Ceremonial vs Recreational Plant Use (originally posted 2015)
When telling others about plant ceremonies - such as traveling to Peru to work with Ayahuasca or San Pedro, there will always be someone who says "Why call it a ceremony? Why not just admit you like getting high?"
It is easy to understand why someone would view things this way if they havent sat in ceremony before. They dont really know what goes on or what a ceremony is.
I remember one client I had a while back... The client came to me for healing ceremony and we did a solo thing just me and him. First we had to drink a very bitter and slimy brew, then I pushed him on a long hike in nature while his belly is rumbling with this bitter potion giving him nausea. Then he had a huge purge - projectile puking out the nastiness he had held inside for years. The rest of the day he had a few moments of beauty and joy, but most of his ceremony was just purging - hot flashes and then cold and shivers while he sweated in 90 degree weather. Crying and spitting up. Seeing birds come to him and then carry off his illness. Seeing people from his past who had hurt him - he had to confront all the memories he had previously tried to forget.
He purged for about 8 hours straight. 8 hours of difficult work pushing himself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually all at the same time. I am sure he went to bed exhausted that night.
And he left thinking he wanted to do another ceremony to finish what he started. He saw the benefits right away.
I dont know about you, but when I think about getting high and having fun I dont think of drinking difficult bitter brews, puking, alternating shivers and sweats, remembering all the pain in my life, crying and so much more.... But when I think of ceremony and how to let go of emotional pain and let go of the past - suddenly this all makes sense.
Not every ceremony is hard, and some can be a lot of fun or full of euphoria - but some ceremonies definitely remind you that this is work and it's not all fun and games.
I remember when I first met Ayahuasca.... I was in Iquitos and I had been searching for this medicine for 6 years already. I committed to 2 weeks to give the plants a fair chance to show me what they do. I was scared - preparing to drink this powerful brew in the remote Amazon with Shipibo Indians I had never met with no way back to civilization until they gave me a ride back. In preparation I had to diet for days - eating the most bland and boring food you could ever imagine... First ceremony wasnt nothing - no visions or insights or anything at all. 2nd and 3rd ceremonies were the worst pain I had ever known in my life. Emotional pain and physical pain - I spent hours puking, sweating, shivering.... Nothing I could do would stop the pain or make it better - for a while I thought I was losing my soul. I ended each night with the feeling I was in the wrong place and I needed to go home. Why would anyone ever want to experience this type of suffering again?
But I had committed to two weeks, and I remember how important this search had been for me - I spent 6 years trying to get here, and I wasnt about to cut myself short. I knew I desperately needed something, and some part of me knew I could find it with the plants. I pushed through the fear of having another repeat bout of pain and puking..... And my 4th ceremony was one of the best experiences of my life. Suddenly I understood all the pain I had let go of and I also understood why those first couple ceremonies had been so painful. Suddenly I understood myself deeper then I ever had before. I realized then that those experiencing the worst pain in ceremony are so lucky - so lucky they dont have to carry that pain with them anymore. They can finally live life as themselves - they no longer have the baggage and the pain to carry and can run free.
I love the happy and fun ceremonies, but I love the difficult ones too. Sometimes the difficult ones are the most transformative. But when someone describes ceremonies as just getting high and having fun, I gotta laugh and remember those times when I wanted to turn back.... Then I share a story - and hope maybe that the listener begins to understand what sets apart a ceremony from recreation.