It’s Been a Real Trip

Terry Hurst Blanton describes her role in the origin of the Synanon Trip

From Terry’s Memoir It’s Been A Real Trip: A Woman’s Personal Journey
(Edited by Elena Broslovsky with Terry Hurst Blanton’s permission)

Terry and Trip Staff
Terry and Trip Staff

Terry Hurst Blanton was involved in the early development of the Synanon Trip.  She was one of the first Trip Conductors in Santa Monica. She stated that the Trip was the most profound experience she had—not only in Synanon, but in her life.  

On the advice of a psychologist, Chuck had begun running long games up to 30 hours with groups of 24 people. These laid the groundwork for the Stew, Reach, and Trip. He and a few other members had taken LSD as part of a controlled experiment at UCLA. They sought to create an experience to achieve the ecstatic, transformative, learning experiences of a psychedelic trip without the use of drugs. 

Terry was a passenger on the first Trip. She described it as unorganized but effective. Chuck asked her what she had experienced. He observed something rare happening to her during the sessions. Terry felt as though she had become a vessel. Words of understanding and enlightenment had flowed through her in ways that were previously beyond her capability.  Even she was shocked by the wisdom that came through her. They began to sketch out plans for the next session and called it the Trip.

Chuck trusted Terry to conduct the next Trip for 52 residents as a reward to department heads and others who had made contributions. The Trip was to have a four-hour “compression” session followed by a four-hour “tension” session. The compression sessions were confrontational, guiding people to reach inside and resolve inner conflict. The tension sessions were to relieve the participants from the confrontation and give perspective. There were 11 sessions starting at 7 p.m. on Friday night and ending at 8 p.m. Sunday night.

Friday, we gathered a group of 52 at 7 p.m. to explain what we were attempting. From experience we believed the most effective number for any group was 13. At 8 p.m., we put 13 people with a Guide into one of four rooms. The Guides were selected because they were capable of running a group and were open to new experiences. The first Trip was a success, but it was not sophisticated.

During the tension sessions, we had people oversee the participants to keep the group contained. They were allowed to hang out, go for walks, swim, etc. Afterward, we had a debriefing with the Guides and the other group that oversaw the free times. We decided to develop a more controlled environment and improve some of the sessions. Brainstorming came up with many improvements. The trip became more structured and defined.  It became a much-desired experience. The first members who were chosen to participate were chosen for their merit as reward. 

We developed guidelines and made major changes within the pattern we had devised. We kept the name Guides for those leading the compression, or hard Gaming sessions. We called the other group leaders Shepherds as they oversaw the softer sessions or time that Trippers were integrating and processing what had occurred in the Games.  

For the next Trip, Trippers eschewed personal adornments such as jewelry, watches, make-up, and anything that presented an exterior image. We had many talented crafters and sewers in Synanon. A simple gown was designed out of plain muslin for the Trippers and the Staff to wear.

Mobius loops to symbolize unity and infinity were created in different colors according to roles the Staff played and worn as scarves. Initially, the Guides wore a dark cherry–colored loop and the Shepherds a rose color. My robe was magenta with purple trim. Chuck and other directors wore purple robes with cherry loops when they would drop in. As Trip Conductor, I was given a large macramé piece that had been created from silk cherry- and purple-colored rope with beads to distinguish me from all the others.

The orientation would begin at 7 p.m. with the reading of the Synanon Philosophy. All were asked not to divulge anything that happened on the Trip to make it possible for Trippers to feel safe to expose their inner selves. After the orientation, each Guide called the names of their participants, and they were led to a game room. The first session was mild with each person giving an overview of their life. The Guide went first to give an example of how to abbreviate their stories, be honest, and give key points. After much practice, I could tell mine in about 10 minutes. This familiarized the Guides with the participants and the Trippers with each other.

I floated from room to room to judge how each session was going. I got a kick out of one man who told his story by which cars he owned throughout his life. Women mostly described themselves by their boyfriends, their marriage, the birth of their children, or their addiction.

