All plant medicine journeys are a sacred experience and one that I absolutely believe needs to be treated with respect, loving guidance and most importantly, done with your safety in mind.
By safety I mean: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being.
My first plant medicine experience in 2019 was very beautiful and I felt loved and supported and held in a safe container by the retreat centre and the plant medicine facilitators. Read my story here, it’s a doozy.
My latest psychedelic journey, not so much.
The Shamans, who served the medicine, were amazing, but the retreat host was anything but.
I did not feel safe, heard or validated – and that happens way more than people realize.
When you register for a retreat, there is an expectation that you are going to be held in a safe container, wouldn’t you agree? I certainly make my clients’ safety my top priority.
On top of that, I include the after-care that allows you to integrate your discoveries into your life and make any changes that you now want to make.
Preparation is equally important, and it’s rarely done the way I do it. In most of the 100 or so plant medicine journeys I’ve been on, the preparation was simply an email that said “Don’t eat this or that” and then I was on my own.
That’s a “missing” I set out to correct when I set up my practice as a plant medicine guide and integration coach.
My preparation starts with a consult call, a consent form and a family history intake questionnaire.
After that we do a “Set and Setting” call where I walk the new client through the process in detail and give them a chance to ask any questions they may have. Of course there is text or email support if any questions or fears arise. I also supply an extensive treatment guide on how to prepare for the ceremony and answer any questions they might have about it.
“Set and Setting” is a term we use to discuss their mindset and the setting of the ceremony. We deal with any nerves (that’s the “Set” part) and then I walk them through the Setting – what the environment will be like.
As you can imagine, communication is key to having the client begin the ceremony in the right mindset to get the most out of it, and feel safe and cared for all through.
If it weren’t for Odette’s gentle and loving approach, I don’t think I could have done a psychedelic journey. She made me feel so safe, that she ‘had my back’ while I was deep in my journey. Growing up, I had anxiety and depression and crippling feelings of hopelessness. Working with Odette gave me back my hope and my life.
This is the kind of experience I want you to have.
For more testimonials go to https://spiritualalliance.ca
I’ve gone on over 100 plant medicine journeys myself, and while most were amazing, some were downright awful experiences, and I’ll share some of those with you so you can know the red flags what to watch out for.
Lack of after care
Although my first experience was amazing, the after-care was non-existent. In most retreat style ceremonies there is very little integration support. And integration is where you apply what you learned in the ceremony in your everyday life. It’s where the rubber meets the road.
After the ceremony, I didn’t know what to do with the new discoveries. I felt I had uncovered all the secrets to the universe, but going back to my normal life, all the same old triggers and frustrations were there and I had no idea what to do with this new knowledge I acquired. I felt just kind of spit back out into the real world!
I found that disconnect quite traumatic, and as I did my training as a guide and integration coach, I vowed to never leave anyone hanging like that. I put a special focus on gently integrating the client back into their life, and supporting them through that so they can feel more aligned and make positive changes to their life.
Inexperienced, untrained host and/or facilitator
There is a BIG difference between regular, non-psychedelic retreats and those that serve psychedelic medicine. The moment you serve medicine to people, the retreat takes on a whole new meaning and level for your safety.
Too many people think that because they have participated in some ceremonies and have taken plant medicine, that they are now ready to host a retreat.
I disagree completely.
I want to preface this by saying that ingesting plant medicine is 100% for both healing any wounds or traumas AND for opening up our energetic space for more love, joy and happiness.
Every journey is personal, unique and completely different every time a person sits in ceremony.
I had a horrible experience with an inexperienced host that was very re-traumatizing and upsetting. It took me a long time to be able to fully reconcile this experience- but I’m glad I had it because I was able to learn from it. It’s made me fully respect my clients and their experience, and has given me insight into how to read them and make sure I’m supporting them, not telling them “how they should do it”.
The night before the ceremony we had an opening circle and we all expressed our intentions. I am all for guidance but I was told that my intention was wrong – that I should only focus on joy and happiness!
I knew myself, that I needed to first release the blocks that were getting in the way of more joy and happiness. I had a lot of self sabotaging thoughts running in my head, holding me back from the joyful things I crave and I felt at a loss in my life.
