You ever go to the doctor and they tell you something you don’t want to hear? I recently went to a medical professional and the doctor kept insisting that there is something wrong with my liver and blood, which I found really irritating. I got so angry at her. I kept thinking to myself, “why are you telling me this? I don’t like hearing this at all!” That wasn’t on my agenda for the day! I was merely in her office to refill my lady cream prescription and there she was telling me I potentially had some disease. A disease!? Doesn’t that seem so dramatic? She was thinking either tick borne, genetic, or maybe I had slept with someone who shot heroine? That’s a pretty wide range of potentials! I tried to narrow it down in my head, but anything is possible. Ticks are all over the place, my genetics are a bit wacky, and who knows if I have some heroine sex disease from my past? I mean who hasn’t slept with someone who did heroine? Someone who hasn’t lived that’s who!
I left her office a bit perplexed and with a slip of paper telling me to get more bloodwork done. I then decided to consult my acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist to see what she had to say.
My Acupuncturist: Hmmmm. Your liver chi is very weak. Blood deficiency too.
Toni: Oh dear. Do you know why my liver chi is weak?
My Acupuncturist: Because your liver is cold.
Toni: Do you know why my liver is cold?
My Acupuncturist: Because your stomach is cold.
Toni: Do you know why my stomach is cold?
My Acupuncturist: Because your liver is cold.
I much preferred that line of thinking, don’t you? The dialogue with western medicine is too narrow – something is wrong with you thus you have a disease. Such a linear way of thinking, like a boner of rationality pointing me in one direction. The Chinese approach is much more palatable because is circular. The ovarian shaped logic that my liver is cold because my stomach is cold because my liver is cold – an eternal spherical insight into my health. I left my acupuncturist with herbs to warm up my organs and then thought about what to do next as I waited for the results of my blood work. So, I did what any responsible adult would do faced with unknown health ailments. I signed up to do San Pedro with some shamans in the woods.
I am a firm believer that the reason one has physical ailments is because our “higher self” is trying to communicate to our ego through the language of the body. I felt that higher self Toni was trying to tell ego Toni a message that just regular Toni wasn’t listening to. Supposedly the liver has to do with anger, but I wasn’t sure what I was angry at. I try to be a compassionate person that understands where people are coming from. I often visualize the Buddhist practice of picturing those that hurt me as a defenseless baby to remind myself that we are all victims of our programming. Yet according to my liver, I was angry so I had to let that out! Whatever anger that was inside me had to go! My anger at my family, myself, humanity, people from my past… The San Pedro was going to open my heart to it all… right?
I didn’t know much about San Pedro, but I have done ayahuasca before because of course I have. I decided not to look too much into it and instead just open my heart to receive whatever the medicine had to teach me. The ceremony took place outside and during the day, which was very appealing to me. I’d much prefer being in nature than stuck inside in some decontextualized setting where I would feel the absurdity of trying to recreate a traditional ceremony inside. When I had done ayahuasca years before I could not quite get over the reality that I was in fact notin the Amazon jungle, but instead in some yoga studio in Connecticut. At least with this situation I’d be in the forest which I found great solace in.
After drinking the San Pedro, we all got into a line and walked in a silent procession towards the river. It was about a mile and half journey and the whole time I was trying to keep myself from puking. I attempted to appreciate the beauty around me, but anytime I looked up from the soil, the nausea took over. I kept my head down and kept walking, trying to focus on my breath. It then dawned on me that I had NO idea what San Pedro was going to feel like. It had been years since I had done a new “drug,” and didn’t know what to anticipate. I did my best to exhale my fears and release the panic of the unknown.
Eventually we got to the river and made our offerings of tobacco, crystals, and sea shells. We then gathered around a tree to pray and connect to the spirit. The shamans were a husband and wife team which I really appreciated. It felt balanced – both the father and mother energy. They chanted, drummed, talked about our ancestors, and we prayed. I no longer felt sick, but instead lost myself in the quantum entanglement of those who came before me. I connected to my grandfather who I had never met. I did some healing with him and my grandmother around their very contentious divorce. I danced between worlds and held the hands of those that I shared lineage with. The female Shaman started talking about the importance of family, both through blood and humanity. Her voice cracked as she begged us to find our gratitude. My heart broke. I wept at their generosity. I cried tears for their sharing of their ancient wisdom and healing medicine with us white devils. I felt my whiteness profoundly. I sobbed at what white people have done to indigenous people, to nature, to themselves. I felt so much gratitude to bring my ancestors in communion with the ancestors of these shamans. I came to terms with life and death. “We come from our ancestors, and then we return to our ancestors. That’s where we go when we die – back into the arms of our ancestors that bore us. My life’s purpose is to do as much healing as I can of my past ancestors and myself. I then have to bring that energy back to them. The only purpose of my life is to be the best version of myself possible so as to help heal the past, and then to parent my child to be the best person she can be to help heal the future. Death is no big deal. It’s just going back from where I came.” It made so much sense.
