Lessons from my first medicine ceremony

I attended a medicine ceremony for the first time.

I won’t say which medicine, but it’ll be easy to guess once you read my story.

This was easily one of the most important things I’ve ever done for myself.

I experienced the darkest night of my life.
I’ve never vomited so violently. (hint #1)
I didn’t expect to learn so much.

Today I speak to you from my heart about this transformation experience.

Why did I do this?

I’ve known about this medicine for about a decade before trying it.

Friends who’ve taken it said “If taking other medicines is like a walk in the park…then this is like climbing Everest.”

They were not wrong.

Many seek out ceremony to heal their depression, find purpose in life, and resolve their mid life crises.

So I always held this medicine in reverence, and thought that I’d do it someday when a big enough life situation warranted it.

A decade later, I’ve arrived at this junction.
I’m in my mid thirties.
I went through another breakup.

Behind it all, I have this nagging feeling that I’m not living my purpose.

I’ve long felt that modern life doesn’t offer much in rites of passage. There was a time when you had to go on a hunt, fast, or do extreme challenges to cross over into adulthood.

This part of ceremony appealed to me too.

I learned there were domestic offerings that didn’t require trekking deep into the Peruvian jungle (hint #2).

Divine timing led one thing to another, and before I knew it I was sitting in the desert about to embark on a journey with 40 other strangers.

If you’d like to know my honest answer to whether you should try this medicine or not…read to the end. It’s not what you expect.

Have you ever joined a medicine ceremony or something similar?
I’d love to hear how it went for you.

Before the ceremony, the organizers encouraged us to reflect on what we’d like to work on. Our intentions, goals, desires.

Whatever question I asked of the medicine, it always asked a more fundamental question back.

  • I asked about fear; it showed me the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.
  • I asked about love, it taught me to feel into every moment.
  • I asked about habits, and it taught me about pain.

The themes have been nonduality, expansion, and feeling everything.

The medicine always wanted me to see the bigger picture.

Fear of dying

I have a fear of dying young like my father.

I didn’t plan on bringing this fear, but it was tucked in so deeply into my subconscious that it came tearing out during ceremony.

After the second cup of the medicine, my body went through convulsions. This was scary. But the facilitator said that purging takes many forms, and shaking was on the menu.

Everything that’s supposed to happen, will happen.

Soon I realized the convulsions was my father entering my body—because he started speaking directly to me.

How else did you expect me to speak to you?
You are my son, my blood…your body is my living proof.

Joined by my other ancestors, he showed me the epic story of life, death and rebirth through the night sky.

And how, despite death, their life continues through me.

I am part of the cycle.

When the drums started playing, I was compelled to put my hand on my heart.

My father spoke directly into my heart:

As long as this heart is beating, I am here with you.
When this heart stops beating, you will be here with me.
Do not fear death. Live a full, happy life.

That broke me open. I sobbed in gratitude.
The generous gift of life that I’ve been given.

How can I be afraid of death after that?

My irrational fear of dying young like my father was resolved.

But the medicine had more to teach me.

More than death, I was afraid of pain.

Pain is a teacher

Each successive ceremony got more and more challenging.

The first night was healing and connective. But I did not vomit like most people, so I knew that I wouldn’t be spared.

Getting used to the rhythm of the ritual, I was open to whatever else it had to teach me.

I brought into ceremony many habits I wanted to change. I also asked about love and finding my soul mate.

They say the medicine has a way of showing what you need to see, in the most direct way possible.

You want to learn? I’ll teach you through pain.

Amidst overwhelming nausea and pain, lesson after lesson came to me in rapid succession:

  • All my bad habits are a result of avoiding pain.
  • The more I resist pain, the more pain I create for myself.
  • When I feel into pain, breathe and just be with it, the more that I can understand what it’s trying to teach me.
  • So much of the pain I cause myself comes from lack of trust and surrender.
  • I can only experience pain if I am alive. The degree to which I experience pain is also the degree to which I’m alive. (This is different from intentionally seeking painful experiences).
  • Underlying pain, there is always love. Pain of losing someone is love for that person. Physical pain is love for body and movement.
  • There is no love without pain. Love is trusting through the pain.

This was the darkest night of my soul.

After I finally purged (it was soooo painful), it was like I opened the gateway for the medicine to *really* start working. Probably because I stopped resisting. An inner voice came to me and started actively coaching me on all the things I wanted to change.

This experience was intensely practical.

I used to think “pain is bad” and to avoid it.

The medicine taught me to look beyond the binary and see that life contains pain. I got this expansive sense that life, love and pain are part of the same thing.

The darkest night of my soul showed me the light inside.

Half the medicine is ceremony

Talking to more experienced participants, I learned that ceremonies vary wildly.

Some ceremonies are looser in structure and relaxed like the one I attended; others demand a much higher level of ritual participation.

Whatever the style, it’s extremely important to the medicine in a ceremonial space. In this space there’s reverence, support, and the right framing and boundaries for the experience.

It…would not have been good if I did it alone.

Healing the individual is healing the collective.

I really felt that at a visceral level whenever I heard someone vomiting their guts out, wanting to help and realizing that the most important thing I can do in that moment is to tend to my own healing.

And that in fact “helping someone” in that moment would be doing a disservice to them.

(By the way, members could request help at any moment and facilitators would be there.)

Do I recommend medicine ceremonies?

I do not easily recommend this experience.

My personality was such that I used to evangelize things that I loved, particularly around transformative experiences. I often carried this “you should do it too” energy.

I did this with Landmark, meditation, reading certain books…

Let me put it this way—many times during ceremony I thought I was dying. A spiritual death of sorts. I witnessed my own death for what seemed like hundreds of times.

From that perspective comes a deeeep respect for the medicine and the ceremony.

It was so painful, challenging, and intensely personal that t feels irresponsible to just tell someone to do it.

The participants I connected with are all going through something. Battling their personal demons. Wanting a change in their life. I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of people experiencing unbelievable pain.

In the darkest hours of ceremony I really “got” that everyone is on their own journey. Their own personal hell. This deep respect of the individual journey is why broadly recommending it feels unconscious.

The medicine ceremony was deeply impactful. But approaching it as a silver bullet or cure-all removes personal responsibility. I’m grateful that the facilitators of this ceremony emphasized integration and practical application to one’s own life.

I personally got a transformative experience out of it, but that is my experience and journey to own.

So much happened in the space of 3 days that it’s hard to document it all. It really felt like everything, everywhere, all at once

If you’re curious, just reach out to me privately.

My wish is that if anyone decides to take on this experience, to approach it from a place of care, consciousness and consideration.

Thank you so much for reading.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.