger. It was a good price on the jet.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Doug McMillon: But you do blend. With our merchandising assortment, whether it’s online or in stores, Walmart, Sam’s, or other brands, you blend together the practical with the more aspirational all the time, trying to attract people to come to your place.

Tim Ferriss: You have a reputation for being very poised, very calm, very even-keeled. I had read that your competitiveness comes from your mom, which may or may not be true – again, an internet question mark.

Doug McMillon: How did you know that? That’s very true.

Tim Ferriss: So where does the “poised” comment come from?

Doug McMillon: She’s not here, is she?

Tim Ferriss: I have all the dirt, all the skeletons. So “poised and calm” – is that nature? Is that nurture?

Doug McMillon: No, I’m faking that.

Tim Ferriss: Faking it? This is something I think a lot of people would like to fake, if that’s actually true. So tell me – talk about where that comes from, if it comes from anywhere, or if that’s just from your mom.

Doug McMillon: Like most of it, it probably comes from your parents and upbringing. My dad is like that, and the older I get, the more I see my father in myself, which I have mixed feelings about. My mom is super competitive. She is literally the most competitive person I’ve ever met. We took a summer vacation this year where we brought everybody together. We had 18 people staying in this one house. A bunch of them are 20-year-old young men – our sons and my nephews – and we played beach volleyball twice a day for a week. So we’d be out there before it got too hot and out there when it got cooler, and those boys were spiking the ball off her forehead, and she just kept coming. It’s for real. Her grandsons’ nickname for her is “Killer.”

Tim Ferriss: How does that manifest in your life?

Doug McMillon: Oh, I’m super competitive. I don’t like to lose at anything. Actually, sometimes it’s bad. I play basketball on Sunday afternoons with a bunch of my friends and my son, and it’s a longstanding tradition we have on Sunday afternoon, and I hate losing so bad that sometimes I’m not as friendly as I should be. I should be the wise guy at this point that’s nurturing these young men, and I’m out there battling them. I would like to be a bigger person, but I’m not there yet.

Tim Ferriss: I think I was reading – it might have been in the podcast exchange with Peter Thiel – he was describing how…I might be getting this slightly off, but I’m paraphrasing here. He was looking for areas where he could be less competitive to increase well-being. Are there areas where you’ve consciously tried to ratchet back on the competitiveness?

Doug McMillon: No. I can’t think of one.

Tim Ferriss: All right! Moving on… What is the first – and, I’m sure this varies from day to day, but if you have the time to follow a particular routine in the morning, are there any particular rituals or routines that you have in the first hour or two of waking up?

Doug McMillon: Yeah, very much so. I get disrupted by travel, and we travel a lot, but if I’m in town, I shave, shower, and get some food. I’m reading the same thing; I’m reading the Wall Street Journal. First, there’s a daily devotional. Right now, Tony Dungy has this daily devotional book, so I start with that, and it doesn’t take a lot of time, but I do it every day.

Tim Ferriss: And, that’s something you read? That’s something you read out loud?

Doug McMillon: Not out loud, but I’m in the kitchen, I’ve got Squawk Box on CNBC on, I’ll mute it for a second, and I’ve got the daily devotional. Then, I’m into the Wall Street Journal, glancing at the New York Times, CNBC app, CNBC playing in the background, CNBC in the car watching Squawk Box, and then I get to the office.

Tim Ferriss: What time do you generally wake up?

Doug McMillon: I wake up at 5:30 and I’m in the office at 6:30.

Tim Ferriss: What does your default breakfast look like? What do you eat for breakfast?

Doug McMillon: Two fried eggs and toast. That’s the first time I’ve ever been asked that.

Tim Ferriss: I got one original question! Two fried eggs and toast. Do you drink coffee?

Doug McMillon: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: How much coffee do you drink?

Doug McMillon: Too much.

Tim Ferriss: That sounds like a conversation-ender. You arrive at the office, and then what do you do? If you’re in town, I can’t imagine it’s left to whim, so there must be some structure or latticework in your day or week. Are there any daily or weekly must-dos?

Doug McMillon: There’s a lot of variety, which is one of the things I love about it. I try to get there early enough to get a little bit of quiet time. We’ve already seen sales, so when we get up in the morning, the first thing we do is look at our device, and we can see in seconds how sales were around by the world yesterday by format and country, so we already know what happened. So I try to get there early enough to get a little bit of quiet time and get ahead on reading.

