The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Dave Elitch

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Dave Elitch (IG: @daveelitch), a regular session-and touring-drummer who has worked with The Mars Volta, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, M83, The 1975, Juliette Lewis, Big Black Delta and his own band Daughters of Mara and a drum teacher who has developed a reputation as the technique/body mechanic specialist, having helped many of the world’s top players and educators overcome physical and mental plateaus at his private studio in Los Angeles. 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 on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or on your favorite podcast platform. 

#348: Dave Elitch — How to Get Out of Your Own Way
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Tim Ferriss: Why, hello, boys and girls. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job each and every episode, this one included, to interview and dissect world-class performers of all different types – business, sports, chess, entertainment, music, sometimes folks who span many multiple disciplines and this is one of those cases, in my mind at least. We have Dave Elitch sitting across from me. Dave, how are you?

Dave Elitch: I’m great, man. Happy to be here.

Tim Ferriss: On Instagram and Twitter and elsewhere, @daveelitch, E-L-I-T-C-H. Daveelitch.com. Instagram would probably be the first choice for checking him out. I’ll read the bio, and then I have all sorts of questions about the bio. But I think before I get into that, I think it’s helpful to, perhaps as context for some folks, mention what I said to my girlfriend last night, who asked me, fairly, “Who is Dave? Why is he in the house?” Not in an accusatory way. More out of curiosity.

You were helping to set up my first-ever drum kit after many, many misfires, which we won’t get into right now. There are a lot of people very, very high on drugs who will volunteer to help you assemble kits. It turns out they don’t follow the directions very well. I wanted her to hear you play. Just to tool around after we had consumed many pounds of pork and biscuits and all sorts of other Texan health food. She had asked me at some point the day before, mostly as a hypothetical question, but also she was very curious, “I wonder who Annie goes to for relationship advice?” Annie, in this case, is a very well-known relationship coach/therapist. Who does the relationship coach go to for relationship advice?

I use that as a bridge to say well, many of the musicians you think of, many of the best drummers you might see on stage go to Dave as sort of the drumming whisperer/mechanic fixer, among many other things. So let’s jump into the bio. But for those people who are listening and who are thinking to themselves, “Well, I don’t really know anything about drumming and I really don’t know anything about music; this is an audio-only format; I’m not going to be able to watch Dave smashing on his kit,” we are going to jump across all sorts of different topics. So fear not.

Let’s get into the basic bio. Dave Elitch first garnered attention with his band, Daughters of Mara’s debut album I Am Destroyer in 2007. Very appropriate debut album name for a lot of reasons. But his time touring with the progressive rock band The Mars Volta in 2009-2010 is what really put him on the map and certainly put you on my map, which we can get into. He has since worked with Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, M83, The 1975, Juliette Lewis, Big Black Delta, and many, many others. He conducts master class lectures worldwide, and, in fact, you are going to be conducting a master class tomorrow here in Austin, Texas, which is exciting.

He’s a regular in the L.A. session scene. I want to come back to a bunch of vocab here that we can dissect, including performing on film scores for many major motion pictures – and I have questions about that. As an educator for the last 20 years, which for people who have listened to this podcast for a while is part of what makes you so interesting to me. It’s not just the ability to perform, but the ability to transmit and to break down and to convey and to demystify.

Back to the sentence. As an educator for the last 20 years, Dave has developed a reputation as the technique body mechanic specialist who has helped many of the world’s top players and educators overcome physical and mental plateaus at his private studio in Los Angeles. Your brand-new online course, Getting Out of Your Own Way, which is perhaps the best title of any course I’ve ever encountered is available at daveelitch.com. I have checked it out. It is fucking awesome.

Dave Elitch: Thank you.

Tim Ferriss: I have spent a lot of time thinking about teaching. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about learning, and I’m by no means a musician but have also digested a fair amount of material related to drumming and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Dave Elitch: Thanks.

Tim Ferriss: I thought we could start with the t-shirt that you’re wearing right now. It’s a t-shirt that I liked so much at one point when we hung out in L.A. and smashed on some drums and then ate a bunch of Himalayan yak if I remember correctly, I asked you where I could get one of these shirts. So could you describe for people what you’re wearing at the moment and why?

Dave Elitch: Absolutely. I’m wearing one of the t-shirts that I make and are available on my website that say “slow down” on the front and “do it again” on the back. It came from me having to say that over and over and over again to people as I was teaching them. So I just got tired of yelling at people and saying the same shit over and over again. So I point at my shirt now, and go, come on, slow it down. Because so many people, it’s not about what you’re trying to learn as much as it is about how you approach learning it, which obviously is a universal concept.

So many people try to rush through things so quickly, especially when you’re doing something that’s so physically and mentally demanding as drumming. If you don’t approach it slowly, your brain has no idea what your body is doing. So all these people try to rush through something, and they physiologically have no idea what’s going on. “Do it again” because of the sheer amount of repetition you have to do to plug in that muscle memory. It’s fun. I made it just as a joke kind of, you know?

And then people would come up to me on the street and be like, “Oh, I love that shirt,” because people get whatever sort of meaning they want.

Tim Ferriss: It’s the Rorschach inkblot test.

Dave Elitch: Absolutely. People love it, and they get whatever they want out of it. It could mean all sorts of different things.

Tim Ferriss: This also I think highlights for me a difference between, a critical difference in learning anything, or several critical differences. One is developing a skill versus demonstrating the skill. You could apply that to say, strength. It’s development versus display; competing in powerlifting versus training for powerlifting. In this case, I think maybe a good contrast that comes to mind would be last night, sitting down at this electronic drum kit, my first kit of that type that I’ve ever used, and playing with the basic posture and body mechanics. So you would ask me to relinquish control of my arm and provide deadweight and to do the same with my leg, to try to ensure that, for instance, when using the – I never know if I should call it a kick or bass or something else.

Dave Elitch: Same thing.

Tim Ferriss: Kick or bass drum or pedal, rather, that I would be using my hip as opposed to getting wicket-whack with my ankle or other articulation. In aiming to do that, ensuring that I’m not leaning back like I’m in an easy rider because that creates all sorts of instability. It was incredible to me, but not surprising given my time with you, that within about 120 seconds, you took one of my greatest sources of discomfort sitting at any kit, which was feeling like I had to be balanced on my left ass cheek to make the bass pedal work properly, and you removed that, so now I could have a little bit of anterior pelvic tilt.

And for people wondering what that means, imagine your hips are a glass of wine. If you pour wine out the front, that’s anterior pelvic tilt. Posterior pelvic tilt would be pouring wine out the back. And so having a little bit of tilt forward so that I can fit my sit bones on the stool, which you also helped me to do by taking a weight plate – this was in the garage, and the gym is also there – and putting it on top of it. So you diagnosed that very quickly. And then we practiced a very slow, basic, sort of AC/DC rock beat.

Dave Elitch: Money beat.

Tim Ferriss: In doing that, we were able to focus on some fundamental grips and so on in a very slow fashion. But the video that introduced you to me has a number, it turns out, of stories associated with it that I hadn’t heard. It seems like a lot of people have come to find you through this video. So I’d love to tell people about it. I think it came about because I was on Twitter at God knows what unholy hour and was thinking about drumming. I’ve always been fascinated by drumming. So I asked something along the lines of “Who is a beast drummer who is also a good drummer?” and somebody threw a link up to this video. What is the video?

Dave Elitch: The video is me playing with The Mars Volta at a Big Day Out Festival in Sydney, Australia in 2010, early 2010. I would videotape all of the shows that we played. I’d set up a little camera behind me. Because when you’re in the heat of battle, as you could say, you have no idea how it’s actually coming across. If I backtrack a little bit, with this situation and a lot of situations that I get called for, I’ve sort of developed this reputation as a bit of a mercenary in that like when someone breaks their arm or someone gets fired, or someone needs someone to do a tour like last minute, with no rehearsal, little rehearsal, whatever, they call me and I have to learn everything last minute. It’s funny. I’ve been –

Tim Ferriss: The Cleaner.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, exactly. So with The Mars Volta, with Miley Cyrus, with 1975, with M83, you walk into a room. You go, “Nice to meet you guys.” You might run through the set once, and then you’re playing in front of 15,000-30,000 people. It’s a unique situation to be in. The amount of pressure is unbelievable. Because as a drummer, if you drop the ball, the whole show collapses in on top of you. It’s not like the guitar, where you can go, whoops, flubbed that, and then you can just kind of keep playing.

Tim Ferriss: Do it twice, and you’re playing jazz.

Dave Elitch: Yes, exactly. Drumming, if you drop the ball, the whole show caves in on you. So The Mars Volta was the first big situation that I was in like that. I got that gig when I was 25. They called hundreds of people to do it. People were sending in video auditions and all kinds of stuff. When they asked me to do it, I said, “Yeah, sure.” In your head, it’s one of those – I’m sure you’ve had this experience before – they’re like, “Great, this sounds great.” In my head, I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no,” and then I was just like, “Yes.” Yes just comes out of your mouth. I feel like every important life decision I’ve ever made, that happens, and it’s super important just to do it.

Tim Ferriss: Grow wings on the way down.

Dave Elitch: Yes, exactly. So I flew to Europe, met the band, we ran through the two and a half hour set twice, and then went on tour. This is for people who aren’t familiar with the band, it’s extremely complex music. Lots of – Omar the guitar player, lots of hand signals and eyebrows, cues.

Tim Ferriss: I didn’t realize that. So he’s like a major league baseball catcher.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a long drum solo every night. You have to be on point, really. So I would set up a camera behind me every night to be like, “I need to know what this actually sounds like.” Because in the heat of the moment, you could think you’re killing it, and then you watch a video, and you’re like, “Ugh, whoops.” Or the opposite is also true always. I could be like, “I feel like that didn’t sound good at all,” and then I watch the video, and I’m like, “Oh, that was actually okay.” That level of cognitive disconnect in that scenario is huge.

I would go back to my hotel room after the show, and watch the video and take mental notes about things that worked and things that didn’t work. For me, it’s always been very important to put on a visual show. There’s nothing worse than going to see a show and just watching someone that looks like they’re doing their taxes.

Tim Ferriss: Why do you think this particular video – and we’ll put it in the show notes for people who want to see it, you can go to tim.blog/podcast, and it’ll be right in the show notes so you can find the link. But if people wanted to Google this, is there anything, in particular, they should search for?

Dave Elitch: You could type in “Dave Elitch drum cam” or just “Dave Elitch,” and it’s going to pop up at the top somewhere.

Tim Ferriss: It’s one of the very first results. Why do you think this video – and this is related to where you were going, I think – why do you think this video caught on in the way that it did?

Dave Elitch: Because I’m going apeshit.

Tim Ferriss: Fucking berserk.

Dave Elitch: I was standing up, kicking stuff over. Like, just going nuts. I think it’s really important to put on a show, so people are like, “Holy shit. What is going on? This is insane.” So yeah, I’m standing up and hitting super hard. It’s visually entertaining. But the most important part of that is the playing has to be happening. If you go nuts, and then you screw something up, there’s a point. So the playing has to be on point, and then I’m going to stand up and kick something over, you know?

Tim Ferriss: Before you had your first, whether it’s your first performance with The Mars Volta, so you’ve gone through the set twice. You’re in Europe. Or wherever you are in the world. What is your self-talk or your prep before going out on stage to play with this band?

Dave Elitch: You’ll be into this because there’s a lot of note-taking.

Tim Ferriss: I’m already into it.

Dave Elitch: This is something that I do with a lot of people that I work with. Just showing them how to chart out a song properly because so many people write out way too much nonsense and then it’s way too much to navigate. Learning music at the last minute and having to play it, that does happen quite a bit, whether it’s like a coffee house or a huge show or whatever. So most people will write out everything, and then they go to look at it, and they have no idea. They can’t read their handwriting. Meaning what I do with people is it’s just the roadmap. You’re not writing out notation. It’s just like intro – eight bars; verse – 16 bars; chorus – 16. It’s just that.

That’s it. I might say where my right hand is. Right cymbal, crash, high hat. But it’s very minimalistic. So I made those charts for all the songs. I would go through – it’s all about how you approach this stuff, right? A lot of people would go, “I’m going to play through this setlist,” just bang, bang, bang, down the line. But you’re constantly distracted. You’re constantly switching. The target’s moving. So you can’t get deep.

Tim Ferriss: Why is the target moving?

Dave Elitch: Because you’re switching songs all the time. What I would do is I would take the first song in the setlist, and I would have my notes and the music, and I would play through it as many times as it took for me to be like, “I know this really well.” But the same thing on repeat. Most people would be like, “I’m just going to go through the set and then it’s like –”

Tim Ferriss: By the songs changing, you mean that show to show?

