The Four Gates Foundation | Healing case studies
The Four Gates offers workshops, healings, shamanic plant diets, journeys to Peru and Mexico to work with indigenous shamans, encounters with teacher plants, and other events to bring you healing, empowerment, new consciousness, and get you back in touch with your soul.
workshops, healings, shamanic plant diets, journeys, Peru, Mexico, shamans, teacher plants, healing, empowerment, new consciousness, soul
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Healing case studies

Case studies in healing and enlightment

Stories of healing from my books, principally Cactus of Mystery, San Pedro: Gateway to Wisdom, The Hummingbird’s Journey to God, Ayahuasca: The Vine of Souls, and Salvia Divinorum: Sage of the Seers, to give you an idea of how healing with plant medicines works.

Also see the article How Plants Heal.

HEALING WITH SAN PEDRO

Healing an Abusive Past

Sadly, from my experience of drinking San Pedro I have no accounts of conversations with plants or rocks or of being at one with the universe. Nor did I learn about the great plans of the universe or gain insight into cosmic consciousness or the patterns of life and existence. My experience was all about me. . .

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I left home at fifteen to live with my boyfriend and at that point I entered a world of misery; I left my freedom behind and was literally kept under lock and key and not allowed out without his supervision. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse occurred on a regular basis. After several near-death experiences, losing eight babies, and many visits to hospital for injuries and breaks to bones, various drug addictions were forced on me, which resulted in two psychotic episodes. Finally I managed to escape him and create a place of safety for myself and my children.

My life has turned around now in many ways and I’m safe and mostly happy. For some reason I have felt compelled to work with teacher plants and I have taken part in two of Ross’s healing journeys to Peru—with no real clue why I was there except knowing that I had to follow my soul. The first of these journeys was to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca and the second was to the Andes a year later to drink San Pedro.

I knew that San Pedro would be different to ayahuasca and I felt calm and relaxed about drinking it. Within thirty minutes, however, I felt my body fill with overwhelming emotion, and I took myself off to a quiet place outside the garden; actually a ditch that surrounded the house. I appreciate that doesn’t sound very glamorous, but for me it was perfect in many ways. I had to be alone, which was significant in itself. I had to be away from others so they would not see my suffering. I had to suffer alone. I always suffered alone.

I’m not sure how long I was lying on the floor cradling myself sobbing. It felt like a long time and I know that I have never cried like that before. I cannot really recall either what I was crying for; I just knew that it was about my past.

When my conscious mind returned I realized that I was sobbing and I struggled to sort myself out and desperately tried to stop it. As I resisted my emotions, however, I heard (or, rather, felt) a voice telling me to “Let yourself cry, it’s OK.” It was such a soft and soothing sensation and I think this was the first time I really ever cried for myself and for what I had experienced, without judgment toward myself. Normally I would stop crying and be strong for my children and others. Now, however, I had no power to be strong. I could not move, could not stop crying. Any resistance was futile. I recall just collapsing in a heap again after trying to pick myself up. I fell into my own arms once again, feeling quite pathetic. Alongside the discomfort I felt at displaying such emotion for myself, there was a part of me that did not think I needed to cry for my past, that I should just get over it and that it was done and gone. I couldn’t stop, however. I just cried more. Yet it wasn’t unpleasant. It felt strange to be so out of control of my emotions, but it felt safe and OK, even though I was afraid to let go for some reason I wasn’t sure of.

This sobbing in the ditch is still a very vivid memory, and one I hold tightly to my heart. It was a moment of true love toward myself and represented a real sense of self-acceptance and an acknowledgment that my past had been incredibly painful.

This kindness to myself sadly didn’t last, however. I forced myself up from the ground and made myself regain control over my legs so I could regain stability with my inner world. I feared being out of control; it reminded me of the many times in the past where I also had no control over my life, and I was determined never to let this happen again.

I made my way back to the garden and vomited violently for around three hours. The pain needed to be released and if not through tears and self-love, then it would be spat out in vomit. This, at least, was something I just couldn’t control.

Finally the vomiting stopped. This seemed to open the gate to feelings of immense fear that really overwhelmed me. It felt as though these fears were being poured into my mind by the bucketful and I knew they belonged to me: all the fears I had experienced in my past and then repressed over the years. I wonder now if the crying and vomiting had broken down the walls of my own prison, leaving me feeling vulnerable and exposed, but newly open to the environment and to others.

But then the environment around me began to seem strange and surreal and the people there all looked unhappy. I felt that I had to get away from them again or they would infect me, so I left the garden once more. I needed to be alone, away from others. I had to protect myself.

I understand now that San Pedro was showing me how I wouldn’t let other people get too close to me and that their infection was actually an infection within me: my own fear that others would understand me and then hurt me.

San Pedro forced me to acknowledge that part of me who was still young and frightened, locked inside a prison of memories and pain. As I rested in the mountains I remembered a series of violent, terrifying, sad, and lonely experiences from my early teens and twenties. I had worked incredibly hard over the years to let go of that pain, fear, and hurt and the patterns of behavior and thoughts they had created in me. For the previous eight years I had been incredibly focused and felt mostly happy and content with myself and the world. And yet I realized now that on another level there was residual stuff within me, deep, deep, down, which I had kept locked away from others and even from myself, and it was very painful: nasty, dark, dirty, and cruel.

Still sitting outside, now upright against the Andean mountains, I felt safe and I spent time just observing what seemed like an internal amphitheatre within my mind of my past. I felt some annoyance at this as I didn’t want to keep revisiting it, and slightly paranoid and frightened at the imagery that was being presented to me. I thought that San Pedro was being unkind in even showing it to me again. But then I heard a soft voice or a feeling that seemed to come from beyond me: the voice of San Pedro that said “You can let go of this now. There is no need to stay here anymore. Let yourself out and you won’t need me anymore.”

At this point I knew I just had to give up and surrender. I knew I could not fight anymore. And then it was as if my younger self walked right out of me, out of what were once the strong thick walls of a prison to a place of safety, which ironically was also me. I was shown memories of a particular ordeal in which I was tortured for hours, beaten and terrorized. I felt my life slip away into bizarre and altered states of consciousness. I knew something seriously had left me or changed within me. I’m not completely sure which and I really don’t care. What was important was that I was now able to observe this in my mind with no fear or hurt and without a single tear.

Now I have written this and I still feel no painful emotions anymore. I do not even hold any anger towards those who hurt me. I have forgiven them and moved on. I have even offered thanks to them for playing their parts in my life. They gave me hard and painful but wonderful gifts. The real issue was with me because I had not forgiven myself or even allowed myself to grieve for what I had lost: not my faith in humanity but my teenage years.

Everything I had done to try to heal myself in the past had been aimed towards me being functional, but I see now that the result of this was only to bury my pain and guilt deep within myself.

I felt fragile for the remainder of the day and I told myself that there was no way I would ever drink San Pedro or go through that again. I spoke to the shaman Puma about this the following day and he said that my vibrations were very high and there was no need for me to take San Pedro again. I must admit to feeling relieved and very pleased that the experience it had given me was purposeful and there was no need for me to repeat it.

Despite this knowledge, however, there was something within me that knew that I did need to do it once more. I think it was to prove to myself I was OK and that my soul was cleansed of the past.

I remained undecided about drinking again until the last few minutes of the ceremony, then at the last minute I drank San Pedro again. This time I had the most wonderful experience and felt so connected to myself and totally at peace. In the past when my life had been unbearable, during beatings or an intense emotional grilling, I would leave myself and visit what I called my Magical Land. The day I drank San Pedro for the second time I found the Magical Land finally within me. I’m overwhelmed to know that it does exist and to realize that this magic existed in my soul all the time.

As my experience shows, San Pedro isn’t always pleasant to drink and you may face things you prefer not to see. It will, however, show you the things you need to pay attention to, in a kind, albeit persistent, gentle but practical manner.

In conclusion, I did feel immense pain throughout the process of the first ceremony, but in truth and as a therapist myself, I do not know of any other approach that would have cleansed my soul in the way San Pedro did. I reflect on that experience now with love and huge respect for the wonderful sprit of San Pedro, and I know that I will return to it to continue my learning in a wider sense.

New Insights, Emotional and Physical Healing

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I decided to travel to Peru to work with huachuma (San Pedro) because I had read that it could help a broken heart to experience joy again, and sometimes even alleviate a physical disorder. I’m always looking for a miracle, whether I need one or not, so it was inevitable that I would find myself 8,000 kilometers from home drinking this amazing cactus juice.

I had brought with me in my thoughts a quote by Einstein that you cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it. In other words, take a quantum leap into the next dimension, and while you are outside of time take out your emotional “garbage” and heal yourself. And that’s what I felt happened during the ceremonies I took part in, all of which were guided with compassion for all beings and respect for the spirit of the plants.

I was part of Ross Heaven’s November 2009 workshop in Peru called “The Cactus of Vision,” which he had organized with the curandera La Gringa. My biggest fear was that my delicate grasp of reality would slide off into paranoia, or that my body would find the plant useful for purging and nothing more, but neither of those things happened.

During my first ceremony my awareness took off about ninety minutes after drinking. A higher intelligence began to communicate with me for as much as I would give it my attention and permission to do so. It spoke to me in ways I already had some fluency in, using terms like “pain body” and chakras, but the information it gave me was more Yoda-like and profound than my own level of study and the tone it used was “San Pedro” (or maybe my “higher self” with a sense of humor), and not my usual mind. These effects last about fifteen-plus hours, yet I awoke at 7:30 a.m. the next morning and felt quite “normal”—in fact, more grounded and peaceful than usual.

With the second ceremony, I had chosen to drink only half a glass and the effects were more blissful, much less verbal or visual, and I felt the transcendent state fade after nine hours.

I went into each ceremony with a feeling of honor for the incredible opportunity it was, and allowing whatever huachuma and my higher self wanted to heal or teach me. I had little interest in moving around and so would sit like a stone(d) garden gnome communing with the plant spirit in La Gringa’s color-saturated nature sanctuary of a garden. Or I’d be listening to the wisdom that a rock, flower, or dragonfly was sharing with me. The San Pedro experiences were absolutely fascinating, and I decided even then that after my second ceremony with Ross’s group I would be back to drink again in just a few months.

Every time, soon after drinking, my hearing would become amplified and sounds that were at a distance would seem like they were whispering in my ears. I would be sure that my iPod had been accidentally set at full volume yet would find the next level down was mute. I had brought my mp3 player thinking it would be interesting to listen to brainwave frequencies and sacred mantra chants while in the huachuma state to see what would happen. It was like a deep meditation, but possibly limited the potential of the medicine. I later felt that San Pedro had adjusted my own frequency to suit what I needed to rebalance, and that it seemed to wait until I finished experimenting with technology before it stepped forward. I also found that I didn’t want to be near much outside noise, including people who were laughing or even the musicians who had been organized to play such beautiful San Pedro-inspired music for the group (sound healing), because the vibrations felt to my energy field like being jabbed with a stick. However, when I played simple mantra chants (the “Om” type stuff), this was helpful in deepening my state of consciousness and connection to nature.

There was a discernible contrast to the thinking of my own inner voice when huachuma began to speak. The words flowed effortlessly with a greater sureness and clarity. “He” (San Pedro) commenced by telling me why so many of the relationships throughout my life have been disappointing. There were a few reasons. But in particular he was clear that I needed to understand and respect my “feminine” energy, to allow my heart to stay open and to trust it, not to live primarily by way of the male (as in, expression through intellect and physical action) as I had been doing most of my adult life. I had to heal my relationship with my mother first and know her truth behind her “social mask.” And then become aware of the masks I wore too, and realize that it was also essential that I forgive myself. This would help me to spiritually grow up out of a somewhat extended adolescence so I would “stand in my power,” be present and of greater service to others in this stage of life.

