Cancer, God, and Ayahuasca

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“Ne te quaesiveris extra.”

Do not seek for things outside of yourself

Man is his own star, and the soul that can render an honest and perfect man commands all light, all influence, all fate; Nothing to him falls early or too late. Our acts our angels are, or good or ill our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”

Essay On Self-Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A note from the author aka me. The story below is true, meaning true to me and how I experienced it in that moment. However hesitant I may be about whether or not it’s wise to share this extremely personal and vulnerable story,I felt if it resonates and means something to just one person that’s enough for me. For further questions, comments and concerns you know where to find me 😉

The Before.

I’ve always been one of those people that really looks up to others, seeking advice where I feel someone knows better. The quality has served me pretty well in a lot of ways, but also has proved to be not such a positive trait in other areas.

When I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer this time last year I was all about looking outward for advice. I’m a healthy eater, swam in no radioactive rivers to my knowledge, never smoked (ok… so I took a puff once…) had a relatively happy childhood… Why was this happening?

As most of you know, my whole experience with the diagnosis and my thyroidectomy surgery was for the most part seamless. It all happened so fast, one minute we’re getting the test results back, next minute I’m in the operating room getting what they call a nice “cocktail” of medications and then I’m on my way back to Brazil several weeks later without a thyroid and with some new medication that I get to take for the rest of my days. So, life continued and went back to business as usual. Kind of…

4 months later I unknowingly signed up for the most intense, life changing experiences of my life, and I don’t say that lightly.

If you’re not very familiar with Brazil, here’s a little background. In Brazil they dance the night away to Samba and Forró music, they love a good party, especially if it involves churrasco with loads of meat and caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail. It’s also home to the delicious super fruit, the Acai berry. You know, the overpriced purple smoothie looking stuff that everyone eats out of bowls that tend to cost about $15 in the States. Brazil is also magnificently known as home to the vast Amazon rain forest, one of great importance to Earth’s eco system. The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rain forest and what’s even more interesting is what grows in this magical place.

Ayahuasca, an entheogenic brew made from the Banisteriopsis cappe vine and the Pysychotria viridian leaf found growing in the Amazon, is used in traditional ceremonies among the indigenous tribes of Amazonia. You may or not be familiar with it, as it is becoming a bit more common in the west and Europe now a days. Some westerners have teamed up with shamans in the Amazon rainforests regions, forming ayahuasca healing retreats that claim to be able to cure mental and physical illness. Never the less still illegal in the U.S. for reasons beyond me. Depending on the people you know, movies you’ve watched, articles you’ve read, or your own experience with the plant medicine, your story and perception of it will vary. However, I am not here to tell any other story BUT my own.

For time sake I won’t go into detail about all of the reasons why I felt compelled to experience my own Ayahuasca ceremony, the preparation that it entailed, and all of the lead up to the day, but I will say if you’re planning on having your own experience with it, do your research, have someone who knows what they’re doing as a guide and go in with intention, a real purpose behind why you feel called to it. Mine that day wasn’t as clear as I had hoped. I was in an odd place in life at the time. Having just recently arrived back to Brazil after my operation, my body doing its best to adapt to life without this vital organ. Then on the more personal side seriously doubting my capabilities in my new role as a facilitator and program manager guiding people through transformational experiences, financially, not exactly in the most stable of places, all while having my heart slightly broken, attempting to pick up the pieces as quickly as possible in the name of productivity and hoping no one would notice in the process.

I found myself simply asking for help, guidance, and somewhat of an understanding for what the hell it all meant from a deeper level than I had ever allowed myself to go. I was dying to just feel some sense of trust in myself and my life again.

The Journey.

I entered the room and the shaman and his wife greeted me with open arms. I had known him through some mutual friends on the island for some time and it felt good to feel his calming presence. I took my spot on a small mat and blanket up against a wall nearby. Full role of toilet paper… check, water… check, bucket… check. I watched the ceremony helpers start the fire in the middle of the hut as everyone took their places.

The ceremony commenced and everything was in Portuguese so I was only able to catch words here and there as my Portuguese skills were not exactly where they should have been, being in Brazil for about a year. Afterwards the shaman came over to speak with me to make sure I understood. He looked at me with kind eyes and could sense my curiosity and fear. I only really remember one thing he told me, which was no matter what happens if it gets to be too much, connect with your breath and just repeat, “inhale” as you breathe in and “exhale” as you breathe out. This little piece of advice proved to be pure gold throughout the journey.

I was called and slowly went up for my first cup of the medicine. I returned to my seat and waited, and waited some more… It must have been 45 minutes to an hour, nothing… Maybe my body was immune? Several minutes later he announced another round to those that were interested in another cup. I went up again and returned to my spot beginning to feel the sensations in my stomach. Something was definitely happening… I felt my stomach make all kinds of odd noises, occasionally feeling a bit of nausea rise and fall. This went on for 10 minutes or so until it got much stronger. I remembered to connect with my breath, slowly inhaling and exhaling, and then, I heard it. The voice came in loud and clear… “LISTEN, LISTEN!” I now felt I was being shouted at. “Why aren’t you listening to me? Pay attention to me!” By this point I must have been curled up into a little ball as I was feeling extra nauseas, cradling myself in the fetal position. I finally yelled back, unaware if it had been out loud or to myself. “Okay, I’m listening, I hear you!”

“Finally” The voice responded. “I’m constantly trying to talk to you and you won’t listen!” All of the attention was now at the center of my throat where the cancer had been. “You can’t just get rid of it like that and expect for it to not come back. It’s still there because YOU haven’t heard what I’m trying to communicate with you. Listen!” This ever so humbling conversation with my body went on for some time. After a while I felt a tear stroll down my face.

