A Week In The Nuthouse

It’s a curious thing to write about a time that is now 45 years in the past. Autre temps, autre moeurs, as they say, other times, other customs. Looking back, it was an innocent time, the start of the Seventies. And I was young and foolish, as I suspect I’ve amply demonstrated in the first four posts in this series, onetwothree, and four … at the end of which I ended up living in Hawaii with a group of folks involved in LSD-assisted psychotherapy.

We all lived in an old mansion in Honolulu that had been converted into apartments. There were twenty-two bedrooms, sixteen baths, a big kitchen with two stoves with ovens, and a very large living room. From the first, I’d moved into the three connected rooms that were inhabited by the seven people, three men and four women, who were the trainee therapists. One of the three rooms was used as an office when they, and soon I, sat and listened to people talking about their lives and their problems. The second room was the living area. We ate and talked and hung out in that room. The third room was the bedroom. It had four double bed mattresses on the floor. All eight of us slept in there. Well, to be accurate, some of the time we were in there we were asleep. In any case, living like that was guaranteed to cure you of shyness or self-consciousness.

The situation of the rest of the people in the house was similar, with two, three or four people to a room or a pair of rooms. Combinations changed regularly as folks agreed and disagreed with each other.

The purpose of the house was psychotherapy. Everyone but the trainee therapists and the cook paid a monthly fee to be there. It was one payment that covered food, lodging, and therapy. Everyone was there for the same reason, to work through issues in their lives. Me, I got a salary plus room, board, and therapy. As I said in a previous post, I started out as just the cook, but quickly became the business manager and a trainee therapist as well.

To give you the flavor of my life back then, let me invite you to accompany me through a typical week in the group house. I’ll start Monday early, and we can wind through the weekdays and back around through Sunday night.

I was the first person up in the house every weekday, out of bed at 4:45, start cooking at five AM, because that’s the cook’s job. I was in charge of cooking breakfast and dinner for about 30 – 35 people. People got their own lunches. Two people were detailed to assist me each meal, on a rotating basis. All of the clients living in the house worked at regular jobs in Honolulu, so they got a good early breakfast at home. After breakfast everyone policed up their own dishes, and another rotating crew worked with me to wash and clean up the kitchen.

When I started the job, they had just a few recipes that the previous cook had been using. So I went out and bought a cookbook. I thought a while about which one to get. In the end I bought the book of Recipes for US Army Cooks, Technical Manual TM10-412.

army cookbook.png

I figured that they knew about feeding big bunches of people without extra time or work. Besides, you can’t just take a kitchen recipe and multiply it by thirty-five, the errors add up. In the Army cookbook, the recipes are for a hundred men, so when I cut them down to a third the size, the proportions were good. I used to laugh, though. I’d look up a recipe for say biscuits and it would make 212 biscuits and use 12 pounds of flour … but divide by three and I was good to go, two biscuits per person.

Three days a week, after breakfast I’d go with an assistant to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables in the Honolulu produce market. I loved it. The stacks of tropical fruit, the pineapples and mangoes, the yellow starfruit, the passion-fruit that the Hawaiians call lilikoi. The “solo papaya” that is self-pollinating, so there are only female plants, no males. Regular guavas and strawberry guavas. Shopping for the food was always a pleasure.

Another couple days a week, an assistant and I drove around Honolulu and did the rest of the shopping, for the dairy and eggs and flour and oats and bread and raisins and nuts and all the rest of the foodstuffs necessary to provide breakfast and dinner every day for about thirty-five people, plus occasional guests. Thirty-five people eat a whole lot of food in a week …

honolulu food market.png

Of course, feeding thirty-five people requires a bunch of paperwork. I made up all of the menus. I checked them for protein content because all of the cooking was vegetarian. Then I converted all of the menus, a week at a time, into shopping lists.

So that was my morning work as a cook.

I was also teaching yoga to the folks that lived in the house. And how did I know about yoga?

