Ayahuasca: The Grandmother Who Helped Me to Become a Better Mother

Ayahuasca is a South American Medicine that takes the form of a tea usually brewed from two different plants but variations abound. Ayahuasca is often referred to as a plant medicine, an entheogen and a ‘teacher plant’. For me, this last description resonates deeply. Ayahuasca is used in ceremonies that are conducted in a shamanic tradition that dates back thousands of years. It is now used also in religious ceremonies and many other kinds of ceremonies that are often influenced to varying degrees by shamanic traditions. It was originally only drank by shamans who would do so as a means to cultivate their own skills as healers, leaders and wisdom keepers. The shaman would drink the brew and ‘journey’ – enter an altered state of consciousness – to gain insight into some issue or to receive guidance as to how a problem or condition might be addressed. Shamans might also do this with many other intentions. There is a whole world of variations when it comes to this practice and the intentions and nature of the shamans involved in it. They are human and come from many different tribes and communities worldwide with varying traditions, histories and ideologies.

Today, there are many people worldwide, many from the West pursuing this form of medicine. People are drinking Ayahuasca and having transformational experiences. There have been many fascinating stories about spiritual visions, physical and emotional healings and profound insights. These are important stories that only begin to scratch the surface of what is possible when we open up to this higher intelligence or source of wisdom – whatever description resonates with you would be the one to follow. If I’ve learned anything through my own extensive experiences with this medicine, it’s to not get hung up on these words.

I pursued plant medicines to address a very deep depression I had been suffering from for years. I had suffered on and off from depression throughout my life to varying degrees and many people can relate to some of the experiences I’d had with it. Then came the deeper version that devastated me. Ultimately, I became reclusive and had shut down. Far too many people can relate to this state these days and I think that this is why people are flocking to the jungle to try the medicine that addresses these conditions very differently than prescriptions that attempt to mask the problem. The reason why shamanic medicine is so unpredictable is because it seeks to address the deeper issues behind the conditions that tell us something is wrong. Ayahuasca reveals very clearly just how unique we are and what very personal issues we need to address.

Underlying these very personal, unique issues, are some universal messages that deep down, we all know. The message of self-love and of approaching the world with love and that our world is what we make it. These things, deep down, we know are true. What each person needs to understand and address in their own lives so that they may live the truth of these messages, well, that’s the adventure we call the healing path.  It has been and continues to be one of the greatest adventures of my life. In fact, it has turned my life into an adventure because for me, the experience of Ayahuasca continues daily.

In 2015, after having begun my work with plant medicines a year before, I realized the power they held and decided to continue this journey. I had already experienced an African plant medicine called Iboga and as a result of my experience with it, I managed to pull myself out of depression enough to made some huge life changes that took a great deal of energy and courage. Once this was done, I knew that I had only just begun. I explored another powerful plant medicine, Peyote in the Mexican desert and after returning home from this experience, I began to make plans to attend an Ayahuasca retreat in the jungle in Peru. As I began the considerable preparations for this trip, I started to think about the kinds of things I wanted to know. I had enough experience with these medicines to know that there was a phenomenon at work here that provided me with an opportunity for the kind of learning that just wasn’t available to me through any other source. As I wrote down my ‘intentions’ – the things I wanted to accomplish through this retreat which of course were all healing oriented intentions – I also had questions rolling around in my head at this time. These questions pertained to the nature of reality. Was it possible to discover the nature of reality through these experiences?

When I arrived in the jungle, I felt that I had come home. I immediately wanted to go barefoot and after grappling with my own silly hesitations about doing this the ants came to the rescue. They took over my shoes and forced me to go barefoot for three days. I loved this experience. I loved the feel of my feet connecting with the earth through the soft jungle floor. I loved the lizards and the frogs and the atmosphere of wonder all around me. I loved the warmth of the people and the mystery surrounding the medicine experience. I loved the hug that Ayahuasca gave me when she showed up in my first experience in the form of a large, magnificent insect with wings and six legs that she used to give me a warm and unusually thorough embrace.

A dialogue quickly began between us which started with her response to the question I had in my mind about the nature of reality weeks earlier while I was writing out my intentions for this retreat. It was my first lesson in a way. Before the retreat, I was writing out the kinds of intentions I thought I should have but in my mind, my deeper desire and natural curiosity about reality was what Ayahuasca responded to. Our thoughts are powerful and Ayahuasca responds to them. In fact, I have come to understand that our experiences in life are very responsive in this way. While in ceremony, it soon became clear that my connection with Ayahuasca had existed for quite a long time before this first night of drinking the brew. Ayahuasca, which is often experienced as a feminine presence and referred to as the ‘Mother’ or ‘Grandmother’, took me into a dream that I had a very long time ago and showed me that we had interacted in that dream, much like we were doing in ceremony. Our dialogue continued throughout the two weeks that I was there in the jungle and thus began my education. Little did I know then that this would become my new, everyday reality.

After returning home, I was in the shower looking at my feet, and contemplating something one of the facilitators had told me while I was in the jungle. She noticed that I was going barefoot and told me that we have more pores in our feet than anywhere else on our body. I was thinking of this interesting fact in the shower while looking at my feet and suddenly I heard “that’s how they knew how to get home”. It was an Ayahuasca moment. I knew that I was receiving a history lesson (something that often happens in ceremony) about how early indigenous people navigated their world. My dialogue with Ayahuasca had commenced again and continued daily (and nightly) for me ever since.

