I have been telling the story of my experience in Costa Rica with iboga, a master plant teacher, from the Bwiti culture of West Africa.
My story is given freely as an offering of love, to give information about a fairly obscure and unknown medicine, which happens to be a great ally for those of us seeking true spiritual healing for ourselves. I have the utmost respect for iboga, and for anyone willing to look at this kind of story with an open mind and a sense of curiosity.
Circus of Mind
It is December 17, 2019. 27 years after the day of my physical birth, I am going through a symbolic rebirth process. I am lying on a mat in an outdoor temple in the dry jungle of Northern Costa Rica, eyes closed and covered, and everything is buzzing and shaking. It feels like there are a million voices in my head yelling and saying unintelligible things. I steady myself for a long, long night – what have I gotten myself into? Images are rolling through and flashing in front of my inner eyes, a nonsensical circus of sound and thought.
Somewhere behind all of the noise is “me”, my actual presence and awareness; I am reassured that I know what that is, who I am. I realize there’s no way out of this circus besides going through it, and I fully understand what I’ve gotten myself into this time around. I feel nauseous already, a kind of motion sickness generated by all the movement in my mind. But somehow I can ground myself inside myself… I look for the place in my chest where my soul speaks to me, which we call the heart, and I say to myself myself, “I’m right here. It’s going to be okay.”
Despite the wild hell show blazing through my mind, I smile.
That moment gets whisked away, like the rest of the circus of experience, immediately washed over with something random, or perhaps not random.
What is happening right now?
In an extremely amplified way, I’m just having an experience of my thinking. In one moment I tell myself “let go of bad thoughts”, and in the next moment there is a fear of thinking the wrong things that seems to summon exactly what I don’t want. Images of disfigured bodies and mutated animals flash in front of me. I try to say “no!” to them, or to not react. I can’t tell what’s better. Are there good and bad thoughts? Is that just an idea in my mind? What happens if I get stuck in a bunch of bad thoughts? What if I accidentally create that? I feel shaken, and try to return to that center inside of me.
I come back to the basics: feel my breath, focus on the music. The music is wild, like a stampede of sounds. I wish I could get lost in it enough to forget myself and what I’m experiencing in my own body right now.
What exactly is the difficulty right now? There is fear, and chaos, and nausea. It feels like there is a large TV screen in front of me and someone is just flipping through the channels, quickly. The volume is turned on high and I am strapped down with my eyes forced open.
This is a lot to deal with, but in some ways not as bad as I was expecting. A part of me is really uncomfortable, while still another part of me knows “I can totally get through this.” It’s good for me now and then to have to sit through the full length of an uncomfortable experience. It’s actually a gift to myself.
In my normal life I can unconsciously attempt to avoid the various discomforts of life. I can try to avoid situations that will trigger me emotionally, I can avoid physical discomfort, I can stuff my feelings with food, I can get away from my ‘bad thoughts’ by occupying my attention with people and technology and endless noise. I can unintentionally, bit by bit, become so reactive to discomfort that it actually has total power over me. That is what spiritual weakness is.
Sometimes my truth is uncomfortable. When I don’t like how I’m feeling and I try to stuff or distract it away, I disconnect with the voice of my soul, with my truth. I can’t make a habit of avoiding emotion and discomfort without the greater consequence of losing who I am.
This moment in the heat of an iboga experience is the opposite of avoiding hard feelings. It is taking me right into the heart, and I am going there willingly. I am uncomfortable but I know this experience is serving a purpose and that I can get through it. Surviving through a challenging experience automatically returns more of my spiritual power to me. This is making me more alive!
I don’t know how it works, I only know that it works, and that the deep intelligence of iboga will meet you where you are and give you exactly what you need… if you do your part and approach it with respect.
Let’s go on a journey
It is some time in the middle of the night. The music is playing, my body is nauseous, my presence feels weak. I have been through what seems like 10,000 hours of this uncomfortable mental circus.
Suddenly, above my head there I hear the soft voice of one of our guides, Peter: “Hi Emma, how’s it going? You can stay lying down and keep your mask on.”
“I’m okay,” I say, feebly.
It’s time to go for a guided journey. A staple of the iboga experience, at least here, where it has been modified for the Western world.
He asks me to visualize my home, to go there, and to find myself.
“Can you see her?”
“Yes, she’s at the desk.”
“How does she look?”
“Not good… she’s stressed.”
