Plant Medicine, a cautionary tale.
I want to first acknowledge the land in which I reside, Portland, rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other Tribes who made their homes along the Columbia River. As the last Native woman of Tuckahoe and Cherokee in my family, I acknowledge the cost bared amongst a great people who were stewards and teachers of this land. I give gratitude and pray we learn to walk in good way that honors all life. Aho.
TW: Graphic details of Native Histories
Plant Medicine, and for all intents and purposes of this blog, I am referring more specifically to the use (and overuse) of Ayahuasca.
What I want folks to take away from this post, was how much we need to bring intention back into the practices we have borrowed fragments of from another greatly disadvantaged people who often struggle to meet very basic needs. It is not uncommon to have unemployment rates of over 80% on reservations. While folks point to alcohol and substance abuse, what came before that was genocide, poverty, and removal from land while one of their greatest omens and warrior spirit, the Buffalo, was decimated intentionally to bring a nation to its knees. These brothers and sisters were criminalized for practicing their ceremonies, heads scalped, villages raped and pillaged, then sent off to boarding school where they were convinced everything about them was a sin.
Imagine being in those shoes, and witnessing your history largely being ignored, under-reported, and vastly gaslighted while people who bare that same tone of skin as colonizers carry their medicine in a way that aims to take only the best, and leave the rest. To see sacred medicines overharvested, such as White Sage and Palo Santo, and to see the profits going to someone other than those who taught this medicine. It is out of integrity, and it leaves out a huge part of these mini ceremonies, the ancestors, the offerings, the legged ones, the winged ones, the thunder beings, the directions — we miss so much from borrowing medicine without being taught how to be with the medicine.
Unpopular opinion (in some newer age spiritual circles) – there are many ceremonies that should come before your plant medicine ceremony. As someone who has grown up going to Pow-Wows with my grandparents, there are rights of passage that come before your bigger ceremonies. The kind we don’t speak of in plain sight because the deepest medicine is experienced not spoken of. The proper preparation for a ceremony, when guided by elders who have been given permission to lead their ceremony, can easily take years to embark upon, for some longer.
Ayahuasca is sacred medicine, engaged in a sacred ceremony. The kind that from the Chinese Medicine perspective has the potential to reach straight to the deepest most formless aspect of our being. It reaches the deepest of the 6 confirmations of our being. It is formless and the base of our soul.
What I witness is many people deep diving straight there without truly addressing the several confirmations before, meaning the structures that hold and protect the integrity of our being get compromised in the process.
So what happens? I witness deep exhaustion, soul possession, and severe mental/emotional disturbance where it did not exist before, at its worse leading to suicide. This isn’t hearsay, this is from my limited experience with individuals who have partaken, as I worked with many pre/post-ceremony.
The pulse changes, the Shen (spirit in the eyes) becomes disturbed, and mental/emotional unsettled. As I work with the spirit, qi, and physical body daily – these are subtleties that I have the privilege of observing.
I know this isn’t the popular opinion, but a decade ago I also wanted to experience this medicine. Someone even handed me some to experience in my own time. That time never came, it never felt right. I have a very strong tether from my spirit to my body.
We are in a time where there is a deep quench for truth, healing, and understanding. Yet the reverence for indigenous ways of appropriating medicine has been greatly lost, along with the wisdom therein. It has become a means for quick money and quick spirituality.
My job isn’t to make you like me. It’s to help you heal. I do not believe a spontaneous plant medicine journey is the answer, doing the work is. I do hope you will consider the sacredness of this medicine, as is your soul sacred. Protect it. 🦬
So you’ve read all of the above and still wish to do the medicine in a good way? What then?
My opinion is solely mine. And I will surely give it to you.
Whatever land you’re feeling called to journey to for your medicine, first find out what tribes inhabit there. It’s really only a few google searches away. Learn about them, their history, culture, and current reality. Often you will find they are greatly marginalized. In your research, keep an eye out for how to best support them, i.e. buying the Chorotega pottery if you’re in parts of Costa Rica, seeing if their schooling needs a donation, etc, let them tell you how to best help them.
There’s a beautiful word I learned once while living in Hawaii (studying Asian American Studies through UCLA at UH Manoa), that word is “kuleana” which denotes a relationship between a person and that for which they are responsible. So in Kanaka culture (Indigenous of Polynesian Islands), it is not uncommon for a family to go to the lo’i (taro) ponds to tend to weeding while giving back to the land that gives them so much. There is an understanding that the land provides for us, as we must give back to the land.
With this understanding, I would like to impart a sense of kuleana to doing ceremony in a way that understands the nature of giving back before we intend to receive. To give back to the local indigenous wherever you currently live, to become involved in smaller ceremonies that require you to show up, do the work, and become part of a community as a child ready to learn.
We have so much to learn from our Native relatives, far more than burning sage and psychedelic experience. If you could, invest in those who have already given so much.
Thank you for reading,