Dave Elitch: No, I mean within the setlist itself. So like someone would play the first song and then the second song and then the third song all in a row. Then they can’t remember anything because they’re working on all the songs at the same time.

Tim Ferriss: It’s linear.

Dave Elitch: Yes, exactly.

Tim Ferriss: It’s also – just because we’ve both had a fair amount of caffeine, so I feel like we can make use of that caffeine now – this is also a reason why certain mnemonic devices work better than others. For instance, if you use what sometimes is referred to as a memory palace, this has been used for thousands of years. Cicero used it for memorizing speeches, among other things, where you could take – this is also how a lot of memory competitors memorize shuffled decks of cards, is they will memorize pairs of cards as interacting images and place them along a familiar route. So walking from their front door to the grocery store or something like that.

But one of the challenges with that is if you want to get to the 12th item and recall that 12th item, you have to run through the list. Similarly, if you’re only memorizing or getting familiar with a playlist or a set from one to 12 or whatever the number is, and then all of a sudden I’m just like imagining the lead singer’s like, “Fuck it. I feel we should just go to five.” And you’re like, “I’m not ready for five.”

Dave Elitch: Totally. That’s a very real thing. And that’s a real thing also when people are doing method book work like out of a drum book, let’s say. I might have them learn the entire page; this happens all the time. I’m like, “Cool. Let me hear you start from the end.” They’re like, “Uh…” So that is a very important point, and that comes later in the process, at the end of the process. So I will go through one song over and over and over again until I know it really well; this is huge; practicing not in regards to time, but in regards to goals.

So the number of people who go to music school and they go, “Yeah, I practice eight hours a day.” It’s not about how much time. It’s about what you’re getting done. And having specific goals. And writing that down and go, “I need to get this from here to here. Once I get that done, I’m done. Check. Moving on.” A lot of people go, “I need to work on this thing for an hour.” That doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a tangible goal. An hour for you and an hour for me are completely different. One person could get it in 20 minutes. Another person could take two hours. It’s unbelievable how everyone structures things in terms of time.

Tim Ferriss: How do you know when you have a song?

Dave Elitch: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I can put that into words.

Tim Ferriss: What does it feel like?

Dave Elitch: It feels like – you’ve given a lot of talks. You rehearse it enough, and you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t need these notes.” You know it in your core. It’s like when you memorize your times tables or whatever. It’s that same type of thing. You don’t have to gear up to get it going.

Tim Ferriss: Someone could slap you in the face to wake you up and be like, “Do this,” and it would come out.

Dave Elitch: It’s in your bones. I prepare in that regard like an insane amount. It’s like a ridiculous amount. So I’ll play the song; I don’t know, like five or 10 times with my notes. And then I start, “Okay, I think I got it now.” Then I’ll put my notes away and just play. No, sorry. Then I’ll play with just the notes, no music. Then I’ll play –

Tim Ferriss: As you were saying. So you’re accompanying the music first with your notes.

Dave Elitch: Yes. And then when I get comfortable the next step –

Tim Ferriss: Turn off the music.

Dave Elitch: – and just play with the notes. And then the next step is music, no notes. And then the final step is just a click track, nothing else. So just a click track.

Tim Ferriss: Click track metronome.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. So I hear nothing, and I have to know it so well that I can get through the whole song in my head, hearing everything. That’s an insane amount of work. But the deal is when you get on stage, and there are 30,000 people screaming, and like with Miley, people throwing bras and underwear at me.

Tim Ferriss: Better than batteries and tomatoes, I guess. Or beer bottles.

Dave Elitch: Like at that moment, you have to know everything so well that that’s not going to faze you. It takes a long time. I’m in there for 10 or 12 hours at the beginning. But that type of preparation is huge. What’s funny is when I went to Amsterdam to rehearse the set with them, I set up an extra floor tom on my left side, which you normally wouldn’t do that; they’re on your right side. Were you going to say something?

Tim Ferriss: No, no, no. I was going to say maybe you could explain what a floor tom is for people who don’t know.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. So Tom’s, yeah, interesting explaining this. Man, how would you explain this to a layman?

Tim Ferriss: It’s tough. I’m going to do a poor job.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, great.

Tim Ferriss: I will do a terrible job, but it’s easy for me to come at this with beginner’s ideas because I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. If people can hear the snap, like the, generally – please feel free to call bullshit on any of this.

Dave Elitch: No, no, you’re good.

Tim Ferriss: Like that, you’re going to be hearing say a snare drum, right?

Dave Elitch: Mm-hmm.

Tim Ferriss: When you look at drummers, and they have their hands seemingly crossed, they’re hitting the high hat, and then they’re hitting the snare with the other hand. That’s part of the lifeblood of any kind of rock beat, right?

Dave Elitch: And the kick drum with their foot.

Tim Ferriss: So it’s like [sound effects], that is the high hat and the snare. Then if you were to hear a drummer say travel left to right, assuming they’re right-handed, like [sound effects], when you hear [sound effects] that part is very often going to be a floor tom.

Dave Elitch: Perfect. Perfect. I couldn’t have done that better myself.

Tim Ferriss: So you are right-handed?

Dave Elitch: Yes. So you have a rack tom up top, straight in front of you, which is going to be the higher pitch, like [sound effects] and then you go down further, and you get bigger drums, which are sitting on the floor, floor toms, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So having those on the left is not normal.

Dave Elitch: Not normal, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So why would you do that?

Dave Elitch: So I put it on my left so I could put my notes on the left and didn’t think anyone would see them. I go to the bathroom after the first set, and I come back, and it’s all gone.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, fuck.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. And I was like, “Uh…” and the bass player is like, “It’s cool, man. You got it. It’s all good. You don’t need those.” And I didn’t.

Tim Ferriss: You’re like, “Thanks, bass player who’s done this set 400 times.”

Dave Elitch: Exactly, yeah, yeah. “Okay, great.”

Tim Ferriss: I want to note something for folks, and I’m so glad we got into this because that particular way that you laid out your progression for practicing a song is nearly identical to how a lot of the best public speakers also prepare their keynotes. They will take a keynote – and I learned to do this as well, but I was borrowing from other people – and instead of – let’s just say for the sake of simplicity, a 60-minute keynote – rather than trying to give the 60-minute keynote from start to finish, they’ll break it into four pieces.

Or what they’ll do – and this is something I started to model – is because the beginning and the ending is so important, actually breaking out the first five minutes and the last five minutes. Let’s make it simple. If it’s a 40-minute talk – this will make the math a little easier – first five minutes, then you have three 10-minute sections and then the last five minutes. And to practice each one of those individually, as opposed to in sequence. Initially, not paying attention to time, although having some rough idea of the total length. And then recording, listening to it, making these post-game analysis edits necessary.

And then also at a later point – and I picked this up from someone as well when I was practicing, you’re talking about the bras and the panties and everything – when I was preparing for my TED talk about a year and a half ago, which was going to be the opening session, main stage, nervous as fuck. Just as a side note – I’m sure you have a million of these, so I’d love to hear some of these war stories – there’s this area behind the stage at TED, which is called something hilarious like the Zen room or the chill-out room where the people who are on deck, like the three or four speakers who are on deck, are meant to hang out there with their little misters and cold water and so on.

You walk in there, at least when I walked in there, it was some of the most polished speakers in the world basically freaking the fuck out. I was like, “I need to leave here now!”

Dave Elitch: This isn’t helping.

Tim Ferriss: “I need to leave right now.” This is like being in the water with Bear Grylls and all his survival experts, and they’re losing their shit because there are like great white sharks in the water. You’re like, “This is not helpful. I need not to be here.” But one of the things that I’d done in the last week or so of preparation was to load myself up on way too much caffeine, like three or four coffees, before giving dress rehearsals before strangers at my friends’ companies. I would have them call in people during lunch hour, and I would give a rehearsal in front of people who probably didn’t particularly want to be there. Not a super-warm crowd, who don’t care about my feelings, particularly.

Dave Elitch: And you’re all jacked.

Tim Ferriss: And I’m jacked to try to simulate the adrenaline I would feel when I actually got out there.

Dave Elitch: That’s smart, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: In any case, I don’t want to brain vomit on you too much.

Dave Elitch: No, it’s all good. That’s what we’re here for.

Tim Ferriss: I’ll reserve some of my brain vomit for later. But the point being that progression you use applies to so many things. We’re going to comment. You can see my fondling these – fondling is a strange word – but these gifts. Gifts, people! Get your mind out of the gutter – that you gave me, which I do want to talk about. You’ve followed this progression song-by-song. You’ve gone through the set twice. Hour before you get on stage, what does that hour look like? For that particular mercenary gig.

Dave Elitch: It’s extremely stressful. You’re waking up in the middle of the night going, “Huh, huh, how does that bridge go?” Like freaking out. Because you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s extremely stressful and in a lot of these situations – it was funny. I was thinking about how to sort of present this to the laymen. It’s like your first day on the job. It’s some really, you got like a giant promotion, or you’re at a new company, different title, different role. And you roll in, and you meet everyone. You pick five random people out of the office, and you say, “Great. You guys are going to go on stage in front of 30,000 people together.” You just met.

Or you’re going to spend the next month in a bus together, waking up next to each other. It’s a very weird situation. Who knows how that’s going to work out as far as personalities and everything? But the hour before the show, I’ve done the Sam Harris guided meditation. I just go to an area by myself and sit down and breathe and just try to stay as relaxed as possible.

Tim Ferriss: This is the 10-minute?

Dave Elitch: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: For people who don’t know, this is Sam Harris, a neuroscience Ph.D. and also a very well-known author. I think he’s at samharris.org, two R’s, one S. He has a number of really good guided meditations. So you will have done that?

Dave Elitch: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Is that the morning of? Is that right before?

Dave Elitch: Both. If I’m feeling really anxious, I’ll do it right before. One of the things that took years me years of touring to figure out is a lot of people will – drumming is an incredibly physical instrument, especially with how hard I can hit at times, and you really have to treat yourself like an athlete – a lot of people will sit there and “warm up” on a rubber pad and gingerly hit it around for 10 or 15 minutes and then they go out onstage and their feet are cold. I started bringing a jump rope on tour with me. I was just like, “Oh, my God, how did I not figure this out earlier?”

I skip rope for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and that gets the blood flowing so when I walk out onstage, I feel like I’m three songs in already, which is a game changer, physiologically. I’ll do that. It gets your head in the zone. Because skipping rope is the same exact thing as playing a musical instrument in terms of focus. It’s like a detached focus. If you think about what you’re doing, you use a different part of your brain neurologically, and you’ll screw up whatever you’re doing if it’s a highly learned, embedded task.

So if you’re skipping rope and you think about what you’re doing, you’ll hit your feet, and you’ll screw it all up. If I’m playing a show, I have to be either totally Zenned out and not thinking about anything at all or I have to think about what I’m eating after the show or doing laundry or whatever. I can’t think, “Here comes this part” or “Right, right, left, left,” or I’ll immediately bungle whatever I’m doing. But skipping rope gets my head in that mindset. It also gets me warmed up. So yeah, it’s just a lot of pacing. I don’t drink coffee or Red Bulls or anything because I know my heart rate’s already going to be insane, so I try not to do that.

Tim Ferriss: Do you have anything that you, any particular rituals or things that you say to yourself before you go out or if you are, alternatively, do you take either or both of these – when you’re talking to a professional who perhaps is really nervous about a tour they’re about to do or gigs that they’re doing, what’s your advice to them right before they go out?

Dave Elitch: My advice is what I try to live by in that if you put the time in and you know the material, there’s nothing to be nervous about because you know what you’re doing. As soon as you get on stage, after about five minutes and the adrenaline wears off, you should be comfortable. Because you’re like, “I couldn’t have put in more time. I put in the time. I know what I’m doing. This is fine.” What’s really scary is when you don’t have the time to put the work in; then that’s freaky. I try to never put myself in those situations. But yeah, as long as you put in the time.

When I’m working with someone, I make sure they put in the time. Usually, it’s a lot of guys who’ve been in bands for a long time. They have an ample amount; they might have a month of rehearsals. So it’s not about whether I know this material. It’s maybe some other issue. But I tell everyone to do the Sam Harris guided meditation, especially people who aren’t familiar with that. Because when I first started doing it, I literally had to relearn how to breathe.

Tim Ferriss: The guided meditation?

Dave Elitch: Yeah. My breathing was – because I was driving to the studio and I was recording this record with this band called Antemasque that I did with Omar and Cedric from The Mars Volta after The Mars Volta. Flea was playing bass on it from the Chili Peppers. I had just finished doing the Killer Be Killed record, which is a metal band I was in, and I had to learn the Miley set after being in the studio all day with Antemasque. So I was driving to the studio, and I was white-knuckling the steering wheel, and I was holding my breath. I realized, “Oh, my God, am I doing this all the time?”

