mind

Birthdays | Why I Left Vacation Early & Spent Mine on an Airplane, Writing to You

Today is my birthday. I’m writing this from a plane, in a stand-by seat that I barely snagged, in a dash to get home, which meant leaving my vacation early. (How’s that for vata?)

For my birthday last year I was in a jungle in Peru. The year before, a jungle in Ecuador. Honduras. Before the jungles, I favored Secret-Garden-esque bars and often alone. As a kid, it was Hawaii, Africa, days-away-from-civilization somewhere on a river-raft … There’ve been a couple beautiful parties with friends, food, a piñata and polaroid proof but more often than not, I’ve been on the road, and much prefer it.

Birthdays are an opportunity to retreat from life in order to reflect on it.

Check in on progress and be totally self-centered by which I don’t necessarily mean indulgent. It’s a day with our self - our best friend, body-house, being-thing that we exist in. Traveling facilitates the disconnection.

While it’s never a bad time to introspect, I’m sentimental about my birthday (obv). Not traditionally, but it’s a personal New Year’s. There’s always a resolution and often an extraordinary amount of writing preceding it and day-of (eh hem). I give myself gifts - like “I’ll be the healthiest I’ve ever been” or, in this year’s case - the gift of simply enjoying existing in this body, alive, breathing, practicing yoga, taking in nature, sleeping, eating perfectly, and being protected from the bombardment of other that tests our being every day. Indulging my sensitivity with stillness, peace, and beauty.

And so I was doing just that - sleeping in a tent in an ashram (aka yoga monastery) practicing four hours of daily yoga, with hours more of chanting and silent meditation. Eating Ayurvedic food, falling asleep to frogs by night, and wandering with deer and bunnies after wake-up bells before dawn, and taking naps all over the place (I think my brain actually just quit). Existing in a place where the standard greeting is “Om Namah Shivaya” (a Hindu mantra which the Swami translated to me as ~ “I acknowledge the consciousness in you as the same that exists in me, and all things).

But, something was different this time. Not long into the trip, I realized I needed to come home. It was one of those strong, intuitive calls that we feel first and figure out later.

Before being (too) impulsive, I wrote. Really? Why - really? You sure it’s not XYZ? You being windy? You exerting control over the situation? Fomo? Addicted to work? Just confused? Self-inquiring it out didn’t take long. I realized that the reason I wanted (*wanted, not needed or otherwise) to leave was that I simply love my life too much to want be away from it right now. It was such a long time coming, it’s so good, and that is also fragile. And, I can also do what I want, which is come home - now.

(While there - and over the last few months - I’ve also come to term with some of my monk tendencies, which involved learning about choosing and then owning the decision to either be in this world, or out of it.

I remembered how strongly I hadn’t wanted to return from Peru. Crying in the jeep on the way to the airport - dirtier and more beat-up than I’ve ever been, head aching from plant medicine and expanded self, and a long time away from home. I wanted to get out of the car in the little village - whichever it was, I didn’t care - and just figure it out from there. I felt like a foreigner in New York for a long time afterward.

Previous trips felt similar. Which is also why I love travel so much - we never return the same. But, if we choose to return, we better well be in the game. That’s a complicated lesson.)

The life I don't want to leave now is good because, I’m doing what I love.

“Doing” means work - profession, job, whatever. Which changed this year. (Also a story, I’ve been writing for you.) For the first time since high school, I’m not working full-time for someone else. I’m also not one person “by-day” in black and heels and Advertising, and another by night/weekends when I don’t wear shoes and play matchmaker between people and plants. Now, it’s all one. I’m myself, all of the time. It was scary and it was work - (three months of mind-bending, heart-breaking yoga therapy helped (yes, a story there too)) and now it’s real.

More and more of you are saying “I quit my day job to do what I love.” It’s momentum. It’s good.

And I’m grateful to be among you.

Not coincidentally, not only is it my birthday today, it’s also the birthday of this business.

