I first want to say, congratulations to all the brave souls who have already traveled this path. I am by no means a pioneer in this arena, and in fact, had a spectrum of approaches when dealing with different family members, ranging form balls-out, straight up, full disclosure to sideways, under-the-radar, and not completely forthright "leaving the 'medicine parts'" out of the healing story. I will weave in my own story with the following. To begin this section, though, I want to talk about why is it imperative, NOW, to tell the truth about our healing journeys with plant medicines.
1. We live in a culture of prohibition, the "just say no" mentality which has helped the USA become the worldwide leader in numbers of non-violent incarcerated citizens. While there is ample historical evidence proving that entheogens (remember the definition 'generating the divine within') have been safely used as sacraments throughout human history, the current climate is still one of hysterical judgment, negative publicity, and denial. People that have a different view of entheogens, who use them as part of their spiritual practice, especially parents, teenagers, and professional people, often keep quiet about their authentic experiences with entheogens due to fear of exposure and the potential consequences of being 'outed': loss of freedom; incarceration and forced 'drug rehab' programs; loss of custody rights and/or co-parenting agreements; loss of employment; loss of credibility and status; and more. If these fear-based perceptions are ever going to change, regular people who use entheogens need to step up and claim the right to the sovereign choice to alter their consciousness.
2. Often in healing stories I have heard, the subject of actually being able to heal past generations comes up. I believe a part of this healing is in learning how to be authentic with our own elders, within our own lineages. Of course, discernment and discretion are required, especially in the way things are presented - which we will get to shortly!
3. As parents, our charge is to bring up our children to the best of our abilities, to be an example, a guide, and a foundation for our children. I like the old quote about how we can only do two things for our children: give them roots and give them wings. What can be more important than to offer them teachings through our own example about connecting to the sacred, to the divine?
4. World crises - plural - anyone? Yes, we live in a time of unprecedented, multiple threats to our continued existence on this planet, most of which are caused by the modern human lifestyle: the unconscious, indifferent, and greedy way we choose to live. If EVER there was a time for a world-wide shift in consciousness... this is the reason, in my opinion, that ayahuasca/yage has made it out of the jungle and into the western world. This is the reason why it is imperative that we work to change the drug schedules, to create sane public discourse around the sacramental use of entheogens, to explore their medical and spiritual benefits, and even to open up the possibility of creating safe containers for our youth to explore consciousness and face their own ego deaths. They are the ones who are going to be left with this mess, after all.
So, let's say you are an adult user of entheogens who would like to tell your (elderly) parents about your journey. How do you go about it? How can you even begin to circumvent decades of negative propaganda and fear-based misinformation about these substances? I believe there are several approaches that can work, and it is up to the person to determine which approach or combination of approaches would be most effective.
1. The personal healing journey. This approach is part of how I told my deeply religious mother about my path with the yage, although to be honest I left out the specifics about the medicine for a long time, focusing instead on the effects (the other half is the spiritual journey: see below). Over the years after I started drinking medicine, she definitely noticed the changes in me: that I was happier, less judgmental, and more balanced that I had ever been. I let her know right form the start that I was participating in healing ceremonies with a teacher from Colombia, and receiving a lot of help for my life from them. Eventually, when I started writing this blog, the truth about my using entheogens was revealed. I will admit I was nervous about her knowing this, particularly because I did not want to cause her any stress or worry on my behalf. She took the revelation in stride (as she has done with all the other non-conformist twists of my life) and shares her support of my writing this book and following my truth. I am a very lucky daughter to have such a mom!
2. Scientific/medical inquiry. This approach is very effective for connecting with intellectuals, professionals, and rational thinkers. I recently interviewed a very outspoken proponent for psychedelics, J, who used this approach with his parents. He suggested they watch a documentary together on the subject of entheogens, from which there are quite a few to choose (see my blog dated 8/20/15 for reviews of three such documentaries (1)). The results were a meeting of the minds and an open discussion about the pros and cons of entheogen use. I like this approach because it employs rational discourse and analysis, using the tools of intelligent questioning, discussion, and sharing as equals, and has the benefit of highlighting the views and research of well-educated experts in diverse fields to lend credence to the points addressed and the changing nature of thought on the subject of entheogens. I don't feel that I need to reiterate all of the potential benefits of using entheogens here, as they are well documented elsewhere.
This format also can help when there is a lot of emotional reactivity present, as it can shine a different light on other very important aspects of the subject, possibly by helping a person get a different, more balanced perspective Some degree of openness would also need to be present in a very emotionally-charged person, however, for them to be able to consider alternative points of view.
