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Plant Medicine Guide: Safety, Choosing a Facilitator, Preparation, Integration, Trust, & more

Updated: Jun 7




So you are feeling called to plant and earth medicine?

There are many elements to consider when choosing to embark on this magical, beautiful, and sometimes challenging, life altering experience.


Much of this post will be focused on ayahuasca, but the same guidelines can be applied to any type of medicine experience when it comes to choosing a facilitator, safety, readiness, integration, and environment.


Let’s dive in!


Beginning with a general disclaimer that everyone should be aware of:


Although there are people who serve sacred medicines such as ayahuasca, san pedro, bufo, changa, etc. with good intentions and integrity, there are many who do not, whether they are westerners, indigenous natives, or local to the country a medicine comes from. Many travelers or medicinal explorers dive into these medicines with people who are inexperienced or do not know how to hold them properly and end up harmed (psychologically, emotionally, spiritually) or taken advantage of (financially, sexually), and/or are often left feeling lost after ceremony, without knowing how to integrate their experience.


Please be extremely mindful for who you choose to do medicine with and what their intentions are, no matter where you are in the world.


Just because someone is an indigenous medicine person does NOT mean they have your best interest in mind, or that they have experience. Ayahuasca in particular has become an opportunity for people to make money, and many “practitioners” have no experience in how to serve this medicine properly. Many serve out of ego, or because they want power, or to be perceived as a “shaman.” Brujería, or sorcery, is a real thing, and people with bad intentions will not hesitate to put a spell on you or mess with you energetically. I say this not to scare you, but to be real, so you can be safe, because not many people are aware of this side of the medicine world and it is especially prominent in the jungle.


Guided vs. Solo Experiences

Some medicines, such as ayahuasca, absolutely need a guide; an experienced practitioner who knows how to navigate the energy of the medicine. With other medicines, such as mushrooms or cactus medicine, it could go either way, and this also depends on the person and if they have experience with psychedelic medicines or not, and it also depends on who they are as a person; if they are carrying with them deep-seated traumas or experiences that could arise that may need more specific support and care.


If you are new to medicines, I recommend sitting in a ceremonial container, or at least having a sitter, someone who you feel safe with, who can hold space for you in case anything arises.


If you are taking a medicine in another country or on lands you are not familiar with,

always be mindful of where you choose to go (whether on medicine or not) ask permission to the spirits of the land and the nature, and leave an offering, say a prayer, and have gratitude. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.


Ayahuasca & guidance:

I do not recommend drinking ayahuasca alone, and I only recommend drinking her with an experienced practitioner who has years of expertise. Not only experienced, but someone who has been initiated on the path with a teacher of a lineage.

This medicine opens up powerful portals and it is important to sit with someone who knows how to navigate the energy and keep the space safe. Ayahuasca can be harmful if not served and facilitated in a good way, because she is so powerful, she can be a lot for the human mind to grasp.


Ayahuasca tends to bring up our traumas and shadows, things about ourselves that may be hard for us to want to face. This is part of the healing aspect of this medicine, because we need to face such things in order to truly heal. Some people do not have the skills to assist you in properly integrating these experiences, and some curanderos or medicine people of indigenous cultures, even if they are highly skilled in the medicine, may not be able to hold you in what is present for you after ceremony. It could be because of a language barrier, or that it is just not part of their culture. So oftentimes, it is valuable to sit in a container that offers integration, or someone who can hold space for you in your own language. It can be very challenging to sit in a beautiful ceremony with a native person and then the next day have nobody to talk to about it.

This is why at Novalis, and other integral medicine centers, we work with indigenous curanderos, and also have bilingual staff that are trained in integration and have personal experience with the medicine so you can be held in all aspects of your experience. So much of the healing with ayahuasca is how you integrate the teachings into your life after ceremony.

If your experience does not offer this type of support, you can seek out a psychedelic integration specialist, such as myself, to support you.



(Painting by Loyver Yui, Shipibo curandero & visionary artist at Novalis)


Questions & observations to ask yourself when preparing for ceremony about your facilitator/ psychedelic guide, retreat space, medicine, etc.


Remember, your personal safety is always primary!

Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Have boundaries, and know them. Trust your intuition and the feeling in your body.

It is either a yes, or a no. If something does not feel good, trust yourself.


Facilitator:

-Who are they, how do they present themselves, how do YOU feel around them energetically?

-What is their experience with the medicine they are serving?