Three years ago, it was a blog (can’t believe we don’t have a new word for that yet). A bunch of stories about the adventures of learning how to be a healthy, conscious, human. Then, I launched the first product. Then another, and another story, and so on. Now, it’s my life. And many others’ - humming along in service of the same mission: goodness. (Thank you all so much.)

Now, “home” “life” and “work” are one. Dharma, they might call it.

My hope is for you all to find the same groove. If I can help, I will. If I’m in service of the how-to-eat-well part, which is where my journey started, or inspiring extra self-reflection on your birthday, or any day.

So, my present to myself this year was an early ticket home. Though it means planes, trains, and airport trail-mix in place of birthday cake. And by birthday cake I do mean an avocado, of course.

See you soon,

Rachelle

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Major special thanks to my family - partner included - for supporting my whims and blessing my freedom.

Losing Thy Mind by Choice, Part II: Peruvian Shaman, Plant Medicines & Breaking Myself

This year, as part of my now-annual tradition of spending my birthday in a remote jungle, disconnected from as much normalcy as possible, challenging myself in bizarre and fascinating ways, I took myself to the Peruvian Andes to spend two weeks with shaman, ingesting psychedelic plants, and greeting the possibility that I might come back so changed that continuing to live the life I was vacationing from, might be impossible.

I was afraid, I was ready, and I was prepared to lose my mind.

I spent nights in ceremony with a direct-lineage medicine man, alternately grinning and grateful for the opportunity to experience something so untainted by tourism, and dry-heaving into an abyss of nothingness sure that I had broken my brain.

I was, for more than one full (12-hour) day, flat on my back in the grass too far gone to eat, drink or move farther than a couple of feet – from the sun to the shade, on my hands and knees – once. I was conscious the entire time. I had my notebook strapped to my hand. I wrote things like this:

The stories take days to tell. And some of them I’m still amid. But for now and at least, this is some of what I learned:

Plant medicines are a tool, not a toy.

The shaman, and regular imbibers, refer to these plants as medicine, and they treat them as such. It’s a respected, ceremonial and occasional experience had selectively and pointedly. It’s not a party favor or casual fling. Great care is taken in the preparation and presentation of the plants, and of the persons attending. From diet to time and place to process of processing what the hell just happened.

The Ayahuasquero (the shaman who works with Ayahuasca, as opposed to the Huachumero for example, who works with San Pedro – and even more accurately, our Ayahuasquero was actually a Curandro (healer)) had a favorite phrase, which he would whisper, sing and call out repeatedly during ceremonies: “limpia limpia limpia” (followed by the shaking of a dry-leaf rattle and a whistled breath). Translated: “clean, clean, clean”.

 

Plant medicines can be a shortcut.

But to what and where, is both yet to be known and/or is entirely individual and subjective.

I thought it was very possible that I would see space, meet god or learn truth. Some people believe that they have.

Regardless, a single session can be as effective as decades of psychotherapy.

One of my friends – a Jungian-therapy’d father and decade-long Ayahuasca drinker – likens the experience to bottom-up therapy, or learning by experiencing and feeling, rather than logically processing. Our language and understanding then catching up to what the body has learned.

Because of the physiological effects of the drug, our brain hemispheres communicate with each other in a way that they otherwise never do. You’re able to re-experience things that cognitive biases have been blocking – for better or worse.

The effectiveness of psychedelics' potential to improve lives isn’t speculative.

It’s well proven and on the way to being more so and more publicly so that plant medicines – psychedelics – are extremely more effective in treating (curing) anxiety, depression and addiction (for starters) than our “best” pharmaceuticals today. A single session can wipe a person clean.

It’s hard. And it hurts.

My first trip (figurative), which was with San Pedro, not Ayahuasca, was hellish. And no shorter than 12-15 hours long. I felt like I was attempting to uproot the tree of life, and that I was both the tree, and man. That night I read more about San Pedro, which I hadn’t researched nearly at all, prior-to. (It's, mescaline.) I swore I would never, ever, under any circumstances even think about looking at “that f***ing cactus” (I’m so sorry, San Pedro) again. However, five days later, I drank another 10 ounces of it. And I would do so again today if I could.

