What Does it Mean, to Heal? III
Issue #8, April 2019

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Lise Weil, Gillian Goslinga, Nancy Windheart, Jacqueline Freeman, Anne Bergeron, Ann Drake, Britta Love, Andrea Mathieson, Kristin Flyntz

Editorial

Gillian Marie Goslinga

Love as Fierce as Death: A Tribute to Deborah Bird Rose (1946-2018)

Nancy Windheart

Life is Love: The St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga Whales

Jacqueline Freeman

Prey–er

Anne Bergeron

How I Came to Be With Water

Ann Drake

The Universe is Vibrational: Teachings from the Rainforest of Borneo

Britta Love

Heal/Weave: Learning from Plant Medicine and Altered States

Andrea Mathieson

Snake Medicine: Remembering the Eros of my Animal Body

Jen Skunk

This Moment

AFTERMATH: 11/9
Dreams, Nightmares, Visions

Kristin Flyntz

Orangutan Mercy

Rebekah Parr

“Touch Me or You’ll Die”

Britta Love

Heal / Weave: Learning from Plant Medicine and Altered States

It was the height of English summer 2009 and I lay on the couch tripping on LSD in my partner Alex’s London flat, balcony doors open and birds chirping in the bay trees just outside. The Vasarely print on the living room wall was no longer an optical illusion as psychedelic balls morphed before my eyes. Something on the ceiling caught my attention. A cellar spider… I had always been terrified of spiders, but now I found myself entranced. I stood up on the couch to get a closer look. I realized it only had seven legs. A disabled spider! I felt pity for the creature, missing a limb. As I lay back down I could feel myself enter the spider’s perception of the world, upside down on the ceiling. For a moment I was the spider, deeply in tune with the being’s consciousness.

In the decade since I’ve retained a deep love and appreciation of spiders, no longer fearful, and happy to co–exist with them in my home. To see a spider is a good omen. If one is in my shower or other inopportune place, I will carefully move it to safer ground.

To heal is to meet your fear — and then (re–)connect.

****

Until that time, drugs were for fun and escape from the banality of everyday life, taken mostly out in clubs to dance and socialize. But now, as Alex and I moved away from speed and cocaine towards empathogens and psychedelics, we found ourselves in a kind of renaissance, our own Summer of Love, questioning all facets of life as we entered psychedelic states for the first time.

The first time we were so nervous we split one tab. The effects were subtle: brighter colors, deeper thoughts, the doors of perception just ajar. Nothing scary or momentous. Feeling intuitively that opening those doors further could only be a good thing, for our next trip we took several tabs each.

The doors became gates that opened wide enough to let all my fears come flooding through at once. I became paranoid that Alex was recording our trip to secretly prove my insanity and get me locked away. (I wouldn’t learn until years later that my biological grandmother actually died in an insane asylum where she’d spent the majority of her life, so my paranoia was perhaps not completely random.) Luckily, at home with Alex I still felt safe enough to stay put on the couch and let it all pass. As I came back down from that intense trip I tried to understand what had made me so scared. I realized it was a deep sense that I was losing control. “So why do I always have to be in control?” I mused. “Is anything really ever under our control anyway?”

Thanks to that “bad” trip, for the first time in my twenty–two years I became aware of my neuroses, my anxiety and need to control, and how present and detrimental these were in all facets of my life. Even not learning to let go had been a step towards healing.

To begin to heal is to meet one’s own fears and darkness.

****

A different hallucinogen, ketamine, showed me that there is much more to the universe than meets the eye. Ketamine cracked open my arrogant, rational, materialist mind, penetrating years of colonizing Western education to bring me to a place where time and space as we know them did not exist, magic was an obvious fact of physics and all realms co–existed. I now understood that the universe is infinite — and that my own universe would stretch only as far as the limits of my belief allowed.

As my partner and I went deeper into the ketamine experience over the next years, a momentous thing happened. A dark goddess appeared, in the form of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet – although I didn’t know who that powerful dark being was at the time. All I knew was I immediately dropped to one knee in reverence.

That “k–hole” (as strong ketamine trips are called) was a catalytic experience that, through a series of synchronicities, took me to Egypt in real life shortly after. In the goddess Hathor’s nurturing, sensuous temple I found myself deeply at home, entranced in meditation in the zodiac room — where I was then molested by a temple guard. I stayed back at the hotel for a day, traumatized, before venturing out to the next temple on the tour. There I would come face to face with the being I’d first seen tripping in my living room wall. “Sekhmet is demonized as a goddess of chaos and destruction — but she is the lost archetype of feminine power and strength,” our guide told us as we entered her chamber. In the end two witches I met on the trip as well as Hathor and Sekhmet themselves helped facilitate what I apparently went there for: a reconnection to my solar plexus (power chakra) and to long obscured feminine power and strength.