-Are they initiated & have they studied within a lineage?

-How long were they doing their personal work with the medicine before they started to lead or co-facilitate ceremonies?

-How long was their apprenticeship or training?

*There are many "shaman trainings" out in the world today, there is no way you can train to become a medicine person within a short period of time or a short plant dieta. This is a dedicated life path that takes many years.*

-How long have they been serving medicine?

-Do they have teachers? Who are they?

-Have their teachers given them the blessing or permission to serve this medicine on their own?

-Do they honor and respect the medicine and the lineage they are sharing from?

-Where does their medicine come from? Did they make it, or do they know who made it?

-Are they open to answering your questions in a sincere and honest way?

-Do you feel respected by them? Do they have an energy that empowers you, or do they make you feel judged or belittled?

-Do you feel safe around them?

-Do you have references or recommendations from other friends or family about this person?

-How does the facilitator support & represent their people? Or if they are not indigenous medicine carriers, what is their relationship to their teachers & the culture they learned from?


Medicine

-What is in the medicine?

*With ayahuasca, the ayahuasca vine, and the chakrana plant are the two main traditional ingredients.

Sometimes the medicine may be made with a different plant than chakruna, which is what brings about the visions. If there are other plants added to the brew, be wary- what is the intention for this?

Some people may add other plants that may not be beneficial for everyone, or plants that are used for sorcery and control.

A safe facilitator will have no problem sharing with you what is in the medicine. If they are defensive about your questioning, pay attention.


-Who made the medicine?

Was it made by the facilitator, or a trusted individual, family, or group?

-Is the medicine connected to a specific lineage?


Environment / Ceremony space:

-Does the environment for the ceremony feel safe?

-Are you comfortable? Have you been instructed to bring items for the ceremony to rest on if they are not provided?

-Are there other space holders?

-How does the land, room, temple, energy feel of the space?

-Do you feel safe, held, and comfortable in the space?

-What is the relationship of the people holding the ceremony to the land? (Every land is inhabited by spirits and ancestors, so it is important to know that the facilitator has a connection to this land and has asked permission to hold ceremony here. If they have not made amends in this way, there can be a very disruptive energy to be had in ceremony.)


Other questions to ask yourself, knowing who you are, and what you may need. Everyone has different needs, so this is important to be aware of when choosing a facilitator or medicine experience.


Intention:

-What is your intention for going to ceremony?

-What are you seeking from the experience?

-Is there something specific you want to heal and change in your life? Physically, emotionally, spiritually?


Setting:

-Do you desire to have a more intimate small group, or large group experience?

Do you feel comfortable sitting with medicine in a very large group of people, knowing this means that there will be a lot more energy in the space? Or prefer a small group, or depending on the medicine, one-one-one, alone, or with a sitter?


With ayahuasca, the smaller the group the better (in my opinion). Most facilitators, unless they are highly skilled, cannot manage a group efficiently over 7-20 people.


*In some indigenous traditions such as in ceremonies with the Huni Kuin of Brazil, they will sit with medicine in very large groups of people up to 50 or more. Tune in with yourself, if you are a sensitive person, (and about to take a medicine which is going to increase your sensitivity and open you up energetically) this experience may not be for you, a smaller container may be more beneficial for you.


In my experience with the Shipibo, the largest group I have ever experienced is up to 20 people, and more often I have sat with 7 or less. I prefer this, and also, in their tradition, they do one-one-one doctoring, so there is more energy focused on each individual's healing in smaller groups.


-What type of ceremonial experience do you want to have?

Different indigenous groups work with the medicine differently. And different experienced facilitators who come from western culture, (who have hopefully been initiated by a specific culture), will carry the medicine in a way that is specific to them.

Of course, every facilitator has their own flavor and way with the medicine, and this is what draws us to different individuals.

Research different types of people’s who carry the medicine, and listen to their songs. This is a great way to see if they resonate with you.


For me, Shipibo songs touch me deep in my soul, this lineage came into my life from the my very first ceremony, and I have been on the path with them ever since.

Now, I enjoy a Huni Kuin song circle, but having sat in ceremony with them, their medicine does not resonate with me in the same way as the Shipibo. We all have our preferences, and will find the lineage, path, and facilitators we want to work with.


-Do you want to sit in another country? Or do you want to sit at home?

I highly recommend taking medicines where they are native. Drinking ayahuasca in the desert for example, is absolutely not the same as drinking her in her home, in the Amazon rainforest, because the environment, the rainforest, is part of the ceremony. The land, the air, the plants and animals, the insects, the rain, the sounds, the energy; is all part of the experience.