When I was a kid on the cattle ranch, a married couple who were friends of my mom came and lived with us for maybe six months or so. Not sure why, but there they were. They were both yoga teachers, and my mom determined that we kids should learn yoga. And we did. Every day we did asanas (yoga postures) with them, starting with the simplest ones and working up from there. Oh, plus meditation, but mostly we did asana after asana, with them correcting our postures. So I knew lots about yoga.

dr mishra fundamentals of yoga.png

I went to a bookstore in Honolulu, bought Dr. Mishra’s book that my yoga teachers had given us as their text, re-read it, copied their teaching methods, and set about teaching yoga. The students and I had great fun doing it. That was an hour, three mornings a week.

Then, as a trainee psychotherapist, I saw each of the residents (about 28 people) for a half-hour session at some point during the week. So that was about fourteen hours of work each week.

I also was the Business Manager for the Group. So I kept the books, answered the correspondence, dealt with the registration of the cars, paid the rent and utilities and the rest of the bills, and hired and oversaw repairmen as needed, the usual. I fit that in around seeing the people in the half-hour sessions.

And I had my Aikido classes, one hour each, twice a week. The Sensei in Honolulu was very different from the Sensei in Maui. The Honolulu Sensei was about 75, and like the Maui Sensei, he was true master. He was also intensely practical. He used to say “The best Aikido is that when the fight is starting on Fourth Street … you’re walking down Seventh Street”.

Then, about 4:30, I’d meet up with a couple of assistants and we’d cook dinner for 35 people. Same as breakfast only the menu was more complex. Now, dinner time was part of the entire therapeutic regime. It was treated as group therapy in the form of “dinner group”. People including us trainee therapists all ate in our own rooms, with our roommates. Typically, dinner group lasted from six to seven o’clock. People were expected to discuss the events of the day and how they’d dealt with them, what they’d learned, and the like.

After dinner group was over, we had “Big Group”, group therapy with everyone in the house, from 7:30 until usually about ten PM. Every week-night that was the schedule, except Friday night. But it wasn’t a night off, oh, no. On Friday night, we had Men’s Group and Women’s Group …

Finally, each week I had a half-hour session with Chuck and one with his wife Betty, working on my own issues and problems. And that gets us through the week and brings us to the weekend.

As I mentioned, we used LSD as an adjunct to therapy. The type of therapy done was of the general class called “abreactive therapy”. The underlying rationale is that we all have a number of memories of incidents that happened to us, incidents that were important, incidents of note. For many people, these incidents have an outsized importance in their lives, because of the strong emotions and the energy stored in the memories of the incident.

“Abreactive” therapy takes advantage of the fact that we can go back and in some sense “re-live” that incident. In doing so, we can free ourselves from the strings that tie us to that incident.

The advantage of using LSD when doing abreactive therapy is that when you relive an incident, you can immerse yourself much more fully in the memory. You can remember even small details of what was going on in the incident. You can truly relive it, all of the feelings and the sights and sounds come to life. LSD allows you to let go completely of the present and slip into the remembered past as though you were actually there.

lsd sunshine.png

And of course, with this fuller vision and more complete reliving of the past comes some a greater measure of release from the emotions and the memories, and the regaining of the energy that is bound up in the incident.

So on Saturday, all of the trainee therapists took LSD, and we had “Trainee’s Group” where we discussed the issues of the week, or whatever else might come up. We talked about what was bothering us and what was inspiring us, and we relived incidents from our past.

Then on Sunday, all of the residents took LSD, and Chuck and Betty and all of us trainee therapists watched over them. Again it was usually in the form of group therapy, either one big group, or we might split into smaller groups and work on more specific issues. And I can assure you … taking care of twenty-five people who are all on LSD is a constant challenge.

The key is what I can only call the “vibe”. At any given moment on Sunday, from none to a number of people were reliving some particularly disturbing incident from their lives. I learned to soak in the sound of the voices in the room as if it were music. I learned to stay aware of it even when focused on something else. I learned to move immediately to the location where the sound or the flow of the room had gotten off course, got edgy, when the music changed, when the vibe got dark or violent.

