How to Hold a Simple Cacao Ceremony for Yourself
Learn How to Do This Daily Ritual as a Unique Mindfulness Meditation
Holding a daily cacao ceremony for yourself can be a life-changing practice.
Like meditation or yoga, the cacao ceremony can be a simple secular practice that, when undertaken with commitment, can help reduce your stress and anxiety, promote a healthy mental state and most importantly, foster a general sense of well-being in your life.
Cacao is a traditionally bitter beverage (though you can sweeten it) made from the same seeds that are used to make cocoa, cocoa butter, and chocolate. It has been used as a medicine, food, and an important part of rituals for centuries in Central and South America. Recently, it has experienced a resurgence in use — being incorporated into wellness-based practices such as meditation, yoga, dance, and several other type of mindfulness techniques, like the one I’ll describe here.
What Is a Cacao Ceremony?
There are many (and I mean many) types of cacao ceremonies, but we focus on a stripped-down, simple, mindfulness-based method that we’ve refined over the years. It uses the well-known mood-elevating benefits of ceremonial cacao to help us make a habit out of expressing gratitude and setting an intention every day.
The ceremony can be done in the same amount of time that it takes you to prepare and drink a cup of coffee (about 10 to 20 minutes) and doesn’t require anything other than ceremonial cacao (more on that below) and a willingness to sit down and do it.
How Does It Work?
In short, every morning we sit down, say what we’re grateful for, set an intention for the day, and mindfully drink ceremonial-grade cacao.
This practice’s transformational power can be broken down into two main concepts.
First, gratitude and intention setting can improve your life, but they can be difficult habits to build.
Gratitude, the act of taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you’re thankful for in life, is scientifically proven to improve our overall mental health and well-being. When practiced, it gives rise to a more consistent awareness of the wonderful people and circumstances in our lives, and that helps us lead a happier, more satisfied existence.
Similarly, setting an intention every day is a healthy habit of mind that changes the way we think and act.
By identifying our emotional and physical needs and then setting an intention that addresses them, we make a conscious effort to act more tenderly toward ourselves as well as the people, situations, or challenges that we will inevitably face each day. This leads us to more consistently act in a way that harms ourselves and others less frequently and also gives rise to a peaceful, more satisfied existence.
The problem is that making a habit out of gratitude and intention setting isn’t always easy. We lead modern, busy lives, and incorporating any new habit (even if it’s clearly beneficial) into those lives is always a challenge.
That’s where ceremonial cacao comes in.
Because of its natural antidepressant and uplifting compounds, ceremonial cacao is particularly effective at facilitating the practices of gratitude and intention setting.
Ceremonial cacao, in comparison to “regular” cacao, is made through a process that retains the cacao bean’s fat, natural antioxidants, and flavanols. These, along with the cacao’s natural antidepressants and mood elevators (serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylethylamine), produce an energetic, uplifting, and heart-warming body-state (you can learn more about the benefits of cacao here, here, and here).
Similar to that rush you feel after a great workout or yoga session, drinking ceremonial cacao after a gratefulness and intention-setting practice can give you a heart-warming high. That feeling can also make it easier for you to rouse the positive, loving thoughts and words that are essential for a meaningful gratitude and intention-setting practice.
Thanks to this mutually reinforcing relationship, your body will begin to look forward to this subtly ecstatic state, making the habit of practice easier to build.
It’s not that you can’t say what you’re grateful for and set an intention without ceremonial cacao. And it’s not that you can’t drink ceremonial cacao without saying what you’re grateful for and setting an intention.
It’s just that practicing both together greatly improves the likelihood of building a habit out of them, and making a habit out of being grateful and intentional (and drinking yummy, healthy cacao) improves your life.
How to Hold a Simple Cacao Ceremony for Yourself
So how do you hold a simple cacao ceremony for yourself? The practice Romany and I have fine-tuned over the past few years consists of seven simple steps.
First, however, while not technically a “step,” it’s important to be conscious of when and how you hold your cacao ceremony.
If you want to get the most out of your cacao ceremony, you should do it as soon as possible after waking up — before you check your email or eat or “start your day” in any way.
