Updated: Apr 20, 2022
"The medicines do not offer quick fixes or short cuts. After we sit with the medicines, it is up to us to feed and sustain our growth and healing in our daily lives through our practices and choices."
As plant medicines and Earth medicines (such as mushrooms and amphibian medicines) increasingly come into the forefront as legitimate pathways for healing, I am feeling ready to share about my own journey with the plants. Beyond sharing my personal story, there are several important topics around our practices with these powerful agents for healing that are worth noting.
I am not certain how I stumbled into a couple of books regarding the substance called DMT and plant medicines, but I found myself devouring these in my early thirties. At the time, I lived in a small, ex-pat surf village in Costa Rica where people from all over the world settled seeking the consistently surfable waves. As I read about DMT and the mysterious plants discovered by different indigenous groups throughout the Amazon rainforest, I was immediately intrigued. I learned that these plants brought visions and healing to people, helping them learn and understand deep, karmic life lessons. As far as I could remember, I had been piecing together my spiritual path, trying to gain some understanding of the Great Mystery, and as I read about these medicines I instinctively felt that what they offered was a huge piece to this infinite puzzle. I remember saying to myself: “Someday I will have to go to the Amazon and try to find a teacher that can guide me in this medicine.”
A couple of days later, I was at the small, local Saturday market when a friend came up to me with a notebook in hand and said after greeting me: “The Shaman is coming next week. Do you want to come sit?”
“What shaman?” I asked. “Sit?”
“Yes, Don Jose. Ayahuasca.” She said, as if I should have known exactly what she meant as she prepared to jot my name down on her list.
Everything happened in a surreal way after that. I didn’t tell her that I had just been reading about Ayahuasca. I was too shocked and at the same time, struck by that deep gut sensation of witnessing Divine fate unfolding.
That was the beginning of my plant medicine path. It was early 2009.
The next weekend, I was sitting in a circle of people, on mats and blankets with an empty bucket and a bottle of water next to me. I spent that first ceremony on my knees with tears streaming down my face and the deepest feeling of gratitude for EVERYTHING in this world, a deeper gratitude than I had ever felt or thought possible. I felt deeply grateful for my life, the people in it, the vast web of life, the divine and ancient substance inside my bottle that quenched my thirst and humbled me in her generosity and vast surrendered power in the rivers and vast oceans… I was clearly able to understand how Madrecita, this sacred Plant Teacher, has been known to alleviate and heal depression. This vastness of love and gratitude, that flowed from a deep well of understanding and recognition, permeated my entire being and it has, to both large and lesser degrees, stayed with me as I cultivated regular practices to maintain these states.
HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN WORKING WITH THE MEDICINES:
I was very fortunate and guided in receiving and accepting the invitation to sit with the Plant Medicines. To me, it still feels clear that there was synchronicity and divine guidance at play. I had been reading about them after having just moved to this town where there are fewer barriers to practices of this nature, an increased likelihood that a renowned Curandero (Don Jose does not refer to himself as a shaman) would make regular visits, and that an invitation would come so openly. Guided by excitement and intuition, I immediately agreed to sit and receive this sacrament without taking some time to consider very important factors. Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would have agreed immediately and I would have taken more time with my decision. Sitting with the plant medicines is never something that should be taken lightly. To anyone being called to work with these medicines, there are some important things to consider, especially as the medicines increase in popularity, become mainstream, and infiltrate our capitalist, colonialist paradigms.
Who you sit with is important.
After I began sitting with Don Jose, one thing that I learned quickly is that Ayahuasca and the Earth medicine teachers are keys. They open doorways to realms behind the veil and our limited perception. This can lead to great understanding, healing, and personal growth. However, the guide who facilitates a journey helps to create the container to the experience of what lies behind the door that the medicine (the key) opens. It is very important that the guide is a person of integrity. It is also very important that he/she/they are someone who has put in the time to master the spiritual art and science of facilitation.
A curandera is someone who has undergone an initiation with the medicines through the guidance of his/her/their teacher and has received the gift of becoming a plant medicine healer from their teachers and the plants. It is not the result of an egoic decision to facilitate. A teacher should be able to tell you what his/her/their lineage is. They should be able to share who are/were their teachers and who their teachers’ teachers were. If we traced it back over just a couple of generations we should be able to trace their teachers back to the original medicine holders – the tribes of the Amazon jungle.
These medicines originate in indigenous lands and were first utilized by indigenous medicine people. In the case of Ayahuasca, the tribes, who dwelled along the jungles of the Amazon River and its tributaries include the Shipibo, the Huni Kui, the Sharanahua, the Culina, the Cofan, and many other groups who are the keepers of these traditions for millennia. A curandero’s lineage should trace back to these ancient, indigenous medicine keepers. Here, I refer to the pathway of Ayahuasca, but the same is true for all of the plant and Earth medicines.