-Does the energy of the space feel cleared and safe?


-Is there a bathroom available?


-Are your basic physical needs to be comfortable in ceremony met?

(Generally, because there will probably be moments in ceremony where you will feel uncomfortable, this is pretty inevitable).

If the proper comforts have not been provided, have I been instructed on what I need to bring? Ex: mattress, pillow, blanket, water bottle, etc.





Preparation, Aftercare, Integration, Logistics


-Which medicine is right for you?

Usually we are called to certain medicines, we hear about them in conversation, we see flyers, ads, photos of them, they appear in dreams, they make themselves apparent, they appear in meditations, we are invited to an experience with them, etc. So the medicine that wants to work with us, will present itself.

And, there are many different medicines to choose from, and some are better for certain people than others.


Some variables to consider are personal physical and/or mental health, medications being taken, illnesses, traumas, wanting a more ethereal experience vs. a more grounding experience, day ceremony vs. night ceremony, solo journey vs. group ceremony, lineage and cultural experience vs. personalized journey, homeland or in another country, weekend journey vs. retreat center journey, long vs. short, micro-dose vs. full dosage, personal readiness, callings, desires, and more.


-How much time do you need to prepare for this experience? Have you been given guidelines to follow in order to prepare?

Mentally, physically, dietary, energetic, etc.


-Have you connected with the guide, host, facilitator, etc? Have you had a conversation about what your intentions are and why you are seeking to work the with the medicine?


-Are you aware that past traumas and challenges may come up for you in ceremony, some you may be aware of, and some you may not be aware of? Does your facilitator know this?


-Is now a good time to work with the medicine, knowing it is a deep and expansive, and beautiful process?

For example: if you are currently going through a very emotional and stressful time, it may be more beneficial to wait until you feel more stable & grounded, and are able to make space in your life for what the medicine brings up for you


-Does the retreat center, or facilitator/ space holders offer integration circles or one on one support?

If not, you may want to find someone who specializes in psychedelic integration to continue to support you after your experience. And note, a regular therapist who is not accustomed to psychedelic medicines is not going to know how to support you as someone who is in this field.


-Will there be accommodation at the retreat center or place of ceremony, or do you need to find somewhere to stay, or bring a tent, etc.


-Are you prepared to take some time off of work and daily life for yourself and your process?

If you are not traveling to a retreat center or a space that is curated to having rest & integration time as part of the schedule, it is important to create this for yourself. If you are sitting in ceremony for a weekend, be sure to schedule the next few days off to practice self-care, rest, nourish, journal, integrate, and to not have to entertain work or energetically taxing circumstances. Jumping back into regular routine after ceremony can be challenging, & even harmful mentally, you just went through a powerful experience that opened you up and made you very sensitive, give yourself time to simply exist in your own energy and rejuvenate.


-Are you prepared to pay the energetic exchange for the medicine and the experience? If you want more support after ceremony, do you have the means to pay for psychedelic integration services?



********

Advice


Trust your inner knowing. If you are hesitant at all because of the energy or vibe you get from the person who will be serving you, TRUST YOURSELF. Of course it is normal to feel nervous about a medicine experience, but there is a difference between your body having pre-ceremonial jitters, and you not feeling safe because of the environment you are in, or the person who is going to be serving you.


Experiencing earth medicines, especially ayahuasca, can be a very powerful and life-changing experience. It is so important to feel safe, and to sit with an experienced facilitator, one who is integral, respectful, and knowledgeable. Someone who has sat with the medicine many times, and for a long time, doing their own inner work and proper initiations, before serving it.


Boundaries

What is your yes and your no?

Do you honor and respect yourself with your internal compass and inner knowing?

Know your physical boundaries, and your energetic ones.


Call upon your ancestors, guides, angels, animal spirits, God, great spirit: those that “honor your self sovereignty and that will lay down their prayers next to yours” to be with you, guide you, keep you safe.


If you do not have these types of connections, or this is a new concept for you, that is okay! Simply speak to them, or whoever you feel resonate to opening a connection with, as you would a friend, in conversation before your ceremony. Spirits that honor you require permission to come closer, once you create these connections and open the invitation for them to be with you, maintain a connection with them! Talk to them! Perhaps leave them a little offering or a plate of food, or light incense, and tell them that these things are meant for them to enjoy.