At his prompting, I journey inside her body and scrub all her organs clean. I go inside her stomach, her heart, her brain, her spine, and wash away all the muck, leaving her sparkling. It feels good, the same way cleaning the house feels good.
“How does she look now?”
“She looks… clean!”
Then, Emma and I have a conversation.
This is where my questions and intentions from before come into play. I brought a list of questions I want answers to, to ceremony with me. Gary had told us iboga can help us find the answer in ourselves to just about any question except “What happens after I die?” Peter starts with my first question, tells me to ask it aloud to my higher self and then listen for the answer:
“Who am I and what am I here to do?”
I look at her. I wonder if her mouth will move? Maybe I am trying too hard, looking instead of seeing. “I’m thinking too much,” I tell him. “I don’t know if she’s saying anything.”
“That’s okay, maybe you will just get a sense from her.”
So I let go of a layer of my literal mind, a layer of my skepticism. I let go of the part of me that doesn’t trust that I have all the answers I ever need inside of me. The part of me that believes it needs validation from others, that seeks the opinions of others instead of trusting myself. The part that is perpetually afraid of making a misstep. For this exercise, I have to relax all of that and reach into the deep place inside of me that has all the knowing. With the help of iboga, I’m able to access it like this… in a conversation with my higher self. So I ask again, and this time I listen, trusting that something will come.
“Who am I, and what am I here to do?”
When the answer comes it is so simple and true that I am laughing and smiling through all my discomfort.
It is so simple that a part of me wants to push it aside, but the voice that gives me this answer comes from my heart with an upwelling of joy.
“I’m getting that… I’m me, and I’m here to just be me!”
We both laugh. “Basse!” He says. The Bwiti word for “truth”.
The ice is broken. I know what to do now. He continues down my list of questions, all about my life and purpose and how I can be happy and healthy. I get an answer to everything – not an answer from my mind, but an answer from my soul. The voice of my soul dances when she speaks the simple answers to my mind’s questions. As uncomfortable and difficult as it is to focus, I am warmed and reassured by this exchange with myself.
Thank you, Creator, for another day of life
The rest of the long night passes. I have a few purges. It feels terrible and freeing all at the same time. Mateo walks by me once as I am clutching my bucket and says “You are going to get a good healing from this!” with such sincerity that I laugh despite myself.
Morning arrives. The music stops, and I feel a collective exhale. Thank goodness. The journey isn’t over, but I am grateful for the passage of time nonetheless. I still feel the iboga strongly, and am wobbling when I am taken to my room. It is Discovery Day #2.
I am relieved to curl up in a bed and feel the quietness around me – such a contrast to the Bwiti music during ceremony. I still have some nausea, but it’s on its way out. I feel grateful to have the whole day to process my night.
It’s a unique experience to start the day like this, devoting the day to complete introspection. Normally when I have down time, a part of me gets really antsy and looks for a distraction – but I am here stripped of all of that, and it is exactly where I want to be.
I pass an entire day in relative stillness, being with myself and the iboga, writing down things in my journal as they come to me.
I will keep these pages in my journal close to me when I go back to my life. There is a lot of wisdom in here that comes straight from the heart. Right now, I know exactly what my job is, exactly what I need to do in my life when I get back — so I write it down for my future self, knowing that it’s all too easy to forget the important things and get swept away in patterns.
Some time, late into the night, the iboga finishes this part of its work with me, and I fall asleep.
Goodbyes & Hellos
Our last day together at Iboga Wellness Center, we go to another beach. We spend time together, and with ourselves. We eat together. We wrap up our final interviews (for now) with Maria and Rob.
I am so grateful Maria and Rob have been here, and that I’ve been able to be a part of the documentary. It’s going to take some time, but it’s such a treat that I will be able to share this experience with people in a deeper way. Of course I can write and talk to people – but the video is something that will touch people in a different way, and help give iboga some exposure at a time when a lot of people could use this kind of help. I am giddy that I’ve been able to contribute towards that.
I leave Iboga Wellness Center with a round of heart-filled hugs, suspecting that it’s not the last time I’ll see this place. I travel for a couple extra days with Jesse and Danny. We go to the beach at Tamarindo, we hike around a volcano, we dip in some hot springs… and then we too say goodbye and head home, where the journey will truly begin.
Reflections on Integration
It’s wild. In my experience, when you go on retreat to experience the plant medicine, you experience what’s really possible in this life: happiness, joy, the rediscovery of your soul.
