There are people – generally wealthy, white and bored people – who frequent psychedelic retreats to entertain themselves by drawing others into, essentially, a game of seduction.
What I’m about to tell you is the first time I’ve ever spoken publicly about this experience. It’s long but I want to share it with you as I believe it offers a cautionary tale about psychedelic retreats and a subset of people who are drawn to them.
Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve decided to attend a psychedelic retreat. You – smart, diligent and careful – are going to do everything right… choose the right retreat, the right guides, the right set and setting – but taking all that into account, there’s at least one other dimension that can go haywire.
My Personal Experience of Being (surreptitiously) Groomed
It was about 10 years ago on the island of Maui. I was kicking off my first attendance at a psychedelic retreat by settling into meditation. I had been drawn to this retreat as it was facilitated by a Jungian psychotherapist – a friend of a friend who organized these underground long weekend gatherings with some regularity. I’d been given a special psychedelic blend and had just concluded my first session with the therapist and was now sitting in a communal candle-lit space with about fifteen others riding the wave of a hypnotic chant.
This was my first interlude with psychedelics and I had decided to go for it as I trusted the professional oversight and was confident I was going to be taken care of. I turned to this experience as I was on a mission to feel better, intent on wanting to release myself from crippling self-doubt and anxiety that I had struggled with for, well, as long as I could remember. So I landed here, in a large rambling traditional Hawaiian stilted home, because it met the safe “set and setting” requisite that was a cornerstone of efficacious psychedelic experiences.
Over the course of 3 nights into the early morning hours we were given various special psychedelic blends – including the usuals… psilocybin, acid, ecstasy but other more exotic substances like sassafras. The pills and “chocolate hearts” were blends created by a well-known and respected medicine man coupled with the therapist’s private sessions.
From Spiritual Psychedelics to Recreational Psychedelics
So here I was crossed legged, eyes closed, inwardly focused – when I felt a finger tapping my knee, “Hello, hello, excuse me…” I don’t know how long this had been going on but being drawn out of my zone I opened my eyes to find a 40s-something man directly in front of me. Between the mind-expanding substance and the meditative trance, my mind was a little gauzy and I was unclear on what he said next but he issued some kind of compelling invitation to join him and his friend upstairs.
John and Jeff, let’s call them, were both from Los Angeles and they made it evident that they were regulars at psychedelic gatherings. I told them I was a beginner and would appreciate any guidance they might be able to offer as it was all new to me. They introduced themselves – one as a married man with kids with, the other saying he was in a long-term committed relationship (with a yoga instructor – what’s not to like?). I had made it very clear I was a happily married woman and attending to do some deep inner work. So here I was enjoying new acquaintances on new interpersonal terrain.
Among the nooks and crannies of the sprawling retreat house, John and Jeff had found a cozy space on one of the terraces and spread blankets and pillows and invited me to become ensconced in this little lounging nest. I want to make it clear that there wasn’t anything sexual or untoward about this intriguing invitation to join them. At the same time, the influence of the substances made me very open and receptive to this non-threatening encounter. Framed by the tropical warm island air and the radiant starlit night, this whole arrangement was an enchanting environment.
We settled in – often with other members of the group coming-and-going, briefly stopping by to say hello and introduce themselves. With my altered state of consciousness, these inspiring interactions felt magical. Meantime, my two new friends and I started getting to know each other – John a successful businessman and Jeff a doctor. They were both warm, engaging, and most notable, intently directing all their attention on me… repeatedly telling me I was beautiful, accomplished, funny, expressed myself well; they gave me hand and foot massages, made sure I was warm and comfortable.
Beware of Love Bombing
These collective actions I later learned is called “love bombing.” Love-bombing is characterized by excessive displays of compliments, admiration and actions… and as I also learned later, it’s a means of gaining control by breaking down resistance.
Meantime, our wandering conversations turned to their personal lives with intimations that they were looking for something more in their personal relationships. Again, new to psychedelic encounters, I simply listened. The evening unfolded into the early hours of the morning and we organically disbanded as did the others, repairing to our respective sleeping quarters in the big house. John and Jeff left the property, staying off-campus.
