As a Tarot reader I tend to see life through the lens of a Tarot card. At the moment, following a recent ayahuasca retreat, I am very much feeling the energy of The Hanged Man. This card represents seeing things from a whole new perspective, after all the world certainly looks different when you are hanging upside down!
I am motivated to share my journey of personal growth through the use of plant medicines as I have found them to be of such value in my life. I am aware that this is still a fringe topic. I would like to add my voice to the mix in order to help make people aware that these valuable and useful tools are available. I struggled for many years with problems with addiction and a sense of feeling separated from others and the world around me. Looking back it seems like I was going through life in a fog. However I realise more and more that everybody is struggling with something; be it a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual issue. Plant medicine ceremonies are one potential tool for people to use on their journey towards wholeness.
So what are plant medicines and why might they be of use to you?
Whilst there are many plants with healing properties in the context of discussing plant medicines I’m referring to the psychedelic kind. These plants enable us to experience expanded states of consciousness where we can delve into our own psyches. A series of recent studies suggests that psychedelics may be useful for alleviating depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction. Michael Pollan has written an excellent book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence” (quite the tittle eh!), which became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. In this book he explores the use and history of some of these often-misunderstood substances.
An ayahuasca ceremony has frequently been described as akin to undergoing 10 years of psychotherapy in one go. Whilst I believe that talking therapies are a hugely valuable addition to our healing modalities I am also delighted by the development of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. It is interesting to note that psychotherapy is still only 100 years old, whereas humankind has been ingesting psychoactive substances since pre-historic times!
But yes, you might say, just because my cave man ancestors thought it was a good idea is it really for me??
The Hanged man receives the gift of illumination in return for the surrendering of the self. Adversity becomes an opportunity for gathering wisdom. This is a card about surrendering to experience and about seeing things from a new and more enlightened perspective as a result. This card perfectly captures the ayahuasca experience for me. In this deck the hanged man is holding onto the keys of the chains that bind him. This also becomes apparent during an ayahuasca experience. We find that we do in fact hold the keys to release ourselves from whatever prison we are holding ourselves in. I realise that this is not a conventional path, however the hanged man is not a conventional soul!
A plant medicine ceremony is a ritual that facilitates self-exploration. The expanded states of consciousness which we experience following the ingestion of a psychedelic enables us to go on an inner journey which can lead to greater understanding. The sciencey bit is that we have well trod neural pathways in our brain which make it easy for us to repeat the same thoughts and the same patterns of behaviour. A brain on psychedelics gets a bit of a shake up! Brain imaging shows that psychedelics facilitate communication between parts of the brain that do not normally communicate. This allows new connections to be made in the brain which also opens up a whole new world for us and can assist us in seeing things from a whole new perspective (like the hanged man!).
We all have wounds, though some peoples are deeper than others. The path some have to walk is much more challenging than others. I believe that those of us drawn to work with plant medicines have in some ways an easier time. For whilst the medicine may call you to face some of your darkest fears, it is just for a short time and then you can return to ordinary consciousness. Such an awakening comes for many at crisis points in their lives, such as when facing death or serious illness.
Also don’t worry it’s not all doom and gloom! Reports of transcendence and union with the divine oneness are frequently experienced. There is also the potential to experience great beauty, as I discovered on my last ceremony. My lesson in my last ceremony came very quickly. I realised that I had forgotten to be grateful. I then experienced a most wondrous and life affirming journey showing me what a wonder life and everything in it truly is.
A lot of the emphasis on the use of plant medicines is to assist us with self-realisation or self-actualisation. I want to highlight that yes, there is a lot going on about SELF! I would like to use the words of the great Indian social activist Mahatma Gandhi to remind people that in order to create a better world we first need to start with ourselves, “be the change you wish to see”. Self-realisation also ends with the realisation that we are all one, or one manifestation of the divine. The great Indian sage Ramana Maharishi when asked about how to treat others answered there are no others. Once we realise ourselves we reach a point where we can think beyond ourselves and can start to experience universal consciousness. This can help us become more aware of world suffering and conscious of our values. Which can in turn lead us to take actions for the greater good in our daily lives.
The importance of preparation and integration
I return from my recent trip an even greater proponent of plant medicines than I already was. I feel so grateful following my recent plant medicine ceremonies to have had a glimpse of much greater understanding. However I realise that these very elevated states of consciousness are not truly mine yet. In reality the psychedelic experience acts as a catalyst for change. It is important to take the messages received in these states and to implement them into daily life. That is where the benefits truly occur.
Preparation and integration are significant parts of participating in a ceremony. I would like to be clear that the decision to partake in a plant medicine ceremony should be given careful consideration. The individual needs to be aware that these substances are potent, it is not quite the same as having a cup of camomile tea! The person should undertake appropriate preparation for the journey. This includes reflecting upon what their intention is for the ceremony and of course following the required diet prior to participating.
There are many paths to Rome (with Rome in this case being higher states of consciousness/ awareness). Some paths are gentler than others and there are different perils along the way. Of course there are other methods for entering altered states that do not require ingesting psychoactive substances. Others include vision quests, fasting, drumming circles and guided meditations. However plant medicines are undoubtedly a powerful tool to awaken and to aid us in our personal development and journey to wholeness.
I would like to say a big thank you to Om-mij and their team in Spain for facilitating my recent ceremonies. I whole heartily support their mission to create a safe therapeutic environment for people to participate in plant medicine ceremonies.
I would like to leave you with this beautiful poem on pain by Lebanese-American poet and writer Kahlil Gibran. It certainly serves as an apt description for an ayahuasca ceremony (particularly as ayahuasca is a rather bitter tasting potion!)
And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.