But what if we see them as common human responses to life? (Some addictions can be serious and life-threatening and in no way to I want to make light of them, but point to aspects that underlie addictive patterns.) What we label “addiction” can be seen as a means to an experience of something besides the present moment, because that present moment is too painful, uncomfortable, unbearable or causes suffering. We ultimately want relief, an escape, a release, more peace, or to be more comfortable.
Emotions can be extremely uncomfortable. Sorrow, sadness, anger, grief, frustration, or even intense pleasure or joy can be very uncomfortable for some. Physical pain - either from extreme injuries, serious disease, or low-level chronic illnesses- can be unbearable and cause suffering. Even our thoughts can be self-sabotaging, self-critical, or somehow keep us from achieving our goals in life. These human experiences can be too much for us to handle. So we find something to help.
A friend recently shared this Tim Ferriss interview with one of the world’s leading addiction experts, Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Maté worked for many years with people struggling with addiction. He's also an advocate for using plant medicine (in some cases) to help people overcome their addictive patterns.
“Addiction”, as Dr. Maté defines it, is when there is a craving for a pattern (or substance), a negative long-term impact of engaging in it and the inability to give it up. After his work in treating addiction over many years, he saw that addictive patterns start in childhood, as we develop coping mechanisms in response to our environment. The patterns helped us at one time deal with difficulties early in life, but are no longer helping us in the present to live the life we are desiring. We respond to our current environment in automatic patterns that began as our brains developed as children. Dr. Maté emphasizes that NOTHING IS WRONG with us to have these reactions, emotions, or sensations and for reaching for something to help. What if our addictive patterns are our responses to something arising in our consciousness that we don’t know how else to deal with? He also encourages us to refrain from blaming the environment, but to accept is as it was (or is in the present). If we see nothing is wrong with us or our environment, we start to get curious about how we are responding.
Many addictive behaviors are automatic and unconscious, we don’t even know we are doing them…until we do. I’ve found myself reaching for the 2nd or 3rd cup of caffeine (or alcohol), chocolate, tobacco, or diverting my attention to endless internet surfing, etc.
Once I notice, sometimes, I stop and catch myself, remembering what is happening and drop into the experience of discomfort. Other times, I notice, and yet the pattern is so strong, it still plays itself out. But what HAS shifted, is that I don’t blame myself, shame myself, beat myself up or punish myself anymore (or anyone else). I simply see it as a pattern, accept it and take a moment to drop in further. What is it I am avoiding that is leading me to this? What is this pattern trying to show me right now? Might it simply be an old pattern from childhood replaying itself over and over again? What is actually needed in this moment beyond the addictive pattern?
With the curiosity, I feel more empowered. I get to explore what is underlying my response and addictive pattern - a call for deep healing. I see how the pattern is impacting me - the truth of the impact. And I get to learn what it is ultimately trying to teach me - my higher self knocking on the door.
Supportive people can welcome and accept us as we are, and point us in the direction of expansion and growth. Some can even help us repair the old wounds, so that we do not have to live in the outdated pattern anymore. Other non-humans, such as plants, herbs and animals, can also offer us support, through their presence, acceptance and non-verbal ways of teaching us who we are.
Having practices we routinely return to, can also help us in the healing journey. We naturally have practices we gravitate towards to bring more ease and peace. These practices can be spending time in nature, listening to music, making art, yoga, meditation, qi gong, mantra, prayer, and any other rituals where we slow down from our normal lives to pay attention to something else. These practices help us develop our inner healing capacity and expand expand our consciousness. We can grow our own inner resources to be with ourselves in the painful and uncomfortable experiences, and can shift the old patterns into ones that better serve our life path.
