Entering my seventh year of relation with ayahausca, I’ve been musing on how it’s shaped me, and what I’ve learned. What I’ve learned not just in passing, but for keeps—teachings that have been permanently tattooed on my being through my personal work with the medicine, and also the whole excruciating, beautiful process of plant dieta (more on that here and here).
Here are three deep knowings that ayahuasca y las plantas have installed in my being:
1). We Belong to the Earth
Knowing this has been downloaded into me through six years of living in the Sacred Valley, where the Apus (mountain spirits) are strongly present, and human connection with Pachamama is still intact. But ayahuasca itself has the power to renew and revivify us modern people’s tarnished sense of belonging. I’ve heard many, many individuals report how ayahuasca has reawakened their sense of sacred relationship with the earth.
Me too. When I travel from Peru to California and enter a beautiful Berkeley grocery store, I can be moved to the edge of tears by the outrageous display of plenty. Mounds of glowing strawberries. Giant melons. Pyramids of perfect tomatoes. Flowers in riotous bloom.
What touches me is the magnificent abundance of the earth, and even more poignant, how this goes unnoticed: Pachamama spilling forth food and flowers and fruits in wild profusion, and shoppers numbly placing objects into carts. Where’s the gratitude, the sheer amazement at all this bounty pouring forth for us?
After a few weeks in the States I get reaccustomed to the ridiculous plenty all around, but always upon reentering I’m newly sensitized, and this awareness of connection stays with me. Passing a giant tree on a Portland street, I stop to acknowledge the spirit. I’ve dieted enough trees to know that they are living, growing beings whose sentience I can’t help but recognize.
This sense of connection kindled by plant medicine just keeps growing. The feeling that I belong to Pachamama, and that she belongs to me—that we are in mutually conscious relation— is unshakable. (No thank you, Elon Musk, I don’t want to live on Mars!)
And with this comes the desire to protect her, to serve in ever more aware ways. I used to toss things in the trash without a thought; in the past few years every piece of plastic, right down to the tiny cups of water handed out on airplanes, comes with a pang of regret, and a prayer that we soon grow past this barbaric norm.
2.) Spontaneous Forgiveness
Working as a therapist, I would witness people struggle to generate forgiveness for someone who’d harmed them. Often it seemed they were trying to forgive prematurely, attempting to bypass the unacknowledged hurt, fear and rage that lay deep within. Forgiveness can’t be forced, I would say. It comes only through grace, and with time.
What I found in my own experiences with ayahuasca was a great deal of hurt, fear and rage buried deep within—but also, sometimes, genuine forgiveness arising naturally in the journey, unbidden and unsought. In one ceremony I suddenly saw how my resentments towards my ex-husband were so laughably easy to release: they appeared like flimsy metal flowerbed fencing, barely ankle-height, and so simple to step over. It felt like a relief to do so, and let go of any lingering bad feelings.
Even more potent is the way ayahuasca can spontaneously take you inside the embodied experience of your perpetrator, to experience first-hand the torment that drove their harmful actions. I’ve heard others report this, and have experienced it myself in the visionary state, when I saw and felt the shame self-loathing my father carried around his whole life. “Anyone seeing this would have compassion,” a voice inside of me repeated over and over. A few weeks later, he died, and I can’t help but feel how that forgiveness eased his passage.
3.) Death Is Nothing to Fear
The repeated process of drinking ayahuasca and crossing over into other realms, lifetimes, and timelines makes me feel relatively at ease with the guaranteed eventuality of death. Having experienced dissolution so many times entering into the medicine, the prospect begins to seem like just another journey. I don’t mean to minimise it, and I’m sure I would struggle mightily if a tiger were to leap upon me this afternoon. But there’s a curiosity that arises, too, when I face the inevitability of that transition.
I’m not saying that every ayahuasca journey is joyful or comfortable (far from it!)—just that the sheer practice of voyaging into other states of being and always returning, has given me a deepened trust in that-which-holds-us-all. Death appears as another realm to journey into, and my experiences with plant medicine allow me to view it with more curiosity and less apprehension.
Tattoos on the Soul
If ayahuasca and plant dieta had given me only this much—a deepened connection with the earth, with others, and with other realms—these would be incredibly precious gifts. The thing is there’s so much more I haven’t yet touched on: the power of these practices to transform deep ancestral patterns, to purify karma, to clear and clean at the cellular level, to illuminate the path of purpose, to generate a deeper intimacy with self, others, spirit, planet; to create communities sharing these transformations.
Sometimes I think of sacred plant medicines as nutrition for the spirit, reconnecting us with what really matters, provoking growth in the darkest of corners. Offering essential spiritual minerals, like soul vitamins, you could say—but also, like tattoos, etching the deepest of truths on our souls.
What have you learned from ayahuasca that you’ll never forget? Share your thoughts in the comments below: