Vine of the Soul: 8: Healing the Spiral Helix

DNA_double_helix_vertikalI am aware only of the struggle to survive. I have no thoughts. I am writhing in the mud of existence, a single-celled organism. Dim light flickers on and off all around. I move only very slowly, and with great effort, through the soup I swim in. Over time, thousands of years it seems, I become vaguely aware of myself. “I” am lying on my belly, moaning softly. I am no longer amoebic, I have evolved to have a rudimentary shape consisting of a head, organs, a spine.

Something hurts. I become aware of this sensation and as I focus on it the sensation grows. I locate the pain, it is in my core, in my rudimentary spine. I focus. I go deeper into the pain. I see an elongated spiral with a mesmerizing checkerboard pattern. It looks similar to a coiled snake without head or tail. I am aware now that something is there, within the spiral, causing the sensation of pain.

I watch this spiral ladder and observe what is happening. The Medicine is working there, altering the pattern. Slowly and meticulously the magnificent, complex pattern is being changed, and I realize this is what hurts. Then, from another universe far, far away, I hear a sound… “shhhhhhhhhhh”…

I am instantly snapped into another reality. I understand that the sound I just heard is a helper, encouraging me to be quiet. I understand that I had been moaning rather loudly with the pain I am experiencing. Slowly I regain my equilibrium. I am in an Ayahuasca ceremony, on my mat within the community circle. I am lying on my belly, drenched in sweat, lightly drooling onto my pillow. I notice the pain again deep inside my core and remember the spiral… the pattern…

Hours earlier, as I sat waiting for the Medicine to arrive, I had set an intention for this evening’s ceremony. Setting an intention is an important part of any self-work. The purpose of the work is personal growth, and personal growth requires awareness of our shadow-selves. I typically take 3 to 6 months in between Medicine ceremonies to integrate the gifts of self-awareness the work offers. It is now my second year with Grandmother, and I have traveled ever deeper into my journey of self-healing.

As a result of this work with Ayahuasca, I have come to understand that I have never fully healed from the devastating experience of the collapse of my marriage, between 2003 and 2004. My now ex-husband had slowly, over time, become addicted to pain killers after a back injury. When he could no longer obtain enough prescription drugs to satisfy his growing addiction, he turned to illegal drugs. Like most addicts, initially he tried desperately to hide his problem from me. I noticed some disturbing behavior, but running a large contracting business is tough, and I chalked it up to excessive stress.

By the beginning of 2004, his behavior was so erratic and damaging to the business and to our marriage that he finally confessed he was addicted to heroin. The next four months were, hands down, the hardest of my life. Anyone who has ever lived with a drug addict understands- nobody and nothing comes before the addict’s master- his drug of choice. The lies, betrayals, inhumane behavior and total annihilation of trust are devastating.

I survived the destruction, but sadly he did not find recovery. He left the area when his addiction caused him legal issues. Exhausted and beaten, I filed for divorce. Over time, I came to terms with the experience, and even found grace within it. I forgave him and myself, and became a more compassionate, spiritual woman. But deep within my heart, a scar remained that I did not even recognize until my healing work with Ayahuasca.

Now, lying there on my mat, I recall my intention. I had asked Grandmother to heal any lingering damage that the extreme trauma of that time caused my spirit. For the past two hours I have been in a completely regressed state as the Medicine worked within me. Even now, I slip in and out of awareness as I continue to experience a deep pain and shifting within my core, located near the small of my back. I remain lying on my stomach for some time. Eventually the pain lessens and my awareness remains more in the reality of the room, and the visions of the spiral helix fade away.

I can now focus on the magnificent singing and music going on around me. I roll slowly from my belly to my side, and relax. I gaze with compassion at the brave souls to my left and right. I am relieved to be back, and filled with wonder and humility at the gifts of the Medicine…


 

Deep trauma can literally change DNA. We tend to think of emotional trauma as a psychological issue that affects our emotional health and stability. However, studies are now indicating that trauma can literally change us on a molecular level.