After hours of praying it was time to silently walk back. I hugged the tree and started to follow the rest, and realized, “Holy shit Toni, you are tripping HARD!”
I could see the trees breathing. I could see the ground moving. I could have stayed and looked at the bark morph for hours, but I had to follow the rest of the group. I surrendered to my lack of control. I had no personal agency because the experience wasn’t about me. It was about the group. The collective. The family. The shamans were guiding us and I allowed that to be. I kept walking and noticed a leaf. I realized something. “Some people are just born men! They can’t help being born men any more than this leaf can help being born a leaf. They are just men! And men are okay! Men are doing the best they can with being men! And come to think of it, a lot of men don’t rape women. A lot of men don’t beat women. A lot of men don’t destroy nature. A lot of men are really trying.” And just like that, years of resentment, animosity, rage, and disappointment in men just melted away. “Men have something to offer!” I appreciated men in a way I hadn’t maybe ever. Because I have been so disgusted by the actions of SOME men it poisoned me to men. But it wasn’t men that I was angry at exclusively. I was also angry at myself for how I allowed men to treat me. I was mad at myself for what I had done for men. I was furious at myself for not asking more for from men. But men have value. Men are bringing something to this earth that is needed, even if some are corrupted.
We eventually made it back to where the camp site was. A sweat lodge had been built and it was time to enter. It was a cold rainy day, and it was hard to take my clothes off. The mud was up to my ankles and cold. So cold. The air was damp. I shivered. I walked towards the sweat lodge and entered. It was so low to the ground it was hard to sit up. There were so many people packed in, shoulder to shoulder, and in two layers knees to back. I squeezed in and as the next person came in to sit next to me I panicked.
“I can’t do this.”
I couldn’t handle the idea of being boxed in. Trapped. I quickly crawled out. Afraid.
Helper: What’s wrong?
Toni: I can’t do it. Too many people.
I stood outside of the sweat lodge flooded with emotion. I felt terrible. I felt like failure. I was a chicken. I thought I was such a strong person who could do anything, but I was weak. And not to mention, covered in freezing mud. I scrambled to find my clothes. I had never been more ashamed to put clothes on. I could hear everyone in the sweat lodge chanting, praying, and together. I hated myself. I tried to forgive myself. I tried to tell myself maybe I just had to listen to my body. I tried to tell myself it was okay. I tried to fight the fear of missing out. I kneeled by the sweat lodge. I prayed for the people in there. I wanted to support them. I felt like I had let them down. I had let myself down. I was spiraling.
Then, they opened the sweat lodge because they needed to put in more hot rocks! I didn’t know they were going to do that! Someone came out. They had had enough. That meant there was room for me!
Toni: Can I go in?
The helper nodded “yes.” I threw my clothes off and crawled into the collective womb. Maybe I was afraid to enter the womb. Maybe I never felt safe in there? When I sat down the shaman smiled at me. It was so warm. So full of love. His face free of judgement. They closed the door and the darkness overtook me. I felt safe. I closed my eyes and it was as if I was in the bottom of the ocean. Phosphorescent lights pranced before me. The sweat started to pour. The heat was overpowering but I was so grateful. I was so overjoyed that they let me in that the discomfort was meaningless. I was enveloped with appreciation for the experience. I was also lucky because no one was sitting in front of me because I was the last one in. Every time the helpers had to add in more rocks, I had to leave the tent to let that process happen. I got to have a break between each of the 7 or so rounds. Because I had this privilege I wanted to be there for everyone else. They were all trapped. They couldn’t leave. But I could. With each time that I returned and we went in for another round, I tried to hold the space for those that were suffering. I tried to hold them with my energy. I owed them that. The man next to me was a big tall man, and to be folded up like that was hard for him. His toe would touch me, or his elbow. For a moment I was annoyed. When I felt his flesh against mine it took me out of my out of body experience. I didn’t want to be grounded by his skin. I wanted to fly away into another dimension without my body. I felt irritated that he was interfering with my desires. Then I said to myself, “No Toni. Don’t be annoyed. He can’t help it. He’s just an uncomfortable man! He’s doing his best. He’s not trying to annoy you, he’s trying to get more comfortable!” He no longer bothered me. I sent him love and comfort. He deserved it.
In the end, I really enjoyed the sweat lodge. I felt so blessed they let me in, that there was nothing I could complain about – especially considering my position of freedom. Maybe it was okay I didn’t torture myself and found pleasure because then I could be a better support for others? At least that’s what I told myself. As I exited the sweat and smoke filled dome, I was rebirthed, covered in earth, and ready for whatever life had to offer me.
Of course, the next morning I woke up with a deer tick having bit me. I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. Did I just to go a healing San Pedro ceremony to heal from my potential tick disease only to contract another tick disease? Hahah. I hope not. But if I did, there’s always next time.