Set an intention but release expectations.
Accept that she will give you what you need, not necessarily what you want.
This is just some of the sage advice I heard from experienced friends and strangers alike before my recent embarkation on the plant medicine path. More specifically, “she” refers to the sacred ayahuasca, a South American psychoactive brew used predominantly as ceremonial spiritual medicine among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. The word ayahuasca is based in the Quechua language and translates to “vine of the soul” or “vine of the spirits.” Last week, I apprehensively joined the ranks of those daring individuals, heeding the seductive allure of the “Mother,” as she is lovingly called for her feminine energy, in order to explore the depth and range of my psyche.
Someone once said to me that plant medicine finds you, and there is no question in my mind about the validity of that statement. If you had told me even a year ago that I would willingly subject myself to such an inscrutable and potentially distressing experience, I would have laughed smugly with an exaggerated eye roll to boot. For those who are not versed in the common side effects of drinking ayahuasca, some of the most infamous include nausea, vomiting, paranoia, and/or feeling trapped inside one’s own body. Vile taste and discomfort aside, plant medicine as a healthcare modality has existed for thousands of years. Ayahuasca in particular targets the emotional, energetic, and spiritual roots of dis-ease by opening channels of communication to subconscious inner landscapes. Early this year, I felt her subtle call. I yearned to not only challenge my limited perception of the world, but also to dissect my various personas in a quest to understand their nature and service to my present and future self. Once I committed to the excursion, I conducted extensive research on the important considerations of set and setting. I ultimately decided upon an intimate retreat center in Costa Rica, including four ceremonies of the indigenous Peruvian Shipibo healer tradition. * While I spent months considering my intentions for those ceremonies, I would be insincere if I said that I didn’t commence the journey with some expectations as well. Secretly, I hoped for fireworks: a peek at the mystical, a clue about my purpose, a felt sense of unicity, transcendence of time and space…the wish list goes on.
In actuality, I encountered no such obvious beauty or profound ascendance; instead, my sensations ranged from mundane to conspicuously unpleasant to a torturous emotional prison from which, for a brief time, I was unsure I would ever escape. More than once, I questioned my sanity in having chosen to voluntarily put myself through such anguish. True to form, my analytical mind wanted to make logical sense of it all. Surely there must have been a lesson, followed by a sliver of enlightenment? To add physical insult to emotional injury, Mother Ayahuasca reinforced her intent for me loud and clear by literally forcing me to remain in the depths of my miserable solitude. I tried to get up and leave the ceremony space multiple times, but I continuously collapsed to the floor, bound by my uncooperative body long after all my peers had left and retreated to their rooms for the night. Throughout the remaining days in Costa Rica and upon returning home, I contemplated what it all meant. I reacted to my challenge in interpreting a clear message and the lack of a discernible call to action by minimizing the value of drinking the ayahuasca and focusing instead on the beautiful new friendships I forged on the retreat. Not coincidentally, two days after arriving back in Miami while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I was struck by a conversation with public speaker and author Charles Eisenstein. His words resonated in my brain as if he was speaking directly to me: “You don’t necessarily have to understand what the purpose was for the purpose to have had its effect. And sometimes trying too hard to understand what it was, is an escape from fully receiving the experience.”
Perhaps, then, my call to action is one of inaction: to allow what has been quietly activated to express itself according to the Universal design. There is nothing to analyze and nothing to do. Intellectually, despite the anticlimax, I know that change is surreptitiously happening in dimensions beyond the perceptible time and space—a notion that is beautifully portrayed in book three of Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. God depicts a rock as a microcosm of just such an experience; while a rock appears solid and complete, even in the fraction of the moment that we hold it in our awareness, there is incredible movement and speed of the particles that are invisible to the eye. To us, the rock is not becoming a rock, it is just a rock here and now. This message continues later in the book as God says, “That’s the greatest truth. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one you have to “be” except exactly who you are right now. The truth is that there is no journey. You are right now what you are attempting to be. You are right now where you are attempting to go. It is the master who knows this, and thus ends the struggle.” Consistent with the perfect, cyclical nature of all things, the plant medicine journey led me right back home to myself—no doing, just being.