It’s one thing to receive lessons, insights, wisdom and advice while in ceremony in the jungle and quite another to receive these on the spot lessons while living your life and making all of the ‘mistakes’ that we often make in the course of a day. Of course they aren’t really mistakes and that’s one of the many lessons that I continue to learn. I’m grateful to have this guidance in my life but it is an enormous challenge at times and although I would never wish it away, it has often been something I felt I couldn’t quite live up to. These are the kinds of thoughts that I am learning to dismiss in favour of being more self-supportive so that my life is a reflection of this more self-loving state. One of the responses Ayahuasca gave me to the question of the nature of reality was “Your reality is due to your state”. Ever since then, we’ve been working together on improving my state and in so doing, improving my reality.

In the following weeks and months, I discovered that not only did my state affect my own reality, it affected my son’s reality profoundly. This was one of the great motivations I had to heal – so that I could become a proper mother to my son. I had been depressed on and off since he was born and fell into a deeper and deeper depression during his early years. I had a harrowing experience in the hospital both during his birth and afterwards. At one point, I knew that there was a chance that I wouldn’t leave the hospital if I didn’t take matters into my own hands. When I did, things improved to the point where I could leave the hospital and finally be with my newborn son who had been separated from me at birth. I experienced that very same conviction just before I began to move out of my depression – I had to take matters into my own hands.

I had been living separately from my son’s father for six months before I took my trip to Peru and our son was living with each of us half the time. It was a huge adjustment for all of us and I now had the greatest support of all – the support of the Grandmother. At the beginning, I had to take matters in hand in terms of letting my son know that I was his mother and that he needed to acknowledge my presence as an authority in his life. This was not easy as I had been so much in the background before then while I was ill and all I wanted to do was to be with him in a way that was not so challenging. That wasn’t working out so well as I discovered and the challenges were going to be there regardless of how hard I tried to ignore them.

Both my son and I went through a long and ever changing period of growth together. It was humbling, rewarding and astonishing as I was continually guided through these changes. It continues to this day but becomes different as we grow. I always let my son know that I’m learning too and growing with him. Never in my life have I felt more like a child than I have since the presence of Ayahuasca entered my life. I’m constantly learning about things I need to do differently and asked to be compassionate with myself about what I perceive as ‘mistakes’. I am continually encouraged to do better and always rewarded with love. I pass this onto my son as much as I can so really, I am both child and parent.

I became a better parent when I began to recognize my own need to learn and grown and to acknowledge when I was doing things that were not helping me to move in the direction I wanted to go. I’ve passed these lessons onto my son and this takes time, conviction and patience. Time is something that parents seem to have less and less of in the kind of 9-5, highly scheduled life that has been the norm for so long but now, many of us have an opportunity to create a different schedule. I never went back to that 9-5 schedule after plant medicines and my life and relationships improved substantially as a result.

I’ve had to prioritize time over schedule to accomplish some of the things I needed to do to teach my son in a way that I felt good about. It came to the point where I knew that punishing my son (in any way) was not only ineffective, there was a reason that I felt so bad about it. After the insights I had gleaned from delving into my own issues that were born out of my past, I realized that I was laying down the blueprints for my son’s future relationships. Did I punish him for doing something that was ‘wrong’ or did I sit down with him and have a discussion that could teach him in a way that helped him to discover that this behaviour did not serve him? I was being gently guided in a loving way and I was certainly going to do this with my son no matter how much it might interfere with a schedule I had no hand in creating. Time to begin to create a new schedule.

As a parent, when I became involved in addressing my son’s behaviour, I was surprised at the power of the pull towards mimicking my parent’s methods. This happened sometimes before I had a chance to think. My mother’s or father’s words would come straight out of my mouth in response to something my son was doing and it was frightening. I began to wonder how often this had happened with my parents too. After all, they had five children. Did they ever really have the time to reflect on any of this? I know that once they took time out it was for each other, to save their marriage and in the end, I know that they did this for us too. Even so, there were repercussions. Taking time for themselves (which translated into ultimately helping others in similar situations) meant that they were away many weekends during which my older brothers had free reign at home and they were not ready for this responsibility to say the least.

I know that I’m not alone in struggling at times to achieve a healthy balance between the needs of parents and children. Not everyone’s needs are the same and that’s the reason why it’s sometimes difficult to achieve this balance in a system that is normative based. What this spiritual grandmother has taught me is that if I base my future behaviour on what I considered to be normal in my past, I was not going to grow (or thrive for that matter). The simplicity of these lessons is one of the many humbling aspects of this journey. However, easy as it seems, what’s difficult is applying it in your life when all around you, the norm prevails. This is where the warrior steps in.

Many use the term warrior to describe those of us who have embarked on this unique journey of personal growth.  I balked at this term initially but as the challenges presented themselves, one after another, I began to warm to the concept. How else was I to describe the strength it took to continue when everything seemed to be against me except for these words of wisdom and this deep, aching desire for change? It takes courage to continue on this path and this is why I now embrace the concept of the warrior. Mostly it’s a battle within the mind and within oneself. Instead of focusing on what isn’t working, I’m asked to focus on creating what I do want and to move towards it in my mind, in my heart and in my actions. Essentially, I’m asked to be the change I want to see in the world and in my life. If I ask my son to do this, I must be willing to show him how it’s done and to admit it when I find myself veering off the path.

It’s been and continues to be a challenging, rewarding and magical journey with mother and grandmother Ayahuasca. It tests my endurance, courage and strength but always gives me more strength, courage and a greater capacity to endure and most importantly a greater capacity to love. The nature of the education I have received and continue to receive from Ayahuasca goes beyond pedagogy and becomes a sort of way of life. Our lives are the ceremony if we open up to this possibility. This whole experience of life is an opportunity to learn and grow which often involves moving beyond the conventions set down before us and creating more dynamic lives that reflect and honour our unique individuality. Our lives can be an expression of love and respect for ourselves that radiates outward. I’m convinced that this is what will really change the world for the better. If we intend to make positive change in this world, we must begin with ourselves.