Tim Ferriss: Is this my normal?

Dave Elitch: Yeah. This is crazy. Then I started paying attention to it, and I realized I was holding my breath all the time. When I started doing the short guided meditation, I realized, “Oh, my God, I don’t know how to breathe anymore.” I had to literally learn how to take a full breath because I didn’t, just from getting kicked in the balls over and over again and daily life, your breathing gets shallow. So that was massive for me.

As far as the rituals, that’s huge. Even if I don’t have time to sit down and fully do the meditation, I’ll try and get into that headspace, because if you start your day with that, you can very easily go back and access that mindset later on. It’s much easier for me to go, “Okay, feeling stressed, okay, there’s a full breath.” Whereas if I didn’t start my day off doing that, I might not physically be able to access that full breath.

Tim Ferriss: Right. You haven’t limbered up.

Dave Elitch: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Psychologically and physically.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, it’s huge.

Tim Ferriss: The breathing, facial tension. Yesterday you were asking me when I was sitting at the kit about the jaw and the mouth. We were chatting about that last night. Well, is it just from the standpoint of teaching, there are so many different skills that can be enhanced, oddly enough, by paying attention to mouth, jaw, tongue relaxation. We were chatting last night about “Is it best to tell someone to relax the jaw, or is that too hard?” And, in fact, if you ask someone to relax the tongue, do you get that entire structure to relax more easily?

All of which transcends music specifically. This is a conversation I’ve had a lot with someone who’s been on the podcast, Kelly Starrett, who always talks about breathing and positions. If you can’t breathe in the position, you do not earn the position.

Dave Elitch: That’s why I was so excited about doing this with you. Because I knew there was going to be tons of carryover from different disciplines. That’s what I really love. So you telling me, “If you relax your tongue, you’ll relax your whole face and your jaw.” I was like, “Of course.” That’s huge, and that’s the way I’m going to present it to people from now on because that’s a better way to teach it.

Tim Ferriss: You and I were having a conversation last night, romantic, candle-lit, hot tub conversation.

Dave Elitch: Amongst ice, ice baths.

Tim Ferriss: That’s true. We did ice baths, which is also a great opportunity to work on breathing, big time.

Dave Elitch: Breathing. Holy shit.

Tim Ferriss: We can have a Round 2. We were chatting about, in part – we were talking about a lot of things – about what keeps me excited. My answer was seeing the interconnectedness and the transferability of these types of concepts because even if you bleed the stone and work in one area on one discipline, and you get to a point where perhaps you just feel fatigued and want to try something else, but you’re not sure if you could ever recapture the excitement you felt in the nascent stages of that first dominant skill.

For me, I’ve realized that there are thousands of different disciplines you could be exposed to and take to like a fish to water because you have knowingly or unknowingly developed all of these meta-skills that apply. You gave me a few gifts that I alluded to fondling earlier. One of them I’m holding here, and I’d love for you to tell people what it is and why you gave it to me.

Dave Elitch: Sure. This is a book called The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. It came out in 1974. It’s one of those books where people are like, “Oh, yeah, that book.” It had a huge effect, and there are all sorts of spinoffs. The Inner Game of Music is actually a book. The amazing thing with this book is – both of us have read a lot about Zen Buddhism – the thing about Zen Buddhism is by the very nature of what it is, it’s very difficult to pin down and point at directly and define because it’s so amorphous. This is the first thing I ever read where he nails it down in the context of tennis. It’s easier to do that way.

Tim Ferriss: Are you a tennis player?

Dave Elitch: I’m not.

Tim Ferriss: This is important.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. So the book talks about essentially these two selves that we have. Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is the analytical, cruel self-talk, harsh critic who you hit the ball into the net – if we’re going to stick with the tennis analogy – and Self 1 is like, “Oh, you fucking piece of shit. Come on, get it together.” And Self 2 is your subconscious automatic self that’s just, “Hey, I’m just trying to make this happen here.” The whole idea is calming down the critical, analytical Self 1, your self-talk, and letting Self 2, the automatic subconscious, take over. If you let that happen, everything will happen automatically.

So what’s interesting is what I do with so many people is very technique oriented. This book can be described as an anti-technique because it’s sort of the opposite way of coming about it. But what’s interesting about this is with the Zen stuff, they will lead you down a path and then just leave you there, a lot of times. The brilliant thing with this book is it’s very easy to understand. Anyone can pick it up and learn. You can replace tennis with any other thing, any other discipline.

The brilliant thing about this book is it takes you somewhere and he’s like, this is a plateau you have to overcome and this is how you do it. That happens multiple times in the book.

Tim Ferriss: This is the problem. Here are a few approaches to resolving the problem.

Dave Elitch: As a for-instance, if you’re really getting in your head – I’ll stick with the tennis analogy – in a match, and you need a device to overcome that Self 1, because like I was saying earlier, if you think physiologically about what you’re doing in terms of movement, you use a different structure in your brain and you’ll botch it. So if you’re serving a tennis ball, you throw the ball up, you go, “I throw the ball up, then I move my racquet,” you’re fucked. You’re going to hit the net every time. So in order to not do that, he’ll say, “Focus on the laces of the ball as it’s coming at you” or “Focus on the whop of the sound when you get a good hit” and just focus on those things in and of themselves that will take you into that space.

We were talking about this last night. Everyone that talks about being in the zone or being on that fire, that kind of thing, as a state you can willingly inhabit, it’s not really a thing. It’s not really true. You can set the stage for it by this type of thing, but you can’t willingly enter into that or else everybody would do that all the time. When I’m having these out-of-body experiences when I’m playing music, which is what gets you to do it in the first place, sort of time slows down and unfolds in front of you and you see what you’re going to play.

Tim Ferriss: Neo back-bending with the bullets flying by?

Dave Elitch: It’s exactly the same thing. That’s what got me hooked. That Matrix thing. You can use that in any discipline.

Tim Ferriss: And you can’t, as you said, guarantee that you can follow the boot-up sequence and automatically enter flow at any point in time, but you can increase the odds.

Dave Elitch: Sure, absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: You can increase the odds.

Dave Elitch: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: You were mentioning it in the context of tennis or a tennis serve, but last night when we were tooling around on the drum kit, it’s very similar, right?

Dave Elitch: Mm-hmm.

Tim Ferriss: You were asking me to note the difference in sound from switching from a French grip, thumb on top, to a German grip, which is all more internally rotated.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, a flat hand.

Tim Ferriss: Flatter hand. But using the wrist.

Dave Elitch: As a whip.

Tim Ferriss: As a whip for rim shot or on the snare drum. You were asking me to notice the feel and the sound of it.

Dave Elitch: What’s amazing about this is we’re playing an electronic kit. We’re not playing an acoustic kit. So even though you’re hearing sounds, theoretically, it shouldn’t really sound any different because it’s not real. You know what I mean?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Dave Elitch: But that’s what’s even cooler about this. Being on an electronic kit is once we got you relaxing and getting those techniques happening, and trimming the fat, your vibe and your feel were totally different, even in that situation.

Tim Ferriss: The sound or the queuing into that sound or feeling, much like anyone who has played tennis, and I’ve played very little tennis, knows the gratification of that proper thwack when you really hit it in the sweet spot or anyone who’s boxed and found that sweet spot on a heavy bag. It acts as an anchor for the 27 biomechanical ingredients that make it up, but if you try to recall the 27 separate ingredients discretely when you’re pulling your arm back to hit the ball, you’re fucked.

Dave Elitch: You hit the nail on the head, man. That is exactly the kind of stuff that I find so exciting are those carryovers. When you hit a home run, when you smash a baseball, it doesn’t feel like you did anything. Whereas if you hit it wonky, you’re like [sound effects]. You know what I mean? It’s terrible.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Dave Elitch: It’s the same thing with drums. When you hit them right, the energy should be going out, not back in. It’s the same with anything else, any athletic movement.

Tim Ferriss: You gave this book, The Inner Game of Tennis, to – and we’re definitely going to come back to this topic – to your therapist, who is 81?

Dave Elitch: Something like that, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: 80-something and a very wise woman. It now has a prominent place on her shelf.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, it has a spot on her mantle. One of the five or six books she gives out to people regularly.

Tim Ferriss: I didn’t ask you this because I don’t think you mentioned the five or six other books, but do you know offhand any of the other books?

Dave Elitch: The Pia Mellody, Facing Love Addiction, is one of them.

Tim Ferriss: Pia Mellody, P-I-A Mellody.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. I don’t know the other ones.

Tim Ferriss: We can make that a bonus feature for the show notes.

Dave Elitch: I’ll look closer next time.

Tim Ferriss: We’ll put those in the show notes. Let’s take a look at these other two because I think they are also a fun way to dissect you a bit. Let’s go with this one next. This is a very small book, and I always get excited about small books.

Dave Elitch: One would not think that.

Tim Ferriss: One would not think that. Every time I set out to write a 20-page children’s book, it ends up being a 700-page bludgeoning tool. This is titled The Medium is the Massage. Subtitled, An Inventory of Effects. Marshall McLuhan? Is that how you say it?

Dave Elitch: That’s it.

Tim Ferriss: M, little C, uppercase L-U-H-A-N. And Quentin Fiore? Is he the graphic designer?

Dave Elitch: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And then produced, I didn’t even notice that, by Jerome Agel, I suppose, something like that.

Dave Elitch: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Who knows. That’s not something I typically see associated with books, so I’m not sure what that means. Tell me about this book.

Dave Elitch: Marshall McLuhan was a really interesting and very popular social and media theorist in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so I find it really fascinating that he’s not a household name now, being that media is such a massive part of everyone’s life now, especially people who do their own thing. We have to have Instagram and Twitter and all that stuff. You don’t have a choice, right? So I find societal issues and media and how we process and consume media very interesting. This dude was so ahead of everyone by decades. It’s almost creepy.

Tim Ferriss: Just in terms of his predictive ability?

Dave Elitch: Yeah. The interesting thing about him is he would spout off all sorts of inflammatory, crazy things. People would get furious about certain things, or pick things apart. He would contradict himself all the time, and make these grand statements. That maybe would’ve bothered me years ago, but now, as long as there are gems throughout and he hits the nail on the head in certain areas, and I can take away things that shift my perspective as a whole, that’s all that matters to me. So The Medium is the Message. This is actually The Medium is the Massage because they screwed up when they –

Tim Ferriss: That’s so funny. I didn’t even notice that.

Dave Elitch: I know. They screwed up when they were printing it originally, and he thought it was hilarious and he’s like, just leave it, it’s fine. So it was supposed to be The Medium is the Message, but it’s actually The Medium is the Massage. He’s like, “That’s great.”

Tim Ferriss: That’s great. Let’s keep it.

Dave Elitch: He loved puns. He was kind of a quirky, weird dude. The whole idea of that phrase is that the medium with which information is submitted to you is more important than the actual information itself. An example I like to use is something like Auto-Tune. For people who don’t know what Auto-Tune is, if you think of that Cher song Do you Believe in Love, whatever, that was 20 years ago. Auto-Tune is a software that people use to correct someone’s vocal take. So if someone’s vocal take is wonky, they just sort of massage it a little bit.

Tim Ferriss: It’s been used quite a bit in hip-hop.

Dave Elitch: Yes. What the new thing with that Cher song is they used a different key signature to Auto-Tune it, so it way over-corrected itself, and that’s what got that weird, now T-Pain sort of sound. Drake. As something that was an experiment, now has currently changed the way music is. The software itself has now changed the art form to the point where I’ll have producer friends of mine tracking someone doing vocals in their 20s, and they’re like, “Hey, why does my voice sound weird?” They’re like, “That’s what your voice sounds like.”

Tim Ferriss: Oh, uncorrected?

Dave Elitch: They expect it to sound Auto-Tuned. So the technology has now affected the art form.

Tim Ferriss: It not only changed the content, but it also changed the perception of the raw materials.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. And you could say the same thing about, there’s something called Beat Detective, which is something drummers the world over hate. It’s the same sort of a thing for drummers. So you can track something, record something in a studio, and then they will artificially adjust everything to a grid. If someone’s lazy about it, they snap it to the grid, and it’s just like [sound effects], it’s very stiff and computer-like because that’s what it’s been turned into.

Tim Ferriss: Spock on drums.

Dave Elitch: Exactly. But people got used to hearing that.

Tim Ferriss: Can you remove the soul from my music?

