Lifetalk With Roberta Russell – Flying Over Sunset: A Healing Psychedelic Transcendence of Time and Space

Video courtesy of James Lapine.

By Roberta Russell

Life is lived in three zones: intrapersonal—within ourselves, interpersonal—between ourselves, and transpersonal—extending beyond.

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner James Lapine has created a new unique and timely musical play, Flying Over Sunset. It opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center on December 13th, 2021. I’ve seen it twice.

The play takes us on a journey, fluidly moving through all three zones. His visually stunning production carried me on the crest of an artistically creative swell, from sharing a personal existential feeling of loneliness and alienation evoked by the actors to joining them in a therapeutic transcendent experience. Just allowing myself to be there and take it in was delightfully reminiscent of a real life-changing trip. Lapine’s mind-expanding unique and courageous production was inspired by the true-life revelations of Cary Grant, Aldous Huxley, Claire Booth Luce, and Gerald Heard.

FLYING OVER SUNSET comes at a time that cries out for transcendence. Image courtesy of James Lapine.

The rhythmic tapping of the dancers was hypnotic. The roiling sea, depicted with compelling projections, looked so real that Cary Grant and his alienated child-self seemed to struggle in the waves in their efforts to finally come together. The narratives of the actors’ evolving relationships culminated in a powerful depiction of a real psychedelic experience, highlighting its potential for the resolution of unresolved deep conflict that even years of therapy might not touch. The characters only sang when they were on LSD. The fact that this was all based on the true experiences of Grant, Huxley, Luce, and Heard lent gravitas to the production. Visit to view a one-minute sample of this superb production, graciously offered by Lapine.

Flying Over Sunset comes at a time that cries out for transcendence. The planet’s destruction is accelerating. COVID and its variant mutations are resisting our efforts to wipe them out. Exacerbated by the increasing gap in distribution of wealth, the allocation of the vaccines that control the spread of the virus leaves concomitant gaps in resistance to COVID and any other plagues that may arise. The Washington Post just featured an article on a possible forthcoming civil war!

Perhaps the need for unity and transcendence is driving the increasing governmental and popular examination of the therapeutic use of psychedelics? I attended a conference called Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics, from December 1st-5th, 2021, that began at the prestigious New York Academy of Medicine and continued at Cooper Union in the auditorium where Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain spoke.

Psychedelics have been shown to be powerful in curtailing addictions such as alcohol and smoking. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), stopped drinking after a healing psychedelic experience. He wanted to incorporate the use of LSD into the AA program, but the tide had changed and he could not.

In the illustrious setting of the conference I spoke with a very eloquent researcher, aptly named Dr. Charles Raison, who confirmed my conclusion that the growing body of psychedelic outcome research does not separate the therapist’s effect from the long-term effect of the drugs being studied. Dr. Raison is a psychiatrist, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin/Madison, and the director of clinical and translational research at Usona Institute. He is renowned for his work examining the effects of compassion training.

Even though Raison is now studying the effects of psilocybin (magic mushrooms) on depression, I asked him about the possible treatment of weight issues and obesity, which vexes 74 percent of the USA, through the use of a combination of psychedelic drugs, given just once or twice, paired with a compassionate and informed alliance with a participating buddy. “Might magic mushrooms or MDMA (ecstasy) aid in opening the participants’ hearts, and then pairing them with a fellow traveler, in a long-term non-commercial results-driven regimen, be effective for permanent weight loss?” ( Dr. Raison was encouraging and willing to explore the idea.

In a psychotherapy outcome research study by Irving L. Janis and David Hoffman (at Yale, 1982), the effect of the therapeutic alliance with a buddy has been shown to be more potent than any other aspect of therapy. Even 10 years later, the smoke-ending buddies who talked on the phone every day for five weeks about their compliance had much more success at abstinence than those who had five weeks of therapy without a constant partner.


Perhaps the time has come to combine what we know and transcend disciplines and commercial interests. Would you or someone you know be interested in such an experiment?

Roberta Russell is the author of R.D. Laing & Me: Lessons in Love with R.D. Laing, Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony, and Report on Permanent Weight Loss. She has also been a contributor to various international magazines and journals including: Psychologie Heute, Japan Times, The Psychologist, Human Potential Magazine, Changes, Clinical Psychology Forum, Psychoanalytic Studies, and Bottom Line. Occasionally, Russell hosts a New York City cable television show called Lifetalk, which has featured interviews with movers and shakers in controversial areas of psychology, weight loss, nutrition, medicine, the environment, and population growth.

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