These days, we get a lot of reading materials. People will send you a whitepaper or a deck and say, “This is for tomorrow’s meeting,” and it’s 40 pages long. We have a board meeting that’s got 1,000 pages of reading material. So you’ve got all this incoming data, and it’s helpful because we’re trying to get into meetings and not have old-fashioned PowerPoint flipping, but get right to the root of issues, so it’s really helpful that people can read things beforehand, so there’s a lot of that going on.

And then, there’s just a ton of variety. I talked to Lou Holtz yesterday, the former Arkansas Razorback coach. Yes, he coached at Notre Dame and won a national championship, but we know him as the Arkansas Razorback coach. Lou is responsible for working with a healthcare company, and he read in the news that we’re working on healthcare, so it’s hilarious – I got to ask him, “What would you do? Could you fix Razorback football?” We won one game this year. He said, “Yeah, by the second quarter.” I thought that was hilarious. “Come do it, man.”

So you just never know. You can walk down the hallway and Shaquille O’Neal will be walking down the hallway, and then you go into a meeting on compliance in China, and you learn about how to manage ethics within that country. So it’s just a ton of variety every day, and there’s really not a down minute and the days are never what you think they’re going to be. But you try to plan.

When I moved into the international job, I learned from Mike Duke, my predecessor, that I couldn’t manage my international travel without a really good plan. So when I moved into the job, one of the things Mike did for me was to hand me his schedule by week for the last three years, and Mike’s an engineer, and he’s very disciplined, so he was like, “I’m going to get to Argentina once a year. I’m going to get to China three times a year. We’re going to schedule it this way.” We’re in 27 countries now. So I just copied his method, and right now – in fact, for about a month now, I would be able to tell you where I’ll be next year day by day.

Some of the days are kind of planned out with board meetings, and we have this thing we call Meeting Week where we bring everybody together. Marc Lore lives in New Jersey and we have people distributed, so we come together for one week for three or four days every month where we all get on the same page, and then we disperse out again. So all those things drive the calendar and the discipline, and we pretty much stick with it, but within a day, it can get crazy because things come up.

Tim Ferriss: Looking at your travel schedule, which I haven’t seen all of, but you were describing to me the last few weeks before we got up onstage, what are some of the self-care techniques or strategies that you’ve developed so that you just don’t wear yourself out? What are some of the things you do or don’t do when you’re traveling, before you travel, when you land – anything like that that helps you to sustain what seems to me to be an ultra-endurance marathon that doesn’t end?

Doug McMillon: For me personally, sleep is really important. I wish I needed less, but I need seven or eight hours. Time with family is really important, so I protect weekends as much as I can. I work some every day, but I try to manage that in a way that’s not too disruptive to my family. My family is a huge priority. Shelley and I have two boys. They’re in their 20s now, but that was really important to me, so I protected that a lot. Even this basketball game on Sunday afternoons is a big deal. If I can get a good night’s sleep from Saturday to Sunday, get in some basketball, and get enough sleep while I’m traveling, I’m in pretty good shape.

The other thing that happens sometimes is what my assistant Paula and I call “fire breaks.” Every once in a while, it’s just too much, and you have to go back and say, “I know what I was supposed to do on Tuesday, but clear it because I need some time to get back up on my feet and read a few things.” So we will call an audible and put a fire break in every once in a while.

Tim Ferriss: If you think back to any one of those fire breaks, can you give us an example of what you then do on that day?

Doug McMillon: It’s usually thinking and strategy. We have a collaborative environment, and it’s definitely collaborative as it relates to strategy, and I’m a blend of an introvert and an extrovert. There are times where I have to have interaction with people and I get energy that way, and there are times when I need to have some quiet time and just shut the door in the office to read, think, and that kind of stuff. Is it Birkman you take that’s one of the tests where you assess yourself?

Tim Ferriss: It could be.

Doug McMillon: You can be on one of these extremes. I’m kind of right in the middle and pivot both ways, so there are times when I just – and, I can’t do it in 30 minutes. I need a few hours to think.

Tim Ferriss: When you sit down to think – for instance, I need to journal when I think. Otherwise, it’s just like trying to grasp at mosquitoes. I can’t seem to catch anything. What does it look like for Doug to sit down and think? Do you stare off into space? Do you read? Do you take a long shower? Do you listen to classical music? What does it look like?

Doug McMillon: No, it’s drawing pictures.

Tim Ferriss: Drawing pictures?

Doug McMillon: Yes, schematics of how a strategy works or how a problem is deconstructed. There are people who work with me in the room – I can’t hardly have a conversation with Brett without the whiteboard. I’m so thankful – I see Jim and Lynne there. Sam Walton had a pegboard in his office, and I’m thankful for that because I had to put up a whiteboard, and people said, “You can’t do that in Sam Walton’s office.” I say, “No, look: There are pictures here. He had a pegboard. A whiteboard is not that different than a pegboard.”

