I notice that many people have common misconceptions about how plant medicines work within a shamanic practice or a traditional healing practice. This is understandable – many people who work with these medicines never attempt formal training or sit in traditional style ceremonies, and many people never work with plants at all. Some even think they are just recreational drugs even though there is a huge worldwide tradition spanning back thousands of years using these plants as powerful tools for self-development and healing. I want to share some of my thoughts and maybe clear up a few of these common misconceptions.
First off – I do not only work with plants and my practice is not in any way dependent on them. I just find that plants are the most beneficial aspect of my practice because the plants are wiser then me and better healers then any person I have ever met. I don’t work with them because I need to, but because I see the benefits. I started working with plant medicines for healing about 10 years ago after having a near death experience drowning in the ocean, but in that 10 years I also took a 3 year break from all mind altering substances (including caffeine and sugar even!) to focus 100% on meditation (about 2-3+ hours a day usually). I still include many non-plant based practices within my personal practice and I find that they are complimentary, but even after that 3 year break to focus on only meditation I found that plant medicines were the most effective path for me personally. Of course this doesn’t mean that anyone else needs to go down this path, but hopefully clearing up some common misunderstandings will help people at least understand and respect why some of us choose this path.
First of all, plants are not a short cut in any way. In my experience they are actually a longer and harder route, and the reason I chose the longer and harder route was because I saw better results and benefits. I know that often the best way is not the easiest way, and I would rather choose the way that works the best for me then pick the quickest route. To give you an example of what training to work with plant medicines might look like I will share a couple examples of traditional apprenticeship to the plants.
My friend and teacher when she trained to be a San Pedro shaman spent 2.5 years straight drinking San Pedro twice a week with training in between those ceremonies as well (some weeks she drank more). She would cry to her teacher saying “I can’t drink any more – I am too sick!” To which he would reply “Because you are sick that is why you must drink more!”
To apprentice to Ayahuasca it is usually considered that an apprentice should spend 2-3 years dieting in isolation. This is 2+ years of being isolated from friends and family, eating only 2 meals a day of bony river fish and green unripe bananas while being in a constant trance state from the isolation and lack of nutrition. It takes a lot of sacrifice – and this is only the basic apprenticeship. Most apprentices after their 2+ year diet will then spend 5-10 years working for and continuing training under another master shaman before they open their own practice. So in no way is this road easy or a short cut.
Some people claim that plant medicines make you unable to think clearly or that they weaken your protection or energy, but of course this is not true. Shamans would not be able to use them for healing if this was true. In reality, the plant medicines bring you clarity by uncovering your deepest fears, emotions, passions and dreams. They are a window into your own heart that doesn’t just tell you what you need to learn – it shows you what you need to learn so you can experience it firsthand.
I will share an example of this firsthand experience which I have encountered from a number of different people. It is common for us to have others in our lives who we don’t get along with or who we have hurt… Multiple people have told me their experiences with plant medicines where in their visions they became all the people they had ever hurt and they experienced them hurting this person from the person’s perspective. They felt what that person felt and suddenly understood and had empathy and compassion for the person on an incredibly deep level. This then helped them heal relationships or helped them understand the destructiveness of their behavior or substance abuse or whatever other problem they had.
Some people claim that anyone using plant medicines is just abusing substances…. Interestingly enough the most effective rehab center in the world is one which uses plant medicines. Most rehabs have a success rating of 10-30% with the highest success rating for curing addiction being 30%. So far only one rehab center in the world has a higher rating then 30%. Takiwasi in Tarapoto Peru has a 70% success rating of curing addiction by combining regular rehab treatment with Ayahuasca healing (these numbers come from a study by BBC).
I have seen plant medicines cure epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, depression and PTSD and all kinds of illness…. For me I would say they have saved my life and there is a decent chance I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for plant medicines. I know they are not the path for everyone and I think it is beautiful that there are so many paths to healing. But please respect the paths of others and don’t judge a path that you are not familiar with and know little about. Let’s respect each other and realize that even with our different paths in life we all have the same goal – making the Earth a better place to live.