By withholding love through judgment and rejection of my primary female role model (of her emotional coldness and distance) unknowingly I was gradually becoming more like her than not. It was the same quality of energy except hidden from my awareness by it being expressed uniquely in my own “right” way. I don’t have a family of my own, but other than the fact that my work necessitates contact with living bodies (entirely—I do body work), I had become more solitary every year. Sensitive and nurturing with my own inner circle of friends, I was emotionally armored around other people.

Simultaneously during this time of learning I was shown by sensation the effect of my manner of living. I could feel coldness build and grow heavier along my left side and into the center of my chest and heart, making it hard to breathe. I was told that if I continued to live as I had been, like my mother I would also have issues with my heart (my mother had survived a major heart attack fifteen years ago). I also received the impression that when I acted aloof socially, my presence literally felt cool and uncomfortable to others.

This lesson went on for many hours. The revealing of my mother as she is in spirit beyond her personality, surprising me, brought out so much emotion. I cried from a depth I had no idea existed. I felt gentleness and compassion in her heart then and learned the reasons for her choice to be my mother in this life and the lessons we would learn from one another. I saw too that her emotional distancing had influenced me to take care of myself and find my spiritual support within, my character strengths developing out of a negative.

Another gift I discovered after this experience was that I could breathe more fully and it has been that way ever since, even in the high altitude of Cusco. I sense it was from letting go of sadness from my past that previously I hadn’t felt able to express, and from forgiveness.

Then something like an argument began between—I swear this is the best I can describe it—my feminine side (my emotional side, the heart, perhaps) and my masculine side (my rational mind?). While in San Pedro’s mystical world somehow it all made sense. The feminine side had quite a bit more to say, assertively and with love. Something along these lines: “Do not tell me how I should look, move, smell, or sound. Stop controlling me and just let me BE. Your idea of perfection is unknown to me. There is no good or bad, there just is. There are no mistakes, only lessons for soul evolution. My energy must be allowed to flow and change. Tune in to me first before you will the body to work, to feel what I’ve inspired to you. Then you decide if and how to take action to create what was inspired. The divine masculine protects the space of the divine feminine. The feminine holds the energy of love and nurturing and inspires the masculine to take right action. That way what is created will not do harm.”

Nine hours later the effects were still going strong, and I was still absorbed in the insights I was receiving. I was also playing with the window of opportunity where it seemed I’d become super-psychic and I could ask anything and receive an answer. When needing help to walk outside La Gringa’s hostel where I was staying, the inner dialogue continued. A sympathetic assistant was asked to walk beside me to ensure I didn’t fall down the hundred stairs of San Blas while in my nebulous state of mind, guiding me to where I wanted to go. After this excursion where my spirit body felt as if it was walking a step ahead of my physical one, I said thank you to the beautiful man for his help. However, I was inspired to not mention that the enlightened cactus in my head was also sharing interesting details about the man’s personal life and what he was thinking about.

Along the way I had become aware of how I was slurring my words, stumbling, and that my matted hair (from having sat out in the rain) and dilated pupils had given me an extraterrestrial appearance. I thought how I’d probably be embarrassed if I wasn’t feeling so much unconditional love for everyone, including myself, and wondered what the women were thinking whose eyes shifted away after showing alarm when I walked by. San Pedro interrupted my thoughts with “If you had cleaned yourself up out of fear to look “acceptable” before the others could see you, they would have missed a learning opportunity for their spiritual growth. What you see in another and judge as wrong shows you what you want to accept and love in yourself. You are only judging yourself.”

This teaching continued with recognizing the sacredness and necessity for the “dark” (as in the yin, opposite of the yang, “light”) in all its manifestations, especially in ourselves. It said that the dark has a right to be (“it is as it is”) and while being aware of choosing to place attention on what felt better, the negative was not to be judged as unworthy of unconditional love or inferior to what is perceived as that of the “light.” Respecting the darkness, not pushing it away and demonizing it, was also critical to the shifting of consciousness that is happening globally now. There was much more to it that I’m still recollecting and beginning to understand.
In another ceremony there was instruction about how to deal with a chronic pain around a particular area (uterus). “Excessive thinking brings heat into one’s head, creating coldness and contraction in the body. Keep the “pot” stirred and warm by placing your attention there (the lower abdomen) deliberately with love. Do more movement such as dancing and yoga. With pain, breathe from the belly, breathe love and acceptance into the area of pain, breathe it down into the Earth and ask that the energy be received and transmuted.”

So far, the healing given during that time has resulted in a significant diminishment of menstrual pain. I was told that it would be a gradual process and that I would need to work on using the knowledge given and avoid using chemical pain-blocking medication to suppress it. Also from my first San Pedro ceremony, I had asked for and held an intention to heal from celiac disease. Since that day my doctor has told me I am about 75 percent healed of this disease that had affected me my entire life.

There was a lot taught about the truth in emotions and about paying attention to what actually feels better in contrast to following what the mind wants. “You had become like a big head dragging your body behind you as if it were an extra appendage whose purpose you had forgotten.” I was told that when you live from the heart work is effortless effort. “Use your mind to figure out how to read a map and get you to the airport in time, but not to choose the location without checking with the heart or deciding what will bring you joy. Happiness is not found on the path of struggle. Set your intention for happiness and then go out and play and your greater good will find you there.”

In my last communion with the spirit of San Pedro, there was insight given about oneness and how we all come from the same one source, reminding me of a quote from the late comedian Bill Hicks: “We all are one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively.”

Meanwhile, during this time whenever one of the members of the group I was sharing the ceremony with came into my line of sight, my mind prepared to put up its deflector shield of aloofness so I could keep to myself and not have to make conversation. Most of my life I held a strong belief that I was socially awkward and didn’t quite fit into the mainstream world of how things are done. I preferred to blend into the background. San Pedro commented on this with amusement. “You don’t recognize yourself do you? You shrink down in fear around people but they are you wearing another face. You are all gods, all of God. You feel separate and it is real but understand that it’s not truth. Your reality is the hallucination. All are playing a role in each other’s drama for learning but you are one being playing all the roles. You are waves in the infinite ocean of one pure Spirit.”

Update, four months later: While not a magic eraser of problems I have seen undeniable evidence over these months that things have improved for the better, and that it’s continuing to do so. Situations like my reaction within a drama that previously would have ungrounded me, setting me back into a pattern of depression or an energy-draining verbal retaliation, the negative “hook” to my old programming, is now more often seen by me from an interested but detached point of view. It’s much easier to let it be as it is and move on. And insights have flowed into my mind, notably during times when something extraordinarily shocking has occurred (as happened recently), and the sense I get is that connection to huachuma’s wisdom never fully leaves.

San Pedro also gave me the gift of seeing the source of the thought patterns that created certain problems for me, and where better choices could be made. It was always clear that it would be up to me to put what was learned into action for it to work its miracle of transformation. Otherwise, what was offered from the medicine as tools for healing would just become interesting “food for thought.”

My San Pedro journeys turned out to be a return ticket to go out of mind. It took me on an endless trip deep into my heart, connecting with my soul and everything else through the oneness of all, carefully losing some of my heavier emotional baggage along the way. I give thanks, too, that this experience is available to anyone who may decide to simply travel to Peru.

Deciding to Live Not Die

This morning I woke up to the gentle pattering of rain against my bedroom window. There was a sense of peace in my heart at the memories of my journey with San Pedro in Cusco. I couldn’t wait to get out of bed to write this down. Words kept flowing effortlessly, like Mozart’s symphonies, waiting to be written.

During spring equinox in 2009 a group of my friends gathered at a retreat somewhere north of Wellington, New Zealand. I was invited to be the weekend’s cook in exchange for the cost of the retreat. Finances had been tight since I decided to return to university that year.

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One night Judith-Anne related to me her experience at our mutual friend’s recent death. She had died of a brain tumor just thirteen weeks after diagnosis. Judith-Anne said that when our friend stopped breathing, every family member in the room broke out in a haka (a traditional Maori chant or challenge) to celebrate her departure from this world. The noise and energy in the room was explosive and Judith-Anne felt the presence of God. After hearing that I was moved to tears and we both had a good cry in each other’s arms.

Following that episode I couldn’t stop thinking about my own mortality. I decided to live a bit more daringly and do some things that I had been too chicken to do. One evening shortly after the retreat, I was having a meeting with some friends and mentioned that I would like to go to Peru to attend Ross Heaven’s workshops, but I couldn’t afford it unless I checked out the money I had been saving for my funeral.

Gwyneth looked at me and said that when I passed on my friends would throw a big healing fair to raise money for my burial, as long as I don’t mind what I got. Sandra chirped in that she thought the kohas (monetary gifts) from the fair would be more than enough to hold a big party and a decent burial, plus a coffin for all my friends to express their creative art on. It was such a hilarious image that we were laughing till our sides hurt. I was so touched by such sincere generosity from my friends that I confidently went and booked my flights and workshops the next day before my mental Scrooge returned.

For someone like me who had never taken recreational drugs nor smoked a joint in my life (being a natural health therapist) many of my close friends thought it was quite an unbelievable thing to go all the way to Peru for ayahuasca and San Pedro ceremonies. But there I was, getting off the plane at Cusco after twelve days in the Amazon jungle getting to know ayahausca.

Outside the airport I was immediately immersed in the high vibration of the place. I saw gold light around people and all over myself. The next day I had a mild headache, which was intensified by drinking coca tea. Everyone recommended this tea for altitude sickness but the more I drank the worse I felt. After breakfast I had a huge headache and when I moved I felt nauseous. I could only walk five steps and my heart was pounding and I was short of breath. I finally got up the steps to the casa where Ross’ group was meeting, and met up with Ross’ assistant who told me that San Pedro would fix my altitude sickness, it did for Ross! I couldn’t wait for to try it. At that point, out of desperation I was willing to drink snake venom just to feel better.

We went to the Temple of the Moon for our first ceremony. The wind was cold and I had a thick blanket with me. Our shaman, La Gringa, gave us a talk about San Pedro. She said that we were drinking Light and that San Pedro would open a doorway to experiencing oneness with nature. Then we received our glass full of this interesting looking liquid, which was thick and tasted a bit bitter. We had to hold the medicine down for forty minutes for it to take effect. Ten minutes after drinking it, however, I was puking in the flowerbeds and started to feel heavy. I grabbed a branch of a plant beside me just for a solid connection to the world in case I lost my mind somewhere, I thought.

From then on my whole body relaxed and I could feel San Pedro’s energy moving through me. I started to cry from some sad feeling of abandonment and aloneness. Then I felt my son holding me and giving me so much love that it moved my soul. Without words I knew that we both had a strong bond and our love will always be there. San Pedro brought it to my conscious mind to know it like an etching on a wall, so solid that I will always remember. Then I experienced love from my close friends from New Zealand.

The journey continued with San Pedro circulating in my body, and I felt my temperature fluctuate and pain surface at different places. La Gringa’s three dogs were present in the garden where we drank, and all were great healers. One of them kept turning up whenever I was in pain. He would park his body along my back and within a few minutes the pain would diminish and he would trot off to minister to another person.

Later, I laid on the mattress with a thick blanket over me, staring at the sky and feeling the wind on my face. The San Pedro songs playing in the garden were like nothing I had ever heard in my life. My whole body received the lyrics and the sounds with joy. I felt I was in oneness with the songwriter’s creation and surfed in a frequency of ecstasy. Man, this body is so cool. San Pedro removed my miserable thoughts and tuned me into ecstasy!