I have so much more to share on this and plan to make a course in the future about it, stay tuned.


Expectations:

Yes, it is valid to have expectations about basic environmental, safety, and facilitator experience needs met.

However, oftentimes we go into ceremony thinking it is going to be a certain way; expecting to have strong visions, or to purge, or to feel changed the next day, to have a powerful experience, to meet your grandmother who has passed away, for it to be butterflies and rainbows, or for it to be incredibly challenging, etc., and then, these things don’t happen. Then, we want to blame everything external instead of accepting the experience we had and being willing to look at what information the experience brought up for us to learn about ourselves.


Maybe we think the facilitator did not do a good job & we didn’t connect with their energy or songs, or the medicine wasn’t made correctly because we didn’t have an experience, or we couldn’t focus because the person next to us was being disruptive or purging too loud. Or if we don’t connect, we think, this medicine isn’t for me.


It is important to recognize, that every part of the ceremony, the parts that have to do with the medicine, and the parts that do not, are ALL part of your ceremony. The thoughts that you have, what annoyed you, the way you felt, whether you sat up or laid down in fetile position, everything is an opportunity for self reflection.

Maybe you didn’t have an experience with the medicine because you needed to have a mental experience and recognize some of your patterns and ideas about expectations- and that, was in fact, your ceremony. Or maybe you have blockages you need to move through before you can open to the medicine. Maybe it was meant to be more physical than visionary, or the other way around.


Oftentimes, people usually sit with the medicine for multiple nights, and this is beneficial because the medicine is intelligent and will work with you in layers or stages. Sometimes it takes time for you to open, and to get clear about your intentions or what you are actually there to work on before the medicine opens for you in a way you are hoping for.


From my experience, there are nights where I am completely in the world of the medicine, and I feel so connected to the visionary worlds the facilitator is painting with their songs. Other nights, I may see or feel nothing in my ceremony that was with the same facilitator. It does not necessarily have to do with them, it is more so where I am at that evening internally,  how connected I am, what is the the energy in the room and the space, etc. Some nights I am in other worlds, other nights I practically fall asleep and see nothing, because the medicine may simply want me to rest and rejuvenate. The medicine knows what she is doing, and what we need to receive, or are ready to receive at any given time. It is important to trust this, and when you trust the space, facilitator, and medicine, you will feel more open to trusting the entire experience available to you.


When we don’t feel safe for any reason, even reasons we may create within our own mind that may not be true, we are more likely to not be open to receiving the full capacity of what we are there to receive.


There is always so much to investigate about our experience. Sometimes we may think we are ready to heal, to change, to transform, but we may not be. And in life, no matter whether we work with medicines or healers or holistic modalities, if we are not personally ready to heal and change, it is not going to happen. We have to choose it, we have to want it, and BELIEVE it is possible for ourselves.


Medicines and healers do not do the healing, they offer the space, the tools, the doorway, the insights, for us to jump there. It starts, begins, ends, and continues with us, because it is our life. We have to be the ones to take accountability for our own lives and actions. It takes acknowledgement, and acceptance, and then continued awareness for there to be transformation.


And sometimes for us to heal and transform, we have to make potent changes in our lives, and change can be intimidating, or even scary. So we resist it. And we resist, because we identify with it, and we are afraid of who we are meant to be because it is unknown and we have to embark on a new journey of self-discovery.

This sometimes means we have to let go of relationships, friendships, jobs, homes, our current lifestyle, patterns, and ways of being that we have identified with for so long. AHH!

But guess what, it doesn’t have to be scary. It may not be easy, but how we handle the process depends on us. It could be challenging if we make it so, or it can be fun if we decide that we are going to embrace whatever challenges come our way because it is part of the pathway to a more enlivened and enriching life, and we deserve more!


Can we be excited to live a new chapter of our life that is more fulfilling for us? Can we learn to trust in the unknown, and in our intuition to guide us to what is meant for us?

Part of medicine work is stepping into trust and embracing the unknown with faith, instead of operating out of fear, and restricting ourselves, staying safe.


The medicine path is not necessarily an easy one.

It is challenging, just as it is transformative, insightful, beautiful, expansive, and rewarding.


When you are ready, you will feel the call. You will know. The knowing comes from deep within your soul, and the consciousness of the medicine will make itself known to you. You may hear about a medicine, and not be ready to experience it until years later, but still, it came into your world somehow, for a reason. Trust this. All in divine timing.

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