We just wrapped up an amazing retreat and all I can say is, “WOW!! what a retreat”. This is not to say that it was all “unicorns, rainbows, and puppy dogs”. It was packed with joy, love, difficult moments, and some very important lessons for both the guests and myself. So much so that I felt it was worth writing a blog entry about it. It was also a retreat that clearly demonstrated some of the emotional cycles that people can expect when going through a dieta/retreat with us.
This group was somewhat interesting as it was clear that much of this group was already steadfastly on their own respective spiritual paths. It seemed that because of this they gelled as a group very quickly. Despite this dynamic, we had some disconcerting and awesome moments….
When a new group arrives at La Familia Medicina the shamanic team begins analyzing the guests’ energies almost immediately (even before the first ceremony). This is done so that we can minimize and mitigate any surprising outbursts/releases of energies by the guests. This analysis is discussed (confidentially) among the shamanic team so that cross references/confirmations can be made and strategies as to how to handle/clear/heal these energies can developed. This process is essentially so that we do not get “blind-sided”. It is important to note a few points regarding this pro-active analysis: 1) almost everyone has picked up energies that are not serving them, it is simply a question of how much they have accumulated and how committed one is to cleaning them out (ayahuasca is not a “magic bullet” that requires no effort by the guest). 2) we can analyze guests til the cows come home, but we can not tell the future i.e.- how they will manifest. 3) some energies are not readily apparent until ceremony as they can be deeply hidden in the energetic body.
While this particular group bonded quickly and was committed to the spiritual path, they certainly had their share of energetic cleaning to do. There were several with past traumatic experiences, drug usage, alcohol usage and conditions that had clearly caused some accumulation of less than favorable energies in their systems (traumatic experiences, drug/alcohol use, etc… all can make us vulnerable to energies) . We saw this early on, the question was how were the energies going to come out/clear (they always come out, it is just a matter of how).
During our orientation meeting on the first day we cover several very important points to help guests prepare for the process ahead of them. These points are often overlooked, forgotten, or are not heard the first time they are said and therefore often times need to be repeated. One of the key points we bring up is that during the dieta process, one may go through various emotional states that require patience and determination to get through. It is also helpful to be mindful of these emotional states and to contemplate and realize that often times they are coming from within vs. coming from outside i.e. being imposed upon us.
The plant/tree dieta can be quite difficult. Sure the food is bland (no salt etc..) and physical energy levels dive, but the real hard part are the emotions that come up during this process. During a dieta the trees/plants and ayahuasca first loosen up energies that are not serving before ejecting them through various exits, the most obvious are through vomiting and going to the bathroom. During this loosening/ejecting process these energies can rise to the surface of ones consciousness causing one to experience emotions such as sadness, irritability, anger, frustration, depression etc… This often times happens during the day (outside of ceremony) as these energies are being queued up for ejection. As difficult as this may be, it is all part of the process. It is also important to note that if the experience is too intense for the guest, our shamanic team is always available and we have techniques to significantly reduce or remove the intensity both in and outside of ceremony. The gift provided by this process is that it is an opportunity to learn how to deal with these emotions when they arise. We can either recognize them for what they are- energies within us that are not us and do not serve us, or we can project them outward- continuing a cycle of negativity as these energies feed off of us and similar energies. The second and more important gift is that these energies that come to the surface are ejected such that the person holding on to them is able to let them go and be free of them. It is a learning process and neither process/reaction is “good” nor “bad”. We have all perpetuated the cycle of negativity at one time or another (myself included). No one is to blame, in fact the idea of blame is false and is also form of perpetuating that cycle of negativity.
Now let’s get into the story……
About 1/2 hour before the third ceremony a guest, let’s call him Jerry, arrived in the ceremony house and decided to read a prayer aloud. The volume of the prayer was a bit loud, but there was only one other guest present, Tom, and while the prayer was a bit loud, the content was benign. I knew that Jerry was an aspiring actor and that some of his need to perform/be dramatic energy was loosening/exiting. “Let the medicine do its’ work”, I thought. Then, about two minutes into the prayer, Tom asked Jerry to refrain from reading aloud as he would like some silence to prepare for ceremony. Jerry apologized and discontinued the reading. I thought to myself, “Hmm, cool. They worked it out themselves. Great”. Ceremony started and finished without any apparent incident.