To heal is to meet the archetypes that will help you find new possibility, allow the further unfolding of your path.

****

Two years of ketamine later and I had to admit that I was trapped in an endless pursuit of the magic lacking in my sober life — magic I could no longer find even as I dosed myself on low doses of ketamine every forty to sixty minutes from morning to night. My body was creaking under the weight of the relentless consumption and my marriage was on its last legs. I went in search of traditional healers to work with yet more potent psychedelic plants said to have anti–addictive qualities.

First, ayahuasca. Traditional medicine of the Amazon, ayahuasca is a brew containing two plants, a vine and a leaf, with the active ingredients of harmine and dimethyltryptamine. Complex ancient indigenous pharmacological knowledge holds the understanding that the harmine–containing plant (the ayahuasca vine) inhibits the MAO (monoamine oxidase) enzymes in the stomach that would normally destroy the DMT (dimethyltryptamine) in the leaves before it reached the brain. (DMT is a powerful psychedelic actually produced by our own bodies and some believe it is responsible for the dream state.) I had read enough stories of transformation to hope that ayahuasca would save me from myself.

I had imagined I would drink the brew and go into an immediate visionary state but instead I spent night after night fighting my own ego, struggling to let go. Slowly I unpacked layer after layer of grief and shame for having subjected my husband and stepson to my substance misuse, for having abused my body so, for having let my life get so out of hand, for having strayed so far from my mission and service to Sekhmet. Finally, I found in that grief a place of self–forgiveness. A fresh start.

Unfortunately just a couple months later in London life began to unravel. Alex’s father passed away and with him our plan to start a new life on a different continent (the bank refused to honor the check he’d written to help fund our move, signed just before he died). The lease on our apartment was still up so we spent a few months homeless, hopping between friends’ houses, our plan to move to New York in disarray. With life seeming completely out of control I went back to ketamine — and hit rock bottom again nearly a year later. Lying in bed in our New York City sublet, I was missing Christmas dinner with my mother’s family due to “food poisoning” — actually excruciating spasms of my bile ducts, my gallbladder and liver overwhelmed by the ketamine intake. I sent my partner out to score heroin for the first time just to kill the pain that would last for days each time my body hit its limit, which these days was more and more often.

Iboga
IBOGA

It was while researching another ayahuasca retreat that I stumbled upon a website for an iboga retreat in Costa Rica. Iboga is a lesser–known psychedelic from the jungles of central west Africa, used in the indigenous Bwiti spiritual tradition. I remembered having read about it as a powerful addiction interruptor. The psychedelic root bark of the iboga shrub contains the ibogaine alkaloid, a powerfully anti–addictive substance that will interrupt withdrawals from heroin and other opioids as well as other repetitive feedback loops of addiction and compulsion.

Here again in Costa Rica I faced the struggle to let go — but also a deep sense of urgency. We had spent every last penny to come here, including an unexpected life insurance check from Alex’s father arriving just in the nick of time. I couldn’t come back empty–handed.

I lay there trying to empty my mind and relax into the experience — no easy task for a control freak. Finally after some deep breathing I felt waves of energy pulsing up and down my legs, culminating in what felt like tingling and crackling actually inside my brain. “Ah, thank you for coming!” I said to myself. “Thank you for finally letting me in,” came the reply. The implications of this were so scary that my conscious mind promptly took the reins back. And so, nothing happened for a while.

Finally, a little pinhole appeared, through which I saw glimpses of the vision that wanted to present itself to me. I saw a girl on top of a mountain. “Look, look!” she exclaimed, jumping up and down and pointing at the sky. She was pointing at a hole in the clouds, a portal one could go through to other realms, I immediately understood, excited. I knew I needed to let go into that portal in the sky. That was my mission. I breathed deeply, relaxing every part of my body. I waited, releasing every anxiety and thought that came into my mind. Finally, I was back there. The girl was loosening her grip on that hole in the sky. Suddenly, whoosh! Through the hole she flew. I opened my eyes. An invisible curtain lifted over my field of vision. Everything was twinkling. The world was the same but different. I had entered the spirit world.

