“The Secret that will Transform the Rest of Life”
My journey with the Peyote plant medicine in Mexico (part 1)
Hello dearest friends,
I hope you are all well. I just came back to London after a 7 week stay in Mexico. It felt like ages ago!
A lot of good stuff has happened, and I am excited to share more with you soon about this newsletter. For now, let me tell you a story. You can also listen to it here - try it and let me know what you like. I’d appreciate if you share it too 🙏
Prologue: it all started with a childhood suspicion..
I grew up as a happy, contented child.
My single mom raised me with the philosophy of “taking everything as it is, not as you wish it could be.”
I suspect it was the story she learned in order to cope with the harsh reality of her growing up. We had always been a lower class family, and when my dad passed away from cancer in 1996, she really struggled. It was hard enough to live in Hanoi at the time where the war-ridden Vietnam was barely coming out of the Soviet Union collapse. It was even harder to be a working single mother, raising two boys.
On the surface, I am very much like her: living a contented, low-maintanance, simple life. Want little, need little, have little, be okay, live and let live.
The only issue? Deep down, I never bought that story.
Indeed, the major changes in my life have been ignited by those moments of profound angst, what some would call “the cry of the soul”: "Enough! It is not supposed to be this way. There must be more to this life, more beauty, love, joy. There must be so much more".
Such angst, fully felt, transmutes into conviction that fuels my lifelong quest. I want to know, to experience, to taste fully this world in its trembling, terrifying beauty.
That longing, that deep desire to know what Charles Eisenstein calls, "the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible", grows stronger everyday.
Like the apple in the Garden of Eden, once you have tasted the truth of how life could be, there is no way back. As David Whyte once wrote, "revelation must be terrible".
The quest has brought me to so many beautiful people who touched my life and changed it for the better. Indeed, it never stopped feeling like a miracle to remember how far that young child has come, to now live a life so previously unimaginable.
And, there is infinitely more to explore. To live closer a life that we would truly truly love.
A question to live for
What is it like to get in touch more with what you most deeply want?
For some, it is inspiring.
For others, it is aching. To feel fully the gap between what is and what we deeply know could be, that is the exquisite pain of being human.
What can we do meanwhile then? Put that aching aside and just get by? No, you can "live the questions". You choose to not settle for questions with easy answers, and instead devote your life to pursue the question that truly matters.
Indeed, you can tell where someone's trajectory is heading towards from the kind of question they ask of themselves and of life.
As such, I've been crafting, pursuing and inhabiting a question: "What is it like to know, in bones and marrows, the One Thing that transforms the rest of life?"
Given that question, I have long been drawn to all kinds of “transformation”, both from the inside view as a self-explorer enthusiast and author, as well as from the outside view researching what has been called “the market for transformation", or more recently "consumer spirituality".
If you are somewhat like me, chances are you have heard about psychedelic.
It has been far out of my reach though. As such, when I got an invite from my dear friend Alicia Sully for a Peyote plant medicine ceremony during my recent visit to Mexico, I jumped at the opportunity right away.
Here is Part 1 of the journey, where I participated in a Temazcal, a traditional Mexican sweat lodge ceremony for the purpose of cleansing and resetting oneself. Part 2 about the Peyote ceremony will come soon after.
A ritual of death and rebirth
The ceremony was offered through a community in San Pancho, West Mexico.
My friend and I arrived around 10am on a field inside an alternative school & farm called Zibuya, where people gather here every Saturday morning. At the field, the most visible was a stone dome called "the womb", where the temazcal ceremony would happen.
Next to the womb was a small fire, stones, a few sacred objects, all wrapped around in a circle shape made of low wooden fence. About twenty people were already there, greeting, smiling and hugging each other with lots of warmth.
After the initial meet and greet, people began to line up by the door of the circle, formally entering a sacred site. One can choose to be welcomed by the smoke of Palo Santo, a wooden incense supposed to clean your spirit. Or one can choose to have a blow of rapé, a tobacco powder supposed to clean your whole body-mind system.
I wanted to try something new, and the rapé looked harmless enough so I decided to go for it. The apprentice of the shaman, Xavi, gave me a blessing by touching this ancient looking horn onto my fore chest, shoulders and eventually into my left nose.
"Ready? It might be a little bit dizzy." He asked. I nodded, not quite knowing what I was into.
The horn made that smooth blowing sound as the first dose of rape went straight into my skull.
It felt like someone just hit the back of my head. My vision was shaking, my knees trembling. I had to immediately hold on to the breath, as all my previous meditation training has taught in such a mind-blowing (pun intended) situation.
"Ready for the next one?" Xavi asked.
Barely able to speak, I motioned him with my hand to say "hold on". It took me a few more full body gasping breaths to stand up almost straight again. I totally didn't expect this rape to be that strong.