People always say integration is the hard part… leaving the safe bubble of retreat and going back to the world, your patterns, your dramas. Whatever you believe to be toxic and bad – it’s all still there when you get back, and now it’s your job to be in relationship to everything in a way that is BETTER for you, than how you were before. It means there are going to be some things you don’t do anymore, maybe some places you don’t go anymore, maybe some people who you decide to let go of. But for most things, it isn’t clear right away. You have to walk through the fire of your own life and feel for yourself where the rub is. It isn’t easy, and it feels frighteningly similar to everything you’ve ever known. You’ll think to yourself, what if I lose everything I learned??? And then you’ll have to take the situation into your own hands and make the CONSCIOUS CHOICE to keep living those lessons, one step at a time, one day at a time.
I believe now that it’s possible for me to live the life of my true dreams – but, there is no getting around it, I have to take complete responsibility. I have to be the one to build my life, the one to set boundaries around what is precious to me, the one to recognize and let go of what is hurting my ability to be conscious and healthy and happy. Nobody else can live my truth for me! I WILL live in the life of my own making, and if I don’t consciously cultivate what that is, then not choosing is also choosing. The less conscious I am, the more I fall into unconscious pattern. Our patterns are what create rigidity and illness in us. Patterns are what cause us to be inflexible and unable to flow with life. Our unconscious patterns close us off to creativity, keep us in fear, close us off to our soul.
So anyway friends, that’s where I am now. I am doing the work, cultivating the bravery to speak my truth, connecting with my soul on a daily basis, as much as I can. The presence of iboga, and of my own soul, is like this gentle thing inside of me – it’s the sweetest hummingbird-butterfly creature that sings songs to the flowers and is so ecstatic just to be alive – and it’s my job to take care of that bird and let her sing. Sometimes I can’t hear her. It’s all my old patterns, my 3D ways of thinking and doubting – I get stuck in my head, stuck in self-doubt, stuck in fear; and in the moment, it can eclipse everything. It can feel like a total failure.
But — I keep finding my way out again! I keep finding my song again. As I write this I am coming off a beautiful experience of hiking up a hill on the eastern edge of Reno, to watch the sunset. I did some journaling and some kundalini yoga up there, and I sang to the valley, to the sky, to my soul. My energy lifted. I found myself floating and clear again. And just hours ago I was stuck in the drama of my own mind, uncertain of everything.
Things can change in an INSTANT. There are skills that all of us can learn, that we can use to help ourselves live out of the fog of lies in our mind. The plant medicines are a tool to help show us what’s true, so that we remember what’s important and realize what we can let go of, where we can grow. Iboga helps us reconnect with our heart and soul. It isn’t easy work. It isn’t a vacation. But it is a path to true liberation of the eternal human spirit! Nothing is more important to me than this!
If you haven’t touched on that bliss experience recently, which is the deepest joy of simply being yourself and alive — I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that life can be different. That your true nature is joy and peace and love. And that it’s possible to find your way back, no matter how lost you feel. You were always meant to be here and to shine the light that only you can shine. Now is the time to wake up to what’s possible, to shed the illusion, to re-align with the HEART of who we are. The heart knows the language of love, which is absolutely everything.
Life Changes So Far
Some beautiful blessings from my life after leaving Costa Rica:
I have connected more deeply with Mathew’s family than ever before. I have spent some sweet time with my own family… quality time that I didn’t have the luxury of while living in North Carolina. I have reconnected with some of my roots, friends from home, the mountains of California. I have fallen into a sweet, new version of an old friendship. I have fallen more in love with skiing. I have fallen back in love with music. I have learned to play a few songs on the guitar, and sang in places where people can hear me.
Perhaps best and scariest of all, I’ve initiated a transition that my soul has been calling me to for a while. I am leaving my full-time job and embarking on a journey of the soul, starting with a month-long kundalini yoga immersion!
This topic – leaving the misaligned day job to pursue the work of the soul – is deserving of its own series of posts, but for now I’ll just share the news that I’m taking the leap, and big changes are coming… whether I feel ready or not!
It’s exhilarating, fear-inducing and freeing all at the same time.
I continue on my path of healing and awakening. I will be unplugging for a month to dive into the kundalini yoga teacher training with minimal distraction. It looks like life is giving me opportunities to work more deeply with iboga this year, which certainly scares me – isn’t our true calling kind of scary to show up for sometimes? It’s part of the process.
If you want to learn more about iboga, I highly recommend exploring Iboga Wellness Center’s website.
I hope this series of posts has served you in your journey, wherever you are, and I send you my love.