To all of you who step up and help in any fashion with Ayahuasca ceremonies, I salute you. The level of integrity, commitment, and compassion this requires can never, ever be described; you always learn in trial by fire. These days, I encounter so many beautiful souls answering the calling to assist. To each of you, I say from experience – Go For It. Throw yourself into the journey with an open heart. But be ready to know your shadow in an immensely intimate, humbling, and sometimes horrifying way.
Ayahuasca is an epic agent in our relationship with darkness. Shadow work is insanely intense, and unbelievably tricky. The truth is, very, very few people actually want to work with others in this fashion. Because to do it with integrity, you have to own your own shadow as your best friend. You have to love it with all of your being. Otherwise, the person you are working with will, on some level, sense this discord. They will feel the resistance and judgement. And if they are deep on Ayahuasca going into the depths of hell, a facilitator’s resistance to their own darkness will manifest as even more hellish energy for both parties.
This is why there are so many circles that lack complete safety and integrity. It takes a shaman who is all-in with his or her own dark side to create a cocoon for others to do the same. And that’s a tall order for any ego.
Judge the darkness, attempt to resist it in any way, and it has you by the throat. If both helper and journeyer are stuck in this spiral, that’s a recipe for some very chaotic, painful lessons.
How on Earth do we not fear the demonic energy that triggers murder and rape and all manner of horrendous acts?
It starts and ends with the only force that keeps us safe: Love.
Why People go Dark in Ceremony
One of Ayahuasca’s trickiest lessons is to love what is. She has a no bullshit meter with the expansiveness of love. If what exists inside you involves trauma and rage and any spectrum of emotion or experience that you judge, she will eventually take you there and dare you to shift your perception.
But that’s an almost in-human task to ask of us. Our minds normally can’t conceive of the possibility of loving our rapists. Of standing grateful for the death of our loved ones. We hold very, very tightly to the notion of injustice and wrongness. Because if we can’t put emotions and events into boxes like Right and Wrong and Black and White, the whole world feels chaotic.
That is, unless you cling to love. Unless you default to the trust that what is happening is for the greater good. Unless you know in your core that everything is always, always OK. Even when all signs point to utter destruction.
When someone reaches a breaking point in Ayahuasca, it could be their first ceremony our their thousandth. Aya is aces at finding the box inside us that says “Don’t Go There.” And she loves to flip it open gleefully as the Pandora’s Box goes bonkers.
Sometimes we reach our breaking point. We start to articulate or groan or act out. We lose the filter and get lost in the shadows. It’s completely understandable. For anyone that’s ever had a huge night on Aya, losing it completely in a fit of energy release is sometimes a moment to moment possibility. It can take everything we have to surrender.
But sometimes, surrender is just not an option. Sometimes the ego decides to fight. Sometimes the trauma of our past comes to the surface with ferociousness and a demand to be dealt with. And that’s why we don’t do this work alone.
I have witnessed the most primal, terrifying rage come through people in ceremony. How the shaman and the helpers respond in those moments is very much what the training is all about. And that training can take decades before we are truly, truly ready to face the darkest of the dark.
The training, however, has very little to do with how to handle someone else, and absolutely everything to do with how we handle ourselves – and how we love our own darkness and struggles before, after and especially during the interaction.
The Best Case Scenario
Ideally, it plays out like this – A shaman and/or helper with scads of experience facing down their own darkness in ceremony approaches the being who needs help, full of compassion and empathy.
It’s helpful to not know or think about their story, but to simply be present and calm. There is no magic potion at the core of keeping things grounded as a helper or shaman; it’s just trust and love. But that has to be unconditional.
When I’ve been on my game in these scenarios, I am literally saying in my mind: “Thank you, brave warrior, for facing this darkness for all of us.”
I hold deep, deep reverence for the journey that being is facing in those moments.
Compassion creates safety. And as Tim Freke says, “A heart assured of safety opens instantly.”
If the being in darkness is truly loved and cared for, they will find their grounding. They will feel that light.