At midnight, the next four hours were run by the Shepherds. They used icebreakers, trust games, and other planned activities involving art or music. They observed the Trippers and provided information to the Guides. Did they participate in the activities, communicate well? Were they friendly or isolated from the group? 

I slept if I could while they were having these sessions. I needed to know if I had to insert myself into any of the sessions. The first session where they told their stories gave us clues as to how to game them on their issues. The Game had become one of confrontation, and it seemed to be the best method for getting people to open up. It was a cardinal rule that nothing be discussed outside the Trip. Anything said in the group was confidential as it was with all other Games.  Many people divulged secrets in the session that no one had ever known. The very worst was from the man who threw his newborn baby into a dumpster. He dissolved in tears and begged for forgiveness. He selected me to be the one from whom he needed forgiveness. I told him he was forgiven because he was a different person from when he was a using addict. I held him as others in the room crowded around him and told him he was forgiven and hugged him.  The change in him after this was profound, then and after the Trip. His confession was so spontaneous that others in the group began to make confessions. One guy confessed to having sex with a chicken. It was good for people to get things off their chests.

At 4 a.m., the Shepherds again lead other softer sessions. Sometimes including the breaking of fresh bread and sharing it.  At 8 a.m., we returned to the compression, finding that the Guides were more capable and learning much to help people open up. 

At noon, they went back to the Shepherds for a four-hour segment, then they were back in compression. By 8 p.m., they were exhausted and at the same time hyped up. We used all that we had learned and used every method within our grasp, such as psychodrama and other role-playing. I would float from room to room to oversee sessions and insert myself if needed

Once when I walked into a room, an astrophysicist was lying on the floor in a fetal position. That was a first. I lay down beside him on the floor and asked him what he needed. He said he needed his mommy.  I asked if I could be his mommy for now. He reached out to me and asked me to hold him. He eventually came out of it and said that he had worked out an acceptance that before had alluded him. Believe me, I knew I was a novice and had much to learn, but I was learning fast on the job. I took it seriously and tried to make the Trip better and better.

Midnight on Saturday, the second day, became known as the Witching Hour. We led all the participants by hand blindfolded down the stairway. Gregorian chants were played as they entered. Eight stations were prepared with hot foot baths and oils. Their feet were washed by the Shepherds and Guides. This was very emotional for many. Some broke down in tears because they felt so unworthy of this experience. The Shepherds and Guides were particularly observant and used these expressions in the next session. 

At 4 a.m., the room was dim and set up with candles and incense.  The stage was draped in black with a table and two chairs for the women who were good at the Ouija board. They wore white robes and black loops. There were scribes with legal pads to transcribe the session, usually a secretary who could either write very fast or take shorthand. The sessions began by asking if there was a spirit in the room. After there was an answer, we asked if there was a message for anyone. The answers were many, with surprisingly applicable lessons. Many boards were worn out from the sessions as the glass moved so fast with Lena and Susan on the board that the letters came up to 40 words a minute.  

There was no way the women could make up what was spoken from the board, especially because the words came out one letter at a time. Most of the sessions revealed things that neither of them could have possibly known, much less spell out. I was scribing one session when the board started quoting the Bible. One passage might take a page or more. It then addressed the Presbyterian minister and asked several times if he did what the Bible commanded. This went on about 15 minutes and by that time he was on the floor. The next day, he donated his car because he was so grateful for this experience. He later moved his family into Synanon.

Sometimes after the readings I would give the Trippers clay and have them put thier feeling into the clay. These were put on small boards and gathered up and kept until the 8 a.m. session where the participants were to pick out their own object. They were then asked to share the feelings the clay evoked. People were moved by what they interpreted from the night before. After the Witching Hour, I would lay the group on a well-carpeted floor and put them in an alpha state for about 20 minutes which would help them get some rest. At 4 a.m., they went back to the compression. Each session would build on the last. At 8 p.m., they were back with the Shepherds. At noon, they were able to eat a light lunch and have some entertainment.

