If you had a door in front of you that would show you the pain of your past lives, would you open it?
Sometimes life brings you to another continent, drinking cactus juice in the home of an old botanist, pondering questions like this.
I have my own tale to tell of life’s sequence of events that brought me to Paul’s garden, just like everyone else does who makes the pilgrimage to South America to drink “plant medicine.” We all have a curiosity for experiencing altered states of consciousness - or rather, deeper states of consciousness might be the better term here. That said, “getting high” is not a reason anyone chooses to journey with the sacred plants of the Earth.
The experience is notoriously difficult and is never replicable from person to person, or even from one person’s first experience to the second. No one can look at you and say “this is typically what to expect” and paint you a picture of your next 12 hours after drinking San Pedro, or huachuma. The least desirable side effect is the infamous purge, usually in the form of vomiting.
San Pedro Cactus
The one thing that we all have in common when we find ourselves on the edge of a huachuma journey is that we are working on ourselves. We fight to identify our demons, and we fight to banish them. We are fighters. San Pedro is also known as the “medicine of the warrior.”
I didn’t know it was referred to as a warrior’s medicine, so my story I’m about to tell made a bit more sense when I found that out.
At the age of 33, not having taken any hallucinogenic plant since I was 18 years old 15 years prior, I went with my friend and my then-new boyfriend to Pisac in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Paul, who led the plant medicine ceremony, was a lean, old man with long white hair, a weathered face, and bright blue eyes. I was reminded of Dumbledore, Gandalf, or Peter O’Toole. We were joined by two other travelers, and one other man who was there to make sure we had a safe journey.
We all sat on floor pillows nervously in a room with big windows outlooking a gorgeous garden of flowers and tall plants until the time came to drink the medicine. Paul talked to us for some time about intentions, and different types of possible experiences. When the time came we walked down to a wooden gazebo and sat in a circle. Paul asked us how much medicine we wanted to drink - I chose a small dose, because I know myself as extremely sensitive to mind-altering substances. I can feel “out of my body” in a meditative state easily. I know my body and soul well enough to know that I do not need a hefty dose of anything for my spirit to jump right out.
“Here you go Nicole… pleasant journey.” Paul said these words to me slowly and sincerely with a twinkle in his eye. This was it. I brought the green liquid to my liips, expecting something disgusting as all the accounts of San Pedro’s taste describe it to be - it was Earthy, like matcha, and I drank it all easily in a few gulps. I looked around, took my yoga mat (which I had of course brought with me) and my bucket (which Paul provided in case of vomiting) and walked with Daniel up to one of the tiers of the garden.
Our plan was to stretch until the medicine kicked in. We both went into our individual routines side-by-side. Not long after I started, I noticed the sun becoming a bit much for me, which is odd because I adore stretching in peak heat like I have done in Morocco, Thailand, and the Middle East. I rolled up my yoga mat and went up to the garden tier above Daniel, and laid down on my back. I was suddenly tired. I closed my eyes. My stomach began to feel a little uncomfortable, and I thought I was getting nauseous. Here we go, I thought. I really hate vomiting - I mean, everyone does, but I really did not want to vomit. I laid there and considered going inside the house to try and purge, but my body was getting so tired that moving was the last thing I wanted to do.
I finally decided that I was uncomfortable enough to try and move, and opened my eyes.
I opened my eyes and became enraptured with a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower in a giant, towering plant. Everything was so beautiful! I felt I could see every feather on the hummingbird, despite how quickly it was moving. The nausea was gone. I felt so deeply grounded in that moment with my back on the cool ground, looking up at the brightly colored purple and red flowers against the backdrop of green. I watched the hummingbirds and bumblebees go about life so simply, and felt pure peace and joy.
I could feel old traumas surfacing to be looked at: social anxiety, body dysmorphia, sexual trauma, watching my mom die, years of emotional gaslighting. Each issue barely touched the surface of my awareness and dissolved. All that mattered was appreciating the joy that was in life all around me.
I could feel old traumas surfacing to be looked at...
You have done so much hard work to deal with your issues. You did it the hard way. No plant medicine can replace or advance the work you have done in these areas. This wasn’t so much a voice that I heard as a downloaded impression I received.
A weathered face appeared in my field of vision, obstructing my view of a bumblebee in a flower. “Are you okay, Nicole?” Paul said with a smile. He had promised to come check on everyone about an hour into the ceremony to see if we were feeling nauseous or upset. “Yes,” I answered. “I’m thinking about joy.”