Dr. Sandro Galea of Columbia University authored a study on trauma and DNA changes. In a 2010 NPR interview, Dr. Sandro has this to say about trauma and molecular changes:  “What we are thinking is that trauma that somebody experiences results in molecular changes around the DNA that result in changes in what genes are expressed and not expressed. ”

Speak with any person that has survived deep trauma- rape, war, domestic violence, life threatening illness or accident- and they will likely tell you that the experience changed them as people. They often say they will never be the same again. Many trauma survivors continue to work though issues and evolve into a “better” person. Better is good, but it is still different.

Other studies show an even more startling effect of trauma. “Epigenetic inheritance” is the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, poor diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. That’s right, inter-generational changes in our genes caused by environmental or emotional stress.

Rachel Yehuda studied the genetic changes to Holocaust survivors caused by severe trauma, and found that the genetic changes can be passed on to the children of the survivors. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

Can Ayahuasca and other catalysts for deep spiritual healing repair damage to our DNA? And could our efforts at self-healing be like ripples flowing forward through generations of our sons and daughters?

 

[Author’s Note: There are MANY paths to spiritual healing & awakening; sacred plants are only one path. My purpose in these writings is to share my personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after great introspection. All people considering this path of exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge and professional background to address after-effects that may arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s) and are not mine.]

Vine of the Soul: 5: Shaman and Student

"Ayahuasca 2010" by Awkipuma - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Ayahuasca 2010” by AwkipumaOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
I’m sitting quietly in the back of the room, nervous and uncertain. The circle of brave souls are silent as everyone waits for the Medicine to arrive. I had no idea that part of my being “in service” included taking more Ayahuasca. I reflect back on the previous night’s experiences, when I was within the circle. There is no way, I think to myself, that I will be able to function. Time passes, and the circle begins to rustle and shift. She is arriving.

The shaman begins shaking his “chakapa”, a rattle made from bundled leaves. His medicine songs, icaros, seem to intensify the Medicine. People begin to vomit into buckets- purging. I stand and walk softly into the circle to replace a used bucket with fresh. I remove the biodegradable liner and tie up the contents. All these bags go into a large trash can and will later be buried in the Earth. It is believed that the Earth can safely take this purging of negative/wounded material and renew it. I accomplish my tasks well, perhaps I will be OK.

There is a break in the purging within the circle and I sit in the back, watching the shaman as he sings, rattles and walks through the circle. He is dressed simply in a white smock covered in symbols. He is a short, broad-shouldered, brown-skinned man with intense, penetrating eyes. His voice is strong and deep, and the songs he sings are getting inside me. I begin to feel the vibrations and hear the ringing sound from the previous night. The ringing becomes a buzzing and suddenly the room is filled with neon colored geometric shapes. The shaman recedes until he is a small dot in the distance. The room has become a high-ceilinged temple with an amazingly long corridor. I feel sick and nauseated. I hear someone purging and I take a deep breath and stand. The colors recede for a moment and I do my job, changing out the bucket.

The trash can is down the steps, near the bathroom. I walk gingerly down the steps, pleased that I can accomplish this. I change out the bag, and turn to go back up the stairs. I stumble backwards in shock when I see that the floor has become liquid. Under the water of the once solid surface, enormous multi-colored snakes undulate gently through the hallway. They are beautiful. I stare for some time, then squeeze my eyes shut, remembering my duties. When I open them again, the ground is solid, the snakes are gone, and I go back into the ceremonial space.

The purging, crying and moaning in the room goes on for some time then diminishes. The shaman has taken a seat at the head of the circle but continues to sing, alternating between drum, rattle and chakapa. I have studied shamanism intently for almost 8 years at this point and I am fascinated as I observe him. I have read countless books and attended dozens of experiential workshops and retreats that explore the various multi-cultural practices of shamanism. Here I sit with a man who was raised within a shamanic culture and has dedicated his life to healing, and I wish to observe as much as possible in between my own bouts of nausea and neon colored visions.

