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.