“That’s wonderful!” He said and laughed a deep, raspy laugh. “Let me know if I can do anything for you.”
I decided to turn my body around on my mat to face the apus, or the green Andes mountains visible nearby. It really was a breathtaking setting. The one thing I was afraid of, however, was seeing the other participants. I had no desire to interact with anyone on this journey. My sole intention was to see just how far “off” I could go, knowing that I typically feel I could easily detach from my body. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to see what answers, mystical secrets, or Earthly wisdom would be revealed. I knew there was something.
Picturesque Andes apus near the site of our plant medicine ceremony
I was getting cold in the shade. I watched the clouds come over the apus, making shapes. I identified the shapes - I saw a happy couple. I saw a baby. I saw bird shapes. I became so cold that I closed my eyes and realized that when I did that, I no longer felt cold.
I went on like this for a while, flipping directions and watching my surroundings, feeling at peace with nature and wanting for absolutely nothing except to stay away from other humans. Paul and our other guide walked around the gardens and smoked tobacco together, watching all of the participants to make sure everyone was all right. I heard some talking, some laughing, some coughing. I was a part of the garden.
They say San Pedro peaks 3-4 hours into the experience.
I don’t exactly remember what was going on in my thoughts a few hours into my journey, whether I was contemplating more joy or cloud shapes - but at one point, staring at the back of my own eyelids, I saw myself as a man with very large muscles instead of my small, 5’ frame. With my eyes closed, I saw the impression of a brown wooden door fly open simultaneously as I “heard,” …you have always wanted to know your past lives. Well, now you can see. My awareness went through the door.
I didn’t know it was referred to as a warrior’s medicine, so my story I’m about to tell made a bit more sense when I found that out.
I was a man, and my muscles were huge. Blood was dripping down my arms. I knew myself as a killer, and no one could fight more skillfully than I could. I saw myself in different battle scenes cutting down men with handheld weapons, maybe swords or spears. I couldn’t feel any pain because I “heard” that that pain was not for me to experience anymore. I already learned from that pain. The physical pain was not the point of this lesson.
What I could feel was my muscles engaged and ready to fight. Again, and again, and again I fought, I saw myself coming back to Earth with the same role of being a warrior, and then I knew that I was tired. My warrior spirit was so tired that when it saw my current incarnation planned to be born, it picked the Me that I am now. The me with no fire in my astrological chart. “I” wanted that one.
Now, one thing to know about me is that I read the world in terms of astrology. I have no fire in my natal chart, which is incredibly rare, and my major planetes and points are all largely water and air signs with a touch of Earth. My air manifests as a quick wit, but a very sharp tongue, and occasionally the laying-down-of-the-sword for peace.
This natal chart analysis is what I saw, but now through a clearer lens. I saw all of my fiery loved ones - my mother and father, both strong fire - my best friend, my boyfriend, all my new acro friends. Everyone important to me in my whole life has been made of fire, and I thought that I was drawn to them for the fire that I lacked in myself. But I saw now that they were just as drawn to me for my joy and peace. I exist for my friends, lovers, and family to come to and throw down their swords. I am not someone to fight with in this lifetime. I am here to learn and share peace.
These two tarot cards from the Gilded Tarot deck show precisely the mental, physical, and emotional state of the peak of my San Pedro lesson.
Wounded warrior. I saw a pile of swords next to me. Wounded warrior. All the giant, battle-exhausted comrades of past lifetimes throwing their weapons down, clanking sword after clanking sword. Wounded warrior, I heard over and over again. Wounded warrior, lay down the sword. Lay down the sword.
At some point Paul came and helped me find the bathroom so that I could use it. I went multiple times, emptying my bladder and bowels, and wondered if it was a purge. At another point I went to the sunny lower tier where I initially was stretching with Daniel to be in the sun. I felt some guilt at not wanting to interact with him, because I could tell his experience was different from mine and he wanted to interact. I heard him ask for food, and I was able to hold an arm up in agreeance. Paul brought us both bananas and Daniel and I laughed about not being able to peel them. Well, he couldn’t peel his, but I could peel mine. After all, I was a warrior of lifetimes passed.
Every time I closed my eyes I saw my body in a different battle scene. I asked the greater consciousness which wars I was in: All of them! came the answer. My soul was so tired from fighting. I saw myself fighting next to my mom previously as well, except she was also a man, and not the woman I knew in this incarnation.