I see that a petite blonde woman, whom I previously noticed, is moving from prone to sitting.  Earlier this afternoon, the herbalist in me had noted a harsh, rattling cough that seemed to come from deep in her lungs. The shaman considers her and continues his song, rattling directly toward her. She begins to rock faster, and faster still as the shaman sings more loudly. I lean forward, mesmerized, my own nausea momentarily forgotten. She suddenly bends deeply and reaches for her bucket- and at the same time, her head swivels in my direction. She looks directly into my face, and her eyes are completely black, round and shiny as marbles. Her mouth opens to a repulsive rictus, jammed with sharp, jagged teeth. Her back humps up and she slams her face into the bucket as a glistening chunk of slimy-looking, black goo shoots from her disgusting mouth. Her face is now hidden by the bucket and the cascade of her crinkly blonde hair. I am frozen in terror. I shoot a look at the shaman, who is also leaning forward in his chair, directing his song forcefully at the vomiting woman. She gags and gasps for a few moments and then sits up with a deep breath. Her face is once again her own. She sighs and slowly sinks onto her mat, hands folded under her face. The shaman sits back in his chair, satisfied. His singing softens, and he resumes his attentive scanning of the circle.

I sit stiffly with my hands over my mouth, eyes wide, not breathing. I realize the bucket must be changed. I cannot. I WILL not. I look pleadingly to my left, and another helper nods and attends to the bucket. Remarkably, she does not seem to have seen anything unusual. I am trembling and my own nausea has returned. No weekend workshop could prepare me for this. No paraphrased bullet list of shamanic practices can explain this. No expensive bear claw medallion, no beautifully painted drum, no hand-made beaded medicine bag can conjure this. In this moment, I am deeply aware that I have just experienced my first unambiguous demonstration of a shamanic healing. I am also cognizant that the honor of witnessing this healing was a gift and a teaching from the Medicine.

As I calm myself, I become aware of and grateful for the benefit of the purging. I look around the circle and see the beauty in these courageous explorers, and no longer is the vomiting disgusting. I hear myself saying “let it go, sister”, and “good job, brother” as they purge. I take buckets up and down the stairs. At one point I go into the bathroom, the nausea forcing me to my knees in front of the toilet. As I get up to wash my hands and splash my face, I look into the mirror. My eyes are swirling and as I lean closer to stare into them, I shape-shift rapidly. An old sorcerer woman, a spotted jaguar, a glass eyed alien-looking being, then just me again. I wonder how long I have been staring and resume my duties.

The ceremony is nearing its close- an hour or two to go. The shaman walks amongst all of us, singing.  He lightly, repetitively thumps each of us for a moment with his chakapa. He brushes my chest and heart area with his leaf bundle and I immediately begin to cry. I cry for some time afterward, years of sadness pouring out through my opened heart. I hear the Medicine whisper to me about my habit of isolating from others. I see the faces of dear ones and recognize the beauty within each of them…


A majority of the most powerful entheogens are illegal in the United States.  Shamanic cultures have been using plants for enlightenment and knowledge since the origins of spirituality. Some of the entheogens on the Schedule 1 drug list (Felony to use or possess even for research) are Ayahuasca, Cannabis, Cocoa Leaves, Iboga, Peyote, Chacruna, “Magic” Mushrooms and Peyote. How ironic, then, that these illegal entheogenic plants have been used in shamanic cultures to successfully treat persons with addictions, mental illness and overall spiritual deficit. In Peru, Ayahuasca is recognized by the government as a national treasure.

Ayahuasca is considered by shamans, ethnobotanists and spiritual seekers to perhaps be the most overall potent and effective plant entheogen.  Ayahuasca, which translates to “vine of the soul”, is a thick tea made by shamans in Central and South America. Ayahuasca  is being used, along with traditional methods, outside of the U.S. to treat people with drug and alcohol addictions.  A 2013 Canadian study concluded “Ayahuasca-assisted therapy appears to be associated with statistically significant improvements in several factors related to problematic substance use among a rural aboriginal population. These findings suggest participants may have experienced positive psychological and behavioral changes in response to this therapeutic approach, and that more rigorous research of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for problematic substance use is warranted.”

How interesting that Ayahuasca and other entheogens seem to assist addicts in recovery by offering a new spiritual perspective. This same methodology can be found in the highly successful 12-step recovery programs. 12-step programs are “spiritual, not religious” and claim to address the underlying spiritual deficits that are the root cause of addiction. Even more curious- although separation of church and state is one of America’s founding principles, 12-step programs, which are based on Christian doctrine, are often mandated by the judicial system in this country, while treatment through natural plant sources remains illegal.