My next San Pedro ceremony was amazing in itself. On this occasion we had two Peruvian musician-healers with us. I held down the drink quite well this time and trusted its power more. The music and chanting took me through ancient landscapes on the wings of a condor. The voices from the healers were sweetly haunting and soulful. I could feel my heart spinning in my chest and a voice in my head said “You are the essence of love and everyone mirrors back to you.” It was so deeply profound and I realized that all that is in my world is a reflection of me. I am the one who gives meaning and purpose to my existence. I am the one responsible for my thoughts and feelings. There was a sense of gratitude inside me for this connection with Pachamama.

At the end of the day the sky opened up and poured with rain. We huddled beneath the canopy of the veranda with a cup of hot tea. It was the happiest day of my life. If there is an opportunity in the future I would love to share a San Pedro experience with my son who is eighteen.

At the end of the workshop five of us traveled to Machu Picchu. It was another amazing adventure, as if Pachamama continued to present us with her generous gifts of love.

When I was on the plane leaving Cusco I looked out the window and saw another plane with Machu Picchu painted on its tail. Tears rolled down my face. I cried not from sadness at leaving this place but from gratitude. I had thought that this place was a hell hole when I arrived and had experienced such altitude sickness but now I felt utter gratitude for all it had given me: a precious deep sense of love for myself and my world. I also felt that my journey to Peru and with San Pedro wasn’t just for me. I had drunk it for those at home too who couldn’t come personally. To my surprise many of my loved ones felt a strong heart connection to me during my absence, they told me later.

Peru is such a gentle, heart-centered place, and those who ran the San Pedro ceremonies were so kind and caring, making it a safe haven for us to journey into ourselves. A special magic came home with me and it is still working beautifully in my life.

Preventing cancer and overcoming self-limitations

My intention for the San Pedro ceremony was clear for me. I wanted heal my throat. For seven months I suffered swollen glands and a sore throat and being as a serious smoker I was concerned that it might be cancer. Antibiotics failed, oregano oil took down the glands a little but the sore throat remained and I was constantly fighting the glands.

The day of ceremony I made my intention to the universe and when La Gringa offered her prayers [to open the ceremony] I saw her lock eyes with me as she said “you don’t need me to heal you, you can heal yourself”.

It must have been 10 hours later [when the ceremony ended] that I remembered her words and I was amazed at how much time had passed with San Pedro. Then I thought of my throat and realised it was 80% better.

Knowing that San Pedro keeps talking to you even days after a ceremony I said to San Pedro, “I am listening, I know there is more for me to learn”. Then I remembered that the week before I had read a book which talked about the ‘upper limit problem’. In short, we all have our personal thermostat of what amount of happiness, success or love we will allow ourselves to experience. I knew this, of course since I am a coach and when I work with clients this sort of subject often comes up but I realised in this moment that I had never reflected on how this affected me personally. I hadn’t checked my own thermostat in years!

Suddenly the penny dropped! I had gotten this sore throat the very day I had finished my most recent training and completed my website. I was in business and overjoyed! But because of my own upper limit setting, that same day I created a health problem to keep myself within my own unconscious boundary and limit the success I could achieve. The moment I made this connection my throat problem was gone! I love both that it healed and that San Pedro gave me this lesson.

It really is the most amazing journey. It shows you how you are intimately connected to all and how you have actively been creating your own lessons your whole existence. Rarely in life do we take time to lean into our emotions, to connect the dots. But when we do the truth is revealed. To help us the universe has provided us with this gift: a plant called San Pedro.

How to save a life and make money the easy way, through faith and San Pedro

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I decided to go [from Mexico] to Peru for December 2014 to January 2015 but just before I got onto the plane I heard that one of my co-workers, Fernanda, aged 23, needed emergency heart surgery within the next four months or she would die, but that it would cost $350,000 US which neither her or her family could afford. On top of this, the Mexican peso had just had a big depression compared to the US dollar, so for us Mexicans that was a really big sum of money.

And yet it was a matter of life or death. I was really concerned but I wasn´t sure if I could do anything. I knew I had to help but I didn´t know how. So I took my plane to Cusco and I drank San Pedro and I literally talked to God. I felt an immense kind of joy, an orgasmic one, during our conversation. God told me that I had to make a fundraiser for Fernanda, that this situation would also be an exceptional gift for me, and that all the joy I was feeling in that moment would remain with me during the whole process of fundraising.

I got pretty scared, I felt overwhelmed and very dizzy, but then God told me to have faith in myself. But He also told me that I had free will and could say no to His proposal, and I was about to but then He told me “For this cause I will put an Army of Angels at your service; many people will embrace the cause because of you and the Army of Angels who are about to come into your heart if you open it now and say YES”.

I ran to Mark [the shaman at the ceremony] and told him what had happened, and that I just couldn’t do what San Pedro and God were asking of me and he just said “Well, sorry, but if san Pedro tells you to do something you MUST do it!” Then I looked up and saw an Army of Angels commanded by four big Archangels, they were dancing in the sky and flying towards me. So I said YES.

Then I began to panic at my commitment to God and I asked myself a lot of questions, like how should I start? What should I do? Because I had never raised money for any cause before. Through San Pedro, God answered me. He told me to keep my eyes and heart open and that ideas would pop into my head, amazing people would enter my life and help make it happen, and the Army of Angels would remain with me until March 20 and on that day I would have all the money Fernanda needed.

So I got back to Mexico excited but still with no idea how to start. I told my friends Michelle, Georgina, Macarena and Rosy what had happened and invited them to help me and without blinking an eye or asking any questions they all said YES. I understood then that they were the four Archangels I had seen on San Pedro day, and they were leading other Angels. Yet out the four of them, only Macarena knew about fundraising.

The first days were difficult, we didn’t know how to start; no one in the campaign knew how to do it. So on January 22 I went and saw Fernanda and I took a piece of paper and wrote a prayer on it “I want her heart to keep beating. Please help us. Latiendo Por Fer (Beating For Fer)” and I asked a girl from our office to take our picture with the sign. The girl was really moved so after taking our picture she said “I also want a picture with Fernanda and that sign to put on my Facebook page”. So that’s how everything began, suddenly all the office was taking pictures with my sign and Fernanda and uploading them on their Facebook pages to help us raise money. That was the first time I saw the Army of Angels in action.

One day we got call from an important guy in Mexico who must have seen this. He promised us a big donation but he wasn’t able to meet us for days and I became so disappointed and tired after going every day to his home to try to see him. We were already in February and God had told me in the San Pedro ceremony that the Army of Angels would only remain with me until March 20 and the campaign would end then, yet we had only raised $22,929 US so far. That night I cried in anguish and I dared to tell God “I am out now, I´m done!” But still the next day I went again to try to see the guy, saying to myself all the time “This is the last time you try with this guy”. And guess what, it really was the last time because on that day he could see me and he gave me $60,000 US!

But the most exciting thing of that day was still about to happen. After giving me the donation he invited me into one of his favourite rooms. It turns out that he was an Angel collector! It was a beautiful room with figures of Angels everywhere. Archangels, Angels, cherubs, on tables, on walls, on shelves, EVERYWHERE! The experience of my San Pedro day in Peru came back to me and I just felt the same amazing joy again. It was a pretty clear message to me: “There is an Army of Angels behind you. Do not give up!”

So a lot of Angels came into the campaign, we called them Urban Angels. There were still some very difficult days as we all felt the stress at the core of Latiendo Por Fer – fights, tears, dramas, etc, but every time I nearly said again “I am really done with this now, I am out!”, God sent me help. National TV shows came knocking to interview Fernanda about her condition, newspapers got interested. One time a national paper actually used the headline “An Army of Angels are doing everything they can to save Fernanda”. I told nobody about the Army of Angels that I saw in Cusco so it was clearly another message for me. Keep going.

Then God sent me another gift. After three really bad days we got a call from Molotov, my favourite rock band of all time! They joined the cause and began doing concerts for Fernanda and from the stage they asked their fans to buy the little heart-shaped keyrings we had had made with the slogan Latiendo Por Fer: Beating For Fer. As an extra gift for me I got to meet the band, my heroes, several times!

In Cusco God really told me the truth that during the campaign I would feel the same orgasmic joy that I felt at the San Pedro ceremony, without even taking any substance at all. That feeling is so amazing that I do not have words in English or in Spanish to describe it.

Then came March 20 and just as God had promised, we made it. In fact we crossed the goal and on that day we had $361,214 US! Fernanda had her surgery and she is ALIVE!!! Fernanda’s last words to me before she flew to Rochester Mayo Clinic were “You are a superhero, thank you for saving my life”, and I felt it for real then – because I really did. Me! I saved someone’s life! Her father´s words to me were “Thank you for being a sister and mother to my child”.

Other than doctors very few people have the grace to save a human life and I am so grateful to San Pedro because it showed me how I could and it cleaned and revived my relationship with God on such a level that I could trust in His plans for me and follow His instructions. Nowadays, many of us have lost our connection to God, to our Mother Earth and even to our humanity. For me San Pedro was the KEY to open the door to where my humanity was hidden and to realize that I am an important piece in the world and that if I listen to God and the divine in myself I will be free and infinitely happy – as I am right now. San Pedro showed me that nothing is impossible.

Walking again

(Tomas, the author here, arrived to drink San Pedro, using a walking stick because he found movement difficult. At the end of the day he threw away his cane and began to walk almost normally.)

To give a little introduction to “what happened to me” and how I was before, I had surgery for a cist inside my spinal cord at the cervical level, which left a scar on my spine that led to difficulty moving my left side and to sensory alterations, like feeling my limbs numb, or even not feeling pain, heat or cold on my right arm, legs and feet, like I was floating on a cloud. Sometimes it was hard to place my left foot on the ground without direct view of it. All this was really improved with San Pedro.

San Pedro was most healing for my nervous system. [After drinking it] I started feeling the pressure of the floor on my feet, my muscles relaxed, and I recovered a lot of sensitivity in my body. [It felt like] six months of [physio]therapy in that single week. San Pedro also helped me realise I can trust my body, and that helps a lot at moving around.

I [still] go slowly but with better movement quality, which is what matters. I even started using my left hand in more tasks like typing in the cellphone or holding the railing of the bus when I travel standing, and I reach higher things now like cabinet doors or washing my head with my left arm, so I really got in charge of my recovery. Things have been clearing up and I know that if I could do more with San Pedro it would get me healed in no time.

Healing epilepsy and addiction by loving oneself

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Back in April 2015 I was very ill, physically and mentally. I was addicted to opiate painkillers prescribed by my doctor and had been taking very large doses of Codeine every day since 2006. I was taking Clobazam and Epilim to reduce the amount of petit mal and grand mal epileptic seizures I was having. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009 and had been taking 200mg of Sertraline (a SRI Antidepressant) ever since my diagnosis. I was taking Calci-chew tablets every day and an Andrenoic Acid tablet every week for osteoporosis. I was taking Omeprazole capsules every day for heart burn/gastro problems. I had been using a steroid inhaler every day and I was using my blue Salbutamol several times a day. My mum had been told by a kidney specialist that she had 12 months to live and my dad, who was mum’s full-time carer had started having symptoms of dementia. I felt powerless and deeply depressed, I was just waiting for my mum and dad to die before I could give myself permission to end my own life. I have always been an introvert but I was now so withdrawn I had almost become agoraphobic, only leaving my parent’s home on a Monday to work for Amnesty International and once a month I’d travel up to Birmingham. My mum had become an agoraphobic after my nan and grandad died when I was 10 and now I was the one who found it very challenging to leave the house.