Coming Out

When I came out about my Ayahuasca experiences it felt like such a dramatic step, probably because it was. I had not been on Facebook socially for years and had been so isolated that it was a shock to the senses to even contemplate this kind of personal exposure to the masses in general let alone coming out with such a wild story. But this was only the beginning for me.

First I had to get over my own misgivings about talking openly about my experiences – sorting through them and understanding them. Did my misgivings have to do with the stigma around ‘drugs’? Or was it the stigma of others’ preconceived notions about spirits? Talking plants? Inner voices? There were many things I had to consider myself before coming out in a way that didn’t reflect my own inner barriers.

I had to sort out how I felt about it and I did that initially through writing about it and exploring my thoughts and attitudes about all of it as I went. This was a valuable process in and of itself as it taught me a lot about myself and helped bring to the surface some unhealthy attitudes that had to change – not just to help facilitate my ‘coming out’ but to help support this new, more healthy person I was becoming.

Once I had worked through a lot of my own ideas about it, I wanted to focus on the outcome of these experiences – the inspirational stuff – the stuff that all human beings can connect with and are looking for: peace, insight, connectedness, wholeness, healing, wellness & meaning. These were the most important pieces of the story and talking honestly (for me) about where I was at before I had plant medicine experiences. These were the aspects of the experience that others could identify with and there were elements of this story that held so much promise for what others wanted in their lives and what they could achieve. It was the same with me when I heard others speak about these experiences. I knew there was something there for me but I didn’t realize the full extent to which this experience would change me and continue to change me in ways that were not always comfortable to say the least.

Another thing I had to consider was my own motivations for telling my story (other than the fact that Ayahuasca was urging me to do so ;-). I have heard others speak about things (especially spiritual or even ‘cures’ or natural remedies) where their attachment to outcome came through so strongly, it turned me off. I felt their agenda and rejected what they had to say not because of the content but because of this control factor. It was uncomfortable. So, I had to figure this out about myself. Did I have an agenda? What was my purpose in telling my story? Did it come from an attachment to a desired outcome or was it because I had a more authentic motivation? Did it matter whether or not people believed me? That was a big one. For me, at the beginning, I was so moved by what had happened to me that I felt a deep and natural desire to express it. In the heart of my experience with plant medicines, there was a truth that was so profound it deserved to be expressed. That was all. However, I had to take the journey of exploring all of the other things to get to the point where I could do this and I grew through that explorative journey. It was an integrative process. I confronted my inner barriers and discovered the reasons behind my concerns about what people might think. I explored my own ideas about plants, spirituality etc before and after plant medicines and made that part of my coming out story. That part was authentically me – a person who thrives on exploration of these matters. It’s not necessarily everyone else. If it wasn’t part of who I was, it may have come off more like I was defending some uncontested story.

So, coming out is a journey and for some of us, it may require some prep. If we search ourselves for any agendas or fears, this prep can be an opportunity for some personal growth and healing. What I have discovered is that there’s very little, if anything in life that doesn’t present this opportunity.

Personal Growth, The Subconscious Mind & Hypnosis

When we hear the word ‘hypnosis’, it often conjures up images of stage performances where people end up clucking like chickens in front of an audience. What could that possibly have to do with personal growth & healing? More than you think. Although these acts may be performed for entertainment purposes, the possibilities that exist within the process behind the act are endless when applied in creative ways for the purpose of healing and assisting someone along the path of personal growth.

When we begin to work at improving our lives, our relationships and achieving our goals, we often discover that the real barriers to achieving these things are not external. For those of us who make these discoveries and embark on the path of personal growth, we also discover that much of the harmful programming that was instrumental in creating these inner barriers, began and took hold at a very young age. Most of us are by now, well acquainted with the concept of childhood programming and it’s effects. Throughout early childhood (especially from 0 to 7 years old) we learned things about ourselves and our world that created beliefs and attitudes that may be limiting and affecting our outlook and self esteem to this day.

As it turns out, a lot of this programming occurred when our brains were in the ‘theta’ state. This ‘theta’ state happens when we begin to fall asleep, throughout the night (dreaming) and before we fully wake. This state is also available to us through hypnosis, which provides amazing opportunities to make changes to deeply imbedded programming. In addition to changing our programming, we also have an opportunity, through hypnosis, to access self-knowledge. This can be truly transformative.

If we’re going to make any big and lasting changes in our lives, we need to know more about the most crucial and consistent aspect of all of our lived experiences: ourselves. Many philosophers and spiritual leaders over the years have made reference to innate knowledge or the understanding of the soul. They believed that all knowledge exists within us. Hypnosis helps us to access this innate self-understanding and make use of it in ways that help us improve ourselves and in so doing, improve our lives. This deeply held awareness is the key to our greatest potential.

I’m sure many of us have heard the phrase “Everything you need is inside of you”. Well, as it turns out, this is true and hypnosis is a powerful tool in accessing that inner wisdom and using it to change our lives in profound ways. Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is an empowering tool and instead of controlling us, it allows us to explore and change the kinds of beliefs and programming that has been controlling us for years. This can profoundly impact our inner environment, which reflects outward and impacts our lived experience in meaningful ways.

Although there were powerful influences in our lives when we were children, the power these influences continue to exert are all internal. We have internalized these attitudes, beliefs and ideas and this is where change is possible. We have the key. Even our impressions of the past can be altered if we’re open to change. Beginning with the intention to make changes in this inner arena is a powerful first step in making these changes a reality.