You want to make sure that your teacher is not in it for greed, self-aggrandizement, or any of these egoic and capitalistic reasons. Who you sit with is important. Do your research. Ask questions. (How long have you been working with the medicines? Who did you train with? What are your views in regard to being in reciprocity with the Amazon Jungle and the medicine holders? Can you share about your own spiritual journey?) How much are they charging and are they making the work accessible to historically oppressed and marginalized people? I have heard of shamanic training programs that offer to train someone to facilitate ceremony in the course of several weeks. I have also heard of high-end retreat centers facilitating ceremonies with novice (often White) teachers and charging many thousands of dollars. This is suspect and dangerous, folx. Listen to your body, your gut, your inner knowing before sitting with someone.
I didn’t know this in 2009 when I first began working the Plants, but there is a sacred contract between the medicines and those who embark on the medicine path. The plants bring healing, wisdom, insight, growth, expansion, evolution, connection… the list goes on. In exchange for all of this, you sign up for being of service to this world. And, as anyone who undertakes the journey of being in service, it is one of constant learning and growth. This isn’t always easy. It can take a lot of work and the surrendering of many of the numbing agents that life offers. Is it worth it? I say, absolutely! But it is very much like choosing the blue pill or the red pill in the Matrix. There’s no going back to sleep. The process of awakening, whether via plant medicines or other spiritual paths, is liberating but can bring its own set of difficulties and challenges - all designed to expand our capacity for showing up in service in this world. There is not much room for spiritual bypassing along this path either, since we sometimes don’t have the option to push the shadow aside without facing it.
Sacred Plant Medicines Are Not Drugs.
Having grown up as a naughty, curious kid in Miami, I have definitely experimented with drugs. Although the drug epidemic is disconcerting and sometimes keeps me up at night (as a substance use counselor), I can’t say that I regret my own experiences. I was fortunate in my use and experimentation to never have gotten hooked on harder drugs, which is not the case for many. However, having had personal experience with street drugs, I can vouch for the Sacred Plant Teachers in saying that these medicines are not drugs.
Ayahuasca, Peyote, Wachuma, and all the Sacred Plant Teachers can bring joy and laughter (as well as plenty of darkness), but they are not to be ingested for fun, taken lightly and disrespectfully, or outside of intentional ceremony. They are medicine, they are entities, and they are sacred teachers. As so, they deserve our reverence and respect. This is also true of Cannabis, Coca, Poppies, and Tobacco. When medicines are taken out of context or taken without the proper guidance, ceremonial container, and respect, their energy is very different. Remember, they are keys that open doors and they each have very different purposes and qualities. What door we open depends on our intention and on many other factors, including our own state of mind, energetic frequency, environment, and guide. Plant medicines are not “drugs” and even when they feel pleasurable and “fun” we are not to use them frivolously. With this said, I’ve had so much fun with Ayahuasca! Usually after the hard work is done or when I need to rest, she allows me to play and enjoy myself.
On a similar thread, it is important that we consider where the plants come from. We have to keep in mind where they grow and who holds the wisdom and the relationships cultivated over thousands of years with these plants. Like most of what we do in our capitalist, colonialist structures, our consumption sometimes has no limits. Every day it becomes more and more difficult to find the medicines in the jungles and people have to go in deeper and deeper into the jungle to find the mature vines in a rapidly diminishing rain
forest. I trust that plant medicines are vastly intelligent, and if they have decided to become mainstream in this world, it is because we are a world in need of them. However, it is difficult to watch the blatant cultural appropriation and capitalist exploitation of these practices by White Eurocentric and Colonialist systems that don’t put in the time for relationship building, cultivation of mastery, and the effort to be in true reciprocity with the medicine holders and the lands. As in everything that becomes commodified, we must find a way to partake in ways that are respectful, reciprocal, and from those that are truly honoring this medicine pathway and avoiding the path of greed and exploitation of these sacred practices, medicines, and the lands from where they come.
"Alto Cielo" by Pablo Amaringo
If you are still with me here, thank you for your interest and for taking the time to read this information. It is just the very tip of the iceberg of the little bit I have gathered from a decade of working with these teachers, who have transformed, healed, and shaped my life. They have guided me in solidifying my commitment to seek the pathways of healing, sustaining an open heart, and building relationship and reciprocity with the web of life. May it be so for you, if this what you seek, regardless of the pathways you find or those that find you.
The medicines do not offer quick fixes or short cuts. After we sit with the medicines, it is up to us to feed and sustain our growth and healing in our daily lives through our practices and choices.
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with love and gratitude,