It’s not the job of the helper to attempt to control that person, or the energy moving through them, in any way. Instead, we create a rock-solid space of safety. We match our breath to theirs in an attempt to ground them, slow down the pace, and bring in clarity. We sing songs to shift and move what we see. We use other plants and crystals and earth-based tools with legitimate power to assist.
Most of all, we provide a safe and loving environment free of any judgement, and we hold that space until the individual has grounded in and opened up to light again.
Why the Ideal is Not the Norm
Because the majority of us still have judgement for our dark sides, unfortunately this dynamic in ceremony is often not so graceful and clean.
Think of all the complex scenarios the darkness hides within us.
I’ll give you some personal examples.
It is easier for me to hold space for women in this struggle than it is for men. Women haven’t hurt me physically in this lifetime. Women don’t tend to threaten my personal safety. Feminine energy in all of us tends to be more internally dark than externally dark; it simply feels less threatening to me.
So the first time I had to hold space for a gentleman who went dark, I was absolutely terrified. He brought up father issues, brother issues, past love fears that were unresolved, and all the anger I still held for the masculine.
He taught me right away in that space that I had no business trying to help him. I cannot help any energies I judge. So I wisely asked another helper to take over, and she saved the day. She did not have judgement for his outburst. And so he calmed down very quickly.
Then there was the night I held space for the most demonic, horrific explosion of darkness I have still ever seen in my life. This being had made a ton of challenging choices in their life. They had unconsciously messed with energies they simply did not know how to handle. Solo work with the medicine had opened up the portal within them to call in anything and everything that was interested in sharing the stage. And a refusal to stand responsible for anything in their life made them prime for a breakdown.
Which happened in such a dramatic fashion, I literally have no words.
What was notable, however, was the lesson I learned from the experience.
As the organizer, I immediately (to myself and my mentor) took ownership of the experience. The organizer is the energetic container that sets the tone for the space people enter into. I was in a very chaotic place in my life. My marriage was falling apart. I was reverting back to bulimia. And so rather than host ceremony in my home, I rented a house instead – and did a horrible job of making sure the energies were clean.
Yes, the person who acted out had plenty of personal responsibility too, but I have no control over someone else’s integrity. Only my own. So if we approach any conflict with awareness of how we are contributing to the dynamic, right there we give ourselves an opportunity to diffuse it. It takes two to Tango, as they say.
Next, when I worked with this person, I was intensely present to what I was thinking and feeling. When I judged them, or in any way tried to control the expression of the darkness that was coming through, all hell broke loose.
But when I centered myself and truly looked at them with love and compassion, the rage dissipated almost immediately. Instead of trying to throw rocks through the windows, they did Yoga poses and told me stories. When another wave of demonic energy came through, I was constantly given a choice. Love it, and calm it, or judge it and pour gasoline on the fire.
I can’t even begin to tell you how profound this was, in real-time, and how insanely difficult it was to actually hold that space of love. I was SO triggered. Terrified at what I was witnessing. Humbled by the level of evil that can come through us. And overwhelmed by the even more powerful space of love.
Eventually, though, I got the hang of it. I became rock solid in my love for this being. I ached for their trauma. I telepathically sent them empathy and strength and light. In due time, there was a beautiful breakthrough. The ego grounded in again, completely calmed down, and things went back to a good old fashioned normal ceremony.
Another win for love.
The Awesome Responsibility of Helping in Ceremony
None of us know what is really in store for us when we step up to assist with Ayahuasca. We will see ourselves mirrored in every being we help. We will see all the things we try to run from, the aspects of shadow we would rather ignore. Each individual will show us just how connected we are to our truth.
That is, if we’re willing to hold the responsibility.
If there’s any defensiveness or lack of accountability with what happens in a circle by those that lead and organize, the whole truth is not being expressed. That’s OK, we learn by experiencing the contrast of truth. That’s the incredible gift of the shadow.
But the more we are able to own our responsibility for being the container, the more powerful we become. The more healing the circle truly is. And since that’s the ultimate point of working with Aya, it’s a damn great intention to manifest.