If you are interested in working with me to discover your inner resources through hypnosis, please contact me at rebecca.hayden@gmail.com

Please note, I work remotely via Zoom so you will require a computer with a camera and a built-in microphone (which most computers have).

Round World Taking Shape

My son was chatting away to me as I went about some tasks and caught only a bit of what he said when he said “..in a round world..” and suddenly I perked up. I asked him about it and he explained, I realized that he was talking about a video game with a race called ‘Around the world’. “Oh” I said, a little deflated. I told him that I had been excited when I thought he said “in a round world” because I had suddenly imagined this cool story about a ‘round world’. You know, where there are all of these round people, rolling everywhere. My son caught on immediately and we both giggled about this concept so we continued with it in a sort of story telling game that we made up years before when shopping became tedious for him. I began to tell him a story – making it up as I went – and we agreed that we would share the story telling. So I would begin and he would tell the next bit and so on until we came up with a spectacular ending.

So, this story began with a round world, with round, rolling people whose babies literally bounced! But of course, there was one person who didn’t fit in.. Fred.. he was square. He had lots of round friends who would help to ‘roll’ him to parties and events and they accepted him but outside of that circle of friends, there wasn’t as much acceptance of him and his unique shape. My son took over the story and told about Fred’s childhood and how he was teased by some of the round students in school. And that now, as an adult, he came across these same people who he used to think of as ‘bullies’ making fun of a.. he couldn’t believe it.. there stood a triangular female! They were making jokes like “I’ll bet you don’t get around much!” In comes Fred who was taking all of this in and interrupts by patting one of his old classmates on the back “I remember you..” They all turned around, surprised to see their old school mate. Fred was looking, surprised as well at this wonderfully unique female. Fred said directly to her, “They wouldn’t understand someone as unique as you.” As those who were gathered around her parted, Tina, the triangular woman came forward to join Fred. They walked and talked and got to know one another better.

Of course they married! And then set about making a trip ‘around the world’ looking for other uniquely shaped people to hear their stories and combine their skills to help one another and to demonstrate their own unique abilities. As time went on, more and more round people began to mingle more and more with people of different shapes and the world was richer for it. Eventually, Fred and Tina had their first child who was shaped like a soccer ball (technically called a truncated icosahedron). This girl had many facets and could roll and bounce! She also had many magical gifts and the word soon got out about these gifts and many people came to see her and to experience these gifts for themselves. In her presence, people felt like they began to understand themselves better and felt an overwhelming sense of love. Soon they understood that this love was really who they were.

Then they had a boy who was a decahedron…. He was the fastest creature in this world and spread joy throughout the world. This was a rare gift that spread even faster once it caught on. It had been in short supply in this world so everyone welcomed this refreshing presence that was changing the world for the better.

Eventually, the people in this round world realized how much they were missing before they began to fully appreciate all of the different shapes and possibilities of their world. This was the greatest gift of all. Now, adults and children grew in a different way, they discovered how they all fit in as they appreciated their differences and how those differences created a sort of beautiful eco system within their community. All of this growing helped change this round world for the better and it still is today.

I was Praying To The Wrong Gods. A LESSON IN FOCUS.

Yesterday as I was doing some cleaning, I began to contemplate some problems that I wanted to resolve and thinking of how I might approach them when this wise voice entered my mind (as it has often for years now) and said “You’re praying to the wrong Gods”. I then received an insight, which was really a lesson about focus. This message was delivered in such a creative way that it completely captured my attention. I was a captive audience for this latest lesson, which was a lesson I have received before in many different forms but somehow now was the time to receive it in this particular way. Reinforcement of these lessons is always a good thing.

I have experienced many stages throughout my path of personal growth and the more open I become, the more I learn and change for the better. Yesterday, I was thinking about my problems in an open enough way for me to receive this insight. There was room for it to happen. Once I received this initial message, I began to think about the Greek and Roman Gods I had learned about in school and through independent reading, and I wondered if our ancestors received these kinds of messages too. I began to think about the kind of ‘Gods’ I would ‘pray’ to and sure enough, these interesting figures appeared in my mind when I thought about things like good relationships, prosperity and so on. I had created and/or connected to a ‘God’ for each of these concepts. I now know that although things do present themselves to me out of the blue like this wise voice, my responses and this interaction can become a creative one, which is also a lesson in manifestation and how we create our own reality.

The point is, for the rest of the day, instead of thinking about how to resolve my problems, I began to open up to solutions. My focus was no longer on problems or strategies, it was on the feelings of achieving those things. It may seem like a subtle difference but it’s not. My old Gods were the Gods of problems – I was ‘praying’ to lack of this or that. I’m now praying to the Gods of love, prosperity, peace, health, joy, energy and inspiration. When my mind begins to spend time focusing on these things or these ‘Gods’, my mood changes for the better and I’m sure my health does too – heart rate and so on. I’m sending a signal out to the world that indicates my intentions more clearly.

From all of my experience through my dialogue with this wise, higher level of consciousness that has been readily available to me since my first Ayahuasca retreat, I began to realize that there’s a whole other form of communication that is available to all of us. It’s a form of communication that takes place in the mind and goes out into the world. We’re all participating in that dialogue, we just aren’t necessarily aware of it. Becoming aware of it is an empowering thing because suddenly, we have a new way of operating intentionally in this life. I shudder to think of the messages I had been sending out into the world when I was depressed. I know these messages all too well and I was so steeped in them that I don’t think there was room for the kinds of insights I receive now. However, that long-term depression I entered into years ago led me to the plant medicines and tools that serve me very well to this day. In the end, I was grateful for that difficult time which led me to the path I’m on now. Where I was then was just as valid and important as where I am now.