Dave Elitch: Yeah. So I’ve done sessions where I’ll go in, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job. Then I’ll hear it back, and I’m like, “Why did you even have me play on this?” Because they’re just lazy. It’s more about them being lazy and not going through and, you know. But people got used to hearing how quote, unquote “perfect” that is. And if someone hears something that rushes or drags or is a little bit not perfect, they’re like, “This is weird.” And so a lot of things are Beat-Detected to the point where it’s just totally artificial now.

Tim Ferriss: You’ve drained the blood.

Dave Elitch: Yes. And then the pendulum will swing back. That’s why Adele was so successful, because it was real music.

Tim Ferriss: And Jack Johnson.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, exactly.

Tim Ferriss: You do have the pendulum sometimes swing in the opposite direction. Is your interest in this – because I know it’s not limited just to this book – and, one, I wanted to bring up you have mentioned this to me many times. In fact, this is a documentary series that has come up repeatedly on this podcast. I’m embarrassed to say that I still have not seen it. Adam Curtis’ BBC documentary series, The Century of the Self and HyperNormalisation. So you’ve said it changed the way that you saw the world forever. I’ll just continue here.

Even if you just check out – these are your words – the first 20 minutes of Century of the Self, it’ll blow your mind. Maybe you could segue into The Century of the Self and HyperNormalisation. Tell me why this is so interesting to you. Because this seems to be fanatically something that is of great interest to you. We were just talking about Beat Detective and other things. People might assume it’s because he’s a musician and it’s how these things affect music. But I don’t know if that’s true. So could you talk about how you found Century of the Self? Because it has come up surprisingly frequently on this podcast. And why does it grab your attention?

Dave Elitch: My buddy, Chris, is a musician friend of mine. He told me about it years ago. I think it came out in 2000. I’d have to double-check that. The premise of Century of the Self is it starts with focusing on Edward Bernays. Edward Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew. He took all of Sigmund Freud’s theories on the subconscious and came to the conclusion that human beings are either savage animals that are going to rip each other apart, or they can be controlled and made docile via consumerism.

Tim Ferriss: The opiate for the masses.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, it’s literally that. Edward Bernays used some of these tactics that he pioneered in propaganda for World War I. Then after World War I, he was like, “Well, we can use these in peacetime for capitalists.”

Tim Ferriss: Selling more detergent.

Dave Elitch: Yes. So the whole notion of you buying a pair of shoes to express your inner self was single-handedly formulated by him. So we think that’s just always been around. But really, before him, if people were thirsty, they drank water. They would wear shirts for years. As that dude who I’m a big fan of, Slavoj Žižek –

Tim Ferriss: We’re going to come back to this. He’s a Slovenian philosopher. S-L-A-V-O-J. Second name, Z-I-Z-E-K. Amazing name. Please continue.

Dave Elitch: Amazing person.

Tim Ferriss: We’ll come back to that.

Dave Elitch: What he talks about, he says once you drink Coke instead of water, the excess is with us forever. You can’t go backward. He did interesting things like having a bunch of women smoke cigarettes. There was some sort of subconscious phallic connotation with that. But at the time, women didn’t smoke. He hired a bunch of attractive women to smoke in a parade or in public or something, to get it sort of “trending.”

Tim Ferriss: It’s like having the celebrity wear the sneakers.

Dave Elitch: Exactly. So he created focus groups. He created the idea of PR. This is all him. So this guy single-handedly shaped America as we know it. Of course, America affects everything else in the world. Up until recently, anyway. Especially the world we live in now with Instagram and social media. He’s maybe the most influential person in terms of society.

Tim Ferriss: Whose name most people don’t recognize.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. It blows my mind. He would be a household name.

Tim Ferriss: This is Edward Bernays.

Dave Elitch: Yes. The documentary –

Tim Ferriss: B-E-R-N-A-Y-S, for people wondering.

Dave Elitch: What’s interesting is you would think he made himself famous via Sigmund Freud, but it was actually the other way around. He took all of his tactics and made Sigmund Freud into Sigmund Freud. It’s crazy.

Tim Ferriss: That I didn’t, I had no idea. That’s really wild.

Dave Elitch: It’s four one-hour episodes and the first episode –

Tim Ferriss: The Century of the Self.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. It’s called Happiness Machines. That’s the first episode. Adam Curtis has a really interesting style of making these documentaries. I saw him do a talk in Los Angeles when HyperNormalisation came out in 2016. He said, “These aren’t really documentaries. They’re kind of just things that I make.” They’re almost like video essays or collages. McLuhan talks a lot about that, presenting things as sort of a star pattern of images because language is sometimes insufficient to convey the ideas. It can be like a weird collage. I show this documentary to people, and they’re like, “What is this?” It’s really strange. The music is really weird and bizarre.

Tim Ferriss: Which one are you talking about?

Dave Elitch: Sorry. I’m talking about –

Tim Ferriss: HyperNormalisation?

Dave Elitch: Either one. Anything Adam Curtis has made is the same style. It’s four one-hour episodes, and it goes all the way up until the Clinton administration because this idea, this Edward Bernays stuff weaves its way into politics. It goes into other things too. That completely changed the way I think about everything. I think about it every day.

Tim Ferriss: What would be an example? Is it just that you’re aware of the way your subconscious is being manipulated? Is it that you view other individual and collective behavior differently because you question the free will ingredient? How does it on a day-to-day basis impact how you think about things or view reality?

Dave Elitch: It’s all of that. If we’re talking about consumerism, if I want to buy something, whatever it is, a drink or a snare drum, which I buy a lot of, or some art, which I also buy a lot of, I think, “Why do I want this? What’s driving this?” A lot of times, the answer is different than what you think what it may be.

Tim Ferriss: Or what you want it to be.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. A lot of times you’re filling the void. That’s a whole other topic – existential angst.

Tim Ferriss: That is a big topic.

Dave Elitch: But that’s why a lot of people are buying things. To make themselves feel better.

Tim Ferriss: I heard this quote not too long ago. It’s actually in a collection of quotes. I’m such a promiscuous quote reader. But there’s one, and I don’t know the attribution. Someone out there on the internet can certainly indicate who the proper attribution is. I’ll put it in the show notes as well. I’ll write down this note: mankind existential animal quote question mark. The quote is along the lines of, “Man is the only animal for which his own existence is a problem to be solved.”

Dave Elitch: I love that. Yeah, I love that. That’s it right there.

Tim Ferriss: It’s like, my dog, Molly, does not seem preoccupied. At all.

Dave Elitch: No, she’s just having a good time.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You mentioned artwork. We’re going to come back to some music, and we’re also going to jump into some of the rapid-fire questions that I love to ask. We’ve known each other for quite a while, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked, certainly 90% of those that we’re going to be coming up on. The artwork. I follow you on Instagram, and I love your drumming.

Dave Elitch: Thanks.

Tim Ferriss: So don’t take this the wrong way. I find the artwork that you discover to be fascinating.

Dave Elitch: Thanks.

Tim Ferriss: And strange.

Dave Elitch: Thanks.

Tim Ferriss: You’re welcome. So I use your account also as a way of discovering different types of design and art. Have you always been interested in visual art, and if not, how did that become what seems like an important part of your life? I don’t know if it is.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, it’s a very important part of my life.

Tim Ferriss: How did it become important? Why is it important?

Dave Elitch: I used to make art. I used to draw a lot and do watercolors when I was a kid. Then when I started playing drums, really young, like five, six, seven. Then when I started playing drums, I didn’t do anything else. It took my full mental capacity. So that sort of fell by the wayside. I hit a certain point in my career if you just have those blinders on and you’re myopic about something because you’re very focused and driven, you end up burning out eventually. Touring is incredibly stressful. I hit a wall a few years ago.

Tim Ferriss: How old are you know?

Dave Elitch: 34.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. So like 31, 32?

Dave Elitch: Something like that, yeah. I turned to art as a sort of oblique form of inspiration.

Tim Ferriss: I don’t want to hijack the flow here. When you say hit a wall, is that physical fatigue? What do you mean by that?

Dave Elitch: Mental fatigue, mostly. We were sort of talking about this last night. You get to a certain point where you check all the boxes of things that you’ve wanted to do. I got to a certain point where I was like, “I’ve done everything that I wanted to do career-wise. Now, what do I do?” Also, I was talking to Jimmy Chamberlin about this. He’s a good friend of mine, and I’ve been helping him out a little bit.

Tim Ferriss: Who is that?

Dave Elitch: He plays drums for The Smashing Pumpkins. We were having breakfast a few months ago, and we were talking about the same type of thing. He was saying people are like, “Man, this is great. Your band is doing so well.” Or, “You’re doing all these tours and isn’t that amazing?” I was saying, “Yeah, it’s not amazing. I always knew I was going to do this. This isn’t a surprise to me. I always knew this was going to happen.” In a way, it’s hard to get to the top of Mt. Everest and be like, “I did it.” Because you’re like, “Duh, of course I did it.”

Tim Ferriss: When you say, “I knew it was going to happen,” how much of that – and there certainly could be an Option C, D, and E – but how much of that is “I knew it was going to happen because I knew I was really good,” versus “I’m just doing my fucking job. As a professional drummer, I am putting in the work, and therefore it is my job ultimately to do X, Y, and Z, and I did X, Y, and Z, so why would I pat myself on the back for doing my job?” Or something else?

Dave Elitch: Sort of both. It’s just like I’m –

Tim Ferriss: Because I have a lot of the latter. I’ve struggled with that quite a bit.  

Dave Elitch: I’m going to work harder than you are and I’m going to be the first in and the last out. If this guy can make it work, I can certainly make it work. It’s really that sort of thing. I always say this to people I’m working with. I’m saying, look, you can have a good amount of innate ability at whatever you’re doing, but the person who puts the work in is always going to surpass you. If you have a little bit of innate ability, like I think I do, and you work harder than anyone else, obviously there’s a certain amount of luck involved in anything which you can’t do anything about. But there was no other option.

With the thing I was talking about with Jimmy, is he was like, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy down to the molecular, atomic level. If you’re operating from that state, things will unfold in that manner because you’re working in that. Not the secret kind of bullshit. Not that crap. He recommended this book to me, and I have so many books I have to read. Is it like On Becoming Yourself? [Ed. Note: Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza] It’s super popular right now. I’ll have to look it up.

Tim Ferriss: I wonder who wrote it.

Dave Elitch: I have it.

Tim Ferriss: Is it Krista Tippett?

Dave Elitch: No. She’s great though.

Tim Ferriss: She is, yeah.

Dave Elitch: I’m reading this Ellen Langer book called Mindfulness, which you’re going to super dig.

Tim Ferriss: I’ve watched you carrying it around.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, it’s so good. Ellen Langer was on her podcast. That’s how I found out about her.

Tim Ferriss: All right. We will follow up. So Jimmy recommended a book that maybe On Becoming something or other.

Dave Elitch: God, I have to look it up.

Tim Ferriss: What’s the gist of the book or why did he recommend it?

Dave Elitch: It basically goes way into that in terms of a scientific vantage point. How all of that stuff works. It’s very scientific.

Tim Ferriss: When you say bad stuff, you mean when you place yourself on a certain direction and make thousands of micro-decisions that are subconsciously aligned with that direction? How things unfold?

Dave Elitch: Yes. How does that work scientifically instead of some voodoo, weird, I want a new car, so I’m going to put that into the universe and then it’ll just happen.

Tim Ferriss: It makes me think – again, I’m going to blame it on the caffeine, but I just like jumping around and interjecting because I’m too hyperactive – we were talking about Maria Bamford, who is a fucking amazing comedian. At one point, she was doing this bit on having read The Secret. She said, “I went home, and I created a vision board. And on my vision board, I had all the things I wanted, and my sister came over.”

Her sister apparently is some very successful lawyer or something. Her sister comes over, very Type A and her sister is like, “What is this?” She’s like, “Oh, that’s my vision board.” She’s like, “You have a microwave on your vision board?” She’s like, “A fucking microwave? That’s ridiculous. I’ll buy you a fucking microwave.” And then Maria’s like, “Bam! Manifest!”

Dave Elitch: That’s awesome.

Tim Ferriss: So we’re not talking about trying to make that happen?

Dave Elitch: No. But I haven’t read it yet, so I’m kind of talking out of my ass here. But he was saying it’s incredible.

Tim Ferriss: How did he think it would help you? Why did he prescribe that?

Dave Elitch: Because we were talking about it anyway and he’s like, “Oh, have you read this book?” That’s sort of what it’s all about. It’s in the queue. I haven’t gotten to it yet.

Tim Ferriss: What did he share with you or what were his thoughts on this position that you find yourself in? Where it’s like, “All right, I seem to have some degree of innate ability for this particular field. I was drawn to it. I’ve applied myself very diligently” over, at this point, decades, right?

