NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: The following is a guest post by Alex Tran – the most courageous woman in my life (medium.com/@alexgtran).
Being on plant medicine, I’ve seen our world suffer, looking down on humankind from the eyes of God, and it pained me for not being able to save it. I’ve seen Jimmy’s ancestors from millions of years ago, one generation after another living in a tribe in a desert, playing African drums, and wearing colorful skirts that make a jingle sound whenever they move. I’ve seen each and every single vein in my body in the Chakra colors, sinking to the Earth and growing strawberry vines. I’ve seen people dying slowly, one by one in a spreading disease until we all turn into mini river streams that flow toward the ocean. I’ve seen the most beautiful things, and also the saddest things. I’ve seen faces I’ve never met in real life, but somehow, we’re connected. I’ve seen my loved ones in a different light as I’ve never known them for who they truly are, for their love and suffering. And above all, I see myself detach from my own ego and judgment. Plant medicine takes me to the furthest land on Earth, and once I’m there, I can’t look at the world like I did before with all the ignorance that I had.
It took me over a year to prepare myself to take plant medicine for the first time. I was scared. I was 25, I had my seemingly perfect life that my 15-year-old self wished to become one day — a successful business graduate working a high-paying job for one of the fastest-growing tech companies in Toronto. That was me on paper and on LinkedIn, but I didn’t know who I really was. The thought of discovering who I am underneath all these covers, all the flesh and bones sometimes wake me up at night, but I was too afraid to even think about it. What if I found out that the life that I meant to live is not at all the life that I’m living? What if I realized that all the relationships I’m having are broken and I’ve been a coward for living a lie? My life has been a string of rainbows, sometimes I wondered what it would be like to walk underneath the rainbow, peeling each and every color apart, and then peel the layers off each color to see what I’d find down there. I was scared to discover my true self, underneath all these layers — who am I with a naked soul? Can I accept and love myself for who I am? The fact that I didn’t have an answer to all of these questions, and not even having a clue for how to answer them, makes me realize that I cannot deny myself any longer, it’s time.
I remember my first experience with plant medicine, my first ‘trip’. We were at a Mongolian yurt in the middle of the woods next to farmland where cows and chicken roamed. I can still smell the dampness in the air that day, and how the fog was making its way around the hill. The pine leaves on the ground tried to move when the wind came, but the rain on the ground held them back. Jimmy was “trip-sitting” me that day, he had the wood stove burning while I was staring at the bug on his sweater like it was the most beautiful creature in the world. He positioned a chair looking out the door and opened the door to let the air in. I followed him to the chair, looking out the door, and before my consciousness came to me, tears started streaming down my face. I stared at the land, the green scape, the rain, listened to a Beatles song that seemed to last for an eternity. Never in life had I felt so overwhelmed with emotions and feelings, with sadness and happiness, with an abundance of love for every living, breathing thing that I’ve touched. I couldn’t even breathe, knowing that each breath I take is another second that I’m alive — How can I be alive with so much pain? I felt myself pulling my heart out, holding it in my bare hands, and seeing it beating with all the pains and suffering I’ve had from all these years living in a human body — is it what it is like to see my soul for the first time? Is this the real me right now, the self that I was so afraid to face and to accept? I couldn’t remember when I stopped crying. Now looking back, I can’t explain how I could live my life the way it was before, with so much burden without me even knowing it. I know better now that there is so much to discover within our souls, it’s not just the rainbow colors that I thought I knew. It’s black, white, grey, and all the other colors that I can now feel with my heart but cannot name. There are millions of hidden memories that we bury day after day, not knowing how they shape our consciousness and life outlook. Plant medicine brings them back to you, in waves, one memory after another, and an abundance of feelings that your heart can’t handle, so they come out in tears.
It’s so easy to hold things up inside, to be strong and fearless — isn’t that what adults are taught to be? We grow up forgetting what it’s like to see life in its wonders with curiosity, to feel, and to be vulnerable with our own thoughts and emotions. We bury past scars hoping to suffocate and suppress it. These suppressed emotions only gain fuel and the fire is stoked the more we neglect to take care of our inner turmoils. One day, these unresolved emotional knots will erupt in mental illnesses and wreak havoc on the lives that we work so hard to build up. And if we succeed at suppressing it, we live our lives with the burden of having to carry these past scars wherever we go; allowing it to drag us down wherever we do, telling us that we are not enough, that we do not deserve love, and that we cannot live our lives truly free from torment. Is that a life worth living?