During this long, unfolding path of personal growth, I have received many messages and insights regarding the mind and how to change the atmosphere of the mind. Every stage of this work has it’s own tone and purpose.  The work that needed to be done three years ago was different than what needs to happen now. I would be introduced to these concepts in different ways depending on the state I was in. This message yesterday was such a playful one and I had a delightful time reaching out to these new ‘Gods’ in my mind and seeing what my imagination and higher consciousness produced in response. What I can say is that my day became a lot more fun and my outlook improved substantially.

Outlook is important. We look out into the world through a lens and although my lens continues to improve, it still does, at times, become clouded with older habits – mild as they are, they still have impact. Yesterday, I had a lens cleaning as I was cleaning my home and was provided with some new, creative filters. My new Gods of Love, Peace, Energy, Health and Prosperity are now filling my mind and although I will try to focus on them one at a time, I know that they are all available to me. I simply have to give them an opportunity to be there and replace the Gods of problems, conflict and all of the other things I don’t wish to fill my mind, my life and my world. I must allow these other Gods to exit my mind. The re-organization of my mind is an ongoing process I have engaged in and approached in different ways for years now and my life has changed substantially for the better as a result.

Throughout my experiences with this higher consciousness, a consistent theme has presented itself over and over again, which is that the nature of our experience in this world is a responsive one. The experience we have in this life is one that is constantly adjusting and responding to our state. My very first, burning question for Ayahuasca was “What is the nature of reality?”. Her response: “Reality is flexible.” “Your reality is due to your state.” Thinking about this now, I realize that spending time thinking about and reaching out to the Gods of Love, Joy, Prosperity, Health, Creativity and Peace improve my state immensely. Is it all just imagination? It could be. And what an incredibly powerful tool it is! All of the solid things we rely on today originated in the imagination before they were created. Our imagination has the power to create. Imagine the world we would live in if we created from the standpoint of Love?

I believe that all of these Gods are available to everyone and if you open up to them, they may present themselves in ways that are very unique to who you are. Instead of reaching out in your mind to the Gods of love, prosperity and health, you may prefer to imagine these realities unfolding in your life. This is where these ‘prayers’ ultimately lead while dissolving these other less pleasant ‘Gods’. If you make room for them, they may change your mind and your outlook for the better. If you’re not ready to embrace these positive ‘Gods’ just now, be gentle with yourself and know that they are available to you when you are ready.

Real Wellness in the Workplace: The FARTING elephant in the Room

I have begun to research wellness in the workplace programs and I see programs to encourage a healthy diet, exercise and social activities. It’s a good beginning and I applaud the organizations that are beginning to think about this and offer these programs but it occurred to me that we have a lot to learn about wellness. Do we even know what real wellness is? If everyone’s eating in a healthy way and exercising, does that cover it? Isn’t that just technically functioning better? What is at the heart of real wellness? What does any of this have to do with an elephant farting? I’ll get to that soon.

I think we can learn a lot about real wellness through our approach to children. As always, all real wisdom originates here 😉 When we have kids, at some point, many of us send them to some kind of organization that cares for them or offers programs such as daycare or a school and if we as parents discover that our children aren’t being treated with compassion and understanding, a natural response would be to either remove the child from the situation or to ensure that this issue is fully addressed to our satisfaction. I think we can all agree that this is an acceptable and healthy response to this kind of situation.  So, my question to you is, at what age is it acceptable for a person to be immersed in or exposed to an environment that is not understanding and compassionate? Is it ever a good idea to do this? It’s important to think about it because this question is at the very heart of genuine wellness.

We know what a healthy environment looks like without a doubt when it comes to children. I think most of us can agree that it’s a matter of well-being for a child to be in an environment that respects their individual needs, that fosters their growth and that is compassionate and understanding. So, at what age does this no longer apply? I have to wonder if this is what teenaged angst is all about. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Does a child start to sense these eroding values as they grow older? I’m sure they do. Is it ever a good thing to expose anyone to an environment that isn’t healthy or ‘well’ in this way? Ah but that’s just the way it is right? And this is the farting elephant in the room because even though we’ve become used to the smell, it’s more than unpleasant. In fact, the fumes it’s emitting are causing great harm in our world and the remedy is right under our noses.  Real wellness requires care and fostering that care through good relationships beginning with the relationship we have with ourselves, which impacts our relationship with others and with the world around us.

This has become clear to many of us who have taken it upon ourselves to become well. Many of us who have done this, have done so because of the illnesses that have forced us to make this a priority in our lives. And looking at the collective issue of depression, anxiety, addictions and other growing mental and emotional illness epidemics worldwide, I think it is an indicator that it’s time for us to move in the direction of wellness, collectively. So let’s get back to the organizational or institutional level of wellness. Let’s think of an organization in terms of it being an individual entity and the first indicator of well-being within this entity is it’s relationship with itself. What does it-self consist of? It’s employees, management, board and their relationship to one another and to the world. So let’s begin with the immediate self, which reflects outward: the people and relationships that make up the environment of the entity or organization. Is there an atmosphere of self-acceptance, trust and compassion within which it exists? This is the very beginning of establishing wellness. As with an individual, the inner atmosphere is most important. Is it open? Is it compassionate? Is it authentic? Once we answer questions like this, we can begin to make the appropriate changes to create an inner-atmosphere that embodies true wellness, which is reflected outward. This inner-atmosphere, if it’s truly healthy, will inspire better relationships and will provide an opportunity for unprecedented growth. This kind of growth is not only measured on a spreadsheet it is felt in so many ways, on many levels and it will influence and inspire the kind of changes in this world that benefit everyone.