As it grew colder, I felt freezing. I am always cold in this current body that I have and that is one thing that I attribute to my lack of fire. I slowly found the strength to get to my feet and wander into Paul’s kitchen where he had hot ginger tea for all his ceremony participants. “Would you like the ginger tea or this purple tea that I have?” He asked. I couldn’t answer him. “The ginger tea, then,” he said with another kind smile.
An image that best shows the mild , brief visual effects of huachuma https://i.redd.it/cte3hvwtrpe71.jpg
Paul began to look rainbow, and so did the sky. I didn’t keep my eyes open for very long at a time, though, so this mild visual was not a major part of my journey.
I wandered back outside and sat on a bench with my back against the outside of Paul’s house, just outside of the kitchen. “Nicole! You have to come look at this! Have you been up here?!” Daniel beckoned for me to come join him. “I can’t,” I was amazed I had the strength to say it. “I keep going in and out, and I’m about to go back in again,” I said as I felt my eyes closing again, knowing I would go into a scene of long, long ago.
I can’t describe exactly how it felt because words elude the feeling entirely - but it felt like I was closing my eyes to one reality and opening them to another, where I was a young boy running with another young boy. The scene was as real as any, but I alternated being one of the boys and watching it from above. We were running and playing in a green field.
At that point I knew exactly what went on with my sibling’s sex change, transitioning from male to female. She was a warrior with me as well, and her soul was also exhausted from the fighting. She did not want aggressive masculine energy at all and wanted to embrace all that was soft and feminine in this life. We both yearned to represent all that was yin to the yang.
I saw my clenched and engaged muscles, muscles that swung a sword so many times now, want to use their power for play. I saw myself in my current incarnation lifting weights, doing yoga, and learning acrobatics so that I can use the force of my body in a non-violent way.
Hours went by. The sun was setting now.
My birth chart showing no planets or points in any fire sign (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) and no planets in fire-ruled houses (houses 1, 5, and 9).
I would occasionally open my eyes, a bit more able to feel like “me” again more and more every time I opened them, but when I closed them I went somewhere else. I suddenly felt a sharp and stabbing pain in my chest. I wondered if it was a battle wound. I went into Paul’s house and sat in the room with the floor pillows and tall windows where we started. The sharp pain stayed with every breath.
“Paul, I have a sharp pain in my chest. I’m scared.” I had a hand to my chest. He closed his eyes and held my free hand, and put a hand on his own chest. We breathed deeply together. I stayed in my body, breathing with Paul, knowing somehow that the pain was my body trying to shock myself back to the current realm. The pain began to subside and I laid down.
The fire was warm, the sun had set. Daniel sat a few feet away from me, wonderful as he is, wanting to comfort me but knowing I had craved space for the entire day. My other travel companion laid down a few feet away from me as well. She radiated such a motherly warmth that her presence was the most comforting thing in the entire world to me, as I was very much in my body and beginning to feel like I was “coming down.”
Paul fed us soup and ice cream. We hadn’t eaten all day. The soup was hilariously difficult to eat, but delicious, but my body could not handle the idea of eating anything cold like ice cream. My two travel companions were describing some of their experiences to me. I finally started to tell mine, of all the fighting and wish for peace, and even though I didn’t feel sad, tears began falling down my face. I eventually was able to lay my head in Daniel’s lap, and it felt good. Now this was the most comforting thing in the world. My San Pedro journey was at an end.
Whether real or fabricated by the mind, Dr. Weiss states that the past life experiences change lives for the better by integrating wounds and are therefore worth investigating.
The next morning Paul led an integration ceremony where he offered feedback on our individual experiences, all of which were so incredibly different that we may as well have been taking different medicine. Each human is so very different from each other, and the cactus gave us all what we needed.
Even though the huachuma is out of my system, I have new insights into my peacekeeping often, and sometimes daily. My temper and sharp tongue have gotten me into a lot of trouble with some of my most cherished relationships in my adult life. My purpose on this Earth, in this body, is not to fight. I am here to learn peace. I am here to learn play. I am here for the tired and wounded to come and rest - they find me to come rest.
Brian Weiss, M.D., a renowned psychiatrist specializing in past life regression, describes potent healing powers of past life regression. Whether real or fabricated by the mind, Dr. Weiss states that the past life experiences change lives for the better by integrating wounds and are therefore worth investigating. After this experience, I agree.