I had read a lot about an English-born shaman called Ross Heaven and the plant teachers he used with his clients – salvia, ayahuasca and San Pedro. I knew that thousands of people had experienced amazing healings with ayahuasca and San Pedro. I cashed in my savings and booked on a 10-day course, “The Three Great Plant Teachers” with Ross in Spain. Ross sent me an information pack via email and informed me that I had stop taking my SRI anti-depressants at least a month before drinking ayahuasca and to stop taking opiates. I gradually cut down my dose of Sertraline and starting taking kratom as I slowly lowered my dose of Codeine. I took my last Sertraline tablet at the end of May but unfortunately I was now addicted to kratom taking larger and larger doses. I had managed to come off the opiates early but I had simply swapped one addiction for another. As soon as the kratom started to wear off I felt very depressed and I was in a lot of back pain. By the start of July I was taking a large dose of kratom three times a day. I stopped taking kratom when I started my strict plant-based diet a week before I left for Spain.

When I woke up in Spain, I was so depressed I didn’t realise how lucky I was, with the benefit of hindsight. I had my breakfast (porridge oats with water) in a gorgeous valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, trees and flowers underneath blue skies with lovely warm Spanish sunshine. I was feeling very anxious and my whole body was aching. I put on a brave face and acted confident as I met others who were on the 10-day course and finally met the shaman – Ross Heaven. I was surprised how nice and friendly he was when he shook my hand, he smiled and said “Hi I’m Ross.” After following Ross on Facebook for a long time, I was expecting a more provocative and less compassionate person.

After breakfast we all had a circle meeting, Ross introduced himself and described his background from Big Pharma salesman to shaman. Then each participant introduced her or himself, going around the circle one person at a time and explaining why they were there. I was getting more and more anxious as it got closer to my turn to speak. I almost had to run to the toilet and I was thinking to myself “Who the F*** are you?”, “I don’t belong here!” and “I am nothing.” Stupid stories I had been telling myself for years were running through my head. As I began to introduce myself I decided to share my most shameful secret to a group of strangers, something I had never talked about before. I was sexually abused by my ‘bodybuilding coach’ when I was a teenager and had felt too ashamed to tell anyone for over 20 years. Once I said it, I poured it all out and felt a huge sense of relief. Everyone in the room was compassionate and non-judgemental.

“On the evening of my first ayahuasca journey, Ross advised me to drink only half a cup because I was taking epilepsy medication and because of my history of having seizures. I drank half a cup of the medicine and after what seemed a very long time of hearing a lot of crying and purging in the room, the shaman asked if anyone would like a second cup. As soon as I drank my second half cup I lay back in my position in the circle in the pitch black feeling very nauseous and suffering from a stomach ache. Within a few minutes Ross starting singing a beautiful icaro next to me and my visions started. I first saw flashing lights in the distance and as they got closer I noticed they moved and looked like snakes. Up until that moment I had had a phobia of all snakes (not just the dangerous ones) and suddenly I realised how silly that was. I then felt Ross tapping my stomach with what felt like bamboo leaves while singing another beautiful icaro. Ross then did some more healing on my stomach and my stomach ache was gone. Ross held my head and my visions got a lot more intense as he sucked the side of my head and purged out my epilepsy.

I had very vivid visions of my brain and the snakes were now neurons travelling through my brain. When Ross sang the words “choose one” from his icaro for the ‘Thousands of Healing Flowers’, ayahuasca showed me tobacco and that I didn’t need to take any drugs for epilepsy. I had only started smoking two days before my ayahuasca journey and my rational mind had been struggling with it until that point. Ayahuasca helped me understand that smoking additive-free natural tobacco was good for me and I have smoked ever since.

I also haven’t taken any medication since that day three months ago. I realised that all health problems are psychosomatic. I had created all of my health problems due to my belief system and by not dealing with old traumas. I had previously heard ‘new-agers’ talk of dis-ease. I hadn’t felt at ease since I was 10 when my nan and grandad were still alive. This was also the time I had begun to feel very small and weak, which led to decades of body dysmorphia. No matter how big and strong I got, I always felt small and weak. If I loved myself, loved my body, I would finally feel at ease with myself. Things would get easier and flow better.

I came home from Spain on a real high. I was now medication/drug free for the first time in over 25 years. I was feeling very happy, healthy and optimistic. Unfortunately when I told my family that I no longer needed my medication they thought I had gone mad and started to worry about me. My sister got angry with me and a friend made fun of what he called my “Psychedelic Detox” in Spain. He saw it as a contradiction and an “oxymoron”. I felt frustrated that people lacked faith in my healing but they had plenty of faith in Big Pharma and Western medicine. My frustration gradually turned to depression, insomnia and losing my confidence again. I realised I had a lot more healing work to do and paid my deposit to attend a shamanic healing retreat with Ross Heaven and La Gringa in Peru. I set part of my intention for the trip to find the strength to care for my parents while shielding myself against (what I then considered) their “doom and gloom negativity”…

After drinking San Pedro [in Peru] though, I realised that I needed to change, not my parents or anybody else.

I sat on a really comfortable swing seat in the Mountain House garden with my arms stretched out to my sides while stretching out my back. I had a vision of Jesus being crucified on the cross and imagined how he must have felt. While he was being tortured/crucified, Jesus said “forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” I thought about everyone who had ever hurt me and everyone I’d hurt in my life. Every single person who had hurt me had themselves been hurt. They didn’t know what they were doing. Meanwhile, I was projecting my ‘shadow’ and emotionally reacting when I upset others. I decided to forgive everyone, including myself. The Kingdom of God is Within You, within all of us. Everybody I meet is a potential teacher who has God within them. I decided to stay humble and to listen and learn from everyone I meet……

My last San Pedro journey was the most healing day of my life. As the effects began I had a memory of the last time I went to my nan and grandad’s flat. It was a week before my nan died of an asthma attack and three weeks before my grandad died from bladder cancer. I was 10 years old and I remember standing next to my grandad in the bathroom, he was urinating blood, out of breath and looked in pain. I was so shocked I didn’t say anything and acted as if everything was normal. I remembered my dad breaking the news of my nans death to my mum a week later and how much I wanted to take away mum’s pain. I remembered how weak and useless I felt at the time.

I still felt weak and useless when I won numerous bodybuilding contests years later. I felt like a loser and became depressed after I only placed 2nd in the Mr Britain contest. After nearly 30 years of martial arts training, 14 years of working in the security industry, on the doors in pubs and clubs, I still had a lot of fear and very little real confidence (only macho acting). I then remembered the last time I saw my grandad, he was in hospital and having a blood transfusion. I felt very shy and sad, I couldn’t speak. I just sat on the ward next to my grandad’s bed and stared at the TV. There was no sound and my dad said “Why don’t you ask grandad if he can get someone to turn up the volume?” I just shook my head and carried on watching the TV, trying to distract myself from looking at my grandad. Before I left with my mum and dad I gave my grandad a kiss but I couldn’t say “Goodbye”.

I cried uncontrollably as I remembered all of that and carried on crying for what seemed like a long time. I felt that my nan and grandad’s spirit was with me in the ceremony room, I clearly visualised them both and said “Goodbye” to them. I felt a pain in the back of my head all the time I was crying. I realised I had been stopping myself from crying since I was 10 and that was what caused me to have epilepsy. As I realised this, I had a strong smell of agua florida and opened my eyes. Ross was sat next to me and poured some into my hands. I put my hands to my face, took a deep breath in through my nose and rubbed the agua florida into the back of my head. I quietly told Ross about my headache and how I had stopped myself from crying for decades. Ross did some healing on my head, my headache disappeared and I felt a rush of pleasant light-headedness – a kind of dizziness as all the decades of stress left my head. I realised I had been shy since I was 10 and there was no need to feel shy anymore. I went into the garden to smoke and I realised what a powerful, loving, confident man I really am – a Wounded Healer.

I have made sure every person I have come into contact with since that day has gone away feeling a little bit better. I have made new friends and now enjoy meeting new people and chatting with customers at the Amnesty International shop where I volunteer. I have written a couple of short sci-fi stories, I make up songs and games for my nieces every day and I have love and respect for everyone I meet. I feel at peace with myself for the first time in my life – and this is just the beginning. “I can see clearly now the rain has gone, I see all obstacles in my way…” San Pedro taught me how to do that and the great Grandfather is flowing through me every day.

My dad’s dementia and mum’s illness are a still bit of a challenge for me, although I haven’t felt angry or depressed once since getting home. I am looking forward to my 40th birthday next year and I’m very optimistic about my future. Thank you Ross, thank you La Gringa and most of all thank you Grandad Pedro. I thought ayahuasca was magic but San Pedro is the ultimate healer.

Rebirth into who I am

I want to tell you everything San Pedro showed me. I was a little discouraged yesterday when I randomly heard it is very important to keep your feet on the ground when drinking San Pedro – this is exactly what I enjoyed the most NOT doing! Anyhow, I believe there is no wrong way to go, the more one can open, the more one will see and experience and that can only be wonderful right?

It’s difficult to put in words what I have seen and experienced with San Pedro. It’s taken me so much further than words can ever say and still today I keep learning from it. My first San Pedro experience was very physical. I could feel San Pedro caressing every part, cell, of my body, it was a WOW feeling. My intention before I drank was for San Pedro to show me a way to be happy and I could not stop smiling for 12 hours. It was more than a happy feeling, it was a complete connection with everything around me, especially nature. Sometimes the love coming from the plants and trees was just overwhelming. It was a connection with my own love and the love of the universe and our planet, and it was all just beautiful. I had also put intentions into healing my past and to make me understand why I had to go through the things I have. San Pedro did show me but it wasn’t until the second time I drank San Pedro that I fully understood the answers San Pedro had given.

On my first session I was experiencing a complete rebirth, I saw myself as a new-born or before I was born, and I felt contractions and problems breathing. I was giving birth to myself, it was confusing and beautiful at the same time. I have never given birth before so I didn’t know how to interpret this until days later. I believe San Pedro showed me myself in my purest state to understand who I am and that no matter what happens to me along the way I have to remember who I am. I also believe San Pedro wanted to give me a fresh start, a new beginning, a second chance and to show me I am always able to change my life whenever I want to. Also San Pedro showed me clearly that my future now is much more important to me than my past and I need to let go of my past sufferings to put that energy into this moment and the future. I also had almost a 12 hour orgasm, very nice! It was well needed and reminded me my body is not only a vessel and to not forget about my own pleasures and to enjoy this wonderful body given to me.

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I didn’t know if this was unusual or weird as my experience was nothing like my friends experiences. It wasn’t until my second San Pedro session that you told me San Pedro is rebirth. My second San Pedro experience was not so physical but more astral. I was traveling back in my past lives. I was now able to understand why I have scars on my lungs, something that has been hurting me for as long as they have appeared, at age 13. Before that I was abused by my brother so I never understood why I had to live through all these physical and mental sufferings. This time San Pedro was very clear in showing me why I had these problems breathing. I felt I was in Egypt and I saw this young girl laying in a coffin which was almost formed around her body. I was feeling proud, full of energy, confused and very afraid and panicked all at the same time. I was panicking because I couldn’t breathe as I was buried alive. I could see my brother crying over my grave, devastated for losing me. That explains to me why he came back to me as my brother in this life and why he has the feelings for me that he does. All this information came to me very clearly and to me it made perfect sense. I didn’t know how to comfort the girl in the coffin. I tried breathing for her, held her hand. I even told her she can come with me and be part of me and experience love in this life with me. I felt as if she was sad because she would miss out on love and to have a family so I promised her she will have all that with me in this life. I can feel her being part of me now.

