FIVE LIFE LESSONS I LEARNED IN AYAHUASCA CEREMONY
Ayahuasca ceremony is an ancient and miraculous medicine practice within indigenous traditions of curanderismo, which quite literally means “plant spirit healing.” Ayahuasca ceremony takes place at night in the depths of the jungle, amidst a cacophony of insect and birds sounds, in complete darkness within a large circular hut called a “malloca.” The ceremony is led with great care and reverence by a time-tested curandero, also known as a plant-doctor or plant spirit healer. The curandero sings other-worldly songs called “icaros” to protect, open, connect, cleanse, and heal the people and patients who sit attentively-yet-apprehensively on floor mats surrounding the curandero.
And here’s what I know. This age-old medicine practice provides penetrating opportunities for personal healing and unearthly catalysts for self-transformation, but it is not for the faint of heart.
I discovered this when, following my deepest instincts, I left the prairies of Oklahoma this past fall and traveled to the Amazonian rainforests of Peru, where I immersed myself in a 6-week intensive Curandero Initiation training course. Under the tutelage of Shipibo curandero don Enrique and alongside 14 fellow initiates, I dove head first into the longstanding medicine traditions of plant spirit healing, including participating in and leading Ayahuasca ceremony.
For those of you not yet familiar with Ayahuasca, let me officially introduce you. Ayahuasca is a pink-flowering Peruvian vine, botanically known as Banisteriopsis caapi, that has been used medicinally for centuries by the Shipibo people of the Amazon rainforest. The hardy rope-like stems of the vine are brewed into a muddy tea, poured into a ceremonial cup, and swigged during a traditional Ayahuasca ceremony, transporting one to deeper levels of self-understanding, expanded states of consciousness, and multi-dimensional realms of healing.
One detects upon ingestion of this powerful, intelligent plant that it is as enchanting as it is dogged. Ayahuasca is a catalyst of the utmost precision for personalized life lessons, and as you may already be imagining, some experiences that the plant evokes are more welcome than others.
For instance, as a participant in one Ayahuasca ceremony I found myself in the darkest of dark cesspools of the human experience, witnessing the sickest of distortions, diseases, and despair that could ever possibly exist. I was sure there was no escape. Alternatively, later in the same ceremony my physical body was being bathed by a most brilliant, white healing light from the stars, leaving me feeling blessed and treasured beyond measure.
Due to these vast, rapid, and contrasting juxtapositions of the Ayahuasca ceremony experience, it is with great care and reverence that one participates, as a patient or as a healer. It requires courage, folks. And self-love. And a willingness to surrender.
During my time in the Peruvian jungle I had many opportunities to practice my role as patient and healer in a total of 20 Ayahuasca ceremonies over a rigorous 42-day period. Accordingly, it became clear to me that my role as a patient during ceremony was to set my heartfelt intention for the healing of myself and all beings, to pray to God, to stay keenly and courageously present with myself throughout the experience, and then to simply “Buckle up, Buttercup.”
By doing so, I learned numerous hard-earned lessons in Ayahuasca ceremony that I continue to apply to my daily life. Here are a few I’d like to share with you:
1. RESPECT THE CEREMONY
The Shipibo tradition of plant spirit healing and Ayahuasca ceremony goes hand-in-hand with a set of alchemical tools like Mapacho cigarettes for protection, a plant-based perfume called Agua Florida for clearing and upliftment, and the icaros songs for calling to the Spirit realms. When approached with the left-brained western mind, these truly transformative tools seem like superfluous silliness. I received a slap on the hand from my Spirit Team on Day 1 of the training course, while experiencing an aversion to the smell of Mapacho smoke. I was gently guided to set my judgments aside in order to proficiently learn the protocols and tools as taught. In so doing, I’ve now developed a mutually intimate relationship with Mapacho, Agua Florida, and the icaros. I now more easily endeavor to “respect the ceremony” when I am faced with an unknown-to-me set of customs and rituals, and I benefit from the wisdom gained.