I live in a kind of library or museum in Sam’s office. It’s hallowed ground, so you don’t mess with it too much. We have this big whiteboard, and we have conversations where Brett has a marker and I have a marker, and we’re drawing pictures – “If the customer experience went this way or that way, or the financials look like this instead of that – what does healthcare really look like? You’ve got a life here, you’ve got care here, you’ve got insurance…how does that work? How could you help somebody be healthier and make a margin at the same time, and how could clinics play a role in that?” I’m a visual learner, and when I can’t solve a problem, I’m constantly trying to draw a picture of it and getting other people to draw a picture of it.

Tim Ferriss: And, when you do those fire breaks – and, let’s just say you have blocked out three to four hours to think – how often do you do that by yourself versus with other people?

Doug McMillon: It’s by myself – I need that time by myself, but I run into things that I don’t know, so I’ll run out and interrupt people, place a phone call, and say, “I’m working on this problem. What do you think?” And then, I’m trying to put the phone back down, run to my office, and work on the next turn of the crank on the problem.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you. I’m glad I asked that. This is a tough question, but I want to go fishing and see what we get here. In the last handful of years, maybe three or five – we talked about belief earlier. What new belief or habit has most improved your life or greatly improved your life? Any change of thinking, a new thing that you do or have stopped doing? Anything at all that’s a new addition to your life?

Doug McMillon: It’s the influence of other people, and it’s an openness to change. I described my morning routine for you. I would say years ago, my whole life was more routine, and now the pivot is to let go more and be more open to change and more open to risk, realizing that continuing to do what I’ve always done won’t result in me being the person that the company needs me to be, and if I’m rigid, routine, and disciplined too often, everyone else will be, too.

We were talking about risk today with our officers and encouraging them to take risks. Well, they won’t take risks if they don’t see us taking risks. Some of the things we’ve done lately – I’m a very conservative person. I would not have wanted to take those risks or historically expected myself to, but it’s kind of liberating, and once you survive one, the next one is a little more comfortable. If we can get everybody thinking that way, we’ve got a shot.

Tim Ferriss: What led from the 15-minute-increment routine Doug to being more open to change? Was there an event, conversation, or period of time that led you realize how valuable that could be? What led to the change?

Doug McMillon: It was probably more than one thing. The realization that…without it, we are going to have a problem. The retailers that fail by decade – that feeling that if we don’t really open ourselves up to change here, which starts with us – change is really cool when it happens to somebody else, but when it’s for yourself, it’s really hard.

One experience we had in Walmart one time – this lady that works for Walmart was teaching us about change management, and she had us each take our watch off, and put it on the other hand, and leave it that way for a day. It bugged the heck out of me. It’s such a little thing, but it’s indicative of how hard it is for us to change personally. So I’ll put this on my right wrist, but by tonight, that’ll be back on my left wrist because I won’t be able to take it anymore. So if you recognize that in yourself, you’ve got a shot at doing something about it.

Tim Ferriss: That watch experiment is really cool. A friend of mine had a similar experience where someone he had hired to assist his company recommended the same wrist, but put it on the other side, and see how long it takes you to turn that wrist to the other side. It’s a long time. It’s an indication of not only the potential importance of change, but how you have to give it some time to become instilled. When you feel – maybe you don’t feel this, but when you feel – it seems like the fire breaks are one example of contending with this – overwhelmed or are unsure of what to do, besides the fire breaks, is there anything else that you do?

Doug McMillon: Prayer.

Tim Ferriss: Do you have a particular prayer or type of prayer? What does that look like?

Doug McMillon: This is really getting personal. 2:55 left on the clock…

Tim Ferriss: If you want to dance around the ring until time goes out, you can do that.

Doug McMillon: That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. There’s a bigger thing at play here, and it’s bigger than any of us. Realizing that, and realizing that if you grip that steering wheel too hard, you will fail – that’s the moment where that fire break comes or you let go and say, “Okay, I’m listening.” So that prayer is frequently not me speaking, it’s me listening. It’s being quiet. He’ll put people in my life – it seems like this happens frequently – where there’s no other reason I can think of where that person said that to me, gave me that idea at that moment, other than some other higher calling that I think is very real and tangible for me personally, given my faith, but also helpful to the company. My prayer is that the company will bless God. I can’t believe you got me to say all that. Let’s wrap this dude up.