The next day was our day of silence which was followed by a group circle meeting to check in with guests, answer questions, and help them with the retreat/dieta process. At the end of this group circle Tom spoke up indicating that the incident the previous night had really upset him as he had come to the retreat looking for peace. He felt that Jerry had broken that peace to such an extent that he had a very difficult ceremony and that much of the day of silence was spent unhappy as well. This event with Jerry had been ruminating in Tom all night and most of the day.
I was somewhat taken aback as the energy that was being purged in that moment was that of blame. I knew this was not Tom, it was an energy buried deep inside that was stimulated by Jerry’s actions the night before and had decided to come out in this moment. Unfortunately, it was a moment where everyone was present and exposed to it. I knew that the objective of this energy was to have me, as the retreat coordinator, place blame on Jerry, cause separation in the group etc… Instead of blaming I thanked Tom for bringing this up, thus clearing the air and Jerry apologized for his actions. I also did my best to explain again how during the dieta one’s emotions (via energies) are particularly sensitive to stimulation and cause them to rise to the surface. Despite my attempts to quell this energy of blame, the room felt heavy as we broke the meeting for dinner.
During dinner and for the following day I perceived that the heaviness remained and I felt a certain amount of separation although at the time I could not put my finger on what was going on, it just felt as if something was “off”. Some of my interactions with several guests seemed flat and it did not feel like the lines of communication were open and flowing. At the same time, personally I was going through some doubt regarding this work and my abilities. I felt tired and somewhat disparaged.
We had ceremony number four that evening and I spent much of it examining what had passed over the past day and a half. About half way into ceremony ayahuasca was kind enough to fill me in as to what was going on. The release of energy during group circle had thrown myself and several guests of center. I realized that the energy of blame did not permit the message that, “this was simply a case of negative energies and thus emotions being more sensitive than normal causing them to come to the surface for clearing”, get through to several of the guests. There were some in the group who thought that I was actually taking Jerry’s side.
This was a huge “ah hah” moment for me on many levels. First in regards to the idea of blame, then in regards to content, context, and the practice of re-contextualization.
When one uses blame they are pointing outward to someone or something else and saying that something outside is causing their internal suffering. This is the error made by most of us (including myself) that the outside world is affecting our internal state, an error highlighted by great teachers in history who have repeatedly told us that happiness, peace, etc… are not found on the outside, but on the inside (cliche, I know). Outside events are not real as they are received and interpreted from a single perspective. They are simply lessons to learn from. It is up to us to learn this and correct the error of perception. How do we do this though??? One practice is looking at context vs. content and using re-contextualization.
We tend to get caught up in content instead of looking at the larger context. That is we swim in the details of life, such that we do not see the whole picture i.e. the proverbial “forest for the trees”. We have a very difficult time taking a step back and looking at the larger context. The interesting thing is that when we do take a look at the context, our response to any given situation changes such that we are able to realize that others are doing the best that they can with the tools that they have i.e. “Judge them not, for they know not what they do”, and it allows us to let go of negative emotions associated with an event. This letting go makes room for positive states such as love, compassion and peace. One conclusion that many come to after going through this process of re-contextualization is a conclusion that the whole event was a “so what?”
The interesting thing about this situation is that ayahuasca helps one go through the re-contextualization process exceptionally fast. So fast that often times we don’t even see the process, just the end result of a new context/new way of looking at the situation. After ceremony four, the next morning, the entire group seemed to be gelling again- smiling, laughing, etc… without a whiff of heaviness in the air at all. I had big plans to sit down with the group for a special meeting etc…, but the guests were having such a good time that I let it all slide. That said, we did have our last group meeting/satsang of the retreat that afternoon and I did decide to bring the situation up. It was quite amazing as Tom had totally recovered and pointed out that yeah, no one was to blame, it was just two energies coming to the surface causing one to be stimulated. He also said that at the end of the day, it was a great lesson about emotions/energies and really, given the entire retreat, not a big deal at all- a “so what?” if you will. The meeting ended with laughter and just a warm feeling of love.
The big lessons for me was to trust the medicine and the dieta. It works. Everyone’s process is different, not always easy, and it is still a process. I also learned to trust myself and my own abilities. And finally with the above two lessons, I need to remember to re-contextualize situations like this as they often turn out to be a “so what?”.