One powerful tool that isn’t the right fit for everyone is the use of psychedelics and plant medicines. Plant medicines have been an integral part of my own healing journey. Anyone feeling called to work with these medicines, I would highly advise doing your research on any medical contraindications, finding reputable healers and guides, and to prepare for proper committed psychological preparation and integration. (I have been helping people prepare and integrate their plant medicine experiences for the last 5 years. You can read more about one of my own early plant medicine experiences in this blog post and learn more about my work here.) I agree with Dr. Maté when he says that these experiences can open doors in healing, because they quickly bypass the ego (the formed, conditioned mind that holds these automatic responses). He cautions they can not be taken in isolation and that these experiences have to be integrated into our lives with the support of others and development of practices. Otherwise they can become only a memory of experience and not useful in healing on a deeper level.
It’s in finding the right mix of support and practices, that we can shift these old patterns. It is most commonly a gradual process over time (possibly with miraculous leaps too!) that bring us to a healthier, up-to-date operating system where we have access to our true potential.
At times, it might not be the time to dive into our pain and discomfort, sit with it, process it, and heal it. Especially traumas - deep physical, emotional and psychological wounds- can be intensely debilitating to experience again, without the proper support. The things we turn to can be medicine, supporting us with qualities we need in the moment: grounding, pain relief, nourishment, energy, or simply a break. However, the spectrum of what we at one time use as a medicine, can become a poison or turn into an addiction without conscious awareness.
It’s up to us to determine where that line and balance is. How do we come to terms with the range of impacts? Can we tell ourselves the truth- are we actually able to give them up? With some of the so-called hard addictions, the long-term negative impacts may not only be consequential to living our lives, but also life-threatening, and yet we are still unable to let them go. For some softer addictions, we may be able to let them go - for a day, a week, a month at a time- working through the pattern with moderation. Sometimes, this can in fact teach us at a more sustainable pace, bringing stability to new patterns.
Here, we find at least a moment of peace and truth, free from the pain and suffering we were experiencing. This is an important moment- in that moment, we are a reminded of how it feels to live without suffering. While some addictive patterns numb us out, we are free of the suffering for a moment. With other patterns, we may have access to other parts of ourselves that get overshadowed by the pain. Maybe we have more creativity, realizations and insights, we feel more comfortable and safe in our bodies, or we can see clearly what actions to take. Our higher wisdom is not only pointing us to healing, but to what we are beyond the healing, beyond the addiction, beyond the pain.
The journey through and beyond addiction is the teacher, teaching us about our humanity. There is nothing wrong with us, but everything perfectly human about us. Each and every one of us.
Many blessings for our journeys,
With the decriminalization of entheogenic plant medicines in Oakland and Denver (YES!!!!), I’ve been thinking about all my plant medicine experiences, and how I’ve often hidden my experiences over the years. And how if they’d been legal, how I may have reached out for support during these utterly life-changing experiences of altered states of consciousness. I struggled for years to understand or find meaning or even believe that what I experienced was valid or real.
In 2010, I went down to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca for the first time. I was terrified going into it, and I was more terrified during it - what could prepare me for all the images, sensations, being out of the body, and losing connection with all known reality? My high school and college explorations of psilocybin definitely didn’t prepare me for this. Fear, nausea, dizziness, pain, snakes, dark bodies of energy floating in and around me, paranoia, and the impending doom that I was going to die or it would never end plagued me. And then something profound happened. I was in my 3rd ceremony and I found myself lying in a shallow pool of water. Waterfalls were nearby, butterflies and hummingbirds fluttered around, the scent of flowers were deliciously perfuming the air, the icaros of the Shipibo curandera sounded like pure beauty, caressing my every cell. I was in bliss, and understood that the universe was composed of pure energy and love. I rejoiced in the confirmation of something my intuition always told me, LOVE was the divine power. Not the religious “God” from my childhood. I knew it! I was right! Even as a kid, the “God” they were talking about felt like something was missing. Somehow, in this ceremony, I thought I’d been let in on some big secret, that only a few select people ever got to experience in this Western life. And it was because I’d taken the courageous journey down to the jungle, and drank this foul-tasting brew, called ayahuasca, that no one back home knew I was doing. I also saw my life, the lives of my loved ones, existing in this messy reality and them all returning to love, over and over again, throughout time. Everything I thought, or had been taught, that mattered (success, image, beauty, not making mistakes, trauma), was a lie in the big scheme. But it was part of the human experience, and it was all held in love.
