by Kat Courtney: Although it’s an ancient practice, yoga has become the exercise du jour in recent years. Everyone from A-list celebs to your coworkers are getting their om on these days — and for good reason…
Practicing yoga has serious health benefits beyond flexibility and balanceTrusted Source, though those are some great perks. Studies show yoga does everything from fighting anxiety, depression, and stressTrusted Source, to reducing inflammation in the body. Trusted Source Yoga can even make migraines suck less.
The Journey That Changed My Life…
I’m alive because of Ayahuasca. I am connected, soulful, expanded, and spilling over with self-love, mostly because of the blessing of attending around 1,000 sacred plant ceremonies. But if my intuition proves correct, I will never drink Ayahuasca or any other plant medicine again.
Why? Because it worked too well. Let me explain.
The Standard Story: Ayahuasca Saved My Life
When I first found Ayahuasca – or rather, when she first found me – I was deeply depressed, though I pretended to be the happiest, chirpy-ass blonde L.A. girl you would ever meet. I had paralyzingly painful migraine headaches at least every 2 weeks. I drank alcohol almost every single day, as much as my body could handle. I did drugs most weekends to escape and to feel better, but increasingly, they were making me feel worse.
I was fake. I was miserable. I was dying inside and out.
In short, I was on a fast-track to total self-destruction, but I appeared as though I had the ultimate ‘dream life’. I had a famous boyfriend. I co-owned a video game studio. I was interviewed on national television and a major documentary. It would seem this small town Montana girl had it all figured out.
Life was exploding. And I was imploding. But then came Ayahuasca. In my first cycle in 2006, in the Amazonian jungle, I woke up to the truth: I hated myself, and I hated my life. That was the most honest realization I had ever experienced.
She (Ayahuasca) also gave me the courage and resolve to do something about all this darkness. I knew I had to change just about every aspect of my life. And that was OK. Because for the first time, I finally believed I deserved to feel better.
When I Grow Up, I’m Gonna be an Ayahuasca Shaman
The changes started the moment I returned to my L.A. home. Career, friends, boyfriend, house, drugs, alcohol – every part of my world started experiencing the necessary overhaul.
And in those 2.5 years of massive transformation, I drank in as many ceremonies as I could afford before I was offered the blessing of apprenticing with a couple of different maestros. In the process of ending the old destructive patterns, I thought I had discovered my life’s work: To be an Ayahuasquera. A shaman. A curandera. A healer.
I gave my all to this process. Every piece of me was committed. I did a total of five intensely restrictive and challenging plant dietas (spiritual retreats) that spanned a sum total of almost three years. I became an organizer for a very large national Ayahuasca community, in which I did all the interviews, production, and aftermath assistance in addition to co-leading ceremonies. I sat in hundreds of Ayahuasca ceremonies with the maestros I worked with; guiding thousands of people through preparation, the medicine itself, and integration.
It’s an unspeakably challenging process, working with these plants. Learning to facilitate. The level to which one must be honest, transparent, strong, courageous, trusting, and disciplined is indescribable. My teacher warned me it would only get more difficult, and that was true, but that only made me more dedicated. More willing to give more of myself.
Things are Not What They Seem
Over the course of a year or two, about a decade after I went full throttle, it became abundantly clear to me that my life’s path was different than I imagined. I was not meant to lead ceremonies. My attachment to the process almost killed me, in truth, and maybe I’ll share those details some other time. The circumstances aren’t important right now, however, what I mean to share is this: Shamanism is not for everyone.
The fundamental understanding of anyone committing to a shamanic path is that there are good and bad energies (spirits) all around us, and a shaman aids in protection and clearing. Plants have spirits. Animals. Rocks. And humans, of course. The earth itself. The shaman is the bridge walker; traveling to other realms to help with soul retrieval and spiritual cleansings that impact the tangible (body) and intangible (soul, mind, emotions, etc.)
I watched people with cancer heal themselves. Diabetes. Depression. Lyme disease. Kidney failure. Heart congestion. PTSD. Intense emotional traumas. You name it, I’ve seen it transformed in this process.
Nothing is Capable of Healing Us. We Have to Do It Ourselves.
Ayahuasca itself, contrary to what others say, is not a healer. She is a consciousness expander, which is far better. She shows us how to heal ourselves – if we’re ready and willing. She can’t force it, she can only show us the portal. If our soul knows it’s time, then magic can unfold.
She opens us up to a different perspective, a more expanded view of ourselves, our tribe, and our world. She gives us the opportunity to understand our true nature, our patterns, our fears, and then provides guidance (through the vessel of a trained and authentic shaman) to choose differently. To heal. To expand.
Ultimately, however, Ayahuasca is what I call “the medicine of duality.” She works by creating deep experiences of contrasts, like fear and fearlessness, darkness and light, resistance and surrender.
But the more I worked with her, the more I became more singular in my awareness. By that I mean non-dual. And by that I mean – all contrasts collapsed into the one. I learned through EXPERIENCE (as opposed to thought) that hot and cold are just opposite sides of the same coin. Darkness and light are both made of God-stuff; they are all from source. And so in the highest truth, they are fundamentally the same experience, we just receive them from a filter of preference and feeling and compartmentalization.
In the true spirit of duality, she also helped me to own the truth of our human experience – that is, our divine (perceived but still very real) separateness. That means going deeper into the soul, where the pain is undeniable. I have experienced fear so wildly intense I sincerely thought I would combust from the realness. In that space, every moment felt like a lifetime. Each millisecond I had to hold on for dear life, thinking something far worse than death was about to consume me.