Ayahuasca works powerfully, if sometimes painfully, to reveal personal truths to the user. However, as opposed to addictive drugs & alcohol, and other drug-therapies like methadone, Ayahuasca appears to have no permanent negative side effects, including addiction, even in long-term users. An impressive 2012 scientific study concluded “The assessment of the impact of long-term Ayahuasca use on mental health from various perspectives (personality, psychopathology, neuropsychology, life attitudes and psychosocial well-being) did not find evidence of pathological alterations in any of the spheres studied. Furthermore, Ayahuasca users showed a lower presence of psychopathological symptoms compared to controls. They performed better in neuropsychological tests, scored higher in spirituality and showed better psychosocial adaptation as reflected by some attitudinal traits such as Purpose in Life and Subjective Well-Being.”

[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my 
personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant 
entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after 
great consideration. All people considering this path of 
exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to 
work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional 
issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge 
and professional background to address after-effects that may 
arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s)and are not mine.]

Vine of the Soul: 4: The Gift of Being in Service

"Ayahuasca prep" by Terpsichore - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG#/media/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG
“Ayahuasca prep” by Terpsichore – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG#/media/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG

My first meeting with Ayahuasca is over, and I lay on my mat in the darkened community area, only a flickering candle for light. The shaman closed the ceremony half an hour ago, but I cannot seem to find the strength to get up. It is around 2 am. Most of my fellow Journeyers have gone to the kitchen area to get some food. There is a huge pot of bland but nourishing soup on the old gas stove, and plenty of bread and fruit for dinner.  I should be hungry after fasting and emptying myself so thoroughly, but I am disinterested in food.

I drift in and out of awareness, but gently now. Finally, I decide to try standing again. My legs feel like a new born foal’s. This is one experience that I will have every time over the next few years- this feeling of being newly born into my body after a ceremony. Other than that, and the peace and serenity toward the completion of the ceremony, no two visits with the Medicine will ever be alike. Amazing.

I gather myself and weave through the room, detouring around the few remaining people still laying on their mats. I cautiously navigate the stairs and then step outside. The night is warm, velvety and sweet. The mountains squat together in silent silhouette, silver stars adorning their heads. I realize that I have been standing, frozen in wonder, with my mouth agape. I head toward the warm light of the kitchen.

When I arrive at the kitchen, the lights, noise and movement overwhelm me. I cringe back as the wave of sensations flow over me. When I can manage it, I smile and nod at a few people gathered around a bowl of fruit. They return my smile gently and with understanding. These people are my brothers and sisters. We have traveled the Universe together and returned. My previous feelings of exclusion are extinguished- that was just me and my stuff. Still, I am unable to carry on conversation. The questions people ask me, while exceedingly basic, seem unfathomable. I grab a hand full of grapes and head for my little bed by the window.

The Medicine comes for me off and on all night. I continue to have liquid bowel movements all night. I sleep and dream and she tells me little things. She shows me how afraid we feel of our bodies- how out of control. She shows me images of us being in horror as a disease or illness seems to take over our physical bodies. She tells me that we feel out of control of dis-ease because we have forgotten that physical illness is the end point. The issue, she shows me, begins days, months, years- even lifetimes- before it ever shows up in the physical.

I wake up in the morning feeling tired but clean. Remarkably clean- mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. I spend time taking notes in the quiet of my shared room. My roommates and I smile at each other and exchange morning greetings in low voices. Finally, I get up and begin the day. This is my day of service, and my first task is to change the bedding of those who are leaving today and replace it with fresh bedding for new arrivals. Toward the afternoon I am asked to help neaten and arrange the community area in preparation for the evening’s ceremony. This work is shared by many and is not heavy. I am happy to be quietly helpful.

Evening has arrived and the mats are formed again into a large, neat circle. We smudge and the smoke of Palo Santo wood and White Sage herb fill the room. Flowers are arranged, floors swept. Tonight’s Journeyers begin to arrive. This time, I am seated in the back of the common area and not within the circle. Tonight, I will change purge buckets, fetch water, and offer a steadying arm for those who need to walk about while with the Medicine. Four others are here in the back of the room with me, also in service. I feel pleased and relaxed, ready to serve.