Tim Ferriss: Who invited this guy? 1:22. I think we have time for maybe one more, but let’s see if I can sneak in two. Do you have a favorite failure, meaning something that seemed like a failure at the time that ended up setting the stage for something better?

Doug McMillon: Yeah, a bunch of them. The one that was so memorable for me happened early, which is why it left such a mark. To tell the story briefly, I was the chip buyer. I was responsible for a bunch of categories in food, and Frito-Lay chips was one of my items, and I got really excited – this is in the early ‘90s – because Frito-Lay brought out lime and chili flavored Tostitos.

I wanted to put it on the front page of the Walmart tab, and back then, we did print tabs, mailed tens of millions of them to American homes, it was a big deal, and everybody knew that if the merchant screwed up the tab, you were dead. You had no career. Nobody makes a tab mistake. Every item, every picture, every price, all the in-stock has got be there, because when you print 100 million of these things, they have to be great.

Well, I got the whole cover of the tab. I talked marketing into letting me have the whole thing, and we fanned out Lay’s and Cheetos, and right there in the front, lime and chili flavored Tostitos, and the tab hit, and the phone started ringing, and we learned that Frito-Lay didn’t have that item west of the Mississippi. [Audience groans] Yeah, that was the feeling. So I’m in my 20s, Shelley and I have a young child, and I’m thinking, “This is it. This is how this ends. This is really bad.”

To make a long story short – it was so bad. I went to my supervisor once I figured out what was happening and said, “Here’s what happened.” He looked at me and said, “You need to go tell Bill Fields.” Bill was the chief merchant. If Bill were here, I would say the same thing, so I’m not talking out of school – he’s like Darth Vader in my mind. Imagine Darth Vader. I love him, but he’s scary. So I said, “Okay, let’s go tell him,” and my supervisor said, “I ain’t going.” So that’s true. I left their name out because that’s true.

So I go to tell Bill Fields that we’d made this mistake, and that didn’t go well, so the solution was to put it back on me. “What are you going to do about it?” Frito-Lay gave us a coupon for a free bag of chips for any customer west of the Mississippi that complained. We printed them at PMBC down the street and mailed them out in 24 hours so the store managers had something to give to the customer when they complained, but that didn’t totally satisfy the customer. It was really bad. So nobody would talk to me. I was – what do you call it, a pariah?

Tim Ferriss: A pariah.

Doug McMillon: Everybody knows how bad that is. So I’m walking down the hallways, and people I thought were my friends have their head down like I’m death, like I’m dead. It’s over. And this lasts for two or three days because the tab is a week long, so you don’t get to just get up the next day and forget about it. You have to live with it for a week.

And, there was one person in the whole company that reached out to me, and his name is J.R. Campbell. Campbell was a divisional merchandise manager supervising buyers in another area unrelated to mine, and he called me over to his desk – we had an open office environment at that time – and, in front of other people who were around, he gave me a pep talk and said, “You screwed up, but I believe in you. Never do this again. Learn from it. Get your head up and get back to work.” And that’s all I needed, and it all worked out. But I learned empathy from that mistake. I learned what it’s like when somebody that you think is really good makes a bad mistake. A little word of encouragement is huge.

Tim Ferriss: I know we’re at 0:00. This is the very last question! You have a billboard. That billboard, metaphorically speaking, gets a message out to billions and billions of people. Is there anything you would put on that – a word, a quote, a question? Anything that comes to mind that you would put on that billboard?

Doug McMillon: “Shop at Walmart.”

Tim Ferriss: That was fun.

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Avatar Director James Cameron’s Daily Routine for Endurance and Stamina (Plus: James’s Smoothie Recipe)


Note from the editor: This post accompanies the recent episodes of The Tim Ferriss Show and the Tribe of Mentors podcasts featuring Suzy Amis Cameron and James Cameron. It explores James’s daily routine, which he credits for providing him with endurance and stamina during the back to back production of Avatar 2 and 3. As he explains, “I’ve never done a year of production in my life. Titanic took six months to shoot. And we just finished a year because we did Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 back to back. And that was one solid year of production. And I’m feeling great, whereas before, I’d be completely burned out after a six-month shoot and require a month to recover.” As a bonus, you will also find James’s green smoothie recipe. Please enjoy! 

James Cameron (@jimcameron) is a filmmaker and deep sea explorer. He is writer, director and producer of The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. Both Titanic and Avatar (the highest grossing film of all time) won the Golden Globe for Best Director and Best Picture and were nominated for a record number of awards. Cameron was also at the vanguard of the 3D renaissance, developing cutting edge 3D camera systems. As an explorer, in 2012, Cameron set the world’s solo deep diving record of 35,787’ in the Challenger Deep in a vehicle of his own design.

