Medicine Messages

My week at Gaia Sagrada Retreat Center in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador is an experience I could not have imagined, although I did imagine well its natural beauty and tranquility. But I had no idea the ceremonies and the ceremonial Maloka (an ancestral long house, in our case round, used by indigenous people of the Amazon) would be so elaborately beautiful, and cozily comfortable besides; this last being truly necessary for someone like me at 72, for ceremonies that lasted from 10 to 14 hours.

Some of the ritual actions of the Ayahuasca ceremony were familiar to me from my Wiccan tradition—a few of the songs, the prayers to the directions, bells and incense, and the circle around a fire. But the fires, alive! The Shamanas who were the firekeepers were masters, mothers and companions of the element, clearly tending it through the hours with love and deeply respectful diligence. The fire was our anchor as we worked and whirled with the traditional spiritual medicines.

I didn’t have expectations about taking the plant medicine, only felt the calling to do so. I did bring intentions, and during four ceremonies as the medicine guided me, these intentions adjusted and expanded and were surpassed. An example: My intention to connect with my Greater Consciousness received Mama Ayahuasca’s response that, Hello! You can never be unconnected, darling; next round, intend to be conscious of the connection. Another example of her funny and ferocious tone: Regarding my intention to find a chorus and dance opportunities where I live, she informs me thusly: You want to sing? I gave you a voice– sing! You want to dance? I gave you legs—dance!

Grandmother Ayahuasca was a humbling teacher for my first two ceremonies, I won’t deny it. I purged into my personal bucket, and made many trips to the bathroom besides, on the arm of one of the kind and understanding helpers. The second Ceremony, I lost motor control for a while. Including my mouth, my words. No words in my mouth, a gaping door of fear I as a writer had to walk through. I hung onto trust by a thread, a few times catching myself thinking, I signed up for this? But I kept breathing and focusing on the fire as instructed by the Shaman. I kept repeating, Mama Ayahuasca, I trust you, I trust that what you have for me is what is needed.

The medicine asked for my surrender and it wasn’t a concept. This surrender had a body. I understood that initiation must be physical, like the Tarot card called the Hanged One, and like the burial and resurrection rituals of so many religious traditions. I dissolved. And protected by the Sacred Ceremony and the circle of love, I returned. After the emptying out, I felt so light, so clean. When the fog in my mind turned to brilliant clarity, it was physical and mental and emotional and spiritual all at once.

I felt the medicine extending her teachings into the mornings when I was lying in bed the next days. One of the participants called this, Ayahuasca’s long tail. The insights would keep coming to me throughout the day, not as if I were reflecting and finding them, but more as gifts that would simply drop into my mind and heart. Medicine messages, answers to questions I had. Example: How to disrupt negative chat pathways, how to gain the habit of choosing not to take offense. I didn’t like some of Mama Ayahuasca’s answers, but fortunately, I had already firmly committed to practicing whatever she would teach me. I understood as never before that the negativity I express or even think, will stick to ME like pollution.

Through the medicine I made contact with some of my loved ones both living and dead. There were none of the barriers that separated us as local selves, because the contact was a direct one between our Quantum Selves, our Greater Consciousnesses. This was one of the most beautiful aspects of my journeys. Another was gratitude. One Shaman suggested making our gratitude list prayer without cease. When I kept on naming whatever came to mind and giving thanks for it, not stopping, I learned how very much more there is than I ever thought to be grateful for.

The shared vulnerability I experienced with the other participants around the fire was a medicine in itself. As was the sacred tobacco, as was the sacred water. I experienced how our praying was contributing to the benefit of all beings. I felt the water pray through me, not me praying. I sat up and felt it descend from the sky into my crown chakra, and drop its sweetness straight down through my other chakras to the earth.

Besides the Ayahuasca Ceremonies, my retreat included a San Pedro ceremony as well as a Limpia (Tradtional Cleansing) in  Gaia Sagrada’s Goddess Temple. At the close of the Cleansing, the Shamana Amalia gave me the candle I had rubbed over myself at the start. She assigned this homework: Burn your Old Self candle all the way down before you go home. Every morning after that, I meditated in the Temple while my candle burned down, reflecting on and watching my Old Self transform. It felt like I imagine sitting Shiva would, or a long wake in Ireland. Afterwards I took the wax remaining in the bowl and buried it in the earth, placing a rock on top, adorning it with flowers, and singing a song.

Our San Pedro Medicine Ceremony began at 8 AM and continued all day. I had seen the San Pedro cactus garden and even one beautiful one bloom (infrequent and ephemeral) but I knew nothing about the effects. San Pedro was named by the Spanish invaders who said it gave them the keys to heaven— like Saint Peter! It was raining all day during our Ceremony so we were in the Maloka instead of on a walkabout as planned. Our Shamana was Christine, founder of Gaia Sagrada, and her energy was simply magnificent. After we took the medicine, she had a “magic carpet” mat that she had us sit on, one at a time, to tell what advice we would give ourselves. Aya was an inner journey and San Pedro was an outer one. The first plant is the gift of DMT and the second is the gift of mescaline. These are not taken for recreation but for intentional and guided spiritual evolution. Christine told us that our bodies produce DMT during dreaming, and I have also read that DMT is produced by the pineal gland during the transition of death.

When Christine helped me work with the medicine on the mat, San Pedro gave me some profound personal lessons. Then, watching my sisters and brothers one by one struggle through their stuff gave us all a whole new layer of the vulnerability that made us into a human family. There were two others around my age but the rest were seekers much younger. Because of seeing the pain and the courage of those 20 and 30 and 40 year olds, I now carry great hope for the world and the future.

As for my own future, I asked the San Pedro plant medicine for guidance for my newborn Self, now that the Old Self is burned away. I sat in the circle and felt like a baby being taken care of, one of twenty-some  little ones in a big family with a Shaman Mom and Dad and plenty of Aunties and Uncles to walk us to the bathroom and tuck us back in afterwards. The rain music on the Maloka was soothing and the crackling fire and heavenly alpaca blankets made us cozy. My little one was contented. Then I understood the guidance on how to live my new self’s life. I just arrived and there’s no past and everything is shiny as a new penny. I am delighted to explore my new life in baby steps of wonder and awe.

These medicine plant journeys made time itself into fake news. My sense of present tense power was intense. “You just got here (off a spaceship)”, Christine told one of us. The Beginner’s Mind I experienced during the ceremonies is one that continues, a kind of traveler’s perspective, everything brand new each morning, each moment. Peace in the eye of a tornado, Amalia said, something all of us need to find during these whirling times of our tiny world. And I end by offering the question the Shaman Nasei put to us. “In the mirror, who is it, looking out of your eyes?”

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