The shaman enters and opens the ceremony in the same way as the previous night. I am quite astonished when, after each member of the circle drinks from the little silver cup, the shaman comes to the back of the room and offers the cup. How did I miss this last night? I feel completely unnerved and unprepared to ingest more Ayahuasca. I smile and shake my head no, but the shaman insists by gently pushing the cup forward. A woman leans over to me and whispers that all people in the room must “be with the medicine” during ceremony. I look into the shaman’s eyes and he nods encouragingly, holding thumb and index fingers close together in the symbol for “just a little”. When I peek into the proffered cup, there is just a tiny bit less than last night. How will I do this???? I tip back the cup…


The shaman can connect with entities that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist, traveled to the Amazonian rain forest and spent several years studying with indigenous shamans. In his book “Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice” he noted that when a person was physically, spiritually or emotionally ill, the shaman went into the forest to get cures for the patient. When Plotkin asked the shamans how they knew what plants to use, the shaman’s reply typically was that the spirit of the plant gave him the cure. Plotkin believed for some time that this was a metaphor for a cultural reference that he did not understand. However, as the trust between he and the tribal people grew, he was drawn deeper into experiences that proved the shamans initial statement was no metaphor- the shaman literally gained direct guidance for his patients through direct communication with the plants.

Working in partnership with local plants has always been a cornerstone of shamanic practice. Plants are used by all peoples for food, shelter and medicine. Most indigenous spirituality has also included using plants as entheogens- tools of enlightenment and knowledge. Entheogens are natural plants that produce an altered state of consciousness.

Entheogens differ from hallucinogens in that they are not created in a lab by a chemist, but are instead a direct product of nature. The word entheogen comes from the Greek “entheos” and “genesthai” and translates to “generating the divine within”. It seems no surprise that our Western culture that has dismissed the importance of spirituality in everyday life has also dismissed the spiritual possibilities of entheogenic plants.

 

[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my 
personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant 
entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after 
great consideration. All people considering this path of 
exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to 
work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional 
issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge 
and professional background to address after-effects that may 
arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s) and are not mine.]

Vine of the Soul: 3: The Cleanse

"Ayahuasca preparation" by Terpsichore - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_preparation.JPG#/media/File:Ayahuasca_preparation.JPG
“Ayahuasca preparation” by Terpsichore – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_preparation.JPG#/media/File:Ayahuasca_preparation.JPG

The vibrations are getting stronger, along with the ringing in my seemingly enlarged ears. I panic a little, remembering some of the tales of powerful and uncontrollable visions told by others. I remind myself that I am safe, take a breath, and try to relax. The room begins to look strange- elongated and fuzzy. Dust specs float above me in the afternoon sun, appearing so close and significant. A wave of deep nausea hits me and I hear myself moan softly. I expect to vomit at any time and I reach, shakily, for my bucket. Again I wonder why I or anyone would choose to do this. The voice in my head gets louder… louder. I hear myself complaining in a non-stop stream of negativity. At times I AM the voice, other times I am observing the voice from some place not within myself. The nausea overwhelms me and I begin to wish I could vomit.

The shaman told us that “la purga” is part of the gift of healing from La Medicina. All around me people are vomiting and moaning. Some accomplish this purging quietly and efficiently, while others vomit with screams and growls that make me shudder. Suddenly all noises are part of my experience, I am sympathetic to the purging. My stomach feels as though there is a living thing trapped there. I feel a visceral rolling and churning that makes its way through my small intestine. I come back to awareness long enough to decide I am cold. I wrap myself in a blanket and lay on my side. The shaman announces that two hours have passed and does anyone need more Medicine? I groan in disbelief. This is a 4 to 6 hour Journey I have signed up for.

I spend the majority of the following hours listening to my own inner voice. It whines, it judges, it bitches. I begin to cry, listening to this voice of mine. I hear myself, loudly and clearly. All my judgement, criticisms and complaints lay themselves out for my scrutiny. I see no major visions, no colors, am visited by no entities. Just me and my inner garbage, stewing in nausea, tears and cramps. When I believe I can walk again, I wobble weakly to the bathroom and violently empty my liquid bowels. I repeat this process every half hour or so- stumbling to and from my mat. How could I have so much inside of me, I wonder, after eating so lightly for a week and fasting for an entire day? The answer, I finally decide, is that I am simply full of shit.

