I wouldn’t be an organic eating, yoga practicing, Birkenstock and sock wearing new age hippy if I hadn’t partaken in a Shamanic Journey. Even though the ideal circumstance for such an occasion would have been the South American rainforest, my voyages took place in the exotic locales of Connecticut, Long Island, and Brooklyn. So yeah, there is a post-modern contextual conflict happening with my ceremonial experiences – yet they were still profound and healing.
Here are the stories of the Shamanic expeditions I took into my mind, heart, and spirit.
The First Shamanic Journey
It was 2008, and I was in a really bad place. I was dealing with my brain tumor, the transitioning of a 12-year relationship, and the failing of my business. Needless to say I was depressed, lost, and hating myself. I was invited to drink ayahuasca with a Colombian shaman who was holding a ceremony in a yoga studio… in Connecticut… so obviously I went.
I had my period during this time, so when I got there, I was told I had to adorn myself with a moon menses belt. This consisted of my taking pinches of tobacco to place into small squares of red fabric, and then making 108 miniature pouches. I then had to tie each tiny tobacco-filled sack to a red string, and wear it around my waist like a badge of menstrual honor. This was not only time-consuming but also super fucking embarrassing. Usually one hides their lunar flow by plugging up the poon, or sitting on a cotton cushion to soak up blood – yet in this instance I had to put my leaking lotus on full display for all to know about.
When the ceremony was ready to begin, we all took our places on our yoga mats. There were buckets next to us in case we had to purge – a.k.a. barf. We were asked to come up one by one to drink the sacred vine. After it was my turn, I had one of those moments of “holy shit – no turning back now,” and wondering what the hell was going to happen.
Even though it was suggested we sit up in a meditative pose, pretty sure I was lying down in a fetal position the entire time. It was a very solitary experience. We weren’t supposed to talk or communicate with anyone, and instead explore the inside of our own consciousness – what a creepy place! I felt like the ayahuasca had a distinct feminine energy. Part of what was happening inside my brain was like a downloading of information about how the systems of nature work. Suddenly I would be like, “oh, that’s why birds migrate.” It was beautiful, peaceful, and poetic.
Then there was this mining of my mind that was really uncomfortable. It was as if I were staring into the void of my shadow self. Everything that sucked about me was on full display to examine. At the time I didn’t know how to unpack everything, and I remember wanting to peel myself out of my own membranes.
The shaman was chanting as his protégés played instruments to guide our excursion. At one point, we were asked to come to the center of the room, one at a time, to stand stoically while the shaman and his apprentices did their therapeutic work. It was suggested to take off your shirt to receive the offerings fully, but I am way too much of a New Englander for that. I remember thinking to myself that maybe “taking off your shirt” was just a suggestion for the shaman to see some tits. Then I felt bad for considering that, but I also laughed because that would be hilarious.
The whole event lasted through the night, and then around 5 a.m. we all went to sleep. The next day I felt very agitated and inaccessible. The group was all connecting over a common bond, but I couldn’t relate to anyone. I was feeling judgey and annoyed. One of the assistants came to talk to me, and told me that healing can’t just be an occasional activity, but that I had to make ceremony and ritual be a part of my everyday life. She reminded me that in order to make time for my recovery, I had to truly commit to the process. Even though I wanted to punch this girl, I knew she was right.
A few days later, I had one of the most insightful realizations about myself. Having a competitive nature was the root of my dis-ease. Every time I compared myself to another person, I was participating in a disservice to us both. From that point forward, when I found myself thinking I was better than someone, or that someone was better than am, I would stop, and send that person love. I then trained my brain to no longer participate in that kind of destructive dialogue, and instead focus on my own evolution rather than the distraction of others.
The Second Shamanic Journey:
One of my dearest friends was spending her summer in Long Island doing multiple ceremonies with a shaman. She was interested in figuring out how to create an institution in Peru that would meld plant medicine with modern Western approaches, so it was part of her research. She invited me to participate, but I was on the fence.