Now that I’ve seen the colors underneath the rainbow, I couldn’t unsee them. I carry them with me in my back pocket and pull them out whenever I’m a bit lost. Whenever I find myself looking up to the sky seeking for that North Star to give me guidance and show me the direction, I know that I have to search from within, from my back pocket and from the soul that I know best. When in doubt, we seek wisdom from the external world — friends, mentors, teachers, professionals — and we most often forget to seek wisdom from within, passed to us from our ancestors. Plant medicine is a conduit into our soul and all who have lived, loved, and suffered before us— a collection of ancestral wisdom carried forward in our genetic coding. This wisdom just needs the right set and setting to be awakened. For that, I’d say, if we all have access to plant medicine and trust our ancestors’ wisdom, the world would be a much better place. It’s not just because we can learn to feel again, we also learn to accept ourselves for the demon and the angel inside us, we learn to forgive, to empathize, to be grateful for what makes us who we are. Imagine how wonderful this world could be if each of us finds our own inner peace.
In your quest to find the inner peace inside your soul, you need a guide, you can also call that a ‘trip-sitter’. The ‘trip-sitter’ must have traveled through the mystic gates of heaven and hell — and comes back carrying the wisdom of experience. Lucky for me that I have Jimmy, someone who pays great respect and has undergone his own passages through plant medicine therapy. He gave me the courage to face my biggest and darkest fear way before I knew that I was ready for it. He challenged me to find out who I am and what my place is in this world. At the Mongolian yurt that day, I remember looking at him so dearly, thinking about all the things he had done for me, and even then, trying to get the fire going so I could feel warm and safe. Once in a while, he looked at me smiling and asked, ‘Are you okay?’, all I could do was nod, but my heart was swelling inside with love and gratitude. I couldn’t imagine doing this all alone. Somewhere, layers underneath the rainbow, my thought got dark and I tried to escape, Jimmy was watching me from afar and he just knew. He gave me water and urged me to stand up, to leave the darkest place I had just discovered in my soul — “there is another time and another place for it, leave it there and go with me”, his eyes were telling me, I hesitated, but I took his hands. We stepped outside into the fog, into the damp grass field, let our lungs be filled with fresh air. I breathed, laughed, and cried — I was more alive than I had ever lived. I thought about that moment many times after the trip was over, and I was glad that Jimmy was there to get me out of my dark thoughts, or else my trip would end very badly, and I probably wouldn’t be here to write about this experience. We all have dark places hidden way underneath the surface, somewhere only us can find. That’s why we need someone we trust, someone who understands what it is like to face their own demon inside to guide us on our trips to find our true selves.
Fast forward two years since my first experience with plant medicine, right now, we’re sitting on a deck in the middle of the field, in the middle of acres of land and forest. We take in the fresh air, and breath out the troubles we bring with us from city life. Our dog Socrates is chasing the Airbnb owner’s dog, Katie, trying to make acquaintance. As many times as Jimmy had guided me, I also learned to guide him in our weekend retreats. We take turns to practice plant medicine therapy and to help each other on our journey finding who we are. Over time, we found the key ingredients for a successful retreat: a guide, a private cabin in the middle of nowhere, a wood stove, a lot of wood for chopping, a lot of candles, tea, burning sage or incense, a dog (or two), a good playlist with a good speaker, red wine, a fire pit, a good intention, and a positive mind — all the things that make you feel whole. Today, I’m guiding Jimmy. We just came back from a trail walk with Katie and Socrates. Jimmy was walking barefoot, he got a bit lost in the forest, but that was fine, we all need to get lost before we find ourselves again. He is now lying under the sun with eye masks on and headphones in his ears, listening to his favorite music in a total blackout. I’m in the kitchen, preparing a bowl of pistachio, mandarines, strawberries, and two cups of hot tea.
We had long overcome our first encounters with our own demons, we have learned to love our naked souls, bodies, and mind. Still, there is so much to discover. We’re at the very beginning of our life long journey of learning to manifest our truest selves to the world. Life is a present, and we’re learning to unwrap our presents piece by piece so that one day, we can give the most beautiful pieces of us back to life.