Dave Elitch: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: “I’ve done what I want to do. Now what?” And you said something; I don’t know if you want to debut it here or not. I said, “Oh my God, you should put that on social media just to further outsource your self-esteem,” which I think is social media in a nutshell. Do you want to take a stab at it?

Dave Elitch: I said, “Anyone who says do what you love for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life hasn’t done what they want to do for a living.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you do anything day in, day out for decades, there’s a point where you’re like, “Okay.”

Dave Elitch: Even to the point where I’m doing these tours where I’m super stressed out. You’re walking onstage in an arena for 15,000 people at Staples Center or whatever and you’re like, “Ugh.” After a week, once I have the show down, I’m like, “Ugh, whatever. Making the doughnuts.” Especially if it’s a pop thing because it’s literally the same thing. If it’s something more improvised, that’s a little bit more exciting. There’s something that happens that I have to help people out who are on tour for a year and a half or two years and it’s pop context.

Tim Ferriss: Holy shit. I didn’t realize tours were that long. Fuck.

Dave Elitch: Oh, yeah, dude. Album cycle? Totally. So you’re playing the exact same thing, note-for-note, day in, day out.

Tim Ferriss: So it’s like being on a book tour until your next book comes out, basically?

Dave Elitch: Yup. Well, and then you’ll take a break.

Tim Ferriss: You’ll do some recording.

Dave Elitch: You’ll take a break, do a new record. But yeah, it’s intense. You’re out with the same people, the same techs. You’re away from your family. It’s pretty rough. Something that happens to people is they’re playing the same thing over and over and over again. I mean literally note-for-note. If you’re playing pop, like when I was doing Miley, that’s a massive production. It’s like eight busses, 12 semis. The stage production is insane. I’m going up, up, above, and down, above and below the stage. There’s a huge video wall. She’s riding a giant hot dog 20 feet above the air in the arena. There’s a lot of things that go on there.

So you can’t do anything differently because the dancers will be like, what just happened? So you have people playing the exact same thing note-for-note for a year and a half, two years, and they start to lose their mind because it’s so monotonous and representative.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s like the polar bear doing the lap in the one 10-foot pool in the enclosure.

Dave Elitch: Exactly. It’s exactly the same thing. What starts happening is your brain starts creating weird quagmires for you to fall into because it’s bored.

Tim Ferriss: What would be an example of that?

Dave Elitch: So for instance, you’ll get to a certain part, and you’ll be like, “Why can’t I play that? It’s not hard to play.” There was a guy I was working with who has played with Janet Jackson for a year, a lot of people. He’s a fantastic drummer. He had some issues with his foot. He went to see someone in Atlanta, like a neurologist. She had some helmet that he put on. We were looking at the technique, the physical issues. I guess there were some parts of his brain that were turned off to control the foot. It’s crazy. I don’t know how that technology works, but your brain will fuck with you.

There were times with The Mars Volta or with Miley or whatever where I would be like, “Oh, here comes this part.” You’re already dead in the water. Or when I was doing M83, there was one section where I would hear the beat in the wrong place.

Tim Ferriss: Weird. You had like an auditory hallucination.

Dave Elitch: Yes. It was a very simple section. I remember at sound check, me going like, “Whoa, what’s going on here?” This is like, and your brain is like, “I need something to do.” It’s crazy. I forgot why I got on that tangent.

Tim Ferriss: We were talking about Jimmy and climbing Everest and what his thoughts were on what to do.

Dave Elitch: We were talking about this sort of last night. In certain situations, there aren’t a lot of people you can talk to about certain things, right? So we were just going back and forth with that type of thing. The thing with him is he is in a band that’s still huge. This is the thing that’s uncontrollable in the music industry. There are tons of parables here. I can work really hard, and it doesn’t matter if my band makes it or not in a way that if you really hit the lottery, that’s totally outside of your control.

They put in all the hard work, but that band hit the lottery. That is out of your control. But again, you can sort of set the stage for it. Where he’s coming from, because he’s in a band that is huge, is totally different from someone like me, who is a mercenary.

Tim Ferriss: A Blackwater sniper of drumming technicians.

Dave Elitch: Totally. It’s a totally different thing. He’s very intelligent and a great player, and a really great guy, too. He’s amazing. You guys would get along really well.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’d love to meet him.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, for sure.

Tim Ferriss: How long has he been the drummer?

Dave Elitch: He took a break for a while and then he recently got back together with them, and they’re on tour right now doing their new record.

Tim Ferriss: Cool. There are so many tracks that just fueled me through so many parts of college and other points – Zero, Bullet with Butterfly Wings.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, dude. I love that song.

Tim Ferriss: So amazing. I think we should maybe jump into some rapid fire. And we will incorporate this. Thank you for the index finger point. We’re not going to miss this, because you mentioned a word earlier, which is a very useful word, “oblique.” We’re not talking about the sides of your abs. Although I suppose we are. It’s used in that context here. We’re going to come back and talk about Oblique Strategies. But first, since we’ve consumed several black teas, several green teas, several Topo Chicos, and are working our way through a couple of cappuccinos and more green tea, we’ll talk a short bio break and return for your listening pleasure. We’ll be right back.

And we’re back, as promised. Oblique Strategies. This is a black case that is holding what looks like a deck of cards. This deck of cards has all sorts of things written on them. The first two which I pulled out yesterday, which were highly relevant to a number of corners I’ve painted myself into recently, where Card No. 1 – simple subtraction. Card No. 2 – what mistakes did you make last time? What are these Oblique Strategies?

Dave Elitch: They’re cards that Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt made together in 1975.

Tim Ferriss: Who are those two people?

Dave Elitch: Brian Eno is a super-famous musician. He’s done a lot of different things over the years, but he was first famous with the band, Roxy Music. He went on later to pioneer ambient music with Music for Airports.

Tim Ferriss: Literally music for airports?

Dave Elitch: That’s what the record is called. It’s called Music for Airports. Sorry, I should have clarified that.

Tim Ferriss: I feel like they would get along with McLuhan and The Medium is the Massage.

Dave Elitch: He wanted to make something that neither had a beginning or an end, and you could tune in and out of, and it didn’t really matter. He’s a very interesting, brilliant person. These are strategies when you’re making anything. This is in the context of making music, but you can obviously apply them to anything. The device is to knock you out of your present state of mind. Like you said when you paint yourself into a corner. You’re like, “I’ve got to get out of this.”

Tim Ferriss: Or you just feel like you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

Dave Elitch: Sure. Well, that’s a whole other thing, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Dave Elitch: There’s a whole deck of cards that are very simple, minimalist suggestions. The ones that you picked out, you already said. But if we pick out a few random ones.

Tim Ferriss: Tidy up. Do something boring. The most important thing is the thing most easily forgotten. Ain’t that the truth? Overtly resist change. Discipline self-indulgence. So these are prompts, in a way?

Dave Elitch: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: For getting unstuck or un-fucked.

Dave Elitch: I’ve had a set of these for years, and I thought you would be super into these.

Tim Ferriss: How do you use these cards? I’ll just buy a little bit of time because I notice there’s a description card, which I hadn’t noticed earlier. “These cards evolved from separate observations of the principles underlying what we were doing.” What we were doing, I’m imagining, is very much musically related. “But sometimes they were recognized in retrospect, i.e., intellect catching up with intuition. Sometimes they were identified as they were happening. Sometimes they were formulated. They can be used as a pack.

A set of possibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind, or by drawing a single card from the shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case, the card is trusted, even if its appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves and others will become self-evident.”

Dave Elitch: There you go.

Tim Ferriss: How do you use or how have you used these cards?

Dave Elitch: I always think about them in terms of how I’m supporting music for the greater good. A lot of times in an improvised context, these are very applicable. Because with an instrument such as drums, guitar, piano, or bass, where you don’t have to breathe to play it, you run the risk of vomit chops.

Tim Ferriss: What does that mean?

Dave Elitch: It means you can just play as much as you want. If you’re playing a wind instrument, you literally have to breathe, so that affects your phrasing. So you can pause. With drumming, you don’t have to do that. You can play a million miles an hour forever. After two minutes, the listener wants to kill themselves.

Tim Ferriss: That’s true. There isn’t as much of a – there is a biological limiter, but it’s not as obvious to the listener.

Dave Elitch: No. Yeah, with saxophone or something, you have to breathe every 15 or 20 seconds, so you have to have a space. That cliché thing of it’s not about what you play; it’s about what you don’t play, that’s cliché for a reason. It’s really true. That’s something that I try to focus on a lot because if you have a lot of facility, it’s very easy to just barf all over the place and overwhelm everyone.

Tim Ferriss: I’m not a musician, as I’ve stated repeatedly. I remember someone said to me, music is the space between the notes. I was like, “Ooh, interesting.”

Dave Elitch: With drumming, especially because you’re keeping time for everyone, it’s a very meditative state. A lot of people will count in between the notes, and they’ll be very precise about it. I’ve always tried to be very Zen about it and just feel the void in between the notes that you’re playing. It’s two totally different ways of doing it. Depending on what you’re doing at the moment, one could be better than the other. But yeah, man.

Tim Ferriss: Give me an example, if you could. It could be hypothetical. When would you pull out this deck and be like, “All right, I really feel like I need one of these cards.”

Dave Elitch: I do a lot of the body mechanic stuff with people. I also have people who are just like, “Hey dude, give me a bunch of cool, crazy licks to play. Song enders. [Sound effects]. That kind of a thing.” I did that with my buddy, Stacy Jones, who is Miley’s MD and drummer.

Tim Ferriss: MD?

Dave Elitch: Musical director, sorry.

Tim Ferriss: I was like, “That’s a hell of a combo. Let me finish this song and then here’s an EpiPen.”

Dave Elitch: He was like, “Hey dude, I just want to get some rad song enders.” It was like, “Great. We can totally do that.” So I showed him a bunch of licks, and we had fun. This is the kind of situation that’s great for these because people, after you’re working on phrasing, after about 20 minutes, they’ve played everything they know. Then they’re like, “Well, what do I do now?” So you could just pick something out of the deck. Like you just picked out “Give the game away.” How you interpret that, you could go a number of ways.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s like “Slow down” on your shirt. Anyone who picks that up, they’re like, “What does that mean?” You’re like, “What does it mean to you?” You could therapize them.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, exactly. For me, the first way I would process that is a lot of times when you’re building up solos, you don’t do that. You want to lead someone in and sort of set the stage. Because if you start off on –

Tim Ferriss: Don’t give them the filet mignon as the appetizer.

Dave Elitch: Exactly. This, to me, the way I would interpret this is, I’m going to come in guns blazing and then try to work my way out of that because that’s the biggest no-no. I’m going to do that on purpose and then see what happens. Someone could also say, if you’re thinking about a sports analogy, “I’m just going to play the game and see what happens.” Let it happen on its own. It’s not about winning or losing.

Tim Ferriss: Cool. I dig it. This is good timing for me.

Dave Elitch: Great.

Tim Ferriss: We’ve talked a lot about playing in front of huge crowds and the musicians you work with. Certainly, this show tends to feature people who are very good at something or another. I would like to talk about failures or disappointments. This is a question I really enjoy asking. How has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success? It could be a disappointment or anything. Do you have any particular favorite failures or failures that come to mind that were in retrospect very valuable?

Dave Elitch: I’ve gone out for auditions for plenty of bands, and I haven’t gotten gigs. That’s just how it goes. If you go in there and, again, you’re really prepared, and you fully present yourself accurately, and they don’t want it, it’s not the right fit, what else can you do? You might think, “I didn’t get the gig; it’s a failure.” But what about if you – it’s the same thing as dating, right? What if you present a fake version of yourself, and then they like that, and then you have to keep doing that, and then you’re like, “Who am I?” There’s plenty of situations where I go in doing the Dave smash thing like in that Mars Volta video, and they’re like, “Holy shit, Jesus Christ.”

Tim Ferriss: Get a restraining order.

Dave Elitch: And it’s too much, and they get freaked out. And it’s like, “Well, I might not be that guy all the time, but that’s definitely possible.” A real-life situation, which is what I always try to talk about because that’s the most important thing. So many people run into problems when they – it’s hyperbole. When I was out with The 1975 maybe a couple of years ago, George, the drummer, I’ve been teaching him for a while, and he broke his collarbone on tour. This was the same type of situation.

Tim Ferriss: How did he break his collarbone? Maybe it’s not for family programming.

Dave Elitch: I don’t know. But he was just like, “Dude, I broke my collarbone.”

Tim Ferriss: Good recovery. Continue.

