Ancient medicine for modern women
Plant Medicine, Feature
Why are retreats for women so important?
Naomi: There has always been a time when women have come together, to sit together with just other women. There’s something really magical that happens when women come and sit together without having the distractions of their families or relationships. When women come together — and most women can tell you this — something really magical can happen. It’s an ancient practice, and one that we really are encouraging. When we bring this to work with plant medicine such as ayahuasca, the process of letting go and healing and releasing can speed up. It’s really interesting to see what kinds of conversations can arise when you are working with just women.
We do live in a man’s world — most of the world leaders are men, most of the spiritual leaders are men. There’s a feedback loop going on, which is why coming into a retreat with just women provides a different level of access to depth within the self. We just don’t have all those other distractions happening.
Carolina: For any of you who have already worked with ayahuasca, you’ll know that the process of medicine work is a time when we become very vulnerable. Our walls our being torn down and we are accessing very deep parts within ourselves. Holding a space for women to come together in this medicine space, which is so vulnerable, can help to allow this really deep healing to take place. You feel fully supported and comfortable in your space. I know that I can speak from my own experience of this. Coming from the United States, I grew up in a way where my interaction with other women was constantly about comparison — that I am supposed to look like them or that we’re all supposed to be the same. I think this is a beautiful opportunity for all of us of different shapes and sizes, and coming from different places to come together and really just love ourselves and honour ourselves. We can really let go of these feelings that we need to be exactly the same as each other, which can really be a healing process in itself.
“We do live in a man’s world — most of the world leaders are men, most of the spiritual leaders are men. Which is why coming into a retreat with just women provides a different level of access to depth within the self.”
How does ayahuasca support women’s spiritual process?
Carolina: One of the things that I immediately found when I started to work with ayahuasca is that, although it was very challenging for me in the beginning, I always felt held. It can be very intense as these layers start to come off, but, through all of these challenging moments, I felt really supported by the medicine itself. This is the feminine quality of this medicine that is spoken of by the indigenous people. You feel this support, this grandmother energy that can be really hard on you, but also loves you and nourishes you during this process.
Naomi: The medicine is so beautiful in that way, because she really sees you the way that a mother does. I’m a mother of two children and my prayer is that I can see my children in who they really are, in their fullness at all times. Ayahuasca is like that great mother that never gives up on you, and says to you, “Yes, this is who you really are — let’s get rid of that other stuff.”
Why is ayahuasca emerging into the world at this particular time?
Naomi: My teachers say that right now the winds are blowing hard. The world that we live in is going through a big transition — we have not walked in the best way on our good mother earth. But this medicine is a gift from her. It’s in this time of transition that we need people to stand up and be strong — it’s not a time for the weak-hearted. We need warriors right now. This medicine is not the only way — there are many ways — but it’s one wonderful way to come back into the truth of who we are, to come back into that place of balance and strength. I believe that a big part of the reason why the world is so imbalanced is is that there remains a huge imbalance between the genders. For women to come do this work of healing themselves can help to heal that imbalance. Working with this medicine is healing in the way that it helps us to let go of the stories and the pain and the suffering that many of us have been exposed to. People have been through hard times, I’ve been through hard times – we go through hard times in this life. When women heal themselves, in essence, it ripples, and it heals the world.
Carolina: I will just add that I do feel that many people in the world today feel really disempowered, they don’t feel like they can really make a difference. This work is about taking responsibility for ourselves and shining our best light and doing our best work for ourselves. This will, like Naomi said, ripple out into the world. When we’re being accountable for our own actions, this is what can change the world.
“Many people in the world today feel really disempowered. When we’re being accountable for our own actions, this is what can change the world.”
How do you choose the setting for your first experience with ayahuasca?
Carolina: This is something specifically for women who feel this calling to work with the medicine and come to Peru… for a woman wanting to come to Peru to work with ayahuasca. When I came to Peru for the first time by myself as a single woman, I wanted to know that I was going to be safe, and in an environment that supported me emotionally. This is where you need to decide which tradition you’re going to work with. For example, Naomi and I both have our roots in Shipibo tradition, and we feel that this tradition really allows for deep healing. The main advice that I have for ensuring that you come into a safe environment is to connect with people you know who have come to Peru, read reviews, and ask questions. I don’t think that hopping on a plane to Pucallpa, arriving in the middle of the jungle, and asking around for a shaman is the best way to go.
Are there any safety concerns around drinking ayahuasca?
Carolina: This medicine is so sacred and has such a powerful potential of helping people to really heal. To have that potential be lost because someone serving ayahuasca is not acting in the highest integrity is a really sad thing – and even more sad because that can be reflected on the medicine itself. The medicine itself is so wise and so light, so it’s crucial that an experience of being in a harmful ceremony doesn’t ruin the path for you.
Naomi: This is a growing concern. It really hurts my heart that people are coming for healing and are being put in more harmful situations. We do need to talk about it, because we don’t want that to happen. This is a beautiful gift from the earth, but it’s not always being used with the respect that it needs. If you do have fears about this, these are valid concerns so be very, very mindful about who you sit with.
Do you have any advice for drinking ayahuasca for the first time?
Carolina: If you’re considering drinking ayahuasca, to me, this means that the medicine has already called to you. There are a lot of people in the world who don’t have any consideration for drinking ayahuasca, nor do they even know what it is. So, if something has brought your attention to it, I feel like it’s the medicine opening the space for you to receive the healing that it offers. The next step is what do you do with that. For me, I knew about ayahuasca for about two years before I actually sat in ceremony because I didn’t know where to go, who to work with, or how to approach it. If you are feeling called to work with this medicine and you have an opportunity to go to a ceremony here or there, just know that it’s a very different experience when you just sit in just one ceremony. My suggestion for anyone thinking of working with the medicine for the first time would be to come to somewhere where you will do a series of ceremonies. I know a lot of people who have drunk one time, and had a really intense experience and they weren’t properly supported and they think the medicine’s not for them. It’s hard to watch people give up on this path because they had a hard night and no one there to talk to them about it.
If you are going to work with indigenous people it’s helpful, if you don’t speak Spanish or don’t speak their language, to go somewhere where there is somebody experienced who can communicate with you to help guide you on your path. It can be really confusing and difficult when we’re watching our shadow come up. The mind can play tricks on us, and tell us “I’m not doing this anymore!” It’s really helpful to have someone there to support you. The initial work is like peeling layers from an onion, there’s a lot of stuff that we’ve been carrying for our entire life. These ceremonies can be really intense for some people depending on what you’re bringing to the medicine. My suggestion is to find a place where you do have support and to do a series of ceremonies so you can get through those layers.