Preparing the mind for plant medicine
When considering how to prepare for an Ayahuasca ceremony, many people focus mainly on the physical body: eating properly, staying hydrated, avoiding stimulants or alcohol, and so on. Carlos Tanner, founder of the Ayahuasca Foundation in the jungle of Peru, says that there’s an element that deserves more attention in the preparatory stages: the mind. But how do you prepare the mind for something unknown, unpredictable, and spiritually vast?
“There are two aspects to working with Ayahuasca and plant medicine that I think are the most valuable. One is your mental discipline. Ayahuasca can really speed things up. It can really accelerate things and on the physical level, you can feel your heart rate increasing, and body sensations start to amplify. But more than anything — you notice your mind.”
When the body begins to experience unusual sensations or discomfort, the mind can produce worry. Or for some, the mind just starts reeling. In an attempt to interpret the experience it can make up stories full of judgments – is what’s happening good or bad? This can lead to fear and anxiety and thought patterns can get stuck in a loop. For the undisciplined mind, this can start to feel out of control.
“When you lose control of your mental focus on Ayahuasca it’s a lot like breaking your tv remote control. It just clicks through channels without stopping,” Carlos says. “Channel, channel, channel, channel… and you can’t stop and watch a whole show or think an entire thought anymore. Having more discipline would provide a path for keeping it together by being able to stay calm through the introduction of unusual sensations without allowing fear to distort them.”
‘Keeping it together’ doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of wild thoughts, understandings, or even thought patterns. Instead, it means the ability to observe them as such: patterns of mind, not reality. The disciplined mind doesn’t get hijacked and spun into darkness by thoughts but can harness mental activity to focus on the intention or healing of the ceremony.
Meditation is one of the most valuable tools we have to settle the mind, increase focus, develop discipline, and control emotions. Meditation can allow you to keep your focus on the desired intention without getting distracted by what can sometimes be a multitude of other stimuli during the healing process. It can help you to face your fears, traumas, and other negative emotions or thought patterns without getting lost. And when trying to pull the roots of suffering or release destructive energy, thoughts, or actions from your life, it can be incredibly beneficial. Meditation is one of the most valuable practices to assist the important process of integration afterward, as well a general practice in life.
A second valuable tool, which is pretty much another form of meditation, says Carlos, is to spend time listening to nature. “Even if it’s just a park, even if it’s just a tiny little four-tree corner in a city, spending time with those four trees. Of course it would be best if you can walk through the woods, on your own, in solitude, or with someone who is on the same page as you, and really listen to the trees and touch and feel the leaves, smell the natural air, breathe it in and connect with it all. That connection, I think, is very valuable in the ceremonies and it’s a meditation in its own right, or the complementary side to it. If you can go into nature and meditate then you’ve got it.”
Ayahuasca is considered the trunk of the science of plant medicine, or the mother of the rainforest. The subtle relationships you form by spending time communing with nature will result in a foundation for a far deeper relationship to be developed during your ayahuasca experiences. It can revive the wonder we all had as children exploring nature. We should stop to watch a butterfly fly, inspect the veins of a fallen leaf and feel the soft texture of a flower’s petals. As children, we talked to animals and plants, because we had yet to develop our cultural filters that, unfortunately, contributed to a disconnection with nature. So talk to the plants again. Tell them how amazing they truly are. It may sound strange, but when you drink ayahuasca, you will understand the benefit much better and be glad you did.
Rooted in the earth and disciplined in the mind, one is prepared for ceremony. Of course, I’m not saying to ignore your diet. We should always be conscious of what we consume. You don’t have to go crazy with it, but putting your attention to your diet will also help your mental focus and help you feel prepared.
If you walk into a ceremony feeling prepared, ready to trust the process, then whatever happens, you’ll be able to manage the experience from a calm and grounded place, moment by moment, one channel at a time.
Carlos Tanner founded the Ayahuasca Foundation in 2008. The Foundation supports the preservation of indigenous wisdom and culture, supports the preservation of the Amazon rainforest, and strives to raise awareness about environmental relationships and sustainability. Visit the Ayahuasca Foundation’s Retreat Guru center page or their website here.