For thousands of years native tribes have used various plant medicines (ayahuasca in the Amazon, peyote throughout native America, iboga in Africa etc) for therapeutic and spiritual interventions.
I love how Aubry Marcus puts it in this short clip, these plant medicines are like:
The cloth that wipes clean our lens of perception …
The compass that points true N to our life calling …
The lantern in the catacombs of our subconscious …
The sunlight that dispels the shadows …
Ahhh … these analogies give me chills. Ah to be born again in this lifetime with a clean slate. HECK YEA!
I want to experience this!
Over the past few years, I have done a significant amount of research around the therapeutic benefits of plant medicine and psychedelics. They say that one session is equivalent to 10,000 hrs of psychotherapy. These plant compounds are currently being studied in everything from people suffering with mood disorders (PTSD, depression, anxiety etc) to addiction to healing past trauma to terminal cancer patients to smoking cessation etc. with very promising results. Plant medicine, particularly Ayahuasca, also regulates serotonin naturally.
If talk therapy, psychopharmaceuticals and addiction recovery programs were working we wouldn’t be in the mental health crisis we are today. I will never forget back in college when I sought help for my bulimia, 10 minutes in to my 1st therapy session I was handed a prescription for Paxil. I proceeded to walk around campus like a zombie for 2 months until coming to the realization that the side effects greatly outweighed the benefits. I continued to purge my food up until 5 years ago. And to think back then … writing a prescription for an anti-depressant was the psychiatrists’ only tool. And sadly today, it’s still their only tool. Our mental health care system is broken.
As someone who is coming up on 5 years of sobriety from drugs, alcohol and eating disorders, I had to do a lot of soul searching around my intentions for wanting to go down this path as ayahuasca is still stigmatized as a “drug” even though its legal when used as part of a religious sacrament. What I have come to realize through my own recovery journey is that I constantly have to work on ways to relax the additive/monkey mind part of my brain, the default mode network (DMN). The DMN is where we go to worry and ruminate. Sound familiar? Prior to getting sober, drinking and using drugs were the only ways I knew how to shut this part of my brain down.
Since then, I have been able to drastically quiet this part of the brain through recovery, LOTS of meditation, sensory deprivation, yoga, listening to Tara Brach podcasts, nutritional interventions to heal my gut and rebalance neurotransmitter communication, gratitude etc. But if there was a safe way to complement and enhance the results of these practices through plant medicine that’s been used for thousands of years, why wouldn’t I go down this path too? If it’s under the direction of a healer (therapist), in the right set and setting and with the right therapeutic intention I personally see it at as just one more modality to aide in the long-term recovery process and improve overall mental wellness.
This excerpt from Tim Ferris podcast with Michael Pollan on his new book – How to Change Your Mind – What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence really resonated with me:
“The brain has a certain order which is enforced/regulated by the DMN and the ego is the felt version of that
In many people, that order gets overly rigid
Our brains function along a spectrum, from entropy to rigidity
On the entropy end – this is childhood consciousness
The other end – ailments consistent with too much order (anxiety, obsession, addiction, depression)
You really want to be in the middle
Psychedelics work by increasing the amount of entropy in the brain
An analogy for what’s happening – if you’re on a ski mountain, over time, ruts develop and you tend to follow those same ruts/paths to go down the mountain
After a psychedelic experience, those ruts are removed, and you’re forced to develop new paths within the brain”
It took a divine conversation with a friend to get connected with organization that conducts these Ayahuasca ceremonies here in the US as they operate strictly on a referral basis. I will be forever grateful to the beautiful soul that connected me with this incredible organization.
The well respected shaman and his partner flew in from Brazil for the ceremonies. He had been trained in shamanic healing and performing Ayahuasca ceremonies from the age of 8.
I arrived at a private ranch on a Sunday afternoon. With mini animals none the less …
There were all walks of life in attendance from moms and dads to school teachers to holistic health practitioners to documentary film makers to professional rock climbers to bikers … you name it and they were there. A really intriguing group of humans to say the least.
Its 4pm on the first night. The ceremony space was magical. There were 45 of us or so in a circle. This was way bigger than I had envisioned the experience to be and we were literally sitting/laying inches away from our each other. The introvert in me was cringing at this point. However, the seasoned women on either side of me made me feel like I was home. I have so much LOVE for both of them after this experience.
It started with a few words of wisdom from the shaman … “the purpose of mother Ayahuasca is to clean whatever you are not, think of it as a spiritual surgery where the chaos is invited in so it can be used to transform you”
Ok Sounds good to me …
The energy in the space was part magical, part terrified.
Then we went around the circle and shared our intentions one by one. Whoa … this was heavy.
