The title of this article is not something I have said, but something I hear a lot. Particularly from other shamans or ‘shamanic practitioners’ as they humbly like to call themselves, and those who are engaged in other spiritual practices such as yoga, mindfulness etc. In the run up to the next retreat in July a few of our guests have also had this statement thrown at them.
The question is… do what?
How can you know what IT is when you’ve never done… IT? As in the plants. You have no experience with which to draw reference or comparison and therefore what meaning does the statement ‘you can do it without the plants’ actually have?
As an analogy I like to compare it to the person who has never travelled abroad and extolls the virtues of staying in their home country having never actually travelled outside of it. We could say this person is closed-minded. Perhaps there is something else behind their statement. Maybe they are afraid of flying.
Yet for them to say they can have just as good a time holidaying in their home country is impossible, because they’ve never been anywhere else.
There are the shamans that say they are ‘core shamans’ and therefore don’t want to work with the plants. Instead journeying by means such as the drum, rattle or ecstatic dance. Which is all good, but it is not the same and does not harness the same results as working with the plants.
When asked what is your advice to someone thinking of working with the plants, Ross Heaven’s response is priceless and provocative:
“Do it. It’s the only way you’re going to get close to the truth (your own truth anyway) of human existence and to the knowledge of your soul, the secrets you keep hidden inside you, or your own life purpose and destiny. Yoga won’t do it for you, nor will sniffing crystals or channelling Pleiadian dolphins (at best they’ll make you feel better about yourself in this reality, but it’ll still be the same old self and the same old reality, never anything deeper). And if you’re interested in shamanism and really want to learn, plant medicine is the only way to do it. As I said, you cannot know the essence – or the actuality – of shamanism from the watered-down courses on offer because real shamans work with plant teachers.”
I really like that response; not that I want to discount other practices, not at all. I do yoga and I find it to be fantastic for my body, mind and soul - it makes me feel great. I run plenty of workshops in the UK where we drum and journey without the use of plants. The results we get are valid; these things are all fantastic tools. Yet they are not the same as working with the plants.
Our minds are excellent at protecting us from the truth. '"It’s for our own good", the mind will say. It doesn’t see the long term effect of us making the same mistakes and never actually learning. Instead it protects from short term pain.
That pain being truth.
The plants offer more of the tough love sentiment and like to lay all the cards out on the table. It’s a bit harder to hide from their lessons and teachings. That’s not to say after one night you’re perfect all of a sudden. Which is like when people say, "I don’t need the plants, I’m done". Done? Our lives on earth are never done, not until our lungs breathe their last breath. Like the universe, we are in a constant state of growth and discovery… even after the final curtain.
What’s behind the anti-plant brigades' passive aggression?
We can’t ignore that we have been brought up in a time when the ingestion of substances that alter consciousness is seen as taboo or criminal, something to avoid; despite the anomalies of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and sugar being prolific but ‘legal’ mind altering substances consumed daily by the vast majority of us.
This manipulation of popular opinion leads to a judgement based in fear. A little McKenna logic is useful here.
There are also plenty of documented experiences where people record terrifying journeys into their soul and the nature of existence. I can of course fully understand why these would be off putting. Particularly as meditation, yoga et al rarely involve such challenging horrors.
And so to the fear, as this is the real issue in question, even those who may have experienced the plants once and say they don’t want to go back… what they’re really saying is, they’re not up for another fight to hold onto the lies they’ve constructed to keep them comfortable.
I’ve been there on numerous occasions, I know it. Right now I approach the plants I’ve worked with as friends, nothing but joy and trust in my heart. When I think of working with a plant I’m yet to acquaint myself with, such as Salvia, the seers sage, the fear is there. I know it could shatter my current status quo, my level of comfort, my belief systems that I try not to have. Even though I’ve worked with other plants extensively, this fear of the unknown doesn’t leave me. And in a way I wouldn’t want it to. It brings with it a certain challenge, an excitement, an opportunity for growth.
To conclude, I am not saying everyone should work with the plants. If you don’t want to, I fully respect your decision. It's not my intention to condemn anyone on their own path, I can’t, however, listen to someone tell me ‘You can do it without the plants.’
Statements that make sense:
I don’t want to work with the plants
I’m afraid to work with the plants
I don’t like the sound of working with the plants
Statements that don’t make sense:
I can do it without the plants.
I don’t need the plants, I’m OK where I am
The plants are this/do this, which I know, despite never actually experiencing them myself
There are many shamans who have worked with the plants that will say, you can do it without the plants - that is an entirely different thing again.
Working with the plants can be challenging, it is also healing, rewarding, enlightening and ecstatic. I didn’t know the true meaning of ecstasy until I worked with the plants, and though it occurs now in my life without them, it was the plants that showed me the way. To them I will be forever grateful.
If you're interested in finding out what 'IT' is, then my next retreat is in July.