Yesterday I was coaching a client who was heading to the jungle for her first Ayahuasca retreat and plant medicine deep dive into her consciousness. The doubts surfacing around the experience were visceral, causing her voice to shake as the panic crept in. As we peeled back the layers of her fear, what nestled itself in the center of her concerns was a core of mistrust in herself and her consciousness.
“What if I do not come back?” she asked in an anxious tone.
“Come back from what?” I reply.
This is a common fear among people who begin to journey into the Medicine Lands (as I call it) with plant medicines, including questions around physical symptoms, long term effects, and whether it will heal someone or make them worse. Understanding that these are not just a series of chemicals strung together, but an actual conscious Spirit that you are imbibing and communing with is the first step. These plants are not ‘drugs’ per se but rather an intelligence that allows the seeker to understand the nature of reality, including their own inner landscape. That said, the questions to ask are always threefold:
Do you trust Your Self?
Do you trust the Medicine?
Do you trust the Medicine Person/Shaman/etc.?
If any of these make a resounding “no” in your cranium or sacral area or full body whathaveyou, then it is important to reconsider your ceremony journey. However, there are some grey areas which I will address. Sometimes the trust in yourself, especially around the unknown, is more of an “I do not know but am willing” kind of vibe, which is actually a step in the right direction providing that you trust your facilitators to hold the space for your Journey. Next, there is the question of trusting the Medicine, which can also be tricky if you have never taken it yourself and have no real way of knowing the landscape other than reading books, staring at Alex Grey paintings, listening to Medicine music, and conversing with your friends about their stories. This will not necessarily give you the confidence you need but could pump you up about the experience's potential. However, trusting your ceremonial leaders is absolutely a must-have. This goes for ALL plant ceremonies. Scratch that…all ceremonies, teachers, oh and life in general.
This last one is often overlooked to a horrifying degree. In a conversation here in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico, a woman said she would rather go to the Amazon of Peru in order to drink Mother Ayahuasca as it is the plant’s homeland. This is obviously preferable for a first-time introduction to this incredible, life-altering Being, but not always possible, or the safest. Let’s face it, the jungle is hot, full of crazy bugs that could give you any number of debilitating diseases, actual jaguars, the world’s largest snake left over from the dinosaur age, poachers, theft, pedophiles/kid-trafficking, and unhinged humans running amok. Obviously not for everyone, especially really sick people in need of direct care. Yet, for some of us, this dangerous beauty is an absolute treasure trove of all the same things mixed with nearly unbroken lines of wisdom, rituals, culture, and traditions which all bring out the explorer within.
For example, I went to Peru for six months and ended up living there fulltime for seven years. This is hilarious to me, even now. During this time I watched interest in plant medicines grow and the number of people serving these sacred plants increase at such a rapid rate, that it was apparent to me that training and tradition had been forsaken for the new ‘Black Gold’ get rich scheme, as did the integrity necessary to hold a safe space. The safety aspect was brought to the forefront of media back in 2012, when the murder of Kyle Nolan at an Amazonian retreat center was covered up by a local shaman, thus ushering in the energy of the Mayan calendar shift with a sacrifice that would shine light on the integrity of the plant medicine communities worldwide for years to come.
Over time more people flocked to Peru, taking up residence, opening businesses and leading retreats by mixing plant medicine with all kinds of different traditions and modalities such as yoga, ten-day juice fasting, kirtan, Buddhist vipassana, Tibetan flavored dreamwork, Western Hermetic Magic meets Faery meets Qi Gong empowerment, followed by Reiki attunements, acupuncture, Medicine Music Concerts, and gong baths. The list is endless and, admittedly, vastly creative. The real issue here is not the versatility of the medicine to evolve with the times, but rather the number of people who have decided, usually between their 5th or 7th ceremony, that the plants have told them they are a shaman and should be leading ceremonies. As in now. Without training as in "the plants will guide me."
In my practice, I heard this exact statement from at least a HUNDRED different people during my 7 years, which honestly became a bit of a joke and all around annoyance at the lack of respect people have for the traditions. Hey, who am I to judge your communication with your God-self and this Divine Plant Trickster?! However, I would encourage my clients or anyone who mentioned this same scenario to me, to please get some training if you are truly called to work with these plants. While I fully agree we are in radically altered times, kick-starting people’s AWAKENED Self and quantum leaping many to next stages of evolution, people (local and ex-pat alike) pouring plant medicine in snake-oil fashion is quite dangerous to people who are looking for answers to serious health concerns.
Far too many people have taken up the mantle of 'shaman' making the title meaningless and untrustworthy, which reveals itself in the number of sexual abuse and molestation cases being brought up, mental health scenarios including multiple attempted (and committed) suicides, robberies, murders, and deaths. Yet people are still looking for a quick fix to their complicated problems in desperate ways, making them vulnerable to harming themselves by placing trust into people who have not earned it. Just because they are wearing feathers, look Native, and are wearing Shippibo weavings does not qualify them to understand your sexual abuse history or how to heal your thyroid cancer, although some are true shamans/Medicine People who are indeed capable. And just because someone is a Westerner who trained with some obscure name, speaks your language, and does dietas every month doesn't mean they know how to heal you either. Discernment is key here.
Obviously, these are huge topics that I will delve into further, so let me bring this back to the original fear factor. Yes, you may indeed ‘lose your shit’, but this is actually quite healthy when held in the right capacity in order for you to heal some fairly deep traumas with the bright ray of Truth. In the Medicine Lands, there is no escaping YOU. The Journey is all about you vs you, and yes having a kickass Guide is important to support your Journey to the center of your Labyrinth Consciousness and back again. So ask them loads of questions about everything and if you have any doubts, trust your intuition and say NO. Having proper facilitators, ie Medicine People and Shamans who know how to guide you through this space so that the trauma doesn’t shuffle itself somewhere else in the consciousness, or turn into shame by expressing such horrible recesses of your mind by acting out in an unnerving way. Recognize that not all Medicine People, Shamans or crew are actually equipped for these kinds of releases, and knowing who is capable to support your mental or medical needs is incredibly important!
Moral of the story? Always have your back and do your homework!
If you have questions or need support feel free to contact me as I support people through plant medicine journeys and integration for physical health and spiritual wellness. OR join our upcoming women's medicine retreat Embody Your Lover www.sevencrowmedicine.com/embody-your-lover-retreat