That’s when my aikido training was most valuable. Not so much the physical part of aikido, although I had to use that sometimes to immobilize and calm someone who was getting violent for some reason. The valuable part was the mental part, the idea that to control any situation the first thing to do is to harmonize with the situation. I learned never to oppose someone’s craziness of the moment, but to harmonize with it and then take it someplace more productive and positive.

Which means that if you see someone spiraling down the drain, the first thing to do is start down the drain with them … once you’re moving in their direction you can re-direct them to a soft landing somewhere.

Some Sundays we’d all go out to some remote beach somewhere, or go up into the mountains, and all the residents would take acid out there in nature. Once again, life was seen as therapy, so that’s what we concentrated on no matter where we were.

And that brings us back to Monday morning, where after sleeping in later on the weekend I was once again getting up early to cook breakfast … here’s the summary:

Work totals:

Cooking: 4 hours a day, five days a week, 20 hours/week.

Menu preparation, baking, and shopping: 10 hours/week

Business manager: 2 hours/week

Teaching Yoga: 3 hours/week

Work as Trainee Psychotherapist:

Seeing clients individually: 14 hours/week

Evening groups: 12 hours/week

Overseeing Sunday groups: 10 hours/week

My own therapy and study:

Dinner groups: 5 hours/week

Individual sessions: 1 hour/week

Aikido Practice: 2 hours/week

Saturday groups: 10 hours/week

TOTAL: 89 hours/week

Lather, rinse, repeat … I kept this schedule faithfully for almost a year. I was young. I was full of fire. I was a victim of chronic testosterone poisoning. I was an idiot.

Years later, I was doing a variety of trainings for the Peace Corps. I was teaching appropriate technology and water safety and foreign customs and such to groups of 25 people or so. One of the other trainers asked me how I could stay so cool and remain tranquil when the participants were peppering me with questions and starting to get a bit loud and rowdy.

When the trainer asked me that question, I had a sudden image of doing the same thing, taking care of 28 people, all of whom were on LSD and going through heavy psychological changes and issues.

I thought “Stay ahead of 25 Peace Corps Volunteers? Easy money, not even one of them is on LSD …”

Anyhow, that’s the story of how I got involved with LSD-assisted psychotherapy … what’s left is the story of how I got un-involved with LSD-assisted psychotherapy, what I learned and didn’t learn, and where the group went on to from there … to be continued, the tales told around the campfire flow on.

Best regards, my wish for all of you is for lives full of laughter and madness of the most productive kind …


12 thoughts on “A Week In The Nuthouse

  1. Thanks Willis, your posts are so rich and entertaining and a pleasure to read.

    Now I know you have done work in Africa, but I can’t recall reading anything specific about the stuff you did on the Dark Continent. Please point me to any of your writings about Africa, or perhaps you will share some of your experiences in future blog posts.

    Best wishes


  2. So good, Willis.

    When I was nine years old in the mid-fifties, there was no TV in New Zealand, so movies ruled, My friends and I went to the Kaitaia movie theatre every Saturday morning for the children’s matinee showing. Usually it was a Western.

    What hooked us all, and kept us going back week after week, wasn’t the movie, but the serial episodes – Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Captain Video. When the voice-over at the end told us what to expect in the next exciting episode, it was as irresistible to us as a pusher’s promise to an addict. We came back next Saturday, every time.

    I’ll be back for your next instalment, whatever it may reveal.

    Thanks Willis


  3. Pingback: Seventy And Two | Skating Under The Ice

  4. Hi Willis, Peter Hannan here. I offered to send you my article on my yoga teacher, Janet Downs, but I realise I didn’t give you a way to contact me, and I understand if you don’t want to publish contact details. My email is peteh2005@gmail.com , and if you send me a message from an email address, I will send my article as an attachment, and a link to her obituary, and nothing else, unless it’s by your express consent. Hope to hear from you.


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  6. Pingback: Life In The Psychedelicatessen | Skating Under The Ice

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