Despite knowing it’s all an illusion, my emotional experience hit every corner of the spectrum. And to that part of me, this shit is very, very real. My soul doesn’t give a rat’s patootie if my mind says it’s all just perception. I feel. And to the part of me in separateness – my mind and my soul – that’s the real deal.
Until it wasn’t. Until I started experiencing it all as oneness. Until I accidentally uncovered a more unified truth.
Experiencing the Darkness as Part of the Light
I still feel the darkness – so intensely at times, I think I might lose consciousness. But I never, ever believe it’s anything other than exactly what I need. I know it’s all love. And in that, the duality has fallen away.
This actually made me powerless as an Ayahuasquera.
Why? Because although I see and experience all those spirits, including the demonic ones, I started to deeply understand they are only projections that stem from our current perspective and vibration. They are both real (if we believe in them), and then when we see the bigger picture of reality, they become projections.
Both real and unreal. The ultimate contrast.
The trick of this is if you don’t believe in their existence as entities, and in our fundamental separateness, the tools fall away. They become ideas rather than tangible tactics. Holograms rather than bona fide methods.
It became like watching a movie. Yes, I would see the dark energies around a given being, especially while they were being doctored and helped. But I personally could not separate that those entities were simply (or not so simply) there not to torture and maim and harm, but to teach and reflect and assist. Darkness is the bad guy that teaches us our most profound lessons. And since we can’t kill the darkness, we might as well turn our curiosity to it and dare to understand.
There’s Nothing Wrong Here. Except that We Think There’s Something Wrong.
I stopped wanting to interfere with the beauty of our journeys. I stopped feeling like something was wrong. I stopped believing in the boogeyman. I stopped knowing how to combat the darkness because I realized that darkness is there to teach us our lessons. Yes, it fucking sucks to have illness and disease and paralyzing fears. Pain and loss and separation and drama and OMG there’s so much suffering in this world!
But none of this is an accident. These are gifts that we must own, integrate, understand, and love before we can transcend them. The only way out is through.
As Ayahuasca would tell me, you can hide kid, but you can’t run. Shadow is part of self. Self is part of all. There is nothing to fix. Only to listen to. Only to understand.
To sum it up, I learned to accept everything as perfect.
And since I saw someone’s (and my own) dis-ease as an aspect of the soul; as an opportunity to heal and expand and grow, I no longer felt being a healer was my calling. Outside of duality, there is nothing to heal.
I was out of a job. I had been divinely duped.
Getting Dumped by Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca, in her infinite wisdom, pushed me out of our relationship. She basically dumped me. She dumped me HARD. But as I recovered, I discovered what is always, always true – that this experience was a supreme and ridiculously awesome gift.
It was not done to me, this dismantling of identity – it was done for me.
And so, despite once dedicating my entire life to Ayahuasca and plant medicine, despite giving up everything to do this work, despite tattooing the plants and animal totems all over my body – I am personally done with shamanism.
Or am I?
Life is always full of contrasts.
In truth, I am done with my old identification with shamanism. I had to do the ‘let go of something so a bigger vision can materialize’ trick. I once thought that there could be nothing bigger or more rewarding than helping people ease their suffering. As usual, I was wrong.
Understanding Suffering, Not Eradicating It
Now, I am taking all that profound learning, all those nights of terror and breakthrough and bliss and duality, and embarking on two journeys (duality again):
1) Deepening my own relationship to soul. Doing my best to own that I am only a vessel of divinity, that I don’t know shit, that everything I go through (especially my suffering, the part I resist the most) is a gorgeous blessing, and that the intention of learning and expanding is all there is, because it all leads to love….
2) Guiding others through the uncharted territory of the soul. Helping whomever is called to work with me to know themselves – and thus the entire experience of consciousness – in a more whole and complete way. Whether they are working with Ayahuasca and the master plants or not, I am overjoyed to help people understand their true essence. Their eternal nature. That everything is both real and not real. That we are both mortal and immortal.
I am not doing this by leading ceremonies. I have chosen instead to be the ‘before and after’ guide, as that is where I can stay in my integrity.
Authentic Shamans and Journeyers are All Spiritual Warriors
I honor, with all that I am, every brave soul who both facilitates and participates in these sacred, time-honored experiences. It is NOT an easy path. But it can be – and often is – the most rewarding experience of one’s existence.
I am humbled and overjoyed to be the cheerleader. To guide the before and after. To help in the unraveling. To the connection to truth. To a deeper understanding of self. And most importantly, to a more complete experience of love – love of self, others, and the whole cosmic multiverse. And that means loving our shadow which, in its most complete form, means loving Death.
So thank you, Ayahuasca. With all that I am and all these tears I cry for you now, I honor you. I adore you. You will be Mamacita to my soul for all of eternity. I will miss our crazy ceremony times together. More than I can express. It seems impossible that one could grow out of and away from you, but such is my truth.
But to watch others experience the unique messages you have for THEM – it’s like being with you myself, repeatedly, in a continuous stream of truth and love.
Go Forth and Find Your Own Truth
If you are called by her, answer. If you are called again, keep answering. It will be the journey of a lifetime. But if it ever feels complete, do not take offense. All we can do is be true to our own soulful awareness. That’s love. And love really is all there is.