HEALING WITH SALVIA DIVINORUM

Thoughts Create Reality

When he first smoked Salvia as part of a diet to help with problems related to social anxiety, John felt an immediate impact. ‘Some sort of brain surgery was performed on me’, was how he later described it, where he became aware of ‘the karmic circle of thoughts and how they get trapped in my head. There was something chaotic in my head that needed to be worked on. It was painful, being awake on the operating table, but that passed too. I realized that billions of thoughts are floating around us all the time, and we can cherry-pick them. When we choose one to latch onto we take ownership of it and then it becomes us. With Salvia objectiveness it is easier, if that thought doesn’t serve us, to just pick another.’

He became aware, that is, of how thoughts actually create reality – for example, that he would become anxious before entering a social situation and, as a result of that, think and act clumsily when he got there, so creating a ‘real’ anxiety. To deal with this he would drink to soothe his nerves, but this usually led to more problems as he got drunk, and therefore to further anxiety. Eventually, something which did not originally exist (since there was nothing to be anxious about before he left the house for his social engagement, as it hadn’t yet even happened) became something real purely though the power of his imagination. This is what he meant by his ‘karmic circle of thoughts’: he was trapped in a loop of unhelpful thinking and action.

What he realised through Salvia, however, is that there are billions of thoughts floating around us and we can choose whichever we want. (We create our universe moment by moment through our choices). Once he understood this it was easy for John to dismiss his anxiety altogether by breaking his usual circle of thoughts. In fact, on the last night of his diet a film crew arrived from England to interview Ross and record our ceremony, and John led some of it. For a young man with a history of anxiety just a few days before to be leading a ceremony on camera was a big step forward.

Depression and Inferiority

Anton joined me to heal a long-standing problem with depression and feelings of inferiority, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts. He looked terrified as soon as he smoked Salvia and it seemed clear that the plant was taking a very direct, even confrontational approach to his healing. In response, Anton became confrontational too. He stood up; using his hands to scrape some invisible substance from his arms and legs. (He explained later that he was trying to remove a ‘new order of reality’ that he saw engulfing his body). He then began speaking to me in a demanding way (there was certainly nothing ‘inferior’ about him now). I stood up too and held eye contact but did not interfere with his process.

‘Reality was immediately cut in half,’ he said later. ‘I was [cut in half] too and a new atomic universe took hold of my right side. I was afraid and began to try to tear it off me. Ross was not Ross, it was just a name he called himself. I couldn’t even say he was human. I began speaking, asking, ‘Who opened the interdimensional gateways?’ Then I became the guardian of those gateways and was trying to stop Ross, saying, ‘No, you can’t enter. This is playing with fire’. It scared me to realise how small this reality is and how thin – like a crust around something that contains all we know.’

It seemed to me, in fact, that Salvia was showing Anton his beliefs about himself: the limitations he had allowed to engulf him in his life, ‘like a crust’ beneath which there was something bigger and much more powerful. He agreed. ‘There was something more [and] it was fathomless. The nothingness I saw was full… I felt better when I went outside to look at the stars and I was in awe of the sky. The beauty I saw was indescribable. Flowers blossomed from my heart and I felt Salvia as an ally inside me. She gave me a new sacred name. Today I feel I love everyone. My intention was to be fulfilled and I am.’

The outcome of his journey was that Anton felt a greater connection to everyone, and on their level too, not as inferior to them. He was able to see the beauty of the world, and of himself as part of it, and to feel love and fulfilment. These feelings were in many ways new to Anton and perhaps only the first steps on his path to recovery (or, more accurately, rediscovery), but they were also real and immediate and they gave him something powerful and positive to build from.

How to do Things Right

Marla’s intention was to become more balanced and achieve her potential. The Salvia seemed to have less impact on her and she felt that she was able to ‘observe my own reaction to the whole process’. Later, she commented that: “I was very concerned that I hadn’t smoked it right because I had no great visions or psychedelic effects but then I realized that I was speaking, except my words weren’t words. And I had the sensation that I was in two places at once, and that I wanted to be [in both places simultaneously], so something was happening. My body was filled with pins and needles and reality became metallic, matrix-like, as if it had been programmed on a computer.

“I understood that I wanted to be in two places at once because I had lost so much of my life to depression and I wanted to make up for it. I wanted to share my experience immediately with others as well and I realize now that was because my parents had never listened to me. They always wanted me to do things in the ‘right’ way, and [because of this] I wanted to check with others to be sure I’d had the ‘correct’ Salvia experience. I have never been certain that I’m OK and good enough. I have always needed confirmation and security.”

Again it seems obvious now (but during the Salvia journey it is very easy to miss the ‘obvious’, which is why a period of quiet reflection is important afterwards) that Marla’s desire for balance had to do with her childhood experience of her parents, symbolised in her journey by her need to be in two places at once; that is, to please her mother and father at the same time who, it transpired, often had opposing views and rarely took her into account. ‘[They] never listened to me.’ During her Salvia journey her overriding concern had been to know that she’d had the ‘correct’ experience (even though there is no ‘correct’ experience) – i.e. whether she had done the ‘right’ thing or been ‘good enough’.

Unlike her fellow participants Marla received no wild visions – hardly any visions at all, in fact, except of a reality that was cold and metallic (no doubt symbolic of her family home) – ‘as if it had been programmed on a computer’ – but nor did she need them because the experience of her journey was the message. From it she learned more about the roots of her depression and gained insight into why she wanted to be ‘in two places at once’. To understand this and then let it go was the first step for her in achieving the potential it was her intention to find.

What Did I Do Wrong?

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Within seconds of smoking Lela began to moan, then she started crawling across the floor and making slow sideways and forward rolls, head over heels. Eventually she stood and walked unsteadily to the door. I followed her outside where, still standing, she began spinning, arms out at her sides, repeating the words, ‘Mother [Salvia], what did I do wrong? Ross, what mistake did I make? Please forgive me, forgive me.’ I stayed with her throughout her journey to make sure she was OK.

She said later, during our guidance session, that, ‘I didn’t notice the transition from this world to SalviaWorld, but then I was flying over the room seeing it like I was an aerial camera… I saw circles, which joined together and became 8s, with the top and bottom rotating in different directions. I felt myself being circles. Who am I? I remembered I had a relationship and a life but then the circles came back and consumed all that. I realized that circling is no fun. In the centre of the 8 I was whole again, and things were still. Then I could see that inside the circles were lots of different life scenes, and I could join any of them.

‘I asked Salvia how long this would last. The plant said: It is infinite. I asked what the point of it all was. Salvia said: None. I was standing up by then and asked if I had done something wrong. Salvia said: No. But I started to say sorry anyway… I also remember asking ‘Why is this so painful?’ and ‘Why a baby?’ but I don’t remember the answers.’

At this point I interjected to ask a question that I thought was central to the story that Salvia was telling her, ‘Why did you need to be forgiven?’ She began to cry. “Some years ago I was pregnant and I lost the child. I was asking Salvia why [‘Why a baby?’] and what I did wrong. Salvia said: Nothing. I asked what the point was of this loss and Salvia said There is no point. When I asked for forgiveness the plant answered There are no guilty people and there is no reason for anything. I have a strong mind and am driven to find the reason for everything; there must always be a solution, but Salvia said There are no answers to find. I felt better from this. I knew it wasn’t my fault that my child had died.

“What I got from the circles is that we can experience the whole of life from the void before we are even born so there really is no point to life or birth because we can stop the circles at any moment where we already are and perceive the realities they contain. We don’t even need a body…

“In the morning I went into the garden, and I could talk to every plant. I knew its destiny. The day before I had watered these plants but I knew now that it really wouldn’t make any difference. The plants had… chosen their own lives so I couldn’t change the thoughts or the fate of them or anything else. But still I can make a choice to do whatever I want, to water them if I wish… All of life is ultimately pointless and unnecessary but it is an adventure we can have and enjoy.”

Lela lost her child many years before this journey and had no conscious awareness now of continuing emotional pain because of it. When she joined the workshop, however, she had physical problems which she wanted to heal and was also very unemotional and ‘in her head’ (As she said: ‘I have a strong mind and am driven to find the reason for everything’). What her example shows, therefore, is how deeply we can repress our pain and shame (our need to be ‘forgiven’) and the impact on our total body system when we do so – the physical pains which can result, as well as the suppression of emotion and a sort of disappearance into our minds so we are not fully present or whole. It also shows how deep Salvia will go to find a solution, how direct the plant is in finding it, and how quickly it heals. By the next day Lela looked and acted as if a weight had been lifted from her. She had learned – at an emotional level, rather than through her mind (which was her usual way of responding to the world) – that there was no point to her loss, no answers to seek, and that there was no need for guilt or forgiveness either: There are no guilty people and there is no reason for anything. She knew then that ‘it wasn’t my fault that my child had died’.

With this more relaxed, philosophical perspective, she began immediately to come back into alignment, enjoying the garden, for example, instead of feeling a need to water every plant; accepting that ‘I couldn’t change the thoughts or the fate of… anything’, but that ‘I can make a choice to do whatever I want’ and that while life is indeed ‘ultimately pointless’ it is still ‘an adventure we can have and enjoy’.

This new worldview was a massive shift in Lela’s consciousness and, once again, is worth years of more orthodox psychotherapy (an approach which may even have been counterproductive to Lela since it often takes us further into our thoughts and memories instead of our feelings) to get her to this state of emotional connection and simple enjoyment of life.

In Lela’s example, then, as in some of the others above, we can also see the different levels at which plants heal: as a medicine which has a straightforward and positive effect on the body; as an ally, showing Lela a new part of herself (a repressed emotion, personality or drive that she had kept hidden from herself); as a guide to other plants, leading her, as a form of therapy itself, into a deeper connection with the garden and to a more philosophical instead of a ‘mechanical’ relationship with the plants there; and finally, as a doorway to new understanding, revealing the deepest truths: that there is no point to life – and that’s OK.

HEALING WITH AYAHUASCA

The power of ayahuasca and the healing regime which surrounds it is encapsulated to some extent in the feedback I receive from participants on my retreats in Peru where we work with ayahuasceros in the Amazon and the San Pedro curanderos of the Andes. This is some of it:

This experience was one of the most transformative of my life and the healing and self-exploration I did was unlike any I have experienced before. It is impossible to describe what an ayahuasca journey is like but it is something that anyone on a voyage of self-discovery should consider. The jungle is awe-inspiring but it is in the journey that the true magic lies.

Eleanor Niblock, journalist, writing in Green Events magazine, UK

My last journey with the vine was so mind-blowingly beautiful that I laughed, danced and cried tears of sheer joy. It really let me see the beauty and magic of the world.

Ross, photographer, Scotland

The whole experience has profoundly enlightened and changed me. I’ve just welled up with tears at the prospect of sharing it all again with you!

Emer, social worker, Ireland

I am the happiest man I know! I asked for love and received it! You can’t imagine how Peru changed who I am and brought out the real me!

Heath, financial consultant, Australia

People ask ‘How was the trip’ – and what do you answer??? No words can do it justice. There are too many experiences – and none would shed light on my true feelings! The stillness I feel now and the lack of rush is incredible. What we experienced was something so special – and life just keeps getting better.

Linzi, health and fashion consultant and TV presenter, UK

An experience that changed my life for the better. It is hard to describe something so magical but I will draw from it for the rest of my days.