The next day, while others were sharing their experiences, I was tongue-tied. Back in my ordinary consciousness, I struggled to find words to describe my experience. I felt confused, emotional and alone. Others seemed to have no trouble relaying what they saw, what happened, and what they learned. But I couldn’t share any of it. I was horrified to speak about something that existed beyond words. What happened, is I started to not believe it myself, and I closed it down as it didn’t seem to fit in with others' experiences. My feeling of isolation deepened.
I returned to the US, and a world of spiritual teachings that felt distant in the past, were easy to access, as if my being already knew their truth. As I plowed through Eckhart Tolle’s books, I cried more than I ever had in my life. I didn’t know why...I just let the tears flow. Again, I had no one to share my experiences with. I’d been opened up to a world I didn’t understand and I had no idea what was happening to me. I was afraid to share with people who may have understood, because I was protective of having partaken in some strange illegal shamanic ceremony in the middle of the jungle. I was afraid of being judged, ridiculed, or looked down upon. At this time, no one in my circle of friends had even heard of ayahuasca. They thought I was crazy. I had a counselor and mentor at the time to help me with eating disorders, and really wanted to talk to her about it, intuiting she would probably know something about my experience, but I shied away again for fear of being judged for what I had done.
I continued to go back to the Amazon, year after year. Something was calling me, yet my mind couldn’t make any sense of what I was experiencing. I just know I had to keep going, and I felt so much better than before. Most of it, I did and experienced it alone. Over time, I found people to share with, letting little bits of my journey be spoken, and also protecting other parts. I still often dismissed many things that I thought were crazy, stupid or “wrong.” I thought I fabricated things in my mind and I didn’t have experiences like others' because my mind was “out of control." Both the profoundly beautiful experiences and the darkest experiences - I kept them to myself, as I didn't trust myself that my experience was real enough.
It took me many years to come to realize that everything I experience is valid in my consciousness, in my growth and evolution. In ceremony and out of ceremony. Nothing is invalid, nothing deserves to be judged, or shamed or hidden away. And I don't have to share it with anyone for it to be valid. It is an experience for me. I can share what feels right, when it feels right.
As I write this, I have clients who have unbelievable experiences with ayahuasca and other plant medicines. They often think they are going insane and dismiss their experiences, hiding them back away afraid of being seen by me or seeing themselves what the experiences are here to teach them. I remind them they can share with me what they feel they want to share, and they can keep things for themselves. Sometimes they stretch and share the "crazy" things, sit in the fear of letting it out of the closet, letting someone else hear and reflect their deepest experiences.
I remind them that EVERYTHING happens for a reason. EVERYTHING is important and valid. EVERYTHING is given to us to unravel, unpack and integrate into our lives in some way. Or also to be put aside for another time. Again, EVERYTHING is valid. Of course, after a ceremony, we won’t remember EVERYTHING that happened, as the human mind simply cannot. But other parts of our being remember- the experience is in our cells, our DNA, our soul, our life force. It is moving and guiding us with every breath. I would have loved to have someone I trust be able to reflect back my experiences, to help me see myself better, to see how the teachings were informing my life, and to help me bring the hidden parts back out into the light. Having someone see those parts, the ones we hide, with openness, welcoming them as teachers, is often the healing we are seeking. We get to be held in love and acceptance, even in the parts and experiences that feel confusing, broken, shameful, unexplainable, or totally out of this world.
I feel grateful to be able to hold and guide people through their ayahuasca experiences, and other profound experiences we humans can have. As it helps them grow and evolve, it also allows me to drop deep into love of both the human experience and the beyond human experience that holds us all.
