Like many of you, I’ve been loosely following the rise of psychedelics in clinical treatment for things like PTSD. And like many of you, I’ve been curious to try this therapy for my own stresses and traumas — chief among them, climate anxiety. So it is that I took a little journey to a place where ayahuasca is used medicinally, therapeutically, and legally. This is the chronicle of that journey.
A little backstory first — I’ve written about this before, but climate anxiety for me is real, and has been on my mind for 31 years. I gave my first environmental talk about the corporate propaganda surrounding our food systems and the standard American diet at age 17, after a routine high school sports physical revealed I had a cholesterol level in the 350s. At the time, the doctor and my parents strongly urged me to get on a daily pharmaceutical drug to lower my cholesterol (but neither even so much as mentioned I change my diet). Lucky for me, I lived in the same neighborhood as a classmate whose parents were way ahead of their time. He was the kid who always brought his own lunch to school, and even though he never talked about it, I knew there was something healthier about him and how he ate — and thankfully had the wherewithal to ask him about my dilemma.
I knew I didn’t want to take a drug like that every day, even though back then I am sure that I didn’t distrust pharmaceutical drugs at all. He suggested that I could take the drug … or I could just eat some oatmeal. This mind-blowing piece of advice had, to that point, literally never occurred to me.
The journey of health and sustainability started there for me, with a week at his house, where his parents showed me not just how to cook healthier food (and make it taste amazing), but also how to shop the bulk aisles, avoid processed foods, integrate lots and lots of leafy greens, and also some now-seemingly-obvious things like taking a pause before eating, eating with some intention, chewing food well, and allowing food to digest.
I’ve never looked back. I went to college the next year and started studying environmental issues, launched a couple of green businesses, wrote a couple of books, and now live in an urban ecovillage complete with an immense organic garden, a roof full of solar panels, two Tesla Powerwalls, rain barrels, two EVs, a couple of healthy/happy/sustainability/community-minded housemates, and energy efficiency galore.
I went through my eco-depression early — many years before climate anxiety was a buzzword — but still harbor plenty of it (I just know better how to handle it, and have kept working on solutions as a balm to the stress). I also am now in my mid-40s, so toss a little midlife crisis in there, add on a few startups, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for high stress levels.
As I got more able to open up about this, several of my friends mentioned their ayahuasca journeys and how healing they were for them. I am generally open to trying things (usually not a first adopter, but often an early one), so I booked a retreat somewhere in Latin America during my vacation. I asked around and got a lot of advice about the medicine and its journey, including one saying that one shouldn’t set too many expectations, because the plants will take you where they want to, regardless of what you’re hoping to get out of it. As a scientist by training (MS, Biology), the talk of plant intelligence made me exceptionally dubious, feeling the reverberations of the drug war and its propaganda perhaps. But I remained open minded as best I could.
In the retreat, there were participants from the EU, Canada, and the US. Some had done ayahuasca before, but most hadn’t. When we went around the circle to talk about what brought us here, I opened up about my eco-anxiety (been working on that whole “being more vulnerable” thing — hard for a dude my age who grew up in bravado-times). I told the story of a time in my life that I felt I had lost the only religion I’ve truly ever felt connected to, a spiritual connection to all living things on this planet. I had truly stopped caring about anything. It was a low point in my life, and something I still hadn’t really dealt with psychologically.
So, we went into the evening of taking the medicine with our intentions in mind. Ayahuasca is pretty noxious for human stomachs. Diarrhea and vomiting are common. But not how I imagined it would be. The journey for me started with some visuals, beautiful patterns, and random things floating in and out of my mind. We were told that if there was something scary, just go toward it, and face it, because if you try to hide, the ayahuasca won’t let you, and the overall experience will be far worse. I was immediately convinced of plant intelligence as several minor things came and went out of my head, but once one of the big issues in my life presented itself, the ayahuasca kicked into high gear, forcing me to expel all the contents of my stomach ASAP, and then once that was done, the trauma was front, center, and became beautifully clear. It was as if the plants (there are two plants in ayahuasca) knew that this was the one issue I needed to face the most at that point in my life, and only once I’d mentally accepted it and submitted to the power of the ayahuasca journey with trust and faith (yes, and fear), the plants let me off the hook, sent the toxins out of my body, and commenced helping me heal.
I faced my climate anxiousness head on, going on a rollercoaster of emotions, all the while feeling a lot of new awareness of universal connections. Not easy to explain in words. I saw clearly some of the beautiful things in the world that I’ve done, some of the things I could’ve done, and felt incredibly connected to the ecosystems, people, plants, and animals I’ve fought my whole adult life to save. This was a new feeling — for most of my life I’d felt as if this was a somewhat one-sided profession, that we do this for the bears who don’t know we’re trying to help them and would still eat us if given the chance. Would a bear know me from a Koch brother? During ayahuasca, it felt like, yes, it would. I even recalled a time I came within 50 feet of a mother and 3 cubs, and they walked on by without so much as looking my way.
I won’t go into much detail beyond saying that the journey was really good for me. Lots of ups, lots of downs, lots of healing. I described it to a friend as two years of therapy in one night. With psychedelics, I have heard that the work truly begins afterwards, though, in working to integrate what you learn during your journey and actually changing your life and your thought patterns. Part of that was the day after, talking with the rest of the people on the retreat and hearing their journeys and stories. So many of them had awakenings and callings to start to work on making the world a better place. Virtually everyone had a sense of wanting to do more on the environmental front. Several described feelings of letting go of possessions, becoming more minimalistic, and a great desire to get into a space of being of service, whether it was in agriculture or law or activism or their career. Several mentioned feeling more optimistic and hopeful that their work would be important in helping solve some of our global issues.
Many of the retreat participants were in their early 20s, and the level of high-mindedness and altruism after the ayahuasca journey, for me, was an incredibly hopeful sign that the younger generation is getting ramped up to help change the world and solve our biggest issue of climate change.
My insight on ayahuasca, and the reason I believe it is gaining so much momentum globally, is that it is the tool that the goddess Gaia is using to wake up the world — to me, it feels like she knows that she needs to wake people up to the dangers facing our natural world. Ayahuasca is her direct conduit, her tool, to reach humanity and open people’s minds.
The main reasons I say this is that a) everyone felt some calling to do better, as I mentioned above, and b) the number of people who talked about wanting to bring others to do this medicine and/or to start their own retreat centers was very high — if you’d have polled the people at my retreats (I’ve now done this twice), I’d guess that, if they had the chance, 90+% of them would jump at the chance to join or start a retreat center and spread ayahuasca healing. And everyone who talked openly about this described it as a way to build more consciousness into the human race, a desperately needed element to help get us out of the climate crisis.
If it all sounds a little woo woo to you, I understand. I would have been the same prior to my journey. As I mentioned, I am a scientist by training, and every time I had the thought that I wanted to understand the mechanism of brain chemicals, etc., during my journey, I had to fight to let go of the thought and just let myself experience the “magic” for a bit. It really was remarkable, beyond words, cosmic … all the cliche things you might have heard about people seeing God during their ayahuasca journey? Yep. I felt it. And I’m happy I have a much greater relationship with Gaia now, and know she’s actively helping those of us fighting to make the world a better place. The fact that I saw so many people awakening during this process fills me with a lot of hope.
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