The last session was from 4 p.m. till 8 p.m. on Sunday. By now almost everybody was open and happy. Some had psychic breaks that released pain and fear because they had been accepted and loved. I played about three hours of music that was orchestrated to evoke emotions, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, “Old Friends” by Simon and Garfunkel, and gospel music—a wide variety. Some dozed others cried or just hugged each other before we headed down to the ballroom. I asked if anyone needed anything to help them with their experience. We helped those who needed to talk more or had other needs. At 8 p.m., the group was released into the ballroom with the whole population and visitors awaiting them. They took hands, made a big circle, and danced around gradually including all of the visitors and audience members in the melee. The band was playing, and they hugged each other. It was a love-in. People began coming from the crowd to hug their friends and loved ones.

I stood on the stage with the Guides, Shepherds, and Trip Staff. People came up to thank us and tell us they loved us. When it was over, I felt empty. I had poured out all my love, and it took a few days to regain my equilibrium. The Trip became so popular that it was used as a reward. People on the outside got on the waiting list to be allowed to participate. I took it very seriously. I wouldn’t let people play with the Ouija board just for fun. In my mind, it was kind of holy because we used it on the Trip in a very controlled way. I lead a group of Guides and Shepherds who worked the Trip with me and included other people who wanted to learn to work the Trip with us.

When I left Synanon, I was never able to find this kind of love, compassion, and understanding. I felt bereft. I tried other groups, like Insight and EST, but they never came close. They were superficial by comparison.

(From It’s Been A Real Trip: A Woman’s Personal Journey by Terry Blanton 2014 edited by permission 2022 eb).

9 replies »

  1. I had almost forgotten about the foot washing.. now I remember it very well.. the trip was a spiritual experience .. I remember thinking that we were all born this lifetime to be together for a time.. something we needed to go through.. karma…and I absolutely remember the sex with a chicken incident because he said the chicken died from internal injuries! and that night the Ouija board told us what week Reid would die also.. I remember many times going to ray and Ruth Swedelson‘s cave where we used the Ouija board as well .. my trip broke it Santa Monica and I remember that Wilbur and Matt beard watched over the entire trip, I remember when they read us the little prince and someone played the flute, there was love floating in the air and many colors of different auras surrounding everybody

  2. A wonderful piece of writing about the Synanon Trip, which is so hard to describe. The Ouija sessions defied explanation! I remember being a scribe on one Trip, and in a roomful of about 75 people the Ouija board referenced “abiogenesis”. As I read the piece, I looked up and asked what the word meant (I had never heard it before). NO ONE in the room had a clue. We looked it up in the dictionary, and there it was! It means life springing from non-life sources (or spontaneous generation).

    • Wow Judi quite a story. The Ouija was/is so hard to describe and I have never had an experience like that before or since or felt the presence of indefinable positive and loving guidance. Those operating the board got better and better at it and eventually went from letters to full words written or spoken out loud with what often seemed like ancient wisdom. I remember Carol Jean and Sue Gates and Sue DLP being open to these messages. I often scribed and felt a palpable presence. After Betty Died I experienced something similar via automatic writing. Still so many mysteries to unravel! Also hilarious that we used DICTIONARIES back then. Excuse me while I goggle Abiognesis. Thanks for the comment

      • Interesting Hugh. Did she know why? I remember they had some very specific advice for certain individuals. I remember it being explained as some kind of “group consciousnes” but there were often things none of us could have known, way over our heads. I remember some large group Ouija sessions at the Home Place (not part of the trip). Betty was a Believer but Chuck poo pooed it. We would talk about it the next day trying to decifer the message and understand where it was coming from. Betty and Wilbur were both very comfortable with in a non pondrous way.

  3. I think the photo above is from my trip in either 1972 or 1973. It was an experience I’ll never forget and am reminded every time I hear Simon and Garfunkel Old Friends! Thank you, Terry for being an excellent guide!

  4. Thank you, I remember being a “tripper”, a Shepard and a Guide on different Trips. I was also one of those who sewed many loops.

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