Self-Love: The Intrinsic Value Of Us

It’s interesting to note how we tend to value human life intrinsically when it is brand new – babies being born into this world – or when it is almost over – people on their death beds. In these two instances, as babies and on the brink of death, we are the closest to an existence beyond this one. From all accounts of those who have had near death experiences, who have visited the existence beyond the one we know so well, it is understood that all of us have great value. This value is experienced in the form of a love so profound and permeating that no one wants to leave that loving existence and return to this one. So how do we as human beings, lose our sense of self-value and love? It happens in so many ways on an individual and societal level, and I think it starts when we place value on what a person does or doesn’t do above who they are. As children, the focus on our accomplishments is rather high, beginning with when we begin to talk and walk and then school, lessons and measurements of all sorts. It’s possible to lose our sense of self-value in focusing so much on what we’re ‘good at’ or ‘not good at’ and how we measure up to others – the comparisons can be disturbing and relentless. There is also valuing ourselves based on what we do for others – how we benefit others as a measurement of self-worth as though our only value is in what we offer to others apart from the simple, intrinsic value of who we are. Children pick up on all of these signals related to value, which is often focused on appearance, abilities and certain kinds of accomplishments. It’s how things have been for so many years, generation after generation. Perhaps we can change that now.

I have been focusing inward a great deal over the past 7 years after my initial foray into shamanic healing and I have learned that self-love is a fundamental aspect of well-being. More and more people are becoming aware of this profound truth, which is a sign of positive change and hopefully it signals a generational shift that bodes well for the future of humanity. There is a refreshing wave of interest in self-love and yet, many still struggle with this concept because of the influence of the past and the continuing and residual attitudes that permeate our society. I think that for many of us, self-love is a concept that takes some effort and consideration to embrace let alone to embody. After all, many of us have come from backgrounds filled with praise for being ‘selfless’. It was quite a revelation to me to begin to operate from a position of ‘self-service’, which has been an essential theme throughout my shamanic healing journey.  I found it surprising and ultimately liberating to embrace ‘what serves me’ realizing that some things that I had considered to be self-serving in the past, were not truly serving me at all. However, at the heart of this, if I am to truly master it, is self-love, which requires an appreciation for our intrinsic value – my intrinsic value. I’ve sat with it and considered it and just allowed the lessons to come realizing that like many of the shifts I’ve experienced on this journey, it takes time to make the big changes in perspective – to own them, apply them and embody them.

I think the greatest opportunity for me to truly come to terms with the idea of our intrinsic value came when my dad was at the end of his life. He had been in long term care for years before the end came and when it did, I had a deeply moving dream about a month beforehand. My dreams have become important healing and teaching tools since my earliest involvement in shamanism and some stand out more than others. This dream woke me up in the middle of the night and inspired me to record the message that came with it because it was so important. In fact, it was my father’s eulogy and I was giving it in my dream with the guidance of this wise voice that I have been hearing ever since my first journey with Ayahuasca in Peru. During this eulogy, there were accounts of some of my dad’s finer attributes but it became clear that these descriptions: kind, handsome, funny & gentle could be attributed to many other people. So what was it about my dad that made him so valuable and lovable? It was quite simply who he was. That unmistakable and unique essence of the man we knew and loved so well. There was a clear recognition of his intrinsic value. We knew this without question as we grieved and thought about his life and the time we shared with him. Could we know this without question about ourselves too? This ultimate truth about all of us that others will experience when we pass? Through this dream and the eulogy that I actually gave at his funeral, my father offered me a most valuable lesson that I’m passing onto you.

This is a powerful lesson and recognizing the power of it and the simple truth of it is important. One of the deepest truths that I have learned through this ever-present guiding voice and through many shamanic ceremonies and experiences is that who we are and how we regard ourselves is felt by others without us even saying a word. Our self regard is felt and it’s a signal that we send out into the world that is being responded to all the time. So, if we regard ourselves with love, we are creating the best possible experience for ourselves in this life. Once we become accustomed to experiencing self-love and valuing ourselves in this way, we can cultivate a society that recognizes the intrinsic value of humanity which will be reflected in all kinds of positive ways that will begin to change how we exist – how we educate children for example which can change everything. After all, if we place such value and importance on ourselves then we will place importance on learning about ourselves in the earliest stages of our lives – something that has been a giant gap in our education so far. I think we have a lot of work to do to bring this great shift about but I do believe it’s underway and it’s a sort of progressive, intentional evolution – one that must begin on an individual level. It all begins with self-love. Who knew that this could be such a learning curve? But it is and once we face this and intentionally take it on, we can begin to learn and embrace what it means to recognize our own intrinsic value, knowing the profound impact it can have on our own lives, on the next generation and on our world. Just think of how many aspects of our society would change if self-love was a core value that had to be considered and adhered to – before making any policy or product or program. Make no mistake, loving yourself and recognizing your intrinsic value is important work. I hope you begin this work today and open up to all of the wondrous possibilities that come with it.

