A person wrote on one of Facebook groups: “I was at an Ayahuasca retreat last weekend here in (country removed) and they were using the same two rapé pipes (that went up everybody’s nose) and between everyone in the room. They were using the same Ayahuasca glass between everyone and the same water drinking glass between everyone. There were people there from all over (country) and (another countries). There were 17 participants and more coming the following night. I made a presumption that they (hosts) would be taking some precautions and would at least have separate glasses. They didn’t. I decided to leave the retreat the next day. What are everyone’s thoughts on this?” Here are my thoughts.
I found this post and, even more, comments it received worth exploring and discussing. To give it a bit of a background, this post appeared in the midst of coronavirus crisis (mid June 2020) and a person has expressed their honest concern for the safety of the whole group without going into a name and shame rampage and unneeded online drama. A person simply provided a list of valid points for people to reflect upon and asked for opinions.
What happened next in the comment section, however, has instantly turned into a shaming and attacking feast of ignorance, blaming that person for what I would simply call a very healthy dose of self-preservation and critical thinking. A person has been told to be weak and dramatic, labelled as lacking of spiritual awareness, laughed at and instructed how “car seat belts were designed to make us feel trapped”. Here are a few of copy-paste replies, so you can understand the initial context that has triggered this response of mine:
“Maybe it was your resistance/fear showing itself through your own circumstances.”
“Wise up man Don’t tell me you still believe in this fake virus after all that fake news, propaganda, lies and cover-ups.Never wore mask or gloves or even used sanitizers and I feel great lol”
“They are not pussies like you!”
“I think you might be using this as an excuse not to face your fears”
“Great. None of the awakened believe in the plandemic🙏💖”
“My thoughts are that you are watching to much tv or are completely brainwashed… them people clearly know the power of plant medicine… and know reality what’s what’s going on in the world… big BS theatre and you believe in it… 🤔🤦♂️🤷♂️”
Although, in fairness, there were a few strong voices empathising with the author, the majority of responses were directly in opposition to OP’s expression of what I only can call a healthy dose of a common sense. Reading the comment section I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the above-mentioned seat belts. “You know guys, seat belts are such a hoax designed only to make us feel trapped! Here’s my proof, I’ve never worn one yet I’ve never been in a car crash, sounds like evidence enough for me! Right?”
Wrong. I tend not to get involved in online debates where anonymity and pack-consciousness often creates perfect condition for any form of aggressiveness, but I felt like this case in particular needed direct action from me to hold that person’s hand in order to reassure they simply did the right thing by verbalising their concerns and, having no solutions or attention provided by the hosts, deciding to leave the retreat. I think I would do the same and certainly not because I may or may not reserve same worldview about, say, current global events, but purely and simply because participants’ mental and, interlinked physical safety should be always treated as an utmost priority in the ceremonial space.
I am actively involved in promoting health and safety of any form of entheogen-based work in the public domain, mostly at various festivals and gatherings, and public talks for almost 10 years. I run Pangean Path; an educational hub dedicated to personal development in alignment with nature that sources heavily from the indigenous wisdom and approach. I deeply and truly respect the indigenous way and honour work of those who are able to reflect solidly on their input and actions when it comes to shamanic work, mental health and collective global healing. This work, in my view, requires a trinity of lateral thinking, care and empathy.
I have worked with various plant medicines for over 15 years in their native environment (Psilocybin mushrooms, Ayahuasca, San Pedro) and around the world. Enough time to attend hundreds of various ceremonies and co-assist on a good number of them too and draw some conclusions on my own on what is important in those spaces for participants to not only feel, but genuinely be safe.
That said please allow me add to the cauldron of health and safety by reflecting on the overall responsibility plant-based medicinal work involves in order to remind you – a participant, about your critical rights you have when you enter any ceremonial space, no matter where it’s located, what’s being served there and whom is it led by.
From now onward I will use a reversed narration, as if I was talking directly to a person in question (which I also have in a private message), through which I would like to help anyone planning or willing to attend plant ceremony in the near or distant future, to understand what is the spectrum of your rights.
You always have the right to express your concerns and approach your host
This is the most important part and please never forget about it. You have all the rights to express your concerns about how you feel or felt at any time given – before, during and after the ceremony. You have every right, and you should use it, to provide your feedback to the organisers and ask for explanation and support. Above all, you have all the rights to express your safety concerns and be provided with explanations. There might be a valid reason for a host to act in a certain way, but they should be able to provide you with an explanation of their behaviour.
Their part is to listen and to genuinely reflect on the matter and help you understand their motivation and position. Their role, as hosts is prosaically simple – to always, always, always create safe and trusted container for you and other participants to be able to perform deeply intimate and extremely layered healing work on yourselves and to always provide you with any form of necessary support, from mental and physical care during the ceremony to post-ceremonial integration and continuous support, to hygiene related issues. Period.
