Like many type-A leaders, I had resisted psychedelics for fear of feeling out of control. The ego death I experienced during a plant medicine journey cured that illusion—and so many others.
About seven years ago, a twenty-something guy showed up in a spiritual class I was taking. He shared with the group that he had just recently engaged with an Indigenous plant medicine called Ayahuasca. After he left, the instructor made it a point to let us know that “Ayahuasca was for people who didn’t want to do the work, for people looking for a shortcut to the process of healing.”
It’s clear to me now that she had never actually sat with the medicine, but I decided right then and there that I would never do Ayahuasca. I was committed to doing the hard work of inner healing. I put plant medicine out of my mind, but I have to admit I remained curious.
Years later, I began researching magic mushrooms, Ayahuasca, and other hallucinogens. I found myself on websites where people vaguely described their psychedelic journeys. I learned enough to reignite that curiosity and even subscribed to the email list of an Ayahuasca retreat center in Costa Rica. Two more years passed, plus a pandemic. On one solo Friday night, after watching an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix, I decided that I wanted to go to Lima, Peru for a once-in-a-lifetime experience at a top restaurant. Within 48 hours of that decision, the Costa Rica-based retreat center emailed to announce the opening of a new location in Peru. I immediately reserved two spots, not knowing yet who would join me on the trip.
My former shadow work coach (and now best friend) jumped at the opportunity. She felt the call but wasn’t sure how, when, or where it would come to fruition. We ventured together to Lima, then Tarapoto, into the Amazon jungle.
On the morning of our ceremony—exactly one year ago today (10/25/23)—we engaged in vomitivo, a purposeful purge of cooled lemongrass tea to cleanse the body and further prepare for the medicine. We entered the maloka, a large round treehouse on stilts in the middle of the rainforest, complete with screened walls and three modern restrooms. We had a light, restorative yoga class before the Shipibo healers and retreat facilitators joined us. After the space was energetically prepared, each of us was dosed according to what the Shipibo maestra learned about us—everything from whether or not we had sat with the medicine before, how many pints of tea we purged, nuanced information about our personalities, and more.
Maestra Tanya handed me a full cup, I swallowed it, and I thanked her. Upon returning to my mat within the circle, I eventually lay down and closed my eyes. My limbs began to feel slightly heavy. My amygdala kicked in; for a brief moment, I worried that I might feel pinned down, but I immediately caught myself. Stay curious! When I stayed with the feeling, I realized how lovely it felt to experience the absence of any pain or discomfort in my body.
That mental shift was the catalyst for the spectacle that ensued. My visual world burst open with a 4D mosaic of pink and yellow, interlocking, geometric shapes. Everything in my view moved at a soothing pace, but the experience itself was a bit overwhelming in the best way imaginable. It was as if the entire world was a musical show designed just for me. I was in awe. How could all of this be just for me?
I found myself in a flowing dialogue with Mama Aya, where I respected her completely, and I also fully retained agency. I had come to the ceremony with three intentions:
- to know the content of my heart and my capacity for love;
- to understand the root of my anxiety so that I may release attachment to it; and
- to see how I keep myself small so that I may step forward with my gifts.
Mama Aya already knew why I was there; she had been waiting for me to answer her call.
After basking in the sheer joy of the world that I was being shown, I floated up to the top of the sky. The blue-and-white-spotted canvas in front of me began to pixelate, and the sky began to disintegrate before my eyes. Instead of being frightened, it felt like I was being let in on a secret that few people knew: behind the limited facade of Earth’s sky, I was shown that my capacity for love was bigger than the Universe. At first, it felt like I was the only one with a well this infinite, but within seconds, I got the sense that there were many others who also had this broad bandwidth for deep human connection and reciprocity. Here, I felt like I belonged. As if I belonged to myself and universal consciousness all at once.
The remainder of the journey was filled with clarity as to what was happening inside the brain of my stepmom, exactly how I should maintain a clean vessel, and ego death (in the form of bodily disintegration while fully conscious). Of course, there was so much more. Some of that I’d like to keep just for me, and some of my most profound experiences are detailed in my forthcoming book, Heal to Lead: Revolutionizing Leadership through Trauma Healing (April 2024, Wiley).
Reflecting on my journey one year ago, I have come to understand that the integration process can be profound and subtle depending on the day. In many ways, I still feel as though Ayahuasca is teaching me about myself, the world, and my place in it. My heart is bigger than the Universe. I am a guide for those who are awakening. I have a message to share. I am stepping boldly into my innate gifts, starting right now.