Dave Elitch: I was like, “Who knows?” He was like, “Can you come out here and fill in?” It’s the same type of situation. I have to learn all the music last minute. It’s really large venues, arenas. I show up in Toronto, meet everyone. We have a line check on stage, which is you make sure all the connections are working. We run through a couple of songs, maybe.

Tim Ferriss: The people attempting to assemble my drum kit did not do this.

Dave Elitch: That was another thing. I’m like 5’6” on a good day. George is at least a foot taller than me, if not more. He’s very tall. He’s probably like 6’9”.

Tim Ferriss: Holy cow.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, he’s very tall.

Tim Ferriss: Daddy long legs on that drum kit.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, long legs, long arms, long everything. So I had to rearrange his kit. A lot of times, you have to sit down and just play it, which can present some problems. But I had to rearrange things because it was impossible. An outdoor stage in Toronto. 10,000 people. You just have to go for it.

Tim Ferriss: You said you were going through a line check and then took it off the reservation.

Dave Elitch: Line check is like a kick drum, snare drum, guitar. Checking that everything’s working. Matty, the singer, is like, “Can we do this song? Let’s do this song.” We did a couple of songs. Then he’s like, “Okay, great.” Then it’s showtime. Because that’s the type of situation where it’s a band, and you have to come in. The very difficult thing is you have to assume someone else’s character and try to make everyone feel comfortable enough to where it’s comfortable. They were like, “Play the parts, but you can have fun.” I threw in some things here and there, and they were laughing and into it.

It was super fun. We did that run for about a month. Then I sat down with Matty, the singer and he was like, “You know, man, we have to do Glastonbury and some BB1 stuff. It’s really important that this band sounds like The 1975. Right now, it sounds like The 1975 with Dave Elitch, because your personality is just huge.” At the time, I was like, “Fuck.” I was so bummed. Because I really like Matty, I really like George. All those guys. And I really like the music a lot. I was just like, “Fuck, man.” Then I was like, “Wait, this is the best compliment anyone could ever give me.” Because having an identity is the most important thing when you’re making art.

I’m like, “You know what? That’s fucking awesome.” They got my buddy, Freddy, who was doing it for a week until I got there, Freddy Sheed, a really great drummer in the U.K. They got him to do it again until George could come back. Freddy’s great, and he’s a really great buddy of mine. He did a great job. At the time, I was just so bummed.

Tim Ferriss: What helped you reframe it? When were you able to reframe it, and view it that way?

Dave Elitch: It took a while. It took a few months.

Tim Ferriss: Did you do it on your own? Did it come to clarity through therapy? What helped? Because a lot of people don’t recover. They’re not able to reframe something that might’ve been a very difficult time. It continues to be something. That was very difficult.

Dave Elitch: It takes them out forever.

Tim Ferriss: Or yeah, it just becomes this pain, this dull ache that they revisit every time they have the memory. But you’ve been able to reframe it.

Dave Elitch: Yeah. I think through enough experience and having enough success outside of that situation. I can definitely see that happening if it’s like that’s your one shot, and that’s the only amount of success you ever had. But I’ve done a lot of other things, and I did things after that and before it. That was just that one thing. It wasn’t like “You’ve fucked it up,” it was like, “You’re too distracting.”

Tim Ferriss: What’s the shittiest music gig you’ve ever had? It could be anything. It could be fucking halftime; it could be a rogue Olive Garden, I don’t know.

Dave Elitch: Man, I don’t know if I can answer that without getting in trouble.

Tim Ferriss: Have there ever been moments when you’ve doubted yourself or doubted the music path? Where you’ve just been like, “Fuck.”

Dave Elitch: All the time.

Tim Ferriss: Any examples come to mind? They could be super early. They could be at any point.

Dave Elitch: The industry has changed so much in the past 10 or 15 years. Just the way it’s structured as a business model alone makes you question things. “Is this even a working model anymore?” That changes on a daily basis. Just thinking about things monetarily, sometimes, “Does this even make sense?” For me, “Am I going to go out on tour, and be away from home, and make X amount of money when I can just stay home and sleep in my own bed, and make X amount of money teaching?” That kind of a thing. Then it’s like, “Well, do I want to teach, or do I want to play music?” Then it’s like, “The grass is always greener.”

That stuff is constantly swirling around in my head. When you’re auditioning for gigs, and you’re like, “That guy got the gig? Are you kidding me?” Then you’re like, “If that’s what people want, that’s garbage.” And everyone else is like, “Oh, gross. That dude’s such a cheeseball. Why would they?” And you’re like, “Is that what people want? If that’s what people want, why am I doing this?” Because no one has good taste. You can get into that whole thing. Totally. I think what’s very important is doing a multitude of things. I teach a lot.

That’s really my bread-and-butter. But because of that, I can be selective and learn how to say no to things because of that. So if someone calls me –

Tim Ferriss: To playing gigs?

Dave Elitch: Yes. If someone calls me for a tour and I heard a lot of bad things about the artist, like they’re a pain in the ass, I’ll be like, “Nah, I’m good.” I don’t have to do it. I have a lot of friends who tour, and that’s all they do.

Tim Ferriss: They have to go.

Dave Elitch: They’re like, “God, you’re so lucky you teach. I have to go out with this piece of shit right now.” Then it comes around to doing what you love for a living. What’s the point if you go out on the road and you’re bumming? So there’s something to be said for the weekend warrior who goes to their suit-and-tie cubicle job, and then they get out of work, and they’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to go play drums right now,” and they’re stoked. There’s something to be said for that. Because it’s still like a wholly special thing.

That’s something that I struggle with in art because I love art so much and it’s so important to me. Everyone’s like, “When are you going to start making stuff?” It’s like, “But if I start making it, then I’m part of it,” and then it’s tainted in a way.

Tim Ferriss: It makes me think of some of my friends who are very successful travel writers. It’s really hard for them to travel for fun because they’re constantly thinking about, “What would the lede be? How would I describe this? Maybe I should take some notes, just in case.” They have a very tough time experiencing travel without thinking about how they would craft the narrative.

Dave Elitch: Same thing for me. If you go on tour a lot, you don’t want to go traveling for fun. You’re like, “I was just out for six weeks. I just want to be.” Everyone’s like, “Man, you should take a vacation.” I don’t want to go anywhere.

Tim Ferriss: I want a staycation.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, exactly.

Tim Ferriss: You were talking about the teaching, which I think is really a point I want to revisit because you do multiple things. You have many different interests. It strikes me that in a sense you’ve, number one, diversified your identity in such a way that you don’t feel psychologically compelled always to tour. Secondly, with the teaching and with the online course, Getting Out of Your Own Way, which I think could be, maybe it will be the title of this podcast, so interrelated as it relates to – this is a terrible sentence, but you get the idea – Oblique Strategies, Inner Game of Tennis. So many of these creative pursuits, professional pursuits, personal pursuits, are not about doing something brand-new that is this gigantic skill that you have to acquire over 15 years.

A lot of it is just removing the blocks. But the point I was going to make is you are not in a position, because you have developed these different branches of your life, where you have to feel or act out of desperation. It makes me think, for instance, this might seem like it’s totally out of left field, but Arnold Schwarzenegger never really auditioned. This is something not a whole lot of people know about him. It’s not a secret. But he made millions of dollars in real estate before he ever had his break in film. So he focused on real estate in Santa Monica and other areas and also had other types of business.

He had a mail-order business. He had a bricklaying business with Franco Columbu so that he could be selective about the roles he took.

Dave Elitch: That’s incredible.

Tim Ferriss: So he was able to craft a trajectory, even when – you were talking about the cheeseball taking the gig – when he got started, people are like, “This is never going to work. You’re a freak show. Nobody wants that. People want Al Pacino in Taxi.” Was it Taxi or Taxi Driver?

Dave Elitch: Robert De Niro?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, there we go. Wow. How many ways can I get that story wrong?

Dave Elitch: We can edit that out.patience

Tim Ferriss: Close enough. This is audio verité, so I’ll leave it in. Wow. You get the idea. He was able to bide his time also so that at some point he could put himself in a position where he could be exactly what people wanted. I’ll give you a public thanks also for – you can see how my brain is connecting these two – for your introduction to Bill Burr, a comedian who was also on this show, who you teach. Who, for people who haven’t seen it, does one of the most hilarious Arnold Schwarzenegger bits of all time, which I won’t spoil. It is definitely not suitable for work, so don’t play it at full volume on YouTube at your job and then get pissed off at me on the internet. But the diversification of identity psychologically is very important. Then the income diversification for you, allowing you to then as an artist craft a more deliberate path, I think is really important.

Dave Elitch: Absolutely. And if you’re not being deliberate about what you’re creating, then what the hell are you doing? You’re just making garbage, right?

Tim Ferriss: Absolutely. You mentioned George. This is George Daniel, right?

Dave Elitch: Yup.

Tim Ferriss: The 1975. He has said, and I quote, “Among other things,” I’ll read the whole thing, “Dave saved my arms and hands. He made me see I could, in fact, contrary to my belief, develop a technique that would save me from blisters and helped solve tendinitis from many years of horribly inefficient technique.” We don’t have to talk about that. We can, but the next line is what’s interesting to me. “He taught patience! An incredible player, a really great teacher, and all-around lovely human.” What does that mean by “He taught patience?”

Dave Elitch: I think probably, as long as someone is putting the work in, I’m very patient with people, because seeing the light flash in their eyes when something clicks is one of the greatest feelings imaginable. Also, probably for him, I think to be patient with himself. Taking the time to really hone in on certain things and not having to rush through things. Just feeling like, “I’m going to put the work in and I’m going to take the time so all this stuff happens the way it should happen.” You have to be patient with that or else it’s never going to manifest itself.

Tim Ferriss: Or with something that’s as physical as drumming, if you rush it and your technique is not biomechanically suitable for a human body, then –

Dave Elitch: That’s what I was saying earlier. It’s inherently an issue of the drum set as an instrument in that the way the drum set was formed initially around the turn of the century, it was called a trap kit, short for “contraption.” So you think of these dudes around the late 1800s, 1900s, taking disparate concert percussion instruments like a bass drum by itself and a snare drum. Then they had to make a pedal to use the bass drum. And the high hats were originally called low boys because they were on the floor and you only played them with your foot.

It’s evolved in this really bizarre, strange way, so it’s physically strange. But also the bar is incredibly low in terms of entry. It’s very easy to play drums in the beginning. You sit down and go [sound effects], and you’re like, “Oh, I can play drums. I can play along to AC/DC and Michael Jackson. This is great.” No one thinks about how anything functions because they can already do it. Then they go out tour and 10 years later, they’re like, “My arms are destroyed,” or “My hip,” or “My back.” Because they’re doing everything inefficiently or incorrectly.

Then also they get stuck as far as the vocabulary goes because they can’t express themselves properly because they’re in their own way. A lot of it is inherently part of the instrument itself. I always use violin as an example. You have to sit there for six months just getting your intonation happening. Or with saxophone, you have to get your embouchure together.

Tim Ferriss: Your what?

Dave Elitch: Embouchure.

Tim Ferriss: Embouchure. What is that?

Dave Elitch: It’s basically throat control. How you produce air pressure. That takes a while. You start learning the clarinet. You’re squawking all over the place. You have to develop that control. You can’t just sit down and make a sound. There’s a certain amount of gestation.

Tim Ferriss: With the drums, you can get the reward without having to develop that body control.

Dave Elitch: Immediately. Exactly. That’s the problem. But that’s part of the instrument. What I was going to say earlier when we were talking about being able to wear many different hats, do many different things, but be deliberate about what you’re doing, I was talking to a friend about this. He was like, “Yeah, if your identity is largely based on what you do for a living, whatever it is, what if you wake up one day and you don’t want to do that thing? Then you’re like, ‘Who am I?’ That’s a mind-fuck.”

Tim Ferriss: Very common. Super, super common. For people who try to retire and then they’re like, “Wait, I’ve spent 12 hours a day for the last 30 years doing X.”

Dave Elitch: Then you have a whole other black hole where if you’re a very important person and you get a lot of respect, and then you retire, you’re just some guy. That’s a whole other thing to deal with. Then what are you going to do with your life when you just wake up? Are you going to play golf? All that? Then that’s a whole other thing.

Tim Ferriss: What would you put on a billboard, if you could put – metaphorically, right? A message, a few words, a word. Anything. A billboard to get out to million of people. He’s holding his t-shirt. Slow down?

Dave Elitch: Yeah. Slow down. Because generally speaking, so many people need to do that. Slow down, take a deep breath, just relax.

Tim Ferriss: You can also cover up or hide a lot of your own mistakes and sloppiness from yourself by doing things too quickly.