“I hear you, I see you” I said and “I’m Sorry.”

1. Open

Then it came in all of its glory, the purge. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected. It didn’t feel like a terrible sickness, but rather a, “this is necessary and natural” kind of purge. Like clockwork the shaman came right away and took my bucket. I laid myself back down, listening closely for the voice again. My journey continued accompanied by two other key words. My mantra had found me, Open, listen, trust the 3 words I repeated over and over again. Ayahuasca took me first through the meaning of the word open, and showed me how impossible it was to fully listen if I wasn’t truly open to what was there. I’ve always considered myself an exceptionally open human being, but oh how we lie to ourselves. Man was I enlightened as I was shown all of the ways in my life which I was still not open, in certain relationships, with my own perspectives and stories I had constructed in my mind.

2. Listen

She then showed me the true meaning of what it meant to listen, from a physical and mental standpoint. She showed me that truly listening to myself and others requires full presence and body awareness. I had flashes of all of the ways I had chosen to ignore when my body was communicating with me, from all the times I had disrespected it with food, starving it and then filling it so full I wanted to vomit. I was then shown the true biological magic of our bodies, from all of the ways in which they are always communicating with us, from the physical sensations of hunger and feeling full, little pimples in unwanted spots, headaches, to “gut feeling” moments. This was all communication from this perfectly designed human suit of ours. This took me all the way down to paying closer attention when I did things I was passionate about, and had connections I deeply enjoyed, that resonated for a reason, and the ability to follow these clues, the intuition inner knowing that I was only just starting to wake up to. And of course, seeing how to actually listen to others, not just the words that came out of their mouths but situations, what was NOT being said, their actions. This is how we listen with our whole self, fully willing to see the truth.

3. Trust

The entire universe opens up to those that have true trust, in themselves and the world around them. Trust in life equals trust in self. It still didn’t feel quite right though, “How can I trust myself if my own body gave me cancer?”

I soon heard them offer up the rapé, pronounced hapeh in English. Rapé is known to be a legal sacred shamanic medicine that has been used by healers of the Amazon basin for thousands of years. The plant is typically used to help focus the mind, stop the chattering, and open the entire freed monospace for your intentions.

Almost everything in me was saying NO… By this point I was still feeling a bit nauseas. However, the voice came on stronger than ever and practically begged me to take the rapé. “Please trust me, go.” That was enough for me. I inched over to the front of the room and allowed the shaman to blow into the left side of my nostril with the pipe. It’s hard to find the words to describe just how I felt as it entered my body. From what I remember, I felt I had risen above myself and had gone somewhere that was definitely not in this dimension. I remembered, “inhale… exhale” which immediately brought me back down enough to see the face smiling in front of me again, waiting for me to lean in for the second nostril. I did the second side and the visions began of what seemed like my cells realigning in my throat. The voice came back, “I need some time, please give me time.” I inched towards the fire crawling on all fours doing my best to get out of the way and into a cleared space.

Sitting in front of this fire, observing my body as it healed itself, it was like I was discovering a whole new feature of it I had no idea this well crafted machine had. I felt, perhaps for the first time ever, a profound trust coming from deep within.

I had it all wrong, it wasn’t that I could no longer trust my body because it gave me cancer, in fact that’s exactly why I COULD trust it. Our bodies were always communicating with us. We’re just too stubborn to listen, and remain OPEN to what we see and hear from ourselves and others. It had much more to tell me but for now this was what I heard.

It’s like I had rediscovered the meaning of the word listen. But how could I listen and tune into this inner voice more? Like clockwork I heard, “Be still” And then the Bible phrase came to me,

“Be still and know that I am God...”

This phrase took on a WHOLE new meaning for me in this moment and this may sound insane, but for several seconds I felt as though I had all of the answers to the universe, like everything that had ever happened, not just in my lifetime, but in all of life finally made sense. I felt a soft smile form across my face along with a tear. I thought of the small tattoo on my ribs I had gotten a few years earlier. “En theos” the greek word of Enthusiasm, meaning God within… Be still and know that I, MYSELF, am God. These were no longer words I had read, I was experiencing them.

The After.

The weeks after may have been even more profound than the ceremony itself. I cried lots, tears of joy mainly, reflecting and asking myself how I could tune into that God within more, my little guru that was not afraid to be extra direct with me, but was also wise beyond measure.

I didn’t exactly get a direct answer to all of this, why what had happened had occurred, however for the weeks after I can only hope that every one at some point in their life time experiences what it feels like to have discovered a profound sense of trust within. Self-trust changes the way you communicate, the little ways in which you go about your day. It’s almost as if my entire life I had been carrying around a heavy backpack with all of my belongings in it, only to discover someone along the way that tells me, “Hey guess what forget about that 50 pound backpack we have everything you need at your next stop and every stop after. Taking off that backpack filled up with worry, doubt, and fear has been nothing less than completely liberating.

Spoiler alert… I’m still a human being and of course there are times in the last several months where I forget to listen and trust, and I pick up that backpack for a while and then remember that I don’t need it and set it back down. Shocker I know, but I guess that’s what life is about, that exact backpack cycle, forgetting and then remembering again.

“You came into this life with nothing to learn, you have only to demonstrate what you already know.”

– Neale Donald Walsch – “Conversations With God”

As for the voice and my conversations in that ceremony, whether you want to call it, my inner wisdom, subconscious mind, Mother Ayahuasca, or God, I feel everyone has “this voice” and I don’t necessarily think Ayahuasca is the only way to gain access to it, but you bet your butt I make it a priority now to make space and create enough stillness to open myself to it, listen closely, and to trust the journey of this life.

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