In Robin Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, we learn that the word for plants in many Native American languages translates to “those who take care of us.” Could you imagine a world without plants? I can’t—they feed us, provide material for everyday objects, and literally produce the very air that we breathe. They also add so much beauty, from regal oak trees that tower above our heads to leaves and flowers that often present in colors and designs that inspire and are humorous, elaborate, intricate—intelligent even. And plants can heal.
I was ready to forge a new relationship with the kingdom of plants, a conscious allyship, in an attempt at experiencing their power in the realm of radical spiritual healing. I was intrigued by the ability of plants to take root and grow in hostile environments. Could they help me in my own feelings of uprootedness? All my life it seems I have been on the move. From Brooklyn to Trinidad back to Brooklyn. And for the past two decades or so? Copenhagen, Denmark. Once I tallied the many times I have moved in my life and had to stop counting when I reached 20.
I decided to answer the call of Mother Aya—but I didn’t travel to the Amazon rainforest. Instead I drove a few miles outside of Copenhagen. Like so many others before me and since, I approached the ayahuasca ceremony with healing as my intention. I knew the importance of feeling comfortable where you’re at when you take psychedelics—and being together with others in a location I was somewhat familiar with trumped traveling to a foreign place.
I had to find a way forward. I had been in Denmark for 17 years at that point. Somewhere in the journey of uprooting from another country and becoming a parent, I had found it a challenge to envision a future that inspired me. There was something about my now that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I found it hard to settle into, hard to feel rooted. It was as if with this uprootedness I became unplanted as well.
I am lying on a flat single mattress in a large room along with 26 other people who are retching, moaning, and groaning.
It was as if I were in the midst of a disaster site—everyone disabled by a great level of discomfort. It wasn’t long after I had drunk the bitter, thick concoction that the tears started to flow. Everyone had drunk from the cup after openly declaring to others what our respective intention for the evening was. As I sat there on my mattress, hearing all those around me retch in what seemed so much like misery, I straightened my back, closed my eyes, and was thankful that the vomiting had not hit me. I could feel myself drawing up my spine, straightening my back as I sat in lotus position, and felt myself the queen I knew myself to be. Until I, too, reached for my bucket and began to barf unroyally into it.
Flashing through my mind were scenes of large dozers and mining trucks driving over large expanses of land, digging and drilling far down into the earth. Our actions toward the earth seemed violent from this new perspective I was now gifted with. I would double over in grief and break into uncontrollable sobs. It was as if I had a fault line of grief running through my body, threatening to break me in two.
I became the embodiment of the earth. As I vomited, I seemed to heave out the entire contents of my being into the small bucket I was provided. Through my purging, she too was being purged.
I thought about the oil spills, the weed killers, and all of the plastic that we choke our seas with. I wept for all of the destruction we were doing to earth and all of our other relations, the animals, the insects, plants.
The tears poured from deep within my hardened heart, through my eyes, nonstop. Copious amounts of mucus flowed from my nose, the disintegrating tissue evidence of how much I had been crying. And whenever I thought I was about to stop, my mind became flooded again with thoughts of the earth and what we humans were doing to her. I could see, no, better than that, I could feel, the interconnectedness of it all, the giant web of life. Not one being too small, too insignificant.
I know for a lot of people the idea of being in a room full of other folks puking sounds highly disgusting. Well, if that wasn’t bad enough, folks were defecating too. While I admit that it does sound gross, I feel that I must also bear witness to the fact that there was actually something quite soothing about it. It was as if these reactions peeled away whatever facade we had walked in there with. It made the situation a lot more human.
The hallucinations I experienced that day, of vomiting up all the toxins that were poisoning the earth, of three jaguars surrounding me and telling me, telepathically, that they are my protectors, and many other vivid hallucinations, endowed me with the emotional information I needed to work with for my own personal healing. All of these many experiences left me with a feeling of greater interconnectedness with the world, people, and other forms of life around me. The truth is, ayahuasca helped me feel deeply, something that is sometimes immensely difficult for me to do.
On a physical level, aya helped me too. All of that crying and sniffling cleared my head. I had a buildup of mucus—which, as a lifetime smoker, makes a lot of sense. But I didn’t know I was holding all that in my body. My hearing became clearer, my chest and head lighter. This was part of the healing I had approached ayahuasca for.
I have never participated in an ayahuasca ritual again, but I still hear Mother Aya’s voice, gently reprimanding me, “Don’t cry for me, Lesley. Cry for yourself. I’ll be okay. But what about you?”
Continue reading about healing experiences with ayahuasca.