We retreat participants gathered over the following two evenings for more medicine. (The days were ours to spend as we wished. I used them to rest and recuperate and hung out mostly on the beach with one of the guides and fellow retreat participants. I didn’t see John or Jeff until we gathered in the evenings.)
And Then There’s the Puppy Piles
There was an expansive backyard on the retreat property and thick folding gymnastic mats were spread side-by-side with blankets and pillows to create a large area for lounging where we congregated in what’s called “puppy piles,” named after the bonding phenomenon among puppies in a litter. This was all new to me but I came to understand that being high on feel-good hallucinogenic substances inspired group emotional bonding, which is supposed to be very healing in-and-of-itself. One of the cardinal rules at these retreats is no sexual touching, but there can be holding and hugging among the participants – and there was a lot of this, among everyone, both men and women in our puppy piles.
John and Jeff’s interactions with me intensified and became very suggestive of spending time with me privately. Their manipulative actions still hadn’t dawned on me and I continued to find their company exciting and compelling. I was oblivious to anything underhanded happening. I later learned they were being very careful as any romantic or sexual advances were forbidden and grounds for being kicked out of the retreat. To side-step this they had lodging off the property – if they could persuade someone to leave the retreat grounds, then they were free to do what they wanted.
Dodging the (Seduction) Bullet
On the last evening of the retreat, perhaps in desperation because I wasn’t responding to their tactics to make me vulnerable and compliant, John and Jeff made a final push in their game of emotional seduction. Outside in the moonlight, dancing and swaying to the rhythms of ecstatic trance music, they surrounded me asking questions like, “You say your husband adores you, do you adore him?” “We could have a wonderful time together – why don’t you come with us?” And again in the puppy pile, I was next to Jeff as he moved over and kissed me – a long deep romantic kiss (violating retreat rules). Under the influence of the psychedelics it felt extra good to be loved. But as they were leaving in the early morning hours suggesting I come with them, I said no, hugged them both and wished them well.
It took me a while to wrap my head around what had happened and to process the sadness of this parting – as I wasn’t totally immune to their machinations. Maybe John sensed this as he emailed me shortly after the retreat suggesting we get-together. I declined and never heard from either one of them again.
I didn’t accomplish at the retreat what I had initially intended to do – instead of my spiritual bent aimed at healing, the event evolved into a party atmosphere in which presumably game-playing predators were grooming me for seduction. However, secure in my personal relationship, I dodged the bullet.
But what would happen to a person in a less secure situation? …People who are vulnerable and needy, perhaps attending the retreat because they had a bad breakup, divorce or were in mourning over a loved one. It’s this vulnerability that is pivotal to what game-players like John and Jeff are cruising for. And once the fun-and-games of the retreat are over, the targeted individual can be devastated, left manipulated and emotionally seduced, which can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness – counter to the benefits that might be gained otherwise at a professionally run psychedelic retreat like this.
What I later learned from the facilitator of the retreat (the Jungian therapist) is that it was believed that these two were seeking “a goddess” (psychedelic spiritual language) to “use” during the retreat. The facilitator felt duped because John had signed up for the retreat saying he was bringing his girlfriend – but switched it out saying the girlfriend was sick and so he was bringing a friend instead.
I don’t blame the facilitator and guides for what happened. If you think about it, they responsibly addressed everything to meet a standard of safety, including retreat policies to avoid the kind of mind games that were part of the scheming.
My full out-and-out psychedelic experiences are well behind me now and, as you may know, I teach and guide a course of healing that can (optionally) include the judicious use of cannabis and psilocybin microdosing. Over all, integration is central to my emotions work because once you have a big “inner” revelation, you need to carry it out into your “real” life to “re-set” the toxic relationships and poor choices from your “old life” that you now recognize.
You have thoughts on any of the above, please drop to the comments sections and let me know!
P.S. If you’ve gotten this far in reading, think about joining me for one of my retreats in Portugal! You will be in a comfortable, safe and luxurious setting with a program that harmonizes with your needs, whether there are areas in your life that simply need tended to or there are deeper issues you would like to explore in order to process and release. This is true also whether you are seeking to resolve any lingering integration challenges following a psychedelic experience or preparing for an upcoming journey.