A dedicated environmentalist, Cameron founded the Avatar Alliance Foundation to take action on climate change, energy policy, deforestation, indigenous rights, ocean conservation and sustainable agriculture.

He is currently in production on Avatar 2, 3, 4 and 5.


Here is a typical day of Jim’s regime:

05:00 — pre-workout — green smoothie (spinach, apple, orange, banana — heavy on the spinach, and you can see the recipe below)

06:00 — 1 hour workout — usually kickboxing, yoga or light weight training with high intensity intervals

07:30 — breakfast — sometimes tofu “scrambled eggs” or a quesadilla made with plant-cheese, sometimes red beans and rice — always a protein shake made with fruit, nut butters, pea protein — use this to wash down supplements (hemp oil capsules, MSM for supple joints, vitamin D) — B12 is a sublingual tablet — and a cup of Oolong tea

11:00 — mid morning snack of fresh fruit (grapes, watermelon, berries) on set

13:30 — lunch — bowl of soup plus any one of the scores of great lunch dishes prepared by Brad and Sandy, our vegan chefs at the studio — mexican fiesta, Indian, thai, Italian (pasta, pizza, lasagna), burgers (Beyond or Hungry Planet) — these are comfort food dishes with a conscience

16:30 — mid afternoon — a green salad, on set

20:00 — dinner — a very light meal, sometimes a plant-based burger, sometimes just some humus and pita and a handful of olives, sometimes an avocado chopped up with salsa — plus always a glass of wine for stress reduction 🙂

“I don’t think about protein or carbs. Just a broad mix of flavors, and a lot of emphasis on leaf vegetables, produce (some raw, mostly cooked) — fiber fiber fiber — can’t emphasize plant fiber enough.”


Fill 12 oz container (Canteen)

Ingredients (Organic fruits and veggies):

  • 1 and 1/2 cup of water
  • half of an orange
  • small piece of orange peel
  • half of an apple
  • half of a banana
  • 1 stick of celery
  • handful of spinach
  • handful of beet greens
  • 5 ice cubes (make sure blender does not get hot)


  • pour water in blender
  • add celery, beet greens, and spinach
  • blend slightly
  • add the rest of the ingredients
  • Blend until smooth (usually 2 minutes)

For more recipes, ingredients, swaps, resources for what Jim, Suzy and their family eat for peak performance you can find it in Suzy’s book.

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Doug McMillon — CEO of Walmart (#345)


“One of the things that can keep you from going away is an openness to change.” — Doug McMillon

Doug McMillon (IG: @dougmcmillon) is president and chief executive officer of Walmart, a company that, if it were a country, would be the 25th largest economy in the world. Walmart serves 265 million customers weekly in 27 countries across more than 11,000 stores and online, and the company employs roughly 2.2 million associates worldwide, which would equate to the second largest army in the world (behind China) if it were tasked with defending that 25th largest economy.

75 percent of Walmart’s store management team began as hourly associates, and Doug is no exception. He started out in 1984 as a summer associate in the Walmart distribution center, and in 1990 while pursuing his MBA, he rejoined the company as an assistant manager in Tulsa before moving to merchandising as a buyer trainee. He worked his way up, and from 2005 to 2009 he served as president and CEO of Sam’s Club (owned and operated by Walmart) with sales of more than $46 billion annually during his tenure.

From February of 2009 to 2014, Doug served as president and CEO of Walmart International, a fast-growing segment of Walmart’s overall operations. He has served on the board of directors for Walmart since 2013 and is currently the chair of the executive and global compensation committees. In addition, he serves on the board of directors of the Consumer Goods Forum, the US-China Business Council and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. He also serves on the executive committee of the Business Roundtable and the advisory board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management in Beijing, China.

This episode was recorded live at the Heartland Summit in Bentonville, AR, surrounded by the jaw-droppingly mind-blowing Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Please enjoy!

Want to hear another episode with a fascinating leader? — Listen to my conversation with former Home Depot CEO and current Crazy Good Turns producer Frank Blake. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn and its job recruitment platform, which offers a smarter system for the hiring process. If you’ve ever hired anyone (or attempted to), you know finding the right people can be difficult. If you don’t have a direct referral from someone you trust, you’re left to use job boards that don’t offer any real-world networking approach.

LinkedIn, as the world’s largest professional network — used by more than 70 percent of the US workforce — has a built-in ecosystem that allows you to not only search for employees, but also interact with them, their connections, and their former employers and colleagues in a way that closely mimics real-life communication. Visit and get $50 off toward your first job post!

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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