I know—it’s difficult to muster up the energy to do anything right after you wake up, but avoiding work or activities before your ceremony will significantly improve your focus when practicing. And more importantly, right after waking is the best time to practice because it’s when the mind is still relaxed and its connection to the unconscious can be encountered with awareness. This tends to create a deeper and more long-lasting connection with the positive emotions associated with gratitude and intention setting.
1. Make Your Space Tidy
Whether you’re holding your ceremony in your room, on the kitchen table, or even in your backyard (holding your ceremony in nature is particularly rewarding), it’s an essential part of the practice to first take a few minutes to make your bed, clean any surfaces, light some palo santo incense, and do whatever else you need to make your space feel tidy and cozy.
By decluttering your space, you are taking away any elements in your environment that might distract you or trigger thoughts of worry, guilt, planning, or thinking, all of which can negatively impact your mental state. You are also creating a space where you can feel light and free, making it easier to kindle thoughts of well-being and gratefulness for who you are and what you have.
Like lovingly tending to a bare garden so that beautiful flowers can bloom, you must care for your space to create an environment in which joyful thoughts and new habits can blossom.
2. Prepare the Cacao
Once you’ve taken a few minutes to make your space nice and tidy, it’s time to head over to the kitchen and prepare the cacao.
If you’ve never prepared ceremonial cacao before, you can try one of our simple, delicious recipes (there are Romany’s other ceremonial cacao recipes):
- 1.5 tablespoons of ceremonial cacao crumble
- Half a mug of water (use the mug you will drink from to measure)
- Half a mug of oat milk (or your favorite nondairy plant milk — dairy interferes with the absorption of the active compounds in cacao)
- 1 to 2 Medjool dates
- A sprinkle of cinnamon and a slight sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Blend all the ingredients on high for 15 seconds and serve. Although this recipe is for cold cacao, ceremonial cacao is traditionally hot. If you do choose to heat it, never bring it to a boil.
Although it’s not always easy, the most important thing to remember here is to mindfully connect with every element of the cacao-making process. Breathe, move, and handle your utensils with awareness. Smell the cacao and all the other scents in your kitchen and apartment. Look out the window to see the morning light and remember how darn lucky you are to have a warm and safe place to live. Listen to a relaxing meditation or soothing song (you might think it’s cheesy, but I’m a sucker for some Nawang Khechog flute music or a Thich Nhat Hanh dharma talk).
3. Begin the Ceremony by Opening the Space
Now that your space is tidy and you’ve prepared the cacao, it’s time to begin!
The first step of every cacao ceremony is to “open the space.” You do this by following these steps:
- With a straight spine, sit on your chair or cushion.
- With both hands, lift your cacao up to the center of your chest and close your eyes.
- Set the clear intention of letting go of all other plans and ideas you might be thinking about for the next 10 minutes during which you’ll be holding your ceremony. Give yourself this time to be fully focused on what you’re doing. You’ll have the rest of your day to think about everything else in your life.
- Take a deep five-second-long breath in, hold that breath for five seconds, and then release it in a five-second-long breathe out. Repeat that process two more times for a total of three breaths.
- Mindfully smell your cacao, breathing it in deeply.
- Mindfully lower your cacao cup back to the center of your chest and take a moment to be aware of all of the different sensations you may feel.
4. State What You’re Grateful For
In this tranquil state, keep your eyes closed, hold the cacao with both hands at your chest, and take a deep breath. Then say what you’re grateful for today out loud.
You can say this with a phrase like “I am grateful for X,” “I feel grateful for Y,” or “I’m so thankful for Z.” Feel each phrase deeply and say it sincerely.
There might be 25 or 3 things you’re grateful for that day. The amount doesn’t matter. What matters is that you only say things that you truly feel gratitude for in that moment.
Some days, recognizing all of the things you’re grateful for in life will be a breeze. Some days (and we all have them) for whatever reason you may notice that you feel resistant to expressing your gratitude out loud. Those are the days when it’s the most important to say them. Saying things out loud creates a distinctive memory, which is much more likely to stay with you long term compared to just “thinking” about it. It also helps you hold yourself accountable to the process of the practice.