Annette, stables owner, USA

Ecstasy and euphoria rolled into one. Thank you from every depth of my heart for the loving, profound, and lasting healing I received. You gave me back my life.

Stafford, retired, UK

Ayahuasca was the most powerful medicine and marked the beginning of a new era of integrity for me. My whole life has shifted in fantastically powerful ways.

Marc, restaurant worker, Australia

My own introduction to ayahuasca was in 1998. Like many other dissatisfied Westerners, disillusioned with my job, my relationships, and feeling let down by the world in general, I made the pilgrimage to Peru to find new meaning and direction for my life. The story of my own adventure is told in my book Drinking the Four Winds so it’s enough here to simply say that it worked, leading to a radical change in career and to a number of other decisions which shaped my life (and continue to) in a whole new way. What is more interesting here though is that on that first journey there was also a young woman at our retreat centre who had come for help with a serious physical problem. This was years ago and, sadly, I can’t remember her name now so let’s call her Gail.

Gail’s Story

Gail was incredibly brave. She arrived in the jungle in a wheelchair, a result of paralysis due to a brain tumour. She had undergone treatment for it, which had led to her hair falling out and problems with her skin, but it had not helped her at all. Eventually the treatment was discontinued and her doctors told her she now had just a few months to live.

This, incidentally, is a curse; something that Western doctors do often with their diagnoses and prognoses. We understand enough now about human psychology and ‘obedience to authority’ through the work of Milgram, Zimbardo and many more recent studies to know that the words of an ‘expert’ are often regarded not just as advice or information but as instructions and orders. Where people believe and accept them, as they usually do from an expert, the words themselves can create the very outcome they describe: a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are even cases of perfectly healthy people becoming seriously ill or worse because their doctor effectively told them to. Just because an expert tells us something, however, it does not mean that it has to happen (as Gail’s story suggests.) Nevertheless, she had come to the rainforest not so much expecting a cure but for an adventure in the final days of her life.

The shaman for our first ceremony was an ayahuascero called Javier. He was only contracted for one ceremony and then had to leave for appointments elsewhere while a new curandero joined our group. Something happened to Javier during that first ceremony though: having drunk ayahuasca he was visited by his spirits who told him that Gina could be cured and that he could cure her. So in the morning he cancelled his other engagements and asked if he could stay on with us. He didn’t ask for further payments (although we paid him, of course), he just wanted to help. From that moment he became Gail’s private physician while other shamans took over the ceremonies for the rest of our group as planned.

Javier worked tirelessly for Gail. Walking out into the jungle each morning to fetch fresh herbs for her treatments, he made a balm for her skin, a lotion for her scalp, and found medicines for her diet. In the evenings, following the guidance of his spirits, he held private ceremonies for her, delivering whatever healing was required.

We didn’t see Gail all week but at the end of this period she re-emerged, and she was walking. She used a stick to steady herself and her movements were stiff but she was out of her wheelchair. Her skin was also noticeably improved, with no more dry patches and redness, and her hair was growing back, after one week to a length of an inch or so in contrast to almost total baldness before. When she returned home from Peru she went for a medical check-up and an X-ray confirmed that her tumour had shrunk in size.

This was an amazing success for Gail, for her healer and for ayahuasca, but before we get too carried away and start talking about ‘miracle cures’ I want to be clear that Gail still eventually died. What is significant, however, is that she lived for a further six years when her Western doctors had given her just a few weeks. She was able to enjoy those years too, as an independent woman, able to walk and care for herself, and with her beauty and freshness restored. She used her new lease of life to travel the world and have adventures and love affairs as any young woman might. When she died, she died happy; something her doctors would have denied her.

Tracie’s Story

Tracie is an Australian woman with another success story to tell as a result of her recovery, through ayahuasca and other plants, from a quite different disease: alcoholism and drug addiction. She writes: I had a traumatic childhood which led to a 30-year relationship with drugs and alcohol. I have used just about everything but my substance of choice was heroin. I used it on and off from the age of 16 until my last dabble at the age of 35. Every time I gave up heroin I did so using alcohol and I continued to be an addict for another 10 years…

It took me years to realise that I even had a problem and more years before I could feel my own emptiness. Then it dawned on me that I had nothing going on inside. Somewhere in the trauma of my childhood I had chosen not to feel and in that choosing I had lost touch with myself. I mistook the highs and lows of addiction, the flush of infatuation, the pride of the pay-packet and the thrill of anything fast or dangerous as true feeling and emotion… I was what therapists call a high-functioning addict. I’ve also had two successful seven-year relationships. One ended because of my heroin use and the last because of alcohol. I did a lot of running away…

I stayed in Korea for three years and in that time I was hospitalised twice, drunk and delusional, and was put into a mental institution where no-one spoke English. It was terrifying. Some of the women there had been totally abandoned by their families and left alone for 15 or 20 years. This was probably my lowest point but I still had a few years of drinking to do before seeking help. I was scared of myself and for myself… Then one day I woke up and actually woke up. I realised that this was it, my life, forever. I went straight to my doctor and asked for help… the longest, hardest, most successful rehabilitation programme available. He told me that the success rate was the same for all of them… just 30 percent.

Shocked and dismayed at this low success rate she nonetheless signed up for the toughest programme she could find: the 10-month Bridge Program run by the Salvation Army. As it was to turn out, Tracie was one of the lucky ones: the 30 percent that rehabilitation like this can help. The other nine women who started the treatment with her were not so fortunate. ‘After one month we were down to seven; after three months we were down to five and by the end of the sixth month there were just three of us… Rachael, Kim and I were the lucky ones…’ Within two months of completing the programme however, Rachael was dead. ‘Cause: alcohol. She was a beautiful, lively, funny 35-year-old and one of my main inspirations now for seeking an alternative treatment for addiction. Kim is thankfully still alive but hospitalised for alcohol-related issues. She tells me she has good days and bad. So much for the magic 30 percent.’

In Tracie’s experience with Western treatments, then, 30 percent (which is low enough) is actually the best possible positive outcome. In her group, at least, the real figure was 10 percent. Only she made it.

‘There had to be a better way’, she reasoned and, inspired to find it, she trained as a drug and alcohol counsellor and for the next two years threw herself into researching rehabilitation programmes worldwide, ‘but no matter where I looked I could not find anything better than the 30 percent success rate for addictions that I already knew and had experienced using standard Western methods.’

Then she came across an article about a centre in Peru, an addictions healing centre claiming a 75 percent success rate. That caught her attention but the only significant difference she could find between their approach and the Western model was the use of plant medicines. They used tobacco as a purgative and a plant she had never heard of – ayahuasca. She began looking for a way to get to Peru to experience the plant first-hand and eventually came across my website with details of the trips I run to the Amazon to work with the shamans there. She writes:

My introduction to plant medicines could not have been better. We did seven ayahuasca ceremonies in Iquitos and then travelled to Cusco for two ceremonies with wachuma, better known as San Pedro. I could see immediately what was missing in the Western rehabilitation model: the connection to spirit which both plants gave. Ayahuasca helped me find myself; San Pedro completed the process by reconnecting me with the world… This feeling of connectedness is something alien to addicts who often share a common grievance that they feel ‘different’ to their peers, their family and indeed to society as a whole. Now… I realised that we are all the same: energetic, spiritual beings; that our very breath intermingles with those around us as does the energy of our thoughts and words.

After the course ended Tracie returned briefly to Australia, but only to put her affairs in order, then she moved permanently to Peru.

While I lived in Cusco I travelled regularly to the north of Peru for ceremonies and dietas with other plants too, including ayahuasca, guayusa, ajo sacha and bobinsena. I met a number of shamans who were having success in treating addictions with plant medicines. The whole process was incredibly exciting to me. It was no longer just an idea that freedom from addiction was possible; it was actually happening for real people in Peru as a result of the plant medicines and shamanic practices there. I was amazed, awed and ecstatic. After years of searching I had found what I had been seeking.

In Pucallpa I met the shaman Jose Campos who had been one of the original founders of the Takiwasi Centre. He agreed to help me in any way he could and offered me sound advice about the use of plants for healing. In the village of San Francisco, just outside Pucallpa, I met another shaman, Mateo Arevalo, who is treating addicts in his home and having great success… Everywhere in Peru it seemed – from the mountains to the jungle – so many different shamans were having extraordinary success in healing addictions by using plant medicines. These were not ‘freak incidents’ or isolated cases of breakthroughs by addicts. The results were consistent and far superior to Western achievements…

The Western social system that I was born into and lived within drilled into me that I was powerless and weak and taught me that evil exists and that society is fragmented – but none of that is actually true. We are powerful, beautiful and extraordinary. I know this through my work with plant teachers. There is no reason why we cannot find out for ourselves who we are and where we are going and no reason why any individual cannot be fully empowered and healed…

We weren’t born as addicts, we were born as human beings and the whole process of becoming an addict is learned. Its purpose is to cover our sense of separation and the hurts we feel have been done to us in this game of life… If we only realised the truth of our relationship to each other, however, to nature and the extent of our power, then the entire manufactured structure of the society which causes these wounds would collapse like a house of cards. A new consciousness is already emerging that sees the world as a single organism and reason will tell you that an organism bent on damaging itself is doomed. Plants open doorways to this new consciousness and give us back our connection to the world…

Kira’s Story

Kira was not a student or a client of mine but a journalist for National Geographic magazine who visited Peru to look for a cure for her life-long depression. Her story (dramatically, but quite relevantly under the circumstances) is entitled Hell and Back and can be read in full at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0603/features/peru.html. It is an interesting one because it illustrates much of what we have been talking about so far: the process of healing with ayahuasca and the elements that go into it. Of these, ayahuasca per se may not even be the most important although it is of course the core of the experience: the thing that holds everything else together and reason why the healing will work at all.

ross-heaven-11

Kira describes her problem, and the ayahuasca ceremony that finally cured it, as follows.

I will never forget what it was like. The overwhelming misery. The certainty of never-ending suffering. No one to help you, no way to escape. Everywhere I looked: darkness so thick that the idea of light seemed inconceivable. Suddenly, I swirled down a tunnel of fire, wailing figures calling out to me in agony, begging me to save them. Others tried to terrorize me. ‘You will never leave here’ they said. ‘Never. Never’… the darkness became even thicker; the emotional charge of suffering nearly unbearable. I felt as if I would burst from heartbreak – everywhere, I felt the agony of humankind, its tragedies, its hatreds, its sorrows. I reached the bottom of the tunnel and saw three thrones in a black chamber. Three shadowy figures sat in the chairs; in the middle was what I took to be the devil himself. ‘The darkness will never end,’ he said. ‘It will never end. You can never escape this place.’

‘I can,’ I replied. All at once, I willed myself to rise. I sailed up through the tunnel of fire, higher and higher until I broke through to a white light. All darkness immediately vanished. My body felt light, at peace. I floated among a beautiful spread of colours and patterns. Slowly my ayahuasca vision faded. I returned to my body, to where I lay in the hut… The next morning, I discovered the impossible: The severe depression that had ruled my life since childhood had miraculously vanished… With shamanism – and with the drinking of ayahuasca in particular – I’ve learned that, for me, the worse the experience, the better the payoff. There is only one requirement for this work: You must be brave. You’ll be learning how to save yourself.

That, however, is the end of her story. Typically this drama, excitement and eventual triumph is all we get from many other accounts of healings with ayahuasca – which is why we must be careful about taking them only at face value, because, as Kira goes on to explain, what actually produced her healing was far more than a single cupful of ayahuasca.