Your health and safety should always be their main focus
Disregarding hosts’ belief system in relation to, for instance, the pandemic situation around the globe or their definition of hygiene, your core beliefs and health concerns should be respected fully by the hosts and left untouched. Your hosts may not believe in a global pandemic crisis and may try to decide for you what is safe or not, but if their agenda is against your common sense, like using one cup for all participants and refusing to give you a clean one upon request, you have all right to address it, ask for your money back and leave.
Your safety, again, should always be their main priority. By applying simple forms of absolutely easy precautions such as bringing your own cup to the ceremony, using kuripe pipes (self-administering) instead of tepi (long ones) for rapee powder or using liquid tobacco instead (also self-administering), limiting the number of participants to 2/3 or 1/2 of a group, giving people more space, they can help their folks relax and feel well taken care of. Such approach will only make participants feel safer so they can focus better on their internal journey.
Not to mention that this “great effort” from your facilitators will send the most important signal to all participants in the group – We care about you, people, you’re safe in our space and welcome here with all your current mental and psychological baggage. You are here to heal, we are here to help you.
I have attended one ceremony very recently (organised by a trusted group of friends, not a “business” model) and it had all of the above-mentioned little tokens of care and attention carefully checked and it was absolutely a spectacular experience to be a part of. This is seen by me as a form of mature and mutual care I want to deeply identify myself with, and would love to see more approaches like these in other entheogenic circles.
Do care and react if the lack of care is witnessed
Caring about you, dear participant, and your safety is essential. Not only such approach doesn’t take anything away from experiencing the ceremony organically, but brings more space into the process, allowing participants to focus on internal, right where it should lead, rather than external. Essentially, it shows that the carers to whom you are exposing yourself fully and exceptionally, under the influence of a potent medicine, do care about your health and treat it as their main priority. It also gives them an opportunity to grow as healers.
Your worldview and beliefs should not be targeted publicly
Your worldview, especially in relation to your common sense and perception of safety, should not be publicly targeted, compromised or addressed by anyone from the team of hosts. Instead, it should be given their attention and you should be able to discuss any case with them in privacy and see what would work best for both of you. A good host is the one who knows how to listen. Hosts who are not willing to learn from participants and rejecting to receive constructive feedback from their people are taking away a great opportunity for themselves to grow and progress. This work is characterised by a never-ending learning curve.
Conspirituality is a real hazard
The ceremonial space should remain a free zone from any form of forced political or ideological agenda. Facilitators may share their view, but should never force their personal beliefs onto participants, especially if it comes to the individual perception of health and safety. Ceremonial space should also remain free from extreme and confusing conspiracy theories that may result in an unnecessary mental confusion and pressure for participants to deal with.
Neglecting or ignoring any form of basic critical thinking that a participant wish to express (including the lack of hygiene the original post was all about), that may result in severe health and safety misconducts, should not be accepted. It is your health, mental and physical, we’re talking about. A healer who doesn’t understand this should return to the classroom, in my view.
Again, it is a space for deep healing, so please choose your circles wisely and respectfully towards yourself, your health and your intimate landscape.
Global crisis due to coronavirus is not a binary case
Lastly, it is easy to go into personal argues and endless debates over things such as the coronavirus crisis, but the current global situation is far from being a a binary case. We are (mostly) privileged to discuss the pandemic from the western perspective, mostly safe from the comfortable nests of our houses and apartments, enjoying forced holidays or working from home and being paid by our social welfare. The reality, however, depends strongly on your geographical and social conditioning.
Please look at less developed places, such as Peru to understand how impactful on their local communities and environment and how devastating to public health, the virus and global crisis really is, before you sip your glass of the medicine and force your conspirituality onto your participants. Please, for the sake of this planet, pay attention.
This draws even a more dramatic image as we’re looking now at the motherland of the medicine and their native inhabitants, which are being suffocated at the moment. Two regions in particular, Pucallpa and Iquitos, which are seen as the sources of the medicine, are reported to be flooded by the virus and the local communities are desperately trying to survive the situation having a shortage of medical supplies and equipment, such as respirators and basic hygiene products. The families I’ve worked with at the source constantly update me with images of their elders being affected. Here are only a few of them:
It saddens me deeply to witness such an level of ignorance coming from facilitators, who serve the sacred medicine shipped from the indigenous people, who are currently struggling to catch a breathe, yet they deny their suffering.
To ignore the global crisis is seen by me as a huge disrespect to those who truly suffer now and to the eco-system of our planet as a whole. It’s real, and my living room is not seen by me as the most objective space to draw universal conclusions about the current state of a global affairs.
I see a lot of people divided today between the extreme polarities and considering the opposite fraction lunatics and I would love to encourage all, no matter what beliefs are hold, to give the world around us a chance to be viewed in maybe a few more hues than humanity’s all-time-favourite black and white.
Above all, please always stay safe and keep others around you safe as well, whoever and wherever you are.
Karol Liver is a plant medicine researcher, art curator and educator, with over fifteen years of combined experience in teaching, lecturing and personal development-oriented work. His current research and personal development focus mainly on the indigenous medicinal practices and healing traditions using plant entheogens for a better understanding of their therapeutic, practical and universal application.