Regardless of whether you feel like it or not, you’ll notice that over time your mind starts discovering new things that you’re grateful for in life, and this discovery is wonderful! The more things in life we learn not to take for granted, the more we tend to appreciate what we have and the more rewarding the practice (and life) becomes.
5. Set an Intention for the Day
After you’ve said everything you’re grateful for, set your intention for the day.
Simply put, setting an intention is the act of coming up with a specific phrase that reminds you of something you’d like to embody during the day.
That’s usually best accomplished by first identifying what it is that you need today and then pinpointing the phrase (the intention) that will best remind you of how you should act to address that need.
The better you are at identifying your needs (which comes with practice and time), the more effective your intention will be.
For some people, a need might be something as simple as “hydrating my body.” In that case, an intention of “drinking five glasses of water’’ would address the need and help you have a better day.
For others, a need might be related to a mental state. For example, let’s say you struggle with anxiety and you know that giving yourself a quick time-out to take three deep breaths throughout the day helps you manage your mental state, but you simply to forget to actually give yourself those time-outs. Setting the intention of “taking three deep breaths whenever I feel anxious” might be an effective way to help you remember the importance of breathing to reducing anxiety. Even if you just remember it once, you’ll have a better day than you would if you didn’t remember it at all.
That is how intention setting improves your life: it helps you identify clear and practical things you should do during the day to improve your overall well-being.
There will be days when you will remember your intention constantly and feel great joy about that. There will also be days when you don’t think about your intention even once. Don’t be hard on yourself those days. It’s normal, and it happens to all of us.
The important thing is that you commit to setting an intention every day. By doing this, over time you’ll get better at identifying your needs and the actions required to fulfill them, remembering those needs and actions, and carrying them out every day. Consequently, you’ll have better days.
6. Drink your Cacao!
You’ve said what you’re grateful for and you’ve set your intention for the day. It’s finally time to delight in drinking your ceremonial cacao.
Mindfully bring your cacao up from your chest, delight in its smell (as you would with a fine cup of coffee or glass of wine), and take your first sip. When you do, close your eyes and taste it fully, feeling the liquid travel down your throat and through your body.
Once you’ve fully embraced that first sip, enjoy the rest of your cacao however you please. Romany and I enjoy reading a passage of a book that incites feelings of love and compassion in us while we drink. Others like to journal. What you do is totally up to you; the only requirement is that it be something that sparks joy and doesn’t distract you from the practice (like using your phone).
Oh, and don’t forget, let yourself rejoice here! Stay present, take pleasure in the fact that you’re enjoying a delicious and healthy cup of cacao, and be proud that you’re doing something for yourself. It’s worth celebrating!
The more you delight in the act of drinking your cacao, the more prominent the neural pathways between joy and the acts of gratitude, intention setting, and cacao drinking will become, and the easier it will be to build the habit.
7. Close the Ceremony
Take as much time as you need to mindfully drink your cacao. You can finish your cup or not—it’s totally up to you depending on the time you have available.
When you’re ready to get up and start your day, end the ceremony by “closing the space.” To do that, follow these steps:
- With a straight spine, sitting on your chair or cushion, mindfully put down your cup of cacao on a surface.
- Comfortably place your hands on your knees.
- Close your eyes, repeat your intention out loud, and make a mental note to remember and act on it during your day.
- Take a deep breath in and deep breath out.
- Open your eyes and begin your day!
You’ve now finished your cacao ceremony! Congrats. Enjoy the wonderful sensations and feelings that will arise.
As with any other worthwhile practice, the true, deep benefits of a daily cacao ceremony only come with time. Commit to the practice. By committing, you are expressing an intention for yourself—an intention to be happier and be better situated to make others happier; to suffer less and be in a better position to help others suffer less.
The goal of the practice is wisdom — the wisdom that comes from recognizing that your well-being won’t spontaneously just happen, that well-being is a quality that requires dedication and discipline to foster, and that you are willing to put in the work required to foster it.
Next time you hold a ceremony, please remember that. Be proud of it. By choosing to commit to fostering your well-being, you are also choosing to try and be a better person in this world, and that helps us all.
I hope you have found this article to be helpful. Thanks for reading, friends! Please take care of yourselves :)