I was called to the medicine for two reasons. The first was to heal a childhood trauma that I’d been carrying around for 25 years. The second is because I am very curious about all paths of healing, especially ancient ones. I am confused by what constitutes as healing today in my native country, America, where money convolutes pharmaceuticals and doctors prescribe pill after pill to numb symptoms, rather than focusing on curing disease at its root. I also believe in the plants of this planet, and that there are many natural medicines that we’ve lost touch with over time.
As a preface to sharing this very personal story, I’d like to remind the reader that while there is often a tendency to be judgemental around topics like this one, there is absolutely no substitute for direct experience. In sharing my own experience my hope is that those who are ready for healing this profound can have access to it, and that the door is opened for those who need it but might not yet know it exists.
In January of 2015 I arrived at a small farm or “finca” outside of Bogota, Colombia. There were 15 of us on the retreat, each from a completely different path. A 41 year old supermodel scout from Italy. A 38 year old acupuncturist from Isreal. Siblings and musicians of 19 and 22 from Occidental, California. A 35 year old tantric masseuse and breast cancer survivor from New York. A 28 year old Japanese-American chiropractor from Arizona. Me, a 30 year old designer/yoga teacher living in Berlin. Different paths with a common thread: We all wanted to heal.
Together we would participate in four ceremonies over the course of the next ten days. The ceremonies started around 10pm and naturally came to an end when the sun rose the next morning. When I asked why ceremonies were always held at night, I was told that since we were working with a feminine plant, it was best to connect with it alongside the feminine energy of the moon. Alrighty then.
In the hours before the first ceremony, I had a meltdown. The childhood trauma that I came here to face was haunting me. The memories replayed in my head from being 5 years old, home alone with the babysitter, violently sick after eating a Happy Meal (isn’t it ironic). It was the first time I had ever really experienced throwing up, and I remember being so sick that I couldn’t breathe and I thought I was going to die. I desperately needed my mother, who for my entire life had squashed my fears any time they arose, but she wasn’t reachable. My babysitter was terrified, which deepened my fear, and a phobia that would stay with me for the next 25 years was born.
Though it seems quite trivial compared to most trauma, it was real for me. And like any trauma it became a part of my identity. If anyone around me had a stomachache or the flu, I became instantly paranoid that I would get sick. I had chronic stomach pains throughout my upbringing which affected my eating habits greatly. Worse yet, I trained myself to hold everything in any time I did get sick, so many times when my body wanted to throw up, I wouldn’t let it. To me, this had unhealthy implications beyond the physical level and I wanted to heal it. And knowing that a common response from drinking Ayahuasca is to purge (out one end or the other, or both), I knew I was about to face my phobia head on.
My fear attack was justified because I did face my phobia. I did throw up, but it was gentle. [It wasn’t gentle for everyone though–some people were really hurling.] The Taita gave me a small amount at first because he could sense how afraid I was. This is a good time to state the single most important piece of advice I’d give anyone who is considering an Ayahuasca experience is to choose wisely when choosing a Shaman. This is the person who serves the medicine. She/he holds space for you and for the entire group. Being in an environment where you can fully let go and trust is important, so be sure that in your heart and in your gut you trust the Shaman you are with. For me that meant going to the source, to someone who has lived the path since birth. Taita Juanito was that man, pictured here.
When I took the first cup I was sobbing from fear and I prayed into the plant. I begged her to go easy on me and she did. It was as if she knew my trauma and she knew my pain and she was reminding me that all those years ago, even though I was young and scared and alone, my mother was actually there with me. Everything was ok. After I purged I started to see what is often described as a “pinta” stemming from the word “pintar” which means to paint. I started to have visions and deeply emotional realisations around my relationship to my mother. My sister also came up strongly, as did my further ancestors like my grandmother and great aunts, even though I hadn’t met them all.
Throughout the nights the music kept us together. It was played and sung by the Taita’s family and it was traditional and beautiful and it helped to guide us through the darkness that sometimes seemed to go on forever. But at one point the male voices stopped singing and a female voice rang out. It was the voice of the 19 year old musician from California. Her song triggered something incredibly deep within me and I burst into tears. I was wailing, trembling, feeling emotion at a capacity I had never known before. A truth chord was struck inside of me about the power of the feminine and our duty as women to join together to help heal the planet and the world.
During my darkest moments, an amazing friend named Eli (who had organised the retreat) stayed with me. He reminded me to pray to the trees, the sky, the moon, and the earth. He brought me into Taita Juanito’s altar room (pictured above) for individual healings or “para limpiar” which means to clean or cleanse. Getting a healing from the Taita was too surreal to explain (you can see this video to get an idea), but it was during those times where I realised most how many healing properties lie in the plants that grow naturally and wildly on this planet. The Earth provides us with all the medicine we need, but we have to meet her halfway.
We have to do the work to experience profound healing and sometimes this work isn’t easy. Before coming to the retreat we were told to follow a dieta for at least 30 days. Putting down alcohol, drugs, prescriptions, tobacco, meat, sugar, salt, caffeine, even sex was necessary to prepare for working with the medicine. For me, putting down fear was the hardest part because I was attempting to undo a trauma that I’d carried my entire life. But even though it’s not easy, certainly not as easy as taking a slew of pills, it is possible. It is accessible. It is available to everyone. And while I thought after 10 days of this work I’d feel exhausted or burned out, it was quite the contrary. My body felt strong, my skin was clear, and my eyes were shining. I felt really healthy.
After the retreat I booked a last minute trip to fly home to see my family. Things felt different, especially with my mother. A new level of gratitude emerged and I thanked both of my parents for giving me my life. My phobia of vomiting is now a thing of the past, and I can even hold space for others if they are sick which I was never able to do before.
I realised that this path is a shortcut in a way, a rocket ship to deep connection with the world beyond our self. The awakening that is possible from an experience like this has taken me years of yoga and meditation to just barely tap into. It makes sense that this accelerated path can be rocky, dark, and intense, but I also believe there is a certain sense of urgency for it given the state of the world today. I will continue to walk this path, though very slowly and humbly. And the invitation is extended to you. If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing a retreat like this one, please get in touch with me. There are still a few spots available in an upcoming retreat from August 25-September 3rd, and more beyond that.
Thanks for listening. Happy healing.