3. Spirituality. This was the other side of my approach with my mom. Talking to a relative or loved one about your spiritual journey, about how you found a medicine that helps you to connect with the higher, more spiritual aspects of your being, is one possibility here. In my discussion with my mother, which happened when I was still in my 20's, decades before I discovered yage, I started a separate tangent, around the subject of God, and how He (and I am using the gender pronoun out of convenience here - I do not believe God has a gender) created everything. I asked her to imagine the possibility that God, in His infinite wisdom, created a certain variety of plants, put on the Earth, on purpose, on every continent, to help humans discover, or deepen, their connection to Him. She acknowledged that this was possible, of course. I then brought up the naturally occurring plants I knew about: psilocybin mushrooms and the peyote cactus. I mentioned these two because they are found and eaten in their natural state, with no preparation needed to feel their effects. (And, incidentally, I didn't even know about ayahuasca or yage at the time). I told her that I had been able to find real help for my life through the use of these substances, which were created BY GOD. Even with her very conservative and religious background, she was able to see and open to the possibility that these plants could have been left here for us, by God, to help us reconnect to the Divine, to the Source. It was amazing to watch this opening in my own mother. Through the years my mother and I have not always seen eye to eye about many things (she is Pentecostal, after all, and I do not consider myself a Christian, although I love Jesus and pray to God all the time); however, I felt this sharing was the beginning of a deeper, more connected relationship, one where we maintain the ability to be open and honest about our truths. We mostly connect around the use of daily prayer and of being of service to the world. Both of these aspects of my life have been dynamically and dramatically improved by my use of entheogens - and I believe my mother sees and acknowledges this!
4. Historical discourse. This is another shade or flavor of the intellectual/rational approach, one which focuses on a discussion and analysis of the historical and cultural use of entheogens and the ongoing, unilateral human propensity for altering consciousness. As an opener to this approach, consider the following quote:
"The history of entheogens finds them as essential sacraments in a variety of ancient religious traditions. In discussing these substances, we are handling artifacts akin to crucifixes and idols—though far more powerful in the experience they typically impart. To decry these items as illicit, mind-bending drugs is to mistake their cultural importance and impose a modern stereotype upon ancient practices. Furthermore, the near universality of entheogen usage suggests something remarkable about man’s essential nature. In his book, The Natural Mind, Dr. Weil likens man’s pursuit of these substances to a basic instinct: “…the desire to alter consciousness periodically is an innate, normal drive analogous to hunger or the sexual drive.”(2)
In my opinion, this tangent would probably be included in the scientific/medical inquiry approach, as stated above. But it is a completely different subject, and might appeal to intellectuals who were more anthropologically oriented..
5. Open dialogue. This method can be used when there is already an open, engaging discourse between you and your relative(s), which includes a certain level of trust. If you have this kind of relationship, you may already have felt comfortable enough to let your family know about your experiences with entheogens. I calls this the 'balls-out' method, meaning, not hiding anything allowing yourself to be really vulnerable. I used this method when telling my siblings about my healing experience my first weekend with ayahuasca. I wrote them a letter and pretty much bared my soul. I also invited them to attend ceremony with me, something which has not yet happened. To each his or her own!
I think it is important, no matter what our approach, to include the following in our revelations to our relatives about our use of entheogens:
* WHY we are using entheogens - what are our intentions, goals, etc? For me, for example, I took ayahuasca to eliminate EVERYTHING keeping me from embodying my highest self in this world, and specifically, to uncover, examine, and eliminate the roots of my ongoing depression and agonizing self-hate. In my younger days, I sometimes took mushrooms for possibly 'lesser' purposes - to have a good time with my friends, to experience oneness with nature, to dance for 12 hours without self-consciousness, for example. But as I got older the reasons became a little more to the point: I wanted (and still want) to be better. Having a reason, a higher purpose, for taking an entheogen is crucial for me at this point in my life. The reason each one chooses to alter their consciousness is an important aspect of sharing this journey.
* WHAT we are doing to ensure our own safety - how do we takes steps to make sure we are safe when we decide to alter our consciousness? This aspect is very important to cover when talking with entheogenically inexperienced relatives. The scare tactics and anti-drug propaganda that many people in our culture have been fed for decades exploit people's fear that these medicines are really bad and can permanently harm you. For me, I address this by only using entheogens within the context of sacred ceremony led by elders who have received training through a lineage passed down for generations. This container allows me to fully surrender to the experience with trust that I am safe and that there is a guide who can offer me help should the need arise. Being able to communicate my standards for safety to my relatives helps them understand more fully that what I am doing is intentional, therapeutic work.
* WHO is doing this work? Who is invited to this work? What is the community like? If we can share something about our entheogenic community with our relatives, this can be helpful for them to get a fuller, less biased picture of the setting. For example, sharing with my mother that I go to ceremony with professionals - body-workers, therapists, doctors, teachers, parents, and lawyers - helped her to better understand that this practice is legitimate. In other words, the ceremony is not made up of drug-addled, smelly hippies, deranged homeless people, runaway convicts, or high-school drop outs (not that there is anything actually wrong with any of those stereotypical groups of people). On the contrary, regular, functional well-adjusted people come to ceremony and receive significant help for their lives. We (users of entheogens) are not outside the box anymore, not really. OK, well maybe a little bit. I mean, it takes a special kind of person to want to experience ego death, to be willing to go through pain and discomfort and sometimes even hell in order to be better. But we are a lot more common than many might think.
There may be more on this subject. If so, I will add more next week. Also, next week, I will discuss talking to kids of differing ages about using entheogens.
(2) McGraw, John J. "Hallucinogens/Entheogens," an excerpt from his book Brain and Belief (Ageis Press, Del Mar, CA 2004) - quoting Andrew Weil, from his book The Natural Mind (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972), p.19.