Kira grew up among ‘fundamentalist atheists’, she says, who taught her that ‘we’re all alone in the universe, the fleeting dramas of our lives culminating in a final, ignoble end: death. Nothing beyond that.’ As she concludes: ‘It was not a prescription for happiness.’

I’ll say. And yet this fascination for (or habit of) separation is so prevalent as to be the norm in the Western world. Human beings have become habituated (or, more cynically, indoctrinated) to see themselves as, among other things, separate from God (our religious ‘industry’ demands it so that our priests – God’s CEOs – can offer us salvation at a price), separate from nature (any number of businesses benefit from this illusion – or delusion: from oil companies, GM food producers and pharmaceutical firms who exploit the planet because of it, to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth at the other end of the scale who exist to protect us from the former, and somewhere in the middle are businesses like urban zoos and factory farms which present us with animals for our entertainment or consumption). As our communities have broken down we are now even separate from each other.

This, however, is rarely seen as a (wholly) bad thing. The very idea of separation is, after all, bound up in our myths of glory, in the form of the ‘lone hero’, the ‘masked man’, the ‘outsider’, the ‘rebel’ or the ‘saviour’. All of them stand alone and save the day. The real and non-heroic consequence of this, however, is the point that Tracie makes, above: for her it led to years of misery as a drunk and a drug addict; in my experience, it is one of the primary causes of all of our Western soul sicknesses.

Disease, as any shaman will tell you – even if it eventually manifests as a brain tumour, addiction, an ulcer, diabetes, or another physical problem – arises from a soul that is in some way imbalanced. By separating ourselves from the source of our power (whether we see that power as ‘God’ or ‘purpose’, ‘love’ or ‘passion’ or some other positive force) weakens us and makes our soul an easy target for another ‘spirit’ to attack. A Western doctor might call it ‘depression’, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ or some other label instead of a ‘spirit’, but the point is really the same. Unless we remove the negative force that grips us, and recharge ourselves from a source of power, our problems really begin.

Kira’s problem was that the world seemed:

…a dark, forbidding place beyond my control. And my mortality gaped at me mercilessly.

… there were [also] some stubborn enemies hiding out in my psyche: Fear and Shame… How do you describe what it’s like to want love from another but to be terrified of it at the same time? To want good things to happen to you, while some disjointed part of you believes that you don’t deserve them? To look in a mirror and see only imperfections? This was the meat and potatoes of my several years of therapy. Expensive therapy. Who did what, when, why. The constant excavations of memory. The sleuth-work. Patching together theory after theory. Rational-emotive behavioural therapy. Gestalt therapy. Humanistic therapy. Biofeedback. Positive affirmations: I am a beautiful person. I deserve the best in life. Then, there’s the impatience. Thirty-three years old already, for chrissakes’ – and nothing so far had cured her depression.

Kira describes one of her early ayahuasca ceremonies as follows:

Soon I start to see a pale green glow; colourful, primordial forms, resembling amoebas or bacteria, float by. Alarmed, I open my eyes. And this is uncanny: I can see the rafters of the hut, the thatch roof, the glow of the stars outside the screened windows – but the same amoeba-like things are passing over that view, as if superimposed. ‘You’re seeing with your third eye,’ one of the apprentices explains… Fantastical scenes glide by, composed of ever-shifting geometric forms and textures. Colours seem to be the nature of these views; a dazzling and dizzying display of every conceivable hue blending and parting in kaleidoscopic brilliance.

But then the colours vanish all at once as if a curtain has been pulled down. Blackness. Everywhere. Dark creatures sail by. Tangles of long, hissing serpents. Dragons spitting fire. Screaming humanlike forms. For a bunch of hallucinations, they seem terrifyingly real. An average ayahuasca ceremony lasts about four to five hours. But in ayahuasca space – where time, linear thought, and the rules of three-dimensional reality no longer apply – four to five hours of sheer darkness and terror can feel like a lifetime. My heartbeat soars; it’s hard to breathe… what I’m experiencing now is my fear taking symbolic form through the ayahuasca. Fear that I have lived with my entire life and that needs to be released… I work on controlling my breathing. But such thick darkness. Clouds of bats and demonlike faces. Black lightning. Black walls materializing before me no matter which way I turn. Closer and closer, the darkness surrounding me, trapping me. I can barely breathe.

At this point Kira called out for help from her shaman, Hamilton. His response is typical of the shamanic approach to healing in ceremony and illustrates once again that it is not just ayahuasca which produces a cure, but a number of interconnected actions and energies, including the visions themselves and what they reveal, the intent of the shaman to heal and the patient to be healed, the energies contained in the songs of the shaman, and the other plant allies which he may call into the ceremony.

Hamilton is standing over me now, rattling his chacapa, singing his spirit songs. Inexplicably, as he does this, the darkness backs off. But more of it comes in a seemingly endless stream. I see dark, raging faces. My body begins to contort; it feels as if little balls are ripping through my flesh, bursting from my skin. The pain is excruciating. I writhe on the mattress, screaming. Hamilton calls over one of his helpers – a local woman named Rosa – with directions to hold me down.

And now [the spirits] appear to be escaping en masse from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make. All the while there is me, like a kind of witness, watching and listening in horror, feeling utterly helpless to stop it. I’ve read nothing about this sort of experience happening when taking ayahuasca.

This is a good point. Many of the accounts of ‘miracle cures’ and ‘life-changing encounters’ with ayahuasca that I have also read tend to focus on the beauty of the imagery and ignore completely what it is to be really healed. Situations like the one that Kira experienced can and do happen though. Not always, but sometimes. (See my book Drinking the Four Winds for examples of the exorcisms and spirit battles I have been involved with in my ceremonies in Peru.)

On and on it goes. The screaming, the wailing. My body shakes wildly; I see a great serpent emerging from my body, with designs on Hamilton. He shakes his chacapa at it, singing loudly, and after what seems like an infinite battle of wills, the creature leaves me. I grab the vomit bucket and puke for several minutes. Though my stomach has been empty for over eight hours, a flood of solid particles comes out of me… The visions fade. My body stops shaking… The shamans believe that what we vomit out during a ceremony is the physical manifestation of dark energy and toxins being purged from the body. The more that comes out, the better.

The process of healing continued for Kira (once again, one drink of ayahuasca seldom does the trick) and even:

After three ceremonies, I still feel that I have something big to purge… We begin the ceremony, drink the ayahuasca. I’m hoping to find myself in some heavenly realms this time, but again, as usual, the darkness. With disappointment, I find myself entering a familiar tunnel of fire, heading down to one of the hell realms. I don’t know where I’m going, or why, when I suddenly glimpse the bottom of the tunnel and leap back in shock: Me, I’m there, but as a little girl. She’s huddled, captive, in a ball of fire before the three thrones of the devil and his sidekicks. As soon as I reach her, she begins wailing, ‘Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!’

I think this must be a part of me that I lost. Long ago. The shamans believe that whenever a traumatic event happens to us, we lose part of our spirit, that it flees the body to survive the experience. And that unless a person undergoes a shamanistic ‘soul retrieval’ these parts will be forever lost. Each one, they say, contains an element of who [we] truly are; people may lose their sense of humour, their trust of others, their innocence… ‘The darkness was so heavy during your childhood,’ a spirit voice says to me ‘that your soul splintered beneath the weight.’

With encouragement from her shaman, Kira is able to reach down and take the hand of her child-self. ‘When she feels my touch, she stops crying, and I pull her up, out of the tunnel of fire. The darkness departs. We reach realms of bright white light – the first such places my visions have allowed. The heavenly realms.’

In her final ceremony, despite her soul retrieval, ‘Darkness falls’ again.

A scathing pain rises in my chest – the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt… Legions of demons sail out of my body. I’m helpless before them; they contort me. I’m made to see that what is being purged now is a deeply rooted belief that I don’t deserve to be alive, that no one can love me and I will always need to justify my existence. Slowly I gain the upper hand over the darkness and order it to leave my body. I feel a pressure in my chest that could break all my ribs. I grab my bucket, vomit out what appears to be a stream of fire. Hamilton kneels down and blows tobacco smoke onto the top of my head. I cough violently and watch as demons burst out of me, roaring, only to disintegrate in white light.

And [then] before me [is] this enormous image of God. He takes me in his arms and coddles me like a child. I know, unequivocally, that I am loved and have always been loved. That I matter and have always mattered. That I’m safe and, no matter what happens, will always be safe. I will never allow myself to become separated from him again.

Of course, a single drink of ayahuasca might solve all your problems – Pablo Amaringo, the visionary artist and one-time ayahuascero writes, for example, that: ‘I became a shaman when I saw a curandera heal my younger sister by using ayahuasca. My sister had been in agony with hepatitis but with this single healing from the plants she was cured in just two hours… Later I began dieting and taking la purga and she taught me how to use plants for healing’ – but it didn’t happen for any of the people mentioned in this chapter – for Gail, Tracie or Kira – and in my experience it’s rare. Your dedication to healing – your intention to be well – and your willingness to do whatever it takes count for a lot; much more in fact than giving away your power (which also includes your healing power) to a shaman and a cup of jungle brew or a Western doctor and a ‘magical pill’ for that matter. But there are exceptions, as Pablo’s story shows.

PLANT SPIRIT SHAMANISM: HOW PLANTS HEAL (AND A CRITIQUE OF ‘CORE SHAMANISM’)

(A short chapter contributed by Ross to an anthology of shamanism recently published by O Books)

Probably the greatest failing of so-called ‘core shamanism’ is that it actually has no core. In all shamanic cultures except this modern dilution of authentic shamanic practice, the ‘core’ – the real heart – of genuine healing is the practical and spiritual use of plant medicine, not imaginary journeys with drums. Core shamanism does not include work with plants and, indeed, those who teach the Harner MethodTM [The TM is for trademark, illustrating that this is a brand; an invented, not a traditional, practice.], as ‘core shamanism’ is also known, seem rather afraid of plants and spirits. Many of them have never met a real shaman, for example, or travelled beyond their homeland (or, sometimes, their city) to a jungle or desert when real shamanism takes place. Instead, they have learned their ‘method’ in air-conditioned conference rooms during a ‘weekend workshop’ where they have come to actually believe that a 20-minute drum-banging session will get them to the same spiritual destination as a completely ego-free journey with a teacher plant like ayahuasca or San Pedro, during an hours-long ceremony where one is unavoidably surrounded by and immersed in actual spirit. By following the cult of ‘core shamanism’ they are not only missing the point of – and the true healing available from – the real-life, powerful, active shamanism taking place in jungles, deserts and high mountains around the world, they are also destroying the core they aspire to because when the real shamans die there will be no-one knowledgeable or competent enough to replace them.

Every time a shaman dies, it is as if a library burned down

Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist and author of Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice

But core shamanism is not alone in this. Modern herbalism, and perhaps those disciplines which are also now-distantly based on the curative powers of plants, such as aromatherapy and homeopathy, have also largely forgotten their roots as spiritual activities which work, not through the mechanical principles of prescription, but through co-operation with the essence or genius of the plants. The ascendancy of science and its requirements of ‘proof’ in its own terms, along with the growth of a deeply ungrateful and inhumane litigation culture, also send herbalists scurrying for encyclopaedias and reference papers when a client arrives for treatment, so they can check their diagnoses against ‘verifiable evidence’ and legal dictates instead of listening to the plants themselves.

I have two questions for practitioners like this: Who wrote the first herbal encyclopaedia? And how did she arrive at her knowledge of the plants?