As the release of garbage inside my mind and body finally begins to subside, a deep sense of peace and relaxation comes over me. The songs of the shaman no longer seemed driving and aggressive. The purging has slowed down considerably within the room. Others play music and sing. The voices and the music touch me deeply, and now my former hot tears of pain become quiet, gentle weeping. A young man sings in a soft, crystalline voice, “Gracias, gracias por la vida” and I repeat his words to myself in a heartfelt whisper…


Many Westerners are exploring a return to the simple but profound spiritual practices of shamanism and shamanic plant medicines to heal our wounded culture. Terence McKenna, ethnobotanist and self-proclaimed psychonaut, states in a recorded interview “Shamanism is not some obscure concern of cultural anthropologists: shamanism is how religion was practiced for its first million years. Up until about 12,000 years ago, there was no other form of religion on this planet; that was how people attained some kind of access to the sacred. ”

Shamanism is the belief that everything is connected, and that all things, seen and unseen, are alive and have some sort of consciousness. The practice of shamanism encourages a recognition of the sacred in all forms of life. The shaman, or medicine person, is the equivalent of today’s priest or minister. The shaman has dedicated his or her life to the practice of shamanism and is considered to be able to connect deeply with the spirits of the Earth’s flora and fauna.

 

[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my 
personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant 
entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after 
great consideration. All people considering this path of 
exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to 
work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional 
issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge 
and professional background to address after-effects that may 
arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s) and are not mine.]

Vine of the Soul: 2: Initial Contact

"Chacruna and ayahuasca" by Awkipuma - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chacruna_and_ayahuasca.jpg#/media/File:Chacruna_and_ayahuasca.jpg
“Chacruna and ayahuasca” by Awkipuma – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chacruna_and_ayahuasca.jpg#/media/File:Chacruna_and_ayahuasca.jpg

My room is full- four women, four twin beds and one bathroom- and yet it is eerily silent as we bathe and dress for the first of three ceremonies of the weekend. I have decided to only attend the first ceremony, and to be “in service” for the following ceremony tomorrow afternoon. “In service”, I was told, basically means gathering vomit bags and walking people to bathrooms during the ceremony, and cleaning and making meals in between. I was also told this was an honor to be allowed to be in service during ceremony, one that was offered to me based on my work as an herbalist and energy worker…

Earlier, as I nervously waited for time to pass, I had a brief conversation with one of my roommates. I asked her the questions you might expect. How long had she been working with The Medicine? What brought her to this path? Was she afraid? She told me that she initially sought out Ayahuasca as a way to heal from Lyme disease. She confided that she had previously tried every allopathic and alternative treatment, and believed that Lyme would ultimately kill her. Ayahuasca, she told me, had brought the disease under control, and she was now managing it well. She continues to come, she said, because she wants to know the things that Grandmother continues to teach her. “As far as fear goes”, she said with a finality in her tone that said our discussion was near its end, “fear is about living on the edge and the gifts that edge has to offer”.

Now we are dressed for the first ceremony. The entire group, around 30 or 40 I think, wander quietly from sleeping quarters toward the community room. Some wear loose cotton pants or dresses, others yoga clothes, some are clad in jeans and tee-shirts. Inside the airy, windowed community room, mats have been placed in a large circle. I find a mat and unroll my blanket. Many people lay down, I have been told, and it can get chilly. I watch out of the corner of my eye as others smile and nod at each other while setting up their own small space. They hug and whisper to each other, clearly having been here before. Many of them line sacred objects up at the base of their mats. I note that there are about an equal number of men and women. I note that there is a good deal of cultural diversity among attendees. All are quiet. The lightly smoky air smells of incense and flowers. This space feels sacred.

When the shaman enters, everyone takes a seat on their mat. It is completely silent. I can feel the tension and expectation in the air. Some sit with eyes closed, serene, others fidget nervously. The shaman opens the ceremony in Spanish, interpreted through an assistant. He speaks, explaining the ceremony. He says a prayer to the Four Directions and sprays Agua de Florida out of his mouth for each Direction. I sit quietly, my heart beating too fast. “What the HELL am I doing here?” I wonder. My stomach is full of butterflies. The ceremony is to last 4 to 6 hours, and I have been warned about the purgative effects of Ayahuasca, (puking, I say to myself) as well as the deep and sometimes frightening visions she brings. To calm myself, I call upon my Spirit Helpers. They gather around me, promising to stay with me until the end. One by one, each member of the circle approaches the shaman, who fills a tiny silver cup with dark, viscous fluid. One by one, each member of the circle tilts back the offered cup and takes his or her place back within the circle.