• People wanting to be better moms, dads, spouses and partners
• People looking to heal past trauma both in this lifetime and ancestrally (I would have thought this was totally woo woo had I not been completely immersed in the science behind the gut microbiome for the past year and a half – yes, trauma actually gets imprinted in the gut microbiome passed down through generations)
• People looking to overcome the loss of loved ones
• People looking to work through severe depression and other health related issues
• People looking for direction with various life decisions
My intentions were to essentially reboot my brain, to delete all the noise, to be able to have a clean slate going forward and to lessen the grip of control that is my type A perfectionist personality. I want to learn how to truly LOVE myself, to LOVE others bigger and LOVE unconditionally without strings attached.
It’s been a really intense past 2 years filled with LOTS of CHANGE I really wanted to do some deep work around letting go of my past, the limiting beliefs that might be holding me back and get further clarity on the direction of my life and business.
The strong aroma of sage and palo santos is wafting throughout the space.
The ayahuasca was served. 20 mins in I could feel the medicine moving through each organ of my body in waves of heat. Then the jarring sound of purging noises started in the space. The coughing, heaving and throwing up. Purging is an essential component of the Ayahuasca experience and can manifest itself in many forms: throwing up, diarrhea, crying, laughing, yawning etc as the medicine rids the body of toxins and past trauma … a purification of mind, body and spirit of sorts. I thought to myself please don’t let that be me. I was so afraid of “losing control” and embarrassing myself in front of the group that I had a hard time fully surrendering into the experience. Almost like a tug a war between me and my ego. There were slight visuals and uncontrollable outbursts of laughing and crying.
The shamans partner was almost superhuman. Like a beautiful angel presiding over us during this process of healing and transformation, she drummed, sang, played guitar and violin to pull us in and out of the experience. I can still hear the sound of her voice. I am in AWE of her.
I spent the rest of the ceremony running back and forth to bathroom in extreme gastrointestinal discomfort which lasted until early the next morning.
This first ceremony was supposed to be the introductory ceremony and all I know is that I am completely exhausted. I want to leave. My husband reminds me that it isn’t supposed to be ‘fun” and encourages me to stay and lean into the shamans recommendations. I am so grateful for his support.
Its 11am. The 2nd ceremony is where the real, deep “work” and “healing” is supposed to occur. I am still totally exhausted from the night before.
The shaman starts off … “you will see divinity, potential and everything you don’t want to see … the trauma is the buried treasure which allows us to find the imprint and turn it into beauty, but you have to work to find treasure”
Ok kind of scary when you actually stop to think about it … but I didn’t come all this way for nothing so let’s go …
We go around the circle and share our experience from the 1st ceremony. I share … “because I spent most of the ceremony trying to anticipate what was to come, my ego holding on for dear life afraid to let go, I felt like I didn’t get to fully experience the benefits of the medicine. This ceremony is going to be different.”
The Ayahuasca was served. 20 mins in room starts to look different. The wood paneling on the walls start to melt together and everything was appearing in the form of carnival like themes and geometric shapes. All I wanted to do was crawl inward and isolate alone on my mat. I watch in envy as people around me dance and sing to the music without a care in world of what other people think of them. How liberating that must feel.
I spent most of the 2nd ceremony tossing between laying on my back and fetal position. I start to cry uncontrollably as I think of a loved one who is really struggling. Wishing she was here in this beautifully held space to purge her past traumas and heal too. I take a 2nd drink of the medicine when it was offered and continue to lay mat feeling paralyzed until 5am the next morning. It was really rough. Exhausted and weak. I thought to myself, there is no earthly way I can do this again.
Its 12 noon. We are gathering for the 3nd and final ceremony. There is lightness in the air. We go around the room sharing realizations from the previous days’ ceremony and intentions for this one.
The ayasasca was served. The shaman has us form groups and walks us through an exercise on human connection and touch as the medicine started to work through our bodies. Something so deeply missed our culture today.
It’s hard to fully articulate the 3rd ceremony. It was the most beautiful experience of my life to date. The music, the drumming, the view of the sun setting on the ranch from the ceremony room, the extraordinary expanded consciousness that pulsed through the room.
I feel like my brain experienced a complete reset that day. Like I have the opportunity to start over in this lifetime. It took extreme focus to recall who I was, where I lived, what my career was, what life was like prior. True FREEDOM from self. My life could be anything I wanted it to be. My past has nothing to do with my future. Like whoa.
This is experience brought me so much hope. Hope that there is good in humanity. Hope that we will be able to heal and reconnect with the planet. I feel so light and free. Like I am home.
The next day I remember thinking as I was getting in my car … I don’t think I can go back to my old life. I could have seriously gotten on a plane and backpacked the world indefinitely. Fortunately I had scheduled an RV trip to Lost Maples State Park in the Texas Hill County with Ryan and pups immediately after. It was good to see them and to have time to reintegrate in nature after this transformative experience.
I have never seen a night sky and stars so beautiful as I did during that trip to Lost Maples State Park. The Universe is Pure magic.
All the feels.