I don’t know the answer to the first question [Most school-taught herbalists will probably tell you it was Culpepper, but I doubt that’s correct. Culpepper’s may be the first published herbal encyclopaedia but the first author was, most likely, an unknown hedge-witch who compiled her own kitchen herbal, now lost to time, through personal exploration and research.], but I do know the answer to the second: she listened to the plants and wrote down what they taught her. Her knowledge advanced through her unique experience because she had no encyclopaedias or legal manuals to consult.

Underpinning this knowledge was a fundamental, nature- (not textbook or Google) based understanding of how plants really work. Modern Western herbalism may have lost this, but there are still plenty of shamanic traditions in the world which retain their understanding, such as the curanderismo (folk medicine and healing) practices of Peru and Mexico. This is not herbalism, per se – not as we define it today – but plant spirit shamanism, which is more genuine and expansive than our dispirited Western tradition. It teaches that there are four levels to healing with every plant.

The Plant as Medicine

Used in the same way that a Western herbalist might, as a basic ‘this-cures-that’ prescription, the plant salvia divinorum, for example, is used in Mexico to treat stomach problems, rheumatism and depression. In this way the plant addresses the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the body; the material stuff that modern medicine mostly concerns itself with.

Western treatments, however, are based on rather primitive ideas of causality and cure – i.e. that Symptom B is a direct result of physical Disease A, and that giving the patient Medicine C (whether a plant, a pill or a potion) will clear up the problem (i.e. the symptom) in 96.4 (or 88.3, or 65.9) percent of cases. Curanderismo, by contrast, is less concerned with symptoms (which are seen as the manifestation of a deeper problem: a dis-ease, not a disease) and will also give attention to the attitude, motivation and psychology of the patient, as well as the spiritual intentions of any healing plant that the curandero is drawn to as a possible cure for the patient’s dis-ease, not just the alleviation of his aches, pains or anxieties.

The notion of ‘magical illness’ and its cure is an example of the process. Panzón de Borrego is regarded in Mexico as a blockage in the stomach (seen as a stone put there by a brujo – sorcerer) which may arise because of mal d’ojo: giving someone the ‘evil eye’ because you are jealous of them in some way. The person who receives such an attack is, of course, a victim – but that does not mean that they are entirely blameless since they might in fact have provoked their own misfortune by bragging about their wealth or success to others and making them feel so bad that, in a way, the attack was invited. Even though he is on the receiving end of negative energy, therefore, the patient may also be part of its cause.

Orthodox medicine or herbalism might well be able to cure the symptom of the disease by prescribing a particular pill or an herb to relieve stomach ache, but by ignoring the ‘magical’ component of the illness (the flow of energies and emotions between individuals) it will leave the cause untreated and so invite a recurrence. Nor will it offer suggestions for the patient’s continuing good health by recommending, for example, that he acts in a more dignified manner in future so as not to provoke the ill-will of others. Used shamanically however, salvia can divine the cause of the problem and find an ongoing solution to it as well as an immediate cure. Even from a purely nuts-and-bolts herbal perspective, then, the curandero’s use of plants is more far-reaching and holistic than orthodox treatments and includes aspects of psychology, counselling and pastoral spirituality.

The idea of ‘magical illnesses and cures’ will no doubt be met with cynicism by Western doctors and sceptics, yet ‘magic’ is also used widely in modern medicine. They just have a different name for it: the placebo effect.

A placebo (Latin for I will please) is a medically ineffectual treatment which is given to patients to ‘deceive them into wellness’. Common placebos include sugar tablets, sham surgery or false procedures based on what the medical profession calls ‘controlled deception’. In a typical case, a patient is given a sugar pill and told it will improve her condition. Because she believes this, there is a real improvement despite (or, rather, because of) the lie she is told. In The Placebo is Powerful the Journal of Clinical Psychology concluded in 2005 that placebos – the power of faith alone – can exceed the effectiveness of ‘real’ treatments by 20 percent in some cases.

The use of placebos by general practitioners is widespread. A study of Danish doctors found that 48 percent had prescribed one at least ten times in the previous year. A survey of 10,000 American physicians showed that 24 percent would or did prescribe placebos, while a 2004 study of physicians in Israel found that 60 percent used placebos. The point is that they work. We just don’t know why or how. Which is, in a sense, the essence of magic. In terms that a shaman might use, the condition of the body depends on the condition of the soul. What we believe to be real becomes real by the power of belief alone. We are capable of curing ourselves.

The Plant as a Spirit Ally

Beyond their purely medicinal uses (expanded shamanically in the way described above to include psychology, faith and the ‘placebo effect’), plants also teach us about ourselves and the wider patterns of our lives. To some extent this comes down to what shamans call intention: entering into a committed partnership with a plant with the objective that it will reveal certain information to us or pass on certain powers, and that, for our part, we will pay close attention to the signs it sends us and the changes it makes to our bodies and minds so we gain mastery of the new abilities it gives us. The shamanic diet is frequently part of this arrangement and is the usual process for making an ally of a plant.

Anthropologists define the diet as “A tool helping to maintain the altered state of consciousness which permits the plant teacher to instruct, provide knowledge and enable the initiate to acquire power.” It is a way of releasing the ego and quietening the mind so that the dieter can take on the personality of the plant and communicate with it in dreams and quiet reflections and then in everyday life. At first your sense of the plant’s spirit is small and may seem metaphorical or symbolic rather than ‘real’, but as it establishes itself and the connection between you grows, it starts to be felt more physically as well as spiritually, mentally and emotionally until it merges fully with your consciousness and becomes like an aura or a shield around you. It is at this point that the plant begins to communicate proactively, offering advice when it is needed and not just when it is asked for.

The diet which achieves this involves certain actions and inactions, including restrictions on the behaviour of the dieter so he can learn from his ally and prepare for the expansion in consciousness that the plant spirit brings. Foods such as pork, fats, salt, sugar, spices, condiments and alcohol are prohibited, leaving the apprentice with a bland menu so he is not overwhelmed with flavour and can more finely sense the plant. It also weakens his attachments to routines, some of which revolve around meal times and foods. For the same reason there is a prohibition on sexual activity since sex is another worldly distraction and during orgasm we also give away the energetic power that has been building within us during the diet. Breaking these taboos can lead the plant to turn against you so that it takes from you not only the power it has given you but any similar power you may already have had. In the case of salvia, for example, one of the plant’s intention is to teach us about the nature of true reality (the one that we create for ourselves) and Mexican Mazatec shamans warn that breaking this diet can therefore lead to the very opposite of expanded awareness and a clear perspective on life – that is, to madness.

At the end of the diet a little lemon, salt, sugar and onion is eaten to formally break the regime and provide a safe boundary to the experience while offering protection to the plant so it can continue to provide you with new strength. The patient dieting a plant in this way need never use it as a medicine again because its power and healing is now always a part of him.

The biggest challenge for a Westerner undertaking this diet is often not the prohibitions themselves but accepting that plant consciousness can be experienced at all. We are born into the social paradigm that surrounds us with its beliefs and myths and institutions which support its view of the world, and it is not within ours to easily accept that other beings (plants, spirits, animals) have souls or intelligence and are capable of teaching us anything we don’t already know. As we embark on the diet then, we need to question some of our most deeply ingrained assumptions about the world, and to allow that other realities exist.

For real shamans this is not a problem since, for them, the world we perceive through our senses is just one description of a vast and mysterious unseen and not an absolute fact. In his book People of the Sacred Waterfalls, for example, Harner writes that for the Jivaro tribe of the Ecuadorian rain forests, “the normal waking life is explicitly viewed as ‘false’ or ‘a lie’ and it is firmly believed that truth about causality is to be found by entering the supernatural world, or what the Jivaro view as the ‘real world’, for they feel that the events, which take place within it, underlie and are the basis for many of the surface manifestations and mysteries of daily life.”

Mazatec ‘magic mushroom’ shaman Maria Sabina said much the same: “There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby and invisible, and there is where God lives, where the dead live, the spirits and the saints. A world where everything has already happened and everything is known. That world talks. It has a language of its own.” The language – and the healing – of this world is what we learn through the plant diet.

A Guide to the Spirits of Other Plants

Once it is a part of him the plant ally begins to teach the shaman about itself, about other plants and about how to heal. Mazatec shamans believe that the salvia spirit, for example, will carry apprentice healers to the ‘tree of knowledge’ in Heaven, where all plants originate and where the saints and angels will instruct them in their uses.

Since all plants are part of the same kingdom, that is, they have an affinity with all others and know something about the specific powers of each; just as human beings are part of their same kingdom and while one person (a white middle-class Manhattan stockbroker, for example) seems on the surface to have nothing in common with another (such as a Bombay slum-dweller), they can still relate to each other through the empathy of a shared humanity.

The plant as an ally, then, is more than just a healer in its own right, it becomes for the shaman a guide to the spirit world in general and an ambassador which will act on his behalf and introduce him to other healing plants. In my book Drinking the Four Winds, for example, I talk about a long shamanic diet I did with the San Pedro cactus and how it introduced me to a number of other plants that it also wanted me to diet, including tobacco, rose, the Amazonian jungle plants jergon sacha, mucura and chanca piedra, and the Mexican salvia. In this way the shaman becomes knowledgeable about a range of plants and their healing uses and has a guide that he can call upon to lead him to those he needs to heal himself or any patient. This, by the way, is how that first herbal encyclopaedia got written – by the shaman making a connection like this to the plants around her, not by the rote learning of a matera medica.

The Plant as Gateway to God

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Every plant benefits from not having something that every human being is cursed with: a brain. Because of this all plants know they are God.

In fact, we too are God – and it has to be that way since, as scientists tell us, at the moment of the ‘Big Bang’ [Or ‘quantum fluctuation’ as they prefer to call it now.] all energy erupted into a new space-time, creating all things as it did so: planets, stars, the Earth and everything on it, including us. We, along with everything else, are this energy. So what name should we give this primal force which seemed to have purpose in its own creation, is omnipotent, omnipresent, created all things and is the source to which all energy will return? Though scientists will no doubt find it offensive, we who are a part of this flow of energy may as well call it, for want of a better word, God. And as we are this energy, that makes us God too.

Our brains – our rational minds – prevent us from seeing this, however, no matter how obvious it seems on paper. They veto, they challenge, they make us question our value and worth: ‘Who am I to believe I am God? I am small, useless and unworthy’. Words like these have become our daily affirmations and mantras. Plants do not have these veto-minds, so they are able to just be – and to be God – in full awareness of their own beauty and power. And every one of them, given our attention and our desire to learn and grow from them, can teach us to do the same.

How Plants Heal

How plants really heal, therefore, is more much expansive than the Western model allows. They can be used to treat specific conditions of course, but once we engage with them, they can also show us how to be healers for ourselves and, ultimately, bring us absolute health and power by showing us that we are God – and nothing is impossible to God; no illness too great to be cured, no problem too complex to solve, no goal too distant to reach. We can heal ourselves.

It is a pity that ‘core shamans’ have so completely missed this point and remain unaware of what real shamans consider to be the true core of shamanic healing: plant spirit shamanism. Through their omission, their clients (and their own work) can only suffer. I hope you do not fall into this new age trap and deny yourself access to the healing which is freely available all around you in the world of the plants.

To learn more about plant spirit shamanism and teacher plants, check out these books by Ross, published by O Books: Salvia Divinorum: The Sage of the Seers, Ayahuasca: The Vine of Souls, San Pedro: The Gateway to Wisdom, The Hummingbird’s Journey to God (about San Pedro), Drinking the Four Winds (about shamanic dieting) and Plant Spirit Wisdom (about Celtic plant shamanism).