Dave Elitch: Absolutely. That’s very common in music.

Tim Ferriss: Yes, very common in music. It’s very common in a lot of things. When I watch really good boxing instructors, they’re always like, “Slow down.” In the beginning, certainly. Anybody can flail their arms around so nobody can see what you’re doing exactly. I want to see exactly what you’re doing, really slowly in the beginning. It also brings to mind one of my favorite expressions I’ve learned in the last few years, which is from a friend of mine who is a former Navy SEAL. It’s not specific to him. It’s something that you hear quite a lot. It is “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

Dave Elitch: Yes, I like that.

Tim Ferriss: Do not rush. Because if you try to rush a reload or rush whatever it might be and you botch it, now you’re really slow.

Dave Elitch: You’re slower than you would even be before.

Tim Ferriss: Yes.

Dave Elitch: It’s the same with the weights and shit in the smaller circles. You have to learn things in large movements or whatever you want to think about this is, whatever paradigm you want to think about this in, and then as you get more comfortable with it, it gets smaller and smaller and smaller. Then you’re just throwing someone across the room.

Tim Ferriss: For those people wondering, that’s Josh Waitzkin who is a fantastic guy, a good friend of mine, who is the basis for the book and the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. He’s really a master in many disciplines. That’s one of his concepts, for sure.

Dave Elitch: I tell everyone I teach to get that book.

Tim Ferriss: The Art of Learning is a fantastic book. He was the second ever guest on this podcast. A lot of great concepts. Also for people interested, I did a television episode with him where we looked at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which he’s a black belt in, among other things. That was the first time for that TV show that he got in front of a chess board in, I want to say 15 years, something like that. His wife said: “I cannot believe that he’s getting in front of a chess board. I’ve maybe never seen him do it.”

Dave Elitch: That thing in the episode where he talks about playing like 50 chess games at the same time.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the simultaneous games.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, and talking about feeling the flow of energy in the room and then he felt like a shift.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. He felt like he had been juggling 30 balls and one of them got dropped. He was playing, it was something like 30 kids, and one of them cheated. And he came back around, and he didn’t know exactly what had happened, but he was like, “This doesn’t feel right.”

Dave Elitch: That sounds spooky. That’s a real thing. That episode was so affirming and exciting for me because he said a lot of things where I was like, “I am doing this right. I am on the right path.” Because there were so many things that we did similarly.

Tim Ferriss: The transfer is so clear.

Dave Elitch: Huge.

Tim Ferriss: Which is part of the fun. It’s a big part of the fun of having this podcast for me is interviewing people across disciplines that at first glance you would expect to have nothing to do with one another, and you just realize that people who are playing their A game in any field have more in common with one another than they do with the B players in their own field.

Dave Elitch: That’s one of my favorite things to do with Burr. We sit down and talk about comedy and drumming and the massive amounts of overlap between the two. When we first started working together, he had basically like a John Bonham, Led Zeppelin, almost like a replica kit. He’s a huge Bonham fan. Everyone who plays drums is a John Bonham fan. He’s incredible. He has a very specific sound. So he got this early ‘70s, green sparkle Ludwig kit. Giant 26” bass drum. It’s a thing. It’s a very specific thing. We’re working together, and we’re talking about identity and what he wants to say and who he wants to be and getting his posture together.

I was like, “Dude, you wouldn’t walk out on stage and start yelling like Sam Kinison. That’s his thing. You do your own thing. You walk out on stage in front of whatever, 12,000 people at Madison Square Garden. You’re doing your own thing. Bring that to this.” He sold the kit immediately. Got his own thing. He’s figuring out what his own thing is. That’s so much fun for me to do. He’s one of the smartest dudes I know. He’s brilliant.

Tim Ferriss: He’s a very smart guy. Within any field, you have certain philosophical underpinnings or paradigms that people choose as the foundation for a lot of their decisions and career paths and so on. Then you have the strategies, and you have the tactics. The lower level you go in some respects, the more the fields diverge, but certainly at the higher levels, whether it’s tennis, comedy, drumming, or otherwise, there are so many commonalities. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Dave Elitch: That I love?

Tim Ferriss: I’ll give you an example. Or a compulsion. So for instance, Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the book, Wild. She’s an excellent author and a fantastic podcast host. The example she gave is she likes to reassemble sandwiches. So when she gets a sandwich, it bothers her if all the tomatoes are on one side of the sandwich and the avocado is on the other. She wants every bite to be as uniform as possible. So she reassembles her sandwich. I like the number 555 because I finished editing the final line on the final pass of The 4-Hour Body in a samovar tea shop in San Francisco ages ago and looked up and it was 5:55 p.m. So that became this good luck charm. So I take screenshots of that whenever it pops up. It could be anything.

Dave Elitch:   It’s funny. I think to be good at anything, you need to have a touch of OCD, absolutely. You have to be detail oriented. I do have those things, but I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, other than checking the stove 10 times when I’m leaving the house. Checking my studio door four times to make sure it’s locked. I can’t think of anything weirdly specific like that at the moment.

Tim Ferriss: No problem. I’m sure there are depths to plumb there that we can return to. How often do you eat Indian or Himalayan food with some type of curry-type consistency?

Dave Elitch: Every day, pretty much. That’s why I go to the gym six days a week, because I have to work off all the clarified butter.

Tim Ferriss: All right. I’ll leave that. That may qualify. When you feel – actually, I’m not going to ask that one. Let me go somewhere else. One thing that’s come up in our conversations recently because I’ve never worked with a therapist, and I’ve listened to interviews you’ve done where you’ve mentioned therapy and your therapist. I’ve always had a certain degree of resistance, particularly to talk therapy, for a lot of reasons I won’t bore everybody with. I’d like to talk about that because it seems like you’ve benefited tremendously from it. If you’re comfortable talking about it, why did you end up engaging a therapist? How did you choose your therapist? What have been some of the benefits that you’ve derived from it so far?

Dave Elitch: I initially –

Tim Ferriss: Sorry. I’ll continue to step all over your answers. You, as well as a few other people, when I have mentioned that I have not worked with a therapist, they’re just like, “What in the fuck? Are you serious?”

Dave Elitch: Especially you.

Tim Ferriss: They’re like, “Really?” I’m like, “Okay, maybe this is something I should explore.”

Dave Elitch: Yeah, absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: This has come up multiple times from multiple people. Your story.

Dave Elitch: I started seeing a therapist around when I was 30-ish. Something like that. It was mainly to figure out relationship issues that kept happening over and over and over again. I was like, “There’s clearly something here that’s a blind spot to me, and I don’t know what I’m doing; I need to figure this out.” That was the specific reason why I started going. I found my therapist through a really close friend of mine who is a therapist. We obviously can’t work together because she’s a close friend of mine. She was like, “You should see this person; she’s incredible.”

Working with a therapist, having a good relationship with someone where you can really trust them, and you care about each other, it clicks. That is unbelievably important. There are so many bad drum teachers out there, and there are so many bad therapists out there. It can be extremely damaging to someone. Having a good therapist who you get along with and connect with and who’s very competent, that’s why I picked someone – I mean, we hit it off, and it was obvious. But she’s 80. All these life coaches running around who are like 25. It’s like, “What the fuck do you know? You don’t know anything.”

Having a therapist where I can bring up anything and she’s like, “Yup, been there.” That’s huge. It started off with the relationship stuff, and then it obviously shoots off into all these other different directions. Even having someone to go in and dump on and brain vomit, who’s only there to help you out, help you sort things out, the world would be a completely different place if everyone had that. Had a safe –

Tim Ferriss: Like an outlet.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, to just unload.

Tim Ferriss: What are some of the ingredients for success in the beginning? Would you say that it was important for you to meet every week for a certain period of time? Given how much you potentially travel, right? What were some of the things that made it work?

Dave Elitch: It’s the same thing with drumming. I’m like, “Hey look, if you’re serious about this, we’ve got to do this once a week,” because it’s like going to the gym. You don’t go two days a week for four hours. You go every day for an hour or something. You have consistency. That’s crucial. You’re able to make progress because it’s a recurring dialogue you’re having with someone. I went once a week for years. When things got particularly messy, I would sometimes go twice a week. There were times when she really saved my life. Dealing with PTSD, you literally feel like you’re going to die.

Now I go once a month to sort of check in. What’s funny, we were talking about this last night, the times when I’m like, “Everything’s kind of cool; I don’t even need to go today.” Those are the times when you stumble into some massive paradigm shift. It literally is a paradigm shift. You see the world in a completely different way. A lot of the times when that happens, it’s funny. I’ll be talking out loud, thinking, but verbalizing it and you sort of get on a path and then you’re like, “Boom,” and something happens. You’re just like, “Holy shit, where did that come from?” It’s almost like an out-of-body experience.

A lot of it is trying to get outside of yourself, which is extremely difficult. Thinking about “Is this aspect of my personality – is this learned from my parents or someone else, or is this part of me?” A lot of things that I didn’t know I was even doing are learned things that can be unlearned. It might take a lot of work. It takes a lot of work. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I am a completely different person. A very specific example that’s something small, if I’m at the gym and someone reracks their weights improperly, it drives me fucking bananas. It drives me crazy. If they take the 25s –

Tim Ferriss: And put it on the 35s?

Dave Elitch: Oh, my God. It drives me crazy. It’s like this could not be more black and white. How is that acceptable? And then that fucks up the flow for everyone else. One day, she was like, “Well, you know, they didn’t see that you were wearing your invisible police uniform. They just didn’t see it.” I start laughing, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, you’re totally right.” The feeling, this need to police everyone. It’s obviously a need for control, which is a learned thing. That’s something that I constantly have to check myself about. That’ll take you out because there are so many things like that on the daily.

Tim Ferriss: Hundreds, thousands, right?

Dave Elitch: Yeah, and they’re everywhere.

Tim Ferriss: Why does this guy not know how to use this chip reader?

Dave Elitch: Yeah, or like, “Why did you park like an asshole?” It’s mostly people being inconsiderate that drives me crazy.

Tim Ferriss: I have one friend, and I’m not sure he’d want to be named explicitly, so I won’t mention his name. He’s a very brilliant guy in his field. When he goes through TSA and airport security, it drives him completely fucking bananas when people don’t know how to go through security. They’ll leave their belt on, or they’ll have a huge container of water after the person has asked them four times if they have any liquids. What he started to do – he’s also been very recently seeing a therapist and has figured out certain coping mechanisms.

One of his coping mechanisms, which I think is really hilarious, is he will become the voice that he imagines they have. They’re 30 feet away. He’ll go, “What do you mean I can’t take water on the airplane? Last time I was here, I could bring my computer through the metal detector.” And he’ll do this. I remember asking him at one point, “That’s really funny. That’s what you say to yourself?” He’s like, “No, that’s what I say out loud. I say it loud enough so that everybody around me can hear it and people start laughing and chill the fuck out.”

Dave Elitch: Oh, it’s a way to defuse it?

Tim Ferriss: I think he did it initially because he thought it was hilarious and uncomfortable to say it out loud, but now he’s become the standup comedian at the back of the line. I now know at least a half dozen people who have spent time with him who now do the same thing in line.

Dave Elitch: That’s hilarious.

Tim Ferriss: But it’s the little things that are the big things, right?

Dave Elitch: It’s also why would – it’s also for, like, TSA employees driving you bananas. I travel a lot and a lot of them are totally incompetent. It’s like going to anything where you have to deal with someone in that type of a job. You go, “Wait, why would this person be competent? A competent person wouldn’t have this job in the first place, so why am I expecting that to begin with?” I’m setting myself up to get angry.

Tim Ferriss: It’s the small things. We think about these big, existential dilemmas and questions, but in so many cases – that stuff is important or can be important – but it’s also are you giving yourself 100 pats on the back in your day or are you giving yourself 100 papercuts? Because you have ample opportunity for both.

Dave Elitch: What we’re talking about might sound trivial, but you stack all of those things up, and they’ll take you out.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah, for sure. Oh, my God. We will, at some point, maybe tonight over some wine, come back to more unusual and absurd things that you love because I am sure there is a treasure trove. One or two last questions. You’ve mentioned a few books here that you gifted to me, which are very timely. Are there any other particular gifts that you’ve given the most as gifts to other people?

Dave Elitch: The Andre Agassi book, Open, is phenomenal.

Tim Ferriss: An incredible book. Even if you don’t care about tennis at all, it is an incredible book.

Dave Elitch: I tweeted years ago, I was like, “Hey, does anyone know any sports psychology books directly related to tennis or golf?” Because I was really fascinated by those. I don’t really give a shit about sports, really. But I was really fascinated because the psychological warfare you have to navigate by yourself is the same as when the red light’s on in the studio. I have to do these film scores where you have to sight-read everything. You’ve never seen it before. They throw up a book.