Suddenly it is my turn. As if in a dream, I walk toward the seated shaman and slide in closely to kneel at his feet. He asks his assistant, in Spanish, about me. She whispers back, presumably telling him this is my first time. He smiles at me and asks in heavily accented English, “how much?” I shrug and say I do not know. He smiles and pours me a shot. It literally GLUGS into the small silver cup. I take it. I breathe. I touch the cup to my forehead. I pour the thick goo into the back of my mouth…

It tastes bad. It tastes like molasses and teriyaki sauce, mixed and cooked down into a chunky sludge. It is disgusting, but not as bad as I expected based on others’ descriptions. I wipe my mouth and walk back to my mat. After a while the circle is complete. We sit in silence. Some time passes and the shaman begins to sing his “icaros”- his medicine songs- with power and grace. He rattles. He will sing for us for hours. All around me people start to vomit into the provided buckets. Some vomit violently and continuously. Others begin to whisper and moan softly. I start to wonder if I had enough “medicine”. Finally, I feel a vibration begin in my body, accompanied by a high pitched ringing. My ears feel like they have grown very large. I say a last prayer requesting gentleness as she arrives for me…


 

Spiritual is defined as  “of or relating to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature”.  Spirituality is not necessarily religion, although the religious can certainly be (or not be) spiritual. Religion requires us to adhere to a specific doctrine, and often has its own materialistic goals. Spirituality involves finding meaning and purpose in life and life experiences, feeling connected to a Source or higher consciousness, experiencing the sacredness of the life journey.

Modern life for many in the U.S. has become a pursuit of material wealth, and there is nothing wrong with living a materially comfortable lifestyle. Study after study has proven that having enough financial resources to cover our basic needs does indeed make us happier. However, the pursuit of materialism to the exclusion of all else may leave us spiritually ill, and mentally and emotionally unbalanced. Large segments of the population of developed countries such as the U.S. have largely turned away from spirituality as a routine aspect of daily life, often preferring to compartmentalize spirituality to a few hours of practice per week, if at all. Can this deficit of spirituality be the basis of the erosion of American morals? And, since the current 300+ religions and denominations in America don’t appear to be the answer, are there other avenues to finding meaning in Western life that can replace the often violent struggle for material success?

[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my 
personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant 
entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after 
great consideration. All people considering this path of 
exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to 
work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional 
issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge 
and professional background to address after-effects that may 
arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s)and are not mine.]

 

Vine of the Soul:1: The Journey Begins

"Ayahuasca and chacruna cocinando" by Awkipuma - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_and_chacruna_cocinando.jpg#/media/File:Ayahuasca_and_chacruna_cocinando.jpg
“Ayahuasca and chacruna cocinando” by Awkipuma – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_and_chacruna_cocinando.jpg#/media/File:Ayahuasca_and_chacruna_cocinando.jpg

I am tired, head-achy and a bit dizzy on the long ride to the Gathering. I have been on my first “dieta” for a week now and the caffeine withdrawal and reduced calorie intake are having their way with me. A dieta is a diet of no salt, sugar, caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods. Meats and dairy are gradually reduced until one is only consuming bits of fruit, nut butters and steamed vegetables, which prepares the body for the ceremony with Ayahuasca. I have been told that the traditional South American dieta would be rice, steamed vegetables and small bits of fish, all unseasoned. Sexual contact is also disallowed. My driving companion and I gaze longingly at billboards & truck sides advertising pancakes… burgers… fresh fruit. We sip instead on herbal tea that I brought from my apothecary. Occasionally, between moments of quiet conversation and good music, one of us will wonder aloud, “are we really doing this”?