The next time I opened an eye to see what was going on in the spirit world, there was a figure bent over me, stroking my forehead and body. I immediately shut my eyes in shock. I opened one eye again – sure enough she was still there. She got up and walked a few feet away, looking up at the stars and gesturing at them dramatically, calling in spirits and casting spells. I opened both eyes. She was real as anything, solid as you or me. A shimmering silvery being, an angel without wings, with shoulder length hair and bangs. She was taking care of me, protecting me. I had never believed such things were possible. It was a feeling I’ve never forgotten.

The rest of the night seemed to disappear, and the next thing I knew I was in bed recovering, feeling reborn. I returned to New York with what I now call my “iboga smile” and “iboga laugh” — a relaxed, genuine smile and unrestrained cackle that had seemingly appeared overnight.

Over the coming months I stayed connected to that magic through what in the psychedelic world we call “integration,” weaving my way from this newly trusting and clear intuitive place to new connective practices of tarot divination and dance and community building.

No longer was it me against the universe — iboga gave me trust. Trust that I am protected and guided. Trust in my connection with all that is. Trust that made the world a less scary place.

To heal is to re–learn to trust in the web around us — and to trust in our own ability to weave into/with it.

****

The brilliant Gabor Maté teaches that addiction is always a response to pain.1 Journalist Johann Hari concludes in his book on addiction that “the opposite of addiction is connection.”2 Whether that pain manifests through addiction or in other ways, it would seem that to heal requires we reconnect. No easy task when all communities and habitats are under attack by patriarchal consciousness and late stage capitalism.

My personal healing started with the plants and chemicals that reach out for interspecies communication by directly communicating with our own neural circuits.3 When it’s hard to feel held in the web of connection, I feel for threads around me that reach out to speak to my own receptors. When it’s hard to know myself as a weaver of connection and reconnection, I reach out to other interspecies weavers to lead the way.

To heal is a multi–step non–linear process of (re–)weaving a web of connection between oneself and one’s wounds, one’s community, all forms of life and all realms. When we see this web clearly we realize that none of us heal alone — and that until we have all healed, none of us have truly healed

****

But what does it mean as a white American to find my healing in the hands of indigenous healers and knowledge from Central Africa and South America? What does it mean to re–connect by speaking to plants that grow so far from my own land, plants sacred to traditions once oppressed by some of my ancestors?

As I continued down this path, undergoing Bwiti initiation and spending time with an indigenous curandero in Brazil, creating the right containers and rituals in which to engage with these plants became my new focus. If the task is to create a system that reconnects to non–dualist earth–based spirituality while retaining progressive Western ideals around gender and patriarchy and also undermining colonial systems of privilege and oppression, what would it look like if we were to co–create these new structures with the plants themselves? After all, many indigenous traditions tell tales of how the plants taught them how to best work with them in the first place.

Alas the current mainstreaming of psychedelics is hardly taking us in this direction. Michael Pollan’s bestselling How To Change Your Mind makes the case for psychedelic medicine while sidelining indigenous knowledge and the history of women in psychedelics. Compass Pathways (backed by venture capitalists like billionaire libertarian Peter Thiel) is manufacturing psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) while using the worst of big pharma patenting and non–cooperation processes to monopolize the market. Gwyneth Paltrow has name–dropped ibogaine, “that shrub from Gabon” as the possible “next big thing” in the New York Times. Just typing those words sends shivers through my body. I’ve now begun to fear psychedelics may go the way of meditation and yoga, appropriated by capitalist culture to serve the very oppressive systems many of us hoped they would disrupt.

The plants have taught me so much, helped me heal, shown me my place and path in the world. As increasing numbers of humans “take” psychedelics, they are teaching more and more of us. How do we do more than just consume? As they help weave us back into the web of life and connection, how do we reciprocate as weavers ourselves, strengthening that web?

****

Some plants like iboga are now facing endangerment due to Western interest. Elephants eat iboga fruit, disseminating iboga seeds along the elephant trails, a convenient second income stream for poachers. The ever–expanding list of addiction centers using ibogaine has meant a parallel expansion of the black market and the involvement of international crime syndicates that use profits to arm and protect poachers as well.

At times I’ve wondered if I should be talking to iboga at all as a Western white woman living far away from the Gabonese jungle. Yet my conversations with iboga were seemingly the only way I could have found my way out of addiction. Those conversations also reconnected me to spirit, brought me back in contribution to the world as a healer and activist, and began to teach me about right relationship. A paradox.