I wasn’t wrong in my intention, and the guidance from the facilitator needed to be more open and loving and working with me to massage my intention to bring about my highest good. I left that opening circle more at a loss and feelings of not good enough, who do I think I am and so on which, of course, was not something I needed more of!
During the ceremony I was the only one crying and releasing trauma (somatic releasing with body shakes). When I sit in ceremony I want to release and let go of trauma – it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for me.
After the ceremony I was emotional, felt fragile and needed more time to process.
But I did feel like I had released many blocks that were getting in my way.
The facilitator knew I was upset and instead of talking it through with me, she said: “Odette, your problem is that you don’t focus on the joy. Just let go of the negative and you will have a much more joyful experience. “
She didn’t ask me how my ceremony experience was nor lend an ear to hold space for me, knowing I was feeling vulnerable. Being told that ‘my problem’ was X, I felt a sense of embarrassment for crying and having body responses such as shaking.
I started to shut down and shame crept in.
The very thing I was working on releasing – shame – was back in my face again.
Again around the fire that night, she again said to me that my problem was not letting in joy, in front of the group, without my express permission to do so.
In a fire circle, a participant needs to be asked if they want to share. I wasn’t given that option.
That’s when the deep feeling of shame, guilt, anger, frustration took over. I left that fire feeling horrible about myself and defeated.
The next morning during the closing circle with the group we were invited to share our experience. I reluctantly decided to be 100% honest and voice my concern – through an abundance of tears and fear about speaking ‘against the host’. Despite her apology, I wasn’t given the proper integration support. In fact, a week later, she sent an email out only with the recipes for the meals from the retreat. No follow-up with me at all about my experience.
I was so angry! This was not just a girl’s weekend where we had a great time and yummy food. This was supposed to be a healing and transformative experience, but I was left in worse shape mentally than when I went in.
For nine months I sat in my shame, having to integrate the process on my own and with the help of my peers. If I was new to plant medicine that could have had extremely detrimental effects. I was lucky that I was already immersed in the world and had peers and colleagues who could support me through it.
I didn’t hear from her for nine months! But finally I did have a completion conversation with her and I felt whole and complete, but only after I did nine months of working hard to eliminate any residual shame I felt.
At the time I was a newly trained psychedelic guide, but I showed up to that retreat as a participant – a human being with vulnerabilities. When someone is under the influence of plant medicine their energy field, aura is wide open and this is both a blessing and a curse. When help is offered in a safe and loving container that energy field receives the love – but when there is a lack of feeling of safety (regardless of which area of safety), that energy field can feel like walking through a land mine.
I learned a lot from this re-traumatizing experience about how to support people and what questions to ask to lead the way for them but let them walk it. I encourage and question in the most gentle ways, and would never “tell” a person what their problem is. I believe you have all the wisdom of the universe in you, and it’s my job to help you discover it – whether that looks like rainbows and butterflies or crying and shaking. We’ll get you to your destination.
Seeing the damage an untrained and inexperienced host could do, I took an intense psychedelic trauma-based program on how to guide people through ceremonies in the most healing way and how to do psychedelic integration. I also have facilitated over 100 ceremonies over the past few years, and participated in over 100 myself.
I do my own work and have my own coach. I believe I can’t be the best guide and integration coach I can be if I’m letting my own inner work and self-awareness slide. Keeping myself in tip top shape is just part of the job.
Where do I even start? I’ve been to retreats where we had to share a single bare mattress on the floor with a stranger – while doing plant medicine.
To be clear, the actual ceremony can be intense. You definitely want to be in an environment that feels safe and cozy – ideally like a warm hug from your most loved person.
You want space. Nobody has an expansive life-changing experience crammed into a hot sweaty room that feels more like a jail cell.
Is it cozy? Is it soothing? Pleasant to be there? Where’s the bathroom? Is the mattress comfortable? Blankets and pillows? Dim lighting?
Having a clear understanding of the setting, how the ceremony and day will go and who the people are and their level of experience – those are so important to your outcome.
Trust your gut. If – when you’re signing up for it – the communication seems off, or they don’t seem to know what they are doing – RUN!
I hope these stories from my experience- and the red flags I encountered – help you have a smoother path. If you have questions you’d like answered, please get in touch!