It’s really only the glamorous, miraculous stories that come across our awareness these days, isn’t it? The seeker who was healed of addiction by a week in the jungle. The depressed young woman who found a new hope for her life without medication. The man who, after decades of smoking, quit cold-turkey after one ceremony. But are these realistic expectations for people seeking healing across the board? Both Jeanae and Matt, founders of New Life Ayahuasca in Costa Rica, both come from a background of addiction and pain.
We spoke with them to gain some insight around the healing expectations of the powerful plant medicine, ayahuasca.
Jeanae shares her story: “For me, the first real thing that I experienced that made me really think was, after my second ceremony... It was not until I was sitting out by the fire at the end of the night and I was just thinking - not about the things I was seeing specifically, but more about where my thoughts were taking me. How I was, in that moment, on a f*cking mountain in Costa Rica drinking ayahuasca and how many other people in the world at that exact moment were sitting in some cockroach, bedbug-infested motel shooting up or detoxing or whatever. A life very similar to that which I used to live. And just seeing the parallel of that, I realized, number one, I wasn’t going to be that person again in those rooms; and number two, that there was something more than that. I had never thought there was hope for happiness, or hope for a good life and that was the first time that I felt that. Which didn’t make me perfect, but there was that hope of moving forward, that actually, I could become a healthier, happier person.”
Perhaps that seems like too simple of a realization to make much of a difference, but for Jeanae and many of the addicts she’s met, that is the most important part of starting to make a change.
Matt, who now facilitates ceremonies at New Life, also found plant medicine on a journey to heal his own opiate addiction. Initially working with iboga, he and Jeanae then went on to explore other plant medicines for their continued healing and recovery. What they found was indeed miraculous -- but they also recognize the importance of having realistic expectations. Jeanae continues:
“The medicine can give you some kind of direction. But you have to be really determined and motivated to act on that direction. For example, maybe you’re depressed, you’re not exercising, you’re in toxic relationships, you have a job you hate, and you drink ayahuasca and you get some kind of message like, these are the things that are contributing to why you are miserable. Then you get some relief afterwards, you get that after-glow, but then you go home and you go right back into the same stuff.”
This, says Jeanae, is where some miss the most important step: taking responsibility for turning insight into action. “Nothing is going to change, you are still going to be depressed and miserable. But if you do the things that are difficult - and I’m not saying that people should make huge drastic changes immediately after drinking ayahuasca, but taking steps for it, making changes in their lives. Maybe start an exercise routine, maybe start looking at the way that you eat, maybe start looking at why you have certain relationships with certain people or the dynamics of those relationships, are they healthy? Are they manipulative? Are they using each other? All those kinds of things. Like, what role do you play in your own misery? You have to change that.”
Managing this expectation is a part of what Matt and Jeanae find themselves doing before people attend a retreat at New Life Ayahuasca. Matt explains: “One of the things I tell most people is that it’s very important to not have any expectations. Keep an intention in your mind for the night - and I usually tell people to place one intention per night because you can’t fix everything in one night. So, it’s good to have one solid thing that you want to work on in case you get a little lost or overwhelmed, you can say, ‘This is why I’m feeling this’. But it's very important not to have expectations because each individual experiences the medicine differently. And each individual, every time they drink, they experience the medicine differently. So, just because you saw this video online and this guy or girl had this experience, almost certainly you will not have that experience. It's very important to keep your expectations managed and just go in with an open mind and accept whatever the medicine gives you, however it gives it to you.”
The message they hope to drive home? Plant medicine is not an instant cure-all. It takes dedication, hard work, and willingness to change your life completely - if that’s what it takes.
“A lot of people want to change themselves and get back to their life,” concludes Jeanae. “Our opinion, or our suggestion, would be to take the time for yourself and to focus on whatever it is that you need to do until you feel better and you feel confident in going back to your work or your family or whatever. Those things will always be there, but if you don't take the time for yourself then nothing is going to change. And they're like, ‘I can't spend an extra week or I can't do this because I have these obligations and responsibilities’. And it's like, I understand that, but if you go back to those obligations and responsibilities, you'll get the same results, you would be right back where you were.”
Take the leap, they say. Do the work. Find the true healing. And then gather your courage and begin the slow, one-day-at-a-time changes in your life. And from two people who have completely turned their lives around, that’s some solid advice.