You will see some ... things.

We have a broad misunderstanding of ayahuasca as a visual trip. While it can be, it may not be at all. Certain plants (the tea is actually a mix of at least two plants – one of which is ayahuasca) can cause stronger visions. Unfortunately, some shaman now adjust their traditional brews to meet tourists’ expectations of visions, whereas that is not the plant’s primary purpose.

However, you may have the capacity to see more than you ever have before. I saw thousands of lines in my palm (and traced them with my pen to prove that they existed, to my later-sober self) and new colors. “Dimensions” if you can call it that. Facets in the physical world that I’d never noticed but felt were probably always there, and dream-like visions of things that I’m still attempting to understand. Things unlike anything natural, man-made, imagined or otherwise. Just … different. At some points, I was also as good as blind.

Time is … completely irrelevant.

It just is.

If you’ve had a bad trip, you know what one minute on repeat feels like.

And/or, thoughts like this occur, and given that thoughts are things, things like this happen (also, I was sober for this one):

I feel like I'm here now because I went back from here to tell my childhood self that I would make it.

That experience with time also completely re-calibrates endurance. Now, hunger, discomfort, stress or anxiety is relatively nothing.

We can be reprogrammed.

Our group was 12 people ranging in ages from 25 to 60+ and who were married, single, siblings, parents, happy, un-, lost, afraid and otherwise.

Over the course of the trip, everyone was shaken to their core at least once and most many times. Degrees of bravery before each ceremony varied from night to night, and the range of experiences and epiphanies confessed as we processed throughout the days included traumas, reestablished priorities, resolutions, releases, love, pain, gratitude.

Mine is personal and still unfolding but I will say this much: One morning, I woke up crying. At first, I believed it to be gratitude – for being alive and at least mostly sane, and healthy and there, in Peru, doing what I was doing, of my own accord, surviving, happy … But, I kept crying – through the morning and into the afternoon still. At some point, with the assistance of a woman I now consider a mother and who’s reciprocally adopted me as her daughter, I realized that I was grieving. Not only feeling for a certain past, but feeling it, exactly. Things I didn’t know and would never imagine still resided in my body.

It was exhausting. And immensely cathartic. And, it may take a long time yet to resolve.

Of the group, since the retreat, several have been laid off from their jobs. One is pursuing a new career path. One is beginning a relationship and one is saving a marriage. One stayed behind in Peru and one is moving to Thailand (to work with another of the group). All are now family.

There is so much more.

To this, to learn, to life, than we can ever learn or live.

Returning is bittersweet.

Leaving the jungle, one is raw. Stripped, cleaned and at least partially cured. Broken and bandaged and blessed. Eyes bright and every sense clarified.

It is sad to know - and there's no question about it, it will happen – that we will be desensitized again.

My neighborhood felt foreign - like I'd been gone a long time and it had changed. I had to keep my eyes down often as there was more than I could absorb. I had the sensation that someone had come back with me, inside of me, and that it didn’t recognize the surroundings. It also recoiled from unnatural scenes – it was shy of the subway and confused by unkindness; though swelled near beauty (and it seemed, particularly enjoyed the ballet).

I also realized how absolutely still my mind was. Which I also knew wouldn't last.

I made it a couple of weeks in that state. I put off putting together my to-do lists. I was gentle with myself, and it was sad. (E.g. "My chest aches.")

Everything was more poignant. More details were beautiful and I was easy to tears. My dreams were vivid and often included the ceremonies.

A month and a half later, I feel a deep miss for the experience. It felt like a beginning, because it was. It was also a culmination and a coming-to. It was a chapter in the book of self of which I, and we each, author in every exchange, with ourselves, each other, and every thing around us and within us every day until, The End.

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(For the fun stuff - like Incan ruins, weird fruit, plant-baths and Machu Picchu, check out the photos on FB. X!)