Words cannot adequately capture how I ushered in 2023: sick beyond my complete recollection now as I sit comfortably on my sofa, just two weeks removed from the experience. Conveniently, the intense details of my self-induced, debilitated state have already escaped my body’s memory, however, I do clearly recall the decision that led me there. A few months ago, I received a gentle yet assertive invitation from Mother Ayahuasca (as she is loving called) to dance together once again*. I intended to retreat into her arms on the eve of the new year, immediately following the first anniversary of my mother’s traumatic death last Christmas. I knew she would compel me to pause my busy life, sit uncomfortably in my grief and feel its crushing weight, which I had artfully avoided for the preceding 9+ months. Before I could blink, I found myself back at the same Costa Rican sanctuary where I had my first encounter with plant medicine in the Spring of 2021. Pure synchronicity placed me in the same room, assigned to the same ceremony space, listening to the melodic icaros of the same indigenous Peruvian couple who have dedicated their lives to this healing work. I spent three sequential nights engaged with the curanderos and this shrewd medicine in a physical and emotional struggle, doubting my judgement through agonizing nausea, violent purging of toxicity from every orifice of my body, and the deepest despair of my life. Admittedly, I think I secretly hoped to cleanse myself of all the residue, and in doing so, leave death in the rearview mirror – a 2022 problem. And the love and lightness I felt by the end of my trip almost let me believe that was possible. Yet, my post-retreat bliss bubble burst as reality quickly elbowed its way back into my orbit. I received a tragic call at the end of my first week home notifying me that a dear friend had suddenly lost her father in a terrible accident.
Not coincidentally, a major theme of one of my recent Ayahuasca journeys was death. Under the effects of the medicine, I flashed back to my mother’s last few days in this incarnation and her soul transitioning right in front of my eyes. Throughout the next few hours, I proceeded to revisit the name and face of every person in my conscious and subconscious memory that has passed away over my lifetime, asking, “why did you have to go?” While none of them answered my question, I had a confronting realization. I’ve spent the last 37 years futilely attempting to control everything in my environment in order to hold those I love close; then, I push them away because, as I reason, at least I’m losing them on my own terms. To add insult to injury, the medicine transported me back to a real scene of me as a scared, crying child, alone in her room at night, panicked because she couldn’t manage to pry the door open to escape. Later, I watched myself painfully traverse through time, fists clenched, stomach aching, and fearful that if I let go and just relaxed, I really would be all alone in a dark room – no one left to love or protect me.
While integrating this provocative experience with one of the beautiful plant medicine facilitators, I had an epiphany: I am the one making myself sick, not Ayahuasca. The reality is that death’s shadow is always present and my veil of self-imposed security is only serving to separate me from all that is truly alive. She tenderly reflected that perhaps it was time to consider changing my relationship to death, and as I contemplated that notion I wondered, what might that look like? And is it possible for me to dance freely and joyfully on life’s stage knowing that death is always waiting in the wings? While I never arrived at a conclusion, I felt a strong resonance when I was back at home this week listening to a podcast conversation with a man who remembers his past lives. He artfully described death as a consequence of life – like the pause in between words. It’s a necessary demarcation or change in the vibration we experience as matter. And that silent interlude is often more important than the words themselves, offering an inflection point upon which their meaning is interpreted. This clever “mother” taught me that as much as I thought I could pause my life and travel to the jungle to bury my pain there, the retreat was just a training ground for the real, sacred ceremony: life itself.
While attending the funeral for my friend’s father, I wistfully remarked how death is the force that brings us together, noting how it reunited me with girlfriends I see so infrequently because they live in another state. While we rightfully honor someone’s impact and presence in our lives after they pass away, perhaps the invitation is for death to be a constant companion, reminding us to be here now, in reverence of all that is alive in us and around us today. Possibly, this is the starting point for my new and evolving relationship with death. While I cannot reach so far as to describe it as a friendship, I have glimpses of hope for a future in which I trust and embrace its fluid yet steady place in my consciousness. And just maybe, I can start to ease my tight grip on life as I realize that I was never holding onto anything at all: just dust. The same thing from which we all came.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver (excerpt from her poem The Summer Day)
Thank you Ilan, Rob, Christina, Claire, Masi and the entire Soltara team for doing this noble work in the world – namaste
*Read an account of my first Ayahuasca experience in my blog entitled My Undoing, June 2021