We arrive at our destination in the late afternoon. I wheel my small suitcase down a long, darkened hallway flanked by amazing artwork that I feel compelled to stop and inspect. One of the artists is Pablo Amaringo, and I am mesmerized by these paintings. Little do I know at that moment how differently I will view these paintings in a few days…

My name, along with a few others, is written on a slip of paper attached to one of many doorways. The room is small, dim, musty, and furnished with yard sale finds. I can see luggage stacked atop one of the four available twin beds . I take a sagging bed by the window and let out a breath I have been holding. I am uptight and nervous, my inner judge and jury wondering about my age, my clothes, my energy… blah blah blah. My initial assessment is that the few people I have met so far have been less than welcoming. I also suspect that it is likely my own stuff surfacing- I am an introvert and rarely feel comfortable in new groups. I have several hours until my first ceremony with The Grandmother, and I decide to wander the grounds…


 

Mass shootings, war, drug addition, rape, murder, incest, racism, bullying and a myriad of other violent scenarios are a reality of life in the United States. The FBI states in its annual report that in 2013, an estimated 1,163,146 violent crimes occurred nationwide.  The media reports that a public mass shooting has occurred on average every 172 days since 1982. Many argue that gun control is the answer to violence in America. Others site drug addiction as a primary cause of violent crimes, loaded jail cells and untapped human potential. The National Council on alcohol and drug dependence (NCADD) states that “Most inmates are in prison, at least in large part, because of substance abuse. 80% of offenders abuse drugs or alcohol. Nearly 50% of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted. Approximately 60% of individuals arrested for most types of crimes test positive for illegal drugs at arrest.” (NCADD: “Drugs and Crime”) A rise in mental illness and overuse of psychiatric drugs is being scrutinized as a possible cause of the negative swing of our culture’s moral compass. The percentage of Americans disabled by mental illness has increased fivefold since 1955.

All of these- firearms, illegal and prescription drug addiction, mental illness- are likely theories for the one million plus violent crimes in America. If we widen the lens a bit, we see the morally heinous corporate crimes of greed. Big business stealing from the poor and working class and pillaging our planet as a source of wealth for the already wealthy has become the norm.  What lies beneath all this violence, apathy and moral bankruptcy? Blaming guns, mental illness and drug addiction for the erosion of morals and ethics in our culture is akin to blaming the warning light on a car dashboard for the impending breakdown of the engine. Perhaps the real issue is a deep disregard for the sacredness of life in pursuit of the material. Maybe what America truly needs is a spiritual slap in the face…

[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my 
personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant 
entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after 
great consideration. All people considering this path of 
exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to 
work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional 
issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge 
and professional background to address after-effects that may 
arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s) and are not mine.]

 

Vine of the Soul: Introduction to a Secret Me

Good morning, reader. I invite you to join me on a Journey of my own self-discovery. After a few years of indecision, I have decided to write about my personal experiences with shamanism & plant entheogens. Entheogens are natural plants that produce an altered state of consciousness. Entheogens differ from hallucinogens in that they are not created in a lab by a chemist, but are instead a direct product of nature.

Ayahuasca Vine
Ayahuasca Vine

I have personally had the honor of working with several plant entheogens. As an herbalist and student of shamanism, the connection of shamanic cultures to plant teachers was one I could not ignore. The decision to explore this aspect of shamanism was challenging for me. I have personally been affected by family members and close friends who suffer from addiction to drugs and alcohol. I struggled with the aspects of the illegality of using these plants. I researched. I asked questions. Finally, I traveled to a country where the use of shamanic plant entheogens was legal. I sought out well-known and reputable shamans whose lives were dedicated to healing others through the use of Ayahuasca.

I, like many others, experience Ayahuasca as an intelligent entity that is willing and able to teach powerful though sometimes painful lessons. The self-knowledge I have gained through my work with the shamans and Ayahuasca seems the equivalent of many years of psychotherapy. Ayahuasca has provided me with spiritual, physical, emotional and mental healing. I have been given knowledge of myself and been gifted with teachings from this amazing plant. In an increasingly complicated world, perhaps this is one simple solution. Shamans and people of shamanic cultures understand something many Westerners have forgotten: we are just one small part of a whole, and there is much to learn from the living world, seen and unseen, around us.

I hope that you enjoy this Journey with me, and that you find something of value for yourself within these upcoming blog posts. I don’t know how many blogs I will write, but I have stacks of notebooks detailing my personal spiritual experiences.

Please note that my purpose in these writings is to share my personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after great consideration. All people considering this path of exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to work with. You will need to travel to a country outside the U.S. where these extraordinary plants are not forbidden for use. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge and professional background to address after-effects that may arise from this profound work.