At this point, I had been sober for 4 years, and felt committed to my meditation practice. My rationale was that meditating was my path towards healing, and I didn’t need the influence of outside substances to achieve what I was looking for. Yet I decided to go anyway to support my friend.
When I got there, I didn’t get the best feeling from the shaman. The energy of the whole event was too male-dominated, and felt imbalanced. I decided that I wasn’t going to partake, but go with everyone anyway to “hold the space.” Let me tell you something, the only thing weirder than doing ayahuasca in Long Island with a bunch of strangers, is NOT doing ayahusaca while everyone else does. I was just WAYYYYY too aware of what was going on.
After everyone drank, there was an hour of calm before the storm hit. It was like a cacophony of puking – people vomiting in a round… “row, row, row your boat” style. There was also a lot of writhing and moaning going on. I was trying to be chill and meditate, but I kept looking around at everyone thrashing and occasionally screaming.
My friend was next to me, and obviously very uncomfortable. She was quiet and enduring, but also kept wiggling and shifting positions. Even though talking was frowned upon, I whispered to her anyway.
Toni: Are you okay?
My Friend: Not really.
We both sat with this knowledge for a minute.
My friend: Come downstairs with me.
We stepped over expunging people, and walked down the candle-lit stairs. There was an open room with doors leading to bathrooms, and a massive rug on the floor. My friend went over to sit on the bench, and looked at me with a disturbed expression.
My Friend: I am not okay.
Toni: What is going on?
My Friend: I think he gave me too much. I feel like I can’t be inside my own body right now.
Toni: Oh no! Are you in pain?
My Friend: It’s just… being confined-by-my-own-skin torture. I don’t know? Do you think maybe it is because I drank last night, had sex, and then we had all that pizza in the car??
*Note to reader: I had picked up my friend in NYC that morning, who was very hung over from drinking and having hot sex with a guy all night. I then bought us a pizza, which we split during the drive up. It is suggested that for a week before drinking ayahuasca you DON’T DRINK ALCHOL, HAVE SEX, OR EAT DAIRY!!!
Toni: You think?
My Friend: Fuck… I shouldn’t have done that.
Toni: Do you want me to do some reiki on you?
My friend: Please…
Toni: Okay, let me just pee and I will meet you upstairs.
My friend went back upstairs, and I went to the potty. When I came out, there was a girl crumpled on the floor weeping.
Toni: Ummm are you okay?
The girl looked at me with wild eyes full of fear. I remembered her because she was a beautiful Russian model, and I had been staring at her all night.
Russian Model: What’s happening to me? I am so afraid. I am not okay. I need help.
Toni: Uhhhh, do you want me to do some reiki on you?
I sat across from this stunning woman, and put my hands on her lap to do reiki. She was terrified, and weeping so violently, that I felt I had to calm her mind by saying something.
Toni: There’s nothing to be afraid of. All that is happening is that you are in your own mind. You don’t have to fear yourself. It’s just you in there – and you are getting to know you. You are totally safe inside you.
Russian Model: I am cheating on my husband, and I think I have to go upstairs and tell him.
Now thank mother Gaia this exquisite creature was talking to me – a person with incredibly flexible morals. Call me crazy, but I really don’t think tripping balls on ayahuasca is the right time to admit your indiscretions. Plus… I already saw her gross, rich, fat, old husband.
Toni: Of course you are cheating on your husband. You are a magnificent goddess from another dimension. Every man that looks at you, would want to enter your sweet canyon of mystery. But the deterioration of your relationship is not your burden alone to bear. You are both 50% responsible for whatever is going on, and the mere fact that you care means that you are a good person! You are not an asshole who doesn’t give a shit, but a righteous soul who is deeply concerned about your actions. But now is not the time to be plagued with guilt. First forgive yourself in this moment, and then tell him tomorrow.