"It's already one nose, let's complete the another nose". I urged myself.
Xavi the put horn into my right nose, and PHHTTTTTTTT it went again, smoother than a nurse injecting a needle.
“DAMN. THIS STUFF IS FUCKING STRONG.”
My head hurt as if someone was wrenching the back of my brain. Tears started rolling out from the sides of my eyes. I almost crumbled on a rock, unable to even bring my head up. Sitting down made me want to vomit though.
Again with all my might I tried to breathe deeply to calm down.
Someone saw my struggle, and offer me to drink some water and spit it off my nose. I did, and sneezed out the black loosey gooey nosewater. It felt a bit better.
Inside the field, people began to enter the womb, bowing and making offerings to the fire as they walked in.
I dragged myself along but was too weak to enter.
Noticing my misery, Xavi came out from the womb and waved:
"You want to come in? You don't have to, but if you want to, this is the last chance. Take this small bucket in case you need it inside. Remember, if it's too much, lie low and put your head in between your legs."
I must have taken a few minutes before finally mustering enough strength to crawl through the tiny entrance into the womb.
Inside Xavi began to explain the ritual to about twenty of us.
"This cleansing ritual resembles a dying & reborn process. We would stay there for about two hours, with a quick break in between. Feel free to bring your prayer and sing along with us".
Another helper went outside and took a thick blanket to cover the last door to the womb. Now, we were completely covered in the pitch black darkness.
People began singing, chanting beautiful songs in Spanish and native Indian American languages that I didn't understand.
I couldn’t pay much attention to that though. The dizziness and nausea from rape was so strong that I had to rest my head between my knees, facing down, struggling not to vomit.
"This must be what it feels like to die", a thought crossed my mind.
As the whole body trembled in great unease, completely trapped in darkness and intense heat, there couldn't be any more wandering thoughts.
In this semi-trance, deliriously suffering state, a prayer that I have adopted from a Buddhist teacher a while ago kept surfacing in my mind, "May all being be free from the bondages of who we think we are".
Like a trial on fire, during this alchemical, symbolic ritual of dying, anything that was no longer essential fall away. Only that which was carved most deeply into the psyche could remain.
The womb got hotter each time the facilitator brought in more huge burning stones from outside. After each song, water would be sprayed on top of these stones so that steam would come sizzling, licking, splashing onto our skin.
The human condition is indeed strange: we have to put ourselves in temporary situation of deprivation like this to appreciate what we often take for granted. This is perhaps the reason people go on fasting trips, vision quests, meditation retreats and ceremonies like this.
Looking from outside, this whole ritual was almost ridiculous. A bunch of people getting themselves knocked off by a dizzying, nausea-inducing powder, then got in steamed alive into a pit while singing praises for life as if their lives depend on it.
Except that our lives did depend on it.
I was barely breathing, and I was so damn glad to be able to breathe. Praise the god-blessed breath! As my body softened, melting, I felt waves of gratitude sweeping over. Gosh, after that rapé shock, it was so damn good to be alive.
At last, after almost two hours, the chanting slowed down. We gave thanks for the last round, and people spontaneously started to hum together.
We saw the light again, and began to crawl out one by one. Coming out of the dark womb felt like coming back into life. The sun, the water, the fruits next to the fire, everything seemed so much more vibrant and refreshing.
I got what I asked for: "to know, in bones and marrow, what's the One Thing that will transform the rest of life".
This time, I will not forget.
Life is already so beautiful.
Refreshed yet exhausted, we went back to my friend Alicia's house. I went straight to take a nap, the body begging to rest from such journey.
The sun was setting when I woke up. A short nap turned into a four hour deep sleep.
As I was laying in bed, the body soft, open like a child, a very clear knowing came.
If only we know, in our bones and marrow, just how beautiful life already is, and that each of us already *is* life itself and thus shares that beauty, then our experience of life will transform.
Sure, we may occasionally forget such knowing, especially in the midst of the hectic daily operation, but we can never completely forget it, because *that is who we are.*
A month later, back to the day to day, I still feel that knowing in my bones & marrow again again every morning, afternoon, evening.
I remember what is it like to find the world beautiful.
I remember the beauty that I came from, was born into, that is living through me, that *is* me.
I hope you too remember that.
In a way, my mom was right. Life is already so wonderful as it is. It just took me a few mind-blowing trips to remember that. 🤓
Thank you for reading. If you resonate with my journey, please subscribe and share.
Also, stay tuned for part 2. With that knowing in my bones, I felt ready for the party at night, with the peyote plant, i.e “the real deal”. I've received more than what I asked for. "What else could there be?" I wondered. As it turns out, there would always be more to be discovered 🙏
Great to hear from you Khuyen. I miss you already ^^