Plant Medicines Helped This Hard Nut to Crack
A journey in self healing
In my youthful zeal to be transformed from sufferer to seeker, I was desperate to change. An entirely different story would have unfolded for me had I not experimented with mind-expanding plants. When I began my journey of Self-discovery I used a lot of plant medicines (as they’re called in the current lexicon). Plants helped me find where I could fit into this uncomfortable Universe in which I thought I’d been mistakenly thrust.
The past four decades I have been a happy, fulfilled, and fully committed yogini and meditator who uses no inebriants, not even an occasional glass of wine. Such is the story of a true-blue recovering-addict who went a bit too far in her quest for the Ultimate Highness (as in consciousness exploration). My path started with just wanting to feel okay in my skin. My original one was such a tight fit, I was so uncomfortable. Today, I’m feeling at ease, and am so grateful for all the teachers: sentient (recovery rooms, yogis, mindfulness teachers) and insentient (Nature, especially Ocean, the Oneness) who have helped me.
So I decided to write this 3-part series about my previous use of divination plants to present a clear picture of what my beginning baby steps entailed, and how I came to eschew using plant medicines in order to embrace a more healthy, more elevated state of mind. Today I am a 73-year-old Spirit activist and don’t talk much about my painfully awkward past.
In my twenties, when I was drawing for graduate botanists, I was trying anything to transform my troubled psyche into what I proclaim today: “the Natural Mind” is the best. Particularly while having a consistent meditation practice. Natural is unlimited. Natural has no side effects, come downs, or hangovers. The natural mind is the most revealing, most heightened, most profound state of consciousness I’ve ever experienced in my search for meaningfulness … that left nary a stone, er — , plant, upturned.
In that earlier phase of life, I drew precise studies for botanists working with Amazonian “drug plants.” These days the kind of person I worked with is either called an ethnobotanist or a shaman, depending on whether they’re affiliated with science (such as my Harvard botanists were), or are in the mindfulness expansion tribe.
Some plant enthusiasts are cross-overs, studying both the science of plants (its genetic heritage and geographical distribution, for instance) and a plant’s ability to expand human perceptions. I straddled both categories. I was seeking relief and I also drew for an unusual audience. An artist who creates a study for scientists worldwide to be able to understand, uses visual clues that strictly adhere to an international code of interpretations that are mandatory for pen-and-ink drawings. Light source always originates from the upper left; cross-hatching (///) always signifies a smooth-, while stippling (dot.dot.dot) means a textured-surface.
For many years the botanists (all graduate students of famed Richard Evans Schules of Harvard) and other earth scientists I worked with, studied the indigenous and their sacred plants. Some of us ingested as we investigated, documented, and made advances in understanding the ancient and holy relationship of humanity and plants that open up our minds, “Doors of Perception” (Aldous Huxley’s autobiography).
Here are some of the plants that helped free me from my personal demons:
* Marijuana: we all used pot, professors/students/even presidents back in the ’60s. And if anyone says they didn’t at least try it, they’re lying. Personally, I think it makes my mind dumbed-down these days, so I abstain.
* LSD: Most of us were using acid then, because I was young, in Harvard Square, and Leary and Alpert (Baba Ram Das) were in residence. Remember that LSD was discovered from mold growing on bread: thus it’s plant-related. From being enthused about Leary, I listened to Ram Das his entire life long.
* Peyote: I was so in love with Mescalito, the Guide of Peyote, that I painted his mythical blue-purple figure as protection on the back of my old car, a Valiant. Using peyote buttons must be safeguarded now because of people raping precious desert sources without conscience. Do NOT use unless an indigenous person invites you to, please.
* Ayahuasca: in the traditional indigenous manner which we were studying, females were not allowed to ingest this all-male ritualized ceremonial plant concoction. My job was to draw some of the plants that shamans mix in with yaje. Brunfelsia (illustrated here) is used to create tingling sensations in the body so the person tripping doesn’t lose awareness of his physical form during his mind-altering experience. Brugmansia is also used, and I drew the entire family of both these Solanaceae. Without additional plants to induce bodily sensations, a yaje trip can be very dangerous. Note: beware of promiscuous use of Ayahuasca/yaje that’s popular in today’s “quick fix” mind-altering trend. If you must use, seek a seasoned guide/leader.
* Coca: its dry leaves are still chewed today by indigenous Andean peoples of Peru and Bolivia because of its nutritional properties, which stave off hunger and thirst during long treks and workdays in high altitudes. In the early ’70s the US Government commissioned an extensive study of Coca (Erythroxylum) and its uses, which I illustrated. They wanted to better understand the epidemic of cocaine (a chemically distilled form of coca) use that was just beginning to destroy so many lives. Do not use cocaine, it’s highly addictive. When in South America, chew leaves to experience why the indigenous have revered this plant, Mama Coca for millennia.
I found the Divine in my expanded mind’s state early in life, thanks in large part to my plant use. But when I was introduced to meditation at age 21, I knew my life would never be complete without dedicating myself to exploring that magical realm within my own Being. I knew nothing about inner freedom when I began to draw for my taxonomic plant-detective geeks at Harvard’s Botanical Museum. When I ingested plant medicines as I drew them, they helped free me from the terrorizing prison of my inner demons.
Today, completely sober, I find the Divine in everything I look at, without the use of mind-altering plants, liquids, or potions of any sort. Meditation is the vehicle by which my heart and mind resonates with the Song of the Divine. Sanskrit chanting reinforces this resonance for me, and so I sing the Divine’s Name wherever, whenever, however I can.
Just like I’m doing here, with you! Join me on my YouTube channel for some yogic insights beyond the physical poses one does to stay flexible. Look for the other segments of this series about my history with plant medicines. I’d love to hear your comments about this controversial subject of plant medicines, which, in the form of “micro-doses” has now become popular for sufferers of mental torment. After reading Michael Pollen’s “Change Your Mind” I’m a believer. But only in small doses, my friend! And only to help you get a jump-start toward a balanced mind-body-spirit life. Stick to meditation is my advice!
Live long and prosper. Namaste