Ayahuasca Helped Me Explore My Thoughts Then Said: “Tell Them”

During my daily dialogue with Ayahuasca there have been many lessons around my thought patterns and some of the best lessons came when I was actually in ceremony (after ingesting the brew).. or so I thought. The reason I thought this was because during ceremony, I didn’t have my usual defence mechanisms at play – I was a captive audience. However, during one particularly memorable ceremony, Ayahuasca deliberately allowed my thoughts to occur as they normally would and used this opportunity to show me how I allowed my thoughts to get in the way of doing the things I wanted to do in my life. She literally showed me these thoughts as they occurred right after she had encouraged me to consider doing something wonderful. My conception of this wonderful endeavour was inevitably followed by thoughts that began to belittle this idea and make it seem not realistic or unlikely to succeed. Ayahuasca then pointed out how these thoughts themselves were the barriers I faced – not the subject or content of the thoughts, just the actual thoughts themselves. Then Ayahuasca said “Tell Them!” in an emphatic way.

This is not the first time that Ayahuasca has asked me to pass on messages, teachings and urged me to talk about the things I’ve experienced and learned. During a ceremony previous to the one described above, the usually abundant dialogue with Ayahuasca was very sparse and after a short lesson about how I create my own barriers (one of her favourite subjects) I heard “We will speak through you” and then I purged in a way that I won’t soon forget (and unfortunately, nether will the others in the clean up crew). Other than the obvious discomfort of the purge and the rigors of the medicine experience itself, it sounds like an easy thing to do, to share these teachings, but it wasn’t for me. I felt that I had to sufficiently address these issues myself before I could pass along these messages and teach what I was learning. But what did I consider to be sufficient? It was a yardstick that just kept growing and I could never measure up.

I had always been rather critical of spiritual teachers – probably because somewhere inside of me, I knew that I was one myself. My expectations of them were extremely high and this is one of the many lessons in the form of cosmic jokes that I’ve encountered on this integrative journey with Ayahuasca. It’s a good thing that I have a sense of humour – it comes in handy. Every time I’ve judged people in my life it has come back to haunt me and I’ve been humbled on many fronts. This particular judgement was the most difficult because it became a barrier to my own calling. How could I teach if I was so self-critical that I could never live up to my own standards? It was more than a barrier – it was a trap. I managed to make it seem so righteous. Ayahuasca was not impressed.

Well, I’m over it. One thing I always admired in teachers was their willingness to continue to learn and this is something I can honestly say that I’m always doing. Ayahuasca is my constant teacher and one of the best lessons yet was one she offered to help me to address my misgivings about moving forward with teaching. She let me know that due to this constant guidance, my awareness of my thoughts – including the ones that are harmful – is heightened. As I continue to move beyond my comfort zones, it inevitably involves contending with the thoughts that protest this move. She kindly pointed out to me that this is a sign of growth and progress in my life. If I wasn’t constantly moving beyond my comfort zones, I would not have to face and address or traverse these protesting thoughts that intervene. The point is to not let them take over and dominate my decisions or feelings about what I’m doing.

Ultimately, I hope to rest between major shifts outside of my comfort zones. In the meantime, I have decided to regard these periods of discomfort as badges of honour and to move forward with teaching, knowing that we’re all learning together. All I can do as a teacher is to pass on what I learn. This is all any teacher can do and it’s not only teachers that do this. I learn from everyone and what I hope to inspire people to do is to discover the ultimate teacher – the teacher within.

Moving from Punishment to Compassion

Throughout my long journey of healing from depression, I have been learning about the things I need to change within myself. It’s been a challenging, immeasurably rewarding and highly educational experience. It has been a process that has taught me more about myself and about humanity than I could have learned in any other way. I have always been drawn to and moved by Philosophy (the love of wisdom) so this process is feeding a very deep need in me and I’m always wanting to learn more. I know without a doubt that this is where I was meant to be, on this path of learning, and it took depression to ultimately lead me here.

One of the reasons why it’s so challenging to learn about the things that I need to change is that I, like many others, have to contend with an inner (and sometimes outer) kneejerk defensive reaction that wants to protect myself from any kind of accusation of wrong doing. If something needs to change, there needs to be an understanding of what that is and why it needs to change. This is often where the defense mechanism kicks in and this defensive reaction has everything to do with having been immersed in a punishment oriented world for so long – one that breeds this defensiveness in so many of us. The defense is a means of avoiding punishment (a sort of survival instinct). Whether it’s physical, disciplinary punishment (my parents were big softies when it came to this actually) or more of a constant series of responses that indicate how underserving a person is who has ‘done wrong’, it’s a pattern underlying typical social behaviour in our world beginning from early childhood. It is both formal in some instances (reprimands/discipline of children or legal action/jail for adults) and informal in others (social shaming, exclusion and an endless nuanced form of passive aggression). It’s a pervasive pattern that becomes internalized. The continued internal self-punishment and admonishment supports the ongoing external version – that which we apply to others – often in the form of judgement.

On a personal level, when you disparage someone else in your own mind for doing something that is considered to be wrong, you are reinforcing that tendency to punish. This strengthens the punishment reaction so that it becomes alive and well in the mind. Unfortunately, this inner tendency towards punishment is most often directed at yourself because you are the person you live with 24hrs a day. This is really what’s behind the old standing piece of wisdom: ‘When you hurt others, you’re only hurting yourself’. As it turns out, this has merit.

Punishment is a deterrent to personal growth and most importantly to unconditional self-love, which is an imperative for well-being. Because of the anticipation of punishment, defensiveness is justified as ‘self-protection’. This act of self-protection can be mistaken for an act of self-love. It is not. The defense itself is actually based on a false assumption that we can only be loved or be worthy of love if/when we don’t ‘do wrong’ or that if we ‘do wrong things’, we’re not entitled to or deserving of love – even if temporarily. It’s such an old, familiar and damaging paradigm and tearing this down can be extremely liberating. It can be both a beginning and an end: the beginning of compassion and an end to suffering.