24 years ago, when I was 14 years old, I took a train from Colorado out to San Francisco for spring break. And I fell in LOVE. The vibrancy and energetic ebullience of San Francisco won me over. Walking through the Haight and Golden Gate park, feeling the sunshine and the cool ocean mist, I just knew it was home. The rawness of the grit mixed with a creative flow felt like freedom to my soul. After that trip, I returned to Colorado with a pair of 4-in vintage platform shoes, a tie-dyed shirt and a fresh inspiration and vision for my life on Earth.
Next week, I leave my beloved Bay, a home base for the last 16 years. It’s been home to graduating from grad school (twice!), getting married and divorced, having a professional career as an engineer and leaving it all behind for the unknown, owning a home (yes, that happened before it got crazy expensive), integrating my 4 years of traveling, and creating the inner foundations for a new life for myself, one more aligned with who I am at my essence. Yet, my new life calls for more sustainability and sacredness, a deep integrated connection with nature, living in an affordable and quiet home, creating smaller community with like-minded conscious beings, and planting my roots, so that I can grow my soul’s work and offerings in the world. While I know no place is perfect, and many here are striving for the same things, I know the time has come for me to move on to a new place on Earth.
And I will miss you Bay Area. I will miss your stunning beauty, your aliveness, your cultural diversity, and your endless variety of activities. Thank you for holding me through such a huge part of my life. I leave deeply enriched and transformed, and I feel you in my being where ever I end up calling my next home!
I’ve just returned from the high jungles of the Peruvian Amazon feeling refreshed and grounded. I spent the first few weeks of 2019, resetting, reconnecting and remembering. Each year, I return to this sacred place on Earth - my spiritual home. The aliveness and vibrancy of the jungle fills my heart with joy and a profound restful peace.
You can read more about my journey here! If you want to receive emails with future newsletters and information about adventures, please sign up here.
My latest newsletter can be read here! If you want to receive emails with future newsletters and information about adventures, you can sign up here.
Two years ago today, little miss Chiric Sanango and I found each other in Peru. I honor that day when fate did its magical thing. This furry being has brought so much love and joy into my life. I never knew that this special connection could grow, evolve and continue to offer me endless lessons. While reflecting on that day, I remembered something else that had happened that I’ve never really shared…
Earlier that same day, I experienced an “awakening” or entered an awakened state of consciousness. I don’t write much about these experiences as I am still hesitant to share with such vulnerability, even though it's becoming more common for people to talk about them. And I have a perfectionist in me that wants to thoroughly investigate all possibilities and to “get it right” when sharing so as to not be in conflict with someone else’s explanation of what they think may have happened. But it was my experience, and so I am sharing a piece of it as I know it now, in hopes that we as humanity can talk more about these types of experiences, and learn and grow together in them, celebrate and honor the uniqueness of how awakening unfolds for each and every person. I value the individual and collective awakening experiences, that are bringing us into the next level of life on this planet.
I’d been in other moments of awakening before, mostly meditating in temples in India or in plant medicine ceremonies in Peru or in earlier years, backpacking in the wilderness. In those moments (which often lasted for hours), I didn’t have the language or a map to explain what was happening. I never had a teacher or a guru who had taught me techniques or given me transmissions to access these states of consciousness. I never even had had a conversation or a lecture on the topic of awakening. So when they first started to occur, I didn’t have a context in which to place them. The closest had been Eckart Tolle’s “Power of Now” which I didn’t really understand until I re-read it after I had my first substantial life-changing awakening in 2010. This particular time, 2 years ago, I knew it was happening (helped by the fact that I’d been receiving some basic Buddhist-based meditation teachings and transmissions in the 6 months prior). The small “me” dissolved - both my thoughts and my body disappeared, and all that existed was existence itself. The dream of reality became surreal, the sound vibrations of the jungle floated in and out, time stopped and I was one with everything. I sat in my backyard, waiting for nothing to happen. And it did. It was divinely perfect. Peace, stillness and spaciousness were all that existed.
