I 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.]