The Plant Medicine Cure — Panacea or Hype?

source: pixabay

At the beginning of 2017, I went to Peru for a 7-day plant medicine retreat including five Ayahuasca ceremonies and one Huachuma ceremony with a sweat lodge. The shaman and facilitators were good people, the food was excellent and the place was beautiful. I was very lucky. The promise was “20 years of therapy in one night”. I felt positive and confident that this was going to be the cure for all my ills.

After the retreat, I had two more weeks planned in Peru for sightseeing and other activities. When I got to the hotel, I went into a deep depression. I was exhausted from the ceremonies, the medicine-induced lack of sleep, and all the insights and strange experiences from the retreat week. I emailed the facilitators but they were unavailable for support. All the caring and support that had been given during the retreat was gone. I fought the desire to stay in my hotel room 24/7 and got out as much as I could. The nights were long, the tears were many and all I wanted to do was go home.

When I got back home, I was a mess for a long time. It was hard to motivate myself to work. My brain felt dull and unfocused. I cried every night. I wasn’t sleeping well. When I spoke later to the retreat organizer he told me that it was because I didn’t go deep enough during the ceremonies, I didn’t surrender enough and I didn’t purge by vomiting. I felt like I was not as good as the others because they vomited a lot and made a lot of noise.

I felt wrong for wanting it to be gentle when I was in Peru so I gathered up all my determination and decided to do another ceremony where I would go deep, surrender and purge the hell out of my troubles. I couldn’t afford the time or expense to go back to Peru so I looked for somewhere closer to home. I found an organization in the Netherlands that offered individual ceremonies on Saturdays. I was living in the UK at the time and was able to fly there and back in a weekend.

I did regular individual ceremonies over the next year or so. The guide was very good, caring, and supportive during the ceremony. In pretty much every ceremony I went through hell but I only vomited a little bit once. I worried that I wasn’t doing it right and that I wasn’t going deep enough.

After each ceremony, I traveled home, pulled myself together, and went through my “process” for the next few weeks. I tried to face all the things that came up. I went for long walks, meditated, got shiatsu treatments, and did whatever else I could do. I set myself a routine to work so that I could continue to support myself and pay for my treatment. When the wounds were too much to bear, I would email the ceremony guide. He would give me a few words of encouragement and tell me “trust the process”. It didn’t help much except to feel a little less alone.

I read a lot about the medicine and the wonderful and magical things it had done for people. I tried very hard to convince myself that I was getting better but didn’t feel or see much improvement in my life. I reasoned that the medicine had helped so many people so if I wasn’t getting a result, it must be me. I decided I had to go to a group retreat again because maybe the individual retreats weren’t pushing me enough.

The same organization that offered the individual retreats also offered some group retreats in the Netherlands and in Portugal. In Peru, there were only 11 participants and I had my own room. Now, each retreat had over 40 participants and shared rooms. I do not like crowds, socializing is difficult for me and the energy of others overwhelms me.

In ceremonies, people cried and shouted and purged hard. The energy was chaotic. I still did not purge. In between ceremonies, I had no place to go for quiet time to restore my peace and energy. I was way out of my comfort zone but I told myself it was good for me and I would get better soon.

The retreat guides told me I needed to cry and scream and purge and shout like the others. I was told I was emotionally frozen and to surrender to the tears. When I was in trouble, I was told to “trust the process”. To me, it always felt like such an empty phrase so I thought I was not very “spiritual” because I could not see the wisdom of it, and also because I kept a secret stash of snacks in my bag so that I wouldn’t have to eat watery soup and rice cakes.

I was told that the guides were there to help but it was hard to be heard over the noise of the others and very hard to get their attention. One time I asked for the help I needed and was heard but I was later told that I had asked for too much help and that I had to “carry my own process”. After that incident, at home a few months later, I did a plant medicine journey by myself where I tried so hard to make myself purge that I ended up with sore ribs and a sore throat from dry retching so much.

The last retreat and ceremony I did was in August and it was a dark and difficult journey. Among other things, I saw all my troubles from a sort of cellular/wiring perspective and felt a strong sense of hopelessness about fixing them. Since I got back home I have been depressed and feeling hopeless again. I look back on the last almost four years and the many medicine journeys I have taken, and find I am in exactly the same place as when I started except that now I’ve seen the extent of my troubles.

The only people I’ve spoken to about it are into Bufo now. They’ve been to heaven, experienced eternal bliss, joined the field of oneness, and told me there is no good or bad and it’s all “just duality” or “just ego”. It seems to me that their compassion dissolved along with their egos. They tell me that Bufo is the King of all the plant medicines and you have to be a superhero to take it. My poor “dualistic” mind can’t help thinking of the poor toads people traumatize to give them their little hit of heaven. And I ask if I go back to the God/Eternal/Energy field when I die anyway, do I really need to see the trailer?

On reflection, I see that whenever I expressed a concern about the medicine or the organizations running them, or pointed out a contradiction, or even was honest about my progress or experience, my concerns were brushed aside and the problem was all mine. Of course, nobody uses plant medicines as a means of escape. There’s no macho, superhero bullshit involved. There’s no placebo involved at all. Nobody is trying to make a religion out of plant medicines and the rituals surrounding them. The plant medicines are magical and sacred and can cure anything.

Cynicism aside, I don’t regret going down the medicine path. I may even do another plant medicine journey in the future but I no longer see it as a “cure-all” or even a “cure-anything”. I no longer expect that it’s going to fix my issues. I don’t know if that was ever a realistic goal. I know that I am okay even if I have problems. I don’t need to rid myself of all my troubles before I can truly live or find freedom. I don’t need to fix myself to be happy or to have a good life. I am sad now but I can be happy too. The sadness will pass.

I know that tears shed alone are just as valid and just as expressive as those shared noisily in a room full of people. I like the quiet and gentle ways. Why would God or plant medicine spirits expect everyone to purge or express their emotions in the exact same way? Perhaps Ayahuasca was, after all, a cure — for my unrealistic expectations.

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