I had just hiked down the mountain outside Tarapoto, Peru from spending 2 weeks in a traditional plant diet, with a plant named Chiric Sanango. In Amazonian healing traditions, plant diets are a time of drinking a tea brewed of various parts of a plant (or multiple plants), eating simply, and living in the jungle in isolation to heal, learn and grow with the plant and its wisdom. On the hike down, I was reflecting on my experience, letting the lessons from the plant seep in deeper. Chiric Sanango was very much strongly present with me in my consciousness and energy field. What streamed in on the hike down were what I recognized as embodied qualities of the goddess Kali - destroyer of evil, slayer of demons, liberator from maya, and divine protector, among others. I felt her fury and power, a grounded sense of “no more” and an unbending stand for the ultimate truth. I arrived back to my house, and felt the shift continue into another state of consciousness over the next hour or so. I’d also experienced this state in the 2 week diet, but it had either been with the teaching assistance of ayahuasca or was more brief. One particular solo session with ayahuasca had brought me into an awakened state through the appearance of Shiva - pure consciousness, also destroyer, and protector among other revered qualities. My experiences on my Indian pilgrimage from earlier that year were integrating and informing my experiences in the jungle!
As I sat outside in the yard, I realized my mind and its normal density of thoughts were not present, but instead a deep sense of knowing and non-doing anchored in. It was in this non- time/space, that I heard what sounded like puppies crying softly in the distance. I had the thought "soon they will be crawling through the yard." After what seemed like both an eternity and no time at all, I found my way through the house and down the street to the market, to discover that the presence of this stillness didn’t go away as I moved in the world. I and it were one. In fact, I was one with everything I encountered, including the mango I bought, the coconut water I drank and the neighbor who asked where I’d been the last 2 weeks. This wasn’t the first experience of this way of being, but it was the first time I was aware I’d entered another state of consciousness without “doing” anything to get “there” and a context for what “there" actually was. This state lasted for about 6 hours. Before bed, I sat down to meditate, only to remember that my meditation was already happening. I eventually drifted off to sleep, slipping out of the awakened state sometime along the way.
A few hours later, I awoke (this time from sleep) to the sounds of a puppy crying outside my window. I remembered the distant puppy cries I’d heard earlier in the day, and almost fell back to sleep. However, this time the cries were much louder than before, even with ear plugs. I felt something had happened, and decided to go out to see what I could find. I took a flash light and went towards the sound of the cries. We had a deep drainage ditch in the yard along the back fence. With the light, I discovered a tiny black puppy with white and black spots in the ditch lost, disoriented and crying. I went back to grab my shoes and a chair to put down in the ditch, so I could climb down. As I approached the puppy, I was struck at its vulnerability as a tiny, helpless being, while my heart was breaking open and my mind went to worry of “What do I do?” I carefully picked up the delicate being, who was barely bigger than the size of my hand. Both of us were shaking. I held her close to my chest, feeling her warm fuzzy body on my skin as I walked down the ditch shining the light around looking for the mother. On the other side of the ditch, I found her - a black dog suspiciously looking down at me from a higher elevation. I held the puppy up to her nose. She smelled the puppy, and then turned away and walked a few steps back. I was horrified and my heart sank. I had no idea about animal behavior and didn’t know if this was normal or if I had done something wrong by holding the puppy. I found a ledge in the side of the ditch close to where the mother had been and put the puppy there, thinking maybe she would come get her when I wasn’t holding her. The mother turned and walked further away and disappeared into the dark. I was not prepared in any way to follow a stray dog around in the dark hoping she’d take the puppy in her mouth to a safe place or wait and watch until she returned. The puppy continued crying and I knew I had to bring it inside or it probably wouldn’t survive the night alone out there in the ditch. I scooped it back up in my arms, and went inside the house to face the reality of a baby puppy crying for mama’s milk now in my care… <3
Latest newsletter can be read here! If you want to receive emails with future newsletters and information about adventures, you can sign up here.
Protectress of Mother Earth, Energy Healing, Plant Medicine Integration, Coach, Writer