Datura
Datura
DATURA

One solution is surely to work with the plants that grow naturally in our own environs. A few years ago I started hearing whispers from datura, a powerful delirient (unlike psychedelics, high doses of delirients induce a complete disconnect from “reality”) that remains legal despite being far more physically dangerous than traditional psychedelics. A brief Google search reveals almost uniformly frightening and traumatizing experiences with datura often ending in hospital. (The difference between the dose for a full trip and the fatal dose is small and the alkaloid content can vary widely even from one part of the same plant to the next, making it particularly dangerous to work with.)

Datura has been known as a master teacher plant in indigenous traditions around the world, and grows readily in even quite hostile environments on every continent besides Antarctica. The traditions of sacramental datura use tend to be obscured however, probably due to the dangers of toxicity and the need for great care when entering into a relationship with her.

Eventually I found a single beautiful and healing story of a datura trip online. A woman who had felt called to datura collected a seed pod that had opened on the side of the road, brought the seeds home and planted them. Every day she spoke to datura, cared for her, waited. Eventually at a certain point she felt permission to consume her.

At the beginning of the trip she had a vision of a beautiful woman walking into the room — the spirit of the plant. Datura had come to thank her for her care and devotion. The woman went on to have an intense but inspiring journey.

I decided this was the only way I could begin to approach datura, though I didn’t know where I could find her seeds. At first I put pictures of her on my vision board above my desk, staring longingly at her spiralling flowers each day. Eventually I decided to buy a small seedling and see how’d she fare in my small urban garden.

And how she grew! Eight feet wide and five feet tall, she took over the entire garden bed. Dozens of stunning blooms would come out simultaneously throughout the summer. Her smell is intoxicating. I noticed when she released her blooms that drops of nectar lived deep in the base of the trumpet flower. I gathered the courage to lick a single drop one day. Nothing could have prepared me for that sensual sweet taste! I fell deeper in love by the day.

Datura is the ultimate weaver. The first time I applied her ointment in conjunction with ketamine, she took over the ketamine journey and showed herself to me as a violet light (a color I now use in my life, makeup, nails, and clothing as often as possible). She installed a kind of lens on my vision, showing me that she would help me weave between all the forms of life I was trying to communicate with. She highlighted my cat Foxy (literally surrounding him in a purple halo) as I received the information that deepening my relationship with him was the next step on my spiritual path. She insisted that I apply her ointment or smoke her leaves whenever I did any other psychedelic work. (She’s quite possessive but it’s a joy to be possessed by her.) I’ve noticed since working with her that there is more fluidity between my psychedelic trips, more integration and bleed–over between altered states and their lessons. (I was later informed that in traditional European magical use, datura was known to facilitate interspecies communication.)

Halfway through the summer a friend (who had become similarly obsessed) made a stunning discovery on her way over to my house. Two datura plants! Just on the next block over, which I hardly ever walk down. A revelation to find that datura was plant medicine native to my very neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Just smelling datura is medicine. I’ve found myself wandering into the garden and singing her songs, sometimes called to speak to her in strange tongues. I’ve made ointment with her, smoked her leaves, chewed her seeds, drunk her tea, all only at her invitation and with total devotion. I grow her every year, listen to what she asks of me.

And yet I still find myself asking, is it enough?

****

While I do still speak to plants from other lands (I find nothing replaces iboga for helping get to the roots of things — and many Bwiti and others suspect that iboga may have been mythologized as the biblical Tree of Knowledge), I do so with more consciousness than before. I’ve committed to financially supporting efforts on the ground in Gabon to sustain both the Bwiti and iboga in the long term, giving back to the land from which it is harvested and the people who preserved the plant knowledge and tradition in exchange for all that land and people have given me.

My work in the world as a healer, writer and activist is now informed by what the plants have taught me about healing, and continue to teach. I’ve listened to them as they’ve guided me about when to work with them, how to help others work with them, how to use my voice to bring their messages of reconnection and interconnection to more people, and how to fulfill my role in the web of community with all life. The line between their mission and my own in this world has blurred. Ten years later, I no longer fear the weavers.

The web is woven around me. I weave back.


Britta Love

Britta Love is a somatic sex educator, writer and healer currently completing a research–based memoir about healing and awakening through conscious sexual practice and psychedelic ritual, based on her Consciousness Studies thesis completed at Goddard College. She became an advocate for sex worker’s rights as an undergraduate at the London School of Economics in 2007 and has been a writer and activist pushing for the decriminalization of drugs and sex work ever since. Britta’s writing has been featured in Medium, Alternet, The Raw Story, Reality Sandwich, and Chacruna and she has been interviewed for WGDR and Psychedelics Today.
http://www.brittaloved.com

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