Tim Ferriss: Sight reading is you’ve never played it?

Dave Elitch: You’ve never seen the music before. They throw up the sheet music, and you have to play it perfectly the first time because you have to do the whole movie in a day.

Tim Ferriss: Jesus.

Dave Elitch: So it’s very stressful.

Tim Ferriss: Including films like Trolls, The Book of Love. Others?

Dave Elitch: Logan, that Wolverine movie.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, so good.

Dave Elitch: That St. Vincent movie with Bill Murray a few years ago. All the Divergent, Insurgent.

Tim Ferriss: But like same, same, but different. In terms of the sports, the tennis, the golf.

Dave Elitch: Like when you hit the ball in the sand, and you’re like, “Fuck.” Then you have to leave it be. You can’t let that ruin the whole game. The same sort of thing. When the red light’s on in the studio, or you’re playing in front of 30,000 people, it’s the same thing. If you screw something up, you can’t be “Light, ugh,” and let it screw up the whole show. It’s the same exact thing. I thought that was fascinating.

Tim Ferriss: So was the Agassi book recommended as a result of that post that you put up?

Dave Elitch: Yeah. I was like, “Oh, my God, this is incredible.”

Tim Ferriss: It’s a tremendous book.

Dave Elitch: I give that to people all the time. The Art of Learning I give to people all the time.

Tim Ferriss: Josh Waitzkin.

Dave Elitch: Yup. I give The Inner Game of Tennis. I give Zen in the Art of Archery to people all the time. I feel like that was the very first book that spawned all of these Zen and the art of –

Tim Ferriss: Fill-in-the-blank. Yeah, definitely.

Dave Elitch: Yes. So popular now. God, I need to look at my bookcase. There’s so many.

Tim Ferriss: Horton Hears a Who! Last but not least.

Dave Elitch: So many.

Tim Ferriss: You are one of the best-read people I’ve met in the last I would say five years, which is saying a lot because I meet a lot of people who read very widely.

Dave Elitch: Thanks.

Tim Ferriss: This has been so much fun. We could go on for many, many more hours, so maybe we’ll do that at some point. Where are some of the best places for people to find you? We talked about daveelitch.com, Instagram, Twitter @daveelitch. There are other social profiles, I’m sure, but it seems like maybe those are the best. The online course, which is really stunningly shot and very well done, Getting Out of Your Own Way, that’s available at daveelitch.com?

Dave Elitch:   Daveelitch.com, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Any other places where people can find you that you’d like them to pay attention to or any other recommendations or asks of the audience, people who are listening?

Dave Elitch: Well, the easiest place to find me is Instagram. Just Dave Elitch. Or my website. You can contact me through my website. I’m not super active on Twitter or Facebook anymore. Someone else who wrote a lot of books I recommend are Douglas Coupland. He wrote Generation X.

Tim Ferriss: Coupland, that’s C-O-U-P-L-A-N-D.

Dave Elitch: He’s also an equally amazing visual artist, which is incredibly rare. I find a ton of inspiration from him. He’s great. I recommend a lot of his books. Generation X is great social commentary from the early ‘90s.

Tim Ferriss: He coined that term “Generation X.”

Dave Elitch: Yeah. He’s an interesting sort of social tech theorist. I think he has a job at Google now.

Tim Ferriss: He very well could. They tend to gather interesting, eclectic folks.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, he’s an interesting dude. So yeah. Those are the two best places to contact me, my website or Instagram. If anyone hears this and they’re sort of kindred spirits in terms of what motivates us or in terms of any sort of creative endeavor, reach out and say “Hey.”

Tim Ferriss: Lob out a note or a hand wave through the ether that is the interwebs. Dave, it’s so awesome to finally get you on.

Dave Elitch: Same, dude.

Tim Ferriss: Many, many adventures ahead. I’m excited for you. I’m hoping to pop into the master class tomorrow, which I will be completely unqualified for. Nonetheless, as a fly on the wall.

Dave Elitch: Awesome.

Tim Ferriss: I really look forward to that. Before I forget, Daughters of Mara. Is Mara, I’ve never thought to ask this, but is that a reference to the, what is it, Hindu god?

Dave Elitch: I think it’s Buddhist.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s Buddhist. Mara, who’s sort of the equivalent of –

Dave Elitch: The Devil.

Tim Ferriss: The Devil.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, he had three daughters that would tempt people. Sort of like the snake in the Garden of Eden equivalent.

Tim Ferriss: Daughters of Mara.

Dave Elitch: That was a band I was in in 2005-2007 that was on Virgin, Capitol Records, did a record, and then EMI got bought out by Terra Firma, and that was that.

Tim Ferriss: I am Destroyer, appropriate.

Dave Elitch: Yeah, very relevant. Little did we know.

Tim Ferriss: Dave smash! All right. Everybody listening, as always, you can find links to all the things we talked about, including the crazy Mars Volta video. We will also look up a few other things, like the books that, in addition to the Pia Mellody book, the other books, perhaps some of the books your therapist has on her mantle, and the mankind existential animal quote question mark, etc. will all be in the show notes.

You can also find links certainly to Getting Out of Your Own Way and everything linked to Dave at tim.blog/podcast. Until next time, thank you for listening.

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LeBron James and His Top-Secret Trainer, Mike Mancias (#349)

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Photo by Eric Ray Davidson

“I try to put myself in a mental state of, ‘How do I learn from that defeat? How do I learn from that loss?'” — LeBron James

“Recovery never stops.” — Mike Mancias

This episode represents the first time that LeBron James has been interviewed alongside his very below-the-radar, some might say top-secret, athletic trainer about details of training, recovery, diet, and even how much longer he hopes to play in the NBA.

LeBron James (@KingJames) is widely considered one of the greatest athletes of his generation and regarded by some as the best basketball player of all time. James’ accomplishments on the court include four NBA Most Valuable Players Awards, three NBA Championships and three NBA Finals MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, and an NBA scoring title. He is the all-time NBA playoffs scoring leader and has amassed fourteen NBA All-Star game appearances, twelve All-NBA First Team selections, and five All-Defensive First Team honors.

Throughout his career, James has used his platform to inspire and empower others through his LeBron James Family Foundation that supports at-risk students in his hometown earn life-changing educations (culminating in the recent opening of his I PROMISE School); SpringHill Entertainment, the entertainment company he co-founded with Maverick Carter that produces compelling and aspirational content for a cross-cultural audience on a variety of platforms including digital, film, and television; and UNINTERRUPTED, the digital media company he and Carter co-founded that provides athletes a platform to tell their stories.

James’ diverse business portfolio of innovative endorsements and investments has established him as one of the most influential figures in all of sports. James has appeared on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful celebrities, TIME’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s 100 Most Influential People in Sports.

LeBron, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cindy Crawford, and Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, has founded Ladder, a health and wellness platform and brand launching today. The site, weareladder.com, is a resource for reaching fitness, nutrition, and health goals with tools and scientifically supported insights for addressing any frustrations or roadblocks along the way.

Mike Mancias (@mikemancias1) is LeBron James’ athletic trainer and recovery specialist, a position he’s held for 14 years and counting. A veteran in the world of training professional basketball players, his experience also includes working with NFL, MLB, PGA, and top NCAA athletes. Throughout his tenure with LeBron, Mike has quietly developed a winning human-performance blueprint that encompasses everything from preventative medicine, strength training/rehab, nutrition, and the latest in recovery techniques. Mike’s philosophy is one that is now commonly accepted by many athletes and trainers as the ideal 360-degree approach to wellness and performance. It was through this focus on nutrition to performance and recovery that Mancias aided in developing the Ladder brand and its products.

Originally from Brownsville, Texas, Mancias attended the University of Texas-Pan American and graduated with a degree in Health Education. He is licensed and nationally certified by the Accredited National Athletic Trainers Association and is a 14-year member of The National Basketball Athletic Trainers Association.

Please enjoy this interview with LeBron James and Mike Mancias!

Listen to the interview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or on your favorite podcast platform. 

#349: LeBron James and His Top-Secret Trainer, Mike Mancias
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Want to hear my first conversation with LeBron’s business partner Arnold Schwarzenegger? — In this episode, we discuss psychological warfare and much more (stream below or right-click here to download):

#60: Tim Ferriss Interviews Arnold Schwarzenegger on Psychological Warfare (And Much More)
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This episode is brought to you by 99designs. 99designs is the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together. From logos to apps and packaging to books, 99designs is the go-to design resource for any budget. I have used it for years to help with display advertising and illustrations and to rapid prototype the cover for The Tao of Seneca. Whether your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99designs.

99designs’ designer search tool connects you directly with one designer based on design category or industry specialization, style, skill level, availability and more. Or, you can start a contest – invite the entire community to take a shot at your project – then you pick your favorite. Right now you guys, my listeners, can receive a free $99 upgrade on your first design contest. To check out your first free upgrade, please visit 99designs.com/Tim and click on the link in the landing page.

This podcast is also brought to you by Peloton, which has become a staple of my daily routine. I picked up this bike after seeing the success of my friend Kevin Rose, and I’ve been enjoying it more than I ever imagined. Peloton is an indoor cycling bike that brings live studio classes right to your home. No worrying about fitting classes into your busy schedule or making it to a studio with a crazy commute.

New classes are added every day, and this includes options led by elite NYC instructors in your own living room. You can even live stream studio classes taught by the world’s best instructors, or find your favorite class on demand.

Peloton is offering listeners to this show a special offer. Visit onepeloton.com and enter the code TIM at checkout to receive $100 off accessories with your Peloton bike purchase. This is a great way to get in your workouts, or an incredible gift. Again, that’s onepeloton.com and enter the code TIM.


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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Dave Elitch — How to Get Out of Your Own Way (#348)

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Photo by Dan Gillan

“Slow down. Do it again.” — Dave Elitch

Dave Elitch (IG: @daveelitch) first garnered attention with his band Daughters of Mara’s debut album I am Destroyer in 2007, but his time touring with the American progressive rock band The Mars Volta in 2009-2010 is what really put him on the map. He has since worked with Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, M83, The 1975, Juliette Lewis, Big Black Delta, as well as many others.

Dave conducts master-class lectures worldwide and is a regular in the L.A. session scene, including performing on film scores for many major motion pictures. As an educator for the last 20 years, Dave has developed a reputation as the technique/body mechanic specialist who has helped many of the world’s top players and educators overcome physical and mental plateaus at his private studio in Los Angeles. His brand new online course, Getting Out of Your Own Way, is available now at DaveElitch.com (use the code FERRISS at checkout for a 25% off discount).

Please enjoy this episode with Dave Elitch!

Listen to the interview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or on your favorite podcast platform. 


Further curious about how drummers see the world? You’re not alone! — Make sure to listen to my conversation with Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police and son of a bona fide CIA operative! (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#262: The CIA, The Police, and Other Adventures from Stewart Copeland
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This podcast is brought to you by FreshBooks. FreshBooks is the #1 cloud bookkeeping software, which is used by a ton of the start-ups I advise and many of the contractors I work with. It is the easiest way to send invoices, get paid, track your time, and track your clients.

FreshBooks tells you when your clients have viewed your invoices, helps you customize your invoices, track your hours, automatically organize your receipts, have late payment reminders sent automatically and much more.

Right now you can get a free month of complete and unrestricted use. You do not need a credit card for the trial. To claim your free month and see how the brand new Freshbooks can change your business, go to FreshBooks.com/Tim and enter “Tim Ferriss” in the “how did you hear about us” section.


This podcast is also brought to you by Audible. I have used Audible for years, and I love audiobooks. I have a few to recommend:

  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  2. The Tao of Seneca by Seneca
  3. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  4. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg

All you need to do to get three months of Audible for just $6.95 a month is visit Audible.com/Tim or text TIM to 500500 to get started today.


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: Stan Grof

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Stanislav Grof, M.D., (stanislavgrof.com), 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: stanislavgrof.com;. I’ll link to all of this in the show notes for people so they’ll be able to find that at tim.blog/podcast. 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 tim.blog/podcast. 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)

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

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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!

DUE TO SOME HEADACHES IN THE PAST, PLEASE NOTE LEGAL CONDITIONS:

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.

WHAT YOU’RE WELCOME TO DO:

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 tim.blog/podcast URL. For the sake of clarity, media outlets with advertising models are permitted to use excerpts from the transcript per the above.

WHAT IS NOT ALLOWED:

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 tim.blog 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)

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“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 tim.blog/jamescameron.

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
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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
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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 foursigmatic.com/tim 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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