It has been a mandatory part of my healing and growth to exercise compassion with myself and with others. Compassion is something that I have learned to nurture within. At times it’s utterly inspired and I am at peace. At others, it takes a supreme effort and I have to remind myself of the wisdom of this approach and of its constant rewards. The rewards of compassion are very clear. If I create an atmosphere in my mind of compassion, I give myself more opportunities to grow and change for the better. In an atmosphere of compassion, I have every incentive to do this because I’m no longer wasting energy defending myself and living in fear of punishment. If I’m treating myself and others with compassion and benefiting from it, I am cultivating an atmosphere of compassion all around me. This is the real revolution. Moving away from punishment and towards compassion is a revolutionary act. In fact, it might be more appropriate to term it an evolutionary act. I believe that we are growing out of this punishment phase of humanity.

Despite popular belief, punishment doesn’t work – not even formally. There have been numerous studies to support this fact and overwhelming evidence. Incarceration and corporal punishment have not reduced crime. In fact crime has only increased steadily and incarceration facilities are growing. Punishment is not effective in bringing about positive change because it only motivates people to avoid punishment rather than to consider for themselves why deep personal change might be necessary and how it might benefit them.

My path of intentional, personal growth began with Shamanism, an ancient practice of healing which for me has involved using many tools & medicines including Ayahuasca and always guided by a higher form of consciousness. There are many ways to access a higher form of consciousness. Some do this through meditation. For me, Shamanism has involved a form of meditation that we call journeying. Whatever name we put on it, this experience can be very liberating. I needed to be liberated from my way of thinking and this liberation has been an instrumental part of my healing. One of the main concepts introduced early in my Shamanic practice was the idea of ‘self service’. If I was to heal and grow, I needed to make changes. This meant dropping behaviour that ‘no longer served me’. In this phrase you may detect a distinct lack of judgement. There’s not the heaviness of ‘wrong doing’ associated with behaviour. It’s quite simply not in my best interest to do these things and therefore it makes sense that I stop doing them. Our judgemental attachment to so-called ‘wrong doing’ is what leads to so much more ‘wrong doing’, which is really just illness – hence the constant reference in Shamanism to ‘healing’ and ‘medicine’.

My experience of healing has helped me to see myself and to approach my life and the world in different ways. I continue to learn about what it means to be ill by learning and experiencing what it means to be well. When I have had difficulties of my own or with others, it helps to see that these difficulties are part of an illness that can be treated rather than an evil or bad behaviour. Once there is judgement, a heaviness is attached, and it becomes much more difficult for me to extricate myself from it. If I’m able to see it as illness, compassion is my response rather than judgement and this changes everything. Would we punish someone for being ill? Even formally, we have laws to protect the mentally ill from punishment. However, I think it’s time that we change the way that we define and perceive mental illness. A favourite quote comes to mind:

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

The wellness and mindfulness movement is an indicator of this need for change and our desire to move forward in a different way. Those of us who have been forced to focus on wellness have discovered that this is not a quick fix. True wellness requires big changes in the ways that we think about and act towards ourselves and towards others. It requires effort and it requires compassion.

Once you begin to see the results of compassion, a form of love, you marvel at the power of it and how freeing it is. Mostly, you marvel at how good it feels and then you understand that there is an alternative to suffering. We have a choice in this and moving from punishment to compassion is a choice and a powerful step towards ending suffering.

A Lesson From My Father

My life has changed so much since I’ve become involved in shamanism. One of the most important aspects of shamanism is what we can learn from it. I’m guided through most aspects of my life now and my dreams have become vehicles for messages and lessons. This is a lesson I received in a dream in the form of a eulogy a few months before my father died. It was telling me that my father’s time on this earth was ending. My dad passed on April 27th, 2018 and I gave this dream inspired eulogy (everything after the first paragraph) at his funeral. The lesson included in my father’s eulogy is an important and universal one.

My dad helped his kids move. All 5 of us and we moved a lot. I remember him suggesting that we consider buying inflatable furniture. My dad had a good sense of humour. He gave his time and energy to people in need. He volunteered at the Out of the Cold program at St. Mike’s hospital in downtown Toronto. They took in homeless people overnight during the winter. My mom told me recently that one day, during this time, he mentioned that he had to bring one of the men in the program to the emergency room because his foot was really bad. My mom asked how he discovered this and he told her that he was doing this man’s toe nails.

He did perform selfless acts but that was not what made my dad special. He was special because of who he was. Those of us who knew him, have a sense of that unique quality that was Joe Hayden. We can use descriptive words like kind, gentle, funny and all of these words are true. But there are other kind, gentle, funny people who are not my dad. He was one of a kind. A unique being that we had the honour to know. We know this now, without any doubt, this essence that was my dad that made him so valuable. Unfortunately, he didn’t know this.

My father experienced an inner battle, one that caused him to feel what people describe as depression. At times, this made it an exquisite effort to do things that others might do effortlessly. We all have an inner life that others may not be aware of. I have experienced this inner battle and it was at it’s worst after my son was born. I know that sometimes, just dropping your child off to their lessons can be a courageous act when the battle is raging.

My dad, this unique and truly lovable person we all knew him to be, didn’t realize that just being who he was, was enough. I think if he did, the battle would have been won long ago. Many of us have trouble with this and I wonder if as a tribute to my dad, we may all start to realize the truth of it. Something we know without a doubt about my father is also true about each and every one of us. The greatest gift my dad gave us was the gift of himself. His unique, irreplaceable, lovely self. We all give that gift every day. Knowing this can make a huge difference in our lives and in the world. This is the final lesson my dad taught me, his final gift that I’m passing onto you.