2. YOU KNOW IT’S WHAT YOU NEED, BECAUSE IT’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Remember the “darkest of dark cesspools of the human experience” Ayahuasca ceremony I mentioned earlier in the article? Well yeah, I was there right in the thick of it, and I honestly saw no way out. I was desperately trying to change my experience, calling out to my Spirit Team, feeling completely abandoned, lost, and devastated by the reek of despair. I thought I was in the wrong place, that it must’ve been some kind of mistake, that I took a wrong turn and just needed to “think positive.” After struggling in my mind for quite some time, and going nowhere, I finally gave up. I said, “Fine, what the fuck am I supposed to know about this situation?” I heard, “Accept what is happening,” and immediately I felt myself meet the despair face-to-face, with the utmost of compassion in my heart, asking nothing of it, and simply bearing witness to it. I discerned from this experience that my struggles are initiated by my belief that whatever I am experiencing at present is a mistake, and likewise when I try desperately to distance, repel, or change that which simply is. Alternatively, this experience taught me that I can accept what is happening exactly as is, and I can trust that it is the perfect experience my soul needs. Without judgment. What a gift!
3. P.S. DARKNESS EXISTS. P.P.S. IT’S PRESENT IN ALL OF US.
This is not a popular sentiment, especially for the light-lovers out there. I get it. Darkness can be scary, because you can’t see a damn thing, you must rely on your extra-sensory perception, and it evokes a whole mess of uncomfortable feelings (fear, anxiety, shame, jealousy, hate, desire, neediness, deprivation, you name it). Referencing yet again my “darkest of dark cesspools of the human experience” ceremony, I neglected to mention earlier that when I met the despair face-to-face, I saw myself in it. Yep, that’s right. I was the cesspool, and it was me. I saw MY devastation of experiencing sexual abuse at age 8. I saw MY inherited distorted views of sexuality as I grew up and my incessant need to be coveted. I saw MY past predatory sexual practices as a twisted desire to feel love. It was only when I recognized myself in the cesspool that I experienced heartfelt love and compassion, for not only myself, but the multitude of beings writhing and howling in the cesspool. I was not afraid anymore, and I was not separate from the perceived “darkness.” I understood for that moment that the darkness is within me, and so is the light. And when I embrace this perceived paradox, the polarity of Me-vs.-You collapses.
In the Ayahuasca ceremony I’ve been describing, when I experienced the heartfelt love and compassion for myself and all beings, I instinctively placed my left hand over my heart. In doing so, I felt an even greater exponential surge of love emanate outward from my heart center to my body’s extremities and beyond. This gushing surge of love literally lifted my essence up and transported me out of the “darkest of dark cesspools of human experience” and into a most brilliant, white healing light originating from the stars. I was generously bathed in this illumination and I felt blessed and treasured beyond measure. Accordingly, I learned that the simple act of placing one’s left hand over the heart center is a powerful gesture that actually activates the energetic of love which is always present within the heart center of each one of us. I continue to utilize this gesture daily when I become aware that I am struggling with something.
5. HUMAN ASSISTANCE IS A POWERFUL NAVIGATIONAL TOOL
This one is straight-forward: Ask others for help. And help others when asked. I experienced a few Ayahuasca ceremonies where I simply was unable to navigate the lessons on my own. During one ceremony in particular, I felt so tired, despondent, and hopeless that I was concerned I might give up, fall asleep, and never wake up again. I felt as if 10 wet, wool blankets had been draped over me, and I could not muster the strength within myself to remove their weight. I accepted my limitations, and I wearily called out to a healing assistant, “I need help.” He arrived at my side, went about clearing and protecting me with Mapacho smoke, encouraged me to breathe in the fragrant vapors of Agua Florida, then whispered in my ear for me to “Look up. Look to God. Look to the light. Raise yourself. It’s all within you. Keep looking upward and reaching toward the light.” With his help and his words, my energy shifted, my inner strength grew, I believed in myself again, and my personal power was restored. Us humans are truly gifted with this innate ability to help each other out in beautifully simple ways. Use this gift.
I offer up these lessons-learned as a small glimpse into the realm of plant spirit healing and the light-years of growth that one can experience within a single 3-hour Ayahuasca ceremony. Let me be clear though, Ayahuasca is not for everyone. Participating in the 6-week Ayahuasca Curandero training course was the most difficult, grueling, beautiful, chilling, illuminating, and transformative experience of my life. I learned how to save myself, and I’m grateful for every single enigmatic minute of it.