The Russian Model collapsed in my arms with relief. I held her, and stroked her hair – both for her benefit and mine. I mean, she was insanely hot. As I cradled her, I felt the daemons leave her. She was no longer heavy with panic, but her whole body became very light and buoyant.
Russian Model: Thank you so much. You are my angel.
Toni: No, you are.
She hugged me for a while, thanking me profusely. My friend then came back downstairs to see me embracing this divine being and was like “WHAT THE FUCK! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!” I mean… I know I momentarily ditched my friend for a Russian model, but she was a Russian model in need, so… come on.
When I went back upstairs with my friend she was pissed! But she was also suffering, so that was her main priority. I put my hands on her to do some reiki, but her energy was resisting it.
Toni: Ummm, I feel like you’re fighting it.
My friend finally forgave me, and started to relax – but she was still struggling. At one point, one of the shaman’s assistants came over to give my friend a tobacco bath to help calm her nerves. Now, I believe in the grounding and healing properties of the tobacco plant – but I am not so sure my friend was that keen on someone blowing second hand smoke in her face repeatedly. Then, I got an idea of what could help her.
Toni: Do you want me to tickle your back?
My Friend: Sure.
I tickled my friend’s back just like I would my kid when she was sick. It really does make you feel better because that type of light touch on the skin actually releases endorphins. So I tickled her back/arm/head/calf until the daemons left her, and she settled back into herself.
I realized that what was missing from this particular ceremony was the mother energy. All I was doing for these women was listening, telling them everything was going to be okay, and tenderly stroking their tenseness away. They needed to be momentarily nurtured to let go of whatever was plaguing them.
For me, the mother role is one I am always taking on in relationships. There are times where I have resented this – always having to be responsible and take care of others. Yet this night, I discovered that this was a great gift to give people. Instead of focusing on my own bitterness that people don’t play this part in my life, I was filled with joy that I could be this for others in their times of need. I realized that this wasn’t something I needed or craved, so there is no reason to be aggrieved that I don’t have it. I can mother myself just like I mother others, and there is true beauty to that.
I was pretty blown away that just by me being around the sacred plant, there was still so much knowledge to learn!!! I didn’t have to actually take the ayahuasca to benefit from it!
The Third Shamanic Journey
After 6 years of sobriety I was ready to shake things up a bit. Another friend invited me to work with someone who she felt a deep connection to. This friend has a very delicate nervous system, and is not the kind of person who does any mind-altering substances. If my super sensitive friend was into this shaman’s work, I felt like I could handle it because even she described it as mellow.
I was expecting a similar set-up as the other two. Where we all would take the medicine, and then go back to our seats and have a solitary trip. Yet this shaman’s approach was very different. He was all about community, connecting, and being with each other.
He also didn’t work exclusively with ayahusaca, but plant medicines from around the world. I ended up taking something called Kava, which is from western Africa, and felt a lot like pure MDMA.
When I was living in NYC and was always surrounded by people, I could see why the universe would provoke me to go through things alone. Yet now that I live a very remote country lifestyle, I can see why the cosmos would suggest I have a more of a collective experience.
I spent the entire night attached to 3 people. We connected, and then I was immediately co-dependent with them. I wanted them close to me at all times, because I felt like our heartstrings had entwined. One of them looked so much like my friend Bitty who had died, and it was such a sweet melancholy to look at her face. It reminded me of all the times I haven’t had with Bitty, and how much I missed the memories we never got to make together.
Rather than having a shaman going around to heal us, we were all there for each other in this unique way. We talked about our childhoods, our present pains, our fears, and existential questions. We all knew how to be there for each other, and listened to our intuition on how to best support one another. It was like the healer in our own selves was awoken, and all we had to do was trust it.
The night was so sweet, kind, and full of understanding. I never wanted it to end. Even the thought of the outside world felt unfathomable. I was so in the moment that I couldn’t’ help but wish the moment would last forever.