I just posted the next tour to Peru. Already people are asking about the optional San Pedro and ayahuasca ceremonies. It’s a good time to talk about is sacred plant medicine ceremony for you. In keeping with the seriousness and introspection that plant ceremonies require, this won’t be a check list type of article but a list of questions that I urge you to contemplate mindfully.
Are You Ready to Sacrifice Something?
Healing rituals are about you asking the spirit world to give something to you. In order for something to come in, you have to make space. This may mean that you need to sacrifice your ego, your identity (as victim, hero, the “sick” one, or whatever), or your control. If you go in there with the will to keep your problems and defense mechanisms intact, that is what you will walk out with.
Are You Willing to Exchange Energy?
All of Nature requires that energy be exchanged. We live in a culture now where people either focus on what they can get or what they can give. Life requires a balance. When energy is exchanged, it continues to cycle. When we take more than we give, we have shortages, then eventually the energy dies out. For example, if you come to my house and eat all the time, but you don’t contribute to the table, don’t grow your own food, and don’t feed me in return, eventually neither of us will have enough to eat. Abundance flourishes when we all produce at least as much as we consume. This doesn’t have to be tit for tat. In modern society, we usually exchange money for time or resources. Adults produce more so that they can give to children and the elderly who don’t produce much, if anything. This is completely fine as it all balances out.
Are You Willing to Do Your Own Work?
Many people are habituated to taking a pill and feeling better in short period of time. We use our health professionals as healers rather than seeing that we are responsible for our own healing. If you have this attitude and take it into a plant medicine ceremony, you will have limited benefit. Plants show you your work. They assist you in walking the walk. They don’t do it for you. When people say “it didn’t work” it could be that they didn’t do the required work to get the results.
Are You Ready to Surrender?
Every ceremony is different. You are not the same in each ceremony. Your needs are not the same. I’d guess your intention is not the same for each ceremony, so of course what the plant brings to you won’t be the same. This is just to say that it’s best to let go of expectations and surrender. If you want to control it or judge it, you will probably be disappointed. You could miss the learning because you were looking the other way. Each ceremony is exactly as it’s meant to be. Surrender and you will get what you are meant to get.
Have You Been Called to This Work?
I have seen a lot of people get really excited about plant medicine. They think that something awesome awaits. This is not a trip to Disneyland. It’s sacred space. We don’t enter into sacred space with our hands open in expectation of what we’re going to get. We generally enter humbly and on our knees. Plant ceremonies are available to anyone with the money to pay for them, but is that the type of experience you want? Listen to your heart. If this is for you, your heart will call you. You don’t have to seek it out. It will find you.
Do You Have the Knowledge to Fully Benefit From This?
I am not someone who thinks you have to be perfect before you can embark on a thing. If we all had to do that, we’d never get anywhere. That said, western culture generally does not engage in rituals and doesn’t have an animistic framework so it’s best if you do some research beforehand so that you can understand what’s happening. If you just sit there and wait for something to happen to you, you will miss a lot. In indigenous cultures, you can’t just walk in, pay some money, and enter into ceremony. Meaning is embedded in the culture. Additionally, you have to train for years. In most traditions, the patient doesn’t ever ingest anything. The shaman does it on your behalf. So, modern rituals are not traditional ones. Is this okay with you?
Are You Mentally Stable?
I know there are many claims that people heal themselves with marijuana, mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, San Pedro or other substances. There is a growing belief that these are safe medicines that should be accessible to everyone. As a therapist, I’ve seen people die. I’ve seen people lose their minds and never come back. In traditional settings, as I said, the patient isn’t ingesting anything, so there is zero risk of this happening. While generally safe, if you are mentally unstable or have an issue with addiction, the risk of something bad happening becomes an issue. Ethical practitioners will not allow you to participate if you are not mentally stable.
What Have You Already Done to Help Yourself?
I’ve seen people who come to therapy week after week, but don’t improve. They “yes, but.” They have excuses for why things won’t work and dismiss them without trying. Or they have reasons why they didn’t have time to do their homework. Maybe they come for companionship. If they get better, they will not have a reason to come anymore. Maybe they don’t know how to live without being sick. It’s their identity. It could be that being sick gives them attention. Whatever the reason, they sit and wait for someone to wave a magic wand and make it all better. Plant medicine ceremonies are a big commitment. It may be best if you actually try other things first. This may take a lot out of you. If you have gained strength by making improvements, it will be more useful to you.
Are You Ready to Engage?
How are you living your life now? How to you relate to other people and the world around you? Are you mindful or checked out? Do you have relationships with the Earth, Sky, other plants, or animals? What about people? Plant medicine is relational. If you don’t engage with the energy, you won’t get a whole lot out of it. This is not a spectator sport. It’s more like a dance. If you’re not dancing in life not, perhaps you should do a bit of that before you do a ceremony.
My belief is that plant medicine is a powerful healing. However, it’s not for everyone. I have a great respect for tradition, ceremony, and ritual. I’ve seen people harmed by it, and urge you to consider whether it’s right for you to participate and think about how you want to participate. Not just in ceremony, but within your whole life. There are many ways to heal and have the same types of openings without plant medicine. There are many ways to be in relationship with the cosmos without being in altered states. Deep healing is never instantaneous, nor is it bestowed upon you.
Cultures who use ritual, ceremony, and plant medicine have meaning embedded in every aspect of the process. When you engage in ritual without that knowing, it’s the difference between popping a mass manufactured aspirin and taking willow bark. Both will relieve pain, but they are not the same. Willow bark is infused with the life giving energy of a tree. Aspirin is a dead synthetic compound. Are you looking for an aspirin experience or the long, slow path of learning that can transform your entire way of being? Consider carefully how this may impact your decision to engage with sacred plants.