If this article and these traditional Shipibo plant medicine practices resonate with you, I encourage you to discover more by visiting the Ayahuasca Foundation website, embarking on your own search, or joining me at my upcoming presentation of my personal story “Ayahuasca: My Initiation into the Tradition of Plant Spirit Healing”, on Saturday, May 20th from 10:00-11:30am at the OKC Downtown Library.
And don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section below:
What is your experience with the tradition of plant spirit healing and/or plant medicine? What more would you like to know or share about Ayahuasca ceremony? When reading this article, what personal fears come up for you? What hard-earned lessons have you learned in Ayahuasca ceremony?
Whether you seek out personal growth and healing through working with plants, participating in a 12-step program, studying sacred texts, spending time in nature, or simply hanging out with your dogs, remember that YOU know what’s best for you, what works, and what doesn’t. Trust yourself.
In your service,
P.S. I’m so stinkin’ grateful for you Enrique, Miguel, Dean, Keyo, Mike, Sean, Medo, Adam, Yannick, IsaBelle, Patrick, Serge, David, Kimberli, Hunter, Tiago, James, and Basak. You were/are a brilliant metaphysical groundcrew, and I have benefitted exponentially from your presence in my life. BIG LOVE to you gals & guys!
GLOSSARY OF FREQUENTLY-USED TERMS:
Agua Florida – originally created in 1808 as a ladies’ perfume, this fragrant concoction contains bergamot, lemon, cloves, cinnamon, lavender, orange blossoms, and alcohol. It is sprayed, consumed, and inhaled during Ayahuasca ceremony as an alchemical tool to clean, clear, protect, and uplift patients and participants.
Alchemical tools – the elements of air, earth, fire, water, and ether, that when used in a specific way or in specific combinations with the human breath, touch, voice, and/or intention, have magical or multi-dimensional powers that are typically unobservable by the human eye. Examples are blowing Mapacho smoke to protect, inhaling Agua Florida to clear, or ingesting garlic to repel.
Ayahuasca – a pink-flowering Peruvian vine, botanically known as Banisteriopsis caapi, that has been ingested as a tea for centuries by the Shipibo people of the Amazon rainforest during Ayahuasca ceremony for medicinal purposes.
Ayahuasca ceremony – an ancient and miraculous medicine practice within indigenous traditions of curanderismo, led with great care and reverence by a time-tested curandero, a.k.a. plant spirit healer.
Curanderismo – an ancient and indigenous medicinal practice of plant spirit healing, whereby curanderos ingest, commune with, learn from, channel, and conversate with the vegetative world to bring healing to humans.
Curandero – a time-tested plant spirit healer, one who practices curanderismo.
Icaros – other-worldly songs that have been gifted to the Shipibo people by the medicinal and master plants, such as Noya Rao. These special songs are sung to the plants and Spirits by the curandero during Ayahuasca ceremony to welcome them, invite their presence, request their healing, and to express gratitude for their assistance.
Malloca – a large, circular ceremonial hut where people gather for Ayahuasca ceremony.
Mapacho – a native Peruvian plant, botanically known as Nicotiana rustica, that is used in cigarette form by the Shipibo people in Ayahuasca ceremony as an alchemical tool to protect and clean patients/participants and to elevate or alleviate altered experiences. Mapacho use predates Ayahuasca use, and some Shipibo say that Mapacho gave them the knowledge of Ayahuasca.
Multi-dimensional realms – the numerous levels of understanding or orientations in consciousness that exist, each having its own rate of vibration, set of available experiences, natural laws, and catalysts for learning. Ex. Ayahuasca is a plant that transports one to an alternate multi-dimensional realm, where personal healing may occur at the speed of light.
Paradox – a statement or proposition that, despite sound reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.
Plant spirit healing – also known as curanderismo, this is an ancient and indigenous medicinal practice whereby curanderos ingest, commune with, learn from, channel, and conversate with medicinal plants to bring healing to humans.
Shipibo – the indigenous people originating from the Ucayali River within the Amazon rainforest of Peru. The Shipibo people are regarded as masters of Ayahuasca.